July 28, 2007

A clean deception

Every now and then when my hands are soapy and look like logs, I scowl at our dishwasher.

Nothing about it is really scowl-worthy. It's actually a pretty sad piece of equipment. The buttons actually stand out from the appliance, a la 1930's cash register, and the plastic cover falls off every now and then when our cat, Suzie, slides into it when she gets excited about linoleum.

It's not the appliance itself that inspires a scowl; it's the story.

Washing dishes started as a fun event. "Mommy, can I help?" She thought I was angelic and domestic.

And then I wanted to quit, but not so fast; it became my job. In our old house, we didn't have a dishwasher, so Katie and I switched off nights. However, when we were searching for a new house, we gravitated toward prospects with shiny faucets and power sprayers, but even more so to those with dishwashers.

For a while we used the dishwasher in our new home. The sparkle of Jet-Dry and the dash of Cascade funneling into the small holding tank for deployment was a sight sweeter than any yellow-gloved hand I'd seen. And then, suddenly, my mother reported that the dishwasher was broken.

Though Katie and I were crushed, we resumed our washing round-robin, but not without our quabbles about whose turn it was each night. Years went by filled with family dinners and holidays all fraught with cooking, and inescapably, encrusted cookware, silverware, crockery, Tupperware, plates, bowls, mugs and glasses.

But the fact could not be avoided: the dishwasher was broken and no one seemed compelled to fix it, least of all two waterlogged children, too consumed with Lisa Frank stationery to truly invest.

And then one day, not too long ago, I heard a gurgling in the kitchen. The sound was controlled, though, and made me think of hearing a favorite song for the first time in a long time.

The dishwasher was running without care. I believe my mother was even multi-tasking as she washed dishes electronically.

We'd been betrayed. The dishwasher, my mother confessed, had never been broken.

"It didn't hurt you and your sister to wash dishes," she said. "It was using too much hot water."

At least that was her defense.

I just think back to all those times when my sister and I would fight about whose turn it was to wash dishes and think that she knew the whole time that the dishwasher wasn't broken. She was just trying to teach us responsibility and compromise.

I still scowl at the dishwasher. After about a week of washing with our as-it-turns-out unbroken appliance, the machine broke again, probably from disuse. My dad quickly disconnected the water supply, and spiders began spinning in the spout.

The dishwasher is now a space eater in our kitchen. It's also a conversation piece, like our sparrow magnet chimney.

I still wonder about the dishwasher these days, when I'm up to my elbows in Dawn and speghetti sauce. Why did he so quickly disconnect the water?

Then I let my mind rest, warmed by the thought that when I come home someday I'll hear that ancient appliance gurgling once again, my parents in the kitchen laughing about how they put one over on their children for over half their lives.

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July 25, 2007

When in doubt, pack it.

When in doubt, pack it. I have lived by this motto, and it hasn't let me down. However, with the prospect of moving into a considerably smaller place, I find that I'm going to have to say no to my motto, and learn to think differently about the plethora of stuff I've acquired.

Since I lived at home throughout my years at Seton Hill, I did not master the fine art of dorm packing. I have always had enough storage space: a large closet, two bureaus, a large bookcase and cedar chest. Decorative items and books abound. Everything is where I need it when I need it. In just a few weeks, however, if I need something I've forgotten, it'll be exactly 331.1 miles away. Paranoia sets in: Should I bring just a few more pens? What if all the ink runs out of all my pens at the same time? I would have to miss my class and get more pens! Then I would fail and have to go home, my head hung down in shame. I think I'm thinking about this too much.

This isn't trip packing, I have to remind myself. Instead of packing for certain activities, I have to pack for every situation one can imagine. Will I go rock climbing? What about dancing at a formal dinner? I've experienced a variety of situations in my reporting experience, some of which have included rock climbing and dancing, so I'm not thinking completely unrealistically.

I have a wonderful list, filled with over 100 items that I probably will need, including super practical, yet almost forgotten items like light bulbs and duct tape, screwdrivers and nails. I've also considered the seasons. I may not come home for Thanksgiving because of the short vacation and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, so I will have to have a wide variety of clothes for layering and my trusty electric blanket.

