Archive for August, 2011

Most of my friends have already dropped their children off at college. Some return home to an empty house, they throw themselves over their child’s empty bed and weep, or they do a little dance of jubilation, or land somewhere between those two emotions. But wouldn’t it be nice if we parents knew we’d sent our progeny off to one of the “Happiest Colleges” in America? Well, let’s hear it for this little known gem, one of Old Dominion’s finest, James Madison University. Ranked by Newsweek today, right up there with Harvard and Yale, as having the happiest students, …”JMU received high marks for dining options, nightlife, and its student-teacher ratio.” Oh, and having the most sunny days per year!

Which leads me to wonder about the world’s happiest countries. Everyone’s heard of Bhutan right? Here is what His Majesty King Khesar, The 5th Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan said: “Whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people…” I like the idea of trying to measure happiness. Doctors have a checklist for depression, so why not happiness?

Thomas Jefferson included happiness at the last minute in our country’s Constitution when he wrote that we the people were entitled to such rights as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, according to the experts at Monticello, he never fully explained what that meant. They do say that he may have been influenced, “…by George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights (adopted June 12, 1776), which referred to “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” So yes, sunny hurricane-free days, freedom from fear and retail therapy, that’s a good start. While our country currently suffers from high unemployment levels and its lowest consumer confidence index in years and prepares to memorialize the tenth anniversary of 9/11, maybe we should also try and make our way back to happiness.

A Day at Monticello

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NY Gov Andrew Cuomo said about Hurricane Irene, “It could have been worse, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t significant damage.” There was a time when everyone was talking about what kind of epitaph they wanted on their tombstone, that I said “It could’ve been worse.” Everyone would always laugh, but not everyone got the point. Bob’s Grandfather Sam, got on the boat from Russsia to follow his first love, Etty, and towards the end of his life he wrote about his journey to America. In Yiddish. And its title was “Better it Couldn’t Be.”

Sam brought with him a sewing machine and a few shekels, eventually he owned the coat company in Brooklyn. Only in this country can the Jewish Grandson of an immigrant tailor become a physician and marry the Daughter of an Irish Flapper. My husband, Bob, had Sam’s book translated and bound for all the relatives who attended the Bride’s Bat Mitzvah. Needless to say, his love for Etty figured prominently in the narrative. And it spoke to weathering the myriad storms of life with the love of your best friend by your side.

I’ve pretty much tried to get rid of those modal verbs of probability, the “woulda, coulda and shouldas” since my early Catholic School years. They imply criticism and condescension. But I’d have to agree with Sam about this past week. I survived my very first earthquake with Bob out of town. And the Rocker came home. He evacuated his Asbury Park house with his girlfriend after emptying their basement and parking her car on the second level of a garage. Hurricane Irene spoiled our plans for some white water rafting, but gave them some time to fly around the Blue Ridge with our resident Ambassador Pilot. We get to look at the big picture sometimes, and it couldn’t be better!

Dave and Caitly



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Have you ever heard a new word and said, “Of course!”  Maybe it’s not in the Oxford English dictionary yet, but you’ve had this “feeling” for ages and finally someone has put a name to it, maybe even an ICD9 code (medical billing jargon for diagnosis).  This morning on the Today show, while I was sipping my coffee, the proverbial light went off when I heard the word “Orthorexia.” It is defined as an obsession with “healthy or righteous eating”. I’m about to rant, so be prepared.

It all started when I was in college. I sat across from a couple who looked extremely hippyish, (granted it was a time for hippy) noticed they weren’t eating lunch and offered them some of my sandwich.  Oh the humiliation. You see they were some sort of vegetarian I’d never heard of, no leather shoes and they didn’t even eat honey cause of the way the bees were treated…let’s advance to the dawn of the 21st Century, my kids’ college years. Students had lots of excuses – allergy, gluten intolerance, all equaling extreme food elimination.  Skip ahead to the Bride’s medical school where I hosted a dinner and one girl was a vegan. So I learned how to make a vegan pesto with fake cheese.  Another night I heard one of her friends say, “That’s a bad food.” This girl is now an Ob-Gyn. I had to correct her and tell her there are no bad foods. How can a food be bad, did it misbehave? I tried talking about balance, but I’m not sure she was following.

