In front of MSK photo by Laura Stinchcomb

I sat down on a bench to rest in front of Memorial Sloane Kettering. I had just visited my friend Wendy on the Upper East Side. I had put in a lot of miles in walking and was trekking toward Penn Station. There is no better way to travel in New York City. I knew that the only people sitting on benches in front of the hospital were there for the cancer patients. My mother had had a short stay here for a rare form of cancer, but I hoped never to have to visit again. I felt like an interloper but I was so tired.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the man next to me twitching and tapping his thin hands. He could not stop moving. There was an internal rhythm that he had to beat out with his fingers. He was so restless that his nervous energy was trying to spill out to the rest of his body. He was unshaven and his clothes were way too big. I was not quite sure if he was a homeless man camped on the bench. He seemed off. He kept his head down and tapped. I kept my eyes closed and tried not to intrude on the nervousness.

The man got up unable to contain himself. He paced in circles around some homemade billboards in front of me. I had not noticed them before. They were peculiar. The display was both homage to a woman who had died young and an indictment of- not mal practice- but ignorant practice in the treatment of a young woman with a rare for of liver cancer. There were several pictures of a beautiful woman and a chubby man and very large public relations picture of a young, smiling Memorial Sloane Kettering female doctor.

I asked the man what this was all about. He said that his wife had died from mis- treatment from the doctors at the hospital. She had had a cancer that would have been better left encapsulated. Had it been left alone, his wife might have had more years to live. He had called friends in Germany and they had had more experience with this type of cancer. He should have taken her there. His thick German accent made it hard for me to understand the details, but his anxious grief was clear. He was very lucid. I realized that this was a grieving man who did not know what to do with his grief. He was doing the only thing that he could to try to make his misery bearable.

I asked him if I could take a picture of the display. He said sure, but he did not know if the hospital was going to come and take it away. He knew that they did not like it. I looked again at the pictures and realized that the chubby man was the very thin man in front of me. His grief was wasting him away. I watched him fold up in boards and put them in the parked shining expensive SUV  to take them home for the day.

A middle- aged woman sat down next to me. I smiled. She asked me about the display. I told her what I knew and she said that her mother was dying. It was a case of mal practice. Her mother was 65 and had been very healthy her whole life, until sugar levels suggested that there was an abnormality. The doctor did not do the appropriate tests on the pancreas. It was pancreatic cancer, but at the time of the first symptom, the tumor was so small, they could have effectively treated it. The woman looked at me and said “I don’t know what I will do without my mother.”

I pulled the grieving man over and  the woman and I had a three way conversation.  I was trained in cocktail talk and business development. I am a connector and, other than my ability to listen, it was all I could offer. I pulled the commonalities from the two and wove a connection between them. I suggested to the grieving man that he might be able to help this woman since she was new to this process of grieving. I got up and offered him my seat. I hugged both of them and said good bye. When I turned around I saw the two excitedly talking to each other.

Previously published on August 3 2010 on Open Salon under Snarkychaser (This was Editor’s Pick)

There is Comfort in the Target Huddle

I have very few routines -because I hate them. I always marveled at how women that I know have days assigned to certain tasks. Monday is their grocery day, Tuesday their laundry day, Wednesday a cleaning day. Having assigned days seems like a hold over from the nineteenth century when Laundry and Baking days really would take a whole day.

My husband tells me that routines provide structure and comfort. There is so much voluntary simplicity literature out there…books on mindfulness…being in the here and now. I’ve read them all. If I could relish the small things in life, I would never be bored putting piles of laundry away. But I am. My ‘Putting the Laundry Away Days’ take me all day, but only because I let it pile up for weeks. I don’t really have designated day for this activity, I chip away at the pile on my chair when I need clean underwear.

However, I think I have discovered a routine that gives me a comfort. Once a week, I go to Target. I do not have a designated day for this activity. I go when I run out of my Diet Coke. I get there after taking my son to his elementary school. It must be around the same time- although the time that I get my son to school seems to vary by a big margin. At some point while I am shopping, there is a call for the ‘Target Huddle’. This is when all of the red shirted employees gather in a circle in the electronic isles. They must do this every morning because I always seem to get stuck in the middle of it.

