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The Holocaust and Other History: How Much Do You Know? How Much Should You Know?

I crammed to finish the short story in time, eyes glued to the pages ignoring everything around me.  It was only 119 pages.  I could do it.  This was not a college finals week study session.  I was 37 years old on my way to hear Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  I had never read his ground breaking historical account of his concentration camp experiences called, “Night.”  And I was sort of ashamed.

The train pulled into New York’s Penn Station and I had 10 pages to go in the riveting memoir.  But kind of like with “Titanic,” you know how it ends.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Author, Professor, Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel April 28, 2010/Carol Berman

The 90 minute program sponsored by the New York Press Club (of which I am a member) provided even more insight into Mr. Wiesel’s life since his time in Auschwitz and Birkenau.  But I did not take away a greater desire to connect with Israel and current politics there.  What I did think about is the responsibility to learn.

As a journalist, it’s been my job to learn about any number of things, usually under deadline.  Even off the clock, the quest and desire to learn is usually present. But in a semi-schizophrenic way, sometimes I just want to turn it off and it’s completely unpredictable.  On my honeymoon, I tried to turn it off and literally did not power up my iPhone.  But like calories not counting when eaten off someone else’s plate, I was drawn to news alerts on my husband’s Blackberry.

A journalist is also charged with being a witness to history.  But Mr. Wiesel took this notion even further:

“My deep conviction is he or she who listens to a witness becomes a witness.”

Does Your Day Have 28 Hours?

There’s only so much time in the day.  During the little free time we get, are we responsible for “work” of a different kind?  Work in self-educating?  Are we responsible for filling in the gaps left by tightly scheduled school curricula, when there’s never enough time to learn everything.

Back in 1989, AP American history, I remember whizzing through the post-World War II years because time was short and exam prep had to begin.  In college, professors often skew curricula to their own areas of interest and expertise.  There are so many classics to read,  so many events to embrace.  In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 37% of high school seniors didn’t know that a 1962 conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was over missiles in Cuba.  That was considered an easy question.  Only 29% could name one reason why the US got involved in Korea.

During Mr. Wiesel’s talk, he addressed an audience question recounting a 10 year old who did not know about the Holocaust.  “I will not force a child,” he said. “A child must be ready for it.”

The Great Gatsby/F.Scott Fitzgerald

"Pleasure" Reading or School Assignment?

I know my knowledge of European history is lacking.  Same can be said for wars in Korea and Vietnam.  I read works including “The Great Gatsby” and “The Grapes of Wrath” on my own because I felt a hole in my literary knowledge.

Nothing Wrong With a Little Brain Candy

But are we allowed to turn it off?  While I’ve been to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, read The Diary of Anne Frank, and experienced several first-hand accounts of survivors in years of Hebrew school, I never saw Schindler’s List. It just isn’t what I look for when I go to the movies.  I don’t consider it entertainment; it’s education.  And if I’ve got 4 hours for dinner and a movie on a Saturday night, maybe I just don’t want to mentally “work.”  But I’m beginning to think responsibility might have to win out more often.

That sense has become stronger as I’ve sought to be educated and seen the link with responsibility.  Watching “Food, Inc.” and reading David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” has changed the way I shop for food.  Over time, this education will positively impact the health of my family.  But I found both entertaining.

The Holocaust and other historical accounts are not meant to be entertaining.  Ken Burns has made a valiant effort in making historical events such as the Civil War watchable (though many critics don’t like his treatment of still photographs).

How Much Time do YOU Have?

The challenge is in finding time to balance responsibility with unadulterated recreation.  A 2007 study from the Pew Research Center found that despite the boom in readily available information, between 1989 and 2007, knowledge of public affairs didn’t improve much.  In fact, 5% fewer people knew the name of the Vice President.  If you want to make the argument that people don’t see far beyond their noses, it doesn’t hold.  Eight percent fewer people could name their own state’s governor.  Despite the fact that people are more educated, knowledge has not increased accordingly.

I think it’s a combination of time in the day and sheer desire.  Both should not be excuses.

The American Historical Association lists three benefits of studying history–that when you think about it, can be translated to so many elements in life:

1. The Ability to Assess Evidence
2. The Ability to Assess Conflicting Interpretations
3. Experience in Assessing Past Examples of Change

The American Revolution Center found 83% of adults failed a basic test on the American Revolution in 2009.  (I scored a 90% on the same test–a little comfort in knowing I have not fried every brain cell since the 10th grade)

I now think we’re compelled to be more conscious in our post-school learning, no matter what the circumstance.  Some work 3 jobs to get by and put food on the table.  I think 5 minutes with a newspaper on the commute or waking up to 10 minutes of news radio is as much a privilege as a responsibility.  We can become educated and question the information sources.  Not everyone can.

I finished the last 10 pages of “Night” on the train ride home.

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April 30, 2010   Comments Off on The Holocaust and Other History: How Much Do You Know? How Much Should You Know?

You Want to be a Rock Star?

Jobs in any performance industry aren’t exactly “dime a dozen.”  Sure, anyone can strap on a guitar, put out a hat for tips in the park, and call him or herself a “musician.”  CD production can be done at home. is an instant audience.  But true success?  That’s harder to come by.  Achieving the status of “legend,” either bestowed by a hall of fame, an award, or the media–the ultimate challenge.

So you want to be a music legend.  (Or maybe it’s your kid who spends more time writing songs than doing science homework).  While there are often predictable paths which lead to many professions, becoming a music legend isn’t so easy.  If you study and pass certain exams, you can be a nurse or a teacher.  Hard work, study, and even luck makes no guarantees in the music industry.

What Makes a Music Legend?

Jackson Browne in Concert/Carol Berman

Jackson Browne in Concert/Carol Berman

There are some traits that all legends have in common.  Mark Wolfson has more than 3 decades in the music business, as a producer and a writer primarily.  He’s worked with artists including Smokey Robinson, Van Halen, and Talking Heads.  With all the people who have entered his studios, the legends stand out. “Now more than ever, someone who might be good at whatever they would accomplish are the people who are always going to stand out.  Someone like Jason Mraz,” he says.  “They’re driven in any form.  It becomes an inherent personality trait.  The more glutted the market is, the more they stand out.”