And now I am distraught. Paula Deen and Anthony Bourdain are duking it out over our very food souls. It’s the butter Southern Queen vs the arrogant French Chef. Much as I love Paula, and the French in general, I had to laugh. Maybe it’s my Libran nature, but I think the Greeks had a word for it. Sophrosyne was its goddess and she stood for: moderation; discretion; temperance; and prudence. In other words, everything in moderation. The French hosts of the Bride and the MOH’s Junior year in Paris had hit on something when they told them we Americans are so fat because we “…bring doggy bags home from restaurants.” I scoffed at first. But hello, it’s all about proportion isn’t it, and portion-control. Not about bad ice cream.

Poor Bill, we now have an ex-President, post-MI, shunning his big macs and praising the vegan life-style. We have the “slow food” movement and the “eat local” set. In Cville we have Retail Relay, an online grocery service that lets you “meet” the farmers who produce your food. We have moms insisting that peanut-anything can’t be served at school lunches (along with sugary anything and vending machines full of soda). Even fish have their “toxic” and “over-fishing” labels. It’s enough to make any home cook think maybe they’re poisoning their family.

the new food pyramid

A psychologist and founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders in Britain said, “The attachment to strange eating systems and theories is now supported by a thriving industry and gives people a sense of status.”Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for healthy, fresh food. My Mom always told me that the way to a man’s heart…well you get it. Food equals love. Now pass me that croissant!

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Don’t know if the earth moved for you, but I just downloaded Into the Sun from iTunes. Come out of the darkness and listen to the rumble.


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When somebody new asks you, “Where are you from?” do you hesitate? I did when we first moved to Cville, but now I say without hesitation, “New Jersey!” It’s usually followed up by how my part of the Jersey Shore is nothing like that reality show on MTV. During our post-Help book club dinner, a woman was talking about how she doesn’t miss California (well except for the weather) and how much she feels at home here in the Blue Ridge. I asked her how long it took her to feel, “…at Home.” She replied ten or twelve years…so I’m halfway there.

Recently I signed up with Patch.com in order to stay connected with my old community. Rumson is where a Great Blue Heron would perch on our garage before heading towards the river for breakfast, elegant Snowy Egrets would strut their stuff in the nearby pond, and a neighbor would serve hot chocolate to the kids assembled to skate in their yard. It is where I served as a School Board Member and wrote numerous Town Columns for the local newspaper. When I return to the sound of a commuter train and the smell of the ocean, I always feel right at home back in the beautiful Garden State.

Which is why I was surprised to find that Bob’s Virginia tomatoes are every bit as delicious as a Jersey tomato. The world famous Jersey tomato had no equal in my mind. But the squash are almost done, and he’s harvesting tomatoes like nobody’s business. While I read in Patch about the stars all over the houses in Fair Haven (right next door to Rumson), and think about how they had plastic pink flamingos in their yards once upon a time, I’ll share the most simple recipe for Tomato Mozzarella Salad. You must make your own vinaigrette:

  • 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves
  • a spurt (1/2 teaspoon) of Grey Poupon mustard
  • chopped fresh herbs – tarragon is best, but thyme and sage will do
  • a few turns of fresh sea salt and pepper
  • About 1/4 cup each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Now you whisk everything except the oil together well, then slowly drizzle in the EVOO. I like the small Ciliegine Mozzarella balls and certainly it helps to sprinkle some fresh basil leaves overall. Enjoy.

And speaking of birds…one of my favorite activist columns helped to reverse a Borough ban on feeding “migratory waterfowl.” In other words, our kids could feed the ducks again! Ah the power of the pen, and the mighty tomato.

