Friday, March 31, 2006

As Seen Through a Lens

There was a time when we made fun of all the Japanese tourists with their fancy cameras, when we were embarrassed to pull out a Kodak Instamatic and snap a picture here and there.

But then enter the digital age. Virtually every person on our tour has a digital camera, some quite fancy with multiple settings and lenses. I sometimes wonder at the patience of those speaking to us who simply ignore the clicks and flashes instead of saying, “Could you please just hold your pictures?” Some of our group are so busy searching out the best angle, the best light, that I am amazed that they are able to process anything that is being said.

I wondered to myself today who would fare better on a post-lecture quiz – the group without cameras who simply listened or those who clicked and flashed and ultimately produced digitized pictures in living color? Are our expensive toys becoming a substitute for using our minds to process and remember what we see?

What Is Old?

Old is a relative term depending largely on where you are in the world. If you’re in San Francisco, 200 years is old. In Washington, DC, 300 years is old. In Norway 500 years is old. But in Israel, old often hovers around the time of Christ.

I have often wondered if there is any spot in Israel where you could dig down and not find something of interest. Today we visited a convent in Nazareth started by French sisters over a hundred years ago. It was just a church until a rock fell through a crack and revealed the existence of three levels below. The result was the excavation of a space that has Byzantine vaulted arches, that has an ancient cistern, that has stairs that now lead nowhere, and that has a tomb with a round stone door from the time of Christ at its lowest level. Now that old in just about anyone’s book! The coins and glass shards that have been unearthed attest to over two thousand years of layered history.

It’s the climate and geologic formations in the Middle East that equip this area to grow older and older with a historical trail. I find myself constantly closing my eyes and trying to imagine what it must have been like to experience life so long ago in these places where we walk as tourists today.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Technology is both a blessing and a curse. When we first came to Israel in 1978, no one had ever heard of a cell phone. Today every Israeli carries one and our tour group of 31 all have their own Amigo phone with the ability to make calls, to receive calls, and to use the phone as a walky-talky among the tour group. Sound good?

I was about to pitch the whole lot of those cell phones into the Mediterranean as we drove north from Ben Gurion Airport towards Haifa in the early evening tonight. Between the varied rings and the beeps and the general enthusiasm over all the electronic possibilities, the ancient feel of the country of Israel is just lost for me. We first touched Israeli soil at a high spot overlooking the city of Haifa. As we blessed the wine and drank it, the damn phone started to ring. Argh!!!!!

I even have second thoughts about bringing a computer. Maybe it’s the fact that I have had so little sleep in the past 24 hours, or maybe it is the fact that I am allowing myself to think about reading e-mail, posting on my Blog, downloading pictures, instead of focusing on why I am really here.

We arrived the day that Israel is springing forward in time, robbing another hour from an already short night. Our wakeup call is for 6:15 and the bus pulls out at 8:15 prompt. I am sure everything will look better tomorrow when I am more rested. But I wouldn’t put a major temper tantrum over the cell phones out of the realm of possibility. They simply don’t belong here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

When Does My Vacation Start?

When I left work yesterday, little fires were kicking up in all corners. It was not one of those leave-a-clean-desk, twiddle-your-thumbs last days before vacation. We have a major deadline on Friday that is being carefully watched by Congress and others. I felt like a real jerk telling my staff they might have to work this weekend and then walking out to go on vacation.

Even today I have been on the phone and reading e-mail trying to give them whatever help I could provide to resolve the problems that haven’t yet been extinguished. It’s hard just to turn it all over to them – knowing that they are the capable people that they are – and turn off work. I’m probably going to be calling from the airport to get a last-minute update on processing status. It’s like a mother role that I have a hard time relinquishing, even for 10 days.

I managed to pack my single suitcase last night, staying up way later than I usually do. I never use a list. I just throw in whatever appeals to me at the last minute. I have the essential toothbrush, change of underwear, hat, sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes. Most everything else is simply optional. I’m never one of those people who bemoans leaving something behind. For 10 days, you can simply deal with it in most cases.

I am so looking forward to this learning trip with 30 other people from Temple Micah, including our rabbi Danny. We will learn about each other as we explore this mysterious, fascinating, ancient country that gave birth to our religion. We will sing Jewish songs on the bus. We will eat falafel until we want to throw up. We will look at the fence with an odd mix of shame, curiosity, anger, and understanding. No doubt we will debate issues like the idea that Jews are a chosen people, never coming to real answers but adding a lot more things to consider.

As I step on the El Al plane that will take us from New York to Ben Gurion Airport, I am sure that I will be more than ready to leave all concerns about work on US soil and immerse myself in 10 days of adventure in Israel.

I hope to be posting from Israel, with pictures if I can figure out how to use my new camera. So check in!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Should I Be Worried?

I get a lot of different reactions when I say "Israel" in response to "Where are you going on vacation?" Today someone actually said half seriously, "I hope I don't hear about you on the news." That made me pause and think.

The Middle East has been an area of unrest for decades. To those who live there it is simply a way of life. They look somewhat suspiciously at every new person who steps on the bus. They often get off at the next stop if something doesn't seem right.

This will be my fourth trip to Israel. I must say that I have never felt afraid, not ever. There are soldiers and police in evidence everywhere. People smoke more than they do here. But otherwise, the anxiety level is not obvious.

Going through security at Ben Gurion Airport quickly conveys just how serious Israel is about keeping the country safe. They are masters at just looking at a person and knowing if that person could even possibly be a terrorist. You see, they have had a lot of experience in dealing with terrorists. There are so many more foiled attempts than we ever hear about in the news.