Being great musicians offer no guarantees.  Remember the 80s group, TOTO?  Extremely talented studio musicians, but legends? Not so much.  “They became a super-band out of the need for the record label to make it happen,” says Wolfson.

Jackson Browne has had it all–stories, longevity, prolific turnout, awards, consistent touring–but is he a legend?  It seems so random.

In fact, talent might have nothing to do with it.  “There are plenty incredibly, even supernaturally talented musicians who will never become legends,” says Robert Fink, Professor and Chair of UCLA’s Department of Musicology. “And there are musical legends who are not actually that musically talented–Ringo Starr?  Sid Vicious?  Flavor Flav?”

Who Gets to Decide Who’s a Music Legend?

According to Fink, legend status is often the result of coronation by the media more than consumers.  “Certainly it is possible to be a legend in your own time, if your story is archetypal enough,” he says.  “The turning moment would be the moment when someone “tells the tale” in a way that catches the attention of the public, and that “fixes” the artist’s story in a form that will last.”

Sounds a little depressing to me.  It’s the story, not the music.  What about controlling your destiny, working until you make it, die trying and all those positive messages that get people through the day?  In the music world, that’s just not realistic.

Wolfson sees a more linear progression–organizations like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bestow legend status.   DJs and websites keep artists in the spotlight.  And listeners and fans keeps it going further.

How Long Does it Take?

If you’re lucky, legend status can actually be observed before death.  Let’s face it, death, especially a tragic one, becomes a great story and adds to the mystique.  Take note, fans of Janis Joplin, Lynryd Skynrd, and Otis Redding.

But if you compare photos of the artists who sang in “We Are the World” from 1985 and “We Are the World” for Haiti 2010, what’s notable is that most of the singers in the older photo are still around, still singing, and still filling seats. Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, to name a few of the soloists. (A side note: Barbra Streisand was asked by Quincy Jones to participate in 1985.  She turned it down and kicked herself for it.  So the second time, she jumped on.)  That’s not to say they’re all legends, and only time will tell about the new crew including Justin Bieber and Akon.  But with Autotune and technology smoothing out more rough spots, talent is more easily molded, manufactured, and helped along the way.

And Then There’s Life.

Truth is, optimistic or not, the odds of becoming a legend are slim.  You might win the lottery first.  But in real life, musicians find happiness and fulfillment anyway.  Just look at the rejects from American Idol, performers who had a leg up from the get-go.  Several find jobs on Broadway–Fantasia Barrino in The Color Purple, Tamyra Grey in Rent, and Constantine Maroulis was nominated for a Tony award in Rock of Ages.  Others fall into obscurity.

Scott Albert Johnson

Mississippi Musician Scott Albert Johnson/Susan Margaret Barrett

Scott Albert Johnson, a musician from Jackson, MS, pays the bills as a writer.  He’s earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia.  But if you ask the married father of three what he does for a living, “musician” is what he’ll say.  “You had better love it, to the extent that you can’t live without it, if you’re going to give it a go,” says Johnson.  “My main goal has always been to get my music to as wide an audience as possible, via recordings as well as live performances.  That goal has never changed and I don’t think it ever will. Thanks to the Internet and social media, I have been able to get fans and recognition all over the world despite very limited touring.”

Johnson released his album, “Umbrella Man” in 2007.  He’s not selling out stadiums, but he’s ok with that.  He’s shared stages with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Burton and Marty Stuart, who played in Johnny Cash’s band and is a gold solo recording artist.  These are the experiences which inspire and motivate him.  His second album is due

Legends of Tomorrow

We put our experts on the spot to identify current artists who have “legend” potential; the ones to watch.  Professor Fink’s money is on White Stripes’ frontman Jack White and Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst.  For women, for some reason, it’s a bit more difficult. “It is harder for women to become legends, but some stories are compelling, like, say Mariah Carey, who I would bet on over, say, Beyonce, who is beautiful and talented (ie, “diva”), but whose story is a little…bland,” says Fink.

Wolfson would agree, that the White Stripes are poised for long-standing greatness along with the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, The Shins, Foo Fighters and Green Day

Johnson names Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Louis Armstrong, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, and Bonnie Raitt in the “legend” category.  And his heroes might just fall into that category too: Sting, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend, most of the Beatles.

Your chances of hitting it big?  Consider Johnson’s goals…which might not result in riches but will maintain sanity in an insane industry.  And they all stem from observing the legends he admires:
“They can (1) sing well, (2) play an instrument exceptionally well, and (3) write good, challenging songs that work on a lot of levels,” says Johnson.  “That’s what I strive for.”

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April 20, 2010   1 Comment

A Most Interesting Man–Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe

I recently had the honor to interview Mike Rowe–host of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs,” the most high profile gig among the many he has.  I wrote up a story for Aol’s Jobs page.  I had originally intended to write a different piece for this week’s Scribble.  But frankly, I really like the one I already did, with a few extra words below.  You can read it here:

Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe Works Hard and Smart


He’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever spoken with.  And I’ve been in journalism for 15+ years.

While he might not have the viewership of some other reality hosts–Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest come to mind–I would bet few have the overwhelming positive viewer feedback.  There is little criticism and much support.  No public personal life drama.  No tabloid headlines.  Basically no BS.

Yeah, the guy got fired from a few jobs.  He’s happy to talk about it.  He admits to never shopping, not wanting too much stuff, and wearing clothes he gets on photo shoots. Yawn.  Or, you can view it as a regular guy who happens to get a lot of attention for being a regular guy and, get this, it didn’t go to his head.  I’m sure some therapist out there could find some issue.  But why bother?

Blaine Fisher/Getty Images

I interviewed him about his work with a little personal stuff for color.  That wasn’t the point of my story, so I had no reason to push on subjects that belong on TMZ.  However, it was not fluff at all.

