Thursday, March 31, 2005

Riding on My Own

Do you remember when you were learning how to ride a bicycle – that moment when the person running behind you and holding onto the seat let go and you were actually riding on your own? I will never forget it. It is a feeling of liberation and tremendous personal accomplishment. I experienced this feeling with my Daddy when I was 6 years old on the side street near our house.

Just yesterday afternoon I had this same sort of feeling of excitement – as though I was being liberated from something and was finally able to ride on my own. For the entire past year as I have tried new things and attempted to release pent-up feelings, I have depended on a variety of individuals to help me balance and not fall off my bike. Just now as a year approaches, I have the confidence to ride on my own. I’ve learned a lot about how to catch myself before I fall, literally and figuratively. This is not to say that I will never need anyone’s help again – I’m not Wonder Woman! But it is a new sense of self-confidence that I hope will only grow with time. It feels very good.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Our Friend Florence

Florence is an 89-year-old friend from our synagogue. We just met her last year and regret that we couldn’t have known her for a long time, because she is truly a remarkable person. She is only about 4'10" tall, but she is funny and feisty and leaves a lasting impression. I feel a special connection to her because she is just about the age my mother would have been if she were alive.

She recently came to our poetry evening, bringing with her some very moving poetry written by a friend of hers in England as she battled and ultimately succumbed to breast cancer. After that evening, I commented to Florence that we would have to make this an annual event. She suggested that it be more than once a year, hinting at the fact that she was not sure just how long she might be around to enjoy it. I the proposed that we do it outdoors in the summer at a scenic place like Great Falls. She said, “Oh, yes. Then we could dance by the light of the moon.” That pretty much describes Florence.

We had invited Florence to our Passover seder. She accepted and insisted that she bring a homemade cake, which is no small feat because at Passover you can’t cook with flour.

We learned just yesterday that Florence had suffered a stroke and that her cognitive abilities were impaired. What a blow! We feared for the worst, but would not really know how badly she was affected until David visited her in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, I contacted a friend who is a wonderful healer and asked her to think about and pray for Florence. She asked for a full description of Florence, since they had never met.

When David arrived at her room at Arlington Hospital, he found her standing up out in the hallway talking to her son (who is probably our age.) She recognized him and called him by some variation of our name.

The story of her recent stroke unfolded. On Sunday as she was cooking a big dinner, she felt her arm go numb and her vision blur. She was taken to the hospital with paralysis on her entire right side and a loss of vision. Just yesterday, she made a remarkable recovery, with almost all of the paralysis disappearing and much of the vision returning. She still cannot read or see anything off to her right side. But it is obvious that she will recover.

We are greatly relieved and are once again looking forward to having her join us for Passover. I am now more than ever determined to give her the opportunity to read poetry outside on a beautiful summer afternoon and perhaps to dance by the light of the moon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Coming to Terms with Our Bodies

I doubt there is anyone anywhere who wouldn’t like to change something about his/her appearance if given the chance. We think of ourselves as – too fat, too short, too tall, too bald, too gray, having hair in unwanted places, having crooked teeth, needing glasses, having a nose that isn't the right shape or size, having too many curves, having not enough curves, etc.

In my last year of changes, I have dealt with gray hair and crooked teeth. I haven’t been tempted to try laser surgery to correct my vision, although there are many people out there who swear by it. My skin is a mess because of my predisposition to skin cancer and my stupidity while growing up on the Florida beaches. But there is not much I can do to improve that situation now except be vigilant.

This week I very briefly entertained the idea of having cosmetic surgery to give me a more “balanced” shape. But it didn’t take long to realize that: you have to be anesthetized, a surgeon has to cut your flesh, you have stitches, you have pain that might never go away, but worst of all you end up with something in your body that was never intended to be there. Aside from the fact that this type of surgery in all its forms is totally forbidden in Judaism. So I quickly decided that I was never going there!

I’ve often wondered how people had the nerve to actually go through with cosmetic surgery that was elective – not necessary. I guess you would have to be unbelievably unhappy with your image in the mirror.

One friend offered her wisdom on how to decide about personal improvement projects: if it hurts, don’t do it. I think that is pretty sound advice. Although it I had followed that, I wouldn’t have a mouthful of braces right now.