Every Israeli has stories to tell – stories of wars, stories of buses blown up, stories of narrow escapes. But most of us who visit never see any of those things. We ride around in our own bus, where we know just who belongs. We don't go to places that are known to be dangerous. We are spared sending our children into their mandatory service in the Israeli Army. We are just tourists. We are not the obvious target of those who would like to push the Israelis into the sea.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Minority Status

Belonging to the majority and not being a minority makes a huge difference in how you see the world. I have thinking about this recently for two reasons: I just read Alexandra Fuller’s book "Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight", the story of a white girl growing up in Rhodesia and other southern African countries. I’m also heading to Israel this week, where as a Jew I will have that rare experience of being in the majority.

Alexandra Fuller did not belong to the privileged white class that existed pre-Apartheid, but rather her family were more like the red-necks you might encounter in the southern US, those individuals that just barely survive on subsistence living and often experience abuse and alcoholism. The fact that she survived such an upbringing and wrote a best-selling novel about it is somewhat miraculous. What is even more miraculous is her undying love for the African continent despite the conditions of her early life there. Interestingly, she doesn’t dwell on the implications of her minority status, although it is quite apparent that their minority standing often worked against her family.

As a Jew, I am in one of the smallest religious factions in the world. The difference in this country is that I don’t wear a yellow star or any other identifying information that lets the world know that I am Jewish. Being in a religious minority in the US only becomes important when general laws threaten to impinge on your religious freedom or when vandals target a synagogue or a group of people who are more obviously Jewish, like the Chassidim.

But my minority status will change for 10 days on Wednesday as we travel to Israel. There I will be able to look around and know that most of the people who are not in domestic jobs are Jewish just like I am. I will find out what it is like trying to protect the Jewish majority in Israel from the terrorists that view the narrow country of Israel from all its borders in anticipation of a chance to attack. But inside Israel I will feel safe and happy to experience majority status.

The real irony is that in Israel I would not even "officially" be recognized as Jewish because of my Reform conversion. How confusing is that?

If nothing else, being a minority makes you aware of any limitations that are placed on you and makes you recognize the circumstances of your minority status – whether you are there by birth or by choice.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Going Solo

My musical world for the past year has consisted of playing music with other people – usually with Deborah or Bill. As much fun as this is, when someone comes over and asks me to play something, it sounds quite lacking without the other part.

Deborah and I have joined a group on Capitol Hill called “Works in Progress” that gets together monthly so that the members of varying experience and ability can play whatever they are currently working on for the others. Until we joined them, it was all piano. After we played our Bottesini Elegy, we were invited back to the next meeting. But they also suggested that I play something by myself. Yikes!

I started considering what to play and went down a long memory lane back to my childhood piano days. I took a weekly piano lesson during the school year at 8:30 AM every Saturday morning from Mr. Lightburn, a man who it turns out was a complete alcoholic and who made the rest of his living by playing in a nightclub. I often wondered why he seemed so perfumed; as it turned out, it was probably to hide the fact that he reeked of alcohol. Every week he would attempt to make ridiculous small talk in between hearing me play the various pieces I was working on. I never knew what credentials he actually had to teach piano. We paid him $5 a lesson and I took piano for 6 years. Once he played St. Louie Blues for me, but that was the only time I heard him play anything other than my music. I rarely played for anyone else because he didn’t do recitals.

A couple of years into my piano lessons I inherited a large box of very old music from a distant relative, Mary Lamb, in West Alexander, Pennsylvania. When I needed something new to play as a diversion from the John Thompson First - Fourth Grade books, Mr. Lightburn would simply dip into the box and come up with some old gem of a European book that was likely yellowed and somewhat crumbling.

That’s where I found Albumblatt (Op. 28, No. 3) by Edvard Grieg. Albumblatt means “page leaf” in German. These were little pieces that great teachers wrote for their students. I played this piece as a child for many months, committing it to memory.

This week I copied the pages of my ancient sheet music that are now ready to totally disintegrate. I willed my fingers to remember how to play it once again. I heard those hauntingly beautiful chords after 40 years of missing them. Invariably as I play this piece by the Norwegian Grieg, I can imagine being out on the Sognfjord, that beautiful body of water that cuts through the mountains north of Bergen and empties out into the North Sea. This Albumblatt is now my work in progress destined finally for an audience on April 16.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Last For Now

When I went to my appointment this week, my acupuncturist asked if I missed my therapy sessions with Kathryn that had ended two weeks prior. Truthfully I had not even thought about needing therapy since my last meeting with Kathryn, when she shook my hand and told me that I was welcome to call her any time I should ever want to in the future. We ended our therapeutic relationship on such a positive note and with such a security blanket if I ever need her in the future.

After my hour of bliss with needles in my hands and feet, when Mary asked if I wanted to make another appointment, I told her that my current thinking was one of simplifying my life and that this would be the last appointment for now, but I would certainly let her know if I needed to use her services in the future. I find acupuncture to be incredibly effective and healing. But truthfully I am in pretty good shape these days.

My very last massage appointment was supposed to be tomorrow morning. But for a variety of reasons, I am rescheduling it for when I return from Israel. I have determined that I don’t want to think of it as my “last” appointment, but rather, like the other forms of therapy, my “last for now” appointment. I can’t imagine ever finding anyone better than my massage therapist, but I no longer need her services on a weekly basis.

I am thoroughly convinced that each of these forms of therapy can be extremely beneficial when it is truly needed. The thought of not having them available is frightening. But the assurance that they are there when needed is a comfort. So I have a growing arsenal of therapeutic measures to call on if life throws me things that I can’t deal with on my own. Every one of these therapists brings to bear a different approach to healing. So “last for now” is just fine because it leaves the door open for the future. And who ever knows what that will bring?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Better Late than Never

After my traumatic experience earlier this year at Washington Hospital Center, I sent a 4-page letter describing exactly what had happened and offering to be a reference for anyone else undergoing radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer. Just yesterday, almost 2 months after my letter was sent, I received the following response from Douglas Van Nostrand, Director of Nuclear Medicine at WHC:

I received your letter dated 27 January 2006 from Dr. Orlowski, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer.