The laughter is contagious. I try not to spy but I can’t resist. The topics are so fascinating. One week I found out about a stomach flu that was downing all of the workers. They were advising everyone to wash their hands. Another week, they discussed theft prevention.  Once, they discussed an earthquake that I had no idea had happened the day before. Today, I got to watch them doing stretching exercises. When the employees have their huddle, I know that I am in the right place at the right time. This is their routine not mine. I don’t have to do this. I am just a voyeur. Yet it is the familiarity of the routine that is the comfort.  I can leach off of their structure just for a few minutes.

Previously Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser May 18 2010

I Strut

In a back issue of Psychology Today I found a study which noted that a “woman’s walk correlates with her ability to reach orgasm…Orgasmic women had “free, unblocked energetic flow from the legs through the pelvis.” As for men, you can often tell their sexual orientation by their walk, according to a study at UCLA. Gay men sway their hips, while straight men swagger—as do lesbians.”

How reliable is body language? So much has been written on the subject it’s nice to have scientific studies to back up my own theories. I’ve lived a relatively long life and feel very entitled to make judgments of people based on some observations. The gym is my best laboratory. I think that it is fair to do a character assessment on the relative germ phobia and selfishness of someone at the gym who meticulously wipes down the equipment before placing their sweaty body on the machines and yet refuses to wipe it down after using the machines. I think that people who do not take off their plates or dumbbells and put them back are selfish. I think that 50 year old men that wax their chest hair are usually vain as a peacock no matter how much they maintain that they need to see their pecs flex for their craft.

However, with regard to my judgment of others’ sexual orientation, I think I must be off. I have stopped trying because I just think that all men are gay if they don’t fall in love with me. Although it is nice to know that I can now be more accurate by watching how people walk, I have come to the conclusion that guessing sexual orientation just doesn’t matter that much. I will allow myself to have a crush on a gay man. As for my walk, my husband tells me that I strut.

Previously Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser May 28 2010

No Regrets? All I Need Is To Wash My Hands?

Photo by Burst on

This Scientific American blog discusses the recent May 6th online study from Science which “reveals the power of hand washing to ease people’s minds… Often, when people make decisions—no matter how big or small—they tend to justify them, rationalizing often beyond reason that their choice was by far the best.  Resolving the sense of cognitive dissonance vastly decreased in subjects who washed their hands after having to make a simple choice.”

This might work for many, but not for me…I can’t even Google a topic without regret-which is why I can’t properly cite Barry Schwartz’s thesis of satisficer and maximizer which he wrote about in his book The Paradox of Choice. Scwartz’s theory is that there are different types of decision makers. A saticficer is able to make a decision when basic criteria are met. Once a satisficer makes a decision, they are ready to move on and not look back. Maximizers tend to have more anxiety over their ability to make the optimal decision and then have many regrets about whether they made the right decision once the decision has been made.

So in this hand washing study, is it fair to assume that there was a perfectly balanced sampling of maximizers and satisficers? I am not a scientist just a very experienced maximizer. I will guess that they had too many carefree college students as research subjects. Had they taken a more “real world sample”, the study would have determined that many people need showers and long vacations in addition to simple hand washing to minimize the “cognitive dissonance” of their decision-making

Previously Published on Open Salon under Sanrkychaser May 12, 2010

My Daughter’s Middle School Banned Her Joan Jett T-Shirt

This was the T-shirt my daughter wore. Now vintage photo courtesy Full Breach77

I am not sure if this was an official censor. Last month my 8th grade daughter came home from school to tell me that her Health Ed teacher told her that she could not wear her Joan Jett T-shirt to school anymore. “Mom, a lot of the teachers told me it was cool” she mused. In the T-shirt Joan Jett is wearing a t-shirt that says “Sex Pistols”. The word sex was offensive to the teacher.

When Sex is combined with Sex Pistols in my mind it had transcended its original meaning. Besides at 14, my daughter is so self-conscious of her body that any t-shirts are usually covered with a large flannel shirt. This has become her new uniform. I never paid much attention to the word sex on this t-shirt. It looked fairly microscopic to me.

