Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blogging as Networking

When I agreed to chair the 2006 High Holy Days for Temple Micah, it never occurred to me that my Blog might prove to be a source of volunteer help. But that has definitely turned out to be the case.

My good friend Reya who introduced me to Blogging encouraged me to take this daunting job, telling me "I’ll help you. I’m good at schlepping!" So when I realized that the person who had polished the silver for decades had died last year, I had the perfect job for her. Polishing all those Torah breastplates will give her a connection to the Torah that most people never get!

The job of arranging for childcare was looming large. Most of my close friends at Temple Micah don’t have young children. YIKES! But then I remembered an anonymous TM member who had left encouraging messages on my Blog during my radiation crisis earlier this year and had finally revealed her name to me. Even though I have never met her, I knew that she had an adorable 6-year-old who would probably need childcare. PERFECT! So I called her and she willingly agreed to be responsible for childcare arrangements.

I still have lots of unclaimed volunteer jobs. My goal is to find a bunch of responsible people to shoulder the many jobs that need to be done. So if you happen to be a TM member reading this (like Prod&Ponder or Imaginary Girl, for example) and you are just waiting to be asked, consider yourself asked and let me know how you can help.

What a pleasant surprise that my Blog could be of such a big help in this totally unrelated segment of my life! BLOGGERS RULE!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Where the Wild Things Are

It used to be that wild animals lived deep in the forest and those of us in the cities never saw them. But not so any longer.

As I was writing yesterday’s post, I looked out my window to see a fat red fox meandering across my front yard with a (presumably) dead animal in its mouth. It looked both ways and crossed the street, not in any particular hurry. A dog walking down the same street minutes later sniffed like crazy, but by then the fox had disappeared into my neighbor’s back yard.

Then later as I drove into the city for my afternoon yoga class, I saw the hulking carcass of a dead deer on the left shoulder of I-395, quite close to Pentagon City. What in the world was a deer doing on such a busy highway?

But of greater interest, what are any of these wild animals doing deep inside the beltway? Are they searching for food? Are they becoming domesticated? Are they just no longer scared of humanity?

I have a healthy respect for nature, but this seems like nature gone wrong. What can we possibly do to lure the wild animals back to places that are safe for them and that are safe for us?

Monday, May 29, 2006

True Confessions of a Grammar Snob

For as long as I can remember, grammar mistakes (including my own) have registered with me, just as dissonant chords would. They are certainly not limited to the uneducated – I have heard rabbis, published authors, and plenty of others in high positions say things that set my grammar radar on high alert.

When we learned about subjects and objects in the fourth grade, grammar started to make sense to me. And even though a response of “This is she” to the question “May I speak to Ms. ____” sounded ridiculous, I could understand why it was correct. However, this stilted use of the word “she” is the very lesson that caused the most common grammar mistake that I hear today:

Which statements are grammatically correct?

(1) Jane gave the book to Ellen and I.
(2) Jane gave the book to Ellen and me.
(3) Jane gave the book to her and me.
(4) Jane gave the book to she and I.

The middle two are correct, although there are many people out there who use the first one in particular all the time. You can figure it out by breaking the sentence into smaller pieces and realizing that the only things that sound right are “to Ellen”, “to her”, and “to me”.

After my friend FL spent one semester at Vassar, she came back to our small town in the Deep South and informed us that our iced tea was no long “real good”, but rather that it was “really good.” Our teachers had spent so much energy trying to convince children to give up on “ain’t” that they had skipped over some of the finer things like adverbs. I still make this mistake sometimes, but I think of FL every time I do.

I’m not such a purist that I am offended when I hear a mistake. My immediate family will tease each other about mistakes. They especially love to jump on mine. My husband and I are of such a like craziness about this that during a lecture our eyebrows both go up at the same time when the speaker makes a grammar mistake.

This all starts to sound like a bunch of hooey when you consider that the goal is communication – making yourself understood. And whether you use the subjective or objective form of a pronoun is not at all important if the message comes across. In fact, there are times when the intent conveys the correct meaning when we don’t use the right words at all.

So this grammar thing is simply a game that lets me think about words, that lets me diagram sentences in my head, that tests this language which has more exceptions than rules. But for the most part grammar itself had no exceptions, just occasional mistakes.

Are you a grammar snob? Or have you learned to focus on the intent?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Perils of a Pedicure

Although my brightly painted toes looked really good, it turns out that my pedicure several weeks ago was not so good for the health of my feet. I came away with a nasty case of athlete’s foot that I have finally managed to get rid of. And yesterday as I removed all that pretty dark red polish, I found extra ridges and white spots on my toenails that weren’t there before. YUCK!

I started to wonder if wearing polish on fingernails and toenails is not the equivalent of walking around in a vinyl raincoat that doesn’t let your skin breathe. Maybe there is a natural function of these 20 nails that is interrupted by colored polish. Yesterday I carefully cut and filed my nails. I worked away stray bits of cuticle. I rubbed Ahava foot creme into my feet, paying attention to my poor wounded toes. Today my now-natural nails all feel a lot healthier and they look just fine, if a little pale.

Maybe I’ll go natural for the rest of the summer and give my nails a chance to breathe. I must admit that I liked seeing my feet coordinated with my favorite red sandals, but I like the way they feel today. I haven’t given up coloring my hair or shaving my legs yet, but natural nails could become a habit.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Searching for Sports Passion

As I sat in the crowd at the Nats-Dodgers game last night, I realized that I had never felt really passionate about any professional sport. I pretty much know the rules for most of them and can follow the game, but I never feel that primal urge to scream for one side or the other. I take my cues from those around me and fake it, but the natural passion just isn’t there.

My friend Kate offered me a FREE ticket to last night’s game. Never having been to a Nats game, I was excited to go. Four of us met up and went to the game, buying disgusting Italian sausages loaded with wonderfully smelling onions and peppers on the way in, and of course, a large cup of draft beer.