As Dr. Orlowski, I would like to extend my apologies for the unpleasant experiences that you encountered at Washington Hospital Center and specifically Nuclear Medicine. I also thank you for spending significant effort and time to chronicle your experiences.

Although we never are pleased to hear about these experiences, it is important that we do hear about them so that we can improve our patient experiences, our process, and our patient care. My objective is to have all of your experiences as well as all of our patients’ experiences in Nuclear Medicine like your pleasant experience on 24 January.

I have already initiated evaluating the various issues that you raised in Nuclear Medicine, and again, thank you for your input, suggestions, and time.

I wonder who actually wrote this letter because some of it doesn’t even make sense.

I wonder if anything positive will really come out of this, or whether this is simply a pro forma letter to satisfy someone’s requirement that I be sent a response.

I wonder if they will ever take me up on my offer to be a reference for some poor soul headed for radioactive dosing.

I wonder what ever happened to my pajamas and other personal things that I left behind to decontaminate after my treatment. They were supposed to let me know when their half-life had been exhausted. I rather liked those pajamas.

But most of all I am happy to have this whole ordeal behind me. I am happy to be feeling well and strong and fully recovered. I marvel at the resilience of the body to heal and come back after we assault it with all sorts of invasive treatments.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Art of Conversation

On Tueday night I found myself falling into "listening" mode as I sat at a restaurant table with 9 powerful women. Part of the problem was that I was literally straddling the legs of the two square tables, almost like sitting at the half-court line during a basketball game and watching the ball move from one end to the other. It’s as though there is a sound overload and I simply extract myself from the multiple conversations, not being able to be an equal participant in any of them. And this wasn’t even a case of these women talking about things that I know nothing about.

I’m fine in a one-on-one conversation, never lacking for a response or a subject to talk about. I’m also perfectly fine addressing a room of 70 people at work, talking about technical things I am intimately familiar with.

A friend who was there on Tueday night even commented about my being exceptionally quiet. At one point I glanced at my other friend to my right, who had not known anyone at the table other than me well before the dinner. She was doing fine, as she asked the right questions and conveyed just enough information about herself to be a good conversant.

I don’t want to be a wallflower, watching others interact. I want to get in there and hold my own. But I just haven’t figured out how to do that in a medium-sized group where everyone is talking at once.

Am I crazy or do others have this problem? Can the art of conversation be learned?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I’ve noticed an interesting new approach to advertizing. More and more ads now lure you in with something interesting but unrelated to what they are trying to convince you to buy or do. Here’s an example of something I heard on the way to work today:

"I recently bought a pair of Jeans and wrote to the manufacturer complaining about the child labor used to produce them. I received a $25 certificate in the mail for use in my next purchase. It was printed on paper made from a tree cut down by a 13-year-old. I’ve tried this on several recent purchases and in each case received yet another gift certificate. So now I can purchase more and more things and children are still working to make them.

You may not be able to change the world, but you can save a life by donating blood. Here’s how you do it..."

Over the years I have heard numerous often repeated ads that cause me to change stations immediately when the product is mentioned. One in particular starts off, "Your glasses just aren't helping your eyes... the See Clearly Method." When I hear that ad, I just can't wait to get rid of it. Today, however, I was so captivated by the stories about child labor that the appeal for blood donation simply snuck up on me. It’s like getting hooked and then caught before you can swim away.

Have you heard any of these dual ads lately?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Worries about Hair Loss

(This is not my head!)

For years and years prior to my thyroid cancer, people who cut my hair had been commenting about how much hair fell out when my hair was washed. If I had just listened to them I might have found out a lot sooner about the trouble brewing in my thyroid. Instead I would just say something like, "It’s always been like this. Don’t worry about it."

One of the wonderful side-effects of having half my thyroid removed and going on Synthroid was virtually no more hair loss. I had gotten used to not having to clean out the drain after taking a shower.

That is, until about 2 weeks ago. At that point, once again I seemed to be losing prodigious quantities of hair.

I finally sent Deborah an e-mail message about this asking if this could be caused by the need to regulate my medication and whether I could go bald from so much hair loss. She confirmed that I was definitely not going bald, agreed to check on when my next blood test needed to be done, and told me that hair loss like this is normally associated with stress or trauma and that it is usually temporary.

Then it dawned on me that just two weeks ago I had fallen and hit my head, resulting in a large goose-egg on the back of my head. I had also been agonizing over the job thing for the past few weeks. So, yes, I could put a check by both stress and trauma.

I hope to find that as the final soreness leaves my head and I settle into my new old job my hair is happy once again and is content to just stay on my head. I don’t want to be one of those old ladies who had to tease her hair to conceal the bald spots. What vanity...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Thoughts on Becoming a Procrastinator

I had always gotten my term papers written early, done the extra-credit assignments, over-practiced my music. That is, until recently.

Last month marked the first time that my husband finished our book club book ahead of me. I just barely read the last page before it was time to go to the meeting. This typifies most things in my life these days. I’m sure it is because I am attempting to do much more than I should. But the real question is what to do about it.

I realized as I was reading our next book (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller) this morning that it was happening again – that there was a chance that I wouldn’t even finish the book by the meeting a week from today. On the other hand, if I do finish it, it will be freshly in my mind. So maybe there is a silver lining in this new reading habit of mine.

Deborah and I are supposed to play at a class at GWU next Saturday. We haven’t even decided what to play – let alone perfected it to the point where the professor is going to give us a confirming nod. That will happen tomorrow when we meet for our weekly practice time together.

