Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to Shirley

Shirley, Long Island was a "hardscrabble service town to the glittering Hamptons" but to Kelly McMasters it was an idyllic town in which to grow up; close knit neighborhood, block parties, a group of girlfriends to hang out with and explore the wildlife refuge that was next to their subdivision, Fourth of July barbecues, and neighbors that watched out for you. But Shirley was also located next to the deadly toxic nuclear plant called Brookhaven National Laboratory which for years was leaking deadly chemicals into the groundwater.

Kelly watched her neighbors and friends become ill and die, the nuclear plant become a Superfund site, and the town's attempt to resurrect itself through a new identity." It is at times a love song to the town and a heartbreaking story of loss."

I was drawn to this memoir because I grew up on Long Island. We passed by the signs to Shirley every time we headed out to Montauk Point during summers. Although the name Brookhaven Lab was as familiar to me as Grumman Aircraft, I really had no idea what they did. I always assumed it was just another scientific lab doing biological, wildlife or fisheries research. Long Island has a lot of those. I had no idea that nuclear experiments were going on there or that evacuation plans were in place in case of a nuclear meltdown. I had no idea that it was built in a place that was supposed to be far away from major population centers because of the nature of the atomic work that was being conducted there. I had no idea that Brookhaven was home to so many nuclear reactors.

It is a scathing look at how "environmental injustice" works.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Coming to America

I have a pen fetish. I admit it. I'm not alone. I even got my daughter hooked!

Several years ago, when Katie was teaching in Thailand, her roommate bought her a set of Stabilo pens for Christmas. She loved them. I loved them.

Thus began my search for the elusive Stabilo in America. For months I looked in every office supply and art store I came across. I googled STABILO dozens of times and got nothing. Lots of Staedtlers, no Stabilos.

I begged my daughter to bring back Stabilos when she returned from Thailand. She very graciously did so. But my stash is low.

I went to the Student Book Store in E.L., adjacent to MSU, to find some different highlighter colors, beyond the basic 5. I'm directing a play; I need lots of highlighters. SBS and I'm sure every college bookstore anywhere usually has the greatest selection of single pens. pencils, highlighter etc.

It was in among the other pens that I spotted them!! Singles, minis, pkgs. of 12, pkgs. of 18! I was in pen heaven. So along with the purple, pineapple, and azure highlighters, I purchased 2 Stabilo pointVisco gel pens. Just two. I restrained myself. It was tough. It took will power. However, I know where the mother lode is.

Today when I googled Stabilo I came up with 250,00 hits! Yes, Stabilo has come to America in a big way and everything is right with the universe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

The other night I was baking a cake. It was cold, it was miserable, I needed, no, not needed but wanted, comfort food even if it meant breaking the New Year's resolution. Extreme cold and MORE snow can do that to you.

So I was in the middle of adding the ingredients to the cake mix and went to measure the 1/2 c. of oil only to discover I had a scant 1/4 c. and no more. So I figured a little oil was better than none, and come to think of it, when did cake mixes start adding oil at all?

So began the QUEST through food land.

I was sure that cake mixes did not always require oil. Water, yes. Eggs, yes but oil? Was it economics? Did cake companies eliminate some other ingredient that achieved the same result to cut costs and then ask the consumer to provide its equivalent? Was some other ingredient heavy on the hydrogenated oil and eliminated for health reasons? (I mean really, this is a cake we're talking about) In the recent past, we were enticed into adding pudding mix to our cakes and substituting applesauce for the oil for a lower fat alternative.(again, cake) Was I losing my mind?

I finally found a partial answer from the amazing people at foodtimeline. I found an incredibly thorough treatise on the history of cakes that covered every cake ever made along with recipes. It is truly an amazing site. Katie and Anne, especially Anne, and all foodies, you need to check it out. I discovered that General Mills developed the first "Add water and Mix" cake mix, ginger cake, for their Betty Crocker campaign. They were also in development for their PartyCake line; yellow, spice, white cakes. In 1948 Pillsbury introduced the first chocolate cake mix and in 1951 Duncan Hines introduced their "Three Star Surprise" mix. Not sure what that meant! Any way, Ginger cake became Gingerbread and Cookie Mix. (And by the way, when did Gingerbread mix start adding eggs along with the water? Another quest.)

"Add water and mix" cakes were not selling as well as companies had hoped. They enlisted the help of psychologists who did research and discovered that eggs were the problem; powdered eggs to be exact. They believed that woman should add a few fresh eggs to give them "a sense of creative contribution." Research also found that when companies make things too simple they are rejected. Remember this was the 50's.

At the bottom of the site was a "Contact Us" link, which I did. And thus began my conversation with Lynne. I contacted her in the evening and received a response that night. I replied to her response and the following day got more clarification.

Apparently it was in 1972 that Duncan Hines ran an add in the New York Times touting their cake mixes that now included the phrase "add 1/2 c. vegetable oil." So there it was, part of the mystery solved. My sanity was restored.

