Monday, January 21, 2013

Calling all criminals

I wondered if I should run this blog past The Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine. Readers submit their issue and ask the Ethicist's opinion to sort out whether something is not only legal but also ethical.

Dear Ethicist:
I am currently on an oral chemotherapy drug with a very unusual side effect. My fingerprints have disappeared! Not all patients experience this, but apparently some of us do. I'm torn whether I should write about this in my blog or whether I would be inadvertently aiding and abetting the criminal element that would be only too happy to learn how to avoid leaving fingerprints behind at the scene of a crime.
Signed, Finger Printless in NJ

Dear FP:
I think you are worrying unnecessarily, as not all patients get this unusual manifestation and it may take years of taking the drug before it develops. It's hardly a foolproof method and criminals would do just as well using the time honored method of sandpaper and acid. Also DNA at the crime scene is becoming much more common in usage. I also took the liberty of Googling your condition and it has been reported in the news, specifically a case in 2009, where a Mr. S had difficulty entering the US from Singapore because of his lack of fingerprints.
I would advise blogging away, although I would think a more interesting topic could be found.
Signed, The Ethicist

What? Is he kidding? No fingerprints without having burned them off with acid is pretty cool in my book. I first noticed this when I tried to activate my new HP laptop's Simple Pass-- a program that simplifies remembering myriad passwords by having you store them, locked with a scan of your fingerprint. To access all your password protected websites, bank accounts, email, credit cards, and even Facebook, you simply swipe your finger across the sensor--unless, of course, you get the message: "The sensor could not collect enough of your fingerprint. Please swipe again." After about 100 swipes, I examined my fingers and realized they were slightly puffy, cracked and smooth.

Immediately I wondered if this were a sign. Should I start casing convenience stores, plan on robbing a bank or consider breaking and entering around my neighborhood? One of the many pamphlets I have on living with metastatic cancer urges that we "Do Something Crazy."  Hmm....maybe they mean the more traditional things, like taking a hot air balloon ride or travelling to Antarctica?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Back from the mountain

My spa-challenged daughter and I just returned from a successful trip up to Mohonk Mountain. This is the third year of this outing, which began when a friend suggested the wives get away, while the husbands were off skiing on their own adventure. Unfortunately not everyone from the original group could come this year, but we changed things up a bit and had a great time.

True to my upbringing (or trapped by it) I had decided this year to look for a more affordable alternative to the Mohonk spa package, which is all inclusive, but pricey. My plan was to stay six miles away in Gardiner at the considerably smaller Minnewaska Lodge-an A frame building with about 20 rooms as opposed to the 300 room Mohonk Mountain House castle. The castle is a beautiful building and setting, which should be experienced at least once, but the lodge was a cozy alternative. Off season with only two rooms occupied on Sunday and a few more on Monday, Minnewaska offered friendly staff and a healthy breakfast buffet. We ate breakfast enfolded in comfy,cushioned mission-style furniture in the great room, gazing out at the mountain. The other advantage of my plan was we had a chance to explore some of the interesting restaurants of the New Paltz-Gardiner area. 

My friend and former college roommate, being even more spa challenged than we are, joined us just for lunch on Monday at the Main Street Bistro- a popular college vibe place with pine booths and a diner sized menu. Portions were big and the food was good, although couldn't compare to our favorite lunch place The Main Course, which was closed on Mondays. (Missing you, lobster club!) While we ate and talked, my friend's husband trotted off to the used book/used vinyl record store. Awesome-someone actually will buy that collection of 60's records cluttering up my basement? I may need a return trip to New Paltz very soon.

Years ago I had eaten lunch once at the Rock and Rye Tavern (named The Locust Inn at the time) next to the New Paltz municipal golf course. The building is red clapboard and stone farmhouse/country tavern with slate floors, fireplaces and rooms whose floors sloped slightly left or right. Trip Advisor/Yelp recommendations were good, so we checked it out for dinner. Located just beyond the Huguenot Houses from the 1700's, the place has an aura of authenticity and promises good food. Well sort of. On the first exterior door, a typed sign announced that the chef had left abruptly and the new one would not start for another week, so the menu was limited and they were coping as best they could. Not exactly an enticing invitation, but we were hungry and reluctant to plunge back into the foggy night. We asked our waitress first if the chef had disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Was there a ghost of the tavern lurking in the low lit rooms that we should worry about? We were assured that it was simply the matter of a better opportunity and then proceeded to order and eat one of the best meals we'd had in a while. Wherever the R&R chef had escaped to, he must have left behind detailed recipes to follow.

The weather was crazy-lots of fog. Initially we couldn't see the mountain behind our lodge.  Morning dawned bright and sunny, but soon turned cloudy. Drifts of fog descended so quickly that it looked like a forest fire was sending up clouds of smoke. In 2011, we had enough snow on the trails to go snowshoeing. The next year, it was crisp and cold, but the trails were snow free and hikeable. This year with temperatures in the 50's on Sunday and Monday, the trails were officially closed-too muddy and slick. Who knows what augurs for 2014--trees sprouting leaves in a prolonged, global warmed January thaw? 

For the missing outdoor exercise we substituted a "shop crawl" through the town, visiting interesting little gift shops, tie dyed emporiums, and stores filled with unique clothing, jewelry and treasures. My favorite tee shirt: "914 Westchester: Manhattan with trees." (Deluded thinking, but gave us a laugh) We noted there was no "516-Long Island: not Manhattan, no trees" or  "201: Jersey: Not Manhattan, but lovely trees (in the burbs)."

