Saturday, December 31, 2005

On Becoming a Drama Queen

I’ve never been one to tell stories about my life to any great degree – perhaps because there aren’t too many remarkable things to tell. But as I approach this very strange period of isolation in just 10 days, I find myself almost delighting in describing the room, the bizarre process, and all the rules aimed at killing off a particular group of cells in my body.

As we sat around the dinner table with friends last night, after gorging ourselves on multiple kinds of latkes and brisket, I started relating a story that was reminiscent of an I Love Lucy episode. I described 24 hours of being awakened by my alarm clock every 90 minutes to suck on lemon candy to stimulate my salivary glands, drinking prodigious quantities of water, and then getting up from my plastic-covered bed to pee and shower in an effort to shed the excess radiation. ALL BY MYSELF, since no one will be allowed in. God, this sounds scary once again this morning, but last night it almost seemed comical in its unreality.

Then I described going home and keeping real boundaries from every living thing – well maybe not bugs! But my husband and my dogs and God-forbid a pregnant woman should enter our house. Because I will be off limits to humanity until I quit glowing. But this story too became comical in its absurdity.

When someone asked why I didn’t just talk to another person who had been through this, my first thought (to myself) was, “Why in the world would I really want to know the truth? It’s so much more fun to just speculate and laugh about it.” I mean, maybe I would find out that the plastic covering in the room is imperceptible. Maybe I would find out that they serve you gourmet food and lots of wine in the hospital (probably not the case.) Maybe I would find out that there is nothing to be afraid of. But then, maybe I would find out that it is truly AWFUL. I think I just don’t want to know, even though this is the logical thing to do.

So meanwhile, the story gets more dramatic in every retelling – that is, the telling of what I think will be the story. They had better let me bring in my laptop so I can write in between lemon candy and showers because I do want to tell the truth someday. For now, I am just content with playing the drama queen.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ajit Is My Hero

Here is the text of an e-mail message I wrote to Capitol Hill Yoga yesterday:

I have been plaqued forever with a strange gait caused by a slightly shorter right leg and a slight scoliosis. It seems to be more pronounced as I get older. In the last 10 days I have had considerable hip pain that I know is related to the way I walk.

I came to yoga today (to Ajit's class) to find that I was his only student. When he did the usual inquiry for aches and pains, I explained all this to him. He brilliantly developed a class just for me that focused on teaching me how to walk -- imagine that at almost 57! We did lots of hamstring stretching and hip openers and then I walked repeatedly around the room, learning just what it was that was causing me pain and imbalance.

As I have walked today at work, I have been aware of all the things he told me to look out for. When I do it right, my legs feel strong and I feel much more stable. What an unexpected payoff from early morning yoga!

I have been to countless doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, you name it. But never has anyone attempted to TEACH me how to walk correctly. I am happy to say that I am pain-free right now and I am so delighted.

If Ajit's class is ever threatened with cancellation or if he isn't getting paid what he should be because of low enrollment, I will most happily subsidize because he really knows what he is doing!


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Getting Ready to Glow

Yesterday I spent all day feeling so afraid that I couldn’t even write. All I wanted to do was go to sleep.

Last year I had half my thyroid removed with papillary cancer. Recently I had the remaining half removed, this time with no malignancy. However, I have to follow this up with a radioactive iodine treatment to make sure all thyroid cells and potential cancer cells are destroyed.

In preparation for this procedure, I must be on a special low-iodine diet and must discontinue taking Synthroid, the artificial substitute for thyroid hormone which I take because my body no longer has the capacity to manufacture this necessary hormone. You cannot believe all the foods that contain iodine: most regular table salt, all dairy products, soy products, all processed foods, potato skins. So the general rule of thumb is that if I didn’t cook it, I can’t eat it. The diet, as much as I have complained about it, is simply an annoyance, and one that I am learning to live with. The good news is that I am saving a lot of money at Starbucks because lattes are out! But because of the lack of thyroid hormone, I may experience extreme lethargy after my body realizes what it is missing.

So how does this treatment work? On January 9, I simply take a little pill of liquid radiation. Sounds simple enough. But I met with a doctor in the Nuclear Medicine Department of Washington Hospital Center today to go over the details of the schedule for this procedure and to hear all the possible side effects and I was really CREEPED OUT by the whole thing.

First of all, the NM Department at WHC is hidden in the bowels of the hospital on an isolated corridor that ends with this office. After we went over all the pre-scan rules and procedures – no solid food here, no liquids there, etc. – we got to the actual event. After I pop this little pill on January 9, I will be put in a room in isolation for at least 24 hours. When I asked what this room might be like, hoping for an Internet hookup, the doctor described it as covered in plastic, in case it became contaminated during my stay. That was the first time I audibly gulped. She went on to say that no one would be permitted into this room for the entire 24-hour period. I picture my food being slipped through a little hole in the door if someone remembers to feed me. My job will be to get rid of all the excess radioactivity that my body doesn’t need during my time in solitary confinement. I will need to suck on lemon candy around the clock to stimulate my salivary glands. She actually told me to bring an alarm clock to wake myself up every 90 minutes. I will need to drink large quantities of water. I will need to shower completely every 6 hours because radioactivity escapes even through your pores.

When my numbers go down sufficiently, they will let me go home. But it doesn’t end there. I will need to drive myself home. I can’t be within 3 feet of any living thing, including my dogs, for up to 5 days. I must use disposable products for all food and beverages. I must flush the toilet twice each time I use it. I must wash my linens when this period is over. I definitely can’t sleep with my husband!

And then we moved on to the possible side effects, most of which should be short-term:
– Altered taste sensation
– Tingling
– Body temperature fluctuations
– Nausea
– Decrease in blood count
– Lymphoma YIKES! This was the second big gulp. It turns out that it is only possible for people repeating this process, but just the mention was enough to freak me out!

There was no sympathy for my feeble attempts to say I’M SCARED AS HELL ABOUT THIS WHOLE THING!

As much as I tell myself,
– Be glad that your hair won’t fall out,
– There must have been thousands of people who have lived through this just fine,
– It will be over in just 3 weeks,

I was still feeling really worried about the upcoming events. I went home and wanted to just curl up in a little ball and go to sleep. My wonderful family – those people who had seemed so dysfunctional just 3 days ago – wouldn’t let that happen. They forced me to talk about all of this. My husband, in his typical fashion, went into research mode to determine the frequencies of the various side effects and to fill in the still-missing details of this bizarre chain of events. Everyone was pleasant to everyone else. I finally did go to sleep and I slipped immediately into a profound sleep.

As a friend reminded me, "The morning is more clever than the evening." I woke up rested and determined to focus on the end of this process and not everything leading up to the end. It will soon be just another thing that I dreaded that probably doesn’t turn out to be as bad as I have envisioned.

Monday, December 26, 2005

All in the Family

I was reminded today of “All in the Family”, a show long off the air that we faithfully watched each week when I was growing up. Although I hope I’m not as dumb as Edith and my husband is not as bigoted as Archie, the dynamic of our family this morning seemed remarkably similar to that of the contentious Bunker household.

When my children come home for a visit, there is always this period of calm at the beginning of their visit, where everyone is polite and interested in each other and after a day or so it disintegrates and everyone is getting on each other’s nerves. Here are some excerpts from the morning’s conversations:

I was up early to make an apple pie for this evening’s guests since if I don’t make it these days, I can’t eat it because of the FUCKING diet I am on for the next 3 weeks. We had a flood in the basement on Christmas day caused by a leaking humidifier. So I had also taken it upon myself to call the heating guy and a rug cleaning company to deal with our soggy basement rug. Well, the rug people sent some little Hispanic guys right over and as they were preceding to get in the door, my husband showed up in his bathrobe and unleashed our ferocious sounding dog, who is really harmless but who put a look of absolute panic on the Hispanic guys’ faces. Meanwhile, he gave me a glare and said, “What’s all the racket? You know our children are trying to sleep!” Our children, who never get up before 12 noon! For crying out loud, couldn’t he have said, “It’s really great that (for once) you took the initiative to deal with a home repair instead of leaving it for me”? Neither of us can fix much of anything that breaks in this house, so we end up paying people to deal with our problems. He went back to bed as the wet-vac kicked in. Soon thereafter they hauled off the rugs and I put my pie in the oven.

A little while later, my daughter R asked if I had any exercise pants she could wear to the gym. I offered her shorts, wondering if I would ever again see anything that went into her room, as most things I have loaned in the past ended up in Boston.
R: No, how about something longer?
B: How about these pants I use for yoga and pilates? They come down to your ankles. But only if you promise to give them back (since I only have one pair.)
R: Did you really have to say that? You have been on edge all morning. I heard you yelling at Dad.
B: You don’t know the whole story.

