Friday, February 26, 2010

Take Care When Interacting with Animals — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of Dawn Brancheau, the trainer who died tragically at Sea World on February 24.

Our family takes this loss to heart, as my husband and stepdaughter both work with animals daily. My husband owns a pet shop with a wide variety of small animals, reptiles, fish and birds.

My step daughter has devoted her life to animals. She had several internships with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida. She earned her undergraduate degree in marine mammal biology from the University of Miami and a master's degree in primate conservation from Oxford Brookes University in England. She has worked as an animal trainer at Parrot Jungle in Florida, Great Adventure's Wild Safari in New Jersey, and currently works for the company that contracts the birds of prey show at Disney World's Animal Kingdom.

My husband knows a lot about animals — they are his business. He has been bitten or scratched many times, and some of the injuries have involved emergency room visits. My stepdaughter knows a lot about animals — they are her passion. She has suffered several injuries, including one that required a two-week hospital stay and treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

What I have learned about animals from both my husband and my stepdaughter is that they are first, last and always true to their nature. The mistake we humans make is to anthropomorphize animals to meet our own emotional needs. My stepdaughter, who is practically an animal whisperer, has learned and tries to teach others that we need to respect each species and each individual creature for what it truly is — nothing more, nothing less. It's an important lesson to remember when you bring an animal into your home.

Pets provide rich connections and many learning experiences for families with children, but you should learn everything you can about an animal before purchase or adopt one. Do your research and know the breeder or pet shop owner. Most importantly, never leave small children alone with any animal.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. Susan Bearman is a freelance writer and editor who lives with her family, a dog and a hermit crab in Evanston. She can be found online at and on her blog, Two Kinds of People.

Photo credit: orcas & humpbacks by Christopher Michel via Flickr creative commons.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pistachios Should Dump Pitchman Levi Johnston — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog:

My children love pistachios. I love them too, although not as much as I did before my kids started leaving Hansel-and-Gretel trails of shells in their wake every time I buy a bag, even though our rule is "no food upstairs."

Last spring, we were sad to have to cross pistachios off our grocery list when the FDA issued a warning of salmonella contamination in certain pistachio products. It seems that the all clear has been sounded and that pistachios processed and packaged after June of last year are again safe to eat. Even though no cases of human illness have been directly connected to the salmonella contamination of pistachios, the industry took a big hit last year.

As a small business owner myself, I can understand the need to do something dramatic to change the image of a product that has been cast in a negative light. I've been doing my part to support pistachio farmers (and keep my kids happy) by buying the tasty little nuts to snack on and pack in school lunches, but now I find I'm going to have to stop, at least for a while, and it's all because of Levi Johnston.

Well, not just Levi. The fault really lies with Lynda Resnik, whose marketing team hired Johnston to shill for Paramount Farms, which grows 60 percent of America's pistachio crop. In case you've been living under a rock, Levi Johnston is one of those famous-for-being-famous celebrities who rose to the top of that dubious heap by knocking up Sarah Palin's teenage daughter, Bristol.

Maybe I've completely lost my sense of humor (as my husband sometimes implies), but I'm no prude. I admit my funny bone is tickled by different things since I became the parent, and that my world view has shifted again since my children became adolescents. I'm concerned about the messages they receive at just the time in their lives when outside influences are making a bigger impact on them than ever before.

The tag line of this tacky ad campaign is: "Now Levi Johnston does it with protection." I can't begin to count the number of ways this seven-word slogan offends me. I don't understand this beleaguered industry's choice to associate their product with a teenage father and Playgirl model, and I don't understand the implication of using protection while eating pistachios. "Get crackin'" is the overarching theme of the ad campaign, so maybe the ad means that if Johnston had been busy crackin' open pistachio shells, he wouldn't have had time to get busy with Bristol.

To me, this ad says: Hey, look kids, if you get a teenage girl pregnant (especially one with a famous mom), you can have a great career as a Playgirl model and a commercial spokesman. Where are the consequences? It used to be that people were shunned by society for these kinds of mistakes. I'm certainly not advocating that, but can't we find something between total excommunication and rewarding bad behavior with lucrative contracts?

