So You Want to be a Contact Tracer in New Jersey?

The Jersey Shore before the storm by Laura Stinchcomb

Finally! Last week the CDC recommended to congress that 30,00- 100,000 contact tracers be in place in the United States before a possible next spike in novel coronavirus, Sars-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) this September. Local New Jersey publications have been interviewing health departments throughout the State about their intent to hire contact tracers. However, anecdotally, I had seen little evidence of mass hiring in New Jersey.

Because of my healthcare knowledge, hospice volunteer training, ability to interview and make cold calls, I figure that I would make good contact tracer for COVID-19 and I am willing do this as a volunteer because I feel so strongly about containing this novel virus. This past May, I signed up and completed Coursera’s free contact tracing certificate program sponsored by Johns Hopkins. I also registered with the State of New Jersey’s database for people wanting paid/volunteer contact tracing jobs, received a 19-digit confirmation number and a subsequent email suggesting that I take another free e-course on contact tracing sponsored by ASTHOS (Association of State and Territorial Health Officials)- Which I did!

At least four of my well qualified friends told me that they also registered with the Department of Government NJ Contact Tracer hiring database and they also had received long verification codes but no additional word on hiring. Was the state too overwhelmed with responses from the legions of unemployed or were health departments trying to make due with the current staff and already contracted town employees to help fill the gap between need and declining state/town revenues?

The official COVID-19 Information Hub for the State of New Jersey says that it IS hiring aCommunity Contact Tracing Corps… at least 1,000 and as many as 5,000 contact tracers may be needed in New Jersey”  Efforts are to be spear headed by … “Rutgers University, led by their School of Public Health and including the School of Health Professions, School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, we will launch the corps and create several hundred jobs. We will also be expanding the effort to include other colleges and universities throughout the state.”

Just this weekend, I spoke to a Dean of an urban New Jersey community college who is looking into continuing education programs to supplement New Jersey’s Contact Tracing training but everything seems to be on hold-or stuck. Last week, I called my town’s health department to find out where they were with regard to getting contact tracers on board (I told her that I would work Pro Bono). They too are in a kind of limbo and are waiting for ComCare digital platform -which will integrate the surrounding state with a digital platform- to get rolled out and further instruction from New Jersey.  My town’s health department supports 8 townships consisting of approximately 110,000 citizens and would love to have tracers who are familiar with local support services. I gave them my name just in case the Big Government database doesn’t really trickle over to them.

Contact tracing is a decades old method to contact those who are infectious with a communicable disease, identify their contacts – those who may also be potentially infected- and ensure that they are all compliant with medical treatment -or in the case of COVID-19- in isolation or quarantine.  I personally feel that for contact tracers to really be effective, there are far more issues than getting funding, training, a software platform, contact tracers and service coordinators in place.

Compliance for Quarantine or Isolation require services that we just don’t have in place yet or have been greatly displaced. Each state and town will have to have its own method and support structures for people who must isolate or quarantine themselves. In many places, I believe social services may fall short. Neither the Coursera course or the ASTHOS course are really able to describe what “real” support will look like because that will have to fall within each jurisdiction. In fact, in the ASTHOS one(a particularly difficult e course to navigate) the suggestion that the contact tracer might be also possibly send hand sanitizer and a thermometer AND refer them to social services,while certainly helpful, made me laugh. In the mock interviews in the Johns Hopkins course, the objections of the “cases” (those infected with COVID-19) to isolation are magically solved by some kind of sleight of hand where, as far as I can tell, magical services that don’t really exist are produced.

To get people to a place where they can miss work, take care of elderly parents or children, make meals for a family, clean and disinfect a house, isolate in a separate space with a private bathroom from the rest of the roommates all while possibly being really sick – will take resources which I have yet to hear of in my NJ town. I have resources and I could not even get a grocery delivery to my home at the peak of the pandemic.

We are experiencing such an unprecedented disruption to our economy combined with the need to socially distance. Many of the social services that people rely on are non-governmental and volunteer-based and have had to re think how they operate.  In a blink of an eye, my volunteer jobs in a hospice and long-term care facility and delivery job for our library’s Books on Wheels program evaporated. Moreover, the Presbyterian Church in Westfield had to suspend its volunteer-run Agape Community Food kitchen in the beginning of New Jersey’s stay at home orders in March due to the health risks. The church provided almost 200 hot meals once the of a week to hungry people in Elizabeth. AFTER THREE MONTHS, the church and Agape Volunteers have cobbled together a new “hyper local” supplemental food to delivery 30 needy families in Westfield, NJ once a week. Families displaced by the pandemic.