As I am getting ready to brave the post-Christmas shopping hordes, my daughter once again appears downstairs.
R: What in the hell is D (her brother) doing in the shower? He must have gotten 4 showers already today!
B: Don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?
After screaming unsuccessfully at the closed bathroom door with the exhaust fan running, she stomps upstairs.

D soon thereafter appears dripping wet in a towel.
D: Why don’t we EVER have any hot water?
B to my husband: Probably because he keeps using it all up.
D: What did you say?

As I write, my daughter and her friend are painting large canvas wall hangings in permanent fabric dye on our good tiled table in the family room. I offered a couple of pieces of advice aimed at avoiding permanent black remnants from this project. She glared at me and basically said, “Do you think we didn’t know that?”

We are probably no more dysfunctional than the ordinary family, but all of this morning’s interactions conjured up that old show where everyone was always yelling at everyone else. Many of you probably were too young to watch “All in the Family,” but for those of you who do remember that show, here are the lyrics from the theme song, which I have been singing to myself all day:

"Boy, the way Glen Miller played. Songs that made the Hit Parade. Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days! Didn't need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight Gee, our old LaSalle (a car) ran great. Those were the days! And you knew where you were then! Girls were girls and men were men. Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again. People seemed to be content. Fifty dollars paid the rent. Freaks were in a circus tent. Those were the days! Take a little Sunday spin, go to watch the Dodgers win. Have yourself a dandy day that cost you under a fin (five dollar bill). Hair was short and skirts were long. Kate Smith really sold a song. I don't know just what went wrong! Those Were the Days!"

Light One Star-of-David Candle?

As we were preparing to light the first candle of Hanukkah last night, my friend Linda handed us all these weird little glasses she had gotten from her mother-in-law in the 70's and told us to put them on. I did as I was told and how the world changed. Every point of light became a Star-of-David. We looked out the window at the Christmas lights of the neighborhood and all of a sudden they became a sea of Stars-of-David in the night sky. We found that if you tilted your head back and forth, they began to dance. If you put the glasses at an angle, the stars elongated. The only thing that would have been more cool would have been to be high!

We lit that first night candle, sang the traditional songs with noone remembering the third verse that you are supposed to sing on the first night, and continued to shake our heads in amazement as the Hanukkah lights took on a whole new look this year.

Hell, we don’t need rose-colored-glasses. We have something better – ours put stars in your eyes!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

What Do Jews and Asians Have in Common?

Christmas Day dinner. We went to Fortune with our friends and neighbors, as we have for as many years as I can remember. Fortune is a HUGE Chinese restaurant that seats probably 400 people. When we arrived at noon, the wait for a table of 8 was 40 minutes. The sea of faces were mostly Asian, interspersed by Jewish families.

The lunchtime menu is dim sum. Cart after cart comes by, pushed by small oriental women who are barely understandable. My challenge today was to find something to eat, since I am on a low-iodine diet. This means no shellfish and no soy sauce. That cuts out 90% of what I normally eat at Fortune. I realized how different everything tasted without soy sauce.

It’s hard to spend more than $10 per person on dim sum. Sure enough, when the check came it was $80 for our whole table. We were totally stuffed on dumplings, pork buns, duck, broccoli, and pineapple buns as we headed off to see The Family Stone, following another Christmas Day tradition.

Fearless Freedom

Yesterday as I was getting ready to go have drinks with a special friend, I reached for a couple of bottles of essential oils to dab a little scent on my wrists. I immediately went for FEARLESS because I have been using it for a couple of months and I have been so unbelievably brave. Then another bottle just literally fell into my teacup, which was positioned under the shelf. Fortunately it didn’t break. But when I looked to see what it was, I found FREEDOM. It was a new bottle, unopened. I had no recollection of where it had come from – absolutely none. Then I thought to myself what a nice ring FEARLESS FREEDOM had to it. Why not?

I shook a couple of drops onto each wrist, rubbed them together, and they smelled mysteriously wonderful as I headed off to Dupont to hang out at Kramerbooks on Christmas Eve afternoon. As I was chortling over John Stewart’s “America: The Book”, my friend showed up. While we were sipping wine and gobbling up some early dinner, I happened to mention the oils intrigue, asking her if by chance she had given me FREEDOM. She said no, but that FEARLESS FREEDOM so aptly described my unbridled brave new world attitude toward life. She also reminded me of how well this describes my liberation from a health issue of 20 years as I complete a final purge of an old problem from my body forever in a couple of weeks. Guess I’ll never know the source of that little bottle, but I like it oh so much!

Let there be a lot of FEARLESS FREEDOM in my 2006.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Flowers for the Dead

I had to go back out into the suburban ghetto where I work this morning to finish resolving the problem I talked about yesterday. As I was getting ready to turn into the Federal complex that dominates Suitland, I spotted a big display of little Christmas plastic flower decorations. How utterly tacky was my first thought. But a more sobering realization was that they were intended to be placed on graves. So many people have been killed in this community in the last few years that there is now a market for tacky gravesite flowers.

This is half a block from the intersection where my friend Tondrea was mowed down by a hit-and-run driver just two weeks ago in broad daylight. It now appears that this was no accident, but instead it was murder. She was to testify the following day in a trial of those accused of shooting and paralyzing her 19-year-old daughter last summer. This is how they take care of witnesses in Suitland – just do away with them and pretend there was no crime.

I turned into the iron-fenced complex, glad that there was such a boundary between me and the chaos that exists everywhere else in that neighborhood.

On Thursday I had deposited $250 collected from coworkers in a fund set up to assist the children that Tondrea left behind. I can now imagine them spending that money on plastic flowers to keep the memory of their mother alive.

Friday, December 23, 2005

More Holiday Spirit

This day just didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned that it would. I was planning to go into work and spend the morning writing up juicy awards for my staff, since the government lacks the concept of an end-of-the-year bonus. All of them are really good with one exception and deserve every extra dollar I can pass on. Then I was going to spend some time online at lunchtime and look for a message about an early dismissal.

Instead the problems created by my one exception hit me smack in the face and I spent literally all day, even working through lunch, trying to sort them out. In fact, I couldn’t even leave when the Secretary of Commerce so graciously gave us 2 hours off. Now that really SUCKS when you can’t take advantage of the rare early out. As much as I might like to discipline this employee who screwed up my day, I feel guilty every time I chastise him because he has so many serious health issues that it is amazing he is still working. So I finally left with the problems still unsolved, wished him a Merry Christmas, and decided to stop by Whole Foods (in Ballston) to pick up the ingredients for some soothing chicken soup, hoping that would put me in a better mood to approach a 3-day weekend.

I figured that with two days until Christmas, the store wouldn’t yet be a zoo. I should have known when the parking lot was full that this was a bad idea and just packed it in. Oh no, instead I parked in a lot across the street and determined that I would just zip in and out despite the crowd, quickly finding the dozen items I needed.

I don’t know when I have seen that store so packed. At one point, four of us shoppers were facing each other, much like at a 4-way stop where nobody knows who has the right of way. I found myself getting angry at a lady with a baby in a stroller who was just lolling down the aisle, but not permitting anyone to pass. There were no packages of chicken parts in the case – since when does turkey totally preempt chicken? So I waited while some junior butcher cut up a chicken for me. The crowds around every sampling station were unprecedented.

I finally did it. I made it to the checkout area, paid, and lugged my two very heavy bags of groceries to the car. I truly hope I can avoid that store until this madness is over.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All in the Holiday Spirit

I think the holiday spirit is turning nasty in some of DC’s drivers. As I was making the long trek from my therapist Kathryn’s today to work southeast of the city, I was on Macarthur Boulevard stopped behind a bus and waiting while someone who had gotten off the bus crossed at a crosswalk. All of a sudden the guy behind me started honking his horn furiously. What was I supposed to do? Run down the pedestrian in the crosswalk? Last time I looked, she had the right of way!

As the woman made it across our lane and the bus pulled off, I started up also and this idiot in a large black BMW zoomed around my car. I just couldn’t resist the urge to give him the finger. I would never do that in the area where I work because people are shot for much less than that in broad daylight, but he didn’t exactly look like the NRA type. It was rush hour with that give and take of lanes, so I soon ended up passing him and he returned the finger with great glee. How very childish of us both! But there are times when it feels so good to do it. By the time he reciprocated, I was tired of playing the game. We continued to stay more or less together as far as the Tidal Basin, with all of his valiant efforts to change lanes not paying off at all.