My daughter has been a big fan of Joan Jett since the movie the Runaways had been released.  We had been collecting Joan Jett T-shirts on all of our trips to New York City. She purchased this particular one with her father and grandmother at Trash & Vaudeville on St. Marks.

When I was on the phone with the guidance counselor -in reference to some of the bigger issues- I mentioned the t-shirt thing. I heard an embarrassed pause “Well we are being told to crack down on inappropriate clothing.” I told her that some of the other teachers told my daughter that it was cool. There was another pause.  I needed to save this woman, I said, “Don’t worry. I know this health teacher. She is very conservative. She means well. She may not really be up on the changing times. When you have a cohesive dress code in place, we will abide by the code.”

Previously published in Open Salon under Snarkychaser May 11, 2010

Does Anyone Care About the Recommendations on LinkedIn?

When my friend Linda emailed me an invitation to join her “professional network” on LinkedIn, her invite was less than welcome. I had mentioned to her that I was ready to go back to work in a passing encounter at the supermarket while admiring the Greek yogurt.  Didn’t she know I wasn’t in a hurry? I just didn’t want to sound boring to my new Wharton MBA mom friend.

I was worried that I would not even be able to find any professional contacts after being out of the workforce for 8 years. Diligently I put my employment and education – even a picture- in the web site’s template. I found lots of old co workers, friends and class mates. I even found an old co-worker who became my pen pal (email pal) muse and who, according to a tarot card reader in town, is my “next in line”.

But my profile is still 85% incomplete. The thing that I need to make it 100% complete is a couple of recommendations. What hiring manager would put stock in a dumb recommendation on LinkedIn? I even noticed that two mom friends on my link each gave other glowing recommendations for their home based businesses. I was so jealous. I’m really just too embarrassed to hit anyone up when I am not that serious. Moreover, I would have to write it and I can’t even remember any details of what might be recommendation worthy after all of this time. If I were to remarket myself, I would need to inventory some of my skills. What have I been doing all of this time out?

My widowed high school friend, Wendy, and I have been practicing developing our intuition and psychic powers. We both feel that we are getting more psychic everyday. Wendy is getting very good and has been able to find many missing things in my house through her clairvoyance. She usually guesses that a missing library book is “under something”. I asked her to write me a recommendation on my superior psychic talents. She claims that she is much more enlightened than I am and I that I have been a very bad match maker.

I have become expert at pulling on-line tarot cards through for my “next in line” LinkedIn muse and pen pal. I have suggested to him that he should write me a recommendation touting my ability to read on line tarot cards…but he has discreetly ignored my request. Wendy psychically feels that writing such a recommendation might undermine his credibility as corporate attorney. Perhaps she is right…

In the meantime, I need to take a thorough inventory of my talents…so I can complete this damn profile.

This was published in Open Salon under the name of Snarkychaser May 6, 2010 I am happy to say that I did go back to work.


Chemo Club

Photo by Pranidchakan Boonrom on

My mother paused before she pushed the door open to the chemotherapy treatment room and said in an excited voice “Maybe Carol will be here today.” We first met Carol three months ago on my mother’s first day of chemotherapy. On that day, I had walked into the room carrying a grilled cheese sandwich from the medical facilities’ cafeteria. My mother was sitting next to a balding woman around my mother’s age.  She introduced me to Carol and said. “Carol has really been helping me. She has had my cancer for 11 years. She used to be a nurse and has lots of great ideas for managing side affects. She is still alive and has been able to be with her grandchildren. So maybe this will work”

Carol explained that when she spoke to the doctor that morning she learned that there was another woman being treated with peritoneal cancer. They were the only two in the practice with this rare form of cancer and fate had put them in side by side chemo chairs. Through Carol we learned that Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia was the best remedy to counteract the constipating effects of chemo. She showed us a brochure from the American Cancer Society that offered inexpensive wigs and explained that she preferred not to wear one.  Carol also told us that she was unable to walk long distances and we discussed the merits of Target and Walmart and the scooters that they provided for disabled shoppers. Although I know that my mother hates the idea of being in a wheel chair or a scooter, I know that Carol will be able to yield more influence in getting to her to try it than I ever will.