Clearly lots will have to be put into place, and I hope New Jersey really does have the next two and a half months to prepare for a possible next spike of infections. I also hope that the other states who are now experiencing their first waves can look to New York and New Jersey for help. Meanwhile, I will be promoting contact tracing to my friends so we can get up to speed.

Pandemic Deja Vu

Curbside Pick up for coffee beans at our local Boxwood.

I have been experiencing bouts of déjà vu frequently during the last ten weeks since New Jersey has had ‘Stay at Home’ orders that took effect March 21st. My daughter suggested that it is because I am only seeing the same few rooms in our house day after day. She is stuck in a Hoboken one-bedroom railroad apartment working from home with her partner and says that they are experiencing the same thing.

I planned for this though and in February, I cleared out huge piles of “stuff” so we wouldn’t feel so claustrophobic in our overstuffed small house. I am immunocompromised, and when in January, an immunologist suggested that I would have a lot to worry about during a possible emergence of Coronavirus in the Tri-State area, I started to plan. The doctor said it with a laugh that made me feel like a hypochondriacal, worry wort- because “it probably would not make it here”. I hoped he was right but I ordered all of the major newspapers to keep on top of world events just in case.

 By the end of February, I had stopped going to group activities and cancelled my gym membership. As part of my prep for a possible pandemic, I cleared the basement and stocked up with toilet paper, cleaning products, MREs and shelf stable items and fridge stable meat. I also cleared a space so that 18-year-old son to have a “workshop” in the event that the three of us would need to hole up at home. I fitted up the in a third bedroom quickly as an office. I bought office chairs, keyboards and clunky rowing machine for the family room. I did all of this just in time because within weeks many these items would be difficult- if not impossible to obtain. As I bought these supplies in Costco and Bj’s, at the cash registers, others on line would double take as my totals were rung up. I noticed that this was the first thing that separated us from many other families who would not be able to purchase three months of food when they were trying to live pay check to paycheck. Did they have enough money to buy the large size Tylenol because the base ingredients would soon be unavailable in the supply chain? Would they be able to keep safe? What made our family more special than these hard working people? I continued to plan with gratitude and guilt over our bounty.

I realize that my Pandemic is not everyone’s Pandemic. I have been acutely aware that my family’s experience is not the experience of many- even those who live down the street- in our affluent suburb of Westfield. On many levels, the stay at home orders have been a blessing for us and has allowed me to have some control over an uncontrollable situation. Many others are also feeling the same guilt over knowing that they are the haves in a world of unexpected early deaths, unemployment and hunger. I am just thankful that I don’t have to worry that my son will be a vector for the virus now that he is not going to his germy high school -where he complained that they could not wash their hands because there was “no soap and someone peed in the soap dispenser”. I have stopped imagining all the times my husband touches his face on New Jersey Transit and in his hip- but very open office.

The curve in New Jersey has been flattened – even deflated for now. I feel safer knowing that if I had to make a hospital trip, I might not have to be in the ambulance that has to wait in line for hours just to get me through the front door of the emergency room. My family has also gotten better at this. We know how to wear masks, wash our hand and socially distance. We have a better sense of how to gauge risk and we know a little more about the virus.

In a sense, the combination of recession, social protests and stay at home orders remind me of another time in my life-the 70s. In the 70s , trips to the supermarket were limited to fewer available shopping days, hours and stock. The proliferation of processed foods was just really getting started, so often food was still made from scratch. Also, did you know that there was panic buying for toilet paper in 1973?

The toilet paper aisle one month into stay at home. It wasn’t til I saw Charmin on the shelf that I felt we were turning a corner.
By mid April, so many people were baking…supply was low.
Making extracts to use up all of the Vodka that I bought hoping to make precious hand sanitizer-only to learn that vodka does not have enough of an alcohol content.

My natural apple cider vinegar developed 5 extra mothers and I ran out of red wine vinegar. Why risk a trip to the store when I could make my own.
In the beginning, everyone was making bread while stuck in the house. There was a run on yeast, so I made lots of gluten free sour dough…and all other sourdough based breads including Injera.
We all craved fresh produce so much that we started a victory garden.

Spinach salad from garden and homemade vinegar.