Here’s my advice: If you ever see a big black BMW with Maryland license number MCV582, either give him the finger or honk your horn, but definitely do NOT cross the street in front of him... at least not until the holidays are over.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Meet-Up of Old Friends

That’s what it felt like – the Weblogger Meetup at Pharoah’s in Adams Morgan tonight. I realized how very much I already knew about the people I met tonight. Even though I had never seen them before, I had the basics down. But what was really weird was that I felt I had known them forever.

What was very interesting was comparing actual faces to those I had envisioned. I like the real ones much better.

It was not such a large group and we actually sat down, as opposed to the last happy hour where it seemed like everyone stood up the entire time. There was a friendly, cute bartender, who we all agreed had cute hair. One person there had reason to know more about him than the rest of us – think, think, think – who writes about a bartender?

We had an interesting conversation about what we can’t say in our Blogs because we know certain people are reading. It’s almost as though each of us needs a private Blog to pour that part of our hearts into. But then half the fun of Blogging turns out to be the sharing, not just the journaling. It’s a dilemma.

There are lots of ideas for future meetings –
– A girls’ lunch with real napkins
– A Blogger weekend sleepover in a fancy hotel with lots of opportunity for being online. Wouldn’t this just be a BLAST? And I think I don’t get enough sleep now! Maybe Cube will be the keynote speaker...

Thanks to the gentleman Blogger who bought all the women roses. I will look at my pink rose as it opens and remember how very much fun tonight was. My Blogger family is growing!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Tricky Relationship of Sex and Love

For most of us, making sense of how sex and love fit together is a lifelong challenge – sex originating from some animal urge and love coming from our hearts. Sustaining a relationship requires a sometimes precarious balance of the two, with too much -- or too little -- of either sounding a death knell.

When I was quite a bit younger, I remember the feeling that would often come over me as I lusted after someone – almost like a horse champing at the bit to be released from the gate. Sometimes it materialized in a sexual connection (I think it’s called hooking up today, according to my daughter), but many times it was just a feeling that never came to fruition. Those instances of sex, as exciting as they might have been, resulted in a vast feeling of emptiness after it was over.

I can remember a lot of relationships that ended because sex and love were just not in sync. I rejected one person because he emitted a strange unpleasant odor when we were making out. There was another person who just got too carried away and forceful when kissing. There was a guy who rejected me because he just wasn’t ready for anything to do with love. He was the same one who gave me a copy of the Magus with the inscription “I hope this opens some doors that may not have been opened yet.” And in contrast there was a guy who drove all the way from VMI to FSU to confess his undying love for me when we were seniors. As hard as it was to send him back north with a “No thanks”, I was simply not in love with him.

At one point, I began to doubt that I would ever find anyone who excited me sexually and honestly loved me – or should I say, where the feeling for both of us was mutual. My relationship with my one and only husband started in the most ordinary way. We worked together for two years. One day at lunch he suggested that we go to a baseball game with two other people. Was it a date? I didn’t even know. I brought money to pay just in case. I slept on his couch because he lived closer to Baltimore than I did. This was repeated a time or two and then suddenly I found myself in his bedroom. I mean, really, sleeping with your co-worker. That sounds akin to incest. I can’t say that love was there before sex. But we had always liked each other. And I could tell that love was growing.

Here we are 32 years later. We have probably made love in excess of 2,000 times. I must confess that there were times, especially when our children were younger and were more demanding, that it was just sex because I was too tired to think about love. There were times when I faked orgasm, as I am sure everyone has done. There were times when I was thinking about other things while we were having sex. But there were so many times when we both emitted animal noises of pleasure and embraced long after all orgasms were over. It’s those times when you realize just how good it can be when sex and love are in balance.

Some of you are probably saying, “About the last thing in the world I want is to have sex with the same person 2,000 times. That sounds really BORING.” The funny thing is that we are still discovering things about each other while making love – a variation, a dislike (like the incense that made him allergic), something that feels really good. It’s a challenge, but it’s one that’s fun to take on.

The ironic thing about sex and love is their relationship when a couple is attempting pregnancy. First of all, it’s such a 180 degree shift from most of the rest of our active sex life where we are trying to avoid pregnancy. You would think that this would be the absolutely ultimate experience. But if there is any indication of infertility, you become tense and sex becomes a means to an end, with love getting short shrift. I was one of those people who had a lot of difficulty conceiving, with one miscarriage initially. I had virtually given up, ordered the fertility drugs, and was heading out of the country to South Africa the next day on a business trip. I sang in a beautiful concert of chamber music the night before I left, leaving me with such a good feeling of the music swirling around in my head. We came home and made passionate love and then said goodbye and I boarded a plane for a grueling 36-hour trip to Lesotho. This was not even at a time when I should have been fertile, but just as I was about to start taking the fertility drugs, I realized that I was pregnant. Was it the music? Was it the resignation that we had tried and failed? How did this happen? I will never know, but I have a strapping 25-year-old son to prove it.

When I hear of couples who no longer make love, who no longer even sleep in the same bed, I cringe because to me that is the sign of really getting old. I would feel really cheated if my husband were no longer interested in having sex. But there are people who stay together in this situation. I can only think that if they are human, they must both be having affairs on the side.

Oddly enough, one change that has happened for us is that it used to more often than not be my husband who initiated making love. There were many times when I would say, “Let’s do it in the morning. I’m just too tired.” As if sex was an item to be checked off a To Do list. But within the last couple of years, I am often the one suggesting that we just slip between the sheets. And he never says no!

It will be interesting to see what happens as we do grow older. So far, there’s no need for Viagra. One funny story – Over a year ago, I was sure that I was having a lot more difficulty coming to orgasm and I really do like it. So I went to my very cool GYN (who is my age, has a pony tail, and wears clogs). Instead of laughing at me, he very seriously did some blood tests to check my hormone levels and when those turned out just fine, sent me to the Pleasure Chest in Georgetown to buy peppermint oil (although he said that having my husband suck on a Altoid first would do the same thing). Sure enough, soon thereafter my orgasm was back, better than ever. I later learned something that I had never known – an orgasm is not physical, it’s in your head!

So for the moment, love and sex are still both important to me (and I think to my husband). I hope we can continue to find that necessary balance as we move into old age. The connectedness of being one body, one heart, one mind is unequaled in any other part of our lives.

Linda's Raspberry Truffles

Cube’s recent post reminded me that most of my favorite recipes don’t come from The Joy of Cooking or my Moosewood cookbook, but rather from individuals I have encountered throughout my lifetime. These include numerous recipes from my mother, all written in her beautiful Palmer style handwriting. There is the cheese ball recipe from Jean at the FBI – I often say that this is the only good thing I took away from my 3-month stint at the FBI! There are cards and clippings from numerous other people. But some of my favorite recipes – the ones that NEVER fail, come from my friend Linda. She is the kind of person who always follows all the directions and everything she cooks is extraordinary. Her recipes include mustard-dill sauce for smoked salmon, "messy" chicken, and raspberry truffles.

This is the time of the year when I am often looking for something I can turn out as needed. Raspberry truffles are just perfect. I can mix up a double batch and just leave them in the refrigerator, rolling out the little balls as needed for a last-minute present. The best thing about this recipe is that you can always lick your fingers after every new gift box is filled – Yummm...

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
½ cup heavy cream
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup raspberry jam (without seeds)
2 T. chambord
Unsweetened cocoa

Bring the cream to a boil. Stir in the chocolate until it is melted. Add the butter and stir until it is melted. Add the raspberry jam, the chambord, and just a pinch of salt. Chill the truffle mixture for at least 4 hours. Use a teaspoon to scoop out small balls and roll them in cocoa powder. Either let them sit on a cookie sheet for an hour or put them directly into candy paper "cups". Make sure to eat one just to test them out and do, by all means, lick your fingers! Couldn’t be easier.

Every time I eat one of these truffles, I think of my friend Linda, who is truly one of the best cooks I know!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hippo Love

A baby hippopotamus that survived the tsunami waves on the Kenyan coast has formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise, in an animal facility in the port city of Mombassa, officials said.

The hippopotamus, nicknamed Owen and weighing about 300 kilograms (650 pounds), was swept down Sabaki River into the Indian Ocean, then forced back to shore when tsunami waves struck the Kenyan coast on December 26, before wildlife rangers rescued him.

"It is incredible. A-less-than-a-year-old hippo has adopted a male tortoise, about a century old, and the tortoise seems to be very happy with being a 'mother'," ecologist Paula Kahumbu, who is in charge of Lafarge Park, told AFP.

