Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oh the shame ...

No one ever said that parenting was easy. I tried to do a good job, and for the most part I will take credit for succeeding.

I taught my son and daughter to appreciate each other and to this day they remain very close friends.

I believe I have instilled in them a sense of right and wrong. I am very proud of both my son and my daughter, and their sense of the right thing to do, such as volunteering to work at the call center for the Hope for Haiti Now telethon.

I have nurtured a proper love of all things Disney in both of them, In fact, both of them have worked in Walt Disney World, and my daughter still works there today.

They have developed my love of both musical theater and music in general, and have performed with me in many community theater productions.

Both of them have developed the proper love of baseball and are NY Mets fans - properly eschewing the hated crosstown NY Yankees. I have taught my son the joys of playing the best position on the field - catcher ... a position he excelled in.

So where did I go wrong? Where does the shame come from? I'll tell you. When my son was young, I wanted to expose him to hockey as played in the National Hockey League. As a NY Rangers fan, I would have liked to have brought him to Madison Square Garden to see a Rangers game, but as we had recently moved to Staten Island, it was so much easier to go to the arena at the Meadowlands in NJ, home of the New Jersey Devils ... the Rangers rival team. (Anyone who knows NYC geography knows that Staten Island is practically in NJ and would be a part of NJ if not for an 18th century boat race in which NY State won Staten Island as the prize.)

When I got to the box office I asked for the best available tickets, and received two ducats for the second row off the ice, right next to the penalty box. The view was amazing and my son immediately fell in love with the game. Unfortunately he also started rooting for the Devils ... especially since his friends were Devils fans as well.

When the Rangers and the Devils met in the 1994 playoffs, we each watched in our own respective rooms, sending messages back and forth on the dog's collar. (The Rangers won that game and went on to win the Stanley Cup thank you very much.)

We have attended a number of Rangers/Devils games in the following years, but I am sad to report that in those years, his Devils have outperformed my Rangers, who have not won the Stanley Cup since 1994. (It was more than 50 years since they had won their last one prior to 1994.)

So it is with a small amount of guilty pleasure that I am enjoying the fact that this year the Rangers will make the NHL playoffs, but my son's New Jersey Devils - for the first time in 14 years - will not.

I guess every parent is allowed one major failure.

Oh the shame ...

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's true - I be a cooker

Well at least that is what my wife tells me. I guess one of us should be.

No, I am not the professional chef that a friend is.  I think if I had to do it for a living I probably would lose the enjoyment along the way.

Actually, I have enjoyed cooking as far back as I can remember actually. When I was in kindergarten or first grade we made oatmeal raisin cookies. I remember wanting to do it at home as well, so my mother and I made oatmeal raisin cookies.

My mom was a good cook, and we always ate well when my brother, sister and I were growing up. My dad would cook occasionally, and he was ... well let's just say he was inventive

When I was a Boy Scout, my patrol always ate well. While the other patrols were eating hot dogs or minute steaks, I remember making spare ribs (prepared and marinated before we went camping) and Rice-a-Roni™ and eating very well.

If you like to eat, it helps to know how to cook.

When we were in college, my wife invited me to stay with her one weekend. I soon found out why. She had invited some friends over and wanted me to cook my chicken crépes dish. Did I mention that this was all made from scratch and took a full day to make?

Did I also mention that my wife is not a cooker? Have I told you that when my kids were young and she attempted on occasion to cook something, my kids knew that their job was to stand under the smoke detector and fan the area around it? (It usually still went off.) After the oven once literally exploded in her face - a trip to the emergency room showed her to be okay, though lacking eyebrows for a while - she gave up on cooking for the good of all.

My favorite cooking tools are my woks. I bought my first one over 20 years ago, and it is still very much used. I also have 2 others which more or less have replaced them since my kids grew up and no longer live at home. Yes, they are smaller. I have a great Asian market not far, so my Chinese cooking has improved quite a bit over the years since I have access to the proper ingredients. (Though not everything I do in the wok is Asian. They are very versatile tools!)

Of course, in the summer most of my cooking is done on the grill in the backyard. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, ribs of course, but also occasionally a lobster tail on the grill can make for a nice backyard meal.

Last night was one of those nights where I had no idea what to make, so I wound up being creative. In less than a half hour, including all the prep, I came up with Garlic Chicken over Pasta Alfredo. (I actually wanted linguine, but all I had in the house was cappellini, so it had to do.) The "hardest" and most time consuming part of this whole process was chopping the garlic. (Okay, I will admit that I used a bottled (light) Alfredo sauce rather than making my own, but this had to be a quick meal, remember?) Notice the really fancy dinnerware? Paper and plastic all the way! I may like to cook, but who likes to do the dishes? Certainly not me. Paper plates, plasticware and disposable cups are the way to go when it's just me and my wife.