My Experience with the Master Key System

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite

As I sat in the podiatrist office sticking out my foot for my second injection of cortisone, I looked over my toes, met my doctor’s eyes and said, “You know I don’t need orthotics. I brought this on because I willed it.” The doctor and his assistants looked at each other with a twinkle in their eyes. “No really! A very athletic woman in my gym complained about a machine giving her planter fasciitis that was so bad that she had to go to the emergency room. I thought she was a big cry baby. I suppose I needed to get more empathy so I had to experience this pain myself” I did not remember what this pain felt like when I had it 20 years ago and could not have envisioned the three months of excruciating pain that my fluid filled inflamed heel would have. Perhaps on some level; I wanted the challenge because I developed my own fasciitis within weeks.  Was I experiencing the “Law of Attraction” in my life?

The concept of the mind being able to manifest reality has been the basis for a genre known as “success-literature”, proselytized by champions of positive thinking such as Norman Vincent Peal, and Napoleon Hill. The concept also is the primary premise of New Age writers such as Carolyn Myss and Louise Hay. The law of attraction is basically “like attracts like”;  negative thoughts bring poverty and sickness and positive thoughts manifest health and prosperity Much of the criticism of the law is that it gives the mind too much power over what many perceive to be uncontrollable events for the poor and the unfortunate. Does the curmudgeon deserve to get cancer? But this is an oversimplification of the law which at its core questions the nature of reality and deserves more space than I can give in a short blog post.

My most recent encounter with the “Law of Attraction” was when I happened upon a peculiar book at our town library’s used book sale. The book titled, “The Master Key” was very old and the copyright was for the year 1916. I had never heard of the author, Charles Haanel, but upon closer inspection, I found that the book was published by a St. Louis publishing company and it appeared to be an early form of correspondence course that offered the reader the ability to create, Power, Health and Prosperity. I bought the book with the intention to send it to my bookophile father from St Louis. I ended up buying the public domain book on Kindle for myself with the plan to actually go through the almost 100 year old course.

But I should have paid attention to Haanel’s warning that “modern psychology tells us that if we start something and do not complete it, or make a resolution and do not keep it we are forming the habit of failure; absolute ignominious failure. If you do not intend to do a thing, do not start; see it through even if heavens fall…” because my efforts -so far -have not gone past week three:

Week One: required tremendous effort because my exercise was to sit erectly in a chair for 20-25 minutes and not lounge. Week one actually took me two weeks to complete. If I could have lounged, I’m sure it would have been easier.

Week Two: required me to sit in chair and think of nothing. Haanel admits that this is difficult. The problem is that he does not suggest a thought or word to replace the “non thoughts” such as OM or I AM, so I spent time trying to channel Haanel’s spirit to see if he might have any ideas for me. He did’nt.

Week Three: required me to sit erectly, inhibit all thought and relax. It was very hard to relax because my thoughts were now busy concentrating on not lounging and falling asleep. At the end of week three, Haanel says that I should have very strong “Solar Plexus energy” –which is the sun of the body and source of great personal magnetism.


Haanel writes that we must first learn to control our physical selves before we can control our minds So far this process sounds like meditation and Chakra opening.  Haanel seems to have been very influenced by eastern thought. I do believe that he is on to something; after all he was a self-made millionaire. From what I have read of Haanel, Napoleon Hill acknowledged a tremendous debt to Haanel’s ideas in his own “Master Key System to Riches” other contributors to Hill’s “Master Key System” were Andre Carnegie, Ford and Edison –more self- made men. This hardly seems to have been main stream thinking for the day. As I became more curious to learn about Haanel and where he might have come up with this course, I learned that he was in correspondence with woman, Elizabeth Towne, who founded her own publishing company.

Towne was at the center of a movement in the United States called, New Thought, which drew its philosophy from many influences of the last two centuries such as Mesmerism and Transcendentalism. Towne’s self-improvement writings are much more accessible to me and quite frankly her Solar Plexus strengthening exercises are much easier since they just require lying down and taking deep abdominal breaths. I am sure that I am getting more and more magnetism every day.

 Since these New Thought author’s books are now public domain, you too can have access to the Master Key System! You will find that these old ideas are embedded in almost every self- help book you pick up today.


This post was also published on Open Salon.