And then there's an added packing element that I have not mentioned yet: New York living costs. I've stockpiled this summer on non-perishable items because nearly everything costs double in Manhattan in comparison to my hometown. This means that, while my room may look like a stuffed sausage at the start of the semester, I will not have to drop cash on daily living items that can seriously deplete the wallet. A little bit of planning has gone a long way.

The actual event of packing is more difficult than I would have imagined, too. I need boxes. I'm trying to keep everything for each "room": kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc., in their respective boxes. It's going all right, but I get overwhelmed every now and then by the magnitude of moving, not only the stuff, but a life--my life.

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July 21, 2007

Mistake and Bias

Two books read in succession: The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts and Bias by Bernard Goldberg.

Both take on the question of women and the workplace and their children. Though my friends and family know the majority of my opinions on this matter, I will try to stay away from them, as I usually do to protect myself and, in this case, so I will not have to cite this blog for my class this fall when I will write a book review of Bias.

The manner of these authors' arguments is my main concern.

The Feminine Mistake is an excellent, yet sometimes exhaustive look at women and the workplace. The argument of Bennetts' book is that women should continue to work after they're married, through their pregnancies and children's early and teen years because they substantially threaten themselves by not working, particularly financially. She gives several back-ups including divorce, abandonment, depression after the children leave and difficult workplace re-entry after an extended leave. The book's tag line is a nice summation; it's a quote by Ann Crittenden: "Leslie Bennetts tackles head-on the popular myth that a man is a financial plan."

The book has a heavy emphasis on the experiences of women in these circumstances, and minimal authorial commentary. More showing than telling. However, many of the sources, which she says are mostly of the stay-at-home mom sort would not offer to give their names. I wondered why they would not give their names, and thought that perhaps Bennetts could have been a bit overbearing herself and with her questions, but I cannot attribute almost all of these ommitted names simply because of this reason. In any case, with her unnamed sources the burden of proof and the opinion lies solely on the author's shoulders and interpretation. Bennetts thrives under that load, though. She looks her readers in the eye and points out her flaws and debunks them, through a plethora of named females from all walks of workplace and childcare life combined with intermittent statistics.

However, as I've learned, statistics and the opinions surrounding them can be altered to suit an author's needs.

When citing a New York Times report of census data that 60 million women were single or living without their husbands, compared to the 57.5 million women living with a spouse, Bennetts brings in a demographer, William Frey, that says, "the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for."

This is, at best, a dramatic statement. At worst, it's a vague, self-serving quote. Women may not be in marriages because of the death of a spouse, hardly a reason for the loss of promise in the institution of marriage--just the result of the biological condition.

Bennetts is redeemed as the book progresses, however. She looks at each situation that a woman may face, seeming to say to women who believe that a couple should decide what is right for them on a case-by-case basis, "Hey, woman, wake up! Chances are you'll be on your own again someday, sometime! Be ready!"

Oh my, I've let my opinions in...which brings me to Bias.

Bias is structured in three parts: tirade, viable case, vendetta. While I understand the importance of naming names, Goldberg takes this to an extreme. He laces his points with his personal experiences (or should I say slights?) in the newsroom to illustrate his points. I took his statistical evidence a bit more seriously than memos and calls and watercooler chat that he remembers, but stats can always be tainted by set-up.

When Goldberg hands out stats on journalists versus the public, for example, based on a Los Angeles Times nationwide survey, I was suspicious. What journalists were surveyed? What sector of the public was asked? How were the questions asked?

And while the intentions of Goldberg are probably noble in trying to make the reading of his statistics a bit more palpable, the statistics are not written in parallel form. This statistic: "75 percent of the public was for the death penalty in murder cases; 47 percent of the journalists were for the death penalty," seems to leave something out. What about journalists who are for the death penalty in murder cases and, for that matter, what about the death penalty in murder/rape cases or serial murder situations? They are not delineated here and the reader is left making a decision based on the limited information available, through, ironically, Goldberg's tinted lens.

