• Taking the Plunge: When contributor Saundra Satterlee was first introduced to the idea of swimming in the icy waters of London's Serpentine Lake, it was because a father had made his child jump in. "I thought it was cruelty to children."
Now, after taking the plunge herself for the past six years, she sees it differently. She says membership in the Serpentine Swimming Club is a mere 15 pounds, which creates a "completely egalitarian" group. "The only way to prepare for the Christmas swim is to be a member," she says. The training regime includes three one-mile races in the summer. But as the days grow shorter, and water temperatures fall, so do the distances. "If you're swimming three times a week year-round, you don't notice the temperature change," she insists. By September, club members are down to swimming 440 yards. By Nov. 1, it's 55 yards. In February, 40 yards is enough. The Christmas Day race is 100 yards, and in her first year of competition, Saundra says, "I only swam half way. I felt like a right wimp. Now I do the whole race."
• Green Tchotchkes: Journalists are often given small souvenirs or tchotchkes. The Monitor ethics policy prevents its reporters from accepting gifts of anything beyond "trinket value." But staff writer Danna Harman says that she wasn't sure how to value the plastic goody bags handed out at a press conference hosted by Bolivia's Evo Morales. "We were given bags of coca leaves. It was a most original attempt to influence the press, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with them." she says. "I know that I can't bring them home."
David Clark Scott