Rowe is always looking to the next dirty job.  But when it comes to giving back–he’s far from trite about it.  He connects with people and causes NOT for the photo op but because the guy truly cares.  When we talked, he wasn’t looking for extra attention for himself like some celebs.  He really wanted notice directed towards a vet-centered program to which he contributes.  “Green Cares” takes care of landscaping for vet while they’re deployed.  Rowe also gave a special shout out to his buddies from “Deadliest Catch,” the folks who toil to get Alaskan crab legs on your raw bar, in a very dangerous pursuit.

Rowe earnestly fights for the “everyman.”  He wants every plumber to make 6-figure salaries and gain respect for their work.  He wants to to change the perception of make earning an honest living through hard work–he wants it to be cool.  And whether a person is an electrician or a TV host, Rowe knows it could all end tomorrow.  So, to borrow an appropriate aphorism, he’s making hay while the sun shines.  And yes, he’s done that on “Dirty Jobs.”

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March 24, 2010   Comments Off on A Most Interesting Man–Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe

Can You Have Your Country and a Life?

I had the great opportunity to spend some time in our nation’s Capitol recently. I bring an air of nostalgia to the city every time I visit, as I lived there on two separate occasions during the Clinton Administration.  Once, I worked for him in his press office.  The second time, I worked to cover him at ABCNews.

The White House

The sun sets, but many are still working

It’s not defusing bombs in Iraq.  It’s not putting in 12 hours of assembly line work, which sounds mind-numbing. Unless that assembly line turns out the food you eat or the car you drive and you pray that the minds at work are not numb, but sharp.  One thing I will tell you is that our Executive branch continues to be one of the hardest working group of cubicle inhabiters out there.  My proof?  Read on.

A friend of my husband works at the White House in a military capacity.  He showed us around the Eisenhower Executive Office Building around 9pm on a Friday night.  Most Americans were doing any number of things–continuing the happy hour that started 4 hours earlier, putting kids to bed, worried about kids who weren’t home yet, or maybe getting ready for that third shift job that pays double on the weekends.

Say Goodbye to Happy Hour

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Most White House employees work here

There was a large group of people who were just leaving work or still working in the Executive Branch of government.  One person in the White House Counsel’s office, a couple of 20-somethings closing up the communication’s office, and a few taking a coffee break outside the Cantine.  There were still cars in the parking lot when we left.  Close to 10p.m.

For all the “cushy” government 9-5 paper pushing jobs that exist, you can be sure that few of them exist on the White House campus under Obama’s watch.  You might say I’m biased, having worked there before and being an open Democrat.  But I have a defense.  I worked 12-14 hour days and I was happy to do so because of the greater implications way down or up the food chain my work could have.  It was a heady time–early 20s, lots of friends, no husband or kids.  In fact, in our group of about 10, only one was married.

Lately, there have been criticisms of the perception of “work-life balance” in the Obama White House.  The President seems to get it, having dinner with his girls every night while his advisers barely see their families.  David Axelrod, who has a daughter with epilepsy and brain damage, only sees his family in Chicago once a month. Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff, debated taking his job since the arrival of 3 children, priorities which didn’t exist during his 15 hour days with the Clinton administration.  It’s about choices, and they’re not easy ones.

Obama’s intent to make the White House “family friendly,” really only applies to his family.  Take-home laptops for top aides don’t end up helping that much.

Art Imitates Life

Family versus country?  They’re not exactly mutually exclusive.

Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker (Jonathan Olley/Summit Entertainment)

In the Oscar winning film, “The Hurt Locker,” Jeremy Renner’s character, Staff Sergeant William Jones, [SPOILER ALERT] chooses country over family.  Through the film, his character is portrayed as a bit of a swashbuckler.  But when it comes to decision time, it’s clear his choice isn’t made in haste.

Many military families accept this way of life for decades–that someone in the family has the struggle between family and country.  Sometimes family can come along.  Sometimes family gets through a year with emails and webcams, missing first steps or friends’ weddings.  The family’s pride for their loved one and their country helps them through.  There’s support for military families, to be sure. But it’s still hard.

Other Agencies Make it Work–Just Not the Big One

The government as a whole provides high levels of job satisfaction.  The Partnership for Public Service and American university’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation (ISPPI) conducts regular studies.  Based on responses of 212,000 employees in 278 federal organizations and agencies, of the top 31 agencies reporting on work/life balance, 20 reported increases work/life balance as compared to 2007.  The top 10 include 4 cabinet agencies: Treasury, Education, Energy, and Commerce, all who reported changes for the better of .7-4.6%.

I don’t think it’s a partisan thing–but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that President Bush spent 487 days at Camp David and 490 over 77 trips to his ranch in Texas.  I’m all in favor of “working vacations” and “working at home,” but being a writer at home is different than being President.

There’s no clear or right answer.  Do we work our government to burn-out or make honest efforts to ensure work-life balance for some hard-working Americans?  Do we tell them to suck it up?  What is truly better for our country?

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March 11, 2010   Comments Off on Can You Have Your Country and a Life?

The Un-Mommy Blog

Gentle readers, I feel the need to share that I have zero intentions of becoming a mommy blogger.  I don’t plan on being the be-all, end-all expert on strollers, diapers, or napping.  I don’t plan on sharing poop stories.  I will be the best mom I can, but the point here is that it’s all future tense.  My present tense is what craves commentary.

Ever read those surveys that scientifically prove the obvious?  The ones that report things like drivers with guns are more prone to road rage (Accident Analysis and Prevention, Jan. 2006) or that “Beer Goggles” really exist (Bausch & Lomb press release, Nov 2005).  You laugh until you realize the money that went into the work, the laboratories, and the salaries of the Ph.D.s.   Then you wonder why didn’t you think of it first.

