Monday, February 27, 2006

Will I Get the Job (my job, that is)?

I had my interview today and now await the results. I actually treated this quite seriously since I have no reason to believe I will necessarily get this job – the one that I have been doing for the past 12 years. A lot of other people obviously want the job. According to my boss, she has to interview 16 people for the first round.

It seemed so strange to prepare myself to sit on the other side of the desk and be the one answering the questions instead of asking them. I dressed up today, just like the new college grads that I often interview do. I wore my best pants suit, my pink silk blouse, real heels, jewelry, make-up, and more-carefully-than-usual blew dry my hair.

At precisely 9 AM, I showed up at my boss’s door for my appointed time. She actually had a multi-page Xeroxed form that she filled out as we talked. The only levity was skipping the “introduction to the ACS”, since I had built the survey from the ground up, starting out in the original staff of 10 in 1994. Let’s see – at that point my boss was exactly 22 years old!

The interview lasted an entire hour. It included some classic questions and a few others like: Describe your management style. I never thought of myself as having a management style! Greatest strength – delivering on-time, within budget, every time I said. Greatest weakness – being stubborn sometimes. The concluding question was “Why do you think you are the best candidate for the job?” Actually hard to answer without knowing the other 15 people who have to be interviewed. But I said, “Because I have been doing it for the past 12 years and we have never missed a production deadline or had an embarrassing error.” Fortunately she didn’t ask me what I intended to be doing in 5 years, in 10 years.

It was impossible to know her real reaction to anything I said. She smiled and looked pleasant, but there was not a hint of “You’ve got it, but I just need to talk to all the other candidates before announcing.” Instead, she said that she intended to complete round #1 by March 6. Then the two leading candidates would be interviewed by her boss – a Puerto Rican woman hired by my husband probably close to 30 years ago.

So I’ll just continue to solve tomorrow’s problems while I await the outcome of this hiring process. If I don’t get it, I will probably stay for a while just because I like what I am doing. If I do, I will know when it is time to leave. That is one thing I am getting to be good at these days.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sentiments Upon Leaving

The act of leaving elicits an emotional reaction on the part of the one who is staying and the one who is going. This is true when you leave your kindergarten teacher to go to first grade, when you leave your parents to go off to college, when you leave a job, when you leave a therapist.

I hired a bright young superstar several years ago right out of the U of Wisconsin. He was without a doubt the most impressive person I have ever supervised in my 35-year career. He was a technical whiz. But he could also write. At 25, he had become an invited speaker at international conferences, where he would invariably win "Best Paper." Several months ago, he told me he was applying for a position in another agency that would ultimately give him a promotion. I had nothing to counter this with, so I was not surprised when he got the job and left. My reaction as his supervisor and mentor was one of sadness coupled with happiness for him because the new position would allow him to grow in ways that he couldn’t in our office. When he presented me with a beautiful little glass unicorn just before leaving, we talked about our feelings. I miss him every day.

This came to mind as I was contemplating my upcoming last appointment with two different therapists. I am experiencing a combination of sadness, a slight nervousness about the loss of this safety net, and the exhilaration of being on my own. I wonder how they are feeling? After seeing each other every week for quite a long time, I would certainly hope that I represent more than just a monthly check. Will there be any feeling of sadness on their part when someone else occupies my appointed hour each week? Will they ever think back to the conversations we had or will the notes for my case just go into a historical file or even into the recycle bin never to emerge again? I’m pretty sure both of these people care deeply about my future success, but will they allow themselves to be just a little sad at my leaving?

The truth is that I’ll most certainly never know. In formal therapist training, close on the heels of "No physical contact (hugs) for the client/patient" is the admonishment "Don’t reveal your own feelings." I most definitely want them to be happy for me and supportive of my moving on, but part of me wants to think that they will miss me.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Friends Forever

If you’ve been reading my Blog this week, you probably realize that I have been struggling with some weighty issues having to do with friendship and independence, with an uncertain future for one particular friendship. After a long talk this morning, I feel a great sense of relief. Although I will sorely miss the healing role that this person has played in my life, I am now convinced that we will share a sisterly love as long as we both shall live and breathe. This realization gives me a happy heart.

Interview Questions

As our rabbi Danny was introducing the guest speaker at the Aaron Altschul Scholar in Residence Memorial weekend at Temple Micah, he relayed an interesting piece of information about the first time he met Aaron Altschul, who happened to be the person who interviewed him for his current position over 20 years ago. His first question to Danny was not about his belief in God or his religious training but rather “When do you consider something to be well written?” I have been thinking about this question ever since and will perhaps post something about my answer to the question when I come up with one that makes sense.

I suppose I am thinking about this question because I have a job interview on Monday. It has been a long time since I have been answering those questions and not asking them. I have my set of questions that I use for all prospective hires. They seem to work fairly well, resulting in a pretty good track record on hiring.

The job I am applying for happens to be the job I have been doing for the last 12 years. Our group has been elevated to a division, meaning that everyone should just move up a grade. But that is not how it is done. Instead my job was posted and 21 people were deemed qualified. So my young mid-30's boss has her work cut out for her for the foreseeable future. I am certainly hoping that all this interviewing is a formality, that the fact that I have built a successful program in the past 12 years will serve as proof that I can do the job well. But all sorts of thoughts have been running through my head...

– Will she look at the fact that I am 23 years older than she is as a negative?
– Will she review my recent leave analysis and conclude that I am a bad risk for attendance?
– Will she view the fact that I often voice my opinion and it isn’t always positive a strike against me?
– Will she want to know my retirement plans?
– What questions will she ask me?
– Should I tell her that if she doesn’t hire me I will retire the next day? (actually not likely to happen)
– Is there the remotest chance that she has read my Blog?

My guess is that she will NOT ask me when I consider something to be well written. You see that kind of writing is not a big part of my job...

Saturday, February 25, 2006


I have spent the past two years emerging from a very old, very hard shell – sort of like a butterfly shedding its chrysalis in slow motion. Two years ago I was moving through the motions of life, having a job and a loving husband and a family to manage, but I was emotionally unengaged and not a very happy person much of the time.

During the past two years I have called upon multiple forms of therapy and my life is quite different today. What have I learned on this journey?