Our seats were not in the peanut gallery, but rather they were 10 rows up from the field. Corporate America doesn’t fool around with seats in the heights. We must have missed the National Anthem, because the two teams just came on the field and started playing with absolutely no fanfare. There was an occasional burst of hockey-style organ music and signs sometimes flashed telling people when to clap or shout.

People kept marveling that this was one of the more exciting games. Granted, the Nats won handily and they seemed to hit a lot more than they struck out, but baseball is still pretty much one person at a time doing his thing. It’s certainly not the crush of a football pile-on.

We did the 7th inning stretch, where everyone stands up and sings “Take me out to the ball game...” Then we sat down and they played some more.

We actually snuck out a little early, with the intention of going to get margaritas, that were definitely not for sale at RFK. As we reached our car, the crowd roared. Maybe the Nats had saved the best for last.

As I got home, my husband who had listened to the game, went through inning by inning, “Did you see that? Did you see the home run in the 8th inning?” Hmmm... No we were on our way to get margaritas when the crowd roared; must have been that home run.

As with many things, really enjoying baseball might just take practice. I am determined to have a really COOL Nats cap by the time I go to my next game. I will appeal to my husband to choose a game that is important to him. Living in a city with a baseball team and not supporting the home team just seems unpatriotic, so I am going to try to become a baseball fan. Maybe there is some sports passion in my being somewhere, just maybe...

Friday, May 26, 2006

When Western Medicine Meets Eastern Medicine

As my wonderful doctor, friend, and musical partner Deborah explores the back roads of China, she is discovering approaches to medicine that were never covered in her formal training. I just got an e-mail with the following description:

In the am R, S, and I ( and N some of the time) went to the lectures on Foot Massage and Acupuncture/ pressure, and then on Embroidery. Actually learned a lot and kind of felt by lunch time that I was at a conference. S volunteered to be the subject for acupuncture/pressure and had acupuncture just below her knee, I think for neck pain. She said it did not hurt and felt positive about the experience. R, S, and I ended our afternoon with a foot massage, we had been so impressed/intrigued with the presentation, that we decided, what the heck. I have to tell you all, I did not think it was possible to massage the feet only for 45min -- but it is--they have the foot mapped out so that there is an area on the foot to match every single body organ and they believe that they can diagnose and help heal ailments by proper massage of the foot-- if the massage hurt in a special area, then that meant that you were having a problem with that organ, and then they could tell you how to do some self massage to help. Maybe I need to learn this more and incorporate into my daily work. Well, anyway, it was very relaxing, and I have to say that my feet felt really good for some hours afterwards.

Deborah is absolutely the most caring, conscientious doctor anyone could ever ask for. For medical concerns, I don’t need a Palm Pilot – I have Deborah who tells me when it is time to get a colonoscopy, to get my next blood test, etc. But although she has never said anything disapproving of holistic approaches to medicine, she has not recommended massage, acupuncture, or meditation as a form of treatment.

That’s why I am so excited to hear about her adventure in China. Maybe more US doctors should be exposed to eastern medicine. As radically different as it is from the traditional medical practice here in the US, it has a long history of success that should not be discounted.

I miss Deborah every time I sit down to play the piano and look forward to her return, especially with this new medical knowledge. However, I can’t quite yet imagine having a foot massage and sipping herbal tea in her current Capitol Hill office!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Dream That Happened

It’s rare that the reality of a dream exceeds the dream itself. However, as my friend and I slowly paddled around the Tidal Basin yesterday on our little boat, grazing on goat cheese and dark chocolate and downing a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, the perfection of the day clearly eclipsed my original dream.

I can’t even remember when I came up with the idea of relaxing in a springtime paddle boat with a bottle of wine. When I first mentioned it to my friend, her initial reaction indicated that this would probably get added to a list of things to do some day, but it might never happen. However, somehow the recent beautiful crisp bright spring weather forced our boat trip to the top of the list and we picked a date.

When we reached the Tidal Basin, we looked with dismay at the beautiful sparkling water that did not contain even one paddle boat. After all the anticipation, would this be just one more security measure – discontinue the rental of paddle boats? But, no, as it turns out, they were renting boats – it was more like the entire Tidal Basin had been reserved just for us.

In need of a bathroom, we walked around to the Jefferson Memorial. We felt drawn to walk the rest of the perimeter, noticing the Buddhist monks taking pictures of each other, noticing a myriad of adorable baby ducklings following close behind their mothers, and noticing Splendida, the shimmering dragon that lay across the water’s surface.

The boat experience itself was almost like the dessert course. We truly looked dorky in our oversize bright orange life jackets. It was such a feeling of freedom to slowly glide through the water with no particular place to go. We drifted in the middle as we finished our snacks and drained the wine bottle, feeding a few drops to Splendida.

By the hour’s end we had viewed the monuments from various angles, visited the baby ducklings, and had our fill of paddling around in circles. It was time to plan our next excursion and paddle back to the dock.

This was a dream come trueR!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Learning to Really Talk to Each Other

The old adage "Every cloud has a silver lining" now has new meaning for me. I left our graduation-weekend-gone-wrong guardedly optimistic, but feeling rather sad about the state of our seemingly dysfunctional family. However, several painfully honest e-mail exchanges and phone conversations initiated by my son have ushered in a whole new way of communicating that will hopefully prevent a repeat of the weekend’s problems.

One thing that has emerged is my son’s disdain for those "nothing" phone conversations that include questions like:

– How’s the weather there?
– How’s your job?
– How’s your search for a new apartment?
– How’s school?

I find this so interesting because my father, my son’s grandfather, absolutely hated to talk on the phone. After about 3 monosyllabic responses, he would say "I’ll turn you over to your mother." Maybe I just never tried to talk to him about anything of substance.

I have the same disinterest in talking to my husband’s family on the phone, where they for their entire lifetime have discussed the weather and everyone’s state of health ad nauseum.

