All Creatures Great AND Really, Really Small

The prolific and talented Seymour Simon (“the dean of children’s science writers” – NY Times) invited me to contribute to his blog. My first entry is called “It’s a Small World, After All.” (Hoping I don’t get sued by either Disney or the B.L.C. — Bacteria Litigation Consortium) In honor of Earth Day, I shared some of the dazzling facts I discovered when writing my latest book, MICRO MANIA.

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It’s Tom Lehrer’s 82nd Birthday!

The brilliant satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer is 82 years old today! Yes, the guy who penned the dark ditty “When You Are Old and Gray” long ago is a senior citizen himself. (Many years ago, when Tom turned 53, he quipped, “I prefer to think of it as 11 Celsius.)

To celebrate his talent and influence on my life, I thought I’d share a few personal stories about one of my childhood heroes, as well as links to classic numbers from the 1950s and ’60s, such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” “The Masochism Tango” and “We Will All Go Together When We Go” (In the 70’s, the producers of the children’s show The Electric Company persuaded Tom to come out of songwriting retirement to write educational songs such as “Silent E.”) When he fully retired a few years later, he commented that once Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, satire could go no further.

I first became entranced with Tom’s songs when I was about 4 or 5. I remember listening to the 33 rpm album “That Was the Year That Was” over and over, getting a kick out of the lively piano playing, his sardonic delivery, and the stream of clever rhymes. As I kid, I knew very little about the Catholic Church but loved listening to Tom’s song Tom’s irreverent song “The Vatican Rag.” (I couldn’t understand why my parents said this song would offend my beloved, elderly, religious babysitter, so I shouldn’t play it for her.)

On long car trips when I was maybe 10 or so, I recall my mom singing to me Tom’s “The Irish Ballad” and “I Hold Your Hand in Mine” – both of which delighted me with their grizzly, gross humor. (Before I forget, I just learned that there’s a brand new DVD devoted to Tom’s music. If you a fan as I am, check it out.)

While at Oberlin College, I wrote Tom a letter to see if I might work with him on songwriting during the month-long “winter term.” In the letter, for his birthday, I wrote him a parody of “So Long, Tom.” I began my letter with this sentence: “I first heard your voice 19 years ago, which is odd when you consider I’m 18 years old.” I explained that when I was in utero, my mother had attended a lecture on mathematics education that he gave at Harvard University. I learned that as funny as Tom was as a performer, as a math teacher he was rather dry, tending to avoid eye contact and reading out of the textbook. To this day, my father — a retired professor who taught the very same course at Harvard a year after Tom did — gloats about how he was funnier than Tom in the classroom. Ah, but could Tom sing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” off-key and with as much enthusiasm as my dad?! There are limits to Tom’s genius.

But I digress. Tom did respond to my letter — I’ve saved his warm, witty response, and perhaps will post it online some day. He wasn’t interested in devoting a month to my musical studies but did invite me to visit his home in Cambridge, Mass. We chatted for several hours about musical theater, trivia about his lyrics, and more.

I’ll leave you with this gem. A few years ago, I learned that another hero of mine Stephen Sondheim went to the same summer camp as Tom Lehrer as a boy. To honor musical theater producer Cameron Mackintosh, the two reunited. Check out this delightful video.

I’d love to hear any Tom Lehrer related memories you care to share.

Happy Birthday, Tom! Here’s to many, many more!

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Raw Cookie Dough: Tasty Treat or Bacteria Bonanza?

Hello, fellow chocoholics! (I know you’re out there, I can sense you drooling…sorry, my site isn’t scratch-n-sniff yet) Over the weekend, I whipped up my umpteenth batch of chocolate chip cookie dough. Against all odds, most of this batter actually ended up as baked cookies! If you’re like me, one of the main reasons to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch is to eat heaping spoonfuls of this cool, creamy, sweet, crunchy stuff!

While writing my latest book Micro Mania, I researched rumors that eating raw cookie dough is bad for your health. The culprit behind his rumor is one of the ingredients in most Toll House dough: RAW EGGS. Raw eggs have the potential of containing a charming bacterium called Salmonella — here in a close-up photo, colorized for extra yuckiness…

Infection from Salmonella can cause a variety of lovely symptoms including abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, fever or a headache. (By the way, did you know this bacterium has nothing to do with fish? It was named after Daniel Elmer Salmon, a veterinarian.)

Many of you raw dough junkies out there are probably thinking, “That’s weird. I’ve been eating cookie dough by the spoonful for YEARS, and have never become sick from it. What’s up with that??”

Turns out that the odds of contracting Salmonella from raw eggs are incredibly, amazingly, ridiculously small. How small exactly? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in every 30,000 eggs are contaminated by Salmonella. If you’re still worried that eating cookie dough is dangerous, check out this fun short video by Lenore Skenazy, author of an excellent book for parents Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.

Any thoughts on this? Any great cookie recipes to share? Please post below!

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