There are the things that almost everyone seems to experience.  Traffic. Bad customer service. Travel woes.  The search for the perfect jeans or the perfect mate.  The experiences tend to be universal and we have universal expressions. is a repository of cranky sports.  Most newspapers feature ombudsmen who will fight your battles for you with names like “The Haggler,” since no company wants a reporter mad, especially a reporter with the platform to tell thousands about the experience.

But there’s a certain experience, mostly favoring one gender (except for a guy in Oregon) where complaints are not well received.  No one wants to hear the bitching and moaning of a woman, let alone a pregnant woman.  So my point here is to “out” a common issue and my plea here does not go so far as sympathy, but perhaps more understanding–understanding that pregnancy sucks.


Why can't this guy just come?

Pregnancy Sucks.  Yes I said it.

For current mothers, the attitude is, “been there, done that, suck it up.” For want-to-be mothers, the attitude is, “be thankful you can reproduce, suck it up.”  For everyone else, the attitude is, “you wanted a kid, now suck it up.”  And for some it’s, “How could you not love every moment of creating new life?”

It’s kind of funny actually.  There’s a bit of amnesia that hits mothers around the 6 month mark, when their babies start to sleep through the night, coo in the cutest ways, and are fun to have around.  I have many dear friends who are moms.  I still have a mom and a grandma too.  But no one tells you how bad it is–and I’m still 4 months from labor.  A few mention the ick of morning sickness and the holy grail cure of saltine crackers but that’s about it.  I do realize that I have very little perspective here.  I’m inside the situation and I literally can’t see it from the outside nor from what awaits because I think having a child is one of those things where you can’t approximate the experience.  And I also realize that not everyone cares.  To some, I’m just a passing curiosity in the supermarket: is she pregnant or just fat?

Pregnancy is like a 9 month college degree.  There’s a lot to learn, midterms along the way, and a final exam. Like in college, some friends tell you what reading you can skip and still pass.  Others are bookworms, absorbing every word.  Some professors (doctors) conflict in philosophy.  But unlike college, it’s not like you have to regurgitate his or her published theory to get an “A.”  You do have to figure out what works for you, however.  Some wine or none?  Diet soda?  Peanuts? And crossing your fingers hoping for good results never hurts.

One thing about pregnancy that rarely said out loud, though, is that it’s not really all that fun.  And this is coming from a person who is an eternal optimist and a bit of a dreamer.  It gets pretty heady when you stop and think about the responsibility taken on: from 18 years of support to the loftier concept of expanding the human race to the lottery-type dreams of producing a President or Super Bowl winner.  (I’m hoping for the fourth Cornell grad in the family)

In her book, “Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy,” Jenny McCarthy exposed a lot of the yuckiness.  There’s actually a book entitled, “Pregnancy Sucks: What to Do When Your Miracle Makes You Miserable,” by Joanne Kimes.  Other bloggers here and there are on the bandwagon, but the majority of moms wax poetic about how wonderful it is to have the privilege of being lucky enough to experience the miracle of life.  Many message boards are just plain saccharine about the “best” way to spell “Ashley” and baby showers.  Blech.

Google® Won’t Find it for You

Even Google® won't come through

Even Google’s auto-completer in its search engine DOES NOT complete “Pregnancy sucks.”  You get “Pregnancy sushi” and  “Pregnancy Success Stories.”

I think there are at least 5 things that really suck and men can even relate to some:
1. You work very hard to get the body you want and *poof* it’s gone.  (For a guy, it might be too many pizzas in football season that lead to extra pounds.  But he skips dessert for a week and he’s fine.)
2. You don’t have the energy you need or want.  Whether you want to run a marathon, work a 12-hour-a-day job, heck, even watch Comedy Central at 11:30pm, you can’t.  A caffeine jolt for help?  Well, a little is ok, but that old 10-cup-a-day habit has to go.
3. You don’t sleep well.  No matter what you try.  I slept better the night before the Biology AP exam, the nights before I moved to cities where I didn’t know a soul, and the night before my wedding.  Practice for sleepless nights ahead? Hardly, when I still have to work, meet deadlines, and stay sharp.  With a newborn, you’re not expected to do anything but take care of the baby.  That’s why there’s maternity leave.
4. You forget everything.  Little things like where your keys are.  And big things like you’re actually pregnant!  I was reminded at yesterday’s spin class when my thighs were bumping my belly.  Or when I had a complete 20 minute conversation and planned how I was going to get myself on the communications staff for Andrew Cuomo’s yet-to-be announced New York gubernatorial campaign.  Uh–how exactly would that work with a July baby and a November election?  It won’t.
5. You can’t ___.  Fill in the blank.  It changes every day as you discover a growing belly gets in the way of more than seeing your feet.

Like an Oscar Nominee, I Am So Thankful to be Nominated

I do realize that I have a lot for which to be thankful.  Many women who want kids don’t or can’t have them.  Whether it’s fertility issues, age, biology, or adoption challenges, it doesn’t matter when you want to be a mom.  Worse, others have had kids and lost them.  At 37, I felt like my ovaries were slowly shriveling with little useful time left.  But like Jeff Bridges whose time may have come later in life or Susan Lucci for whom it did, I feel very lucky.  So far.  But I haven’t given birth to a healthy baby yet.  I have signed up for every test I can to check for abnormalities and sweated the time from the test to results.  (They tell you the delay is because the lab is in New Mexico.  I think that’s bunk.  FedEx anyone?)


You Just Hope Science is in Your Favor

You’re told the percentage chance of your child-to-be having any number of disorders from Downs Syndrome to Trisomy 18.  I know many now-Baby Boomer parents drank and smoked through their pregnancies and my contemporaries are highly functioning, contributing members of society.  But that doesn’t make me wonder if the pot I smoked in college will have repercussions now.  While all the research says that running through pregnancy is fine if you were a runner before, I decided to stop.  Why?  Because if something were to go wrong, I’d hate to wonder if all that bouncing was a contributing factor.

Who IS This Person?

I’m not like this.  I don’t make big decisions lightly, but I do enjoy life teetering on the edge.  I only applied to a single graduate school.  I used to own a motorcycle.  I love roller coasters and trying food I’ve never had before.  I enjoy travel near or far, without an itinerary.  I like forks in the road.