I should be reading, shopping, preparing for our upcoming trip to Israel. Instead about the only preparation I have done is to locate a dog-sitter and make sure my passport is current.

There are two other big-ticket items that desperately need my attention: my summer Torah-reading with my friend Lynn and my responsibilities for the TM high holidays, neither of which I take lightly. It’s just that they haven’t had time to surface amidst all the other things I am doing.

So much for my good intentions to simplify my life. Was that just last week that I was marveling at the wonderful feeling of free time? Was it just a month ago that AlwaysWrite admonished me to learn how not to say YES?

Instead I am learning the art of procrastination. I am learning to walk that fine line of success that borders on complete failure. I’m starting to think there is some sort of rush in succeeding against all odds. How utterly ridiculous!

Have you mastered the art of procrastination?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Where Do Lentils Grow?

If you know the answer to this question, you are ahead of three of us who are all good cooks who didn’t have a clue when I raised the question yesterday. I seem to have a weekend of cooking that includes lentils in various recipes, so I had reason to be thinking about lentils.

We postulated about a lentil bush, a lentil tree, a lentil bud (like a caper). But no one seemed to know the answer. Did you ever hear someone say, “I think I’ll try lentils this year in my backyard garden”? So I resorted to Google and found out about this interesting source of food. It is a legume that grows in pods on a low bush. Check out this site for a more thorough description. The map shows where they grow in North America.
Meanwhile my lentil salad (to feed 60) is delicious (thanks to Elizabeth who tweaked the recipe) and I have yet to make the dal for tomorrow.

Here is the recipe for lentil salad:

Mediterranean Lentil Salad With Lemon Herb Dressing

1 c. Lentils (tiny French ones)
1 Onion stuck w. 2 cloves
1 Bay leaf
Pinch of crushed red pepper

2 ribs Celery thinly s1iced
2 Carrots thinly sliced
2 Scallions thinly sliced
1/3 c. Kalamata olives - chopped pitted-brine cured

Put lentils, onion & bay leaf in saucepan. Add water to cover. Simmer until tender (30-40 m.)

Drain well. Place in large bowl. Mix in vegetables Garnish with the feta after dressing the salad. Dress with Lemon Herb Dressing while lentils are still warm.

(Can be made 1 day ahead.)

Serves 15

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and zest from 1 lemon
1 tbs minced fresh parsley
1 tbs minced fresh oregano or mint
Salt, black pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients in bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My Head Announces the Arrival of Spring

I don’t need the crocuses to announce the arrival of spring. My head lets me know as the pollen re-emerges. I once again experience my brain becoming like maple syrup and a dull pain in the sinus cavities above my eyes. Then I try to remember how long it will last.

Growing up in Florida, I didn’t have any sign of allergies. I never even heard of anyone taking shots to combat allergies. They just didn’t exist. But most everyone I know in the DC area experiences some sort of seasonal allergies.

Mine started suddenly over 20 years ago after I had a particularly nasty case of walking pneumonia. Those little skin pricks showed that I was allergic to virtually every form of irritant. I was constantly sick with sinus infections. So I started in on allergy shots that I have taken ever since. They eliminated the infections. But there are times like the beginning of spring when the pollen is just too much for the allergy serum. That would be NOW!

I try to pretend I can just tough it out as I ignore the pressure in my sinuses. But by mid-afternoon I pop an Alleve just to get some relief. I hate taking any form of medication and figure there must be something better than Alleve, but I haven’t bothered to find out what it might be. I tell myself, "It always gets better after a few weeks."

As I sit here in a fog with my head already pounding, I think of how nice it would be to go back to bed, to sit on a beach, to do just about anything other than deal with the daily crises that have become a routine part of my work day.

Does anyone know a natural way to deal with the onslaught of pollen? PLEASE tell me!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dan Meets DC Blogs

I dragged my visiting son Dan to the Blogger happy hour last night, partly because I wanted to go and not abandon him on his last night home and partly because I wanted him to meet some of the cool people who write on DC Blogs. His first questions: Will there be anyone my age? Are there any cute girls?... said as he looked at me and expected a room full of people like his mother. I assured him that the answer to both questions was YES and agreed to pay his barbill, an offer he just couldn’t refuse.

I told a few people, like Velvet, AlwaysWrite, Kristin, and Asian Mistress, that Dan was coming. It turns out that Velvet and Kristin went to the other happy hour, AlwaysWrite had to work late, and AsianMistress didn’t feel well.

So instead Dan got to hang out with girls like Cookie and Kathryn, who were their usual charming selves and who bragged up his mom’s Blog, much to Dan’s utter surprise. I wonder if he actually went home and read my Blog after such endorsements!

At one point during the evening we talked to a guy Jeff, who met his last serious girlfriend over the Internet. Interesting to ponder for someone who is at that point in life when dating is important.

Last night’s happy hour by the time we got there was not the crowd I had experienced at my previous two meet-ups, but it served to convince Dan that his mom is hanging out with some very interesting people these days who all like to write and who totally enjoy each other’s writing.

For someone like Dan, who as a lawyer-to-be spends a lot of his time writing, I think Blogging could be a great way to meet new people and to just have fun with his own writing. I’ll bet there is something like DC Blogs in Tucson.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Shake Your Mac (& Cheese)

Purim is the Jewish version of Carnival, occurring always in close proximity to everyone else’s version of this fun holiday. This was my first time to find out how Temple Micah celebrates Purim.

I went on Monday night expecting to see young Esthers and Hamans and a few other young children in costume. But I must admit I was one of the few adults who didn’t show up with some sort of costume. The absolute best disguise was my friend Ginger, who had us all stumped for the entire evening as she glided around in her very full, very hot pink dress, with combat boots, a black wig, and a gold face mask. Absolutely no one figured it to be Ginger until she removed the mask and wig!