– How very important friends are. I can have good friends and I can be one. Just last night at TM services, my friend Elizabeth told me how radiant I looked and how glad she was to know me. This is as I was standing there in jeans with hair that needed to be washed. Her somewhat shy friend Ben confided to me that he was enjoying reading my Blog. I want to cultivate these types of friendships.
– My body has its share of problems, but some of them may be fixable. With lots of intervention I am bringing greater strength to my legs and working on structural problems that inhibit me in walking.
– My body is resilient. I have weathered surgeries and treatment for melanoma and thyroid cancer and today feel stronger than ever.
– I can improve my appearance with not a lot of effort. A hair job every two months and a little makeup do wonders.
– I am a much better partner for my husband physically and emotionally when I am happy.
– I love to write. For years and years I NEVER wrote anything about what was happening in my life or how I felt about it. Having my Blog has unleashed a torrent of saved-up words.
– There are so many well-qualified people out there to help with all sorts of issues. I have experienced: massage therapy, acupuncture, psychotherapy, and physical therapy. You could conclude that I must really have been a mess to require all of this, but they have been extremely helpful.
– Yoga and meditation can do wonders for the connection of body, mind, and soul. I have become an integral part of communities of people who follow these practices.
– It is so much fun to play the piano with other people. For many years I played alone. For even more years I didn’t play at all. Then I started playing with Bill and Deborah and music took on a whole new meaning.
– I can exercise regularly and even like it. And it makes such a difference in the way I feel.
– I can believe in myself. For the longest time I would immediately assume that I was at fault, especially in problems that had to do with relationships. I have a renewed self-confidence that makes me feel so much better about myself.

I’m finally ready to emerge and try more things on my own without so much help. I’m stopping psychotherapy this week. I’m moving to a new massage therapist where I will probably go only once a month.

For the most part this has been a totally positive experience. My only sadness centers around a therapist who also became my friend. I hope with a redefinition of our relationship that our friendship can survive. But I will fly one way or the other and hope to sometimes meet up at the same milkweed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What Is a Friend?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately. To me a friend is someone who

– Is honest with you.
– Always reads your e-mails and eventually answers them.
– Doesn’t always agree with you but can accept your opinion or belief.
– Once you’ve said “I love you” to each other doesn’t go backwards.
– Will make chicken soup for you when you are sick.
– Will give you a band-aid when you skin your knee.
– Tries to understand why you like the other people that you do.
– Will provide the glasses and the corkscrew if you bring the bottle of wine.
– Can make up after being angry with you.
– Doesn’t hold grudges.
– Will share a latte with you if there is only enough money for one.
– Doesn’t spread malicious gossip about you and expects that you won’t either.
– Graciously accepts your gifts.
– Remembers your birthday.
– Accepts you as you are and doesn’t expect you to change.
– Keeps promises.
– Carries half the weight of the friendship.
– Can shower you with glitter when you are happy.
– Will give you a hug and a tissue when you are sad.
– Feels your pain.
– Laughs at your jokes.
– Gives you space and time when you need them.
– Trusts you.
– Shows you respect.

Can you add anything to this list?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

HiHo, HiHo, It's Off to Work I Go

Every year as I attend the High Holiday services at Temple Micah, I swear that I am going to volunteer to help out the next year. Putting on the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services each year is a daunting organizational nightmare. Those in charge must deal with everything from tickets to moving things back and forth between TM and the larger church space we rent to childcare to ushers to parking to security to food here and there. Those brave souls look like they’ve been through a wringer by the end of the 10-day period.

My husband was quite involved last year because a lot of communication with members is being moved to the TM website that he manages. This past year I heard lots of nightmares about disgruntled TM members who didn’t get their tickets at all, didn’t get the right number of tickets, you name it. He is currently upgrading the website to use Paypal for all forms of payment, which will be a big improvement.

Recently he casually mentioned that they were looking for someone to be in charge of the High Holidays (affectionately known at HiHo’s) this year and asked if I would be interested, noting that my organizational abilities would serve me well in this job. I think he secretly wanted not to have to deal with others in his website endeavors, knowing that we have a long history of working together pretty well.

With my initial response to the “search committee” of “maybe”, they assumed I was doing it. It turns out that they had one other person who had also been coerced into volunteering. So I guess Gene and I are the co-chairs for this year’s HiHo’s. So much for my new policy of not saying YES. I admit to being weak, especially when someone predicts what a great job I will do.

We had our first organizational meeting on Monday night. After about 2 hours of incredible minutiae, my eyes were glazing over. A 2" thick notebook showed up, containing the How To’s of the HiHo’s. I offered to take it away and make copies for Gene and me. The first really encouraging thing was his response that he would just have his secretary do it. I already really like this man.

My initial assignment was to line up White House Nannies to once again provide childcare to be paid for by the members with small children who want to attend services. I did this today, with only a telephone call while I waited in rush hour traffic. So far, this is not such a tough job.

My goal it to create a series of electronic documents that clearly lay out the following for each job: description, time-line, historical persons responsible, budget, additional volunteers they must recruit, etc. – basically a well organized cook book for the whole thing. I have to hope that if Gene and I do this right and delegate the hell out of it, we can stay calm and not look like death warmed over by the end of the HiHo’s this year. It remains to be seen...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Skin Check

Four times a year I get nervous as I peel off my clothes and get ready to be scrutinized literally from head to toe. I go to 2 different dermatologists – Dr. Braun who specializes in basal cell cancer and Dr. Peck who is a national expert on melanoma.

I have long ago gotten over the mortification of standing, sitting, lying naked while these doctors look at every peculiar spot on my body. One has a set of pictures taken in the medical department of GWU. They both have years of experience and they definitely know what they are looking for. They look between my toes, in my scalp, and all other places where things could hide.

When I visit Dr. Peck at Washington Hospital Center, as I did today, I get a double-dose of scrutiny because he always has a resident who takes the first look. Then he comes in and checks again, seeing if they found the same things.

The instrument of choice for looking beneath the skin is called a dermatascope. They first apply alcohol to the place of interest and then look through this instrument, which has a light inside. They are looking to see if the darkened mole has a regular “necklace” of nodes around the edge. If they are different in color or size, then they will do a biopsy.