"After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together," the ecologist added. "The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added.

"The hippo is a young baby, he was left at a very tender age and by nature, hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years," he explained.

Performing in the Temple Micah Talent Show

When I first heard about the talent show, I jokingly suggested to Deborah, my 6-foot tall double bass musical partner (and also my doctor), that we should play in it. To my surprise, she agreed. I mean, we are always looking for places to play, especially places where there is no need to be nervous. I neglected to ask who else would be performing.

After she showed up yesterday and lugged her bass into Temple Micah, we realized that the average age of the performers was about 9 years old! Oh well, there would at least be adults in the audience – my husband and their parents. There were a few teenagers thrown in and our rabbi even played the guitar with his son.

Our repertoire included Air d’il Trovatore by Verdi/Bottesini and Allegro by Handel. It was far from perfect, but it was fine. Everyone clapped and we declined the offer of goody bags.

The interesting thing was that Deborah got really nervous. She plays in two orchestras, so I was surprised. But I guess the bass isn’t nearly as exposed as in two pieces for piano - bass. She said next time she would take her beta-blockers. For some reason, my nerves seem to hold up in these situations, especially if I concentrate on the sound instead of the audience. I must say I was a little unnerved when someone took a picture with a flash camera and for a few seconds I couldn’t see the music.

I really love the sound of the piano and bass together. It’s rich and almost haunting. I’m so grateful to have not only Deborah, but also Bill (the NSO guy) to play with.

At the end of the various acts, we had a short Havdalah service to mark the end of Shabbat. What a fitting way to celebrate the diversity of even talent at Temple Micah and to mark the almost-beginning of Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Red Nails That Weren't Meant to Be

The last couple of days I have been noticing some very nice manicures which featured brightly colored polish. I have never had anything other than clear polish or light pink. But I had gotten up my courage to go for red – not a whore-y fire engine red but a deep almost burgundy red.

Shear Shack was a zoo today, with people getting ready for lots of parties. Sophia did my hair and eyebrows in between two color jobs. Then she pawned me off on a shy-looking young girl from Pakistan for my manicure. I carefully picked out just the perfect red while waiting for her to begin the manicure. I should have been a little suspicious when after each step she would ask, “Is OK?” She then told me that she worked part time and was in beauty school the rest of the week. I asked if she had learned to do manicures in beauty school, to which she replied, “Oh no, we just learn that here.” The initial steps were fine and I really love the massage and the hot cloths on my hands. But when she started to apply the perfect red nail polish, things started to fall apart. After each nail, she was using her own nail to remove paint from my cuticle. Five nails in, when she once again asked, “Is good?” I took a look and realized that it was indeed NOT GOOD! My nails looked like a 6-year-old had painted them. I immediately realized how forgiving clear polish is and how perfectly applied red polish must be. The disaster continued when she couldn’t find any polish remover to take off all this ugly color. Finally she found the dregs of remover in a bottle and did her best to get it off. She offered to find someone else to do the red, but by then my heart just wasn’t in it. So instead we settled on a single layer of Top Coat, I paid the bill, and was happy to leave. My young manicurist repeatedly said, “I am so very sorry,” seeing the disappointment on my face, but there are times to just move on and this was one of them.

Two lessons from this beauty attempt: Don’t go on a day when everyone else is going. And make sure if you are getting colored polish to find someone who has passed the manicure test in beauty school already. Better yet, notice some perfectly manicured nails and ask who did them.

The Evolution of Office Crime

When I first started working for the government in the 70s, the big office crime was talking on the phone (I kid you not). At my first job at the FBI, that wasn’t even possible because the only phone in the office was on my boss’s desk. I remember quite distinctly after being there a mere 3 months, accepting another job on that phone while staring at his pudgy clueless face. But then at my new office there was a rule that personal conversations on the phone should be kept to under 5 minutes and if you dared to make a long-distance call, the phone “police” would come around and get you to confess and even suggest that you pay for it. I’m proud of the fact that I maintained a clean phone crime record. One of my more astute bosses once told me that the trick to using the phone was to face away from the door and talk into a corner – then no one could hear what you were talking about. I’ve actually noticed that it’s been years since anyone has mentioned when and how to use the phone for anything.

But then the focus moved to photocopying. At first there was just a big copy center. You had to have a key card to put in the machine that recorded how many copies you made. Cheating was somewhat monitored. When individual offices got their own copy machines, a new set of scrutiny came up because now it was under the nose of your boss and your office mates. The trick was to just put your personal stuff in between official pages and no one was the wiser. But I have noticed that no one cares in the least what you copy these days. And that applies to the FAX machine too. I mean, using the copy machine or the FAX machine is tantamount to going to the bathroom – everyone does it.

Enter the Internet. For years many of us didn’t touch it. Surf the Internet – for what? Why would anyone want to? I was at a dinner party last night where the host mentioned that there is a new name for use of the Internet in the office for personal matters. I can’t remember the word he threw out. The only word that came to mind was “GUILTY”! I try not even to look at the screens of my employees because more often than not I would probably see some Internet page. It’s just becoming a fact of life. And the truth is that we are using the Internet and Intranet as an official way of communicating with people these days.

I always maintained that the most important thing was getting my job done, not the little ways that I chose to take an occasional break. So instead of going out to the “butt-hut” to smoke periodically, I just go online. It’s a lot better for my health and I’m not freezing my buns off. I just keep waiting for the Internet police to approach me and suggest how many times I logged onto Blogger in the past month. Maybe that would help me make the decision to retire!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Telling Tondrea Goodbye

It is still hard for me to believe that such a vibrant young individual could be struck down and killed by a hit-and-run driver in the late afternoon last Thursday in Suitland. I went to Tondrea’s funeral today. I really hate funerals, probably because the bodies look so unreal and so very dead to me. In this case in particular, I don’t think I had ever seen Tondrea still, not talking. She had an infectious grin and a ready hug for everyone she met. She had hair extensions which resulted in a lot of long braids. Today she had only short hair and her mouth and eyes were forever closed. Instead of her hip jeans, she had on a suit. It was Tondrea’s face, definitely, but she was gone somewhere else.

I was one of the few white faces in a sea of about 600 black people. Some were dressed to the nines. Others wore jeans. Some carried small children. Others walked with canes. Tondrea had no shortage of family, friends, and coworkers who cared deeply about her. The most perplexed face I saw was that of her 2-year-old grandchild, Ja’miya, the daugher of Aisha, who is permanently paralyzed from a stray bullet in July. First her mother was taken from her, and now her grandmother. She was in the arms of what appeared to be an aunt and had a blank look on her face.

I stood in the back of the church and watched people file past the casket. For a while I was totally detached, thinking more about the people who where there in this awful neighborhood than about Tondrea. Then someone began to sob openly, and I found hot tears welling up in my eyes. As they began to sing Amazing Grace as the casket was wheeled down the aisle, everyone’s tears were flowing.

Tondrea was the eternal optimist. I can remember hearing her say,

I’m going to catch up on all my bills.
We are going to Florida in January. I want my kids to see Disneyworld.
Aisha is going to walk again.
I AM going to get a promotion.

Of course, none of these things ever happened. But she would always just flash that smile and say, “God is good to me. Yes, he is.”

She wouldn’t have wanted tears at her funeral. She would have preferred to see us dancing with each other. God, I am going to miss this wonderful woman. Through her I saw the truth of just how hard it would be to be black in America today. If there is a heaven, I know that Tondrea is there. I hope her life after death will be easier than was her life here on earth. May she rest in peace...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

To Shave or Not to Shave

DC Cookie has us all thinking about hair removal today. I thought back over my checkered past. I remembered only too well the first time I shaved my legs – it seemed to take hours to get all that peach fuzz off. I had very blond hair, so it wasn’t even obvious that I had hair on my legs, but EVERYBODY was doing it, so I snuck a razor and probably nicked myself a half dozen times since I didn’t have the slightest clue how to do it.

There was a period when I shaved everyday. Even in high school, I remember my mother complaining about how many razor blades I was going through. The depression mentality even counted razor blades. Those were the days when you bought razor blades in a funny little dispenser and put them in a razor that unscrewed. I hadn’t really thought about that in a LONG time.

I was really good about shaving until I had been married for a few years. I decided to go European one winter just to see what it would be like. After all, my hair was so light that it didn’t look gross especially after it grew out and was soft again. It must not have made much of an impression on my husband because when I asked him tonight if he remembered the era in which I didn’t shave, he said “Vaguely.” But then he is sometimes not too observant about details like that.