What Martha Washington Can Teach Us About Politics Today

Portrait of Martha Washington-Hollow-cut silhouette on linen CA 1798. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The brouhaha which surrounds the David Barton book, Jefferson Lies, has made me wonder what is it that makes one history book more popular than another? Moreover, why do we persist on wanting to believe that our founding fathers (and their wives) were impervious to self-serving inclinations? Today’s politicians lead us into a grey area of morality yet we persistently raise up our founding fathers as examples of moral and religious superiority. To the historians, who dare to question this premise, we call them leftist revisionists – and in some of the rarer cases of explorations on these founding women, we call these historians:” feminists”. Coincidentally, I have just finished two biographies of Martha Washington; the first book was: Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty by Helen Bryan written in 2002 and the second: Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady written in 2005. The first 50 pages of both of the books are so similar that I wondered why Brady’s was not considered a copyright infringement on the earlier book. However, Brady’s seemed to be the more popular of the two

Brady’s book made it into paperback, and had a nice blurb from Cokie Roberts, additionally, even NPR picked up an interview over the sexy age regression-ed photo of Martha Washington that adorns the cover. Did Brady have a better editor or publisher? What exactly was cut out of those 100 pages? In  Bryan’s book there are many anecdotes about the gossip, lore and the technicalities of the laws of inheritance and slavery system which contained the essence for the perpetuation of the Washington’s large fortune.

A composite image of portraits of Martha Washington Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis and Michael J Deas

To read Bryan, one might see Martha as a much more calculating being than the love smitten Martha of Brady. It is the missing hundred pages which build a case for a very complicated Martha. In Bryan’s Martha, we see a rich widowed woman who chose George because she knew that her and her two children’s money would be better protected with him than many other suitors. Bryan maintains that it was essential that she remarry to sustain and manage the large plantations that she had just inherited from her first husband. Bryan’s Martha was a “clothes horse” who continued to buy imported English goods well after her patriot sisters turned to home spun in the northern states. Both George and Martha had very friendly relationships with the British appointed Governors during the turbulent late 60s and even attended a ball to honor Governor and Lady Dunmore as late as May 1774. In fact, early in the war, there were rumors that she and George had separated because she was actually a Loyalist (Many of the southern planters were slow to join the liberty movement). Martha made a calculated journey to winter headquarters to improve her image. Bryan refers to her trip in her homespun as an act of “spin doctoring”.

Then there was the slavery. Although Brady gives this incident a mention, she does not give it the treatment that Bryan does. While George and Martha lived in Philadelphia during Washington’s term as president in 1791, a new law was passed in Pennsylvania which allowed slaves to claim their freedom after six months of residency in that state. George and Martha prepared a plan to send their servants back to Mount Vernon on small errands to ensure that those slaves would not be eligible to meet the residency requirements. It is here that Bryan notes: “Although George Washington is often held up as a model of enlightenment who freed his slaves on his death, the truth is more complex and less comfortable. His response to the new Pennsylvania law shows one side of his ambivalent attitude about slavery…while George was happy to go on using slaves, he had to be careful about how he was perceived by the public.” A letter that Bryan cites from George to his secretary Tobias Lear substantiates his awareness of image as he made arrangements for the transportation of Martha’s dower slaves back to Virginia while they were both traveling.

…in case I shall be found that any of my slaves may, or any of them shall attempt their freedom at the expiration of six months, it is my wish and desire that you send the whole, or such part of them as Mrs Washington may not chuse to keep home-for although I do not think they may be benefited by the change, yet the idea of freedom might be too great a temptation for them to resist. At any rate it might, if they conceived a right to it make them more insolent in a State of Slavery. As all except Hercules and Paris are dower Negroes, it behoves me to prevent the emancipation of them, otherwise I shall not only lose them, but may have them to pay for (under the law, George had use of Martha money  and use of dower slaves) If…it is found expedient to take them back to Virginia I wish to have it accomplished under pretext that I may deceive both them and the Public…

Bryan is not a historian; she is a lawyer (a London barrister) who grew up in Virginia. Brady is a “real” historian (well… she has a PhD in History). I was shocked that Brady did not even acknowledge Bryan as a source except to make note in the afterword that Bryan accepted “post-Civil war family mythology… disregarding Martha Washington’s moral and religious character…” Moreover, interestingly many of the reader comments in Amazon regarding the book, refer to Bryan as a “feminist, liberal” suffering from Slave guilt. Read them for your self. Perhaps together we will come up with the conclusion that although the 18th century America was a different time with a different economic system etc., politicians are really not so different in many ways – and we still want to believe that our heroes are perfect.

Previously Publish on Open Salon August 17 2012 under Snarkychaser (What Can Martha Teach Us About Today’s Politicians?)