There are inevitable differences of opinion when you see two different doctors for the same thing. Dr. Peck asked me whether I had used the Aldara he had prescribed the last time I saw him 6 months ago. I confessed that the pharmacist had asked me if I knew that what was being prescribed was for CERVICAL WARTS! Can you imagine putting that on your face? And then Dr. Braun had commented that it would make my face look red and ugly for at least 5 weeks. Needless to say I opted out and this Rx sits unopened on my shelf. Dr. Peck launched into the research that led to the use of Aldara to treat various types of skin cancer and pre-cancer. He said he would like to wring the pharmacist's neck. He stopped short of saying the same thing about Dr. Braun. Now I have to decide once again whether to use the Aldara.

I have to laugh when they ask me, “Have you noticed any new moles or any change in size or color in older moles?” I have hundreds of these things and I long ago gave up on trying to monitor the ones I can see, let alone the ones I can’t see. Unfortunately the consequences of not catching melanoma are no laughing matter.

With this sort of business, the best you can hope for is “I don’t see a need to biopsy anything today.” With that pronouncement, I take a deep breath and reset my clock for 3 more months.

Unfortunately once you have skin cancer (I've had 5 basal cells and 4 melanomas removed), there is a great likelihood that you will get it again. It’s just a matter of time and how much sun you were exposed to 40+ years ago. Although wearing sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat are always advisable as a precautionary measure, the damage was probably done a long time ago and it just sits there like a time-bomb ready to go off with no real warning.

Making Choices

Tonight there are three things I could be doing:

(1) Going to the weekly silent meditation group that I coordinate.

(2) Going to the Blogger happy hour and seeing some good new friends.

(3) Celebrating my husband’s birthday by having friends over for cake.

This was a no-brainer. Birthdays for husbands happen but once a year. So I am rushing home to shop for a nice birthday dinner and our two sets of best friends are coming over at 8 PM for cake and ice cream. I didn’t bake the cake, but it sounded good over the phone – double chocolate ganache! Happy birthday to David....

Monday, February 20, 2006

Thank You,GW, for Giving Us the Day Off

I was sorely tempted to just sleep in today and forget opening for meditation. But then I pictured Marjorie walking all the way over to the yoga studio and finding the door locked. So I dragged myself out of bed and went into town. (This was after David came to bed at 2:30 AM and announced to me that I had 3 hours of sleep left. GREAT and thank you very much for waking me up to tell me that...)

Marjorie was there and so I was glad that I showed up. We had our usual half hour sit. Then I showed up at Deborah’s house at 7:45 to camp out and eat her Cheerios and drink her coffee before I headed off for a music lesson at 9:00 with my friend Bill. We had an interesting breakfast conversation about how doctors in a practice split the intake of money. It’s all based on how many patients they see. She takes her job as an internist very seriously, spending many hours writing up visit notes, reading, studying lab results, and making follow-up patient phone calls. This means that she often works 12-hour days, but sees no more patients than other doctors who might spend far less time. I feel incredibly lucky to call her my friend and my doctor. And she makes damn good granola that looks like bird food!

I was seriously caffeinated by the time I arrived at Bill’s house. Bill is a superbly talented musician, playing the double base with the NSO. So it is always a little daunting to play with him. He often says things to me like, “Just play an E-minor chord,” or “Do you know what a hemiola is?” that throw me for a loop. But I always come away with new knowledge and the positive feeling that comes from a sense of accomplishment. Today we warmed up with Bottesini’s “Elegy”, one of the first pieces we played together over a year ago. I beamed as we finished without stopping mid-way and Bill announced, “That surely was a lot better than when we first played it.” I have really started to feel a connection in breath and a shared emotional reaction to the music with the other half of any duet I am playing. We spent almost an hour painstakingly picking apart and putting back together a Telemann sonata. Then we finished with Bottesini’s variation on Verdi’s “Marriage of Figaro.”

I spent the afternoon working with 76-year-old Nancy, who is doing a presentation with me on “Music and the Psalms” at Temple Micah next Sunday afternoon. My part was to organize a subset of the choir to perform 4 Psalms with some group participation and to put together a handout. She is a real musicologist, having worked for the Voice of America for many years. She could tick off a long list of important musicians she knows on a first-name basis. What a treat to work with someone so talented. She planned the rest of the presentation, focusing on the evolution of the Jewish approach to musical settings of the Psalms. It should be a beautiful afternoon.

Then I ended the day with a yoga class with my teacher of 5 years Leyla. Poor Leyla had injured her shoulder, so she couldn’t demonstrate any poses tonight. Instead she pointed out various students doing the poses correctly. I was actually cited for “anjali mudra”, which involves putting your hands together in front of your heart while in Mountain Pose. It’s unusual for me to be pointed out as an example and I appreciate Leyla for being so supportive! Her ailing shoulder made her less conscious of how long she was holding us in the various poses, which often seemed like forever. My friend from my coffee klatch Marilu showed up for yoga and loved the class.

I know this doesn’t sound like a very restful way to spend my holiday, but these were all things that I really enjoyed. The good news today is that my husband’s sciatica seems to be better, so we can once again hug each other without him wincing in pain. I just hope he comes to bed before 2:30 AM tonight...

A Pop Quiz on Marriage

My husband pointed out this piece by Stephanie Coontz in the Op Ed section of the Sunday NY Times. It’s a series of 13 true-false questions with their answers below. You’ll have to read the original article for the annotated explanation of her answers.

(1) Women are more eager to marry than men.

(2) Men are threatened by women who are their intellectual and occupational equals, preferring to be with much younger, less accomplished women.

(3) There are more long-term marriages today than in the past.

(4) Americans have become much more tolerant of all sexual activity.

(5) The growth in the number of couples living together and even having children without formal marriage ceremonies or licenses reflects a sharp break with centuries-old tradition.

(6) Educated married women are increasingly "opting out" of work to stay home with their children.

(7) Men and women who hold nontraditional views about gender roles are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce than those with traditional values.

(8) Divorce rates in the 1950's were lower than at any other time in the 20th century.