Unlike Cookie’s mother, I have been all over the map on personal beautification. In those non-shaving years, I also wore very little makeup, telling myself that the natural look was more wholesome. I didn’t paint my nails or color my hair.

Then a couple of years ago I had a wake-up call and realized just how much more fun it was to pamper myself and “enhance” my appearance. Shaving was back. A more stylish haircut. Highlights in my hair. Manicure. Pedicure occasionally. And makeup. When I look at the sad plain face on my government badge, I realize that these things collectively make a huge difference. Furthermore, they are actually fun!

As for all those other options for hair removal, I don’t think I could take the pain. I wince when I get my eyebrows shaped with that thread treatment. Once my hair person also did my upper lip and it hurt like hell. Hot wax sounds too awful to imagine. So I will stick with my Gillette Venus razor but certainly not every day ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In the Present Moment ... Alone

On Wednesday evenings, I go to group meditation. We sit silently for 40 minutes, have a brief reading from Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, and then have a 15-minute discussion of the reading. You might ask, why do this in a group setting if so much of it is in silence? There is something powerful about people sitting together I have found.

The space in which we sit is so perfect for meditation. It’s in a space dedicated to multiple forms of healing, including massage, acupuncture, and of course meditation. The room is spare, with six dark burgundy meditation cushions grouped around a small candle and a bamboo plant gracing the spartan decor. Of course there is a bell and a striker with a knit covering. The overhead light is low. It’s really just right.

I was the “anchor”, the person in charge of inviting the bell and reading from our book of short thoughts. The reading tonight was “The Meditation of Hugging”, which I read over as I waited for the others to arrive. The whole idea is that a hug will be so much more meaningful if you breathe 3 times while hugging and really concentrate on the other person, as opposed to those superficial hugs that don’t really have much meaning.

As the clock passed 7:30, I slowly realized that no one else was coming. I guess this is not surprising with people traveling and preparing for the busiest time of the year. But my dilemma was whether or not to sit alone or just pack it in and go home. I tend to get so much out of this forced time of slowing down that I opted to stay.

I invited the bell three times and then closed my eyes as if the other five cushions were occupied. The whole idea of meditation is to come into the moment, briefly forgetting about he past and the future to the degree possible. My “warm-up” is to go through the litany of all those persons for whom I am grateful. The list is growing. Then I begin to pay attention to my breathing, counting the inhales and exhales in pairs. My goal is to get up to 30 without getting totally distracted. Sound simple? Well, some nights it is absolutely impossible. When I lose track of my breathing, I start again at 1.

You don’t realize just how fast your mind is constantly working until you try to slow it down and just breathe. You quickly figure out that it is an impossible goal to banish all thoughts, at least for a novice like me. One of my fellow meditators once likened it to walking down a path holding the hand of a small child. As the child would try to run after a butterfly or some other distraction, you would gently urge her back onto the path and continue.

I slipped momentarily into a very deep place that I love to go when I meditate. As I came back into reality, I invited the bell once again to end my sit, bowed to the invisible people in the room, extinguished the candle, and left in the dark. I can’t think of a better way to escape from the normal business of this the most busy season of the year.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You're Under Arrest

As I was sitting at my desk at lunch time today quietly eating my tuna fish and cottage cheese and Blogging my ass off, these two very big, very (color-removed)cops rushed into my office and closed the door. They were very agitated and I could tell they were convinced that I was guilty of something. I thought to myself, “Since when is Blogging at lunchtime a crime?” Now if they had come an hour earlier, I might have been a little more worried. But for heavens sake, this was my hour to do whatever the hell I pleased, or so I thought. So without even introducing themselves, they proceeded to grill me. Here’s the exact conversation, more or less:

Cop 1: Did you hit a car in the parking lot?

Me: Of course not. What makes you think that I did?

Cop 2: Someone hit the car next to yours and there is paint on your bumper.

Me: Oh, you mean the blue paint on the front right bumper from 10 years ago when my husband hit a car?

Cop 1: How can I reach your husband?

Me: His number at home is 703-xxx-xxxx. His cell is 703-xxx-xxxx.

Cop 2: Are you sure you didn’t hit that car?

Me: Positive because it wasn’t there when I pulled in (you friggin’ idiot!)

Cop 1: Oh, OK.

As they left, I could see that they were already dialing my husband to corroborate my story. Then the thought suddenly struck me, what if my husband doesn’t remember hitting that car (which he never actually admitted to me that he did)? I mean, really, 10 years is a long time. I expected that they would be back with handcuffs if he didn’t remember.

SHIT! By the time I got through to him on his cell, they had already called. He was grocery shopping in Whole Foods. He only picked up because he could see that Federal Police were calling and he thought maybe I had been in some sort of accident. They were as rude to him as they were to me. But, thank God, he remembered the paint and even remembered that it was blue. No Alzheimer’s here!

Then instead of being scared, I got mad! How dare these bimbos storm into my peaceful office making false accusations without so much as introducing themselves! I went down the hall to our security office and got the number of the office in charge. It turned out to be the Office of Homeland Security. Wouldn’t you think they would be looking for terrorists, not for people putting dents in cars in the parking lot? I guess terrorism is not such a hot topic where I am any more. After a few attempts I got a real voice on the phone. I proceeded to relate my story and voiced my dissatisfaction with the unprofessional treatment I had received. The unsympathetic voice at the other end tried to say that was what they were supposed to do. I pressed for something of an apology, at least for “I’m really sorry they disrupted your lunch.” Instead he said he would round up Moe and Joe or whatever their names were and find out what happened. He promised to call me back. I never got a return call and had cooled down by the time I left at the end of the day.

When I got to the parking lot, I realized it was not even a blue car parked next to mine. It was white! Maybe the owner of the blue car had moved it next to someone else with a speck of blue paint on his bumper, hoping to pin the crime on another unsuspecting employee. I can now be sympathetic with the thousands of people who are being falsely accused every day in this country. It SUCKS!

In the Blink of an Eye

Have you ever been criticized for making snap judgments? If you are dealing in something that you know a lot about, the chances are that those quick decisions were probably as good or better than lengthy informed decisions.

I just read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I found this whole idea of accelerated decision making absolutely fascinating. He also looks at how we often introduce unintentional bias into our decision making. Here are some things the author covers:

– The Getty Museum spent 14 months evaluating the potential purchase of a Kouros sculpture, finally making the purchase. An expert took one quick look at it in the gallery and determined it to be a fake based on the way the fingers looked.

– An expert tennis coach could call with 100% accuracy the times when a player was going to double fault before he ever struck the ball with the racket. And yet when asked how he did it, he was unable to explain the process he used.

– A seasoned marriage counselor could predict with 85% certainty whether or not a couple would be together in 15 years with just 3 minutes of observing them talk to each other.

– Thirty minutes of studying a student’s bedroom yielded a better description of the student as a person than a face-to-face interview with him.

– The Cook County Hospital had better results in the coronary care unit when they simply evaluated 4 pieces of information about a patient’s condition than they did when asking a complete battery of questions. It turns out that many questions just confuse the current situation and don’t help in the diagnosis, when time if of the essence.

– A person’s decision about whether or not to sue a doctor is related more to how he was treated by that doctor than whether the doctor in actuality made a mistake.

– White middle-age males are able to get the lowest prices when buying a car. There is a bias towards women, minorities, young people, and elderly people.

– Police officers in the heat of the moment sometimes come to the wrong conclusion because they think they see things that are not there. For example, the case of mistaking Diallo’s wallet for a gun and firing 41 shots into this innocent immigrant.

– Musical auditions that require the performer to be behind a screen have very different results than when the performer is visible to those making a choice.

After reading this book, I am confident that I will be paying much closer attention to how I make decisions. I will now feel more justified in some of those snap judgments that I always thought were right but seemed impossibly quick.

Do you trust your initial instincts when you are dealing in something you know well, or do you take a cautious approach to decision making? If you are quick, do you know why? Things to ponder...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Who Are Our Mothers Really?

One of the unresolved issues in my life involves my relationship to my mother. She appeared to the world to be a saint. She didn’t smoke – gave that up before I was born. I never saw her drink anything alcoholic – EVER! She didn’t say swear words – not even an occasional SHIT! There was no mention of anything to do with sex, except for the occasional whisper about someone who HAD to get married. For the longest time, I wondered why anyone would ever have to get married. My only conversation about sex with her was when I was 10 years old and I asked at the dinner table what FUCK meant because someone had said it to me at school that day. That night we had our one and only talk where I got the most warped idea of sex – basically that my parents did it about once a month, when my father got the urge. Not exactly the foundation for a healthy sex life! She was the pillar of the church and helped every indigent person she came across in our small northern Florida town.