If I Could Have Sex With George Washington

grayscale photo of mans face concrete statue
Photo by Todd Trapani

This week I had a conversation with a historian about the possibility of George Washington’s  homosexual inclinations (my theory not his). Who are the historians who address this? I am still searching. Washington had some very close relationships with his aides. In snippets of Washington’s letters to Joseph Reed there is almost the longing of a lover. Is it safe to assume that in times of war, men may turn to each other to fulfill needs when women are scarce? Many historians that I read – even historical fiction writers- have such sterile references to colonial sex. Since I intend to write a “trashy historical” novel set in colonial New Jersey, I am obsessed with getting an accurate feeling for what colonial sex was like.

It would take a book to discuss the regional, economic, religious and social distinctions which would have had an impact of sexual relations in the colonies, so I will outline the universal. Of course you may think that sex is sex and I realize that we could have endless discussions on sexual orientation, fetishes etc. What can we speculate that may differentiate 18th century colonial sex from ANY variety of modern world sex? If I were having sex with George Washington what would I experience? If I were in a room with George…..

  • Smell– People smell here. Body odors are so pervasive that the perfume industry is thriving. George’s body odor has an overlap of Caswell and Massey’s “Number Six” (a cologne introduced in 1750 s and a favorite of George Washington).  Sometimes I wear the Floris “Rose Geranium”  that I had been able to order it from London before British products became difficult and expensive to purchase (Or I might just use George’s  Six since there is little gender differentiation for perfume).   In addition to my own everyday body odor, my stench sometimes includes a trace of dried blood from my period that I had in the prior week. I use a sponge bath everyday but you know how hard it is to clean blood when it is allowed to  Stream down your legs for so long . Of course George and I both have a lingering smell of feces. I know that the myth is that colonials used corn cobs to wipe our bowel movements -but I know George, he likes his luxuries and often uses devalued Continental currency. To wipe my filth, I have a reusable piece of muslin that I wash and use when I know that George will be visiting me. Of course if I were Martha I would have a slave lady’s maid do it for me. George might also have the smell of horse sweat on him.
  • Taste – George has very “bad breath”. His teeth are rotten but so are mine. In fact, most ladies have rotting teeth by 18. George is not much of a kisser since he is so self-conscious.  He does like to bite with his gums but I think that is just to keep me in my place. There is always a hint of pus and infection when he breathes on me.  He has a chronic sinus problem and since we don’t have antibiotics, he just lives with a general malaise.
  • Visual-I have been pregnant twelve times. I have stretched out skin around my lower belly but George never sees this since I always wear some clothes when we have sex. My sister has had twenty-one pregnancies but only two of her children have survived to adulthood. I never look at George without clothes.  It is very dark when we have sex since candles are a luxury and George does not really seem to want to look at me anyway. I have touched his “manhood” through his breeches. They are so tight I think it may rip the silk.
  • Touch– Sex with George hurts. He never waits until I am moist enough to accommodate his “manhood”. I have an itching that I can’t quite get rid myself of. It feels as though my insides are rusty. I have had some watery discharge from my woman’s parts for some time now -it has a smell of a dead dog but George does not stay long enough to notice.

In My Gut.

Photo by Pixabay

I lie in bed and worry. Am I doing as much as I can for them? How has my husband influenced them? Who has joined them today? They only have life spans of twenty minutes or so and keeping tabs on them is a never ending battle. For the past two months, I have even gone on a special diet hoping to improve the chances that the good ones will increase and the bad ones will dwindle. Unfortunately, science is still only learning which bacteria are the best to have in one’s gut. For now, it might be the best policy to foster diversity.

When I first read that obese people have a higher ratio of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes (classifications of bacteria) in their digestive tract than thinner people, I finally felt vindicated. Now when people smugly tell me that weight gain is simply “calories in and calories out and I must be eating too many calories if I am not losing weight”, I calmly reply, “The Firmicutes phyla of bacteria that convert calories more efficiently into fat. I must have way too many! Don’t you realize my bacteria are sabotaging my efforts? I am not in denial about my calorie intake; I really do have a slow metabolism!”

I started my quest to rid myself of any Firmicutes lounging in my colon. I tried to learn more about the kind of bacteria that I would need to ingest to be a thin healthy person (so far I can only tell you that Lactobacillus Gasseri is one strain that is linked with thin people)* Lots of research shows that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may change the composition of our gut flora-or a composition that might be found in thinner people- but not much is understood about permanent changes to this composition. We acquire a signature bacterial mix early in life which continues to evolve and though we may change the mix through things such as antibiotic use, we also may revert back to the old one just as quickly. Two months ago, I also learned that my Diet Coke addiction was wreaking serious havoc on my balance of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes.For the first time, I was able to see every 20 oz bottle of non-caloric, sweet, fizzy, comfort for the poison that it was.