(9) Throughout history, philosophers and theologians have always believed that strong marital commitments form the foundation of a virtuous society.

(10) American women have more positive attitudes toward marriage than Japanese women do.

(11) Divorce has always been a disaster for women and children.

(12) The preferred form of marriage through the ages has always been between one man and one woman.

(13) Born-again Christians are just as likely to divorce as more secular Americans.

1-F, 2-F, 3-T, 4-F, 5-F, 6-F, 7-Trick question, 8-F, 9-F, 10-T, 11-F, 12-F, 13-T

If you take issue with any of these answers, I will reply with the complete text of the NY Times answer.

Did you pass?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mystery Readers

StatCounter has told me a lot about who reads my Blog and where they live. But I am curious about a number of readers who live outside the DC area and who don’t leave comments, but who seem to visit often.

I was thrilled to get an e-mail from a woman in Australia some time back. She told me what she found interesting about my Blog. We exchanged enough personal information that I feel like I know her and I get excited when I see someone from Queensland, Australia, because I know it is Cee. I added her to my link list and continue to learn more about her through reading her Blog.

One of my most faithful readers lives in San Francisco and has a Windows 98 computer. I try so hard to picture who you are and why you keep coming back.

Then there is a new reader from Panama City, Florida. Could this be my friend FL, who might be visiting her father? If not, is it someone I grew up with? I will warn you that I am quite a different person than I was when I lived there.

I assume that any readers from Canada found my Blog through DC Cookie. But there are other people from Maryland, Iowa, Tennessee, New Jersey, and New York. Who are you?

I would really like to connect with you “mystery” readers – to find out why you read the stuff I write and if you have your own Blog so I can become one of your readers. I’m still somewhat in awe of this powerful form of connection that gives almost a feeling of family to people who are perfect strangers. I suppose in some ways it’s like my curiosity about my dead relatives whom I discover through doing genealogy. The difference is that there is still a chance to meet the living!

Leave me a comment or send me an e-mail if I don’t already know you and you are willing to do so. Or just continue to read and I will simply think of you by your state/country name. All are welcome here!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Second-Hand Technology

I’m getting a new digital camera! Well, not exactly new, but new to me. My husband loves new technology and really wants an SLR camera for his birthday (on February 22). His rationale for getting one is that I could use my own camera and if he gave me his, that would leave him without one. Similar logic has resulted in my current computer and my cell phone and my Ipod, which I must confess I have turned on only once. I refused the offer of a Palm Pilot, although every time I forget something I realize that I could probably use one.

This is actually a win-win situation, except for our bank account, which definitely takes a hit with every step up the technology ladder. My husband is so technologically capable that he will make full use of all the new bells and whistles. Whereas I can usually do just fine with the bare minimum, having an aversion to loading up my mind with a bunch of additional instructions.

I’m getting somewhat excited about my new old camera. Now I can take pictures and learn how to include them in my posts, the way the rest of you technologically savvy Bloggers do. Of course, I’ll probably ask my husband for some instruction both in how to use the camera and how to post pictures.

My children have always teased me about being a technological retard, especially since my job is in the IT field. But the truth is that I am just not interested in anything beyond the computers I work with all day long. I don’t feel the least bit guilty at home about my ignorance or indifference, telling myself that my expertise is in cooking and sewing and playing the piano.

So hopefully one of these days soon you will see the results of my new acquisition. Meanwhile, if you are reading this Prod&Ponder, please give me an idea about where to get a good camera (like yours that inspired my husband when he met you at TM’s Bowling Together)! My husband would be quite impressed if I actually bought his birthday camera, or at least wrapped up a picture of the one I had ordered for him!

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Latest Pet Peeve

I’m increasingly bothered by people who carry on side conversations in meetings. As I get older, I am having a harder and harder time listening to the "official" voice and ignoring the others. It’s the same offenders who feel this need to talk while others are talking.

I wonder why these people persist with their side conversations. Is it because they are not interested in what is being discussed? Is it because they want to show that they too are experts? Is it a socializing thing, with little snickers from time to time? Whatever its origin, it is disruptive to the meeting and just plain rude.

We have solved this problem in my weekly meditation group, where during the post-sit discussion the practice is to bow in to speak and bow out when you are finished. At first I thought this was way too formal, but I began to realize the reason for the formality and to enjoy the fact that we always knew who had the floor.

If someone tries to engage me in one of these secondary conversations, I politely nod and look disinterested but I NEVER speak. If I am chairing the meeting, I have no problem with simply saying, "One conversation please," as many times as is necessary to focus the meeting and that always works. However, I haven’t usually been so bold when those who insist on talking are my peers or my superiors.

Do you have any creative ways to deal with these people who would rather talk than listen?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blogging Ethics Revisited

After reading Rhinestone Cowgirl’s post on privacy yesterday, I have been giving some serious thought to what rules to follow in my own posts. My original rule was simply not to say anything that would hurt another person. But that became problematic when I realized that I could not always judge what would hurt someone. After pulling several posts and soothing hurt feelings, my rule evolved to getting that person’s OK (usually my husband) before posting. This, however, does not address a whole host of other things that I might write about myself or the "approved" posts that might not be appropriate in someone else’s eyes. You can just say "Screw it" and write whatever you damn well please. After all, there are no Blogger police out there reprimanding you for what you write. Or you can write about politics or natural disasters or pets or so many other topics that are (more) safe. But my preference is to write about the things that cause me angst, that touch my heart, that present ethical questions. And those things most always involve me and people that I know well.

This was well and good when no one was reading what I wrote, which was a long time. I now realize, thanks to StatCounter, just how many people from near and far away are looking at what I write. I am starting to feel very conflicted about just what to share with these friends, relatives, and perfect strangers.

I’m wondering if some of this is a gender thing. In reading other people’s Blogs, and I do a lot of that these days, I notice that it’s mostly the women who are writing things that impart so much personal information. AUA's recent post (America Works, January 16, 2006) that talked about his upbringing is one of the few exceptions.

I spent a good part of my therapy session with Kathryn today talking about this issue. She commented that it has seemed to help me so much to be able to write about all the issues churning around within me. I have actually shared several of my posts with her and they have fostered hours of discussion. My new-found openness through writing has helped me forge stronger connections with family members and friends. But I need a much clearer idea of how open I should really be.