This saintly attitude worked to my detriment in more ways than giving me a screwed up view of sex. When beach week rolled around senior year, I wasn’t invited to join my friends who preferred to have more liberal mothers as chaperones – those were the days when there were chaperones. Instead they only wanted mothers who would look the other way if smoking or drinking or whatever else occurred. My mother would probably have started the church prayer chain if she had discovered what was really going on at beach week. I guess I can probably thank this DIS-ing for the fact that I don’t smoke today because that was when many of my friends started smoking.

My parents were both totally weird about physical contact. I knew that they loved each other and loved me, but there was virtually no physical contact in my family. My mother would come into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight, but only after she thought I was asleep. I think this is one of the reasons why I soak up massage today because I was absolutely starved for this sort of nurturing as a child.

I labored under this impression of my mother until after both of my parents died and I (their only child) was sorting through the mountains of memorabilia that accumulate when you live in the same house for 50 years and never throw anything away. But in the course of this cleaning out, I chanced upon her diary and old letters and found a very different person. I read about lovers that predated my father. I even read some pretty spicy exchanges between my parents when my father was overseas in the war. She seemed so much more alive.

I keep wondering what changed. Why was this normal person recast as a saint?

I am so glad that my daughter and I have fairly open communication about all aspects of her life, and mine. I will honestly answer any question she asks me about my past. I know that she could drink me under the table, and I do like to drink – mostly wine these days. I know that she has a healthy attitude about sex and knows how to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy and AIDS. With the help of a friend, she and I are planning an evening of mother-daughter bonding when she comes home from college on winter break – no specifics. I want her to see me as I am with all my “warts”, not as some shining example to emulate.

If my mother were still alive, there are so many questions I would like to ask her. I just wish I had asked them before it was too late. I think I would have enjoyed her company more if she had been the person that her diary and those letters depicted. But now I’ll never know.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Something to Talk About

When my husband went off to Detroit this weekend for his mother’s 91st birthday, he took his laptop. To his surprise, someone near her apartment must have an Internet hookup because he was able to get on. Things must be really slow in Detroit because he is actually reading and commenting on my Blog (dsquared). Of course, I lured him in by saying that I wasn’t sending e-mail but that he could read about my life on my Blog. But what’s more important, he’s discovered WashingtonCube and AlwaysWrite. He read AlwaysWrite’s wonderful poem to his mother – I should say that he let his mother read it on the screen because she is so so deaf – and she loved it, as any Jewish mother would. He sent Cube’s post about the Baltimore Chanukah house to everyone we know. (By the way, I love the fact that you can’t go wrong spelling that Hanukkah word – almost anything goes.) He is slowly but surely getting hooked on Blogging. Now if I can just get him interested in writing. He wrote 3 posts last year and then stopped. But he is a terrific writer and he could match Cube or any of the other greats for special technical effects.

When you sit across the dinner table with the same person for 30 plus years, you can almost run out of things to talk about. This is one of the reasons I started a couples book club 8 years ago. I thought we could discuss the book we were reading from time to time. But the problem is that I usually finish the book early and he is often reading the last 200 pages on the day of the meeting, so there isn’t much to talk about without spoiling the story. Then we went through this awful period of years watching taped episodes of Days of Our Lives – I’m embarrassed to say this now. But we actually did have some fun speculating about how the lame plots of this soap opera were going to go. Thank God we broke this addiction with the help of the Olympics! Currently we often talk about the website that he is masterminding. He is really a technical genius! But I can do little but nod my head in wonder and occasionally suggest a new functionality.

I can see that DC Blogs could fuel many a dinner conversation. I mean, there is virtually a smorgasbord of topics to choose from. There are dating Blogs, political Blogs, funny incident Blogs, and then Blogs about just ordinary people (like me), as well you know. But what is most interesting is that these are real people in the soap operas of real life, not the scripted morons of Salem, USA. I never dreamed that Blogging would provide so many things to talk about!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

An (Extra)-Ordinary Shabbat Morning Service

This is for the benefit of my husband who is away for his mother’s birthday in Detroit and who asked what happened at Shabbat services today. I observed and absorbed things that I have never noticed before today:

– In the choir I (an alto) sat in between two sopranos (one of whom sometimes sings a little too loudly). But I noticed how much more self-reliant I was when I couldn’t lean on someone else singing my part. I liked matching my harmony against the soprano line.
– Temple Micah has something called the “Quiet Room”. It’s a place where people with young disruptive children can go. They can hear and see what’s going on without their child’s noises bothering everyone else. It was a busy place this morning, but it was good to observe these parent-child pairs, relaxed as they did arts and crafts or nursed or did whatever while still soaking up the sounds of the service.
– Part of the Torah service involves the bar/bat mitzvah child walking through the congregation holding the Torah prior to reading from the Torah. Today Lauren was followed by (our rabbi) Danny and (our 2nd rabbi) Toby and her parents. As the congregation sang and clapped, Danny was doing his typical clapping off the beat – sort of a syncopation. Toby, on the other hand, was dancing – I kid you not. When she reached the bimah again, she sort of did a little shuffle back to her position. How very cool?
– Before we sang the Sh’ma, Lauren and her family stood on the bimah for the Torah-passing ceremony – in this case from her mother to her. Her non-Jewish father, however, was included on the bimah in this and other parts of the service. We are inclusive of everyone.
– Lauren’s portion comes from Genesis 31:17-35. It was the story of how Rachel stole her father Laban’s family gods when she and Jacob slipped away in the middle of the night. When her father overtook them a week later, she hid them in her camel bag upon which she sat in her unclean menstrual state. No one dared to ask her to get up! Lauren stated that Rachel should be recognized, not because of her theft, but for the fact that it signified the first willful recognition of one God.
– The bar/mitzvah child poses a question to Danny, which forms the basis of his sermon. Lauren’s question was: What does Judaism say about intelligent design? (This is from a 13-year-old!) Danny proceeded to answer the question with the following remarks:
If some people want to believe the earth was formed in 6 days, that’s their business.
If some people want to believe that the earth is 5766 years old, that’s their business.
If some people want to believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth, that’s their business.
If some people want to believe that at one point animals could talk, that’s their business.
However, if any of these people impose their beliefs on me, that’s MY business.
When people start messing with children’s education about any of this, then that’s all of our business.
There is a difference between taking the Bible seriously and taking the Bible literally.
Judaism is never in conflict with science.
Science and Judaism are not contradictory, but rather complementary.
(Albert Einstein) Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
Why are some people more concerned about the creation of the world than about the poverty that exists in the world today?
– The choir did a special song “The Dream and the Stone” to recognize another part of today’s Torah portion dealing with Jacob’s dream of a ladder going up to heaven. The song was written by one of our congregant’s Doug Mishkin. Our director Teddy had written an entirely new harmony for one section. It was sort of DOO-OP and a lot of fun to sing and we did a great job.
– Several years ago Danny read the book “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam about the collapse and revival of the American community. In the spirit of this book, the entire Temple Micah congregation is going bowling TOGETHER in February. We are renting an entire bowling alley for this event. Only at this very unique place...
– Finally as the religious school director was presenting Lauren with the typical Kiddush cup and other gifts, she remarked that several years ago, Lauren had asked everyone in the religious school to start calling her Marvin instead of Lauren. When her teacher at that time approached the director to see if this would be allowed, Deborah said, “Absolutely, all children can choose their identity here.”

Temple Micah: A pretty special place. I’m glad to be a part of such an enlightened congregation.

Another Weird Dream

Why in the world am I dreaming about swimming? I’m afraid of the water myself. My children were once champion swimmers. In fact, when my son was 13, he was one of the premier swimmers on the east coast. But then we discovered that he had OCD after he agonized over having eaten a whole bag of cookies, thinking that that might ruin his ability to swim. He quit swimming and my daughter announced, “If he is quitting, so am I.” But up until that time, we had spent many a weekend sitting next to a chlorine-filled pool watching random 1-minutes bursts of excellence.

Last night’s dream takes place at a swim meet. My children are not swimming, but I do recognize the faces of neighborhood children who were on our neighborhood swim team – one family with 5 children in particular. What’s unusual about this meet is that the two top freestyle swimmers in one race have a completely new style of swimming: they are kneeling with only their waist up showing above the water – almost as if they had a little propeller on their butts. It obviously seemed work quite well since they won that race. I asked one of them about this new form later and she said that in between “land” exercises, they meditated in this fashion, so they decided to try it in the pool and it worked. Go figure!