Part of me feels guilty for having even had thoughts about such extreme measures as cosmetic surgery, but having those thoughts and rejecting them has reinforced my appreciation of my body just as it is and I feel good about that.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Finding an Old Friend

The Internet is a remarkable way to find someone. I was recently in Florida visiting someone I hadn’t seen since college. We had a mutual friend Chuck with whom we had both lost touch. A quick Google search found this lost friend in Colorado and supplied an address and phone number. I called the number and left several messages, but never got a return call. So I sort of forgot about Chuck.

Just last night Chuck called me, having been in Mexico for the last 4 months. It turns out he is retired and spends part of each year in his house in Puerta Vallarta. Nice life, I said. So we had a lengthy discussion of the last 35 years – that’s a lot of time to cover. We talked about mutual friends and what has happened to them, including the unfortunate death of two of our friends.

One interesting aside in the Internet search was the emergence of a neo-Nazi type with the exact same name, also from Michigan, who had been killed while evading the police in 1998. I worried for a brief time that my friend has been other than I had known him to be. It turns out that my friend Chuck had once been detained when re-entering the US because immigration also mixed them up. Fortunately my Chuck is still alive and well.

I wangled an invitation to visit him in Mexico (or Colorado) and extended an equal offer of free room and board if he should come east.

I still think of Chuck as that cute smart-assed guy with the navy blue Corvette convertible and the fast motorcycle. When in fact, he is now 60 years old and probably has aged much as I have. It really is weird to see people after so many years have passed. But I am truly looking forward to a reunion with Chuck!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Live at Strathmore Hall

In commemoration of the 350th anniversary of Jews in America, choirs from 27 local synagogues joined together in a concert at the beautiful new Strathmore Hall in Rockville, Maryland. Marvin Kalb narrated this historical program. The soloists were the cantors and cantorial soloists from the various congregations. The choir of 700 singers was composed of adults and children, ranging in age from 6 to 75+.

The participants all came together at Strathmore 10 days prior to the concert. We were impressed with the beauty of the concert hall with its shimmery ceiling and its crisp acoustics. But mostly we were impressed with just how many people were involved and what a challenge the logistics for this concert would be. There was the issue of where to seat the various adult vocal sections. But even more difficult was the task of getting 300 children on and off stage – not once, but twice! The altos – my group – were seated in the first tier above the main stage, probably the best place to see and not have to deal with children. As we practiced just snippets of the various pieces, it began to dawn on us just how impressive this performance was going to be.

Saturday, the day of the first performance, we arrived 90 minutes ahead of showtime, ready to sing. Up to this point, we had only heard the pieces the choir was singing. It turns out that some of the coolest music was done by the cantors. After a quick runthrough, we had a quick bathroom-water break and waited for the lights to dim. Meanwhile, Strathmore Hall began to fill and fill and fill. Virtually every usable seat was occupied by a sell-out crowd.

We opened with some serious religious music – Shehekianu (Blessed Are You) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), Oseh Shalom (Grant Us Peace), and Hal’luhu (Psalm 150). The children’s choir did a remarkable arrangement of Oseh Shalom (in 6 settings) by our Teddy Klaus. We did a piece called Epilogue from the opera Touro, written by Cantor Arnold Salzman, based on a letter written by George Washington. We moved to some lighter more fun music in Yiddish, with the cantors doing Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. The choir followed with Leben Soll Columbus (Long Live Columbus). The cantors did another great piece which sounded almost like a Negro spiritual – Mi Ya’aleh (Psalm 24) – written by local composer Norma Brooks. The children’s choir sang Children of Freedom by Beth Schafer, with the last verse signed. The big finale was God Bless America, sung first in Yiddish by the children, and then with everyone, including the audience, singing in English. I don’t think there was a dry eye at the conclusion.

I don’t think anyone had anticipated what would happen at the end as 700 people tried to meet up with the other parts of their families. It was actually a little scary for the children.

But all in all it was a wonderful evening, filling everyone who sang and who listened with a love of being Jewish and a taste of the history of Jews in America.

The best part was that we got to do it all over again on Sunday afternoon. It turned out that the Saturday performance was almost like a dress rehearsal. Sunday was infinitely better – in terms of the music and the logistics. Everyone performed more as a group and there were no lost children at the end.

I hope there is another opportunity to do something like this again before another 50 years go by. It was truly an experience I will never forget!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Making Music at GWU

I went to a music class at George Washington University on Saturday. The class offers an ongoing chance for musicians to get together to play chamber music. The professor, Jessica Krash, has been the liason in making this happen for over 10 years now.