At the same time, Goldberg is proving his own point that journalism is about flash and kaboom. Going into the details of this survey would take away from his argument, or would it? Much of this book is filled with statements concerning Dan Rather and the issues Rather had with Goldberg after publishing his critique of a network news in aWall Street Journal article, "Networks Need a Reality Check." Each statement made by Rather or the network execs becomes a paragraph (or ten) in the book, hence my description "tirade." He could have spent a little more time explaining the survey and skipped the hundred or so exclamation points which make the book seem in some points like an e-mail hastily sent to one's boss, instead of a serious look, as Goldberg claims, at the media industry.

Maybe, I keep thinking, Goldberg was too close to the system--too "CBS insider" to truly assess the situation with, ironically, limited bias from himself. Though he doesn't claim to be unbiased in his editorial-like account, I can't help but think that he should have been. I would have taken his points more seriously. As it is, my bias as a reporter viewing a jilted reporter tends to make me hear his prose like a boss listening to a whiny employee:

"I have written exactly two times about Dan Rather and liberal bias--or, for that matter, about Dan Rather and any subject, period! Two times!"

To that, I would ask, okay, you can write about one person--your superior--two times, but how many times in those two pieces did you mention that person? Nine, 65? I would have to say somewhere in that range because the name Rather rang in my ears at night when I put down this book. I dreamed of news desks and combovers.

As I said, The Feminine Mistake and Bias have something in common. They both take on women in the workplace. However, Bias' take on this issue is to initially say they're not going to make a stand either way, but actually make one later in the chapter.

Early in the chapter ominiously named, "The Most Important Story You Never Saw on TV," Goldberg says that "this is not an argument for or against mothers leaving the house to work in an office or a factory. That is not my concern, despite the troubling statistics, at least relating to lachkey children. The argument here is that once again the elite journalist on television have taken sides."

Whatever Goldberg. After stating this disarming claim, I was comfortable for a bit. Okay, I thought, back to the media bias. He stayed on the topic for about 10 paragraphs and then let working mothers have it at chapter's end: "No wonder elite culture treats them (working mothers) as hothouse flowers, who must hear nary a discouraging word. But the fact is that working moms are at the very center of variety of cultural ills. Maybe a little stigma is what they deserve."

Sort of different, huh? He says throughout the book that he is not advocating one side or another; but his opinions, construed conservative or liberal, are sprinkled throughout, despite his protestations that they aren't. I think he uses this to inadvertently make a point about his kind of journalism. Goldberg thinks that a journalist cannot completely disengage from bias because a journalist is a human being. He gets to the root of the issues and gives his opinions on bias in the media, but also gives us his opinions on those issues, too. The book is generally a mess, an overstuffed, overcooked turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

I'm going to have a field day on my review.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:58 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 19, 2007

Pre-release Potter

Do you know how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows ends? I do.

I've held the much-anticipated volume in my hands and have read each envied word of the final chapters. I don't intend to write a spoiler, so no worries.

There are spoilers circulating on the Internet, of course, and I hold no exclusive claim to fame, but it's something, though. The library wasn't expecting their copy to come in sooner than the release date, but we're not letting it out of its hiding place until the 21st--and only the staff have access to it. One of the many perks of the job, I suppose. Or one of the only... :-)

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July 10, 2007

The Maine Idea (II)

A needham is a native Maine chocolate filled with coconut and mashed potatoes. The idea is a little wacky, but the experience is unforgettable. My trip to Maine was more than a little like eating a needham.

The idea that I was visiting a male friend at his home on an island in Maine was a topic of some interesting conversations pre-travel. However, it all worked out well. Friendship(s) are intact, and I had a relaxing vacation with Stephan and his family.

Unlike some people, I do not enjoy traveling simply for the sake of movement. I like reaching a destination and then branching out from there on bike, foot, boat or chaise lounge.

Learning that a lake was not a quarter of a mile away from Stephan's home, needless to say, was all the vacation I would have needed. In the span of two days, I visited the lake--or pond as the sign said--three times.

The walk was lovely, but I think I enjoyed the view of rippling blue between the tall trees most of all because I knew that the view of the swimming hole was next: cool water lined by a rocky shore overlooked by millions of pines.