I’m not depressed.  I’m excited by the prospect of giving birth, having a kid, and expanding our family beyond our beloved dog.  According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10-20% of pregnant women are depressed.  A new study to be in the March issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology out of Stanford University found that acupuncture alone was a helpful treatment for antepartum depression.  So beyond drugs, there’s more verified help out there for those in need.  Good news for my fellow pregos.

Most of the time, you’ll never know it sucks.  It’s like when someone asks you, “How are you?”  Based on the relationship, you have to gauge whether the answer is “Fine, how are you?”  or “Gosh, this sucks.”

It reminds me of a time when we whispered “cancer.” When there was that silly Politically Correct trend in the 80s, euphemizing everything.  Some argue we’re in a “TMI” (too much information) trend now, which is true.  Not sure I really want to see other people’s child births on YouTube or read emails from Ex-Governors’ and pro-golfers’ former prostitutes.  I’m just saying that when it comes to pregnancy, women can be better served by a healthy dose of honesty among each other.

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March 1, 2010   1 Comment

Curling’s Old News…How About Snowshoeing?

It’s got to be one of the least sexiest winter sports around. There isn’t the grace of ice skating or the speed of downhill skiing.  It’s not cool like snowboarding. It’s not quirky enough, like curling.  Most of the time, enthusiasts are lost in the woods so you’re not likely to see them  either.  It’s big in Fairbanks, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.  And even when it’s correct in print, it looks misspelled. But snowshoeing followers are there…and slowly growing in numbers.

Old School Snowshoes

Since 1977, the United States Snowshoe Association has existed in Upstate New York to spread the word about running through snow with tennis rackets tied to your feet.  But this is not a sport for the Aspen fancy-pants ilk.  Take a look at their website and then look at the US Skiing and Snowboard Association‘s.  The same number of “S”s but worlds apart.  There are snow shoe races and events called “invitationals.”  It’s serious stuff, but there is a definite dual sense of wishing their sport was more mainstream but not wanting everyone in on the secret.  As for numbers, well, they do reflect growth.  But the latest stats available are from the 1990s–not exactly accurate for today, when you consider that those numbers reflect a time when Olympic snowboarder Shaun White was in elementary school.

The secret might be out soon if the exercise benefits get some press.  According to the Snowsports Industry Association, snowshoers burn 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed.

Nanook of the North

Snowshoeing has been around for about 6000 years. Legend has it beginning in Asia, where ancestors to Inuits and Native Americans migrated bringing snowshoes with them.  Their design mimics the feet of animals who walked in the snow.  If you have ever taken a step and found yourself in snow up to your knees, you’d agree that those folks were on to something.

The old wooden snowshoes you see with leather webbing and ties were, not surprisingly, hard to keep on.  In the 1960s and 70s, technology and plastic were introduced, leading to designs we use today.

And for you skiers out there, the guy who invented step-in ski bindings contributed to modern snowshoe design in the 1990s.  Rick Howell lent his expertise to the Vermont-based Tubbs Snowshoe Company, which grew to be a leader in the industry.

Typical Recreational Snowshoes

You want to start?

As far as sports equipment go, snowshoes won’t leave you broke.  For around $150 you can get a set of entry level shoes and a set of poles if you’re not planning on scaling a huge mountain.  Poles, which are usually telescopic, aren’t essential, but help with balance.

According to the USSSA, about 30 manufacturers market aluminum-framed snowshoes, the standard used today.  Tubbs, Atlas (owned by Tubbs), Redfeather, Sherpa, and TSL are the leaders.  And of course, Maine’s L.L.Bean brands their own snowshoes too.

There are three types of snowshoes: Recreational, Hikers, and Runners.  The majority of shoes bought and sold are recreational–versatile, spread across wide price-points, in many sizes and styles.

Snowshoes tend to come in two sizes: 8×25 and 9×30.  There are also 8x21s for smaller users too and even tinier ones for children.  Size is determined by the total weig

Blaze Your Own Trail

ht of the user–including whatever gear he or she might be carrying.

The Buddy System

Like many sports whether there’s the possibility of being swallowed by a wave or a bear, traveling in a group is usually recommended.

However, part of the thrill is being able to take in the peace of the woods on a solo mission, just you and the crunch-crunch-crunch of your snowshoes in the snow.

The first place many people encounter snow shoes is when they want something other than skiing to do on a winter vacation.  It’s an activity regularly offered at New England bed and breakfasts.  Outdoor shops sponsor treks which might end with hot chocolate.  To take a trek is usually an economical afternoon–around $30 per person, including rentals.

Don’t knock it till you try it.  It’s a way to connect with nature and be outside in colder weather.  That abominable snow man crossing the tundra otherwise known as a school yard on the next snowy day might just be you.

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February 18, 2010   Comments Off on Curling’s Old News…How About Snowshoeing?

Last-Minute “Healthy” Super Bowl Option

We weren’t really a sports-watching family growing up.  Dad liked baseball, I didn’t.  I latched on to the NY Giants as a 13 year old during the 1986 Super Bowl season and remain a fan today.  I don’t remember any Super Bowl parties in my house, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.  In those days, we awaited the appearance of onion dip and potato chips with the usual pretzels–that meant it was a party.  It was not until college in Upstate New York that I tasted my first Buffalo wing.

The Super Bowl Staple--Buffalo Wings

Wings in college were more like a side dish to the pizza you ordered for the late night snack:  Wings were just a couple bucks more.  Being from the part of New York where you just called it New York and assumed everyone knew you weren’t talking about the entire state, I always focused on the pizza part.  The wings tasted good, but they were too much work for too little meat.  And it was just plain rude to hoard all the drumsticks, especially when you might need to borrow the notes of your snack-mate later.