Where in the world do we come up with dream material from? Only in our dreams can such bizarre things happen...

Home Alone

How many times have I thought to myself, “How I would love to have this whole house to myself?” Well, this weekend I am HOME ALONE. My husband (the one I referred to as “geeky-techie” who is really just a nice loving guy) is in Detroit for his mother’s 91st birthday. I opted not to go because I can never scream loudly enough to make myself understood and it is usually about 85 degrees in her apartment.

I have to say that it is really a weird feeling to wake up in a king size bed all alone. I am so used to seeing him in his sound retirement sleep as I drag my tired body out of bed to go off to work or wherever. And there is certainly not that middle-of-the-night sometimes hug as he comes to bed. (Much of the time we are on very different sleep schedules.) His absence presents choices even about sleeping – Do I sleep on his side of the bed (allowing me to easily reach the alarm clock) or mine? Do I make the bed in the morning? I stayed on my side of the bed and I opted out of making the bed. I mean, who in the world is going to see it? If our cleaning lady were coming, I would make the bed so as not to appear to be a complete slob. But otherwise, why?

There is certainly not the need to cook dinner or even eat dinner unless I want to. I opted for Whole Foods deli – fast, reasonably good tasting, and there whenever I want to eat.

I have my choice of 3 cars to drive: a 1985 beat-up Volvo wagon (no thanks), my usual 1991 Honda Accord which is starting to look and feel like an old car, and our new 2005 Prius which my husband usually drives. Well, not a tough decision I say. In the interest of fuel efficiency and just to luxuriate a little, I’ll go with the Prius. I will not however use the ridiculous GPS system and have that woman jabber at me in either English or French to turn right or left. I can get around DC just fine without her help.

It is so eerily quiet in the house. The dogs bark occasionally, but I really miss the collection of random people crooning to guitars that often comes from my husband’s IPOD. I could take the initiative to play a CD or even to turn on the radio, but I almost like the quiet.

And about those dogs. I love them dearly, but for two days in a row Jake has thrown up on the family room rug and there is no one to negotiate cleanup with. They are good company, but sometimes they are a pain in the neck.

I will be more than ready for human conversation when he returns on Monday. My appetite for solitude has been more than satisfied. I’m ready for my soul-mate’s company!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Scarf-Tying 101

I grew up in Florida where I seldom wore a coat and certainly didn’t need a hat, gloves, or a scarf. From the time I moved to DC in 1971 I have been in denial about the cold weather. I wear a coat only when necessary and sometimes gloves when it is REALLY cold, but I have never bothered with a hat or a scarf.

My friend Mary, who is sometimes not the happiest person in the world, surprised me yesterday with a hand-knit scarf. It’s a beautiful dark blue with little specks of color and it is so soft. When I saw another friend and soul-sistah today as I was wearing my shoes wet from puddles and my new scarf, instead of saying, “FUCK! You don’t even know how to put on a scarf,” she said in her much more constructive way, “I can show you a couple of other ways to wear it so that it will stay on and keep your neck and even your face warm. And, by the way, your mother obviously never taught you how to take care of yourself.” I admitted that when I was growing up we only bought the most essential things and winter clothing and waterproof boots were not high on the list of essentials.

As I left her place with my scarf skillfully tied around my neck, I remembered the only advice my mother gave me as I drove north never to return to Florida for more than a visit: “You should probably start locking your car doors!” But she never mentioned how to deal with the weather...

A Job Story in the Washington Ghetto

I met Tondrea London about 5 years ago when my office was looking for a family in the Suitland area who needed a little extra help. I've been doing this for years, always looking for families that are really trying to emerge from poverty. I encouraged her to apply for a job at the federal government office where I work. She got that job and has continued to work hard and be recognized. My office has helped this family at significant times throughout the years since I first met her.

What first struck me about Tondrea was her energy and her positive attitude no matter what the circumstance. She lived in subsidized housing that was riddled with drug dealers. She witnessed shootings and even held her cousin in her arms as he died from a gunshot wound. She took good care of her 5 children, trying to keep them out of the trouble that was all around them.

In July of this year Tondrea's 19-year-old daughter Aisha was the victim of a drive-by shooting that left her completely paralyzed. Tondrea has stayed at her side whenever she was able to be there since that point in time. She has always maintained that Aisha is going to walk again, even in the face of hopelessness. Aisha has a 2-year-old daughter that Tondrea has treated as her own child. Tondrea's son Dion was arrested because he took it upon himself to go after those who shot Aisha with a gun, which was never fired. He is in jail in Haggarstown.

I just learned that Tondrea was killed last night by a hit-and-run driver as she tried to cross the street to go to her second job. She lingered for a few hours and then died of massive injuries. She leaves behind a child in the hospital on a ventilator, a child in jail, two children and a grandchild at a home that now has no parent.

Today Tondrea was going to share with me her children's wish lists for Christmas. I'm sure each of those children would put having their mother with them at the top of their list. My heart grieves for this poor woman who tried so hard to make life work, but whose life has now been extinguished. We take so much for granted...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

All Through the Night

I woke up feeling so rested today and then asked myself what was different about my last night’s sleep. I quickly realized that I had not gotten up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – not once! WOW! What a difference that makes.

Here’s the history of my nightly trips to the bathroom. Before I ever even started school, I was an occasional bed-wetter. Believe, me there is nothing worse than waking up in a pool of hot urine. It’s wet, it smells, and it humiliates. This resulted in my not being able to spend the night at friends’ houses because of the fear of someone finding out. Heaven forbid anyone should know I was a bed-wetter! The truth is that I was never homesick, so that was a big lie.

My mother never got angry, but instead she always urged that every time I woke up and felt even the slightest urge, I should get up and pee. Well, if you think about it hard enough, you can always pee. So my nightly trips to the bathroom began. I’ve had more than one boyfriend and (only one) husband tease me about this. But in 50 years I have not once wet the bed. Instead I have had broken sleep patterns for all those years. I must admit to feeling somewhat envious as I pass my snoring husband who never ever gets out of bed after he closes his book and turns off the light.

I often wondered what would have happened if my mother had simply ignored the occasional wet sheets and just let me grow out of this. I don’t know too many adults who are troubled by bed-wetting. But instead that is one of her legacies to me.

But last night was different, thank goodness!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Blogger First Birthday

Just one year ago today I started my BLOG at the suggestion of a friend. My first post was on “My Worst Fears”, an appropriate topic for Pearl Harbor Day. I was a very different person a year ago. In fact, if I had been subjected to that test of trust where you fall backwards and someone catches you, I would have been assured that the one and only person on whom I relied would have not been able to keep me from cracking my head open on the floor. Today I could envision trying the same trust test and being easily supported by a whole group of people, many of whom I met over the past year, some of whom I have yet to meet.

So what happened? Was it the drops of FEARLESS that I put on my wrists every day? Or was it that I found my voice and began to write all of the things that had been just piling up in my head for oh-so-many years? Was it sorting out my past with my wonderful psychotherapist? Whatever it was, I am a much happier person today. I am reminded of that every time I look at my picture on my badge for work. I hardly recognize that sad face.

So happy Blogger birthday to me! I think I will celebrate by inhaling a diffused mixture of FEARLESS, PEACE, and a little FRANKINCENSE. Life is really very good!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Heart Job

I had a very weird dream earlier this week. Here's what happened in the dream:

Two men carried another man by his arms and legs to what looked to be an auto service garage. They announced to the attendant that their friend needed open-heart surgery. One of the garage bay doors rolled up and they took him inside. Sure enough, the garage looked like an operating room. Some time later the door was pulled up again and the surgery team brought the patient out – once again holding him by his arms and legs – and dropped him on the pavement in front of his friends. One of the friend pounded him on the chest (which had just been operated on) and pronounced him "good to go". Then I woke up in HORROR!

One odd thing about this dream is that all the characters were male. My dreams usually have only female characters. Did I dream this because of my recent surgery? Why was the scene an auto service garage? Why was there this violence at the end? Is this connected to the dream about my car exploding because of a bomb?

I need a new dream to replace this one...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blogger Badges

In my ecstacy about being featured on DC Blogs, I was talking to a veteran Blogger and I mentioned that this was like getting a superior merit badge as a Girl Scout. I wasn't surprised when she told me that she got EVERY badge as a Girl Scout, even the yucky sewing badge. What is it that makes us bask in all forms of recognition? To at least for a brief moment feel superior? This is coming from someone who has said all along that I was writing for myself, and not for an audience. But, guess what, I like to know that someone is reading what I write. I really love getting comments. I hope I can be resolute about not changing the way I write. I once heard Jonathan Foer (author of Everything Is Illuminated) speak. He said the biggest difference between his first and his second books was the fact that the first time he had no audience and the second time he kept finding himself thinking about what people had said about his first book. So what's the next Blogger merit badge?

