No Accounting for Taste

So, I walked over to Trader Joe’s today (in 15 degree weather!) because it’s National APPetizer Day. Yum, I thought. I can try out a few mini hotdogs or feta and ham pastries. There was a big sign listing delicious appetizers, and lots of little paper footballs handing from the ceiling by strings.

But where’s the food?

“It’s an APP,” said the guy behind the sample counter. “You can download it and get menu ideas for The Super Bowl.”

Not wanting to sound un-hip, I said, “Oh, an APP.” (I of course know what an APP is), but meanwhile all I was thinking was You mean there is no actual food? No tapas-style treats to lift me out of my winter morning blues?

I love T.J.s, but I think they might want to rethink this promo. Why make a “National Day” of it. I’m sure the APP could be downloadable tomorrow. I went home and checked the ‘invite,’ which notes ‘Whet your APPetite . .

With T.J.’s Appetizer Tastings and even Super Special Surprises.”


As a plaintive post-millennial Pooh Bear might say, “There’s no APP for a grumbly tummy.”


What would Sir Shackleton Do?

Snowbound and stir-crazy? Check out my op-ed “Toughen Up, Marylanders” in today’s Baltimore Sun online or below . . .

I probably won’t have time to write this op-ed because my kids are at home.

As they have been for all but nine full days since Dec. 20.– more than a month ago. Between a longer-than-normal Christmas Break, a snow day on Jan. 3, a chaotic late day the next week in which the school bus never showed up because it couldn’t start in 7-degree weather, and then another extra-long MLK weekend, we have been homebound in a way I didn’t think possible since reading Little House on the Prairie.

Here we are, off school again and it is Jan. 22. And brrrrrrrr, the latest blizzard and polar vortex have mashed up to create the perfect storm of school closings across the entire Northeast. Even Boston closed schools today.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids, and at ages 8 and 11 they can rejoice in all sledding, indoor art and science projects, movies and books. It’s just that I need to catch my breath. With all these days off, I feel like I’m homeschooling without a curriculum.

This latest blast aside, Maryland in particular is a wimpy weather state, canceling school when 1-3 inches of snow touch the ground. States further north know how to salt, sand, plow, and otherwise tackle the roads for safe passage. The entire nation of Canada lies above Buffalo, N.Y. and Fargo, N.D., our mythic American cold-weather bastions, and yet people there somehow are able to function.

True, Maryland as a border state has never been fully Northern or Southern, but we’ve gotten enough winter precipitation over the years to not act so surprised. We aren’t Atlanta after all. During days when there is minimal snow, sleet, or wind chill factors our schools, county governments, and highway departments should be better prepared to avoid this stop-and-go seasonal education system that sends dual-working parent households scrambling and work-at-home caregivers panicking at the sight of the snowflake icon on the Weather Channel.

If I had time to write this op-ed, I’d say that our state needs to toughen up and function too, no matter the season–safely and logically. Among other things, lots of us need to learn to drive when a spot of precipitation hits the roads.

My daughter this past week was reading Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, in which 27 men led by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton survived nearly two years marooned on icebergs in Antarctica in sub-zero temperatures with little more than seal blubber and the remnants of a broken ship for solace.

Marylanders, let’s forge our own paths through adversity. At the least our kids could gear up and walk a mile or two in the snow to get to school, like our grandparents said they did. Maybe the next generation could learn the true nature of resourcefulness–and human endurance.

Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson is a lecturer in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She can be reached via her blog at

Why Utopia is Impossible

Utopia is impossible for humans, at least, because we are wired for conflict. Even inner conflict.

“Without anxiety little would be accomplished,” notes David Barlow of Boston University, as quoted in an Atlantic cover story on anxiety.

“The performance of athletes, entertainers, executives, artisans, and students would suffer; creativity would diminish; crops might not be planted,” notes Barlow, founder emeritus of the university’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. “And we would achieve that idyllic state long sought after in our fast-paced society of whiling away our lives under a shade tree. This would be as deadly for the species as nuclear war.”

So what then do we strive for?