But as I joined the ranks of those legally old enough to drink, I spent more time in bars.  With bars came bar food and wings took center stage at many of them, often overshadowing potato skins (always greasy) and nachos (a wildcard without insider information).  While I knew what I liked–hot over mild–I didn’t specifically seek wings out.  I wasn’t about to become a wing connoisseur, but I greatly enjoyed the perfect wing: a little crispy from the fryer, moist on the inside, saucy but never drippy, accompanied by the cooling balance of a good blue cheese dressing and enough carrots and celery to cleanse the palate after each wing.  Again, I’m hesitant to call it the more-accurate “bleu” cheese because that just sounds hoity-toity. Perhaps it’s not the highest expression of etiquette (we are talking about sloppy bar food), but the bed of lettuce garnish that gets kind of wilty with the sauce and dressing is just nirvana when there’s some crunch left.

Many years later, my autumn football routine matches my affectation for wings.  It’s a short season, my life doesn’t revolve around it.  I like it when I can get it, but I love it when it’s really good.

Unfortunately, years later, I also find myself with a slower metabolism and I’m more likely to make spin class than kickoff.  But I do love all of the flavors and textures of the wing experience.  I realized it is possible to recreate it with lower fat and calories, all in-land, each typical Buffalo wing has 3 points.  And you haven’t even had a beer to wash it down!   I’m in the club where I’d rather have a lot of something that’s close to the real thing than just a taste of the real, high fat version.  I’m not the person who would prefers a spoonful of Haagen-Dazs over a tub of Tasty-D-Lite.  If you’re with me, then enjoy!

This dish just came to me as I was trying to change up my usual “big salad” dinner.  I recommend using mostly romaine and/or iceberg lettuces because they don’t overpower other elements. There’s really no room for arugula in a dish like this.  Too fancy.  For the dressing, I prefer low-fat for the taste, but the fat-free for the calorie saving. It really depends what your supermarket stocks.  The last several times I’ve made it, I could only find fat-free.  Adding extra crumbles cheese intensifies the flavor that’s missing in the dressing and using reduced-fat keeps the calories down.  You can use any wing sauce you like, but read the labels–some add oil as an emulsifier.  May the best team win!

A "Healthy" Version


Serves 4


1pkg    Purdue® baked breaded chicken tenderloins or breasts
1           bag of pre-washed salad mix (Romaine and/or Iceberg)
1 C       shredded carrots
1/2       bag of celery hearts washed and cut into 1″ slices
1/2C    low-fat or fat free blue cheese dressing
1/4C    Treasure Cave® Reduced Fat crumbled bleu cheese.
1/2C    Franks® Sweet bbq wing sauce or other fat free wing sauce.

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Bake chicken 10 mins.  (If you have a convection oven, this takes 5 mins)
3. In a large bowl, combine salad mix, carrots, celery, dressing & crumbled cheese and toss until mixed.  Set aside
4. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces.  In a small bowl, toss chicken with wing sauce.
5. To serve, put salad on plates and make a small well in center of each.  Spoon a mound of sauce-covered chicken in each well.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (with fat-free dressing): 318 calories, 10g fat (3.5 sat fat), 48mg cholesterol, 1718mg sodium, 34g carbohydrate, 17g protein

Compared to serving of “average” bar wings: (per dozen of medium sized wings with 2 Tbsp blue cheese dressing and celery/carrot sticks) 801 calories, 52g fat (14 sat fat), 400mg cholesterol, 3073mg sodium, 22g carbohydrate, 61g protein

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February 6, 2010   Comments Off on Last-Minute “Healthy” Super Bowl Option

Pamela Anderson As You’ve Never Seen Her (And We Know You’ve Seen Her)

Pamela Anderson with Malibu perfume (C) Carol Berman

I know what you’re thinking.  If it’s a story about Pamela Anderson it’s about one thing.  Ok, two things.

You’d be wrong.

The woman who first hit the scene in 1989 has been no stranger to news and gossip columns since.  Most recently, her name appeared associated with a New Years Eve wardrobe malfunction and a breakup with her surfer boyfriend.

But to meet her and see her interaction with fans shows a completely different side of the former Baywatch babe.  This is a business woman, extremely appreciative of fan support.

This past weekend, Pamela Anderson celebrated the launch of her new fragrance, “Malibu,” with appearances at two Philadelphia-suburb Rite-Aid drugstores.  Hundreds of people waited patiently with their newly purchased bottles to meet the bombshell and get photos and autographs.

Fan Juan Dominguez & Pamela Anderson

One fan even flew in from Cincinnati for the day for the opportunity.  Juan Dominguez, 42, a Pamela Anderson fan from Bala Cynwyd, PA, says, “She is a strong woman who is very smart about her career decisions.”  How would he describe her brand?  “Blonde ambition.”

Secrets to Success

While Anderson might have been considered an overnight success 20 years ago, it takes work to evolve and stay in the public consciousness, if indeed that is the goal.  There are other attributes that might not initially be associated with Pamela Anderson, but should be: persistence and organization.

“I’m good at juggling,” she says.  “You have to keep good calendars.”  With her kids in Canada while she was in Pennsylvania for three appearances, it takes effort to stay on track.  (Her last stop of the day was the opening of a new club at an area casino).

As for the persistence thing, the line of “Malibu” fragrance has been in development for 15 years.  The hold up?  Testing technology had to catch up because Anderson is firmly against animal testing.  She is a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some of the proceeds from her perfume benefit that organization.

But don’t call her a brand…

“I HATE being called a brand,” she said.  “It’s so much more than that, than just having your name on a product.”

She attributes her endurance in the public eye, despite ups and downs in her personal and professional life, to keeping it real. “Being authentic is key.”

"Vintage" Pamela Anderson

Authentic means she wears her perfume and uses the other products that will soon appear on store shelves bearing the “Malibu” name–hair care, skin care, and sun care.  Authentic means taking time with fans to pose for photos, sign multiple copies of old Playboy issues with her on the cover, and chatting a bit.  If you’ve ever been to a celebrity meet-and-greet, it’s a quick signature and move on.