Prior to the class I played a piano 4-hand piece, one of the Brahms Liebeslieder (love songs), just so Jessica could get an idea of my level of competence. I guarantee it is on the low side of this group! But she was very supportive, and interestingly enough, after I played, she said, “Are you left-handed?” She could tell just by the way I held my left hand!

So the plan for me right now is to work with Ken, a work colleague who has been participating in this class for some time, to learn the first several Liebeslieder. Jessica will scout out vocalists to do the 4-part songs. Should be challenging and fun!

The first piece on the morning’s program was Telemann’s Cantata No. 13 “Seele, Lerne Dich Erkennen” (O Soul, Cease Thy Vain Demanding), including harpsichord, recorder, cello, and soprano voice. This is an interesting piece, intended to be played in a home setting in the Lenten season. It is based on text from First Corinthians 13, which says that the deeds of man are pathetic compared to the works of God. We had a thought-provoking discussion about how Telemann conveyed a realm of feelings in the voice of the various instruments.

The second piece was a group of 6 songs by Spohr, another German composer. These songs were written for piano, clarinet, and soprano voice. We actually found many of the same motifs in these songs as in the Telemann piece.

Both pieces were played flawlessly on beautiful instruments. These musicians are all extremely competent. Which of course leaves me wondering if this is all out of my league? I’m not ready to make that call yet. I’ll wait to see how the Liebeslieder progress. If I can pull this off, it will be an excellent opportunity for me to finally learn how to play in public, something I have always been too unconfident to do. We’ll see...

Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy some inexpensive concert-quality chamber music from the others in the group.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I Am Jewish...

The last words of Daniel Pearl were: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.” Then his captors cut off his head.

I recently attended a Havdalah service which focused on the book I Am Jewish, published by his family to commemorate his life and senseless and cruel death. The service was planned and organized by a grandmother. Four persons – the organizer, her 10-year-old granddaughter, and two men – read selected contributions from a wide variety of people who talked about being Jewish – people from Theodore Bikel to Thomas Friedman to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to children with names we never heard of. The service was moving and inspiring.

I found myself asking just what I would say about being Jewish. I am Jewish by choice, not by birth. This means that I made a conscious decision to leave my religion of birth and adopt Judaism from the various choices of religion. What prompted me to do anything about religion? I was contemplating marriage and had a strong feeling that a family needed one and only one religion. I went to two rounds of “Introduction to Judaism” classes and determined that this was a religion that spoke to my beliefs and spiritual needs. In addition, my husband-to-be was already Jewish. At that time I actually knew very little about Judaism. The tunes to which some of the prayers were sung were starting to sound familiar, but Hebrew was still a very foreign language. The home rituals were not at all comfortable since I had not grown up with them. There were new things like the menorah, but my days with Christmas trees were gone.

Now, 32 years later, I find that I have been Jewish more than half my life. Although I sent my children to religious school, I did not fully embrace Judaism until I joined Temple Micah 4 years ago. Since that time I have learned to love the music, the ritual, the endless debate, the social conscience inspired by my wonderful rabbi and congregation, and the food – yes, the food: the gefilte fish, the matzoh balls, even the passover sponge cake that I have never learned how to make. As I look to my own bat mitzvah, I realize how comfortable I finally feel with this religion. I no longer feel I have to apologize for the fact that I was not born into Judaism, but instead adopted it.

Judaism offers me the chance to practice a religion that frees my mind to think instead of shackling it into conformity, that continually challenges me to determine the moral choice in a situation, and that connects me to a community that accepts my love of this religion with no need to see my passport. For these things I am grateful.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What's in a Name?

I recently spent a long weekend with my childhood friend Freddie Lee. I found myself being introduced as “Barbie”, a name I grew up with but had come to loathe upon the birth of that doll with the same name. But then I realized that my friend was not known to her Florida friends by Freddie Lee, but she was now “Fredericka”, a much more grown-up version of her old name. We quickly realized that it would be impossible to think of each other in new names and that the old ones would just have to do.

A similar thing had happened many years ago with my husband, now David, who when I met him was simply Dave, a “cooler” version of his name which he had adopted after college. At some point around the time we were getting married, he informed me that he really preferred David. I found that it is very hard to unlearn a name!

Then there is R, who was born with a good Jewish name Rebecca, was called Becky by her family, and then in one of her initiation ceremonies adopted the name R.

I guess many of us are given sophisticated names that just don’t work for children. So we use diminutive versions of those names with an “ie” or a “y” at the end. But then when we are adults those names no longer fit. We’re still the same persons under whatever name. It’s just that we have to always remember which name to associate with our various friends, relatives, and professional and social acquaintances.