The featured event was the musical "Middle East Side Story", put on by the TM Players, aging from probably 6 to 60. We all came prepared to boo the villain Haman every time his name was mentioned, not using a traditional "grogger", but rather boxes of Mac & Cheese, which would be donated to a soup kitchen after Purim. One of the musical highlights was the staff’s version of "Maria", which was a duel between the names "Dolores" and "Esther", as the lead character Hadassah searched for a non-Jewish-sounding name. This included Meryl, Deborah, Toby, and Danny, all dressed in very 50's style clothing replete with poodle skirts, saddle shoes, teased hair, and pointy glasses. In the end Hadassah, now Esther, prevails with the King (who looked very much like Elvis) and Haman goes to the gallows amid a torrent of grogging.

Reya could hardly believe the Mac & Cheese story until we went to Prayer Class last night at TM, and there in the galleria was a grocery cart piled high with boxes of Mac & Cheese, just waiting for someone to pack them off to the soup kitchen.

My resolve for next year is to come in costume. TM never lacks for ways to amuse me, while I continue to become more and more entwined in this wonderful community.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's Official: My Job Is MY JOB

I got a call yesterday afternoon from someone in our Human Resources (Personnel) Department:

HRD person: I would like to offer you the _______ position that you recently applied for in the American Community Survey Office. Do you accept this position?

Me: Absolutely. This will be my first promotion in 20 years.
[I found myself thinking that this was somewhat like saying "I do" after living with your partner for 10 years.]

The only thing standing between me and a start date is a higher security clearance. When you have waited 20 years, what’s a few more weeks/months?

I felt a huge surge of relief upon receiving this call. I had fully prepared myself for not getting this job, even though I was convinced that no one was more qualified than I was to do it. But all of a sudden, everything seemed to be right with the world.

I give my new young boss an A+ for a total lack of pre-selection. She played this entirely by the books, never giving me as much as a hint that I had this job. She is well on her way to being a career SES employee. I have sometimes wondered why someone with a graduate degree from Harvard is so enthused about working in the Federal government, but I suppose I should find this affirming.

So as I plunge into the day’s problems, they look just the same as they did yesterday, but I can smile at my new GS rating, knowing that it is one higher than it was this time yesterday. Some day in the not-too-distant future I will revisit retirement, but for now I have a job to do...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Choosing What to Fill Our Minds With

Last evening at a dinner party as the conversation turned to the Academy Awards, I realized just how little I knew about movies and actors and how little I actually cared! Whereas I could name 20 good books I had read over the past year or so, I couldn't tell you who most of the recent awards went to or explain why some people are complaining about the fact that "Crash" won. My husband, on the other hand, is an avid movie buff, often watching a movie after I go to bed.

After this discussion and my recent revelations about how little I know about the fashion industry, I started to take an inventory of just what it is that I choose to pay attention to, to remember, to fill my head with. The scary truth is that I see myself becoming more and more like my father, whose mind sort of played its own unique tune, quite unlike that of anyone around him. He actually spent a lot of his life inventing things that mostly never came to fruition, but his mind was active until the day he died.

So if it's not movies or fashion or popular music or sports that occupy my mind, what is up there? I took an inventory and here's what I found:

– The ability to says lots of things not only in English, but also in Spanish, French, German, Norwegian, Hebrew, and even Latin.
– Memories of most of the books I have ever read.
– Lots of poetry references.
– Ideas about gourmet and international cooking.
– How to make just about anything in the way of arts & crafts.
– A whole library of classical music.
– Lyrics to just about all the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel songs.
– Genealogy, going centuries back in Norway.
– Telephone numbers.
– Bible stories.
– Math puzzles and number patterns.
– City road grids (for cities I have visited).
– Hebrew trope.
– All the rules of grammar.

At this point, there is nothing in the list that I want to give up in order to make space for more current and socially acceptable information. I suppose we all make choices...

Is your mind in sync with those around you or do you have your own set of priorities?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

My Almost Designer Jeans

When I shop for jeans, I skip over the NYDK rack and go for NYDJ – Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. They fit oh-so-much better!

Last year after I started exercising and firming up my flabby abs, I went shopping for jeans. The sales people were actually laughing at me at places like Gap and Abercrombie as I tried on pair after pair that barely hung on the knobs of my hips and revealed lots of skin front and back. I kept saying “But don’t you have any jeans for someone my age?” I finally concluded after looking around that people my age were not buying their jeans at those stores.

So I wandered over to Nordstrom’s Narrative department and found exactly what I was looking for – NYDJ, which bears the following sticker:

Not Your Daughter’s Jeans

NYDJ cannot be held
responsible for any
positive consequences due
to your fabulous appearance
when wearing the
Tummy Tuck Jean

“You can thank me later” Lisa Sandel

The first good news was that I wore a full size smaller than I normally wear. An 8 was just perfect for me. They have a little bit of stretch so they hug without making you feel poured into them.

Yesterday I realized that I had almost worn out my year-old NYDJ jeans. I anxiously called Nordstrom’s to see if they still carried these jeans, fully expecting to hear that they were last year’s merchandise. But no, they have them in 3 colors. So I bought two new pairs and a cool jacket to dress them up. The confirmation that these are the right jeans for me was someone’s comment last night at the TM Auction that I looked a little like our rabbi Toby in my new jeans and believe me, Toby is a real fashion plate.

So Reya, they are not Dolce & Gabbana, and Velvet, I did not find them in Vogue Mag, but my ass is happy enough in my NYDJ jeans!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Flying Solo... or in a Flock

Since I started this awakening I have been going through for the past two years, I have benefitted greatly from the services of various therapists. But I realized recently that I was spending prime time with therapists – 7 AM Thursday mornings, 10-12 Sunday mornings, for example, and I was seldom putting in a real 40-hour workweek. Add this to music and book clubs and religion and yoga and meditation and the bottom line is that I was definitely over-booked and sleep-deprived.