Do you share this dilemma?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

An Ominous Red Light

The appearance of a blinking red "oil" light in my 1991 Honda as I was driving home last night sent shivers down my spine. This car with its 163,000 miles has traveled further than any car I have ever before owned, but I was hoping for a few more years since we just bought the talking Prius last year.

I must say the appearance of that particular warning light brought back memories of my semester course in driver education when I was in high school. The one question that appeared on every multiple choice test we took concerned the message that this oil indicator really conveyed. Most people chose "low on oil," but I knew that the correct answer was really "low oil pressure," often indicating a failure of the oil pump that could not be fixed by simply adding oil. I got my A in that class by taking tests well, not by driving. Most of the people came to class already knowing how to drive. However, I was not one of them. The instructor was Coach Redfern, who spent much of his time flirting with the cute girls in the class. When I went out for my "road test" and he told me to pass a car on a two-lane highway, I was utterly petrified. I since blocked out all memories of driving in that class, but I did remember about the oil light. So I immediately drove the car to the auto repair shop, hoping against hope that it is fixable.

As much as I hate driving this old stick-shift car in rush-hour traffic, I have become somewhat attached to it. It has never let me down and left me stranded. Never! So I await the diagnosis.

Meanwhile I am driving the talking Prius today. I managed to get it into reverse, as opposed to the last time I attempted to drive it. I muted the soft female voice that so likes to tell you every turn to make. (My husband is in love with this woman, who speaks English and French equally well.) I gave my clutch foot a rest. It’s such a luxury car compared to my old Honda, but I really hope the Honda springs back to life.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day to My Husband

Rhinestone Cowgirl’s post to her AUA prompted me to think about how very special you are. We are truly a case where the whole is so much better than either of the parts.

– We cook well together. You taught me to make all sorts of Jewish food and to follow the recipe. I taught you to experiment with lots of new food and to just make up the recipe.

– You taught me to save money. When I met you, I was spending every penny I earned. You had $20,000, which sounded like a fortune to me. We’ve enjoyed our money, but thanks to you we’ve planned for retirement.

– You contributed folk music to my classical preference and our Ipods are more interesting as a result.

– I taught you to love dogs. You taught me how to choose perfect names for them.

– I got you to read more by starting our book club so many years ago. You taught me the value of finishing the book on the day of the discussion, which I am doing this month.

– We could both have profited from some lessons in disciplining children. But at least we were of one mind.

– You constantly amaze me with your technical skills. I, on the other hand, bring the more practical skills like unstopping toilets.

– I made you realize just how much you value this religion we both now share. I lured you into the choir. We both grow as we learn how little we know about Judaism.

– You taught me that people can be smart and still be humble about it. I taught you that making things is also a way to be smart.

– You taught me to say “I’m sorry” and mean it. I taught you to count to 10 before you scream.

– We have learned together that sex only gets better with age, sort of like a bottle of good wine. I can remember maybe only 5 times in all these years when you weren’t interested.

– We taught each other that fidelity makes a marriage stronger. I’m convinced that there is no greener grass!

So happy Valentine’s Day to the love of my life. After 33 years of being with you, I know that you are the best thing that ever happened to me!

With all my love,

Monday, February 13, 2006

Learning to Just Say No

Will someone please permanently tie my hand behind my back so I can’t raise it to volunteer for anything else? I have come to realize that it’s totally my fault that I am overbooked and running out of time and energy these days.

I just can’t seem to control myself when these opportunities to bring food or lead some effort or do something for someone else occur. Last week a baby shower message came around. Instead of just contributing to the group gift and eating the food that everyone else brings, I decided to buy my own gift and offered to make a fruit salad. It’s not like this person is one of my nearest and dearest friends – she is someone else’s secretary who was actually a big help in creating my Powerpoint presentation for my Mexico trip. So I was out buying a gift as the snow swirled on Saturday and I have yet to buy and assemble a fruit salad. On Saturday the choir member sitting next to me mentioned that the zipper in her skirt had broken that morning and that she would just have to throw it out. Instead of commiserating with her, I volunteered to replace it for her. I mean, how hard is it just to put in a new zipper? The truth is that none of these things in and of itself takes much time or effort. It’s just that I keep volunteering and they keep stacking up!

I had a long talk with Kathryn last week about why I feel so compelled to hold up my hand at every opportunity. It may be because my mother did the same thing. The difference was that she never worked at any other job, so she had 50 hours a week that I don’t have.

Like in AA, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem. That I have dealt with. Doing something about it is going to be the tougher part. I’m going to ask everyone I know to help me just say NO the next time I am tempted to hold up my hand. After all, there is always someone else who can do just about everything.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Admitting That Your Mother Was Right

How many times did you just hate your Mother because she wouldn’t let you do something you really wanted to do? Something you had been counting on doing? I can remember any number of things my Mother and I disagreed on. I now know from my own experience as a Mother how hard it is to say NO when it is met with such unhappiness.

When I was in the 6th grade I was in a very unique private French class that met at 7 AM every school day. The students ranged in age from 10 to 16 and we had a very petite soft-spoken Belgian teacher, who had been a part of the Resistance movement during WW II. That same year someone organized a weekly class in square-dancing that met on a week night. When I wanted to sign up, my Mother said it was just more than I ought to be doing, given the time I had to get up each day to go to French class. I despised her for not letting me take the square-dancing class because the very coolest kids were square-dancing and not taking French, but I later came to realize that maybe she knew something that I even now have a hard time learning about over-scheduling.

Today was just one more example of my stubbornness to do things my way. I was supposed to see a friend at 10 today. It’s her birthday tomorrow, so I had planned a simple little celebration over tea, replete with homemade presents, a hand-made card, and a tiny candle-lit birthday cake. Well, as luck would have it, we woke up to at least 8 inches of snow. In my typical fashion, I got up early, cleaned off my car, and put on my boots. As I was getting ready to leave, she called to tell me not to come. I have learned that this is a friend you don’t argue with. I whined and pleaded and actually felt angry towards her, but the answer was NO. You see, she has this way of knowing what is really best for me when I can’t get beyond my own stubbornness. So as I sit here typing away, watching my neighbor shovel his driveway, I realize that it’s a good thing someone is still looking out for my welfare, since my Mother is no longer around to give me advice.