So I couldn’t be happier about setting the banalities aside and starting a new adult dialog with my now adult son on topics of real interest. Last night he introduced me to the concept of EQ, which will definitely feed a future post.

I love this new way of communicating with someone who continues to be one of the most important people in my life. He and I made a pact that we will never let our family fall into that path of silence that occurs when communication breaks down.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Can You Hablar?

As I was sitting on the parking shuttle bus yesterday at BWI, I overheard the bus driver talking to an obviously Spanish-speaking man who was using the typical American-abroad approach to communication – just say it over and over again, louder each time. The bus driver continued to say over and over, louder each time, "I don’t understand what you are asking."

I approached the man in Spanish and saw his face relax. I do appreciate that frustration of knowing exactly what you are trying to ask and seeing it fall on uncomprehending ears. We quickly established that he simply wanted to know the easiest way to get to downtown DC. I advised him to take the MARC train and showed him where to find the shuttle.

The bus driver thanked me for intervening and we headed for the satellite parking lot.

My main source of Spanish practice these days comes from speaking to Morena, the woman who cleans my office. She takes a short break in my office most afternoons, when we often deal with scheduling her home repairs or bulk trash pick-up – anything that requires English skills. I play her liaison and she brings me tamales and pupusas. Believe me, I am the winner here because she is a fantastic cook.

Spanish is definitely the second language of the US today. In fact, there are stores in my area of Northern Virginia where you hear nothing but Spanish. But until it becomes a dual language, as French is in Quebec, there will continue to be times when my modest Spanish ability comes in handy.

Monday, May 22, 2006

For the Love of a Horse

I could not have cared less whether Barbaro won the Preakness or the Belmont or another horse race at all, but all of a sudden I have become his most concerned cheerleader as he fights to keep his life.

Until my son Dan suggested that I read Seabiscuit, I had never had the least bit of interest in race horses or jockies. But I found the story of this amazing horse and those devoted to him to be utterly compelling. I learned an awful lot about horse racing – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But apparently not all race horses are allowed to live out their days peacefully after their moments of glory are over as Seabiscuit was able to do.

Barbaro had been touted as a potential Triple Crown winner after his recent Kentucky Derby win. Everything looked good as he left the gates at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, that is until he was about 50 steps into the race and he took that fatal step that caused a bone in his right rear leg to shatter into more than 20 pieces.

What I simply find bizarre is the fact that a horse who has been bred to run can break a leg with simply a mis-step – not a collision, not an accident of any kind. What in the world could have caused this to happen?

As the story in today’s Post stated, most any other horse would have simply been “put out of his misery” in a similar mishap, but fortunately this horse’s gene pool was impressive enough to warrant heroic measures to save his life. He underwent 5 hours of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, including the insertion of a metal rod and 23 screws, with the first hurdle being his ability to bear weight (all 1200 pounds of weight) within an hour of the surgery. It remains to be seen if the arterial blood flow in his ankle is sufficient. A future big test of the success of the surgery will be his ability to support his weight on his two back legs as he mounts the lucky mares chosen to carry on his line.

People in the business of raising purebred animals of any kind often seem to have a hardened view toward terminating the life of an animal. Given my unwillingness to kill even a spider, the idea of voluntarily ending the life of an animal as magnificent as this horse is beyond my comprehension.

So I am sending healing thoughts toward this horse I have never met, who bears the masculine form of my name. As hard as it must be for a race horse to stand still, I hope he can just let his gravely wounded leg rest and heal. I salute his will to live!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Graduation Weekend #2

This weekend in Boston hasn’t exactly turned out like I had envisioned it. The graduation part happened today, but the family stress level is about to go through the roof.

Our visit started out in a thunderstorm on Friday. We are prone to getting lost in Boston, so getting to our hotel in the rental car was a little tense. But then the skies cleared and we met up with Rachel and I got the best haircut of my life at a really upscale salon called James Joseph on Newbury Street. We had a drink and tapas, dropped our daughter off at her house, and headed to the airport to meet our son.

Dealing with adult children presents a whole new set of challenges. The first problem we encountered was our son’s utter disbelief that we expected him to stay in our room. Of course there were no more rooms in the hotel since this is graduation weekend for countless Boston schools. After one night he moved to a different hotel. Since then, there have been transportation issues and we still frequently get lost.

We’re heading out to a family dinner tonight with another family and then the weekend is officially over as we pack up for an early morning flight. I would simply like to rewind so many conversations and remove the words that offended and the catalysts that triggered unhappiness. Unfortunately I think a lot of the cause of the tension can be attributed to me. I have this awful feeling of guilt. It’s times like this when I question my ability to be a good mother. After such a good weekend in Tucson, I was ready for a repeat performance that just didn’t happen here in Boston. I am wondering when the 4 of us will again be together and hoping that the problems of this weekend will have been forgotten and that we will all get along and appear to love each other as family.

Meanwhile, happy graduation to my Rachel. Even though she doesn’t know where her career road is going at this point, she has the ability to survive in good style. She managed to graduate Magna Cum Laude from a reputable school with an impressive degree. She will go far in life I’m sure. Of that I have no doubt.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Shall We Turn Over?

I had forgotten just how small a double bed is -- when it is intended for 2 people. We are into our second graduation weekend, this time in Boston. We are three adults staying in a room with two double beds and the shared intimacy is a little more than any of us would find desirable. But $200 a night for his own room was a little more than our starting lawyer could afford to pay.

Here are my observations after a night in our double bed:
-- It is perfect for people who like to cuddle because you basically have no other choice!
-- Turning over requires agreement since it works best if both people are on the same side.
-- That’s pretty much true for the covers too.
-- It’s a lot harder to get a good night’s sleep when you are used to sleeping in a king-size bed.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Praise of "The History of Love"

Did you ever finish a book and say to yourself, "That was one of the best books I have ever read, but I really didn’t understand a lot of it, so I’ll just have to read it again"? As I read the last page of Nicole Krauss’s first novel, "The History of Love", that’s exactly what I said and I relished starting all over again.