The interesting thing is what name we give ourselves. It probably doesn’t matter and doesn’t say a thing about our psychological health. But it is something to think about...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Working on My Core

For the past year I have been searching for ways to release my tight hips, quads, hamstrings – all those things that seem to atrophy over time and are not helped by the fact that I sit at a desk all day. Maybe the real solution is to retire and not sit at a desk all day any more, something to which I am giving serious thought.

But meanwhile, I have tried yoga, massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, regular exercise, and probably some other things that I have forgotten to mention. I dropped the acupuncture because it was expensive and my insurance refused to cover any part of it. I am still doing the others, most of which come with a recommendation for daily practice. I think I could spend hours each day just doing these various exercises.

So what did I do today? I added yet one more type of therapy – pilates. A little history:

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. His determination and drive to overcome those ailments led to the study of both Eastern and Western forms of exercise: including yoga, zen, ancient Grecian and Roman regimens. He took them one step further by combining skills with his knowledge of exercise and anatomy, to design apparatus geared specifically to his philosophy.

Joseph Pilates - the name is of Greek origin - brought his revolutionary method of physical and mental conditioning to the United States in the early twenties. His studio in New York City caught the attention of the dance community - and Pilates technique became an integral part of dance training. Such legends of dance as Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Hanya Holm and Jerome Robbins, have all practiced Pilates and taught it to their students. Pilates felt that his work was probably about fifty years ahead of its time, and although his name is not yet a household word, people from all walks of life are discovering and choosing the Pilates technique as their fitness program. Hospitals and physical therapy centres worldwide are using Pilates to rehabilitate injured athletes and dancers. Many athletes - even football players - now incorporate Pilates into their training. Pilates-based fitness studios are teaching the technique to an increasing number of ordinary people who are tired of the "pumping iron" atmosphere of conventional gyms and aerobic dancing studios.

My friend Mary is married to a mild-mannered Austrian man Chris, who recently became certified as a pilates instructor. He is probably about 65 years old. He swears by pilates because he has recovered his own mobility through these exercises over the past few years. He is currently the picture of health and strength. He has a wonderful room in the lower level of their house which he uses as his pilates studio. It is full of strange looking machines, with names like “The Reformer”.

My first lesson was free – just to see if I would like it. It featured more exercises than I can count. I never broke a sweat and nothing was overwhelmingly difficult today. Chris repeatedly urged me to remember the hypothetical “rock” weighting down my belly – meaning to draw the strength from my abdomen.

After the hour, I could definitely see that this was something that would be good for me for many reasons. And, contrary to my recent tap dancing fiasco, I think there is a good chance that I can be successful with pilates. So I will meet with Chris once a week for an hour of pilates.

At this point, I will need to pick and choose which exercises to do each day because I don’t have 3 hours to work out, not if I am going to do work that pays me a salary.

Just one more stop on the path to healthfulness...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why Am I Not Sick?... Reprise

This is round 2 of the cold-flu season... or maybe it’s round 34. I don’t really know. I just know that once again people all around me are droppin’ like flies – sneezing, sniffling, coughing, putting germs by the thousands into the air we breathe.

As I realized that the deja vu was happening again, I went to Marie and bought another couple of little bottles of IMMUNE UP, that wonderful aromatic oil that smells like a dense dark old forest. This time I bought a bottle for myself and one for David – his and hers. Every time I was around one of those ill people – Mollie, Doug, Bill – I came home and quickly applied IMMUNE UP to the tip of my nostrils. And it seemed to be working.

I was doing OK until last night when my little bottle of IMMUNE UP fell onto the tile floor and smashed into a thousand pieces, leaving behind a pool of dark forest smell that even the dogs were afraid of. I thought that maybe this was a sign that I was powerless against the current cruddy germs. Rebecca’s take on this was that sometimes your body just has to do a honkin’ cleanse and there may not be anything you can do about it!

As the night wore on, I got a dull headache and I was fairly sure a cold was coming on. I had expropriated David’s bottle of IMMUNE UP, but I was still hovering on that brink between being sick and being well – just on a precipice. When I woke up today with a sore throat, I decided it was time for more drastic measures. First of all, I would call in sick today – something I haven’t done in probably 10 years because I am virtually never sick. I also cancelled my allergist appointment and my pilates instruction. This is all a big departure from my usual approach to illness, which is more like denial until I drop. What a novel idea, a day of doing nothing! I liked that thought.