As for the spa, my daughter and I finally decided we've got the routine down correctly. The hot rocks massage is the way to go for us. Nice warm, smooth rocks applied with slight pressure after your skin is oiled up---you feel young again! Our more adventurous friend opted for the body scrub, which she described as invigorating but mild. And, yes, this is the same procedure said daughter had last year, but described it slightly differently: "painful, raw and never to be repeated."

One disadvantage of my vacation itinerary was that there was some driving involved--through the fog, past open fields, dark woods--a dead deer on the side of the road, a wandering opossum meandering across the blacktop. My friend took one wrong turn and ended up on a long journey down a lonely dead end road and then a circuitous ride back. Looking a bit frazzled when she met us at the Tuthill House at the Mill that was our next dinner location, we contemplated starting the meal with shots all around but then settled on a St. Germain gin and tonic and some soothing, smooth white wine.

On the five minute ride back to the lodge, like Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, we had to say it: Worst relaxing spa vacation ever! We comforted ourselves by stocking up on the home made chocolate chip cookies in the lobby for any late night munchie attacks. Our too short getaway ended the next morning after breakfast and relaxing in the lounge. Temps had dropped, so sitting on the outside Adirondack chairs was out of the question. Maybe next year?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Downton Abbey Fever

Sunday marked the end of the long wait for Downton Abbey fans, as season 3 began with the theme that the times are a changin’. Slowly to be sure, since this is post war Britain in 1920 and not the hippie 60’s in America with Bob Dylan.

The New York Times reviewer, clearly exhibiting an ‘upstatirs’ attitude compared the series about British aristocrats and their servants to “ Fifty Shades of Grey: soft-core pornography, but fixated on breeding and heritage rather than kinky sex… Downton Abbey is a fantasy that gets sillier in prolongation, and as is the case with Fifty Shades of Grey, there is a huge audience that cannot get enough,” says Alessandra Stanley. She attributes the popularity to the cheeriness of the melodrama—no bad news lasts too long and every problem is overcome, be it an inconvenient fiancĂ©e who graciously succumbs to the flu or a daughter running off with the chauffeur.

Sorry Alessandra, but I’m with the masses on this one. It is the stuff of good melodrama and how can you not love a series with those clipped, formal British accents and the butler delivering statements of righteous indignation when a fork is misplaced or one of the many rules of class violated. I love when people get to say: “I do love you so terribly much” or “I’m so dreadfully sorry” or “m’lady.” I’ve already decided when we become grandparents that I will be Grand-mama (accent on the last syllable) and Gary can be Papa (also accent on the last syllable).

Host Laura Linney’s analysis is a bit over the top when she describes the Crawley family as “so irresistible that they ought to be classified as a controlled substance,”  but she is the host after all and many fans would agree with her.

Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess still gets the zingers-my favorite when she mistakenly asks for a drink (one of the new fangled cocktails of the 20’s) from Lord Grantham and then recants “Oh I thought you were a waiter.” An understandable mistake since he appears in black tux rather than full white tie, a shocking break with decorum, due to some downstairs treachery among the servants. Maggie’s also right on target, commenting on the impending visit of Cora’s mother, played by Shirley MacLaine. “She reminds me how thankful I am to be British.” “I thought she was American,” asks Matthew. “Exactly,” replies our Maggie.

The 20’s costumes are interesting—amazing that a style that made women look flat chested was ever popular. The automobiles are grand—classy with running boards, big headlights and bright colors.

I can’t seem to escape breast cancer, even when I‘m engaging in pure entertainment. Mrs Hughes, the lovely housekeeper, has a lump the doctor will test with a syringe. The good hearted cook, Mrs. Patmore, who has accompanied her to the appointment, inquires if it will be painful and is shushed by Mrs. Hughes, who with that stiff upper lip is prepared to endure the necessary. I thought getting fluid always meant a cyst, rather than a tumor, but the fluid is bloody and must be sent away to be analyzed for 2 months. How’s that for turnaround time? (I don’t think even The National Health today is that bad.) Sneak previews seem to indicate it will be cancer, but that may be a red herring. In any case, I’m sure the good doctor will find a solution. After all, Matthew did walk again after being confined to a wheelchair with spinal injuries and Lady Cora recovered from the Spanish flu. Here’s hoping Mrs. H. won’t have to weather a Halstead radical mastectomy (which was used from 1892 until well into the 70’s.) If they do have her die, the only bright spot would be finally seeing a chink in the emotional armor of Carson the butler.

A very satisfying episode, but I regret to say I already know a significant plot twist coming up, due to unfortunate web surfing. Beware: the British started the season on Christmas Day, so they’re ahead of us and some posts blast headlines that are too late for even a spoiler alert. I’m so dreadfully sorry.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

Reexamining the past year and setting goals to improve yourself in the coming year is a time honored exercise. Never mind that most resolutions don't last beyond January or the first quarter at best. I did try to give myself some easy ones, so I'd have some successes. Here's my list:

1. Get dressed every day- sweats count, as long as they weren't slept in and there's no nightgown underneath tucked into the pants.
2. Walk outside daily, even if it's just to the mailbox
3. More TMDs this year (Tuesday movie days)
4. Eat better (no chocolate before noon)
5. Visit Y at least once a month (and do some exercise while there)
6. Spend at least one day a week not doing breast cancer work (cancer free zone)
7. Go off the grid at least once a month
8. Do a daily organizing task in the household (this lasted one week last year, but I'm buoyed by my sock drawer experience)
9. Thank friends and family (and I don't mean the Verizon plan)
10. Blog more often!

Best wishes to all for a great 2013.