It’s hard to believe this is such a young author because her prose is mature well beyond her years. The story traces The History of Love as it is penned in Yiddish in Poland by Leo Gursky, travels to South America where it is translated and published in Spanish by Zvi Litvinoff, bought by David Singer in Buenos Aires (who names his daughter Alma after the main character in the book), and is finally translated into English by Alma Singer’s mother (while she mourns the loss of her husband) at the request of Isaac Moritz (who happens to be the son of the book’s Alma and Leo Gursky, who never met his father). Now do you understand my confusion? But the story is so well told that you never feel concerned by the fact that you have totally lost the story line. The compassionate interplay between the young Alma and her brother Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah) would have actually made quite a good book in and of itself.

Here’s just a sample of the language of the book that draws the reader in like a magnet:

Of the two thousand original copies printed of The History of Love, some were bought and read, many were bought and not read, some were given as gifts, some sat fading in bookstore windows serving as landing decks for flies, some were marked up with pencil, and a good many were sent to the paper compactor, where they were shredded to a pulp along with other unread or unwanted books, their sentences parsed and minced in the machine’s spinning blades. Staring out the window, Litvinoff imagined the two thousand copies of The History of Love as a flock of two thousand homing pigeons that could flap their wings and return to him to report on how many tears shed, how many laughs, how many passages read aloud, how many cruel closings of the cover after reading barely a page, how many never opened at all.

He couldn’t have known it, but among the original run of The History of Love, at least one copy was destined to change a life – more than one life.

Have your read The History of Love? Did it touch your life?

Just Blowing Off Steam or...

Against my better judgment, someone-I-know has been driving an overheating car for the past 2 weeks. There was talk of getting a friend to replace the thermostat (one of the multiple reasons a car can overheat). But sometimes it takes experiencing the consequences to appreciate that the needle in the red on the temperature gauge really means: "Quit playing jr. mechanic and get this fixed immediately!"

My first encounter with a car that was overheating came when I was at FSU. I was driving an Oldsmobile F-85, one of the new "compact" cars and one of the first to actually have seatbelts. I sold seats at $5 a head for a trip to Atlanta. With exactly $25 in cash and no credit card, we headed north. Halfway there on the 250-mile drive, the car started overheating. We stopped periodically and filled the radiator and limped on into Atlanta for the weekend. Fortunately I was staying with a friend because I had to spend the entire $25 to get the radiator flushed out. And fortunately that was all it took.

Since then seeing many a car stranded on the side of the road with steam coming out or worse yet with a fire engine alongside putting out an engine fire, I have vowed to never be in that situation if I can possibly help it. That means paying attention to those warning lights that signal problems like an engine that is overheating.

Someone-I-know called several times in the middle of the night last night to say that there was now steam coming out from under the hood and that the car was being towed to a garage today. I just hope that the engine wasn’t already irreparably damaged.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Missing the City -- DC that is

As I drove into the city for my 9:15 doctor's appointment (unrelated to yesterday's stomach malady), I almost enjoyed the hustle bustle of traffic, moving slowly into downtown DC. I loved that I could get out of my car and find a Starbucks within a block. Being in the city made me wish I had worn a nice suit and good heels instead of my casual work clothes with sandals.

I really like the feeling I get walking down the sidewalk passing people of all descriptions and all generations, all seemingly intent on going some place. I even saw a child doing homework in the Starbucks, probably waiting for a nearby school to start.

The life of the city is quite in contrast to the feeling I get as I exit the Suitland Parkway and enter the suburban ghetto. There the people are mostly waiting – waiting for a bus, waiting to make a drug connection, or just waiting for life to call them into action. WOW – what a contrast!

This morning I longed for a downtown job once again, as I had had many years ago. I wanted to be part of that pulsing throng that testifies to the life of the city. I wanted this so badly until I went to leave and the parking attendant said, "That will be $15 for 1 hour and 9 minutes." At least the suburban ghetto offers free parking!

(My apologies to Kate, who seems to expect that I will post before 12 noon!)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Feeling Sick and Scared

As I pointed my head at the trash can and my body convulsed in wave after wave of nausea, I remembered just how much I hate to throw up. Whatever this is has totally knocked the starch out of me.

Yesterday in the late afternoon as I tackled a programming problem at work, I got this queasy-stomach-something’s-not-right feeling. After a couple of rounds of diarrhea, I knew that I was indeed sick. I worried that I might not be able to make it to my car in the parking lot or negotiate the 15-mile drive home in rush hour traffic without passing out or needing a bathroom.

As I pulled into my driveway, my husband was just leaving to go to a class. I made it upstairs, grabbed a relatively empty trash can, and collapsed on the bed, not remembering the last time that I had felt so sick. It was a good thing I had thought about the trash can. For some reason, throwing up scares me. I wanted someone to be there to hold my head and wipe my mouth with a wet wash cloth. I suddenly felt like a child again.

I slept that sick sleep that is punctuated by throwing up and trips to the bathroom, wondering how anything else could possibly come up or out!

At 10:00 I was relieved to finally hear the door open downstairs. My husband took my temperature, which confirmed that I was sick. He got me a cup of ice chips. Food was out of the question.

Today I feel achy but cooler, maybe even slightly hungry. Hopefully this is a 24-hour virus that will remind me just how great it is to feel good again by this afternoon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

BEWARE: One Way Only

Ever since we drove over those one-way spikes to return our AVIS rental car yesterday, I have been thinking about those ominous spikes. They always come with the warning "Backing up will severely damage your tires." You’d be a fool to drive in and then change your mind!

I find myself wondering if there are other things in life which come with such dire consequences for changing your mind? Take relationships, for example. Once you’ve committed to a friendship, a partnership, a marriage, reneging can cause permanent scars.

