Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Technology…ain’t it wonderful

A friend of mine experienced a robbery the other day. He and his roommate were asleep and some guys came in and stole most of their electronic equipment. They took his iPhone, his computer, his TV and some other things. He figured it must have been two guys because it had to be more than one to carry away his TV.

The following day, when he woke up he realized what had happened and immediately called the police. He and his roommate went to the police station and because he knew his phone has a tracking device on it, engaged it and directed the police right to where the GPS told it the phone was. But apparently that wasn’t enough to get a warrant. Instead the police knocked on the door and radioed in that they were there and the roommate called my friend’s phone. The name of the roommate showed in the display and it was enough for the police to make the arrest. My friend got all of his possessions back.

I just love this story. Not only did they recover all the stolen items, but they caught the guys red handed. It was all because he had thought enough to download an application to his phone to track it in the event it was lost. It is also because technology has gotten to the point where this is all possible, and it is also because crime is getting harder and harder to commit. You will be caught.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Saturday morning was beautiful. It had no humidity, a slight breeze and a beautiful blue sky. It would have been a perfect day to ride my bike for a long trip of about 30 miles. Instead my husband and I were helping an elderly neighbor who had spray paint all over her garage.

It happened Thursday night, or perhaps early Friday morning. Someone decided that they would spray paint their tag over six properties in the rear of our property. Fortunately, they did not get our wooden fence, but they got the stone walls of two separate garages, a vinyl fence, the vinyl siding of a garage, the side of a small camper, and the aluminum door of a garage. There were two designs on these properties and they have been seen elsewhere in the municipality.

The police are working on it, but I doubt they are going to identify who it is. Graffiti “artists” are very difficult to track down. Unless the police knows the tag and can identify it with someone, they cannot make an arrest. So we are left with the possibility of this person, or persons, doing it again.

My husband and I found a product online called Mostenbocker Lift Off #4. The company makes several types of removers and this chemical is for spray paint. A twenty-two ounce spray bottle is around $8 at Home Depot. We bought three bottles. We also borrowed a pressure washer from a friend and tried several things as well as the Lift Off. The product did fairly well on the smooth vinyl fence, but on the vinyl siding of the garage, which is textured to look like wood, no so much. The paint was caught in the ridges that resemble wood grain and even with repeated scrubbing with a steel wool pad, did not come off easily. We tried other things too; gasoline, brake cleaner, and of course straight water from the pressure washer. We did get about 80% off, but it does not look like it did originally.

The municipality has a somewhat unusual policy which is to fine the property owner if they do not remove the graffiti in a timely manner. There are other cities, like San Diego, who have a program to help eradiate graffiti. “The City of San Diego spends more than $1 million each year on graffiti abatement education and enforcement. This amount does not include the millions more spent by other public agencies, utility companies, and private property owners to remove graffiti from their properties. Nationwide, the American public spends nearly $12 billion each year to fight graffiti.” They have a program called the Paint and Materials Exchange program. “The City of San Diego operates a Paint and Materials Exchange Bank in the Chollas View area where citizens can obtain free recycled paint in limited colors for graffiti removal..”
It is my intention to start a similar program in my municipality to help combat the problem. I don’t like the fact that we, the property owner, who is the victim of vandalism, would have to be fined with a citation for not removing the graffiti. I know that when the vandal is caught they have to pay restitution, but the chances of the police identifying the person and making the arrest is remote, and if that does indeed happen, it could take years and by that time, the property owner may have moved away. The way to stop the graffiti is to cover it over as soon as it happens so that the tag does not get noticed. The objective of tagging is peer recognition: the tagger gains more notoriety the longer the tag is "up."

By doing this I hope that we will lessen the problem and improve the quality of life in our town.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good Parents; Bad Seed

I know it's been a really long time, but I hope you will accept my apologies for staying away. 

Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan. A recent article of his appears in the New York Times today entitled, “Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds”. His article ends with “For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame — or credit — for everything that their children become.

For the last 7 years, I have been feeling so responsible for the person my son has become. Since he was 13, he has gotten worse and worse, getting in trouble time and again, has dropped out of school, and now rejected us and moved out of the house. Granted, he is at the age that he should be on his own, but he has not become a responsible adult in our eyes. My husband, and many of our friends, has told me over and over again that it is not my fault. But as a mother, I feel bad that I have brought forth this person and let him loose in the world.