Well, one of us has to know how to cook, right?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Person 4.3?

In the past few weeks, at least two of my high tech devices informed me that new firmware was available. Firmware is the built-in software that makes the device do what it does. Back when I was growing up you bought a piece of electronics and it did what it did. If you wanted more features you bought a new and improved piece of electronic device. Your TV did not gain the ability to show new channels by adding new instructions to it - it didn't have instructions to begin with in the first place. It did what it did because of the way it was built. Your telephone called people, received calls, and rang like, well, a telephone. Nothing was going to change those things.

But now, electronics do what they do because a built in software program tells it what to do. At one time, even that couldn't be changed. You bought a cell phone and it made and answered calls. Maybe you were able to change what the ringer sounded like, but if it couldn't do that when you bought it, it never would be able to play Für Elise. (Did you catch that Cindy?)

Just a while ago, I placed a disc in my Blu-Ray player, and before it showed me my movie, on the screen I saw a message that told me that new firmware was available - did I want to install it now? On Blu-Ray players this is common as discs themselves become more sophisticated the player needs to know how to play them. To do that, the manufacturers rewrite the firmware and the user can obtain it (in a number of ways) and install it on their unit.

Then the other day I was syncing my iPhone when I got the message that iOS 4.3 was available. Once again I installed the new software adding new functionality to my phone.

But what if you could do the same with people? Think of how that would change how a psychiatrist or psychologist operates. Do you have OCD or clinical depression or are you bi-polar? Your therapist would simply upload a new firmware or operating system and you go on your way - your problems behind you. Alzheimer's Disease would be a perfect case for upgraded firmware.

But what about new firmware for every day improvements. Is your son or daughter not doing well in school? Upgrade their firmware. You have teens? New firmware would have to be mandatory there. Things not happening in the bedroom? Get firmware version 6.9!

What would you like new firmware for?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This is nursing?

Over the years, I have often had the pleasure to praise the nurses I have come in contact with. They are usually overworked and under appreciated. Every time I have been in the hospital over the years, I felt that it was the nursing staff that made it tolerable - or even pleasant. I have the utmost respect for nurses ... usually!

My wife is in the hospital right now. She had surgery and although it was ambulatory, she was scheduled to spend the night and then be released the next day. Everyone in the hospital (a prestigious NYC hospital) was very friendly and helpful through the admission process, the pre-surgical and the post surgical time in the recovery room. Then she was brought up to her room and things changed.

From the moment she was moved to her room, the nursing staff proved itself to be - at best - uncaring, and at times, bordering on incompetent. One nurse came to take her blood pressure, and then got distracted, left the apparatus - without taking the readings - saying she would be right back. She wasn't seen for almost 6 more hours! At one point, my wife's hospital gown became soaking wet, and when she asked the nurse for a new one, she was told, "in a little while." Was she expected to remain in a soaked garment until the nurses would get around to it? Medications - which she was told to bring to the hospital herself and she knew when she was supposed to be given - had to practically be begged for.

And the nurses attitudes were simply awful. Her room is right across from the nurses station, and when she would ask for something, she could hear the nurse complain about the request when she left the room. I could understand this if there was a constant stream of silly requests all day, but I had been there for over 5 hours and this was the first request she had made of the staff ... she was in pain and wanted her pain medication - which she was entitled to. And how unprofessional is it for any professional to walk around chewing gum?

Last night, a sample had been taken to check for an infection before she was to be released. Hours later it was discovered that the sample had not been brought to the lab, but had simply been left at the nursing station. Another sample had to be obtained and hours passed after a determination should have been made.

There were many more incidents like this, and now, two days later, she is still in the hospital, waiting to be evaluated so she can be released, and she is receiving no information from the staff nor are they sympathetic to her at all. Very unlike any nursing staff either of us have encountered at any point in our lives.

Your comments (below) gratefully appreciated.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If I had known about grandchildren ...

I'll admit it - I thoroughly enjoyed raising my two children. While they were very young it was fun to watch all the milestones such as first solid food, first tooth, first word. Of course, now with the distance of years since that time, it's easy to forget the other part of those days ... the nighttime feedings, the illnesses, the crying, and all of those dirty diapers! Of course I wouldn't have exchanged it for anything, as that is just part of enjoying little kids ... isn't it?

But then I discovered ... grandchildren! Or in my case (so far) ... grandsons - twin grandsons. Two new children in the family - and my wife didn't have the "inconvenience" of being pregnant or giving birth. I didn't have to put up with the "fun" of the personality changes of her being pregnant. We did wait through the night when they were born, but naturally, that was the fun part.

Their first year we got to see so many of their firsts, such as their first holiday (Halloween), their first New Year's Eve, and all of the developmental firsts such as the first smile ... times two!!! And while a diaper or two was changed, the bulk of that fell to their parents. Yes there was the drool, spit-up and all those fun things, but when they happened, all we had to do was hand them back to mom and/or dad. Ahh the perks of being a grandparent. And of course, we get to spoil them rotten.