I am grateful for a day of REST and for a friend who could look beyond her own birthday celebration and tell me to just stay home and take it easy. It’s still hard to admit that someone else is right when it totally upsets your plans...

Did you ever come to realize that your Mother was actually right about something?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sad and Happy Tears as the Waters Part One More Time

As I read Rhinestone Cowgirl’s post earlier this week about feeling blue, I was happy not to have felt depressed in a long time. But by Thursday things had changed. A profound sadness had settled in and I tried to figure out why. Was it my new young boss’s question to me on Wednesday “What exactly IS your work schedule?” prompted by the fact that I seem to miss a lot of work these days because of doctors’ appointments and various therapy sessions. Or was it the fact that I still felt like shit, despite the fact that I had been diagnosed with a sinus infection and was on antibiotics?

I don’t know why, but whatever the cause, things that I normally like to do were becoming a chore. And I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job at anything I attempted. My Shabbat dinner for 10 that I had been so looking forward to was slowly degenerating into a list of things to buy and do, with little thought to how nice it was going to be to relax with people I love in my home. I knew something was wrong when I was at choir rehearsal on Thursday night, feeling totally wiped out, and my eyes suddenly filled with tears. This just wasn’t like me. I mean, despite all that has happened in the last two months, I have generally kept up a good attitude towards life, coming to appreciate good health once again.

Today was a special service at Temple Micah. It was the Torah portion that talked about God parting the waters of the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely cross, culminated by the women dancing with Miriam on the other side. At Temple Micah, this service has become known at Shabbat Shira (Sabbath of Song). It is an extravaganza that brings together a volunteer orchestra of about 25 members ranging in age from 10 to 80, the adult choir (of which I am a part), and the youth choir. As the morning unfolded and I felt carried along by the music and the enthusiasm of the congregation, I felt the darkness slowly lifting. I watched our new rabbi Toby dance through the congregation carrying the Torah. But the culminating piece, When You Believe from Prince of Egypt, which featured the beautiful voice of our choir director’s 9-year-old daughter Leila brought tears of joy to my eyes. The message of the song is “There can be miracles when you believe.” It was so moving that people actually clapped at the end.

I want the miracle of returning to good health. I want to love the many things that I do. I want to luxuriate in the company of the numerous people I now call my friends. I want to especially value my husband as Valentine’s Day approaches. I want to banish sad tears and have only tears of happiness. Is this asking too much?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Another View of Yeast

Yesterday I was coming up ways to kill yeast (as in yeast infection) if it occurs as a result of taking antibiotics. Today I am trying not to kill yeast as I am baking a challah for tonight’s shabbat dinner. What a difference a day makes!

I haven’t baked bread in a very long time. But my worst fear of bread-baking is killing the yeast by overheating. I love the feel of the warm dough as you knead-and-turn, knead-and-turn until it has a sort of elastic feeling. It always amazes me that the little round ball in the bottom of the big bowl does double in size in about an hour and a half as it rises in a warm place. That’s where my fear comes in. The ideal warm place is a gas oven with a pilot light. But since I have an electric oven, I always have to turn it on briefly and just hope it is not too hot. I suppose the easy thing would be to use a thermometer to check the temperature. But I never bother with a thermometer, hoping that my instinct will work as well.

I have now gotten through the first rising. The dough was all puffy and definitely doubled in size. It looked very cool with little flecks of saffron here and there, a natural way to add just a hint of yellow to this already eggy bread. I punched down the dough and carefully divided it into 4 smaller pieces. Then I made 3 long ropes and braided them together to form the base of the challah. I cut the remaining piece into 3 pieces, made 3 additional ropes, and then made a smaller braid to adorn the larger one. It’s now rising a second time in what I hope isn’t too hot an oven. It will then get an egg wash and poppy seeds on top before being baked.

In baking my Shabbat challah, I am joining the ranks of countless Jewish women who have baked their bread in preparation for the weekly ritual of celebrating Shabbat. Tonight we are hosting 8 other Temple Micah members for Shabbat dinner as the congregation takes the weekly Friday service to people’s homes. It’s a chance to get to know new and old friends better as we kindle the Shabbat candles, bless the wine and the bread, and share dinner together.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Rx Reluctantly

My nose has continued to be a mess for almost 2 weeks. Despite the saline suggestions provided by Cube and others, it was just not getting better. Plus I seemed to be going into a brain fog.

I finally bit the bullet yesterday and went to see Deborah with her doctor’s hat on. She can’t quite bring herself to call me Ms. Diskin in her office any longer, but she does look so doctorly in her compulsory white coat. She went through the usual set of questions (like what color is the sputum?), peered into all the orifices of my head, and came up with a diagnosis. Meanwhile, I actually voiced my worst fear and asked whether I could have leukemia, one of the little advertized side effects of my recent radiation treatment. She very calmly told me that it would take a lot longer than a month to contract leukemia, probably thinking to herself, "Is this friend of mine a totally paranoid hypochondriac?" Instead she declared that I had a sinus infection and put me on antibiotics, asking if there was anything I was allergic to.

She asked if I normally get a yeast infection when I take antibiotics. I can’t remember the last time I took antibiotics for anything. It had to be 15 years ago. You see, I just never get sick in the ordinary ways that most people get sick. But I do recall yeast infections in the past, so she wrote out a prescription for something to combat this nasty problem if it should occur. Isn’t it strange that fixing one thing breaks another? Our bodies must get so tired of these invasive interventions we keep throwing at them.

I started my Rx yesterday, waiting for the onset of an itch between my legs. So my winter nose is supposedly on the mend. Between my foggy infected head and several glasses of wine last night at a friend’s house, I was probably not such great company, but it was so nice to be cooked for and to just have some down time for pleasant conversation in my life that is way too busy these days, especially for someone whose body has been so invaded in the recent past. I have to learn how to take better care of myself.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In Search of Anonymous

Have you ever thought about just who this person Anonymous is who leaves comments here and there in Blogdom? I asked a friend yesterday "Who do you suppose it was who left you that yucky Anonymous comment on your latest post?" To which she replied, "Who cares?" I’m sure that is the right response to this nameless, faceless person, but for some reason I do care.