So I decided that I absolutely had to simplify my life in every way that I could. I stopped psychotherapy 2 weeks ago, with Kathryn’s assurance that all I had to do was call her if I ever needed her. Obviously we parted on good terms (and with a firm handshake). I have exactly one more massage appointment and one more acupuncture appointment scheduled and that is it for appointments, other than the usual dental, GYN, and skin checks that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I can already notice a difference. When I wake up in the morning, there are so many more options for how to spend my day. There is wide open space. There is time to play with my dogs. There is time to just do nothing if that feels right.

I will forever be indebted to those people who were there to mother and heal and support me during this (what I hope to be) transition period. But their importance in my life has been supplanted by a whole host of new friends who will also gladly support me, but at no charge and as my equals. That was reaffirmed so strongly last night at Temple Micah as we danced our way through a service that ultimately showed us people who are so important to us as we worshiped a God of our choice.

So I prefer to think of myself not as an eagle soaring solo to new heights, but rather as just one of a large flock that is going somewhere together. I’m convinced that if I have any problems on the way, the rest will not go on without me. That’s a good feeling.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Prayer II

We had a most unusual Shabbat service at Temple Micah this evening as we worshiped through creative dance with Liz Lerman. I carried away this beautiful statement about prayer that continues to feed my thoughts from earlier in the week:

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home, the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after roaming through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.

Dogs and Vacations

I love my dogs, but I must admit that figuring out what to do with them when we go out of town is a problem – and a costly one. We have two aging big dogs – Dylan and Jake. I have never been able to in good conscience put them in a kennel when we go away. So we have found a variety of neighborhood kids to come over multiple times a day to deal with them. The last time we tried this, our next door neighbor found them locked between two gates on a 3 x 4 slab of concrete one day, so we determined that we needed to move up a notch in the world of dog-sitting.

We live in suburbia, where dog-walkers and dog-sitters are not nearly as prevalent as they are in the city. We pondered how to find a dog-sitter – look for an ad on a bulletin board at Petco, put up an ad at the Giant, try to find a NOVA student. None of those seemed like such a sure thing and any takers would probably be perfect strangers to us.

I realized that a young teacher would be the ideal person to do this type of dog care – low salary, perhaps shorter work day, likelihood of being single. So I called Burgundy Farm Country Day School, where our children went through 8th grade. It seemed like the right place to find an animal lover, since the school is built around what once was a working farm. Sure enough, after my initial plea for help as an "alum" parent, I was connected to the perfect young woman. Yes, she just happened to have the dates that we needed available. Yes, she could stay at our house with Dylan and Jake. Yes, she could come over one day soon to meet the boys and find out what care they needed. Yes, we will pay $50 a day.

So I get big kudos for solving the dog-care problem, which was starting to loom large in our preparation for going to Israel soon. Our new dog-sitter sounds delightful on the phone. She should start working on her Kong throw since Jake is absolutely obsessed with retrieving. It feels good to go away knowing that our favorite dogs are in good hands.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Other Woman

There is another woman in my husband’s life. She is bilingual – English and French with a perfect accent. He does everything she tells him to do. She has a sexy voice, but there is a certain mysterious quality about her. She’s with him every time he leaves to go anywhere. She is the voice in the GPS system on our new Prius. Had you going there, eh?

The truth is that he does trust this sexy female voice more than he trusts me to navigate in this city I have driven in for the past 35 years. And I have concluded that she always gets him to where he wants to go, but sometimes it is the most God-awful route. The other day we went at least 5 miles out of our way to go from Chain Bridge to where we live in Alexandria.

I sometimes wonder if this girl in the car doesn’t like me and therefore she jinxes me every time I try to drive that car. Remember the time when I was trying to drive home after the 6-1/2 hours marathon of folk music and I couldn’t get the car to go in reverse? It happened again recently. I never let her speak when I am driving, so I think she resents me.

I just have to laugh as we get out and shut the door and always leave Monique studying up on her maps for the next trip out.


I have been thinking a lot about prayer since Tuesday night – the first in a series of five classes taught by our new rabbi Toby at Temple Micah. I came to some startling realizations about how my approach to prayer may differ from that of many Jews.

I grew up in the South as a Presbyterian, surrounded by a sea of Baptists and virtually no Jews. Most people could launch into spoken, heartfelt prayer at a moment’s notice. Everyone said grace before meals. As a young child, I said bedtime prayers. We said The Lord’s Prayer every day in school. Although I was never so comfortable with praying publicly and I confess to never even thinking about the repeated prayers like The Lord’s Prayer – I mean what child could even comprehend "hallowed be thy name"? – I developed my own communication with someone, something bigger than myself. My prayers were often supplications – help me fix this relationship, help me play this piece of music without screwing up, even help me do well on this exam. I’m not proud of asking for so much, but I did. As a Presbyterian who was supposed to believe in predestination, I always acknowledged that it might not turn out the way I wanted, so my prayers always contained a closing, "if it be your will." I would occasionally throw in a thanksgiving prayer for a success or a thriving relationship or a beautiful day.

Toby started the class by distinguishing KEVA from KAVANA. Keva represents fixed prayers. Kavana are the free-form prayers. It turns out that the Jewish liturgy is jam-packed with keva prayers, enough so that you could probably spend entire days praying and never have to repeat a prayer. And, by the way, the official keva prayers are all in Hebrew. So unless you were very learned, you would probably not even understand half of what you were saying. So where does the kavana prayer come into the picture? There is a moment in each service where the rabbi says, "And now we pray silently." I heard people around the room in the class saying, "I don’t have any idea how to offer personal prayer." My response was one of WOW! This is unbelievable.