Does this mean that we should always be absolutely certain before we proceed? With car spikes, that is certainly advisable. With relationships, there is no such thing as certainty. But the stakes are still high if you make a mistake. Hm.......

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Just Another Mother's Day

“Happy Mother’s Day,” said the Avis car rental person as we returned our rental car at 6 AM this morning in Tucson.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” said the security screening guy in the airport.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” said the America West woman who took my boarding pass.

But wait a minute, I am not the mother of any of these people. Goodness gracious, I don’t even know them, I thought to myself. Then I started to wonder why it wasn’t my family who were saying those three words.

There were lots of excuses. It was really Dan’s graduation weekend, a once in a lifetime experience that must trump Mother’s Day, which occurs every year. We were spending most of the day in airports and on airplanes, not exactly the right scene for flowers, cards, and presents. But I still allowed myself to start down that slippery slope of self-pity. Where had I failed as a mother that my children and my husband were just ignoring my day?

I’m glad to say that I’ve now heard those 3 magical words from all those who are important to me (including my mother-in-law) and my husband is cooking dinner as I write this. All’s well that ends well...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

It's Official: My Son Dan Is a Lawyer

As he walked across the stage to claim his diploma, I realized that Dan had done it -- completed 3 years of law school and established himself as employed.

It seemed like just yesterday that we drove across the country to bring him the decrepit old Dodge Caravan and help him get established in an apartment prior to starting law school. I’m sure the demands of law school make that time seem somewhat longer to him. I’m also sure that as the temperatures start to soar once again he is questioning his sanity in staying on in Tucson to work.

I enjoyed the graduation speakers, all distinguished lawyers themselves. Invariably they admonished the graduates not to let work dominate their lives, to never let earning money come before carrying out the law, and to work hard to improve the public image of lawyers, which unfortunately has dipped to a new low.

From the time he was 10, I have known that Dan would be a lawyer. His ability to write well and to view things logically was apparent even then. I’m convinced that he will make a great lawyer, most likely fitting a lot of pro-bono work around a lucrative career.

Congratulations, Dan. I am so proud of you!

How Many Ways Can You Tell a Story?

At one point yesterday as we wound our way up Mt. Lemmon outside of Tucson, my husband’s cousin Carol said to him, “Can I ask you a personal question?” When he agreed with some surprise, she said, “Do you think your sister was developmentally challenged?” Nobody in his family had ever talked about this before, at least not openly. We had an honest and open conversation about what could have caused this behavior we had all noticed for years.

There were essentially people from 4 different generations in our little group yesterday: Carol’s mother who is 74, David who is 59, Carol who is 48, and Rachel who is 22.

I started to understand why so many stories have inconsistencies as they talked about my husband’s family. They had all seen people and incidents through different eyes.

There was lots of talk about Zelda, now 97, who had never married. Supposedly she was abused by a boarder at their small dairy farm. Who was this boarder? We all speculated. Zelda, who had a mastectomy at 35 and was somewhat bitter forever after. Was that really the reason?

Oral history is so fascinating because it always has a hint of historical fiction as the current population let their memories shape the history in ways that inevitably hide the absolute truth. But this is the stuff that families continue to pass down because it is simply how their stories get told.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Just Listen to Me

As my husband's cousin Carol, who lives in Tucson, was telling him to make a U-turn, I found myself saying, "No, just keep going and turn right on 6th Street." My daughter was mortified, saying, "But Mom, she LIVES here. Dad should just listen to her."

You see I had gotten tipped off earlier in the day when we spent 15 minutes snaking up the wrong mountain that Carol's forte was NOT getting around in her own hometown. When we had come out 2 years ago, I had learned my way around, poking into more used furniture stores than I could ever count.

This bossy "I must be right attitude" is not a new thing for me. I remember in the 5th grade arguing with a girl named Janet about the pronunciation of Sault Sainte Marie, a place where she had actually lived, declaring that Sault could definitely not be pronounced "SOO". I came to learn that not everything sounds like it looks.

In the 7th grade there was another argument about pronunciation, this time with a substitute teacher. The word was Bogota. It just didn't seem right that the accent could go on the last syllable. Once again, I was full of SHIT!

Today, however, I was right. Still, I hate the idea of seeming to be such a know-it-all. Why couldn't I just sit back and let us get lost, hiding the fact that I really knew the way home?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Rule of Two

We lined up for our 7 AM flight to Tucson with a bunch of sleepy people, all with their little wheeled suitcases, backpacks, laptops, and purses. After the America West person scanned our boarding passes and we started to walk down the ramp to the plane, she admonished us, “You can take only TWO pieces of hand luggage on the plane.” This is while people with humongous wheelies wheeled by and others with bulging backpacks shook their heads at us.

But I had planned ahead for just such lunacy. I quickly stuffed my little homemade quilted purse into my small zippered bag. Three had now become two. David crammed his camera case into his backpack. We flashed a “We just beat the system” smile at the watchdog employee, who had somehow hoped to either fine us or force us to check something, and walked onboard to find our little economy class seat with its continually shrinking legroom (that’s for another post).

We both wondered why the airlines didn’t use a simple rule of a weight and volume limit instead of the ridiculous 2-piece rule. I guess that might just make too much sense to an industry that thrives on rules that don’t make sense.

Guaranteed Weight Loss: Airplane Food

As the steward handed me two plastic-wrapped cookies, each the size of a postage stamp, I calculated maybe 100 calories for a 5-hour flight between Washington and Tucson. A steady diet of flying would put me in a size 6 in no time.

I thought back to my very first airplane flight. When I was 3 years old, my father was on a 3-month assignment in Washington. I was so excited about going to visit him, but even more excited about flying on an airplane for the first time. We dressed in our Sunday clothes for the occasion of flying, just as the air hostesses wore their trim navy blue suits with their little pillbox hats and their white gloves. My father had told us to expect the same steak dinner that he had on the trip up. We climbed up those stairs onto the plane with big appetites for the trip north from Panama City, Florida.