At seventeen months old now, they are much more like little boys than babies, and quite a bit more interactive. When one looks into my phone case and looks at me and says, "Hi?", I know he wants to know where my phone is - one of his favorite things to play with. And how much fun is it watching the other twin trying to figure out some new feature of one of his toys? And though they are twins - albeit fraternal as opposed to identical - their personalities are so different from each other in every manner ... from what they like to eat, to how they like to play, and how they interact with other people. Be careful, or Sean will hustle you with a game of pool!

But this is such a fun age because they are constantly surprising you. New vocabulary - although the ubiquitous "NO!" has already become a regular part of how they will answer questions.

As the saying goes, if I knew that grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When should you bring the kids to a Disney Park?

When Disneyland was less than a decade old, my grandfather and my aunts became the first in our family to visit. I remember one of my aunts saying upon their return that Disneyland wasn't for kids. What she meant was that this is not a park with just amusement park rides for the kids and nothing else. After all, wasn't that Walt's purpose for building Disneyland in the first place?

But at what age should you bring a young child to one of the (now multiple) Disney Parks? Is there such as thing as too young to bring a child?

I have heard both sides of this argument, and there are points on both sides, but I think it really depends more on the individual child than any set and fast rule.

Many people would argue against it saying that if the child is too young they will not remember it. That is certainly true, but is it important to be remembered? Again, it depends. If going to a Disney Park will be a once in a lifetime event, then most certainly you should wait until the child is old enough to not only enjoy him/herself in the moment, but be able to remember it for years to come.

However, if you know that this will be just the first of many trips, why not let a young child enjoy the experience. But then you have to ask, how old are we talking about? Again you have to know your child, as well as your own tolerance for the extra care they will require. Is your child used to traveling and being in public situations, or will the theme park atmosphere overwhelm your child? Will your child be able to enjoy the characters and the atmosphere, or will it scare him/her? These are things you need to ask yourself before you consider when to bring (or not bring) them to a Disney Park. Remember also that if your child is having a melt-down, not only may it disrupt your day in the park, but the day of other guests as well.

But if your child is comfortable and happy in new situations and can handle the hubbub of a theme park with thousands of people, loud sounds and music, then why not bring them and allow them to enjoy themselves? They may be of an age where they will not remember their first visit, but they can certainly enjoy the experience as it happens.

Had it not been raining on the day my wife and I visited in 1979, my daughter would have made her first visit at 7 months old. As it turned out, she made her first visit at 4 years of age, while my son was 2 years during that same visit ... his first as well. Neither of them remember that trip, but we have been back many times since then. (Boy is that an understatement!)

Last August, my son - now the father of twins - and my daughter-in-law took those twins to Walt Disney World for their first trip. They were 10 months old at the time. They experienced attractions, parades, and food that they hadn't before. Did they enjoy themselves? You tell me ...

And no, this will not be their only trip ... they will be heading back this August as well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

E-books - Devil or Angel?

The very first birthday present I can remember was a hard covered book. It was a Hardy Boys mystery, and the first hard covered book I ever had that was my own. To this day I remember the feel of the book, and the pages, and the sound it made the first time I opened it. And above all, I remember the smell. Each time I was to receive another Hardy Boys book, these would continue to be my first impression.

When I was 13, one of the presents I received was a gift certificate to Brentano's - a bookstore in Manhattan. These were the days before the big chain bookstores, and going in to Manhattan to go to a fancy bookstore was a big deal. I didn't know what kind of book I would come out with, but the thrill of going through the shelves, looking for that special selection that I would spend my gift certificate on was a joy in itself. I eventually found a volume of Sholem Aleichem stories - in a beautifully bound book - which became mine. I loved holding that book and all of the sensory thrills of my earlier Hardy Boys books were amplified in this piece of art.

Yes, I love the feel of a beautifully bound book, and appreciate it for what it is. So does that mean that I am one of those who regard e-books and their necessary readers to be the end of civilization as we know it? No!

I am proud to say that I am a Kindle owner and wouldn't give it up. I love the convenience of having a device which is lightweight and portable, from which I can read my choice of hundreds or thousands of books depending on my mood at the moment. When I finish a book on my Kindle and there is another book in the series, or a different book from that author that I want to read, I can purchase it immediately, on the spot, and be reading it right away. I don't have to wait until I can go to a brick and mortar bookstore, by which time I may have lost the desire to read said book - or simply forgotten about it.

And while most e-books are less expensive than their printed edition, there are also sources of free ebooks available on the web right now. Sites such as Project Gutenberg allow any e-book reader to download free books to put on their device. And you are not restricted to any particular company to buy books from, including the one from which you bought your device.