Getting in touch with my inner bacteria is new for me. I have always had a scorched earth policy when it came to microbes. When my teen-aged daughter worked in a lab over the summers experimenting with E. coli, it took all the willpower that I had not to douse her with Lysol every time she walked into the house exclaiming that she could not get the smell of E. coli out of her nose.

We are only just learning how bacteria play a starring roll  in helping our bodies adapt to the world around us. Only this week, I read an article that said that new research has shown that the antioxidants in dark chocolate only work because the microbes in our gut ferment the chemicals thereby making them accessible to the human body.  Martin Blaser M.D. writes,” without microbes, we could not eat or breathe. Without us, nearly all microbes would do just fine….bacterial cells substantially out number you own human cells. Seventy to ninety percent of all of the cells in you body are nonhuman.”** So what is the optimal composition of bacteria for me?

The easiest way to do this (given how little we know) might be to find a skinny person and do a homemade fecal transplant (For those of you interested in the digestive process, I recommend Mary Roach’s book,Gulp. She has a whole chapter on this procedure.) A fecal transplant could establish whole colonies of skinny person’s bacteria but I could also find myself with a case of something worse than a little excess weight. I recently took a Harvard Business School edX class called, Innovations in Healthcare Technology, I shyly suggested to my classmates that a “weight loss oriented fecal do it your self kit” might be a money-maker but the students were much more interested in saving lives.  I may consider doing this on my own. I have just given to the American Gut Project and for a $99 contribution; I will get a kit that I can send for a stool analysis.-which is a good start. Meanwhile I will be ever alert to not becoming that Fletcher disciple who is obsessed with his/her digestive system (and if you read any of the internet forums on digestive disorders, you will find many).

*Lactobacillus Gasseri …(as per The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman, MD).

** From Missing Microbes by Martin J Blaser M.D.

also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

Rude People



Growing up in New York City I learned that it is easy to pick a fight with random strangers. In a dispute over a cut in a long line or who should get the lone taxi cab after waiting in the rain, one can be remarkably rude and mean because we will never see these people again. It’s easy to burn lots of bridges in an anonymous city but now that I live in a suburb, I need to watch my interactions when confronted by rude behavior because chances are I will have to see these people again and again.

Do I tell the woman at the gym on the elliptical next to me who is speaking loudly on her cell phone -in a voice that sounds like Fran Drescher in the Nanny- to keep her volume down? Should I point out that there are rules for cell phone use? Do I ask her if she is hearing impaired?  If I make a meaningful loud cough, I might swallow some saliva and really have a big cough and then she may tell me to get off the machine because I am too sick to be in the gym. I may then have to tell her that she may be too germaphobic to be in a gym.

photo of woman using earphones
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

If I do find that I see her day after day and it has become awkward, I might apologize to smooth things over with her and tell her that I knew that she had a very good reason to stay on her phone because I could tell that she had had a relapse.  After all I could hear the whole conversation even with my headphones on. “Clearly”, I may continue that she “is in some kind of exercise addicts’ 12 step recovery group and was not able to leave her place on her machine to speak in a more private location”. So why does this woman seem to be afraid of me every time I see her now? I gave her good advice on her germphobia, exercise addiction and hearing problem?

Even when there are clear-cut rules- as in my local traffic circle, the gym, the Penn Station restroom, and the NJ transit quiet car- we often are not aware of them and risk violating them. Are these people just selfish? Assholes?  Pathetic? From Brooklyn? How many times do I try to put a label on a relatively anonymous person that leaves me with bad taste in my mouth? Have I unwittingly been rude to others?

Perhaps another way to view this might be: When people are being rude to us, they are just so self-absorbed in their own problems and we in return are self-absorbed in ourselves by thinking that their behavior has anything to do with their feelings about us or how we fit into their world.