Bodily Dis-Symmetry

Do you think of the left side of your body as being pretty much a copy of the right side, except for the fact that you are probably either left- or right-handed? I had always thought this to be the case. Always, that is, until I started doing yoga. I began to realize how very different my two sides are. Balance poses are much easier when I am balancing on my left leg. If it were up to my left leg, I could easily touch the floor in a forward bend. In just about every pose my left leg is stronger than my right, my left hip has more mobility than my right.

I wonder if we are born with this inequality or if it develops as we grow. I wonder if my brain is stronger on one side than the other. I wonder if this is true for most people, or if my body is uniquely dis-symmetric.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Can't You Just Slow this Ride Down -- Just a Little?

Do you ever feel like you’re on a fast-moving amusement park ride and you would like to slow it down just a little so you could enjoy it more? Maybe a roller coaster or even a gigantic Ferris wheel. That’s my life right now. It’s intense, it’s full of people I adore, I’m doing things all the time that make me happy – but I never get off the ride, it just continues to gather momentum.

OK, here’s an example. Last week when I was supposed to be taking it easy, recuperating from serious surgery the week before to remove my thyroid, I was out every night of the week – yoga class, dinner and class with a friend, book club and Blogger bash with a bunch of people who are turning out to be friends, dinner party for my husband and four friends with lots of champagne to celebrate my BENIGN pronouncement, dinner out with friends to celebrate a birthday, and finally playing music, dinner, and a concert with my wonderful friend and doctor Deborah. Oh yeah, add in about 15 hours of serious Blogging and a full-time job supervising 9 employees. I luxuriated in a massage today and my massage therapist pronounced me DEPLETED. Well, duh... I wonder why.

I often ask myself just what I was doing with my time before I was playing the piano and Blogging all the time. The answer is that I was in love with my job and worked a ton of overtime hours every week. I cooked gourmet meals. I kept my house really clean. I was room parent and swim team rep. The last two don’t apply any longer because my children are past that age. The others have all taken a backseat to my new-found activities and lots of friends that I write e-mail to and whose Blogs I read. I really have to say that I like my new life a lot more but I am perpetually tired because there is just not enough time left to sleep 8 hours a night.

It looks like I need to make some serious decisions about how best to use my time. Maybe I need to give myself a limit to the time I spend online every day. Maybe I need to learn to say NO when someone invites me to do something. I really don’t want to suffer Blogger burnout like some of the posts I read. Maybe I need a life coach to tell me how to spend my time. On the other hand, I have never been happier in my life, so maybe I just have to learn to get by on less sleep!

In any event, I think I’ll switch rides. I always liked the swings that gently keep you in motion but are more like flying than being hurled through space.

Any ideas?

Friday, December 02, 2005

My Blogging Myth Deflated

When I first started my BLOG a year ago, I had decided that it might be a good way to exchange thoughts with some of my closest friends, many of whom don’t live in the DC area – thoughts that go deeper than catching up on what our children are doing or where we like to go out to eat or what movies we have seen lately, the mundane crap that couples often talk about. I wanted to be able to talk about why I see a psychotherapist, something that my husband wants to ignore completely, and oh-my-God definitely not talk to our friends about. I wanted to talk about my personal longings, some of which are unreasonable, but are still there. I wanted to talk about what it is like to have been in a stable relationship for more than half of my life and how sometimes I long for more excitement. So my BLOG idea was one of baring your soul – getting down to those deep feelings that don’t ever see the light of day otherwise.

After I wrote for a couple of months, I gave my BLOG address to a few select friends and suggested that they start their own BLOGs. Unfortunately I didn’t get at all the response that I had hoped for. Several people refused to acknowledge it altogether. A few others said, “That’s nice. Here is what my children are doing...” One said, “I read your BLOG every day, but I could NEVER bring myself to write things so personal.” And yet another, the one who introduced me to blogging and whom I see in a professional relationship, was quite willing for me to read her BLOG, but refused to even read mine. My family totally wrote it off as the ravings of a deranged mom/wife. Those reactions all SUCKED! I could see that my plan was just not going to work.

So while I have been fairly free in giving out my address to trusted friends and I really don’t write anything that outrageous, I don’t have much of an opportunity for the kind of exchange that I had originally hoped for.

I am so intrigued with the fact that this younger generation basically lays it all out there. There is a basic honesty and willingness to tell all that seems to be totally absent in my generation – at least among those I have tried to lure in. So it looks to me like I am just going to have to find a younger audience among those who are already as addicted to this pastime as I am. Nothing like preaching to the already converted.

A Welcome Word

BENIGN. What a nice, it-won’t-hurt-you word. A word that becomes especially important as you wait for the results of a biopsy to come back, when it could just as easily be the M___ or the C___ word.

When the surgeon pronounced the word BENIGN yesterday about the nodules in my thyroid which was removed last week, I breathed a sigh of relief and realized how very much I like benignity. It’s like saying, “I'm really squeaky clean.”

We uncorked a bottle of sparkling champagne with good friends last night and toasted to my good health and our collective friendship.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Blogging and Psychotherapy

I was very tempted to skip my 7 AM therapy appointment this morning, since I have not been getting up so early since my surgery and I have been out late for the past two nights. But I did have so much to talk to Kathryn about, so I dragged myself out of bed when the alarm went off.

In telling her about my introduction to the DC blogging community last night and explaining some of the logistics of blogging, she said. “In many ways, it sounds just like psychotherapy. You don’t know anything about many of the people who are reading your BLOG and you don’t hear them or see them.” She went on to say that this was so like analysis where the patient is on a couch and the analyst is out of view.

I explained how a person can write about a life crisis and get feedback from any number of people who read that BLOG post. Some people comment anonymously. Others identify themselves. But most are insightful and useful comments. It’s almost like free psychotherapy. I could see that made her slightly nervous. Kathryn likes her $150 per hour.

At the end of our session today, I asked her if she would ever consider going out to lunch with me. From the beginning I have thought she would make a great friend. We talked about my motivation for asking. But she is resolute, to the point of not even shaking hands, so for the moment it is out of the question.

Blogging Across the Generation Gap

I have been so curious about who these people are who write BLOGs in DC, so I decided to go to the holiday bash at Eyebar hosted by 4 of DC’s most popular bloggers. As I walked into the crowded noisy bar, my first thought was, “FUCK! There is not a soul here over 35 and most of them are young enough to be my children.” But instead of going back out the door, I sidled up to the bar and ordered a glass of wine. I don’t think too many people who come to Eyebar order wine, so there was simply generic white, no choices. As I took my first sip, a beautiful dark-haired girl at the corner of the bar said, “Do you write on DC Blogs?” To which I replied “Yes” and as I started to give her my alias, I realized how lame it is, compared to hers (DC Cookie) and many of the others. How was I to know a year ago when this all started what kinds of names people took? We talked at length about he addictiveness of blogging, sort of whispering that we both steal time at work to write and read.

All the big names in DC Blogs were there – Rhinestone Cowgirl, AsianMistress, I-66, Direct Current, and on and on and on. I talked to Direct Current (a.k.a. A Unique Alias) for a while about the mysterious Washington Cube, who was not in attendance and whom no one had ever met. There is considerable speculation about her age and her profession, but no debate about the quality and appeal of what she writes. When I asked him what he wrote about, he said “Just bullshit, but with some embellishments!” as he winked at AsianMistress. Then I realized that he is the one who recently wrote about an experience in a men’s room that was laugh-out-loud funny. He swears it was all true.

I talked to another girl who was there with her friend who writes a BLOG. She herself hasn’t make the plunge into writing, but reads avidly. She also said that her boss who is a Congressman is totally hooked on blogging. WOW! Then, noting my age in comparison to hers, she told me what a good writer her mother is and how she has encouraged her to start a BLOG.

I spotted Pat (a.k.a. KOB) since he was the only other person in the room by this time who was over 35. I knew it had to be him. He was surrounded by a gaggle of girls and of course the topic was blogging. We were both sort of hoping that Reya would show up so that our side of 35 would have yet one more member.

By this time, I had had a very long day, so I left my wine glass behind and left the blogger bash going in full tilt till who knows when? I’m happy to be associated with these people and look forward to the next social event. Maybe some of us babyboomers will have to host it!