So now I am wondering if my prayers to whatever, whomever count as personal Jewish kavana, or are they something else, some non-denominational home-grown variety of prayer that is simply mine? Whatever they are, they are a source of comfort to me. They are something that no one can ever take away from me. I sometimes wonder if God isn’t sitting up there laughing at us humans as we try so hard to make something so complicated.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Did I Get the Job (still My Job, that is)?

Toward the end of my weekly one-on-one with my young boss today, I just happened to ask if round #2 of the interviewing for the position I applied for had been scheduled. (I knew that she was supposed to complete the 21 interviews for round #1 last Monday.) She replied that there wouldn’t be a need for round #2, that she had made a decision. But instead of giving me any more information, she simply said that she was waiting to talk to her boss about it when she was back in the office.

I found myself feeling relieved until I realized that maybe it was definite that I didn’t get the job. Then I would really feel cheated not to have made it to a second round of interviewing! I also found myself really wanting this promotion a lot more that I had admitted previously.

Maybe the suspense will be over soon and I can tell the world. If I am “legitimized”, I will buy everyone who congratulates me a drink at the next Blogger happy hour! Promise...

Dinnertime Conversation

Last night my friend and I were having dinner at Café Deluxe prior to the start of a new class on prayer at Temple Micah. All of a sudden as we took our first bites of salad, the man at the next table initiated the following conversation with us:

Man: Excuse me, ladies. Do you believe that President Bush is just an ignorant cowboy?

Me: I don’t even know you. Why would I want to answer that question?

Man: I just think he is being treated so unfairly by the press and he is such a nice guy.

Friend: Do you know him? Are you a personal friend of his?

Man: I know him in a distant way. He once sent me a response signed by him and his wife when I made a contribution to help the people of Afghanistan.

This went on for at least 5 minutes with him defending our fearless leader, whose numbers are tanking in the polls, to the hilt. Meanwhile, I never revealed my political leanings and my friend, who is closely connected to the Democratic Party, was equally mum.

He finally gave up on conversing with us, preferring instead to eavesdrop on our conversation, which of course turned to Blogging. So he got some interesting things to chew on without the mention of any Blog names, thank goodness.

At one point he pulled out a deck of cards, referring to them as Tarot cards, but they looked like the Bicycle variety to me. Just as we were getting ready to pay our check, he put away his cards, put on his hat, and bade us farewell. We both rolled our eyes and decided that this was clearly a troubled person.

I can’t say that I’ve never approached someone at an adjacent table when I was dining alone, but I certainly would have picked a better lead question. Politics is not a safe entree with anyone in this city.

Have you experienced any nosey neighbors recently while eating out?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Play It Again... and Again and Again

I have a tune stuck in my head that just won’t go away. I happen to love this piece of music so I don’t care.

Today’s tune is Vocalise by Rachmaninoff. It is dramatic music, as most of Rachmaninoff’s music is. It contains some very weirdly pleasing chord progressions that finally resolve, but only after pushing you to your limit. It’s a challenge for me to play, at least to play correctly and up to tempo, as Bill warned me that it would be. This arrangement is written for piano and double bass, as is most music that I play these days. I hear not only my part but Deborah’s part overlaying it and it is indeed lovely. In fact it beats the hell out of any other background music that anyone could come up with.

Our minds are so fascinating in the way they grab onto something and refuse to let it go. (I guess I’m assuming that everyone does this repeat ad nauseum and it is not just my OCD tendencies that create this phenomenon.) It’s sort of like getting to eat dessert over and over again without getting full or throwing up. The end just takes you back to the beginning, like a perpetual repeat marking in the music.

This of course isn’t so pleasant when the piece of music is something you would rather forget. That occasionally happens to me too. But more often than not, my tune du jour is just what the doctor ordered.

What tune has your head been playing lately?

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Tick-Tock of the Biological Clock

My biological clock is getting a second wind, or winding. It has been dormant for twenty-some years, but I can feel it ticking again. Don’t get me wrong – I have no means or desire to get pregnant again. I simply want grandchildren!

As I asked my friend Sam about his adopted daughter from China this morning after meditation, he replied that she was no longer a baby. Instead at 2-1/2 years she is copying things that he and his wife say, like “actually...” and answering questions with a choice by “whatever you guys want.” I immediately volunteered to babysit, insisting that I wouldn’t think of charging more than a glass of wine for my services. He admitted that they didn’t go out often at $50 a sit.

Then tonight at yoga, a 40-ish something mom I have known for a while told me the latest on her very petite adopted daughter from Guatemala. At 3 she is starting to read and spell everything. She chews off pretzel pieces to form letters, sees sticks on the ground that form letters, looks at a feather and says “it’s F mommy.” She’s now 35" tall and as complete a perfect human being as you could ever imagine.

My friend Kate has pictures of her beloved Atticus, the musical prodigy, all over her apartment. He’s an adorable little 5-year-old who knows the sound of Mozart and loves it.

I’m drawn to all these little children, the kind you can love and spoil and then send home with their parents. It sounds too good to be true.

I had lunch today with my 77-year-old friend Rosa, who has 10 grandchilden (I think) and even has great-grandchildren. She is gearing up for a trip to Alaska to see one of the grandchildren graduate from high school in May. I can see what pleasure they bring her.

Our other friend Kay was also at lunch. She was bemoaning the fact that like me she has no pictures to whip out when the topic turns to grandchildren. At least in her case there are significant others in both of her children’s lives.