Sadly, evidence shows that the new ad campaign has had a positive effect on pistachio sales, which have increased 244 percent since October. Those numbers may drop a bit for a while, though, since I don't think I'll be buying any pistachios while that campaign continues to run. I get the irony that by writing this post, I have both extended Mr. Johnston's 15 minutes of fame and promoted the pistachio industry, but hey, a woman has a right to rant.

Just FYI, you can now follow FDA recalls on Twitter @FDArecalls.

When Susan Bearman isn't busy picking pistachio shells out of the couch cushions, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and her writing Website, This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Guest Post: 2KoP Writing Challenge Winner

For two years now, I've been telling you all about the two kinds of people who populate my world view. To celebrate the second anniversary of my blog, I issued a writing challenge to my readers to come up with their own Two Kinds of People essay. It was wonderful to read the entries and difficult to choose a winner. Thank you to all who entered and to my panel of judges, who chose a culinary essay by Murray Abramovitch.

The judges felt that Murray's essay best captured the spirit of the 2KoP blog: a solid basic recipe of good writing, seasoned with some interesting facts and quotes, and topped with a great big dollop of humor. (Please note that the opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or its owner. Also note that Murray is from Canada, and his quirky spellings and those of his countrymen are also not our fault.) Without further ado, please enjoy the winning guest post:

Important Distinction or Just a Truffle?
by Murray Abramovitch

Anything that simplifies life and peels away its many layers of ambiguity has to be a good thing. The two-kinds-of-people exercise, seeing the world in a binary way, is certainly a good thing because it is clarifying; like a rinse, it washes out the grey.

It is important, however, to stick to comparisons that are meaningful and not get caught up in splitting hairs, constantly splicing and dicing and dividing into neat but useless sections the world-at-large.

To this end, I have separated humanity into two very simple but important groups: those who like mushrooms and those who don't. This is a comparison with gravitas.

I am one of the latter group, one who sees a mushroom as a the fleshy, spore-bearing fruity body of a fungus. Mushrooms are part of a noxious family that includes puffballs, stinkhorns and morels. They thrive in the dark, dank and decaying habitats of forest trolls.

The best advice to unsuspecting diners who can't tell a Jack-o-lantern mushroom from a chanterelle is: do not eat a mushroom unless it was collected by a competent mycologist or become a mycologist yourself.

Putting their toxicity aside, mushrooms are fundamentally unattractive, rubbery and without taste unless heavily seasoned or sauteed. Like tofu, they simply take on the flavour of what they are cooked with. Portobello mushrooms in a Madeira wine reduction? Honestly, from where do you think the flavour comes?

Wrote William Alcott, uncle of writer Louisa May: "Strange that mankind should ever have used the mushroom. All the various species of this substance are of a leathery consistence, and contain but little nutriment. The condiments or seasonings which are added are what are chiefly prized. Without these, we should almost as soon eat saw dust as mushrooms."

Voltaire also knew what he was dealing with: "I confess," he wrote, "that my stomach does not take to this style of cooking. I cannot accept calves sweetbreads swimming in a salty sauce … nor the excessive quantity of morels and other mushrooms, pepper, and nutmeg with which (cooks) disguise perfectly good food."

Bottom line: there is no dish containing mushrooms that couldn't be improved by having the mushrooms removed.

At the other end of the gastronomic spectrum is my wife … from a mushroom's lowly perspective, my better half. She positively salivates at the prospect of eating a golden chanterelle, a meaty porcini, an earthy morel. Watching her dine is like seeing the screen debut of Romancing the Funghi. Or better still, a rerun of When Harry Met Sally. You know, the part when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm to embarrass Billy Crystal in from of the cheap diner crowd and someone says, "I'll have what she's having." I can swear my wife's nostrils flare when she sees mushrooms on her plate … as if someone snuck all that is savory, silk, sexy and decadent into her food.

As for mushrooms being inert ingredients without character, she is one of those who claim that mushrooms "pick up the complexities of other ingredients and add their own meaty, rich and inviting flavour." They add dimension to any dish with their texture and contrast.