I met Carol’s daughter and over the next months we learned about each other’s families. I showed her pictures of my single friend for her divorced son. By the second visit, I was bringing Carol Atkins Mocha shakes to sustain her for the next few days after chemo and Biotin to help her to regrow her hair. We arranged for a son and law to help my mother with her computer.

This last round I brought my mother and Carol the famous grilled cheese sandwiches from the cafeteria. These sandwiches and Carol were the things that my mother looked forward to help through boredom and pain of a seven hour hook up of toxic drugs being infused into her body. We discussed finding a support group that they could both attend and Carol wanted my mother to call so they could exchange news on their CA125 markers.  Today my mother called me up with “the most horrible news”. The doctor planed to do another round of chemo. “This is never going to stop” she cried. We decided that she needed to call Carol.

Previously Published on Open Salon Under Snarkychaser May 25 2011

An Intuitive’s Collage Reading for a Blogger

My Finished Collage

I was here at the ARE* in New York City psychic fair for just one thing. I wanted to have a meeting with a woman, Frances A. Smolkowski**, who made intuitive readings of people using the art form of collage. My close friend, Wendy, had an intuitive reading with her last month and described the experience as truly unique and “remarkable” and yet was unable to articulate why. Wendy is never at a loss for words or insights, so I knew that this was something I would have to experience myself.

The readers today had volunteered their time and proceeds were to benefit the ARE organization. In the large room, I could hear all of the various palm readers, tarot card readers, astrologers and Reiki healers talking. The room had been partitioned off with folding rice paper screens but I heard snatches of advice from angels and some poor woman was destined to end her relationship according to the death card. I hovered near Frances, the collage intuitive, who was in the corner with a client. It was time for me to have my reading. I was told by a volunteer that she would be running overtime and was asked if I would like to have a tarot card reading instead at this time. “No!” I cried (and I might have stomped my foot). “I want to have my reading with Frances. It’s the only reason I came here today!”

But waiting for Frances was taking too long (so far it was only five minutes). I could barely contain my excitement. I wavered between telling Frances that she was running over (I was sure that she did not know) and not wanting to make her mad at me for interrupting. I settled on peeking my head to the side of her screen with a questioning look. Frances lifted her head up to me and said “I am finishing up shortly”. I couldn’t hide my type A behavior from these psychics for too long. Of course, I was already making my self an “easy read”. However, I was to discover that this was not at all what Frances was about.

Frances was still cutting paper for the person hidden behind the screen. At what seemed to be a snail’s pace (Frances reminded me later that this was only my perception), Frances finally led her client out and ushered me behind the screen. When my impatient body sat down, I looked across from me and saw a woman who clearly did not easily get ruffled. She calmly said “I may be running overtime but I promise you that you will get all of your time – or at least what you need to have.”

Frances explained that she was creating a collage for me “My collages are beacons and also energetic bridges from the present state of functioning to the desired new state of preferred experience. They let folks experience in the present the energy of their fulfillment”. This was for the future not the past. Frances was an intuitive healer or empath.

She placed a solid blue block of paper on a folded card. This was the foundation and color that was right for me. Blue is the color that is “about communication…throat chakra, speaking & writing. It also represents a clear sky, as in space without challenges, inclement weather, so to speak. It is right for you as it sets a tone of clear communication, that joyous blue sky feeling”

Next Frances started cutting out the most gorgeous golden pieces that looked like sun rays. She explained that these represented “OUTPOURING” they were my need to express myself creatively. Frances said that I had a lot to say and express…perhaps with writing or painting.

The golden rays were placed in a special order by shade and she told me that this was my need to “PRIORITIZE”. At this point, I asked Frances about blogging as an appropriate venue for self-expression. She loved blogging and noted that with blogs “there is an audience.”  I told her that I already had a muse. I write my blog for him and he is my audience.