I still don't know why. I'll save that for another cold and snowy day.

Thanks to the people at

Monday, January 12, 2009

God Grew Tired of Us

I've been meaning to read this book for forever. I seem to be drawn to books about Africa.

This memoir is told through the eyes of 13 year old John Bul Dau who was driven from his home in 1987 by invading troops from the north and separated from his family in the civil war that was ravaging Sudan. He wandered for 14 years from refugee camp to refugee camp from the Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya starving, thirsty, often hunted by invading soldiers.

It is an incredible story of terror, survival, and, yes, matter of fact humor. John emigrated to the United Sates in 2001 under the auspices of Lutheran Refugee Services

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I don't think I've ever written to anyone "famous" before. I'd too embarrassed. I mean really, who am I among the millions of other adoring fans?

But the time may have come. You see I have a new BFF, only he doesn't know it yet.

His name is Craig and we are soul mates; the same age, born the same year, in the same month, in NY, we owned the same first car he even knows where Schroon Lake is located. He reads my mind and channels my thoughts. I think we had the same Dad, or at least the same "Dad" garages.

I've been dying to tell him he's my new BFF and, hopefully, my new email pen pal but then there's that "millions of OTHER adoring fans" thing. I would be lost in the madding crowd.

You see, Craig is a little famous; he's a writer,a well known one with a really big paper (USA Today) .

I wait with baited breath for the Wednesday edition of USA Today. I discard all the other sections and go straight to Life, front page, below the fold. And there he is....Craig Wilson and The Final Word.

He writes about his dog, his partner, his Dad, finding a good contractor (too bad he doesn't live in MI, I'd send Larry over) and I cried when he wrote about losing his friend Vicki. I applauded his standing ovation inflation column. I think the only thing we don't agree on is camping. I mean, how can a boy growing up in upstate NY not like camping? Just normal everyday things; the little things. The stuff that is Life.

Lately I've become worried. After all, I know Craig's age! I'm afraid that one day I will open the paper and read that's he's decided to retire and lie on the beaches of Florida working on the ultimate tan.

So, Happy New Year Craig, my new BFF. I'll be in touch.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Has NY Dropped the Ball?

In the last 60 seconds of 2008, as millions of people around the world watched, the ball in Times Square dropped to usher in the new year.

Did you see it?

No really, did you actually see the ball drop? Or did you see it descend, shuffle, shimmy, wobble, creep, slither or fall in excruciating slow motion? Or maybe you were blinded by the 5 giant, brilliantly lit, smoke and fireworks sprouting Toshiba signs below it along with the giant Toshiba countdown screen. Even at 12' it was hard to see the ball awash in all that light. If you were watching ABC's Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest you may have have missed it altogether.and nary a replay in sight.

I am mourning the days when the ball actually dropped. They let it loose from it's tether at the top of the flagpole and it dropped like a lead balloon; swiftly, quickly, rapidly like the speed of light. If you blinked you would miss it.

Things changed in the 1980's when a red and a green lit "big apple" globe were added to celebrate NY's "I Love New York" campaign. In 1988 the flashy era ended and the ball was once again lit with plain white lights. In 1989 however the ball had it's first major face lift and rhinestones and strobes were added. The biggest change happened in 2000, the millennium year, when a massive 1,0750 lb ball was built with Waterford Crystals. This year the ball is even bigger, more expensive, double in size to 12' in diameter, 11, 875 lbs with 2668 Waterford Crystals and 32,000 LED lights.

Gone are the days of 400 lb, 5', iron and wood ball featuring 25 watt lights in 1904. Gone also is the ball I remember watching every year from 1955 to the late 1980's to the tunes of Guy Lombardo's band as I watched the elegantly dressed party goers dancing the night away in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom; a slimmer, 2oo lb version made of aluminum with simple white lights.

Now THAT was the ball that DROPPED!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I Suppose this is Supposed to Make Sense

Disclaimer: Grammar Rant. Many more to come!

I love Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. She is a grammar maven when it comes to the incorrect use of punctuation and I must admit I can be a bit of a grammar stickler myself. It must be the English teacher still channeling inside me.

I'm in good company though. Frank McCourt, the author of Angela's Ashes said, "If Lynn Truss were Roman Catholic I'd nominate her for sainthood."

At least I'm in the company of saints. Please keep that in mind as you read on.

My pet peeve this week surfaced in one of the holiday newsletters I received. I suppose I shouldn't have been so upset but there were so many errors on so many levels that my grammar radar was blipping like crazy. The biggest offense? The misuse of the words suppose and supposed.

Some gentle enlightenment, dear readers.

SUPPOSE- most commonly means think, guess, imagine.
means required or obliged. Supposed can also mean mistakenly believed as in "Her supposed friend failed to support her in her disagreement."

"Suppose your friends don't come when the are supposed to?"
"I suppose it's supposed to snow tonight"
"Am I supposed to care?"

I suppose this will never reach the people who are supposed to benefit by this but I suppose I feel better now.