I suppose my heart will always be heavy with sadness for the direction my son has chosen, but my head is trying to grapple with the sentiment expressed by Dr. Friedman. His article is helpful toward tackling my feelings of incompetence and depression and I suppose in time as I see my son improving with maturity (a positive wish), those feelings will subside. I suppose it’s jealousy plain and simple. I want to have what my friends have; successful children who make them proud.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sugar, sugar

For the last two weeks, I have tried to stick to a sugar-free diet. I came across the 30 day challenge to remove sugar completely from my life and have been working at it every day. I thought I would start by drastically reducing the stuff and gradually wean myself off, and for a short time I thought I was doing okay. But last night I failed. But what was interesting was the effect that the sugar had when I did eat it after cutting out the majority of it from my diet for the two weeks. The challenge is to cut all sugar and everything that acts like sugar in the body for 30 days. This means all table sugar (which I rarely ear anyway), high glycemic starches, and artificial sweeteners.

Last night I ate a homemade fiber bar that I had made a while ago made with marshmallow creme and sweetened condensed milk. I still can't believe the effect after consuming that bar; I was shaky, dizzy, and felt horrible. I noticed this about a half hour after I ate it while I was making dinner and all through dinner my hands were shaking and I couldn't sit still. I felt bloated and slightly nauseous. The rest of the night I felt out of sorts and basically crappy. This morning I feel better, but I still feel a little dizzy. It's really weird. I guess I was/am really addicted to the stuff.

According to the authors of the 30 day challenge in the book Sugarettes, processed sugar is the worst thing you can put in your body and is more addictive than heroin. Over the last half century as our foods have gotten more and more processed, sugar has been put in all manner of foods. They are not just talking abotu the white refined table sugar that we all know and love. This includes high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Nutrasweet, and the ultra-refined grains that breads and snacks are made with. If you read the labels when you shop you will definitely agree that there is all manner of stuff in our foods. The challenge makes you eat only unprocessed, natural food, which is far better for you anyway. For the last few decades of my life I have tried to eat a healthy diet and tried to stay away from a majority of processed foods, but I have consumed tons of artificial sweeteners. I won't say that I don't eat any processed foods; everyone does, but I usually don't eat lots of cookies, cakes, and candy on a daily basis. I will admit that I have also been known to eat my fair share of pre-packaged foods and commercially prepared, time-saving mixes and canned goods. But in the last few years I have tried to steer myself, and my family, more toward fresh cooking with fresh ingredients and home prepared foods. It's tough on a busy schedule.

I was intrigued with the principal of the book and realized that if you look at the overall health of this county and the type of foods we eat that there is a definite correlation between the time frame these types of foods have been available and the declining well-being of our citizens. The food industry is killing our people. Yes, they may buy fresh ingredients from farmers, but after it's gone through the factory it has the nutritional value of cardboard. So, from now on I am going to try to stick with the saying; "if its made from a plant it's okay, if it comes from a plant stay away." It's not easy, but my health depends upon it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Remembering Uncle Clyde

On Wednesday of last week, my Uncle Clyde passed away. For the last five years, he has been on his own since my aunt died, and last year my oldest cousin (his eldest son) passed away suddenly. Needless to say he slowly slipped away over this time.

As a child, I remember him as a large imposing figure. He and my aunt and their three boys lived in the house that my mother and aunt grew up in. It was an old rambling house with many rooms and had a good amount of land. I loved going up there for family get-togethers such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. My uncle, who was a OBGYN, had a very strong personality with a quick temper, which was well feared by the nurses he worked with. Once such example of his infamous temper occured one Christmas when I was a child. Uncle Clyde had been given an electric knife, and my aunt had cooked a turkey which looked all brown and beautiful when she pulled it out of the over. However, she had forgotten to thaw the bird before cooking it and when my uncle tried to cut a piece, the knife siezed in the frozen flesh below the skin. In a fit of anger, he flung open the back door and hurled the turkey, knife and all, into the snow. At the tender age of 6 or 7 I was stunned and ran into the livingroom to announce what had happened to my mother and all the guests. I remember a large commotion as everyone jumped up and ran into the kitchen to help fix the situation. My uncle jokingly gave me a hard time for "telling on him".

My uncle an accomplished woodworker, welder, electronics technician, potter, silversmith, skeet marksman, and auto mechanic to name just some of his talents.. For my 21st birthday he made me hammered silver cuff bracelet, which I occasionally wear. In his apartment at the retirement village, there are many pieces of furniture that he made that are indistinquishable from pieces one would see in a furniture shop. His artistry with wood is well known in the family and everyone considers themselves very lucky to have a piece crafted by him. He also loved St Bernard dogs and had several as the years went by. I always get a chuckle when I see one photograph of him dressed in a knight costume for Halloween with one of the dogs, which was displayed in the livingroom at their house.