But before I could really begin to do nothing, I made a trip to Whole Foods to buy the ingredients for a monster batch of chicken soup – the Jewish penicillin. I bought a whole free-range chicken, a bunch of dill, a piece of fresh ginger, onions, carrots, celery, leeks, parsnips, broccoli. I also chose random homeopathic remedies – little pills that naturally boost the immune system and other little pills that deal with cold symptoms. And I bought Gypsy Cold Tea, whatever that is.

Within a half hour of taking the Ecinacea my throat was no longer sore. The smell of the bubbling chicken soup was like an elixir. I leisurely read my e-mail and prepared for a day of putting my feet up with a good book, while the snow fell outside. For people like me who overbook every day, a whole day of free time is a rarity, but it was so obvious that my body was screaming out for just this. It’s too bad when it takes a sore throat to convey the need to slow down.

It’s still unclear whether or not I am going to get sick really. But strangely enough I don’t even feel guilty for staying home one way or the other. It just feels like the right thing to do. Maybe I am winning more than just the battle against a lurking learing cold...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Singing at Strathmore Hall

I already had plans for March 19 – my season subscription to the Dumbarton Concert series with Mollie and Ruth. Besides I didn’t even like some of the music when we rehearsed it at Temple Micah. I somewhat reluctantly went to my one and only group rehearsal for the upcoming concert on March 19, and now March 20, at the brand new Strathmore Hall in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of Jews in America.

From the minute I entered the sanctuary at Addis Israel today and saw the sea of singers from 27 different congregations, I knew this was going to be a special experience that I could not miss for any reason, not even for a concert of chamber music. We are singing a wide variety of music from Benjie Schiller’s Psalm 150 (in Hebrew) to Leben Soll Columbus (Long Live Columbus in Yiddish) to Irving Berlin’s Give Me Your Tired Your Poor to the grand finale of God Bless America, first sung in Yiddish by the children’s choir. Each piece of music features soloists from among the stellar cantors from the various congregations. I came away even liking the one piece that I thought was so terrible prior to the rehearsal.

At the conclusion of each piece during the rehearsal, the singers actually applauded because it sounded so good and it was so much fun to sing. It’s hard to realize now that the organizers were afraid that they might have to cancel if they couldn’t break even on ticket sales. Little did they know that they would not only sell out the first night, but that they would have to add a second performance the next day. Marvin Kalb is the MC for the evening and actually had to rearrange his busy schedule to accommodate the second performance.

What better way to meet other Jews from the metropolitan area while making beautiful music and having lots of fun. Singing is really good for the soul!

Stay tuned for a report on how the concerts go...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sitting Anywhere

Last night Thich Nhat Hahn tried to convince us that meditation was portable – that is, you don’t need to be in a special room or with a designated group of people to meditate. He mentioned sitting for hours in a busy airport on the floor while waiting for a delayed plane. This makes a tremendous amount of sense, given the escalation of stress that something like a flight delay causes.

As I near my actual retirement from the Federal Government, I find myself sitting in meetings that seem more and more absurd. Yesterday one person talked about having a staff of 60 contractors ready to do a job that doesn’t even yet exist! My temptation is to mouth off – just say whatever comes to mind – like “That really sounds fucked up!” or “What a stupid use of the taxpayer’s money!” Both of which are often true, but usually unstated.

Now I have a much more sane way to deal with my emotional reactions to things like this – one that may make me seem more saintly than witch-ly or bitch-ly (if those are words). I can just sit there and concentrate on my breath – in CALM, out MALICIOUS UNPRODUCTIVE THOUGHT, over and over and over again until the meeting is adjourned. I’m sure this will be a lot more pleasant for those around me and probably for me also...

I Confess... I'm Addicted

To Starbucks skim lattes. Guess it could be worse...

A couple of months ago I stopped into a Starbucks and bought a short skim latte. First of all, Starbucks doesn’t even advertize that they have SHORT anythings, but they do! I think it just means that you pay more per ounce and get less milk, but it sounded like the most economical thing to do. It was so cold outside at the time. And the hot foamy espresso really tasted so good. Besides I get high just on the smell of caffeine in any Starbucks. So I savored my latte.

Then a few days later I had another. Well, now it has become a daily treat on the way to work. I’m still sticking to SHORT skim lattes. I now have a Starbucks card that works like a debit card. I no longer have to count out the 59 cents (plus $2 of course) each time.

I used to deride those people who depended on their Starbucks fix to prime them for the day. Now I have joined them. I even find myself thinking about my latte during the final minutes of my mindful meditation on Monday and Friday mornings. That’s a big departure from focusing on breathing.

So am I looking for a way to stop? I don’t think so. At my place in life, I think I deserve to look forward to a daily latte. Besides, I just heard that the Japanese did a huge study that showed that drinking coffee daily greatly reduces the incidence of liver and colon cancer. So there! You can take your 12-step path to decaf and stuff it!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Evolution of Seder Art

The thought of a passover seder
And my preoccupation with the symbolics
Has gotten me to thinking about creating
Something that breathes light through color
To illuminate those special things:

The lamb shank bone, the egg, the parley,
the bitter herbs, the salt water, the charoset.

It started as a window mandala
That looked something like a huge bubble wand
Poised for someone’s breath and
Shimmering with color –
A stained glass window, so to speak.

But then I realized that by the time we celebrate
The sun will have set and the window will be dark.

So the bubble popped and morphed itself
Into small-plate-sized plexiglass disks
That rolled down the middle of the table
Stopping like frisbees suspended in flight
At appropriate places.

But how would they stand up and
Not just flop into someone’s matzoh ball soup?
Half an apple with a slit in the top?

The disks were already in motion again
Joining up in threes to ring-around-the-rosie
With a candle in the middle. This would solve
The problems of stability and light and
Even double as the table centerpieces.

So how do we make them? Sounds so simple
Just 7" disks of plexiglass. But nobody has them
And the price is outrageous until I find Jose
At Home Depot who will cut anything I want and
Seems delighted that I can speak to him in Spanish!

And how do we decorate them? An art store says
The answer is acrylic paint. What about a collage of
Tissue paper in the colors of the rainbow? Just cut out
The shapes and stick them on with that great card glue.
Anything that lets light through will do just fine.

Who will make this happen? Anyone who wants to
Create and experiment. Anyone who loves color and light.
Anyone who wants to ponder how those things came to be
The special symbols of this special holiday
Which marks the Jews passage out of Egypt so long ago...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Passover Seder

We’re having a seder at our house this year. Some of my favorite people are coming: Rachel, Michael and Linda and their three children, Rebecca, Kris and Bill, Florence, Nancy, Peg, and Paul. Even though David will lead the seder, I want everyone to contribute in some way. I suggested that David throw out something for people to think about ahead of time. After all, this is a thinking crowd who are not shy about sharing their opinions. I want it to be more than just ticking off pages that mean we can finally eat.

We may buy new haggadahs because our old traditional ones are awful. I want one with nice pictures, thoughtful readings, minimal Hebrew, lots of music. Not too long, but with lots of things to think about.

I would also like to do something artsy for this seder. I’ve been thinking how special the passover symbols are – the ones that adorn the seder plate: the lamb shank bone, the egg, the horseradish root, the parsley, the charoset. I came up with the idea of painting small plexiglass circles to represent these various symbols. Another possibility is to use layers of colored tissue paper afixed with glue. Maybe the artists like Rachel, Rebecca, and Kira can do this. I think it will be fun and they will make great table decorations. I just need to figure out what to use for a base – maybe a slit in half an apple? A better idea might be to put three of the circles together in a triangular shape and put a candle inside them.

I want to make sure we think about music ahead of time. We always get to the songs and no one can remember how they go, so we just skip them. There is some good passover music. It would really be fun to find a duet or two. But that would mean that I would have to talk someone else into playing with me. Maybe Kira?

As for food, I will definitely make gefilte fish with some very hot, very red horseradish. We must have matzoh ball soup. My matzoh balls are iffy, so maybe someone else will volunteer to make matzoh balls. Rachel is good at this; maybe she will make them. There are unlimited possibilities for main dish and vegetables. Maybe something out of the ordinary. But it must be able to be prepared ahead of time so I don’t get stuck in the kitchen cooking during the reading part. Maybe we will offer people choices: roast lamb and roast chicken, sweet wine and good red wine. As for desserts, Florence is bringing a nut cake. I really suck at making passover desserts, so I hope someone else offers. Otherwise, we will be eating my sponge cake that tastes like shoe leather.

We no longer have any little children in this crowd and the ante for finding the afikomen is definitely no longer a dollar. It looks like Lizzy at age 16 is the youngest and will get to ask the four questions.

I really like having things like this to look forward to. Passover is a great holiday with great food and a story with a happy ending. Just like I like it...