Intuitive College
Frances Smolkowski cutting my collage


I explained my belief that creativity comes from conflict. There is yearning for the unattainable and in the conflict and pain comes the art. “How 19th century!” Frances commented. (Frances later explained that there are newer models of new models of creativity coming from joy and not conflict.) I explained that the creativity, for me, comes from the chase, it was (for me) like shopping for the perfect thing. Frances agreed that shopping was a good metaphor but she saw me creating an original item as opposed to just looking from a set of existing items in a store. “Ah ha but that is where I begin to create” I exclaimed! “If I can’t find what I want, I make my own thing with what is available”. Frances suggested that I could make the “manifest an uncatchable muse, if you need or want it to be that way.” This is something that I will need to evaluate at great length.

I noted that she was not gluing any of the pieces down. She replied “I only do that when we are sure that they are in the right place. Some people can even feel it when I put the glue on. Others are so sensitive that can feel the colors and me cutting the shapes.” At this time I asked if I could take some pictures for my blog and she said “Not yet. I want you in the here and now” ( She did seem to get me)  Next she cut out a cup of blue and pink and said that these were feminine and playful. She said could see that I had a childlike delight (she really did get me). Frances explained that my approach was to take the serious matter and use irony, dry humor and play in getting my point across (Okay how did she know?) which she added could be very effective.

Frances added a handle to the cup and firmly added a fastener to keep the handle from slipping. The handle was the key to keeping control. We discussed how much more efficacious a bucket was than a cup for any kind of OUTPOURING. Frances affirmed that I was the kind of person who was most alive when I was giving. Others need to fill their buckets but I had more than enough to give and did not run the risk of going empty.I would always be happiest giving. I would continue to be sustained with the material: money and health as long as I stayed in line with my purpose. She advised me to keep the collage on my desk and meditate on it to keep me focused. Frances, I am so glad I finally took a picture because I lost the collage under the clutter on my desk. I hope I can still manifest my dream***.




* A.R.E. is the Association for Research and Enlightenment is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1931 by Edgar Cayce

**More information on Frances A. Smolkowski can be through her

*** As for losing my finished collage under clutter…here is what Frances has to say: the collage as a thing operates as a portal or facilitator for you to reconnect to the positive feelings you had in the session…so you can perpetuate and extend the positive feelings & metaphors. You can reconnect by remembering the image, even if you lose it or destroy it. The art object is a tool to accelerate manifestation of positive things, if you choose to use it in meditation. But, you don’t have to ever look at it again. Some people use it by feel and sit with it, eyes closed. Others use it for focus by drawing the outlines of the shapes with their eyes or staring at an element they particularly want to manifest…like the handle for control. So, no joke, you can bury yours anywhere….and it can still work for you!!

Previously published on Open Salon November 23 2011 as Snarkychaser

The Phoenix of Record Stores

sound station fire

After the fire, I stopped by and promised the owners, Bob and Liz and their friends, that I would write a post about the burning of our town’s only record store. That was two months ago and this is the first time that I have sat down to put their story in writing. Why did I wait so long? I am still waiting to see how the story ends.

The day of the fire, my teenage daughter called me in tears to tell me that the Sound Station was burning up. She was going to stay until the fire was put out. She was there all afternoon. The fire that burnt the record store was one of the largest that our town had seen in a while. My husband, son and I stopped by to join her and her friends to watch the firemen put out the fire that took at least two buildings and several business. The owners of the record store did not have insurance.

Sound Station Vigil
Sound Station

Sound Station was a meeting place for many teens and young adults. My daughter went to see bands and even did her homework in the store. Within days, a website was put up to raise money so that the owner Bob and Liz could re-establish themselves in town. The site was able to raise $10,000 within the first two days. When I went to see the damage the next day, I saw Bob and Liz there to collect some items before the building was gated off. One of the men told me that they were going to compile a CD from the bands that played at the record store to raise money for the fund. I suggested that my daughter do the artwork for the cover.sounstation

Sound Stadium Flyer

Ironically two years ago, my family had banned me from coming to the store ever since I had commented to Bob that his store looked less “cluttered” since he had added new lighting. I really upset him. He prided himself on having a neat and organized store to the point where (I was told) he might got upset when the used CDs table got out-of-order. I clearly had put my foot in my mouth that day. I think what I really meant was that the new lighting made the store look just a little more like the other well-lit “mall stores” that we have in our down town like the Gap, Coach and Williams Sonoma. I’m sorry I didn’t see the beauty then in the record store. It was a labor of love and got its life from the owners and the community and we need to have it back.