Much to my mother’s dismay, the attending hostess told us that the steak dinners had been discontinued the week before and that there was no longer a meal on the flight. “But can probably find something for the little girl,” she said. So I sat there with my long blond curls in my smocked dress eating a stale brownie and drinking OJ as we headed north on our noisy prop jet.

Since then we have seen food on planes come and mostly go. There were little plastic compartmentalized dishes of doll-size portions. There were lunch bags of sandwiches. There were bagels and muffins. There were peanuts. But even the peanuts are now gone and we are back again at close to nothing.

Think about it -- you could just get on a plane and get off when you have reached the size you want to be. I’ll bet it wouldn’t take long.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Never Too Late

In my dream last night I was arriving at our neighborhood pool as a LIFEGUARD. Yikes! Any of you who know about my deep water phobia realize that this would never happen in real life.

The odd thing was that the other lifeguards were the age of my children, who in their own teenage years worked as lifeguards. The head guard was none other than Chris, my son’s lifelong swimming competitor and a lifeguard forever, who currently works as a swim coach.

Just as I arrived for my shift, Chris performed a perfect save of some poor child who was drowning in the deep end. He always looked so good at whatever he was doing and really played the crowd well. In my dream he received a big round of applause as he emerged from the pool with the coughing child.

I found my lifeguard chair and made sure I could see all parts of the pool, a real necessity if I was going to do this job well. I scanned the pool for people in trouble. Toward the end of my shift I spotted my first victim and jumped in feet first to save the child. Of course it was in the 3' section of the pool. Everyone knew not to drown in the deep end because I’m afraid of deep water.

Never before have I considered being a lifeguard, not even in my dreams!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Salving Stress

Yesterday afternoon I had to kick someone out of my office to take a call from my best friend. But even as we attempted to catch up on each other's busy lives, people were lining up outside my open door like waiters ready to serve me up another helping of the problems du jour. I finally had to tell her I simply couldn't talk because I had to attend to the fires that were burning all around me.

I was happy to escape from all of those problems in the late afternoon to go play music with Deborah and Bill. As I touched the keys of Bill's 9-foot Steinway, the stress started to loosen. I played through the Rachmaninoff Vocalise with him and the deep rich sound of his 200-year-old double bass carried me a little further away from my earlier day. When Deborah arrived we launched into the Strauss Nocturno, one of the most romantically beautiful pieces ever written. I threw myself into the big chords, with Bill telling me to roll them from the bottom up "yeah, like that!" Ahhhhh....

At the conclusion of our coaching session with Bill (our NSO bass player who lowers himself to deal with the likes of us), we thanked him profoundly for all his help and for not ever yelling at us. He jokingly said, "Maybe next time." Deborah packed up her 6-foot instrument and we headed out into the real world. We hugged each other as we said goodbye for a while from playing together as she goes off to China with her family and I go off to graduations with mine.

Yoga with my wonderful teacher Leyla continued to heal my stress. I have to concentrate so totally in yoga to keep my balance and hold the poses that I couldn't possibly think of my earlier stresses. We worked hard on abs and lunges and even did a partner pose to pull the stress out of our wrists that tend to type all day. What really made my day however was a comment from my friend Mary after class that she thoroughly enjoys reading my Blog as I describe the minutiae that defines my life. That brought the first really big smile that my face had worn all day. My stress was healed and ready for another round in the day to follow.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What a Difference a Day Makes

Was it just yesterday that we were hosting our brunch out on our deck in warm, but breezy, spring weather with enough sun to require sunscreen? Today’s sudden wet chill completely reflects my work day full of problems and stands quite in contrast to yesterday’s bliss.

We ended up with enough food to easily feed 30 instead of 15. My two elderly Jewish cooks came with big Pyrex dishes of kugel and blintzes and other desserts. My office is enjoying the second smoked salmon-goat cheese strata that we never even cut into. I suppose the bottom line is if there are Jewish women cooking, there is never the problem of having enough food!

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the brunch. I now know these people well enough, for the most part, that I could just ask them to make another pot of coffee while I continued my discussion with the person sitting next to me. One guy brought his dog, much to the delight of Dylan, my 12-year-old who only wakes up from doggy dimentia when a spry young female enters his territory. While Dylan was entertaining his guest Sugar on the lower level of our yard, Jake was chewing through the wire fence so that he could lob his Kong over the deck gate and try to entice our guests to throw it for him.

The only unfortunate part of the day was the fact that we never got to rest. During the brunch David had to go to the airport to pick up our Israeli houseguests, who came in, ate leftovers and took a nap while we washed dishes. We promptly put them in the car and took off to see the Cezanne show on its very last day, do a quick dinner out, and then head to the Kennedy Center for the 35th anniversary celebration.

What a program! I actually identified feelings of PASSION surfacing as my senses were bombarded by some of the greatest performers ever: the Alvin Ailey Dancers doing "Rock ‘o My Soul", Sarah Chang’s hauntingly beautiful violin as she soloed with the NSO, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band marching the saints in, Judy Collins who always sends in those clouds, and on and on and on. What a wonderful taste of Americana for our out-of-country guests!

As I fell into bed with only 6 hours to go before the alarm clock went off, I had a feeling that today would be quite another day. And so it has been. I have not touched one thing yet today that wasn’t broken. My staff are hard at work to fix all the problems, but I am cold and tired and just zombied today. I just want to be drinking good hot coffee on my deck with my feet up staring up into a bright blue sky. Maybe another day...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Kind of Movie

I am such a romantic sap when it comes to movies. Last night’s Net Flix feature “In Her Shoes” was just what I needed to throw me back into a romantic state of mind. This movie portrayed the love-hate relationship of two sisters as they both fought to overcome a childhood of grief and establish themselves in an adult world. The movie ended with the younger dyslexic sister reading the following poem to her older sister as she stood under the Hupa:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)
i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

As we were getting ready to curl up in each other’s arms, I asked my husband if he had picked that movie with me in mind, since his choice is often toward thrillers or even comedies, to which he replied, “I like those sappy movies, too!”