I do admit that some of the dishes featuring mushrooms sound enticingly exotic, maybe even Meg Ryan erotic: Morel Fondu; Enoki and Smoked Oysters; Porcini and Eggplant; Truffle Oil and Eggs; Shiitake Fettucini; Crab Imperial Stuffed Portobello; Maitake and Gorgonzola Cheese Penne; Mediterranean Mushroom Brushetta; and for dessert, my favourite sounding concoction — King Trumpet Strudel. But let's face it, any five-star menu will have dishes that are a delight to the ear as their taste is ostensibly to the palate. The truth that gourmands will not admit is that mushrooms are largely interchangeable in recipes.

I cannot be swayed. I am like Diderot who, in L'Encyclopedie wrote: "Whatever dressing on gives to mushrooms, to whatever sauces our Apiciuses put them, they are not really good but to be sent back to the dungheap where they are born."

So there you go: two kinds of people, one destination.

Murry Abramovitch's short biography, in his own words: "After some 30 years as a marketing and strategic planning executive, I retired to focus on writing, sharing what wit I can muster and what meager wisdom I have gleaned over time. I have two blogs, one literary — The Literarian — and one business — View from the Corner Office. I invite you to visit the sites and trust you will find them both enlightening and entertaining."

I invite you to leave your comments for Murray by clicking here. Have a mushroom to pick? Pick it with him. If you agree that he falls on the right side of the dung heap in this argument, let him know that, too. Thank you again to those who entered the first ever 2KoP writing challenge and, as always, thanks to my readers.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sandwich Generation vs. Semantics — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Last week, I officially joined the Sandwich Generation, a growing group of adults who find themselves caring both for their dependent children and their aging parents. For my husband and me, it happened rather suddenly when my mother-in-law's planned two-day hospital stay for sciatica surgery turned into five days in the hospital, an indeterminate time at a rehabilitation center and the need to go home with at least a part-time caregiver. Can you say "unprepared"? Because that's what we were — totally unprepared.

We shouldn't have been, because the woman is 80 years old. Granted, she is in generally great health and has always been fit, but 80 is 80. When someone cuts into your spine when you're 80 years old, you tend not to bounce back as quickly as you used to, a fact we all should have considered before the surgery. Our bad, as my sons say.

On the other hand, I have two high schoolers and two middle schoolers at home, so we have a long way to go before emancipation from daily parenting responsibilities. In addition, one of my twins, who is now 18, has some learning issues. His sister has applied to college for the fall, but we have no idea yet what his next step should or will be.

So if we are sandwich fixin's, what do we call the side-order of angst that was served up yesterday by my pediatrician's office. When I called to the have the aforementioned high-school son's prescription refilled and to make an appointment for a physical, the receptionist told me: "I'm sorry, but I can't do that. Your son is 18 and you can no longer make appointments for him. In fact, I cannot discuss him with you at all."

Say what?

This is a boy who can't find his socks in the morning. This is a boy with a short-term memory deficit and a sequencing disorder. This is a boy still catching up from the trauma of being born 16 weeks prematurely at a pound and half. He didn't walk until he was two; he didn't talk until he was four; he didn't eat or grow until we put him on growth hormone. But suddenly, because of a date on a calendar, he is supposed to be completely in charge of his own health care. How about a grace period? True, his birthday was November 17, but his due date wasn't until March 1. At least that would give me another few weeks.

Fortunately, this young man, who still struggles with a few things, does understand that we are his best advocates and he chose to sign a medical power of attorney. Now, I can make appointments, discuss his health care with his team of providers and continue to help him on his journey toward independence. But, again, I was totally unprepared.

I don't really consider myself a slacker in the parenting department (maybe a procrastinator, but not a slacker), but it sure would have been nice to have a little heads-up about exactly what happens when they turn 18. Damn, I knew I should have kept that manual that came with them at birth. Oh, wait, no, that was just a hospital bill.

So I'm feeling a little hard pressed these days, but I don't really think the deli analogy is apropos. Therefore, I hereby propose that we rename the "Sandwich Generation" the "BarHop Generation" (that's BaRaaHP for "Between a Rock and a Hard Place"). All those in favor, say cheers.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy trying out condiments, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and working on her new writing Website,