I did laps with Stephan's brother, John, across the lake; but seeing nothing but dense green with a few particles of white flying by in my goggles was downright creepy, so I switched to backstroke. Blue is such a soothing color, especially when footage of Nessie flits through my mind in the middle of an incredibly wide lake.

Silly me.

However, there's much more to do besides just being a lake bum. About halfway through the week, I traveled to the the top of Mount Battie. I spent the day with Stephan's parents, David and Kathy, and we were to picnic on the rock face of the outlook. David went out to a ledge (an uncharacteristic thing because he's afraid of heights) and was readying our picnic spot, when our cooler, filled with Maine factory-fresh cheese, soda and other perishables, did the unthinkable.

A little bit of a rocking motion (pardon the pun), and the cooler and its entire contents spewed forth and down over the rocky ledge, down, down, down into the green canopy below. But our eyes weren't on the food, they were on David's outstretched hand, grasping only the sky.

And then he said: "It's still going!"

Our lunch took about fifteen seconds to completely reach the bottom of the trail-less ravine. I take comfort in the raccoons and squirrels eating like kings that night.

The semi-non-perishables--a loaf of bakery fresh bread and an oatmeal chocolate cookie were left in my arms. Our lunch. And what a great lunch it was.

After that, we hiked to the top of a Mount Megunticook. Around and around it we went. The terraced trail was a challenging, yet fun jaunt, and we found a luna moth on our way. When I reached the top, a little sooner than his parents, I had a moment to reflect: I felt more accomplished than I had in a long time. Actually living out a common metaphor, it seems, is better than using it.

There's much more to say about Maine. About its endearing L.L. Bean fetish. Its docks and harbors filled with boats worth more than my upcoming education. Its seafood. Its beaches. Its life. However, there's a lot to say, and I've spent too much time on this blog already.

But I guess it comes down to a question. I've always wondered if you left part of yourself in the places you've traveled to, but really, I think you bring more back with you. Maine is an addition in every way.

I don't need to look any further than the the calorie count on the needhams package to prove that.

If you'd like to see some photos and commentary, check out the extended entry...

Stephan, John and Kevin around the breakfast table. I think Stephan was playing with the jam.

On the first full day of the trip, we went to this old lighthouse. I climbed the ladder (probably not a good idea), but the view was amazing.

Islands, islands everywhere. Adjacent to this pier is a dock. Several private boats are anchored there. I was swarmed by black gnats not far from here after a rain shower.

Below the pier, shown above, is masses of seaweed. I made the landlover mistake of calling it moss. John really got a kick out of that.

I don't think I can remember a colder Fourth of July, but I chalk it up to Maine. haha. Rain was falling, and most of my photos have lovely shots of drizzle, but this one turned out. I give a lot of credit to the town's firemen for this amazing show over the river. Fireworks spewed from one end of the pier to the other by the time this was shot. Surprise. Shock and awe.

Overlooking the harbor on top of Mount Battie. This was shot not far from the cooler's demise location.

This luna moth met its end along the path up Mount Megunticook. Moths were the least of my worries, however. I was fodder for the mosquitoes. I don't even dare count the bites scattered on my arms and legs.

This was an odd find in the middle of a charming town called Camden. Many of the buildings are built on stilts and the water rushes beneath until it empties out into the ocean via this beautiful waterfall.

You look and look at views like this. It's called "postcard territory." Compliments to Maine.

How can red hotdogs--a thing they only do in Maine, I'm told--be organic? Word is it's beet juice. I haven't altered the color on this photo. I couldn't believe it.

My feet love the water, as does the rest of me. I learned to love the lake, despite my misgivings about the stuff on the bottom.

The swing is great, but the rocks are a constant fear. Good times, and I didn't die.

Photo alterations by Pixer.

(If I've gotten any names of places wrong, I apologize. A journalist on vacation can't get everything absolutely right.)

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July 5, 2007

The Maine Idea

Maine is a beautiful place. I can't believe I've actually stepped away from it to look at this computer screen, but I just thought I'd remember this trip with one small--very small blog--about my trip here while on my trip.

I've swum in a beautiful lake, watched fireworks over a river and shopped at a little Maine standard: L.L. Bean.

But there's much more to do and see. Tomorrow I'm taking on a mountain.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 6:59 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack