Friday, December 31, 2004

Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks

Yesterday our beloved black labrador Dylan turned 11. Since he was a puppy Dylan has been the most gentle, docile dog know to man. Sometimes he almost seems comatose. Although he lives to eat, he takes anything offered to him with extreme care, never once snapping it up like our other dog Jake does.

Dylan’s only bad habit in life is his penchant for female golden retrievers at the dog park, where he mounts them until they drop in submission. He has been banished by angry owners of 3-month-old puppies who have been subjected to the aggressive Dylan. This behavior is quite in contrast to his general personality.

In the last few years Dylan has become a creature of habit and fears. He has worn a path in the yard through the bushes as he carefully retraces his steps from the lower to the upper level of our back yard. He has resolutely refused to go up the 12 steps to the upper level of our house.

Our son Dan could not accept the fact that old dogs have stubborn habits. With some prodding he has persuaded Dylan that he really doesn’t have to go through the bushes every time he traverses the back yard. He has also convinced Dylan that he still can go up and down stairs without being afraid. Dan quietly urges him and Dylan puts one paw ahead of the other to go up. With a little nudge he slowly goes down. Jake still flies off the last step to skid across the wooden floor of the living room. Dogs are as different as children in a family.

So with Dan’s help our aging Dylan has shown that old dogs can still learn new tricks! We all hope he outlives us because there will never be another dog like Dylan.

The Me of 2004

I started this year as workaholic (I can now admit that) and a person who had lost all appreciation for the small pleasures of life. I wasn’t depressed, but I also was not happy.

Somewhere along the way I added some new ingredients to my life:

– Increased yoga
– My first massage (and not my last)
– Silent meditation
– Acupuncture
– Styling and coloring my graying hair
– Manicure
– Wearing makeup
– Playing the piano every day (instead of every 10 years)
– Playing duets with a bass player
– Aromatherapy
– Learning to hug
– Buying clothes that are more than just functional
– Looking forward to making love
– Psychotherapy
– Writing just for fun on a regular basis
– Learning trope to chant the Torah
– Daily exercise in our new basement gym
– Making all sorts of things
– The desperate need to interact with people

As a result I am a very different person today. I hardly have time for 40 hours of work a week, and I never work overtime. I still manage to get my job done. It just doesn’t enter my mind when I am not at work.

This has not been the recipe for eternal happiness. But the highs are infinitely higher, and I am learning to deal with the lows. The variety at least makes life much more interesting.

I know that at this point I can never go back to the old me. I am not yet totally comfortable with all aspects of the new me, but I like this person much better.

So what stones have I left unturned for 2005? I’m sure the list won’t be this long next year. But I’m already thinking about a few things:

– Getting a pedicure (if I can convince myself that my toes are not too ugly)
– Joining a group to explore creativity
– Starting the process of retirement from my job

Hopefully my health will be good and my body and mind and soul will work in harmony with one another! Here’s hope for 2005!

The World of BLOG

Yesterday I received a comment on my BLOG site from a stranger. I ruminated all day long about how this could happen. How could this person I don’t know find me and have the nerve to read my stuff and comment on it? It was not a derogatory comment, but it still bothered me.

I finally figured out last night that by commenting on someone else’s BLOG and not doing so anonymously, I have passed on my BLOG address to anyone who reads my comment! So I am the culprit here. Or is that exactly the intention of this whole concept of BLOG?

BLOGSPOT.COM has effectively linked together an infinite number of people, some of whom know each other, and most of whom do not. Most people have absolutely zero interest in reading what a stranger writes, so I thought.

But then I started playing the same game, reading comments on other BLOGs and learning more about the commentor. You’d be surprised how much GOOGLE knows about us all. It is seductive to enter someone else’s (sometimes weird) world and tip-toe around just taking it in.

The real question is whether this realization will change the way I write. I hope to God that it will not, because my intention in doing this was to write for myself, perhaps sharing my writing with a few people I trust and value. If the rest of the world happens upon my BLOG site from time to time, I hope they enjoy what they find and, if not, I hope they are polite enough not to leave a trail...

Thursday, December 30, 2004

My Daughter Rachel is an Adult -- Yikes!

As I looked in on my sleeping child this morning, I thought about what a dreadful hangover she was going to have when she finally woke up. Rachel turned 21 yesterday and while I was meditating last night, she was out with her friends in a Georgetown bar tossing down a lot of alcohol. I’m sure this will not be her first or her last hangover, but I’m also sure that it will be memorable. Why are rites of passage often so painful?

Rachel’s becoming an adult gave me reason to think back over her 21 years and recall significant events:

– My husband David catching her as she entered the world.
– Ballet class when she was 3. She was much more interested in the candy they sold than in learning to dance.
– Constantly sketching from the time she could pick up a pencil. Her first animals were quite authentic.
– Sitting down at the piano at 4 and just playing songs by ear.
– Learning to dive at age 5.
– Trying out for a gymnastics class at 6. After she did 10 pullups on the bar, the coach commented, “She’s as strong as a little bull.”
– Being Ariel in The Little Mermaid, which she and her friends acted out at her birthday party.
– Upon losing her first tooth, she wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy: “Plases leve the toth but give the cash.” Spelling was never Rachel's forte.
– Sleepover horse camp – Rimrock – at age 8. She sent us a letter written early on which we received just before camp was over: “As soon as you get this letter, come get me!”
– Lots of swimming. She was good at all strokes, so IM was perhaps her best event. She was not impassioned by swimming. It just happened to be what we did because her brother Daniel was such a good swimmer.
– Winning an art contest at age 10 with pastels of Shabbat Candle Lighting and Chassidic Men Dancing.
– Until she was 11, she played baseball on co-ed teams. She could really slug the ball. At 11, she moved to softball. She could still really slug the ball. She liked playing first base and occasionally pitching. Her ballplaying career eventually came to an end when she got hit by a ball and became scared to bat!
– After the banishment of the dogs from Hell, Rachel had a series of pets: a hamster, a rat, a gerbil, a guinea pig. One day she announced that the guinea pig was no longer moving after she had kept it under her covers. It was still warm, but very dead.
– She lobbied long and hard for a big dog after all the rodents. She and I picked Dylan, the wonder dog, out of the litter of 9 labrador retrievers. He was the one quietly chewing on the plastic lamb chop in the corner.
– At 11 she took up ballet again and quickly advanced to be on pointe. She was a natural.
- She was always intrigued with origami. The complicated folding instructions always made sense to her and she could whip up an origami crane in just a few minutes.
– She was sick as a dog for her Bat Mitzvah. She still got up there, fever and all, and chanted the Torah and Haftarah.
– Rachel always played tennis, just like she always swam. She made the varsity tennis team as a freshman in high school, playing #2 singles as a senior. She never lost her cool, accepting victory or defeat equally well.
– At 16 Rachel swore off all fat and most food and became a walking skeleton. Anorexia – the plague of overachievers in a society that prizes skinny girls. After finally coming out of denial, she worked to put back on some weight, still looking more like a model than a 16-year-old healthy girl.
– Her senior year, she did a series of 12 oils with her pointe shoes as the subject for her AP Art portfolio. She sold one and three hang in our living room, where Rachel’s art decorates all the walls.
– When she got ready to look for colleges, instead of going on the trip with parents, she and her friend Crissy (now once again Sudie, her given Iranian name) went by train to Boston and New York City and checked out schools by themselves. She liked the first school she visited, applied early decision, and was admitted to Tufts.
– Deciding what to study was a dilemma for Rachel. She loves art, but also loves money. So she decided to pursue a major in bio-psychology. At this point, she is not sure where this is going, but it will get her a degree.
– Her junior year first semester in Australia. We got a call in the middle of the night one night: “I’m so excited. I just jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet 6 times!” We were glad she called after this happened.
– Rachel has had only a few serious boyfriends: Thomas, the golfer, in high school; Eric, the somewhat spoiled local doctor’s son who was terribly concerned about his appearance; and Mike, the cross-country runner at Tufts who is also a writer. Although Mike has been dubbed “dickhead” for the moment, there is still hope.
– Because she likes money, Rachel has always been industrious and has had a variety of jobs. She was a highly-sought-after babysitter in her early teens. She worked at Hank Harris’ tennis camp for several summers. She worked (and currently works) at Faccia Luna as a hostess. She worked at Brother Jimmy’s in Cambridge, Mass, as a waitress. She worked at Brown ‘n Brew coffee shop on the Tufts Campus. She recently worked at Abercrombie for all of 3 weeks; I think this job convinced her that she does not want a career in retail sales.

Although her future is still uncertain, what is certain is that Rachel is an independent survivor. She always figures out how to get things done and how not to offend anyone in doing so. She has a wonderful life ahead of her. 21 is just the beginning!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

To Make Up... or Not

I was never a big user of makeup. When I was in high school and even college, I occasionally used what was undoubtedly cheap makeup, but invariably my eyes began to itch and it was more trouble than it was worth.

About 30 years ago, around the time I got married I swore off the use of makeup altogether. It was about the same time I quit shaving my legs and armpits and just decided to take on a natural look. I kept a tube of lipstick (the same tube for many years) for special occasions, but that was about the extent of my use of makeup. In fact, I still have the Clinique products that I last purchased in the mid-70's (that is, the ones my daughter Rachel has not absconded with).

So why, all of a sudden, did I decide to start using makeup again? It might have been because in the middle of a serious discussion, Rebecca said, “I need to put on some lipstick. Lipstick always helps me think better.” Could that really be true? Or maybe it was because I looked in the mirror and saw a rather washed-out looking face that needed some color. Or maybe I was looking for a way to hide my new neck scar where my thyroid was removed. Whatever...

I really don’t know much about makeup and certainly nothing from the last 30 years. So I quietly asked a salesperson at Whole Foods how I might get started on this project, admitting to knowing nothing. She suggested some tinted moisturizer by Burt’s Bees and a tube of lip gloss. The moisturizer worked well to diminish my neck scar and it took only 30 seconds to apply. I could do this.

Then I decided to add some blush by the same manufacturer. At this point people started to tell me how radiant I looked. I knew it had to be my new painted face.

At about this same time, I was to receive a big deal award from the Secretary of Commerce. I determined that I wanted my eyes to show up in the photo, so in the early morning hours of the day of the ceremony, I ransacked our house looking for a tube of mascara that Rachel might have left behind in her room. I finally found GREAT LASH by Mabelline. It would have to do! I could finally see the definition of my eyes, even behind my glasses. Haven’t seen the picture, but I am sure that it made a difference.

So I made some more quiet inquiries and ended up with face powder and good eye makeup that didn’t make my eyes itch. I also realized that I now needed makeup remover for face and eyes. This was getting complicated.

I still didn’t really get how to put on the eye makeup. So I went into Norstrom’s to the MAC counter and had a professional with a whole bag of tricks (literally) show me what to do. I’m sure she had never seen a 55-year-old who knew so little about how to apply makeup. Despite her bright blue glittery eye shadow, she ended up selling me very natural colors of the same, with brushes and concealer. I am convinced that you could spend an absolute fortune on these things!

Now it takes me 10 minutes more in the morning to put on the 8 products I now use and 5 minutes at night to take them off (when I remember). But the results are well worth it. People are constantly telling me how much healthier I look. Rachel even approves of the stuff I have bought and I keep having to retrieve it out of her room. I guess getting older entitles us to reinvent ourselves from time to time. In my case, a little makeup was all it took! And just think of all the money I saved over a 30-year period...

My Mother, the Garfinckels Girl

As I passed by the elegant old Garfinckels building at 14th and F Streets today on my way to see Anne, my therapist, I suddenly thought of my mother, who had worked there during World War II. As a young war bride, she was all alone in Washington, while my father went off to the war in the Pacific. She worked in the “ladies better blouses” department of Garfinckels, one of the leading department stores in the city. She had more blouses than she would ever again have because she could purchase any blouse that was damaged for 50 cents, and did so at every opportunity! She waited on famous people, like Margaret Truman, who came with her secret service entourage and had to call home to find out if it was OK to purchase whatever she had chosen. My mother learned precision package wrapping because every purchase was carefully wrapped. She later taught me how to wrap, just as she taught me to make “hospital corners” on the bed sheets. She had a friend and coworker, Aileen Henry, who lived all the way out in Falls Church, whom she visited by train once. Her boss was Jewish and was actually quite kind to her (to my mother’s astonishment).

The job at Garfinckels was probably the last time my mother ever had an income. After that wife and mother were her roles. She never wanted anything more, or so she said.

Ironically when I first came to Washington in 1971, I went to Garfinckels to buy my winter coat. In my southern naivete, I thought I might have had a credit line because my mother had worked there (almost 30 years before). It was a great heavy coat with a hood and fleece lining that came down to my ankles, as I prepared for my first northern winter.

The old elegant Garfinckels building has been relegated to a Borders Bookstore and other miscellaneous trendy little stores. The glory days of beautiful display windows and carefully wrapped purchases are past. I wondered if just a little piece of my mother’s soul was still somewhere in that building. What floor did she work on? Do buildings retain something of all that pass through their portals?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Death by Drowning

This is my worst nightmare. It was reality for 80,000 people in Asia, from Somalia to Indonesia. I wonder how many lives could have been saved by forewarning of the impending disaster. We’ll never know.

I just try to imagine what it was like for the victims. Some were probably watching the strange sky and water when they were just swallowed up. Others were probably in their homes completely ignorant of what would befall them. Did their hearts stop as the water overwhelmed them? Or did they struggle to swim to the light? Did any think that man could really do battle with this unfathomable force of nature? I picture families being separated by the water, with children screaming on the shore as their parents were carried away, or parents reaching out to save their children as the water consumed them.

When disasters of this scale occur, it is almost as though nature takes on an evil persona. Is this God’s way of reminding us that we are simply mortals in a cosmos of forces much more powerful? I’m sure the people of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and all of the other countries are asking why they were victimized. Why is it that countries like the USA and Britain and Norway and so many other industrialized nations never know this scale of disaster?

One of my employees, Arumugam, is from Sri Lanka. I spoke to him today from home to find out if his family survived the devouring water. His brother's family live less than 2 miles from the coast. They sat on their roof and watched the water come within half a mile of their home. They survived but many of Aru's long-time friends perished. How is it decided who will live and who will die?

My hope is that all of the victims of this tsunami will know peace in their next lives because their recent demise had to be a living hell.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Forget the Perfect Bell-Ringing

Gordon, who has been meditating for 20 years and ringing the bell for about as long, made a surprising revelation this morning at the close of our early morning sit. He said he questioned his right to be present after ringing the bell so poorly at the beginning of the second half of our sit. Wow! This really blew me away for several reasons. Gordon is the consummate meditation anchor, performing this duty about 99% of the time for the early morning sitters. It was almost a relief to know that other people are as sensitive as I am to the perceived judgment by their peers. Gordon even said that he knew how utterly absurd this idea was, but that it was all he could think about during the second half of the sit.

We humans seem to like to beat ourselves up about everything, much of the time imagining the perceptions of others. I wonder if any other species does this? I can hardly imagine one of my dogs feeling badly because his bark was a little weak. However, I have watched my younger dog almost topple over when lifting his leg to pee higher than his brother. Maybe they do care...

Being present in the moment means blocking out the last ring of the bell and not even thinking about the next ring. We must find ways to take comfort from our good intentions and not dwell so much on the results or on preoccupation with the future. Only then will the breath flow freely and the mind settle peacefully.

"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

365 Days Left to Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone. And I hardly noted its passing.

When Dan finally woke up around 1 PM today we went out for our annual dim sum at the Lucky Three, which was mobbed with mostly oriental people and a few scattered Jews. The dumplings in their little round pots, the clams in their brown succulent sauce, the lobster (which was a splurge at $10 and unfortunately a bitch to eat), David’s salty chicken, the pork buns, the slurpy wide noodles, and the pineapple buns were all fatteningly delicious. I noticed for the first time one of the servers pushing a dim sum cart around while talking on a cell phone. Cell phones are EVERYWHERE!

Then the family quandry of what movie to see. I know nothing about movies. When they suggest something, I ask, (1) Is it violent? and (2) Will it make me sad? and (3) Is it a stupid comedy? Those questions rule out about 85% of all movies. We were left with very little in the theaters that no one had already seen and that satisfied my requirements. So we opted for something ordered from NetFlix – Napoleon Dynamite. Rachel had seen it and swore that it was the funniest movie ever. I admit to dozing on and off, but what I saw left a lasting impression. This low-budget movie takes place in a small town in Idaho. Napoleon is a most unheroic, nerdy hero who befriends a Mexican kid running for President (of the school?) against a cheerleader type who runs on a platform of new uniforms for the cheerleaders, among other absurdities. At one point the Mexican kid is chastised by the school officials for putting up a pinata which looks like his opponent and allowing everyone to swing at it. The best thing I can say for Napoleon Dynamite is that it was CHEAP entertainment and I had a comfortable couch to fall asleep on.

Rachel gave us her yearly lecture about how we had deprived her of the joy of a Christmas tree for her whole life. We also surmised about how much the average American had spent on Christmas gifts, concluding that often the poorer one is in this country, the more important it is to spend a lot. Other than that, Christmas really didn’t come up at all. We’ll eat leftovers of yesterday’s Christmas turkey and look ahead to New Year’s – a holiday where all are equal!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Turning Depression into Turkey

This has been a tough week. I started out on top of the world because my children had both finally returned. But I never seem to stay happy for long. I fell into this period of self-doubt, where I was questioning how others perceived me. My therapist Anne is trying to help me figure out why this happens and what I am really feeling in these funky times. But meanwhile I am left with a feeling of depression.

I got up early to go to 6:30 AM meditation today. I decided instead of my usual counting breaths I would use a mantra today on my out-breaths, alternating between “Breathe out anger” and “Breathe out sadness”. Wow, did this have an effect! First of all, the time simply flew by without my even being conscious of what was happening outside or around me. Secondly, the feeling of depression seemed to fall away. In its place was left this idea of making a turkey. Weird? Well, maybe, but it felt a lot better than depression.

So I went to Whole Foods on the way home and bought a little turkey and all the stuff to make a real Christmas dinner. It was so much better than planning with recipe books and lists. I just bought what seemed to fit in. I decided to make sausage stuffing, never having made it before. While I was asking the butcher what kind of sausage to buy, a customer who overheard offered his advice and a recipe which included pork sausage (I didn’t tell David it was pork!), walnuts, chanterelle mushrooms, herbs, shallots, celery, and other good stuff. I bought cranberries and oranges, not remembering exactly what went into cranberry sauce, but close enough. The wine guy recommended a pinot noir (red wine with turkey?), so I bought the one he suggested.

I ran into the Rhodesides, another good Jewish couple. Instead of a Christmas turkey, they were making a Christmas ham! I think we all secretly want to celebrate Christmas!

I came home and began to throw things together. Much more fun than recipe books and a schedule of what goes into the oven when. I tented the turkey with aluminum foil, and for the last hour or so took it off so that it could brown nicely, basting it every so often with a mixture of margarine, chicken broth, and red wine (didn’t have any white). I have no idea whether my sausage stuffing was anything like the man described, but it made the whole house smell delicious. I boiled the cranberries with some orange zest, the pulp of an orange, orange juice, and some sugar, but not nearly as much as any recipe suggested. I made mashed potatoes with lots of sauteed garlic and other seasoning. When the turkey came out, I made the best gravy ever with giblets that had been stewing with celery and onion.

We sat down mid-afternoon and ate heaping plates of all this food. It was good going down, and the stuffing was sensational. But then the turkey chemical reaction kicked in and we all got really tired. I also popped a Pepto-Bismol because my stomach was not used to so much rich food.

All in all, I’d say the turkey was a success and we have enough leftovers for more meals than we will ever want to eat. I’ll take indigestion over depression any day.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Completing the Family Once Again

My children have come home, once again completing the family puzzle. Rachel arrived from Australia a week ago, bringing stories of typical Australian bravado, where caution is constantly thrown to the wind to seize the moment. Daniel arrived at midnight last night, finishing up law school finals and making the trip from 70 degree Tucson through snowy Chicago, where the plane almost didn’t take off.

When they are away, there are no mysteries about who made the mess. In fact, there are not many messes at all. But I get tired of pristine and long for piles of laundry and sinks full of dishes and running out of milk and dogs tired from all the exercise Daniel gives them. It’s these absences that make me question how important my neat-freak pet peeves are and say to hell with all of them!

So for three weeks we will be a complete family once again. We will remember what each of us does to get on everyone else’s nerves. But hopefully we will be able to just remember and not make a big deal of it any longer. The family picture in balance and harmony supercedes all of the rules we once thought were important.

What Jews Do on Christmas

Jews always have this dilemma of how to spend Christmas day, a holiday which is really not theirs but is part of the American way of life. Here are the options:

– Pretend it is your holiday as well and celebrate it just as your Christian neighbors do. You know the Christmas tree is just a pagan tradition, so why not? And the children will feel left out if they don’t get presents from Santa Claus. How can you possibly tell a child that Santa Claus only comes to Christian children?

– Do nothing and just go on with your normal business. This is a little hard since most businesses are closed and the media will not let you ignore the presence of Christmas.

– Develop your own Christmas day tradition, the anti-celebration in effect. This might include going out for Chinese food and a movie. Chinese restaurants and movie theaters NEVER close! This is our tradition. In fact, one year we made the local evening news by being interviewed at the movie theater as the local oddities. It is the one day when you will never stand in line to get in. And you can be sure that any Caucasian in a Chinese restaurant is Jewish.

As Christmas day fast approaches, I am already starting to imagine the dim sum dumplings and look at the movie listings. We can thank the Christians for a day off!

Broad Spectrum Rx

I take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. They often give me a yeast infection and upset my stomach. Much of the time they are not even effective because most of our illnesses are viral and as such are not phased by antibiotics.

My husband, David, has been sick recently with what seems to be a severe cold. When the cough persisted and kept him awake at night, he called our internist, hoping to go in for a visit and some tests to determine the extent of his illness. Instead the doctor simply prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic over the phone and said he should feel better in a couple of days. THIS MAKES ME CRAZY!

David is taking antibiotics for an unknown infection. In doing so, he is compromising his immune system by destroying everything the antibiotics touch, including the good stuff. He is also decreasing the future effectiveness of this particular antibiotic. When in fact, this medicine is likely totally unnecessary. And, guess what, it is not free either!

So why do doctors behave so unprofessionally, prescribing heavy duty drugs without a clue as to the nature of the problem? And why do smart people like David trust that they are doing the right thing? We need to move beyond this reverence for people with Dr in front of their names and take responsibility for the health and well-being of our own bodies, because not all Drs are doing just that. We should take lessons from other cultures – the Chinese, our own Native Americans, among others – who look to nature to supply the remedies for common illnesses. Dosing the common cold with expensive time-release pills is INSANE!

Really Making Music

I used to think that just mastering the notes in a piano piece and being able to play it as the appropriate tempo meant that I knew it. Throw in a few dynamics and the piece was good to go.

That was until I started playing with someone else. A bass player, named Bill Vaughn, who plays in the National Symphony. We recently decided to play some pieces from a Bass Solo book together. I worked hard at learning the notes. But when we sat down to play, I quickly realized that the notes were just a small piece of our collaboration.

Playing together is much like doing anything with another person. You have to decide who gets to lead and who must simply follow and where those roles get reversed. You have to decide about dynamics and changes in tempo. You even have to decide just how to count. I came to realize that it was just as important for me to have the sound of the bass line in my head as the chords of my piano part. When one instrument has the melody, it is important that the other respect it. I am gradually learning what series of notes present spatial problems on the bass and demand a little more time.

This can be a frustrating process. Rehearsing means playing, listening, talking, playing, screwing up, playing, and starting all over again, until both musicians can hear how it is supposed to sound.

However, when you are really playing together as one person, as opposed to two, there is no comparison to playing alone. Each instrument brings its unique sound and soul to the fabric of the whole. It makes my heart feel extremely full and puts a natural big smile on my face.

Thanks, Bill, for putting up with my musical mediocrity and giving me this opportunity to do something new!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Why Am I Not Sick?

By all rights I should be sick as a dog, but I am not! How have I escaped the current round of plague?

Several months ago I visited Marie Allizon to purchase essential oils made by Mikael Zayat. Marie is a completely unique individual, surrounded by hundreds of tiny bottles of a myriad of aromas, as well as bizarre medallions with some psychic significance. Marie urged me to choose IMMUNE UP, lauding its curative powers. The little bottle sat unopened on my shelf until last week. On Saturday morning I woke up with a sore throat, sniffles, and a headache. Sure signs of a cold coming on. So I placed a small drop of IMMUNE UP in each nostril, figuring it couldn’t hurt anything. It reminded me of being in the middle of a huge forest of tall, old firs. Within 4 hours, all my symptoms were completely gone.

The next day, Sunday, I saw Rebecca for a massage and a much-needed talk over tea. She was obviously in the midst of a nasty cold-flu-something undesirable. The same evening my husband David returned from a trip to Detroit with shivers and a cough, which proceeded to get worse throughout the week. So I had a double whammy of germ-exposure on Sunday.

Not to mention that all the technicians in the orthodontist’s office on Thursday were masked and coughing and sneezing. People at work and in my office are all sniffling, coughing, and sneezing. The whole world except for me appears to be in the throes of some awful winter ailment.

So why am I not sick along with everyone else? I have continued to use IMMUNE UP all week. My orthodontist greeted with with “What IS that smell?” I explained that it was simply my amulet against illness. He looked askance and dealt with my braces.

How do germs decide where to dig in and whom to spare? Is it simply the luck of the draw or are there things we can do to ward off infection? I will probably never know, but I do know that I am not coming out of the woods until the danger is past!

Here is an article from a publication written by Marie Allizon:

by Marie Allizon
Soon people will be shopping for Christmas trees. Many avoid the natural ones for convenience and because they don’t want to destroy the forests. The truth is that artificial trees are made of polluting plastic materials. Most of all, the Christmas trees we find are grown on land that are unfit for agriculture and are much closer to the North American tradition.
The reason the Balsam tree was used at Christmas time was to protect the house from diseases brought in by holiday visitors and bring joy. The candles on the Christmas tree heat the needles and release in the air large amounts of essential oils that kill all bacteria when you are having a respiratory problem. It has been recently discovered that Balsam fir completely destroys tuberculosis.
Now we can extract essential oils and use it all year round. Just put a few drops of essential oil on a handkerchief and put it in your pocket, or apply it to your feet. This is very simple to do. It can also be diffused in therapy rooms, massage rooms, waiting rooms, in retail stores, in your living room, instead of using the synthetic fragrances found in most candles and “aromatherapy” products.
Cold and flu can be fought very easily using a conifer blend of Balsam Fir, Red Pine, White Spruce, Canadian Tsuga and Arborvitae ($13 for 84 drops). This Conifer blend works in synergy and is a natural antibiotic. The diversity creates a more powerful effect. Or use the Immune System up as a preventive, or Virus Out that you rub on your chest if you are already affected.
For more on the subject, see the brand new video of an excellent interview of Mikael Zayat. It is 58’ and sells for $3

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

My Path to Meditation

My mind has always raced at a breakneck speed, often churning through the same path repeatedly. I liken it to an MRI tube when there is relentless noise and bombardment. Sometimes the only release was sleep, until I discovered meditation.

Until this year I had never even thought about meditating. As I was sitting at Healing Arts and speaking to my massage therapist, I noticed the beautiful set of cushions arranged around a living bamboo plant in the adjoining room and asked about the use of that room. She said that a group of people met weekly to sit in silent meditation.

I was intrigued with the idea and in the spirit of trying new things which has recently become so much a part of my being, I came on a Wednesday night to meditate. My memory of my first sit was how very long 40 minutes seemed and how uncomfortable it was. But there was something seductive about the quiet candle light. My mind responded reluctantly but with pleasure at the opportunity to rest while I was conscious.

I then began the process of learning to sit, that will probably go on for the rest of my existence. The first step was to become comfortable so that physical pain would not dominate my thinking. I purchased a meditation stool and added a cushy cover of ancient paisley quilting. I then started to pay attention to my breath in a way that I had never before. Slow it down. Count 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out, etc. until thoughts intervened with the counting process. When that happened, start over. There were days when I could never get past 20 without having to start over.

Some sits were better than others. And occasionally I began to reach that sublime state where you lose consciousness of your physical body and simply float above it. The sign that this has happened is when the bell announcing the end of the sit startles you. What a tremendous feeling!

I have recently incorporated an introduction to each sit, whereby I go through a growing list of people for whom I am eternally grateful, including my fellow meditators. I then feel their collective support as I start tossing aside thoughts and slowing everything down.

Meditation has become an addiction. The calm of an early morning sit pervades my day. The release of an evening sit helps me sleep soundly.

I have considered meditating on my own, but for now think that I need the feeling of sitting together with others. I am most successful when someone else is ringing the bell and I don’t have to be responsible for anything except breathing.

My mind still races most of the time. But for 3 hours a week, I coerce it into slowing down as I breathe in peaceful air and let everything go. The breath has come to represent the essence of life.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Oh My God!

My road to religion was not exactly straight. Growing up in a small town in the Florida panhandle, the idea that I would one day be Jewish and would be preparing to read from the Torah was not even on my radar screen. I knew only one Jew. Although he was supposed to be different from the rest of us, he seemed just like any other father in Panama City.

I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, not by choice but by happenstance. This was a church where they baptized by sprinkling instead of by dunking. I always said prayers of thanks to God for not making me a Baptist because I was scared of putting my head under water. At the age of 10 I was awarded a white leather bound Bible with a zipper for learning the entire book of catechism. What I didn’t realize was that they gave the same Bible to anyone who tried. When I was 12 years old, I requested a meeting with the minister to discuss the fact that the church didn’t allow black people to attend services, or even funerals. But they did employ two black janitors, who they referred to as NEEEGROES. At 14 I distinctly remember a Sunday dinner discussion where I declared that none of the Bible stories that I had learned over the years of Sunday school could have actually happened. My mother was aghast. My father just kept on eating. I don’t think he believed it all either.

During this entire time there were two constants. I was regularly praying to God and I am sure he was listening. And I was singing in the choir and playing the piano and the organ. There is not much than can beat Christian music. The rush you get from playing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (my Norwegian grandmother’s favorite hymn) on a pipe organ at full volume is unequaled. I quickly realized that you didn’t have to believe to get tremendous pleasure out of the music.

My agnostic period continued when I went away to college. At one point, I briefly joined a group of “Young Presbyterians” because their leader was a really cute fraternity boy. When I realized that the really cute sorority girl was his girlfriend, I quickly dropped out.

Then I moved north to Washington, DC, and forever left the deep south behind. I met David on my first visit to the place where I now work. I remember wearing tall boots and a skirt that was so short my fingers came below the hem. He was my first Jewish friend, although I really didn’t even think about the fact that he was Jewish. We were just friends for a long time until I moved from his couch to his bed and we decided we really liked each other. After about a month, he told me that my religion might be a problem to which I replied, “We’re not exactly going to get married.” I guess he was always planning ahead. For at least a year, I was his little secret when he spoke to his parents. I felt like a kept woman! On my first trip to Detroit with him, his parents treated me like I was from outer space and had leprosy. His mother made it clear that she was not coming to any wedding unless it was in a synagogue.

When it became apparent that we might have future together, I decided to take a class in Judaism because I always had this idea that a family should have a single religion. I came to understand that the only requirement was a belief in God – no creeds, no catechisms, no Son and Holy Ghost. It all made so much more sense than the watered-down religion of my childhood. So I took the class again and at that point with no reservations decided to convert. I tried many times to discuss my rationale for conversion with David’s parents, but to his dying breath, his father believe I did it for them.

There were things I was leaving behind. I lay awake at night pining for the many Christmas trees I would no longer have. But the music was the hardest thing to give up. Upon arriving in Washington, I had auditioned for an been accepted into the National Presbyterian Choir. While there I sang in an elite group of chamber singers who did a capella music that would make your spine tingle. For a year after my conversion, I refused to say the Apostles’ Creed and made a project of reading the entire Old Testament during the sermons, but after a while I could no longer carry on the charade.

As I became a Jew, I realized that I could still pray to my same Florida God. That part had not changed. And he was still listening.

At this point, I entered a 20-year period of religious stagnation. We belonged to a synagogue, where I attempted from time to time to join some really pathetic choirs, that always ended up falling apart. I attended services only when it was absolutely necessary and hated every minute of it. Unfortunately I didn’t serve as a great role model for my children, although they attended religious school and had their bar and bat mitzvahs.

I finally realized that I needed more than a prayer partner. I needed a congregation and I really needed music again.

Upon our first visit to Temple Micah, I realized that I had found both. When we affiliated shortly before the High Holidays, I quickly joined the choir (no audition required). I struggled to learn the notebooks of music, a really daunting task. When I told the Rabbi that I was not comfortable singing strange syllables that I didn’t understand, he hooked me up with some people who are much more knowledgeable than I will ever be in this stuff, and we met for a year after services each week to translate and discuss the prayers.

Music at Temple Micah is special. Everyone in the congregation sings, sometimes getting into a clapping frenzy with the joy of the music. And although there is nothing like the music of Bach and Beethoven, haunting melodies like the Kol Nidre are unequaled in any other musical repertoire.

I am now studying trope so that I can chant the Torah, just as all 13-year-olds do as their right of passage into adulthood. I look forward to standing before my Micah friends and chanting from this most sacred book. I have lost my concern that the stories may not all be true. It really doesn’t matter any longer.

At this point, I have been a Jew longer than I was not. I still talk to my same God and I once again can make a joyful noise. I may not know all the intricacies of traditions passed down from generation to generation, but I am at peace with my religion, finally...

The Psychology of E-Mail

The thrill of getting a new message. You click on it, read it, and then maybe you ask yourself questions like :
– Why did it take so long for this person to respond?
– Why did she respond to certain parts of my message and not to others?
– Why is it so short?
– Why is it so long and rambling?
– Was the sender preoccupied by something else at the time?
– Does it invite a response?
– How was it signed?
Without a face and a voice, there is a lot of room for conjecture.

E-mail offers the sender possibilities not available in face-to-face conversation:
– A shy person who averts her eyes when speaking to another all of a sudden can become assertive, even aggressive.
– A serious person can suddenly become funny by injecting uncharacteristic humor.
– A cautious person can write and re-write a message, saving in draft until it has reached perfection or at least acceptance.
– A person of inferior intelligence can use someone else’s words with little chance for detection.
– The recipient may not be able to detect the sender’s anxiety as she struggles with a difficult concept or emotion.

The receiver also has options not available in face-to-face conversation:
– She can choose to ignore the message.
– She can delete it without ever opening it.
– She can open it, react to it, write a scathing comment, and then take it back by choosing not to send it.
– She can instantly tell the world what a stupid thing someone else said – now that’s power!
– She can keep in tact the entire conversation thread so that no one has to remember how it went.

So what does talking to a screen do to us emotionally? Do we actually envision the recipient sitting right behind the screen ready to open this new communique?

How well do we deal with a 5-minute conversation that now spans a week?

How many of us consider picking up a phone as opposed to dashing off a message?

What kind of message is communicated when a message thread hits a dead end because someone either forgets or chooses not to respond?

Most people in our lives have one relationship to us: spouse, child, parent, teacher, doctor, mentor, friend, business partner, therapist. We consider that role when we choose what we say, how we address the other person, how we sign the message. This idea gets a little complicated when a friend is also a business partner or a teacher is also a therapist or there is some other combination. Can we wear different hats in different parts of the message? Or is it simpler to limit messages to just one relationship at a time? This sounds like an anal compulsive thought sequence, but I think it is significant.

My Worst Fears

(not in any order)
– Doing something that makes me look stupid
– Being in water over my head and possibly drowning
– Going downhill fast – on skis or on a bicycle
– Hitting a pedestrian while driving
– Hitting an animal while driving
– Saying something that reveals the fact that I didn’t grow up as a Jew
– Not being able to walk because my hips and back get too screwed up
– Falling down in a public place
– Dying a slow death
– Getting lost in a country where I don’t speak the language
– Forgetting someone’s name (when I should know it)
– Playing the piano by memory in public (and forgetting)
– Losing my family’s trust and love