Hundreds wait to meet Pamela Anderson

And to estimate the success behind this latest venture…at least 400 people waited on line to meet the bombshell.  In order to get the autograph, each fan had to purchase the scent for $39/$49.  That’s at least $16,000 in sales for two hours of work.  The perfume is available at more than 20,000 CVS/Pharmacy, Rite-Aid, Walgreen’s, and Sears stores nationwide.

She’s Not Done Yet

Anderson isn’t close to done. A swimsuit line bearing her name is next.  And thanks to e-commerce, books she wrote in 2005 and 2006 are still for sale on Amazon.  DVDs of her mainstream break on the early 90s series Home Improvement chronicle her TV start.  She played a handy-girl like none I’ve ever seen.  And let’s not forget Baywatch, the show that made her an international success, broadcast in 140 countries. As a testament to her enduring fame, RTI German television covered her Philadelphia appearance.

Pamela Anderson may hate the word “brand,” but as Janet Sills, PhD, wrote in a 2008 issue of Psychology Today, “For a successful long-term career, do not look to your company or industry to take care of you. As in every other arena of life, you must take care of yourself. A well-built brand will be your life raft.” Anderson, the former lifeguard is not likely to sink any time soon.

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January 26, 2010   1 Comment

An 8.5 from the Russian Judge–Yoga Petitions to be Olympic Sport

Been to your local yoga studio lately?  You’ll probably find lots of blankets, mats and incense burning.  Perhaps a statue of Patanjali, considered the founder of yoga, sits in a corner.  But more befitting an ice skating rink or a boxing ring, you now might find a sign-up for a local competition.

Yoga--A Sport?

That’s right–yoga is lobbying to be the next Olympic sport, hopefully in time for the 2016 games.

According to, yoga is:

A school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.

Literally, the word “Yoga” came from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate.”

Not one word implies competition.  Compare this with the definition of Summer Olympics ratings grabber, “gymnastics:”

the practice art, or competitive sport of gymnastic exercises

Or how about that Winter Games powerhouse, curling:

a game played on ice in which two teams of four players each compete in sliding large stones toward a mark in the center of a circle

If you’re wondering how a sport becomes worthy of the Olympics, we look to the Official Website of the Olympic Movement:

To make it onto the Olympic programme, a sport first has to be recognised: it must be administered by an International Federation which ensures that the sport’s activities follow the Olympic Charter. If it is widely practised around the world and meets a number of criteria established by the IOC session, a recognised sport may be added to the Olympic programme on the recommendation of the IOC’s Olympic Programme Commission.

The Spirit of Olympic Competition

The IOC can also taketh away, thus leading to the gold medal voids left by tug-of-war and lacrosse.  Again, these both have competition built in to the sports themselves.

Take a yoga class and you hear words like, “be in the moment,” “it’s YOUR practice,” and “keep your mind quiet.”  In fact, stress and competition are often discouraged.

Yoga is 5000 years old but a 2001 TIME magazine cover story effectively “outed” many who silently unrolled sticky mats on a regular basis and lauded the activity’s benefits.  Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took classes in the gym of the Supreme Court. Sting is very public about his practice as is Gwyneth Paltrow.

According to WebMD, the benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, strength, better posture, increased lung capacity, and lower blood pressure.  A 2004 study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health found that yoga can alleviate fatigue from multiple sclerosis.  But like with any activity, yoga can cause injury too, if you do it wrong.  Pain and discomfort from over stretching is a common complaint.

Gwen Lawrence, owner of Power Yoga for Sports, focuses on athletes and their specific sports needs.  She is the Yoga Coach for the New York Giants and works with the New York Yankees including star third-baseman Alex Rodriguez.  These athletes are fierce competitors in their sports.  However, when it comes to yoga, it’s all about focus. “It is their absolute job to tune in and pay attention to imbalances, pain, and stress to avoid some possible injuries in the future,” says Lawrence. “Their body is their tool and it is no joke when they are working out that they stay present, [and] to aid their breathing techniques.”

Lawrence is not a fan of adding yoga to the roster of Olympic sports. “I can only believe that an Olympic version of yoga would be rooted in long hours of training, beating down, testing and pushing your body beyond its limitations not for the sake of yourself but for the goal of gold,” she says. “Yoga is about improving YOUR own body and mind and taking ego out of the equation.  So it is enormously contradictory to make it competitive.”

Gwen Lawrence Teaches Yoga to New York Giants

USAYoga seeks to be the governing body for the sport and is lobbying the International Olympic Committee.  In its mission statement, the organization hopes to inspire yoga participants “to improve their practices and encourage many newcomers to take up the practice of yoga and the sport of Yoga Asana.”

Yoga competitors are described as those who “will need to achieve mastery of physical strength, stamina, balance, flexibility, breath and concentration.”  There is no mention of the whole spiritual element that is part of the original Hindu philosophy.

Yoga practitioners aren’t buying in either. Julie Bauch, a New York finance professional, practices at least four times per week, meditates daily, and studies various spiritual philosophies.  She turned to yoga four years ago when faced with a debilitating illness. “I was weakened physically, emotionally and intellectually and I believed it could help me to heal myself,” she says.  “It did, in many ways.”

But the idea of yogis on a medal stand? “It’s perfectly alright to practice yoga solely for physical benefit, however using yoga as a sport doesn’t make it a sport,” she says.

People take yoga for different reasons, but the elements of yoga that tend to always be present in varying degrees are: exercise, breathing, and meditation.  There are several types of yoga, but the variety most practiced in the West is Hatha yoga, or the yoga of postures.  If you’ve seen Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu or Jiva Mukti on your gym schedules, these are all styles of Hatha.

The second place winner of the 2008 Asana New York regional championship, Courtney Mace

Yoga competition is thought to be about 100 years old.  The Pondicherry Yoga Association started in 1975 in India.  However, its past leader, Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani who now heads the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research, is unhappy about the current state of affairs:

“many things have changed over the years, and though I support yoga sport for the children and youth, I may not say the same for the adult competitions… unless the theoretical aspect is taken into consideration, it will be only another gymnastic competition.”