Since my aunt died about 8 years ago, my uncle has lost some of the vigor he exhibited. I don't know if it was a result of old age or the realization of his own mortality. He still "told it like it was", but his inner light was somewhat faded. He did get quite ill with cancer, which he beat to some extent, but then last year when his oldest son died, he really began to go downhill. I can only imagine the anguish that caused and I can understand that his whole purpose for living would take a huge hit. My oldest cousin was the most vibrant of the three boys and made such a difference in his community that it was not only my uncle who lost something that day. In the last few months his decline was swift and his death was really a blessing to ease his suffering. His ashes will be buried Saturday with a memorial service to follow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The English Language

I read an editorial a while back about people saying "oh my God!" and the writer thought it was very bad. He, being a Christian man, was highly offended. It never occurred to me that it could an objectionable expression. However, the other night I watched an episode of Extreme Makeover - Home Edition that feature a woman from Jamaica who had her house, and her whole neighborhood, renovated. At the end of the show she and her family got to go through the house and marvel at the transformation. They went running through the house and all the said was "oh my God!" over and over again whenever they went into the room for the first time. As I was watching, I thought about editorial I read. I wasn't necessarily offended by her outbursts, but after a few times, I really got tired of hearing it. It began to grate on my nerves so I changed the channel and turned my attention to something else.
My late step-father had his doctorate in English and would often remark that Americans by and large have a very limited vocabulary. He would say that there are so many words in the English language and we use about a tenth of them. Some of them aren't even in the proper dictionary! I think that he blamed the education system mostly, but he also lamented that people are just plain lazy.

It's hard to learn a new word. You have to remember the word, remember how to use the word properly, and then think about when to use that word again. When you write, you can always cheat and use the tools in your word processor to help you find another word in its place. But when you are speaking you have to remember that you already said that would and it's hard to not say it again. In a situation when excitement takes over, you are overwhelmed and your brain can get stuck on the same phrase over and over again. It's easy to become repetitive without realizing it. I suppose if one is more versed in their vocabulary, one might be able to vary one's speech. But in the heat of the moment one finds themselves blurting out the same expletive over and over again without thinking about it.

I often wonder about the origin of language. How did it grow from the simple utterances that the very early humans made? How did the early human realize that they had the ability to form words and decide that "milk", for example, means a white liquid that comes from mammals? I find it fascinating.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Computer Snooping

I have been reading a lot about the computer-snooping issue going on in Lower Merion. The school was using a technology that was inappropriate for the use they supposedly intended. It is my opinion, shared by others that the school fully meant to catch students committing crimes and tried to pass it off as anti-theft. As a comment posted to one article stated on NPR, a simple, inexpensive GPS unit installed in the laptops would have been able to locate a stolen computer if needed. There is no question in my mind that the school was attempting to pry into the student's private lives in a misguided effort to thwart criminal behavior.

That being said, the real issue here is the line where a student's school lives cross over into their private lives. I remember a situation when my son was in the 5th grade and was admonished for putting something on his MySpace page. He made some reference to illegal activities and it was found by the school and he was disciplined for it. Needless to say he was incensed that the school would interfere with his personal life. His feeling was that he was not in school, it was not the school’s page, and he was not using school property to post that missive. He felt that the school had no right to question anything he did after school hours.

It was the school’s opinion, and ours as well, that as a student of that school, he was a representative of the school even outside of school hours.

I believe that Lower Merion School District was trying to prevent their students from putting the school in a bad light. They deliberately employed the use of the webcams to do accomplish that goal, and then they tried to cover it up by saying they were trying to locate stolen laptops. They probably assumed the average person would be clueless enough to believe them.

In whatever role we play, we represent others as well as ourselves. We represent our parents, our children, our employers, or even our home city. Over the centuries people have been sensitive to criticism from others that tarnish our “good name”. People do care whether they admit it or not, what others say about them and it’s very important that they are accepted. Young teens are very sensitive to how the world views them and always looking for approval of their peers. It subsides a little when we mature, but not by much, in my opinion.
Is there a line crossed or not? That is a difficult question to answer. I think the school definitely went over the line in the manner in which they tried to save their reputation. Ironically, their actions to maintain their status have caused the biggest stain on their name ever.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Valentine's Day Cards

Today I had to get my driver's license picture renewed, and right next to the license center is the dollar store. I figured since I was there, I might as well pick up some things. At the front of the store was the Valentine's section, which of course is put there to remind us folks that the next big holiday is coming up and you better partake of the commercial celebration before you lose your chance. I thought why not. So I picked up some chocolates and then went to the card aisle to get an appropriate card for my husband and son. I had no problem picking out the one for my husband, but my son was another story.