At this time I’m sure having babies is not on the radar screen of my children. In fact, they are probably working hard NOT to have babies, as well they should at this point in their lives. But sometimes as I look in the attic at the boxes of toys and stuffed animals and homemade costumes, I have to wonder if there will be anyone to use and wear them. If only I could glimpse the future!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Old Habits Dies Hard

Today, Sunday, started out as a perfectly blank day. A rendez-vous with with my husband was just about all I had on my mind. But then I opened an e-mail from work and realized that there were problems looming. I traded my forever cancelled Sunday massage for a drive into the office, thinking it would be just for a little while, in the hope that Monday I wouldn’t be starting out inundated by production nightmares.

Almost 7 hours later I came home. It was dark and it was dinner time. Where did my perfectly blank Sunday go? Can’t I please just have another crack at free time? I promise to relax.

I haven’t done this weekend work thing for a long time now, forsaking overtime for sanity. I hope this isn’t a harbinger of a return to those exaggerated workweeks – those weeks from hell where work dominated every day.

My job becomes a pressure cooker this time of the year when a summer publication deadline looms large. My staff are excellent, but they haven’t completely released me from being ultimately responsible. My goal over the next few years is to make them take the heat away from me, so that I can just slip away into retirement at some point and no one will even know that I am gone. I wonder how many more weekends I will sacrifice before that actually happens?

Struggling with What to Write About

“Be thoughtful about what you write,” she said. “But I’m always thoughtful,” I replied.

I still struggle with what to write about. I’ve pulled two of my best posts this week because I now see how they could have been a problem for the subjects of those posts. I sometimes forget as I write that this is not a private diary where I am allowed to say anything I damn well please. But rather it is a very public forum, where people can Google and easily make connections, especially since I provide my full name.

What I have come to realize is that it’s more than a concern about slander. It’s about privacy as well. There are many people who legitimately just do not want the world to know what’s happening with them. And that should always be their right.

I tend to write very spontaneously – not thoughtlessly, but spontaneously. If I had to go check with someone first before writing, it would simply ruin the idea. This emerging responsibility to honor people’s privacy – to not even mention them with fake names or skewed facts – makes me feel like I am in a straight jacket when I sit down to write. The interesting part of my world involves other people – it is not just about me and nature (that might get offended but has no voice of protest other than the wind and the rain!)

I haven’t received more than a slap on the hand for anything I have written yet. But hurt feelings are just as important to me as a legal action. My intention is to avoid both. So I will continue to be thoughtful, maybe even a little more so than I have been in the past, as I weave together the story that is my life.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Falling Out of Balance

It happened again. As I was opening the heavy front door to Temple Micah this morning, with my arms full of music notebooks late to choir rehearsal, my water bottle fell. As I reached down to get it, I found myself falling backwards.

There is that awful moment between when you realize you are falling and when you hit the ground. This time I landed on my tailbone and knocked the back of my head into the stone rim around the door – a double whammy so to speak. My first question is always “Did I break anything?” The answer is always NO since I do have good bones fortunately. But my tuchy area was definitely bruised.

My husband, who had been following me up the stairs and watched this happen, helped me get up and gather all my things. I asked him to check my eyes – I think that’s what you do to detect a concussion. Then upon hearing that they looked OK, I sent him on to choir practice and went to get some ice for the knot that was already forming on my head.

As I sat in the lobby listening to the choir rehearse, our rabbi Danny walked in the front door and offered to sit and keep me company while I held the plastic bag of ice to my lumpy head. He told me how he had fallen recently while running and bruised two ribs. Then he had to go be a rabbi.

My friend Liz, the flute player, and Jennifer from the choir came in and listened to my accident story. What was concerning me most was not that I had fallen, but rather that this was not the first time and that I feel that my balance is somehow compromised. I just want to understand if there is something wrong with my body. Liz suggested that I call Deborah, my doctor, but unfortunately Deborah is in Ohio this weekend and I certainly don’t want to see an ER doctor.

I spent the morning hearing stories of falls that were supposed to make me feel like mine was nothing to worry about. Everyone was genuinely concerned, but no one understands this worry that continues to haunt me. I know now that I fall only when my arms are full of heavy things. Unfortunately that limits my ability to break my fall. So what am I supposed to do, never carry anything again?

I managed to get through the service this morning, politely answering questions about how I was feeling (post-thyroid treatment), not even bothering to tell those people about my more recent concerns. The ice helped the bump on my head and I actually don’t have a headache. Aside from a sore ass, there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage. But a fall knocks the energy out of me at least for a little while. If I could have one wish right now, it would be to experience a really balanced body.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Help on Altruism

I heard a piece on (I think) NPR this morning about how young children are totally altruistic. And then something changes as they grow older. I wanted to write about this, but I first wanted to read the reference. Did anyone else hear this today?

Eye Paint

As I eked out the last color from my tube of mascara this week, I enlisted the help of my husband to be my personal shopper. A while back I had forsaken my expensive MAC mascara which made my eyes look like whore eyes for a tube of Gabriel Color Mascara from Whole Foods. Here’s how our exchange went:

Husband: I’m going to Whole Foods today. Do you need anything?
Me: Oh good. I need some new mascara.
Husband: Yikes! I don’t know how to buy that!
Me: Here, take this empty tube and get one just like it.

Phone call later from him at Whole Foods –
Husband: They say they don’t carry mascara here. (I think he asked someone in the Produce Department.)
Me: Of course they do. Just go to the Whole Body Department and ask anyone who works there. Make sure to tell them it’s for me and not for you since we have very different coloring!

Later at home, as I see a tube of Ecco Bella Flowercolor Mascara, light brown on the kitchen counter –
Husband: I got your mascara. There were two choices – one was $22 and the other was $12. I went for the bargain. Hope it’s OK.
Me: (Hugs and kisses.) It will be fine!

For someone like me who knows so little about eye makeup, it is entirely fine. It even has a little mirror on the side. It’s nice to have a personal shopper who can buy even things he knows nothing about!