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Some Old Dogs Forget Their Tricks

“Had you even noticed that we are having 15 people to brunch on Sunday?” had no sooner come out of my mouth than I realized that this was not the best way to gain my husband’s help in this joint venture.

I am rather Type A when it comes to entertaining – looking for recipes, thinking about table decorations, making time lines well in advance. My husband always carries his weight, but he’s just not as anal about his approach. Inevitably before a big “event” there is this clash as I vent my frustration over the time I have put in and we sit down and figure out what it is that he is going to do.

Tomorrow’s brunch is the result of our contribution to the Temple Micah Auction. The people who are coming are all friends who are coming primarily with the idea of socializing, not because they expect a gourmet meal. So do you think for once I could just make some coffee and put out a platter of lox and bagels and call it brunch? Not for a minute! We’re having smoked salmon-goat cheese strata, baby lamb chops, a tomato-mozzarella-basil salad, sliced strawberries, and desserts contributed by a couple of seniors who are good cooks. We’ll have OJ with or without champagne, a crisp white wine, coffee and iced green tea with mint.

The best news of all is that Kate is coming over in the morning to help get things ready. It will be so nice to have another pair of hands to do all those last-minute things that inevitably come up. My one step in the right direction was to choose the strata, which can be assembled a day ahead (and has been), as opposed to the last brunch where we had eggs Benedict made to order. Were we really crazy?

Anyway, despite my erratic start on this joint project, we are once again a team effort. I do love this husband of mine who stands up for his rights but never holds grudges.

We are promised a beautiful sunny cool day tomorrow, so brunch will take place on our newly stained deck.

The only other snag in this event is that my husband is picking up Israeli house guests who are arriving at National Airport at 1:00. So maybe I’ll just have to tap Kate into a continuing role as host to cover while he is gone to the airport. At least I didn’t deal with this little wrinkle with so much hostility!

Friday, May 05, 2006

False Modesty

As I was standing buck naked in the exam room before donning my paper gown, my skin doctor of 20 years and his assistant Sue started to come in. “I’m not quite ready,” I blurted out in a panic and they quickly shut the door.

But then I realized that 5 minutes after the doctor came in and asked the perfunctory questions about any changes in my skin, I would be standing up with nothing on so that he could meticulously examine every part of my body, including my scalp, in between my toes, and places where the sun doesn’t even shine.

After a 10-minute delay, in which he probably saw another patient, they were back and I jokingly said, “I guess that really wasn’t necessary.” Even though he is a gun-totin’ conservative Republican, he has a certain ethic which allowed him to respond, “No, there is a proper way to start an exam.”

He did the thing with his little scope that allows him to look deeply into my skin a few times, but finally pronounced me OK for another round of checking. That always gives me a squeaky clean feeling.

Before he left the room at the end of the exam, I asked whether he thought I would always have to be so vigilant about my skin. Unfortunately his response was, “Once you have a melanoma, you are an excellent candidate for another.” Since I have had 4 removed, I would guess there are more to come.

I left my useless paper gown wadded up on the exam table and walked out into the world once again, thanking my doctor for being the eyes and instinct that continue to help me beat the odds!

Looking for LOL

As I was driving to work I heard something on the radio about World Laughter Day, which happens to be this Sunday, and realized that I am way too serious most of the time.

There are really only 3 times when I laugh a lot – when I am drinking, when I am around one particular friend, and when I read Velvet-in-Dupont. Other than that, my laughter is only occasional and even my smiles are unintentionally rationed.

In the radio piece, someone postured that laughter could bring about world peace! Now that’s a stretch, but what the heck? Nothing else seems to be working. That same person mentioned that it takes a lot more work to frown than it does to smile and even to laugh.

If laugher is indeed the best medicine, give me a pill for LOL. I just want to laugh until the tears roll down my cheeks!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

My PJs Are "In the Mail"

“Hello, Ms Diskin, I have your things boxed up and ready to send back to you,” said a familiar voice on my office voice mail. It was my pal Lindsey from Radiation Safety at Washington Hospital Center. He was just calling to check my address before dropping the box in the mail.

Just tonight I had told my friend Mary the story of my recent call to WHC to ask about my long-lost-radiated pajamas. I truly assumed that the whole pile of things that I had left behind when I bolted out of there found a home in the closest dumpster. The idea that anyone could keep up with my things for 4 months and actually mail them back to me seemed utterly impossible.

But then I thought about Lindsey, how attentive and concerned about me he had been during my brief stay there. He bought me Gummy Bears (or some equally sour candy) to make my saliva flow and camomile tea to make me sleep, I’m sure paying for them out of his own pocket. He came in on a Saturday just so I could get checked and go home. He called me at home to see if I was OK. So I guess I’m not surprised that he is sending me my pajamas.

I wonder if he ever got a copy of the letter I sent to WHC, in which he starred as one of the few heroes? I wonder if his coworker (or maybe his boss) Stan kept “A Million Little Pieces”, as I told him he could? I wonder if I will have the nerve to actually wear those PJs that I continue to make such a big deal over? Probably not. But it is reassuring to know that there are people out there like Lindsey who continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Lindsey, who ended his call with “May God bless.” He continues to be my hero!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why Am I Not Content with Happily Ever After?

By anybody’s standards my life right now is sweet enough. For every pain in my ass, there are at least 10 good things on the other side of the balance. I have a stable long-long-term relationship. My health is back to normal. I got a promotion recently. My children are graduating and (hopefully) getting off the payroll. I brought my last therapy session of any kind to closure. My friends are true and plentiful. Life is good, right?