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Cali girl, Wendy, brought The Help to my Ivy Farm book club’s attention. It was over a year ago, and I remember feeling like maybe I shouldn’t be reading this book, with its stereotypical  Black maids and Southern tinge of racial superiority. Then I got into it, and I got it, and the whole book club loved it.  Race is still, such a trap for this country; think about certain politicians threatening to take back our country. I always wonder where exactly they think we all went? This surprisingly nuanced little book captured those watershed civil rights years so well, from a safer angle, one we could all relate to, the homefront.

A few of us Farmers got together to see the movie. What a gem. A movie that holds its own weight next to the book, I was alternately teary and laughing. The music was incredible. One woman swore her Mother had that exact same green stripped shirtwaist dress. Another wanted to hug the large Black family that was sitting in front of us. We decided to continue the night and lingered over dinner, not wanting to let the glow of something real end. I talked about going to MN after my own Mother, the Flapper died, and wanting to keep her letters with me. My older sister, Kay, helped me clean out her desk. She kept every letter and every newspaper article I’d ever written. One letter, in particular, stood out to me.

I was 19 and in college. Postmarked April 6, 1968, it was a small orange envelope with white ink – the return address, 271 Beacon Street, Boston.  At the top of the dramatic orange letter dated the day before, April 5, I wrote: “It is truly a sad day in Boston. I just got back from a march downtown in honor of a great man who died last night in Memphis. We all wore black bands and marched arm in arm and spoke of things like truth and justice and equality…” I never mentioned MLK or race, but I had turned some mysterious corner into adulthood that day. The National Memorial to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr will be dedicated on August 28th. It took awhile, but I think our children grew up in a better world. Michelle Obama most likely had a maid in her ancestry; as did I when my Irish immigrants first got off the boat. We stand on their sacrifice.

I just pulled out a small orange card Mother placed in the envelope  dated 1-9-84. I never saw this card before. In her distinct handwriting she has given me one last admonition; “Save this letter for Jessica. Some day she will appreciate.”

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“That was an expensive loaf of bread,” my English gentleman said as he pulled away from the newest bakery in town.  Matt, the owner, had popped by the knitting circle a few weeks ago with lots of sweet and savory samples for our crew. I was wondering if they teach that merchandizing technique in business school while simultaneously being hooked on some cheesy/spinach rolls.   So naturally, after picking up some Italian Malabrigo yarn this week to make a prayer shawl for a dear friend who is facing some rough times, I stopped in at Great Harvest Bread Company, right next door to Cville Coffee.

Warm gooey baked goods and soft wooly yarn are a match made in heaven.

Their mission statement: “…being loose and having fun, giving generously to others!” They grind fresh, whole grain flour every day and never use dough conditioners or chemicals. I parked my two day old AWD Honda in a safe place, in front of the bakery, and ordered a sandwich. The bread is so scrumptious and soft you almost resent the lettuce and turkey for infusing their flavors. The place was jumping with midday customers. I told Mark he needs to sell their catchy tee shirts about good carbs and looked all around before backing out, right into a Toyota. He was backing out too, from an obliquely angled parking space, dangerously close to the coffee shop. Honda 1 – Toyota 0.


It was a real accident, we didn’t see each other and nobody honked to warn us of our impending 2 mile per hour bump. In true Cville style, we decided to split the cost of repairs. I didn’t tell him to beware of coffee shops in the future, because then I’d have to explain to my noble new British friend that some Irish superstitions run deep. Forgive me Volvo, I still love you even though we can’t drive together anymore.

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Just sent my friend from high school, the only other redhead in our class, a Huffington Post article titled “Being a Redhead: Why it’s a Love-Hate Relationship.” It talks about the common theme of feeling different, even scorned by our peers.