Too bad they don't make cards with the sentiment on it that people really want to get. Something like "Son, you are a total f*&%up, but I still love you, so Happy Valentine's Day." Or perhaps "You're 30 years old. Hope this Valentine's Day you find someone wonderful so you will leave my house, and I don't have to support you any longer." Or how about "Get a job so you can take ME out to dinner. Happy Valentine's Day!" Instead they have cards that make reference to a "Wonderful Son" who is so thoughtful and a joy to be around. Obviously not cards that are marketed toward the parents of a rebellious, hell-raising, teen-aged boy who is currently the bane of my existence, and who is at this moment in time makes me question why I ever had a kid.  I ended up getting him a generic card that had practically no sentiment on it.  I know in my heart that things will get better, but right now I wish he was someone else's kid.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I just started reading a book called Going Grey by Anne Kreamer. It is a wonderfully written, witty account of a woman who has decided to stop dying her hair and go naturally grey. I, like her, decided some time ago to not only stop dying my hair but stopping cutting it as well. Unlike her my hair was not so grey as hers apparently was and I didn't have a year of bad grey while my roots grew in. As I said I decided to stop cutting it too. At first I firmly planned to let it get to a certain length and then donate my hair to Locks of Love. They take hair that is a minimum of 10 inches long, so the plan was to let it get to that length plus the shoulder length that it was at the time I make this decision.

It is now at the middle of my back and I feel thrust back to my high school years when my hair was close to being waist length. Now I vacillate between donating my hair and keeping it long and flowing. I hadn't fully convinced myself that at 55, long hair is not something that most women do. But I hate short hair and I hate having to go to my stylist whenever the style, whatever it is supposed to be, gets unruly and drives me crazy. Having it long is just so easy. I mean really, who am I trying to impress? I am a middle aged woman, married with a child. I am not trying to find the love of my life or catch the eye of the most desirable man around. At this point in my life I am working to impress people with my brain, not my looks.

Then today I came across a passage in the book where she sees a 70 year old woman, fit and beautiful sunbathing nude on a beach at Martha's Vineyard with long flowing white hair who becomes a model of what the author is trying to accomplish. It set my mind that I am not just growing my hair to donate it. I may never donate it...besides they don't take grey hair, but I may grow it out forever until it reaches the floor like my paternal grandmother. I seriously thing that when I saw her wedding picture as a child, I subconsciously decided that I would forever have long hair. That could be why every time I have cut it shorter than shoulder length I got panicky and uncomfortable. I even went to the trouble of making my mother buy me a fall (a half wig) when my hair was cut ridiculously short when I was a young teen. I came home in absolute tears refusing to come out of my room until my mother apologized for taking me to the hairdresser and bring back the fall so I wouldn't appear in public with the absence of hair. Such trauma!

Monday, January 25, 2010


I have been using the rubber band negative reinforcement technique to help stop me from biting my cuticles and it has been working fairly well. Whenever I find myself putting my fingers in my mouth I "punish" myself by snapping the band on my wrist. I have gotten to the point that I now recognize that I am about to starting biting and stop myself. I hope that I will eventually stop even before I put my hand near my mouth.

Habits are really hard to break. One has to change their entire way of thinking and deviate from a comfortable, normal-feeling activity, to another one that is outside our comfort zone. It takes time, effort, and thought. I have heard that it takes the average human about 2 weeks to develop a new habit and 90 days to break one, so I am giving myself a little time. I know that when I started riding my bicycle for exercise, after a few weeks, it was engrained in my daily routine and I didn't even think twice about it and it felt odd when I wasn't able to do it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Rubber Band

The other day I had an argument with a co-worker. For some reason this particular person never understands what I have to say. I know it's not me, because other people understand me with no difficulties and I wonder if this person just likes to argue. There are people in the world like that - they pick fights all the time.

I often wonder about those people. Are they trying to be difficult because by being that way they are getting attention, or is it because they just want to fight? Why would anyone just want to fight? Personally, I try to avoid confrontations for the most part. I won't agree just to agree, but I try not to enter into disagreements with people because it's just not worth it to me; it's a waste of time and resources and I don't like to be in a bad mood.

A friend of mine suggested using a rubber band around my wrist that I snap whenever I want to stop a negative habit. I tried it last night because I am trying to stop this nasty habit of tearing the skin around my fingernails. It helped somewhat, but I went to bed with red welts all over my wrist. Maybe I was a little too harsh on myself, but it helped. I have to remember to wear the band until the habit stops. Anyway, the premise is that eventually you associate your habit with pain - negative reinforcement - and train your brain to stop the habit. He tried it with smoking, but it didn't work as well for him as the new drug, Chantix.

Unfortunately, I can't snap a rubber band on my co-worker.