Instead of basking in contentedness, I am in a panic because I feel no zest for life, no passion for anything. I couldn’t even sustain my burning anger over being cancelled out of the Brazil trip for more than a couple of hours today. I am just sitting in neutral right now.

Did I really enjoy all those highs and lows as I discovered myself over the past two years? Did I get some sort of insidious masochistic pleasure out of my stint at Washington Hospital Center? Was the drawn-out ordeal of getting a promotion a motivator? Am I nuts?

I want my heart to beat fast or to have tears well up in my eyes about something. I don’t want to feel like I am on a high dose of Valium. Where is that juiciness that means the sap is flowing, that I am alive?

Wasn’t it just a few months ago that I was begging to get off the emotional roller coaster? I suppose this confirms the fact that I will never allow myself to be thoroughly satisfied with life. Maybe normality will take on a greater appeal the longer I wear it. However, I don’t want to be on a low-passion diet forever!

Last Draft Pick for a Trip to Rio

Last week when my boss asked if I wanted to go to a conference in Brazil – in Rio de Janeiro – in late May, I was surprised because I had already heard that one of my colleagues was going. But, heck, of course I said YES. Who in their right mind would turn down a chance to go to Rio? To attend a conference with directors of statistical agencies from Latin America, France, Spain, and important people from the UN?

As it turns out, everyone who had been mentioned to attend this conference with our agency director now had compelling reasons to be here (not the least of which that it happens to be over a holiday weekend), so I was the default attendee.

No sooner than I had agreed to go, than there was this mention of a paper that I needed to give at the conference. When I asked my boss who was writing the paper, she replied that D or F would write it. D’s response to me was, "If you are going, you are writing it!...I could give you some ideas." YIKES! It’s now 26 days until I have to give this paper and so far it doesn’t even have a title. Not only do I have to write something, but I also have to come up with a PowerPoint presentation in both English and Spanish. That’s a lot to pack into the next few weeks.

Since I am going with the director, I can’t afford to screw this up. I do have some ideas, but I also have to wonder if part of the reason that others backed out was the requirement to produce a paper? This is one of the larger challenges I have had to face in my professional life. I would love to be able to fast-forward to May 28 and see just what it is that I actually come up with.

I have memories of being in Rio 25 years ago with my boss over Carnival. What a WILD and WACKY place it was!

Have you ever been to Rio? Do you have any good suggestions for things to do when I am not being "official"?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The World According to Google

If you are like me, about half of your hits are the result of a Google string that lands on your Blog. Your StatCounter can show you exactly what people are searching for and then you say to yourself, "Did I really write about that?"

I had two recent Google surprises. When we were in Israel, we met with David Baker, the chief press officer in the Prime Minister’s Office. I wrote something about the meeting in my Blog, taking care not to include any real specifics since we were told that all comments were "off the record." Soon after returning home, I got an e-mail from David Baker, in which he said he enjoyed speaking to our group and would like to do so again at some later date. I thought that was pretty ambitious of him to have gotten all of our e-mail addresses and sent out such a message. But no, my husband didn’t get the e-mail. So I politely asked Mr. Baker how he had gotten my address, to which he replied that he had Googled himself and found his name in my Blog! We exchanged a few more messages, in which I could finally ask the questions there had not been time for in Jerusalem.

Just last week I got a message intended for my daughter, which said something like, "Are you the Rachel who worked at the Arlington Faccia Luna in 2002?" The message came from Wendell Brito in Brazil, who had Googled with "Faccia Luna" in the search string. Just who was this Wendell? A server? A busboy? A customer? I passed Rachel’s e-mail address on to him, since as it turns out, I was just the messenger.

For the longest time after I wrote a post on NYDJ (not your daughter’s jeans), I received lots of hits with "NYDJ" in the string. I assumed that they were in some way connected to marketers of these jeans, but who knows, maybe they were just other satisfied customers.

When I see readers who came by way of Google, I just can’t help but go back and read the post that they found. I wonder to myself if what I wrote was of any help to them. I wonder if they ever turn into repeat readers.

I am constantly amazed at what a treasure trove of information and pictures Google is. How many times do you search for something and come up empty-handed? I just went and Googled myself and found multiple references to things I had recently written.

If you are one of those people who landed here through Google, you are welcome! You make my stats much more interesting!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Making a Difference in Darfur

As I stood on the Mall yesterday among probably 10,000 other people with a political conscience yelling "We can make a difference", I found myself wondering if we really could. We wore our colorful new tee shirts and waved placards and banners to the crowd and to the cameras, but I harbored a disquieting concern that I was actually quite powerless to affect the atrocities currently being perpetrated in Darfur.

This place where so much has gone wrong is so far from here in time and space. Women are being raped and children are being killed every day as the majority of Americans go their way with not the slightest idea where to find Darfur on the world map.

The impressive list of speakers, ranging form Elie Wiesel to Nancy Pelosi to David Saperstein to George Clooney, whipped the crowd into a frenzy on multiple occasions. I clapped and yelled, but continued to question the reality of making a difference. I saw one sign that said, "Get our troops out of Iraq and into Darfur" and recoiled at the idea of the U.S. taking on yet another war and spilling U.S. blood on more foreign soil. I listened as David Saperstein suggested that the real solution will come from a U.N. peace-keeping force, much like that used in Bosnia, imagining that China and Russia are never going to vote for that because they get oil from Sudan! I looked around and calculated that the money spent on all of the colorful tee shirts could probably have fed a huge number of starving people in Darfur.

What was most amazing about yesterday's rally was that the majority of people there were Jews – Jews who remember the Holocaust and are trying in whatever ways they can to prevent the continuation of this kind of mentality.

Today most of the new tee shirts are in the laundry, the adults are back at work, the children are back at school. Did the rally sow some sort of seeds that will sprout to choke out the crimes against humanity that are still occurring halfway around the world? I would like to hope so, but my pessimism runs high.