Anonymity comes in various forms. Many people, like Velvet, are writing under a pseudonym to protect their identity from the subjects of their Blog. But Velvet replies to e-mail messages and I have met her in real life and have come to appreciate her as a real person with a face. Then there is the somewhat mysterious Cube, who has never revealed her true self to anyone. But once again, we know a lot of positive things about Cube. She is intelligent, interesting, and one of the biggest supporters of the DC Blogs community, even though she chooses not to show us her face. One of the latest intrigues is Bilious Pudenda, who is almost schizophrenic in the way he mixes vile comments with warm e-mail messages. But the name that still crops up most frequently is the generic Anonymous.

Some of us know immediately who Anonymous is when we find a such a comment in our Blogs. For me it is always my husband, who has taken offense at something I wrote about him or about us. He often includes a cute phrase like "I have it on good authority..." More often than not, I will pull the post before you have a chance to read it when this occurs. AlwaysWrite also knows who her Anonymous is.

But then there are a whole host of other Anonymous comments that are often hurtful and just plain nasty. I can see why these people want to remain nameless and faceless. I keep trying to create a profile for this group of Blog readers who seem bent on hurting or discrediting the author or other people who have made comments. Maybe I need to learn not to care, to just ignore the generic Anonymous...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

An Evening Out with an Old Friend

I had a wonderful evening out last night with my old friend Kate and two of her friends. Old friend – let’s see, how long have I known Kate? Well, we met once at a friend’s house just before Christmas last year. And we took a crystal ball reading class together from the same mutual friend. But we know oh-so-much about each other because we read each other’s Blogs. She could ask me “Why did you keep pulling down posts last week?” And I could catch up on her personal gossip with “What IS happening with G?” I even feel like I know Kate’s son who Blogs as “Miniver Cheevy” and his girlfriend who also Blogs.

We met at Zaytinia’s for great wine and little plates of delectibles, finishing with a petite warm Turkish coffee dark chocolate souffle. Yummm! We had to talk about Blogging at dinner. Her friend Sandy said resolutely, “I’m not interested. I sit at a computer all day long. That’s the last thing in the world I want to do at home.” Her other friend Holly seemed intrigued and by the end of the evening was asking for our Blog addresses. I warned them both that if they started writing and reading they would get HOOKED on Blogging.

We hurried off to hear Mark Russell at Ford’s Theater. He is a little older and grayer than the last time I saw him, but he still delivers 90 minutes of great humor, poking at all the current players on the political scene. We marveled at the fact that he could go non-stop with hardly a breath of air in between his stories set to music. The four of us clapped, whistled, and screamed when he asked how many Democrats were in the audience. I would have changed parties if I were a Republican in that crowd.

Although I seem perpetually exhausted these days, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out with the girls last night. I can see that Kate and I are going to have a long friendship that is just getting started. It’s a good things our paths crossed!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Accidents Will Happen

As I was getting up from Deborah’s table to go home last night, I somehow managed to hit one of her lovely wineglasses and watch it smash onto the kitchen floor. I wished that I could have caught it in midair and saved it from becoming so many shards of colored glass on the floor.

The afternoon of music-making was suddenly eclipsed by this unfortunate accident. We had played the beautiful Telemann Sonata and the Bottesini piece so well in preparation for a coaching session with Bill this afternoon. Then we listened to Bill’s concert on the Internet (February 3) while we finished making dinner together. Following dinner we played lots of hands of bridge. Then at 9:00 I started turning into a tired pumpkin and decided it was time for us to go home. That’s when the glass tumbled to the floor.

I didn’t dare ask the story on the glass. Was it a family heirloom? Was it acquired on some trip to a foreign country? I would love to think that it was recently purchased at a place that still has some like it, but probably not. I can tell myself that accidents happen, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. When I got home, I sent her an e-mail to inquire about where I might find a replacement.

The only good news was that while walking to the car David said to me, “Deborah plays bridge even worse than you do.” Was that a compliment?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Family That Bowls Together

I grew up smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt of the South, where statements like “The family that prays together stays together” were common. Every Monday morning in my elementary school, there was a competition among the various classes for the highest percentage of people who went to Sunday school and church, resulting in a feeling of inadequacy among those children whose families weren’t religious. No one even knew anyone who was Jewish or much less Muslim. Two missionary-like Bible teachers came to our class every two weeks for Bible class. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening here today?

When the idea of Temple Micah going bowling together came up, I was struck with just how different my current religious practice is from the one I grew up with. Growing up I had spent a lot of time with the people of my church, but it was mostly in singing and praying and reading the Bible, certainly not in just having fun.

But last night we did have fun! 280 members of Temple Micah – people of all ages – showed up at the Bethesda Medical Center Bowling Alley to enjoy each other’s company as we demonstrated time and again how little we knew about bowling. It was certainly not about getting the high score, but more about community. We had a scavenger hunt to find people who satisfied categories like: Person under 3 feet tall, Member for 20+ years, Person who had been to Israel.

We probably had the only all Blogger (or Blog-reader) lane, consisting of Prod&Ponder, Invisible Girl, Goldpoppy, Dsquared22, and Looking2live. But of course we used our real names on the “Temple Micah Bowling Together” name tag buttons. We had varying degrees of success at bowling, with Prod&Ponder being the resounding winner and me claiming the low score. Goldpoppy was recognized with a certificate for “Having the most nerve to wear that shirt”, referring to none other than her father’s bowling shirt featuring their family name and a map of Missouri on the back. It was very cool and made everyone think that she knew what she was doing.

While people were bowling their asses off, Danny (our senior rabbi) was in another room having a serious discussion of the book “Bowling Alone”, which prompted this community-building experience. So maybe our slogan should be “The temple that prays together plays together.” As with so many things, I just say “only at Temple Micah”, and wonder what in the world they will think of next!