A psychology study was done at Princeton Seminary School. (I will link to better explanations than mine) revealed that situations may have a bigger impact on some behavior than personality. Seminary students were told that they needed to give a lecture on The Good Samaritan in the next building. Unknown to the students, a disheveled coughing man had been placed between the two buildings. Of those students who had been told to hurry to the next building, only 10 percent stopped to help the ailing man. Of those students who were told to take their time getting to the next building, 60 percent stopped to help the man. The conclusion was that being in a hurry was a predominant factor in whether one person would stop to help another.

photo of man laying on sidewalk
Photo by Harrison Haines on

I might also add that anxiety might be a factor. I might even conclude that anxious people might be so wrapped up in their own stuff, that they may not be in a position to be particularly caring. Does that mean that people are always that way? Is it possible that many people in the New York Metropolitan area are anxious balls of mess and in a hurry? Wouldn’t it be better to let the rude actions of others glance off our impervious amour of calm? We can now look pityingly at that man that calls us “Stupid Lady” in the parking lot when our efforts to place the cart back in the corral for a second time fail and go colliding into his car. Perhaps we can muse that he is really just nervous about the prospect of a Memorial Day spent with his mother in- law or can I still claim that people who drive BMWs are rude drivers?



Special thanks to edX UQxThink 101 The Science of Everyday Thinking


three woman in front of laptop computer
Photo by Christina Morillo on

The Scientific American  article sat there every time we used the bathroom. I really didn’t have a chance to read it but it involved MOOCs (massive online courses) bringing first rate education to Rwanda. That same summer as we drove all over California to visit colleges for my teen aged daughter, she struggled to find internet access to take her tests from the University of Melbourne MOOC on Epigenetics.  My husband and I were fascinated by her dedication to learn and I became sold on the idea of MOOCs.

This winter, when my twitter feed posted an article in the Atlantic Monthly about the edX, collaboration with Harvardx and MITx and their MOOC platform, I jumped right in to sign up. Because this was a very cold winter, I was not mobile due to an injury, and I am a compulsive person, I decided that three MOOC classes would be much better than one – and they are all free- so I enrolled in:

BerkeleyX: ColWri2.2x Principles of Written English (a basic college essay writing class) taught by Dr. Maggie Sokulik, professor at UC Berkeley.

BerkleeX: BCM-MB110x Introduction to the Music Business taught by John P. Kellogg, Esq. Assistant Chair of Music Business Management, Berklee College of Music.

McGillX: CHEM181x Food for Thought, (it is actually a chemistry class for non- chemists taught by three of chemistry professors at McGill). The course describes itself as ‘A course that offers a scientific framework for understanding food and its impact on health and society from past to present’.

Each of the course descriptions estimate the amount of time that the student will need to allocate for the course. In my case, each of these courses listed five hours a week and that was accurate. The format differs slightly from course to course but there are usually lectures and suggested reading combined with interactive quizzes at the end of a segment. Often there is a forum for discussion on a topic with the other classmates. In some cases, the open discussions have student moderators from the universities, who comment .Some people may be put off by the lack of teacher to student interaction, however, that is not the point of a MOOC. When we refer to Massive is it just that. In my writing class, the instructor noted that 46,000 students were enrolled in the class.

The experience taught me that my children will have international competition and opportunities never experienced by my husband or myself. The courses provided me with a way to get to know some of my classmates and get a feeling for their worlds. Often a Facebook page or Google chat is established for each course and I started a LinkedIn group for my Music classmates. The Music class Facebook page has been a blast as we all muse about the future of the music industry and possibility of UBIQUITOUS WI FI and how in the future musicians will be able to have jam sessions from different parts of the globe with out a glitch. MOOCs may change the world.

I have posted some of my classmate’s music from the Intro to Music Business Course

Will See Music 

Francis Steel Music 

ElectroUniquie (Nina Lucas)


The House Rat 

Livinda Livn Wf 


 Phaserun (a Columbian High School Band)


Just Freaky 


 The Music of Shena



Buffy Rose

Larree Hollywood

Old Natives 


This was also posted in Open Salon under Snarkychaser and on the Westfield Patch

Laboratory Cooking

Genspace Molecular Gastronomy Class

My relationship with Genspace first began three years ago when I accompanied my fifteen year old daughter from New Jersey to downtown Brooklyn to interview for an internship with the United States’ first community biotech lab, Genspace. The lab is located in an old seven story building on Nevins Street that houses artists, architects, a tea company and many start-ups that are part of Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle. Over the years my daughter has put in hours of research in ongoing projects, such as making a chair from bacteria, and has fallen in love with Brooklyn, the lab and the building. Genspace has been such a positive force that I suggested that I go with her to one of the many lectures or courses that are offered to the public. Last week, we decided to take the  Molecular Gastronomy Class which would require less specific biology experience and the least commitment.