I love the fact that when I am traveling, I can have an entire assortment of books with me, all in one single device that hardly takes up any room in my suitcase or carry-on.

Does this mean that I no longer treasure printed books? By no means. For me, those beautifully bound books will always be something to be appreciated, but the Kindle takes the place of all of those cheap paperback books that I used to travel with. They have always been something to read to fill up some time for me, not in the same league of fine editions on my bookshelf. And I love to re-read many of those paperbacks, but can never find them when I want. My Kindle solves that problem - they are now always right at my fingertips.

So what do you think? Do you have an e-reader? If so, which one? If not, would you consider purchasing one? Why? Why not?

List of sites for free ebooks

Project Gutenberg
Baen Books
Smashwords (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Do you have any to add to this list?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This day in MY history

Today, March 5 holds significance to me in two ways.

Firstly, March 5, 1966 was the day of my Bar-Mitzvah. The day in the Jewish religion on which I became a man.

But even more exciting was March 5, 1977. It was on that day that I had a telephone conversation with the President of the United States.

The president at the time was Jimmy Carter who had taken office on January 20 of that year. One of the things that he said he would do is hold regular radio call in programs, in which anyone could call in and ask him a question. The first one would be held on CBS radio on March 5, 1977.

Like most Americans, I thought about what question I would ask him, given the opportunity. I had one. Chip Carter, the president's son, was caught with marijuana in the White House. If given the opportunity, I would ask about that and the possible legalization of marijuana. But what were the chances of me getting through? Schools had set up phone banks to try to get through. Millions and millions of people would be dialing the phones in an attempt to ask the President a question. In fact, 9.5 million people would receive a recording that the lines were busy, and no one know how many millions couldn't even get through to that recording.

On the morning of March 5th, my wife was taking a shower (I already had) and our friend Cindy would be visiting for the day. About 1:00 PM - an hour before the call-in show was to begin - I picked up the phone to call the number, expecting to receive nothing but a busy signal. Of course, that is exactly what happened. I tried again with the same results. One more try and then I would give up feeling that I gave it a try but just couldn't get through.

And then it happened ... the phone started ringing! Before I knew it I was speaking with a CBS network screener at the White House! I was asked my name and phone number, as the procedure was that they would call each selected participant moments before they were to be on the air with the president. This way they knew who they had on the line. I was informed that I would be among the first called towards the beginning of the show. By being selected, I discovered that no one else in New York State could now get through.

When I told Sandy that I was going to be on, she asked what my question would be. I told her and she told me I couldn't ask that, as she expected hate mail and the like to follow. So here I was about to talk with the president, and I didn't have a question.

To make matters worse, network TV news crews started showing up at my apartment. I had better not make a fool of myself and searched for a question. I turned to the NY Daily News where on the back page was a headline about the (hated!) NY Yankees possibly being allowed to play an exhibition game in Cuba. I would ask about the continuing Cuban embargo using the Yankees as the hook.

Just before the show began, I got a call back and was told to stay on the line - I would be the third caller. Was I nervous? Hell yeah! When I was in college,  I had a radio show, and by listening to tapes of my show each week, I managed to make my voice more controlled when I was on the air. As you can hear on the video below, all of that went out of the window once I was introduced (by Walter Cronkite) to the president. Forty-two of us spoke to our president that afternoon.

Once done, the interviews all began, and being in New York City, there is a lot of media to deal with. On the train the next day, all the newspapers looking back at me ... were me!

When I returned to work on Monday, I found John Tesh and his crew waiting to interview me and my colleagues. The interviews continued for about a week, with me being interviewed by the newspapers, national magazines, as well as New York City radio and morning TV shows. On Tuesday I went on jury duty, and the judge in the first courtroom I was called into called me aside to ask if I were indeed the one who spoke with the president.

The next weekend I was downtown shopping with my wife, and while I was waiting for her at one point, a woman stopped me to ask if I was the one who spoke with the president, and then asked me to sign an autograph for her!! Before I finished there was a line of people waiting for an autograph. I can guarantee that no one had any idea who I was or why people were asking for my autograph.

Oh, and remember my original question which I didn't ask because Sandy was afraid I would get hate mail? Well you should have seen the hate mail and death threats I received over the course of the next month! I didn't tell Sandy about those for many years afterwards.

And that was the one and only time that a president sat for a live call-in program. Jimmy Carter never made it a regular feature of his presidency and no other president attempted it.

In the NY Daily news article about my phone call they quote me as saying that if the Yankees do play an exhibition game in Cuba that "I hope the Yankees win." Come on now ... anyone who knows me knows that those words would never cross my lips! So much for ever trusting the press any more.

So that was my day ... 34 years ago today.

Here are some links about that call-in show.

Time Magazine

Full transcript of the show