Sleeping In Is Hard to Do

My body struggles with changing its sleep rhythm. I’m basically an early riser, no matter when I go to bed. I went to bed at 12:30 last night, but still woke up at 7:00 this morning. I had to coerce myself into going back to sleep. For someone who often yawns all day long, I just can’t figure out this bodily rhythm that doesn’t seem to need an alarm clock.

I have been literally burning the candle at both ends. So I declared this a weekend of R&R – something I’m generally not good at. For starters I didn’t schedule any daytime activities. The only things on my calendar are “bowling together” with Temple Micah on Saturday night, playing music with Deborah late Sunday afternoon, and then having a couples potluck dinner with her and her husband. The real challenge for me would be buying my part of the potluck instead of making it, but I doubt that will happen. Otherwise how would I fill all those hours on Sunday?

It is a nice feeling to know I can just sit around in my PJs reading the paper, drinking my morning tea, or just gazing at my navel. Doesn’t happen often, but I think it is just what I need this weekend.

Two, Three, or Four Basses

I went to a most unusual FREE concert last night on the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center, unusual not because it was free, but because the instruments were all double basses. My friend and Deborah’s and my coach Bill Vaughan played in all three of the works by Telemann, Podarowski, and Alm. You can actually see and hear the concert by clicking on February 3 “Play this performance.” Bill is the one with the least hair.

I learned that there is a free concert every day at 6:00 PM. This makes it possible for virtually anyone in the metropolitan area to hear good music at no cost. Tonight’s performers were all part of the National Symphony Orchestry. They played a duet, then a trio, and finally a bass quartet. In my mind, the quartet was by far the most interesting piece.

Who comes to such a free concert? I met two DC Bloggers there. Deborah and her husband were there. The rest of the audience consisted of a slice of DC society, from the old to the very young. A couple of babies had to be taken out so that the rest of us could hear without being distracted. What a perfect setting for introducing young children to classical music. At best, it captures their interest. At worst, they scream and you have to leave, but in either case, you haven’t spent a penny, except perhaps to park. Even at $15, the hour-long concert was quite a bargain.

After the concert, Deborah asked me if I still wanted to play with her after hearing this level of musicianship on the double bass. I had to just laugh because I would be a nervous wreck playing with people of that caliber. Deborah and I are so evenly matched in our attitude and our ability.

If you haven’t already discovered these concerts, go check them out!

On another note, take a look at The Bass Gang, an Italian double bass group that plays some really awesome music. I ordered one of their CDs and it was well worth the price. You would never believe it was all double basses.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tomorrow and Other Poems from David Budbill

David Budbill escaped from city life many years ago to live on Judevine Mountain in northern Vermont, where he writes poetry and music. He is a strong anti-war activist and is greatly influenced by Zen philosophy. His poems are frequently read on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.

Tomorrow by David Budbill

we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
let’s go dancing
while we’ve still
got feet.

All This Ego by David Budbill

All this ego
all this drive
to get somewhere
at the finish line
death sits

one leg
over the other
hands folded
in his lap
a little smirk
on his face.

Easy As Pie by David Budbill

The Emperor divides the world
into two parts:
the Good and the Evil.

If you don’t accept that,
the Emperor says
you are Evil.

The Emperor declares himself
and his friends:

The Emperor says as soon as
Good has destroyed Evil,
all will be Good.

Simple as one, two, three.
Clear as night and day.
Different as black and white.

Easy as pie.

The Beautiful People by David Budbill

He is young
and handsome.
She is young
and beautiful.
They are wealthy
and intelligent.
Everything they turn
their hands to
a great success.

Maybe they will figure out
how not to die.

Ugly Americans by David Budbill

Americans climb all over the earth to get that they want.
They bomb anybody anywhere anytime if they feel like it.
And all that just to get some more oil or bauxite or human chattel
to make more gas or plastic or aluminum or sneakers or cars.

What causes all this pride, this hubris, all this greed?
How come we assume the entire world is ours to pillage?
Why do we just automatically presume that every poor person
in the world was born to be our servant?
Where did we get these ideas?

March 1640, a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,
the annual town meeting: from the minutes:

Resolved: that the earth is the Lord’s
and the followers thereof.
It was so voted.

Resolved: that the Lord may give the earth or any part of it
to his chosen people.
It was so voted.

Resolved: that we
are his chosen people.
It was so voted.

Carnal Vision by David Budbill

My carnal vision
never goes away.
My love, my lust –

for life, our flesh,
is always here.

Food, music, sex,
the delights of the eye,
ear, nose, and fingertips –

it’s how I know
I am alive.

It’s Now or Never by David Budbill

Eat, drink, and be merry, for
tomorrow you will surely die.

Get together with your friends.
Enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.

I’m pretty sure this is all we get.
I can’t be absolutely certain, but

of all the people I have known who
have passed over to the other side

not one has sent back any news.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Winter Nose

My nose is driving me crazy. I have declared a moratorium on attributing every new health issue to radiation, but instead this one can probably be blamed on the fact that (a) it is winter, (b) the heat is on and therefore the air is dry, and (c) our fucking humidifier is probably broken again. Hence, my original name for this condition: WINTER NOSE.

What are the symptoms of winter nose? You nasal passages are swollen and dry and you feel like you are always on the verge of a nosebleed (I won't go into the specifics of the latter, other than to say that you know when you blow.) In fact, I have this fear of sitting in my beautiful young boss's pristine office, feeling a giant sneeze come one, and making one hell of a mess of her desk and her fuchsia wool jacket.

So what do I do about my winter nose? I mentioned this to Deborah (my doctor and bass player friend) after we played duets on Monday and her advice was "Just live with it." This is the same person who also says "A little dirt never hurt anyone." All I can say is that I was glad that I hadn't shlepped into her office and paid $85 to get this particular professional advice. Other people have suggested saline irrigation. To me, this is too much like drowning in the Gulf of Mexico, one of my worst and recurring fears. My friend Mary, who is the wife of my pilates teacher and has a good answer for everything, suggested saline ointment or a saline spray by Ayr.

As I sat in yoga this morning trying to do various breathing exercises (pranas I think they are called), I realized that I have to do something about my winter nose. I'll mention it to my acupuncturist today, but maybe a trip to CVS is in order.

Does anybody else out there have this problem? If so, what works to fix your winter nose other than the arrival of spring?