Perhaps the IOC just needs to revisit requirements for gymnastics.  These uber-flexible folks could compete there.  Just call it something else.

I do practice yoga.  I wouldn’t say I’m a yoga fanatic.  I go when I can and aim for once a week.  I have my own mat but I don’t read Rumi or listen to sitar music in my car.  Perhaps even my judgement of yoga as a sport is a bit antithetical to yoga being a practice of acceptance.  But at the end of a yoga class, I look forward to moment when the instructor always says, “Namaste,” which means: “the spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.”  It doesn’t mean:  “I could kick your butt in downward dog!”

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January 17, 2010   2 Comments

Can You Trust Your Bartender or a Restaurant Review?

It’s one of the oldest professions.  Not that one.  I’m talking about bartending.  When you’re in a strange city, a bartender will be a trusted source.  When you’re at home, a bartender knows your name and drink of choice.  For some, it’s a way to make money on the way to bigger and better (say, an acting gig).  For others, it’s life.

One of the Oldest Professions

According to the ABC Bartending Schools, bartending has roots in ancient Greek and Roman times.  Before the 15th century, bartenders owned the bars and brewed the beer or distilled the liquor.  Fast forward to 1988 and you have Tom Cruise spinning bottles for tips by night and learning the business world by day in the movie, “Cocktail.”

For any job, most employees want several predictable things–a livable wage, a decent commute, and a good work environment.  Mark Twain once said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” A little praise now and then goes a long way.  A lot of praise can make a career.


Such is the case with Tina Braunstein, a former bartender at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a highly rated restaurant outside New York City.  The chef-owner Dan Barber gets praise such as, he “…pains to showcase ingredients instead of obliterating them with too much heat and sauce,” according to New York Magazine.  When it opened in NYC in 2000, the New York Times’ Williams Grimes bestowed 2 stars.  In 2004, with a new branch on a former Rockefeller farm 30 miles north, the paper’s Frank Bruni upped it to three.  And thus begins our story.

If it's Weds, it's the Dining Section

Frank Bruni’s review began and ended with stories of encounters with Braunstein, “one of many extremely affable servers.”   Soon after, she was fired by the general manager.  She has sued on grounds of wrongful termination, seeking damages of $400,000.

The restaurant claims she was rude to customers.  The lawyers have argued she did not perform “at a level befitting a three-star restaurant.”

Emails between Frank Bruni and Dan Barber after the review ran in the paper continued to praise Braunstein.  In fact, her legal team subpoenaed Bruni to testify on her behalf.  That won’t happen because the New York Times argued and won “reporter privilege.”

But she may have screwed herself.  In her deposition, she recalled knowing her customer that night was Frank Bruni.  Many restaurant critics depend on anonymity, but it doesn’t always work out.  So, the question is, was the New York Times restaurant critic treated like a “Regular Joe?”  More importantly, would you be treated the same way?


There are two issues going on here: the career of a bartender and the trust of a restaurant review.

At some big companies, bartenders are unionized and have benefits.  But that is not the norm.  A bartender is only as good as her last drink, his last open ear to hear a customer’s woes.  It’s high pressure, long hours, and many endure the work because they need the paycheck.  Don’t get me wrong–many bartenders earn six-figures with tips on $20 cocktails, union or not.  And for a social, high energy mixologist, it’s a chosen career.  But over time, a few have refused to stand idly by when things didn’t seem right.

Tips From Your Bartender

It’s not the first time a bartender sued an employer for wrongful termination.  In 2005, career bartender Darlene Jesperson, lost three court battles with Harrah’s Entertainment.  She was fired from her Las Vegas casino job in 2000 for refusing to wear makeup.  The company held that its grooming policy requiring women to wear makeup and men to have hair trimmed above the collar among other rules didn’t create a greater burden on women than men so was not a form of discrimination.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed.

One story doesn’t have an ending yet.  John Vendikos tended bar at Yankee Stadium for 27 years.  The 73-year-old was forced to re-apply for his job at the new stadium.  His interviewer asked, “Why should I hire you? You’re an old man.”  Vendikos thought the man was kidding.  But then he didn’t get hired and he filed an age discrimination suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The team claims they have hired many people older than 65 for the new stadium.


Whether money burns holes in our pockets or we count pennies, we don’t want to have a single bad restaurant or bar experience.  And as adventurous as we may be, sometimes you want to know if the food will shine, if the atmosphere is a particular way, or if you’re going to leave hungry.  You want to know if the place you pick for your sweetie’s birthday dinner is going to deliver.  So we read reviews.  Sure, you can’t believe everything you read, but it’s nice to know most of it is accurate.

Food is like art–pretty subjective.  One person’s “delicious” is another’s “ick.”  But whether it’s the pizza place in Brooklyn where the line goes down the street or the French Laundry where you need to call months ahead for a shot at a reservation, if the food sucked, so would the following.  Some places have yellowed stellar reviews curling off the walls along with the first dollar made.  That’s where you want to eat if you’re not feeling like rolling the dice.  The atmosphere can be a winner or a loser, but food must shine and service is a close second.

Reviewer anonymity is essential.  Ruth Reichl, New York Times food critic for six years, revealed that she wore wild guises when visiting restaurants after she left the paper in her 2006 book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.  Restaurant employees knew what she looked like, as Ruth.  But as any of her aliases–she was rarely discovered (that we know).  Sure, Tina could have “outed” Bruni at the bar. But reviewers visit restaurants several times before they write.  Did he see Tina every time?  She made quite the impression, but did she actually treat every patron like she treated Mr. Bruni?  How much did that customer service contribute to those three stars?


I’ll keep reading reviews.  The Dining section of the Wednesday NYT is one of my favorites.  Even if I’m not Frank Bruni, I’ll still say please and thank you, I’m usually a patient patron, and as a former waitress, I tip well.  And that’s worthy of the “Frank Bruni” treatment any day of the week.

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January 7, 2010   2 Comments