The quarters are small and we piled ourselves in front of the projected images on the wall while our instructor, Ann Yonetani, PhD. explained that molecular gastronomy is an art that alters food’s appearance, taste and texture using scientific technologies. Dr. Yonetani explained that as science is getting more involved with the principles of food preparation, the discoveries are myth busting generations of the folk-lore of cooking: such as how to most efficiently sear meat to minimize moisture loss (best done at the end after flipping every 30-50 seconds to keep a steady internal heat -not by an initial searing).

During this three-hour class, we would be making three basic structures that are standard in the genre known as molecular gastronomy: edible spheres, soil and foam . We would break up into groups of five to experience for hands on experimentation.  I am not a scientist by training so I relied heavily on my daughter to translate for me the processes that were to occur. I am also not very good at following recipes and hate to measure. So I was happy to have her do our part in the group while I could take my pictures.

While the group prepped by washing our hands, my daughter noted that the safety measures for a food project were not at the level that most of the lab’s community would use if they were working with bacteria. This was in essence a cooking class. I will try to describe the sphere project in the pictures that I took.

This is the  set up for the spheres project. Spheres are liquids that are contained by a gel- in this case, the gel will be  formed from the contact of Sodium Alginate with a Calcium Chloride solution.

Sodium Alginate
Calcium Chloride

We combined mango juice  with an equal part of the  Sodium Alginate solution. The combined mango/alginate solution needed to be tested for its Ph -it should be above 3.5 (we did not have to modify with sodium citrate).

Ph Strip

The Mango/ Alginate solution would be drawn by a pipette and ‘popped’ into the Calcium Chloride Solution. Upon contact with  the solution, spheres form . The longer they are in the Calcium Chloride solution, the harder they get. We then we bathed them in a water solution to remove the flavor of the Calcium Chloride.

We ate all of our Mango spheres  so we made pineapple ones.

These are beet juice spheres from another group

One of my classmates had once eaten a salad topped with  balsamic vinaigrette spheres. I am already planning the way that I can utilize spheres in my home cooked meals….maybe hot sauce spheres or  lime juice and simple syrup spheres  dropped  into a glass of Tequila. I just bought a kit on Amazon and hope to get started soon.

Also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

…Eloquence and Social Media…


typewriter keys
Photo by Caryn on

My ellipses have served me well, if I don’t know how to punctuate something, I just fill in the gaps with ellipses. My eighteen year old daughter recently told me that my use of ellipses ages me as someone over forty. She cited a conversation on reddit about old people’s use of ellipses. I am a curmudgeon, after all, so I decided to vent my literary grievances on Facebook to see if I could understand why the use of certain words/phrases like “shenanigans” and “pop of color” make me sick and feel as though I would not want to “hang out” with people who use these words. I was hoping for some kind of understanding or even a challenge to my assumption that the users of these words were sheep-like, common people who just couldn’t come up with original language. Perhaps the use of these fall-back phrases, like 24/7 or “that said”, are just products of an age barrier …like my generous use of ellipses…but as it turns out, my Facebook friends (and twitter feed) had more “latest buzzwords and catch phrases” that are overused and made them sick too. Here is the collective list:

Hilarity ensues,

At the end of the day






 No worries





Sex y(for stuff other than sex related)


To be honest (before anything)

So (before a sentence)

Fail Fast (sounds like the “freedom to fail” that corporate hatchet men used in the 80s)

Always be shipping

ecosystem (when it applies to corporations)

Soooo (uh oh that was one of the words on list) with all of these words swarming around the virtual and real office water coolers, just how am I supposed to come up with my own voice? Coincidentally this same week -on my twitter feed- I came across an Atlantic Monthly article about EDX offering free MOOCs  (massive open online course) taught by professors of many respected universities. Luckily I was in time to sign up for UC Berkeley’s College Writing class. My first week was spent doing a segment on Vocabulary.

A quick look at the discussion board showed me that many of the students enrolled were taking this course because English was not their first language and they wanted to be able to write better. Interestingly, since our family just took a “college tour’ of UC Berkeley, I knew that the real campus also had many international students and that this course was/is probably a virtual parallel to the real thing. MOOCs deserve a post and I may write that next but I am still working on my vocabulary and grammar. I hope to get rid of my ellipses soon….but in case you were wondering if a native English speaker could learn anything new …here are my new vocabulary words:




And I can now write that “a pop of color” is my least favorite collocation.

Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser