A persuasive writer, dynamic editor and audience advocate for companies ranging in services from health care to financial, and from real estate to appraisal. Ability to work cooperatively with employees as diverse as CEOs, physicians, nurses, salespeople and engineers. Extensive experience as a manager with responsibility for determining budgets.

My Dog Loves Opera

Oct. 15, 2014

My dog, Griffen, loves to walk, to chase rabbits, to eat cooked eggs and to listen to opera. His affection happened by chance.

During thunderstorms, Griffen would dive under beds, huddle in closets or hurdle his 40-pound body into one of us. Once, he nearly toppled my muscular 6’2″ husband. We had to do something.

One night, my husband tuned the radio to the classical music station WFMT. Instantly, Griffen sank down on his bed and looked dreamily at the radio. His eyes closed. His love had began.

After a time, he developed preferences. Beethoven over Brahms, Tchaikovsky over Liszt. We recognized his favorites by his degree of calmness. The more calm Griffen became, the better he liked the symphony or concerto.

By now, we turned on the radio for more than thunderstorms. When we left the house, his reward was listening to classical music. Griffen did not seem to mind our absences as much. Music was his companion.

One day, we returned from the outside world to check on him. I opened the door and called his name. No dog came to greet me. The music playing was Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Where was he? I headed toward the kitchen and opened the door. There he lay, resting on his bed with his eyes closed and his paws clasped as though he was praying. When I said his name, one eye opened. His expression said, “Leave me alone for a while. Can’t you see, I’m busy?”

I thought maybe it’s better that Griffen is distracted. If listening to Cosi fan tutte means less walking him for us, why not encourage it?

Near Escapes from a Wolf and a Deer

Jun. 10, 2013

Wolves have always fascinated and frightened me. I never wanted to meet a wolf alone in the woods or even worse to see a female wolf with her pups. On the other hand, wolves are beautiful animals–sleek, handsome, and intelligent. So I longed to see one from far away.

On May 30, my wish came true near our cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin, close to Upper Peninsula Michigan. I was biking on the old road from our cabin to Land O’Lakes. Suddenly, I saw what I first thought was a German Shepherd crossing the road. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized it was a lone wolf with lovely variegated fur, who was strolling across the road mid-morning, which is not the time you expect to see a wolf.

About two-thirds of the way across, the wolf suddenly stopped and turned toward me. At this point, I was only 15 feet away pedaling on my bike with my helmut and sunglasses on. I held my breath but was strangely moved by the wolf’s intelligence and majesty. I realized this is the king of the forest. But I was not frightened at all until later.

Apparently, the wolf did not think I posed a threat, so he returned to his route and entered the woods.

On the same day, toward dusk I was coming back from getting groceries with my mother-in-law. Our electricity had gone out for a few hours, so we thought we would pick up groceries then instead of the morning.

As we headed toward home but still in town, I saw an animal bound into my line of peripheral vision. It was a large doe that danced in front of my headlights and zig-zagged closer to my headlights–all within a matter of seconds. I hit the brakes just in time to miss it, and the doe continued across the road.

My mother-in-law was shrieking, but I was oddly calm when it happened and remarkably thankful that I had avoided hitting the beautiful doe. Now I know how easy it is to hit them. The headlights really confuse the deer and make the encounter more dangerous, not less.

The Native Americans believe wolves endow human beings with courage, strength, loyalty, and success at hunting. I believe the wolf gave me the courage and strength to anticipate the doe’s movements and brake at the right moment to avoid hitting her.

Here’s to the wolf. May wolves long reign in the Midwest and West and may human beings leave the wolves to their natural terrain and habits.

Julius Caesar: The Power of Words

Mar. 23, 2013

Who can forget Marc Antony’s speech about Brutus being an honorable man while steadily giving examples that he is anything but honorable in killing Julius Caesar? Or Julius Caesar’s “Et tu, Brutus?” as he is being stabbed to death? I was familiar with those sayings but had not read or seen Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” until March 14.

The production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater brought these words to life with fine actors, especially David Darlow as Caesar, John Light as Brutus, and Dion Johnstone as Marc Antony. The contemporary setting of “Julius Caesar” made it more relevant to our times with modern clothes and an paramilitary aura, but the words were all William Shakespeare’s. And what an array of words in this magnificent play.

Julius Caesar’s death just before the intermission was especially gory and nasty, and the real blood was stark and frightening. Cassius was evil incarnate and corrupt. In the second half, Brutus sees Cassius’s corruption and wonders at his actions.

The School for Lies Turns Wit into Mirth

Mar. 23, 2013

I last saw Ben Carlson as Hamlet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2007, where he was a tad too earnest, intense and far from amusing. I remember having to dodge his spit, rather rare even in such an initimate space.

A mere seven years later in the same theater, Mr. Carlson was entirely different as Frank in “The School for Lies.” The intensity is still there and, unfortunately, the spit, which is how I recognized him. Now, however, he has found a role that suits his gift for turning wit into mirth, sometimes at his own expense. The play is a delight, and Mr. Carlson and Deborah Hay (his wife in real life) bring it to life with words that are alternatively absurd, cruel, and delightful.

I have never laughed so much during a play. In fact, instead of being tired as I usually am at the end of a late night play on a weekday, I was full of energy. Run don’t walk to this play when it opens in your city. And I hope you have the fortune of seeing it with this lively cast, especially Ben Carlson, who has been reborn with this role.

“Lady Day” Hits All the Right Notes

Mar. 9, 2013

Billie Holiday’s hauntingly original voice and turbulent life are captured in the Porchlight’s production in Chicago of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” From the start, the poignant staging in a smoky joint sets an authentic tone. Billie and her manager are in a dressing room while her other band members are already on stage. She takes her time getting on stage, tossing back liquor for courage.

Actress Alexis J. Rogers channels Billie’s unusual voice in all its complexity, singing such heart-rending songs as “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” As Billie reflects on her life through stories between songs, the audience learns that she wrote “God Bless the Child” based on her mother’s refusal to give her money when Billie and her first husband were broke. Sadly, her first husband introduced Billie to heroin as proof of her love to him.

Near the end of her abbreviated life, Billie gave up her destructive first husband and other husbands but not injecting heroin into her veins. As she takes a break from singing in her dressing room, Billie rolls down the long glove on her right arm, ties a tourniquet, and injects the powerful drug. First she is knocked out and then Billie comes back to life slowly and enters the bar’s stage again. This time, Billie attaches the signature gardenia in her hair that the bar owner provided like in the old days.

In the play, Billie alternates between recounting her triumphs to remembering stories that tear at your heart. She became a prostitute at age 16 and then desperate to leave that profession, Billie started singing in a bar. When Billie recalls eating in a kitchen in the South with the Artie Shaw band, history comes alive. Mr. Shaw paid twice as much for entire band, who were all white except Billie, to eat in the kitchen with her. But even so, when Billie asked for a bathroom and is denied at one restaurant in the South, she shows her spunk. Billie lets go of the contents of her bladder all over the satin pumps of the pretentious, nasty restaurant blond hostess. The band members call it her “secret weapon.”

For those who love Billie Holiday’s voice and songs, this play is for you. The bonus is learning more about Billie and the triumphs and tribulations of her life.

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend: All My Children

May. 13, 2012

Losing the characters in “All My Children” is like the death of longtime friends. These were the best kinds of friends: always there when you needed them but not demanding when you were absent.

Through the 41 years of “All My Children,” I was an intermittent, not a regular, watcher. My viewing started in high school because other kids watched the soap opera. To be accepted, I needed to know what was going on.

Initially, I was sort of horrified that high schoolers would be interested in a soap opera. My mother was allergic soap operas, and I had thought they were for lonely housewives. Yet I was surprised at how easy I became involved in the stories of the families of the mythic Pine Valley: Erica and her many husbands and lovers, her mother, and later her children; the cunning, manipulative Phoebe; the escapades of Tad; the romance of Nina and Cliff; and the nasty maneuvers of Adam, to name a few.

At the center of “All My Children,” Erica Kane was a late 20th-, early 21st-century version of Scarlett O’Hara. She was manipulative, selfish, and extraordinarily competitive, but Erica was also beautiful, sometimes generous, and occasionally kind. Despite everything, she was fun to watch and never boring.

The people around Erica were related by blood, many marriages, and rivalries. Brooke was the rational counterpart for Erica. She could stand up to her and come out a winner, at least sometimes.

The continuity in the many of the families made it easy to go away for many years, and then return and figure out what was going on easily. That’s what happened with me. After high school, I didn’t watch “All My Children” again until I was unemployed for a few months during the recession of 1991.

In 2006 and 2007, I returned again when I worked out at gym during lunch. If I could, I would switch one of three TVs to “All My Children,” which was much more entertaining than watching a sports program on ESPN. Because I love stories. And although some of the story lines were absurd, other stories were moving and dramatic. I could take my mind off my pain, and think about something else.

So I am very sad to see these wonderful characters leave the airwaves. Somehow, their stories made life at tough times a little more bearable, fun, and dramatic. And since “All My Children” had actors of all ages, the glimpse into other lives was more comprehensive than soap operas that only focus on the young and beautiful. I watched Erica, Tad, Brooke, and Dixie grow up and get older, although not always wiser.

I can only hope that “All My Children” gets picked up somewhere else, so viewers can find these friends when they need them.

Regenerating Geramiums

Apr. 30, 2012

For four years, I have cut down the 14 geramium plants on both sides of the steps of our home in the fall, covered them, and then waited until late February. That’s when I uncover them in their stations at the windows of our basement and begin watering them in hopes they will come back to life for the spring, summer, and fall.

The first year, eight of the 14 red geramiums came back to life. I felt a sense of accomplishment, not to mention several dollars ahead when the cost to buy annuals came around.

The next year, nine geramiums came back to life. Last year, 10 geramiums poked up out of the brown stems. And this February, a miraculous 13 of the 14 came back. I felt like cheering those resilient plants. Although it’s still a mystery to me why some plants come back from the brink of death and others don’t.

But I do know that I cannot wait until the weather is warm enough to move those 13 geramiums from my back porch (They have graduated from the basement windows at this point in their evolution.) to the front steps. Of course, I have to purchase one red geramium to join the regenerated ones. That’s a small price to pay.

Gardening and Editing Share Some Traits

Apr. 16, 2012

As I worked in my garden this weekend, I considered the similarities between editing and gardening. When I edit copy, I have to take out the words that clutter the copy, change words that are not the right ones, and create the best presentation for the story.

When I was gardening on Sunday, I had to pull out the weeds that destroy the space and roots of the flowers and herbs, pull out plant species such as lilies and spearmint when they invade the space of other plants, and trim off the dead flowers or branches to restore more beauty and symmetry, not to mention health, to the flowers and rose bushes. I have to know when to trim and weed, and at what point to leave the garden alone, just like editing copy.

The beauty of a well-tended, well designed garden is like the loveliness of a good story. And like a good story, a garden can always be better and has a thousand possibilities. It can be refined and remade, but if the structure is good, its beauty will keep improving.

How a Club Stays Relevant in the 21st Century

Apr. 13, 2012

Recently, I stayed at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis while I was attending a conference. Twenty years ago, I had been there for a blues night that my boss and I hosted for participants at a big telecommunications conference. At that time, the main rooms of the Columbia Club were lovely, but the guest rooms were a bit dated. I remember some of our salespeople complained about the showers and towels.

Fortunately, during the intervening years, the Columbia Club has installed new showers and other amenities that have kept the charm intact but moved the guest rooms up a notch. The lovely woodwork and early 20th-century furniture in public spaces looks spruced up without the cookie-cutter look of generic conference centers.

But as I saw many older members in the dining rooms, I wondered how the Columbia Club would survive for future generations. By the end of my stay, I knew how it had adapted and would thrive for the foreseeable future.

Great employees at the front desk and in the dining rooms remember members’ and guests’ names and food preferences. For example, at breakfast after the first morning, my server remembered that I wanted hot tea and brought it immediately. At dinner, servers spoke to the members like they were friends but were scrupulous about catering to their every whim.

Constant stream of events are held at the Columbia Club from singers to concerts to Easter Egg hunts. One evening, I returned to hear a wonderful piano concert in the lobby and atrium. A woman told me the concert for a local arts club. Clearly, the Columbia Club is part of the local community.

The Art of Pulp Fiction

Jan. 23, 2012

Raymond Chandler turned pulp fiction into art with his novels about murders and gumshoe Philip Marlowe. His writing was descriptive, graceful, and, at moments, even sublime. His best novels captured a world where murders took place, but the people he created were believable. Sometimes Chandler’s plots were a little contrived, but his characters made it easy to overlook the flaws. Philip Marlowe made Los Angelos a real place apart from its movie star mystique.

The True Meaning of Reconnection

Jan. 18, 2012

My teenage years were full of the normal confusion, awkwardness, and unrequited crushes as the rest of my peers. But where my high school life differed from the norm were my lifelong friends I made when I was a boarding student at Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y. I have described Emma Willard to friends as “Hogwarts without the magic.” We had lovely gothic buildings with gargoyles, plenty of dark wood, and stories of ghosts flitting through the halls and towers. The gargoyles and ghosts just did not come alive except in our imaginations. And we had cafeteria food in our dining halls, but other than the desserts, it wasn’t very tasty and the menu was very repetitive.

Thinking back on my high school friends after my recent high school reunion, I know that I made friends who I can trust and love for the rest of my life. These are friends who remember the best about me, not the worst, and who remain good friends even if we have not seen each other for more than 20 years. Once we start talking, the years just melt away.

In those high school years, we did fun, crazy stunts that I will never do again. For example, we would sneak down into the dining halll by sending the lightest one (usually me) down in a dumb waiter to steal a tub of ice cream, eluding the Pinkies (security guards). We would then rush outside with spoons to eat as much ice cream as we could stand.

Or I remember the time we sent messages back and forth (two floors below) on a rope with a clip to high school boys from the Thacher School exchange program. We promised them one of us was coming down by rope and constructed a life-size doll named Priscilla with a nylon stuffed body and a paper bag head. Priscilla almost fooled them until she swayed in the wind. Those were amazing times in my life, and I was lucky enough to share them with friends who are still stay in touch and that I see at the Emma Willard reunions.

Life Skills: Christmas and Gardening

Jan. 12, 2012

Since I was a child, Christmas has meant putting up a real tree. A Christmas tree’s smell transforms the house. I like to fun my fingers through the needles and feel the sap and rough bark when I hold the tree while my husband tightens the screws.

Unpacking and hanging the ornaments takes me back in time to when a good friend or relative gave me a particular ornament. Or when my husband and I picked out ornaments together. And then there are my Woolworth’s painted wooden ornaments that I bought when I had very little money. I saved those ornaments to remind me of harder times, although I no longer tie crayons on the branches with bright red bows or drape garlands of hand strung cranberries on the branches. Now I have more ornaments than I can hang on a six- or seven-foot tree.

The lights and the lighted angel on top are what turns each year’s Christmas tree into a magical symbol of the holiday. So when we packed up the ornaments and pulled down the lights and angel yesterday, I was sad that Christmas has ended. The magic for this year is over.

But the today I did something I have not done before. I sawed off the balsam tree’s branches and spread them throughout my garden in our backyard. Now a tree will nourish the garden for the spring. Except for the trunk, the tree was not wasted. Somehow that makes the magic of Christmas last several months longer.

New Year’s Resolutions

Jan. 3, 2012

A new year has promise written all over it. While it’s not a blank slate, the new year offers the chance for change. So what do I want to change about what I do and who I am?

1. Be healthier and stronger, which means more exercise, including strength training (not my favorite) and more consistently eating healthy food.

2. Write more outside of my job, which means fewer distractions like movies from Netflix in the evenings and on weekends.

3. Design a garden up at the cabin for the hill, which means studying garden design and native plant books in the winter months.

If I can stick to these three resolutions, that’s enough until I come up with more for 2013.

Elizabeth Taylor: Unparalleled Loveliness

Nov. 30, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor’s death kept interrupting my thoughts last week. The world is a sadder place for her passing.
She was simply the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and expect I will ever see. I wanted to be Elizabeth Taylor when I grew up. From the first time I saw her in “Jane Eyre” when she was a child and never forgot her face, her voice, and her naturalism.

The beautiful graceful child became a breathtaking woman who had trouble convincing people that she could act. But Elizabeth Taylor was a fine, intelligent actress who set the precedent of beautiful woman deliberately looking older and uglier (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?) to persuade the Academy Awards to take her seriously. Sound familiar to Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron? Of course, they followed in her footsteps 40 years later.

And Liz was bigger than life with her many husbands. But the only one who really mattered was Richard Burton; she married him twice and might have married him again if Richard had not died before his time. Despite her death, her beauty will live on in her movies and her beauty may never be equaled. She broke the mold.

The Characters from Charles Dickens Are Alive and Well

Nov. 13, 2011

More than any other author, I recognize people drawn from Charles Dickens’s villains and heroes in real life. For example, my father was like Harold Skimpole from Bleak House. Skimpole was deceptively charming at first glance, but upon further acquaintance was really an insidiously selfish person who did anything to keep himself well fed, housed and with spending money. His real talent was in getting people to give him money and take care of him but often to the detriment of others, especially his family.

Or take Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I have come across a few women who resembled her although they may not have been her age. The narcissistic woman who attracts men but can never keep them because she finds a fatal flaw in each one after the initial attraction passes.

I know of no writer who had better names for his characters either. The villains always have sinister sounding names. While the heroes and heroines have names that sound like good people, for instance, Ester Summerson or David Copperfield. I have found people in my life who could come from a Dickensian novel–Betsie Blodgett and Martha Merritt, to name two.

The Amish

Jul. 13, 2011

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is the heart of the Amish community in the United States. There the Amish co-exist in their own community within the larger community of Mennonites and “regular” U.S. citizens. They take trains, use buggies and carriages, and scoot on strange bicycles without rubber wheels. They still plow the rich earth with teams of six horses. And their meals are rich in fat and often include desserts. But most of them are not fat, because the physical labor in their lives uses up so many calories.

Seeing how they live is a step back to the 19th century. The movie “Witness” from 1985 probably captured the juxtaposition of their lives to our society’s different ways the best. We can mingle with the Amish, but our lives are too different since we are more violent, more consumed with using technology to do things faster and more wasteful.

I would love to think that I could live like the Amish. But I know that I cannot. The Amish, however, can be an inspiration for being more resourceful and less wasteful in the 21st century.

Super 8 Delights Audience with Great Characters and Superb Suspense

Jul. 11, 2011

It’s rare that I see a movie twice in the theater. That’s precisely what I did for “Super 8,” acting like a teenage boy that movie theaters seek to attract. So why did I break my rules for this exceptional film? First, the central characters of 12 year olds achieve great ensemble acting rarely seen among adult actors and bring fun, passion and true feelings to their characters, particularly Elle Fanning.

Second, this film moves back to the suburbs of 1979, a simpler time, without nostalgia but with realism. Third, Steven Spielberg returns to his roots and delivers a better story than “E.T.” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” through this more imaginative movie. (I know Mr. Spielberg was the producer, not the director which was J.J. Abrams, but his fingerprints are all over it.)

So without revealing too much of the intriguing plot, once the kids start their film rolling at midnight in the local train station to its touching conclusion, you’re in for a great two hours. I’d recommend this film to anyone with imagination from five to 95.

Gardening Isn’t for Sissies

Jun. 6, 2011

Leaning forward crounching on my kneepad while rose thorns dig into my back and arms to pull weeds under the three rose bushes, this morning I realized gardening isn’t for sissies. You may think gardening involves tossing some flowers into the ground and watching them grow. How I wish it were that easy.

In my yard, gardening is a full combat sport. My opponents are weeds in all sorts of pesky varieties; ferns (at least in my city garden); and bugs–-from the slugs that attack the hostas to the Asian beetles that assail the rose bushes. If I could use chemical pesticides like my mother-in-law, the battle would be more one-sided. But trying to combat these pests organically is much more lopsided. I am David fighting these insect and weed Goliaths.

To my mind, weeds are perverted flowers like the Orcs compared to the Elfs in the “Lord of the Ring” books and movies–-a perversion of the species. Weeds were created to destroy flowers. If you want the flowers to live, you have to kill the weeds. If you ignore them for a while, the weeds will grow mighty.

Ferns are fine in the woods but not in an urban garden. If you don’t catch them early, their roots grow to the size of basketballs and send out “runners” that create more ferns in every direction. Digging out their roots can involve shovels, sweat, and falling backwards to tug out the root and kill the mother fern and her smaller children.

And finally, there are the bugs. I use sprays that stink more than 100 of the smelliest feet imaginable for roses, which have to be applied at least weekly or after every rain. For slugs, I tried filling submerged containers with beer at strategic spots. That failed last year because I had to do it every day and did not have the time. This year, I am trying to crush eggshells and throw them underneath the hostas. The summer is young, and I’m still optimistic. I just need to eat more eggs.

Snow Daze

Feb. 2, 2011

What happened to those two glorious, unexpected snow days last week? Actually, it’s kind of a blur except for walking the dog through the neighborhood.

The first walk on Wednesday morning, Feb. 2, 2011, was most memorable because it was so quiet and so beautiful. Much of the snow was untouched except by the wind. My dog, Griffen, and I could trudge (well, he leaped) along the sidewalk because the wind had cleared it. When we turned up a sidestreet, a lone guy with a snowblower had cleared one short block. That was so easy. The next few blocks, we had to walk on the street, which had been plowed several hours before but was walkable. The streets and sidewalks off this street were impassable until we came out a major Chicago street with road and sidewalks cleared.

By Wednesday afternoon, the neighbors were out and their progress on clearing snow from sidewalks was amazing. Our shared experience of weathering the storm was acknowledged with smiles and hellos from those I knew by sight and complete strangers. Many dogs and their owners were outside.

Otherwise, I got some home projects done, but nothing major was accomplished. I did a little work to keep projects afloat. Mostly, I enjoyed a rare, unplanned time to play and looked longingly at the circular fort some older children had built. Snow days are more fun when you’re kid. But these days made me remember being younger.

The Art of War for Women – Great Advice in Life and in the Office

Jun. 13, 2010

Occasionally a book leaps off the shelf and into your hands, and changes your life. That’s what reading “The Art of War for Women” by Chin-ning Chu has done for me. While I am not usually a big fan of business books, this one is different. The Asian-American author has masterfully applied the philosophy of Sun Tzu to how women can use his 13 principles to gain more power and understanding of their lives and how to negotiate the realities of the workplace.

While I just finished reading it, now I plan to go back to sections at the beginning and understand how I can apply these approaches to my life and especially how I can devise a more effective strategy to find a permanent job. For more, see http://www.achievemax.com/bookreviews/the-art-of-war-for-women/.

Helen Thomas: Betrayed by New Media

Jun. 9, 2010

When Helen Thomas told a rabbi holding a camera that the Jews should leave Palestine and return to their homelands in Germany and Poland, she betrayed her ignorance of the new media. At 89 years old, Thomas learned firsthand that the world has changed dramatically.

She has made a career of being a rascally, abrasive reporter. While Thomas should have realized that her remarks were not diplomatic and should not have been said to a rabbi, she did not understand how different the world is today. The speed and connections possible now can ruin someone with a solid 50-year career in the White House press corps in less than 24 hours.

Somehow, her betrayal at her age makes me sad. If Thomas were younger, I would say that her fate was deserved. But at 89 years old, someone should have given her a break. I just wish someone had explained to her that what would not have been news three years ago can mean that you lose your job today.

Ode to Valentine’s Day

Apr. 13, 2010

Valentine’s Day is high on my list of days worthy of celebration. But it’s not about roses, chocolates or diamond heart necklaces. The celebration centers on love. On Valentine’s Day, you can tell people–not just your husband or partner–that you love them. That’s something I should say more often than I do. But Valentine’s Day give me a reminder that love is pervasive in my life. I am lucky and want many people in my life know that I love them.

Masterful Director and Writer

Apr. 13, 2010

Over the weekend, I watched the movie “Easy Living” for the first time. The great director, Preston Sturges, wrote this movie before he became a director. His style is evident from the first frames when Edward Arnold throws his wife’s sable coat out the window, and it lands on a poor working girl, Jean Arthur. The rest of the film plays like a mad comic version of Hitchcock’s mistaken identity movie plots with lots of zany twists and turns of phrase.

All the things that could have gone terribly wrong are smoothed out and over by the end. Everyone is happier at the end than at the beginning; misunderstandings are cleared up. But what makes the movie worth watching is a scene in an automat (a restaurant where you pay to open compartments with food) when the system goes beserk and all the windows are opening for free food. It’s better than any scene in a Marx Brothers or Mel Brooks movie. You have to see it to find out how wonderful comedy can be in the hands of the right writer and a great, zany cast.

David Versus Goliath

Apr. 12, 2010

Over the weekend, the ticket sales for movies “Date Night” and “Clash of the Titans” were too close to call. Both snared the No. 1 spot in the nation. While it was the second week for the “Clash of the Titans,” that is still a great testament to the power of comedy in America. Recession or not, people do want to laugh. If Steve Carrell and Tina Fey cannot make you laugh, no one can.

West Virginia–Poverty and Beauty

Mar. 25, 2010

West Virginia broke off from Virginia in disagreement over slavery. Economically, the people in the state never seems to have recovered or found the key to prosperity. The hills are rich in coal, which benefits a few lucky owners. But the workers are not getting rich and have an extraordinarily hard life, usually shortened through diseases like lung cancer or accidents on the job.

Despite the hard scrabble life for many and the run down look of many homes in West Virginia, the landscape is singularly spectacular. The forests look hardy, with many rivers and streams coursing through the rocky hillsides.

How do you measure beauty for quality of life? I would not want to be a coal miner, but living in West Virginia would have some priceless benefits.

Playing in Central Park

Mar. 25, 2010

On Saturday, March 20, it reached 70 degrees in New York City, and Central Park turned into a playground for all ages of New Yorkers. Families spread out blankets to have picnics. Children clambered up the rocks to play king of the hill and other games. Adults and teenagers listened to music from bands that sprang up spontaneously and joyously celebrated the first day of spring. And then there were the roller bladers, hula hoopers and dancers having fun at different sites throughout the lovely Park. What a day!

Genius at Work on Amtrak

Mar. 25, 2010

A genius designed the Roomette on Amtrak. The space is so functional and practical but so small. For example, the two chairs facing one another turn into one of the two beds at night just with some tugs by the porter. An upper berth is pulled down at night for the second bed. Inside it are the two bed rolls with a firm mattress, sheets and a blanket. Each roomette has a narrow closet for coats, a sliding tray that even has squares for playing chess or checkers and two spaces for a small bag and underneath for a purse.

It’s remarkable to think how little space we actually need if it’s smartly designed. I would love to find an architect so able to build a structure that would be so efficient.

Train Travel: Gaining Some Momentum

Mar. 18, 2010

In these days when people sit at dinner tables ignoring their companions to respond to e-mails on their Blackberries or iPhones, it’s refreshing to know that Amtrak does not have WiFi yet except in New York City. And that just occurred last month. So, there’s still some place where you can travel in the United States without being connected.

For some of us, it’s great to know that trains haven’t changed that much in the last 100 years. Of course, we have changed a lot, which is why traveling by Amtrak has been a languishing afterthought in an age that values speed and instant grantification. Most of the cities and towns that trains used to go through, no longer have long-distance trains rumbling through. And losing train routes has helped to push some towns like Phelps, Wis., to the brink of extinction.

But lately, I have gotten the sense that some people are valuing train travel again. For example, two years ago, I took a train from Chicago to Portage, Wis., where my husband picked me up in a car to go the rest of the distance to our cabin on Lac Vieux Desert in Phelps. That stop was the closest to our cabin now instead of all the way to Phelps.

What struck me on the journey though was the enthusiasm of the passengers young, old and middle-aged. They were actually excited to be onboard. I cannot say that about passengers that I travel with on planes anymore.

With the consistent rise in gas prices, I hope trains do make a comeback. They add a touch of a time when civilization was more civilized.

Small Miracle

Mar. 10, 2010

Bulbs are miraculous. They need so little care and just spring up at the appointed time every year. But today, I found out just how hardy bulbs can be. Two sets of bulbs that my husband gave to me over the past two years were still in their pots in a corner of our basement. Last fall and the fall before, I never got around to planted them in our garden. As I prepared to throw them both away, I realized that with little light and no water, the plants were actually growing. In fact, one tiny hyacinth had bloomed.

It was so amazing, that I almost could not believe it. So … just when you think winter will never end, blooming bulbs revive your hope for spring and for the good surprises that occur in our lives.

News of the Day

Feb. 10, 2010

Creating Jobs

Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: creating jobs to spur the economy. That is reassuring. But it’s not promising that the New York Times report politicians from both sides are squabbling about the details in the Senate. While not surprising, job creation during the Great Recession should be one matter where politics should not take precedence. It’s all about the economy.

Ask the people who are unemployed—some good, qualified people for up to two years. And then ask the workers who are routinely putting in 60-hour weeks to make up for those who were laid off. The politicians need to remember that all of us benefit when the economy strong and the job market is solid. It’s time for consensus.

I love an underdog, and the New Orleans Saints fit this role perfectly. The team has never won a Superbowl; the Indianapolis Colts were heavily favored to win. The Saints should never have won, but the team did. It’s like Charlie Brown getting the best of Lucy.

The contrast between the cities of Indianapolis and New Orleans is stark. Indianapolis is sleek, modern and homogenous compared to the still struggling to make a comeback city of New Orleans. But New Orleans has a long history and considerable charm on its side. I hope this sports victory sparks a renewal for New Orleans for people returning and for rebuilding.

Having been told recently that I am laid off as of Feb. 13, I find it scary to read in today’s New York Times that 20,000 positions were cut in January even though unemployment has fallen to 9.7 percent. Now I am one of many workers competing to find a job in a still hesitant economy that takes two steps forward and then another step backward. The Great Recession has become a reality, not an abstract concept, for me now.

Waiting for Plum Jam

Dec. 11, 2009

Now I know why so many women left the farms. Making preserves is hard work. Somehow even though I made plum jam last year, I thought this year would be easier. Last year, I did the jam over two nights during the week–agonizing over when the plums would turn into the right consistency. This year I was making it on the weekend. It had to be better, right?!

Yesterday, I cut seven and one-half pounds of Italian plums into quarters, removing the pits. I added one cup of raw cane sugar per pound, a little sea salt, and the juice from one lemon. So far, the task was pretty easy. I loaded up an oversized saucepan for the sugar to do its magic overnight in the refrigerator.

This morning about 7:20 a.m., I pulled the juicy plums and sugar in the saucepan from the refrigerator onto the burner. I stirred, I read, stirred again, again, and again. I sat in the kitchen–watching my plums do a slow boil and slowly thicken–for hours. The plums still needed more cooking. (I did make one error; for the first three hours, the lid was on.) At 6 p.m., the plums were finally the right consistency to spoon into sterilized jars, add sterilized tops and bands, and load into the boiling water of the canner.

This year, I made 10 small jars of plum jam that smelled and tasted heavenly versus nine last year. And it took one of my precious weekend days. Maybe the two weekday nights was better. That will be my plan for 2012 Christmas gifts. Waiting for plum jam isn’t as long as Waiting for Godet, but it sure seemed like a long Sunday.

Hooping for Fun

Feb. 13, 2009

About 10 years ago, I bought a hulu hoop in Ketchum, Idaho. I hadn’t hula hooped since I was about eight years old when I had mastered the art of hooping and could do it for hours in my driveway or in my bedroom. Years later, I thought hula hooping would be a fun way to exercise. Periodically, I have picked up the sparkling hula hoop that has water inside swishing around and had fun while hooping in our basement.

If only I had had the foresight 10 years ago to start the movement of hula hooping for exercise and weight loss. Last week’s New York Times, an article appeared about hooping and how it has become all the rage for an exercise that’s fun and helps people lose weight and presumably keep it off. Marisa Tomei will be its spokesperson and fitness guru.

So what did I do? I ordered a new hula hoop and DVD for intermediates from Hoopnotica because mine is starting to split at the seams. My goal? I’d like to have fun and lose weight at the same time.