Last weekend, my daughter came home with the booty she had won from the raffle at the Sound Station fundraiser at the Knights of Columbus. She won items that had been retrieved from the burned store. They had several local fundraisers and my daughter’s rugby club even emailed us that a local microbrewer had put out a Sound Station special brew. The Fundraising CD is about to come out. My daughter has done the artwork -which was inspired from a 70s styled mural that was on the back wall of the store. She even arranged to help with High School distribution for the sale of the CD. The money raised will be given to Bob and Liz on April 21st   National Record Day. I will let you know how it turns out.

Previously posted on Open Salon March 27, 2012 as Snarkychaser

Post date 2020. The record store never reopened and all of the people who raised money to support the owners felt horrible and used.

Was Elizabeth Loring Patriot or Whore?

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art- Velvet bodice and satin-skirted robe mounted on jointed steel panniers
from the painting Les Adieux by Moreau Le Jeune ; Gift of the Museum of the City of New York, 2011

Elizabeth Loring is cited in some contemporary history books on the American Revolution with a small sentence that she was General William Howe’s mistress during his active duty in the thirteen colonies as Commander in Chief of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth Loring was married to Joshua Loring, Jr. who was appointed to the lucrative position of commissary general to the prisoners (it is speculated) in return for his acquiescence of the affair.

That they were reportedly lovers is hearsay and speculative gossip since we have no way of really knowing what went on behind closed doors. However, they were in each others constant company gambling and drinking. It is titillating to wonder what kind of husband could allow his wife to openly spend so much time in the company of his commander even earning herself the title of “Billy Howe’s Cleopatra”. New Jersey congressman, Francis Hopkinson penned his famous poem called “The Battle of the Kegs”

Sir William, he, snug as a flea,

Lay all the time a-snoring;

Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm

In bed with Mrs. L____g.

Some disgruntled Loyalists of the period have even insinuated that Loring was the cause for the negligence that Howe showed as Commander in Chief. There were so many occasions that Howe could have wiped out the Patriot army, yet held back.  An anonymous handbill was delivered to parliament concerning Howe’s failure to quash the rebellion: “General Howe was at New York in the lap of Ease: or, rather amusing himself in the lap of a Mrs. L____g, who is the very Cleopatra to this Antony of ours.”  This reticence to act prompted even the Patriots to wonder what game Howe was playing. Patriot Israel Putnam was to note that Howe was “either a friend of America or no General.”  Patriot General Lee also wrote of Howe: “He shut his eyes, fought his battles, drank his bottle and had his little whore.”[1]

What was Elizabeth Loring like? How could she have captivated a decadent titled battle worn career military man? I have not been able to find one image of her. She was a young 25 year old mother of two. Loring was described by her contemporaries as a “a very handsome woman, and noted for her love of play”. She was a” blue eyed flashing blonde” and “the favorite sultana lost 300 guineas at a single sitting”. What is even more interesting is that in 1778 she moved to England, reunited with her husband Joshua Jr. at the end of the war and had three more children with him.

What kind of man was Elizabeth’s husband, Joshua Jr.? In the words of a Loyalist contemporary “Joshua had a handsome wife. The general …was fond of her. Joshua had no objections. He fingered the cash, the general enjoyed the madam.” Joshua Jr. was described as a vile sociopath in Ethan Allen’s  words:

This Loring is a monster!…There is not his like in human shape: He exhibits a smiling countenance, seems to wear a phiz of humanity, but has been instrumentally capable of the most consummate acts of wickedness…(clothed with the authority of a Howe) murdering premeditatedly (in cold blood) near or quite 2000 helpless prisoners…(at N.York). He is the most mean- spirited,cowardly,deceitfuland destructive animal in God’s creation  below.[2]


[1] Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc page 59

[2] Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc p.71


Revolutionary Mothers Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin (First Vintage Books Edition Copyright 2005)

1776  by David McCullough (copyright 2005 Simon & Schuster Paperbacks)

Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc.

Blog post: The United Empire Loyalists of Canada

“Loyalist Trails” 2010-31: August 1, 2010

Previously published in Open Salon under Snarkychaser May 17 2012