For most of us Titian-types, we would have gladly dyed our hair a darker camouflage color. I can remember desperately wanting black hair in Sacred Heart School; I felt like a beacon for any nun’s wrath sitting there in my dark maroon (think blood colored) uniform, hands clasped together on desk, a bow tie at my neck, with my halo of strawberry blonde hair. The Post author, Katherine Bindley, takes the historic view: “…red hair is often the mark of sin. The roster of corrupted redheads includes Eve, after she had been seduced by Satan, Cain, after he offed his brother, and everyone’s favorite disciple, Judas. Redheaded Mary Magdalenes are also common, emphasizing what a harlot Jesus had the compassion to befriend.” There is even a term coined in the UK for hatred of redheaded people – gingerism.

Cut to today. It was my man, Bob, coming up out of anesthesia after yet another shoulder surgery, who turned to the recovery room nurse and asked for his wife, “The Redhead,” in the waiting room. At that point my golden highlights had pretty much morphed into an ashy grey white, and I decided to turn back the clock and embrace my redheadedness. I dove wantonly right into the depths of red high and lowlights, wanting to look more or less like myself for the wedding photos. Will the true Gingers among us please standup! Could we reds become extinct soon? I was the only child, out of six, to have red hair. My Mother, the Flapper, was a blonde. But my Grandmother was a redhead. Here is the genetic mumbo jumbo from the website How Stuff Works:

“Red hair is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene. It’s also a recessive trait, so it takes both parents passing on a mutated version of the MC1R gene to produce a redheaded child. Because it’s a recessive trait, red hair can easily skip a generation. It can then reappear after skipping one or more generations if both parents, no matter their hair color, carry the red hair gene.” All is not lost! The Rocker’s beard is mahogany and the Groom, being part Irish…it’s time to take back our red roots. Claim the color ladies, bottle or not. Look at our cousin, the angelic redheaded Flower Girl. It’s time to teach our children that different=delightful.

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A quick good morning to ask a favor. My son, the Rocker’s band needs only 957 more “Likes” to make 10,000 by tomorrow, would you be kind enough to click “Like?” Thanks a bunch.

TPM in French Vogue

August 2011 in your local Barnes and Noble now folks!

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Yesterday I got my car back. It was in the shop again, for four days, because it gave up the ghost in front of a coffee shop. Again. The first time it didn’t start, my ’99 navy Volvo was parked in front of a Starbucks. That was about a month ago. This time it was a Greenberry’s holding the blue baron captive; the local watering hole is the spot for town and gown to meet. The day my car was sprung, the day the mechanic told me to stay away from coffee shops and next time he’d bring a lighter so the old girl could go out in a blaze of glory, yesterday the humidity broke and it was an absolutely glorious day. I opened the sunroof along with the windows, and I felt like a teenager again, free – cocooned in my semi-safe, might stop at any moment jalopy.

Don’t ask me how I could jump from this seriously demented tale of a car and a coffee shop to the war in Afghanistan, but I’m going to try. I was listening to an ex-Marine, journalist speak at The Miller Center. This is their mission – “The Miller Center is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to expand understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history, providing critical insights for the nation’s governance challenges.” One of the most wonderful things about this town, is that these lectures are free to the public.

Matt Pottinger was working for the Wall Street Journal when he joined the Marines in 2005. He talked about how, contrary to what we might think, people who have had military experience of their own, are less likely to recommend going to war. But that when they do, they go all out. People who have not had any military experience, are more likely to want war….and then they want to go to war incrementally. Like hey, let’s order a no-fly zone, or a blockade. The guys with combat experience will go to war to win it! And we now have more legislators in DC without military experience than at any other time in history.

So here are my early morning thoughts. Can we actually win a war on terrorism? Isn’t it like saying we can win a war on drugs, or on crime? In my mind, I’d like to believe that the elite Seal and special ops troops, those 30 brave Americans  shot down this past weekend, did not die in vain. If we truly want to make life better for the Afghan people, if we want to help nurture a free and open society, an alternative to the Taliban’s rule of law, we had better learn their language and their customs; we had better build wells and hospitals and schools.

“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.”  ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

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