Friday, June 30, 2006

The Perfect End to a Physically Stressful Week

A belly massage was just what my poor colon needed after being poked and probed earlier in the week. My in-home massage therapist came this afternoon and put me in 90 minutes of nirvana.

Lori is not one of those one-size-fits-all bodyworkers. Planning a massage with her is somewhat like ordering from a sushi menu. Today I asked for a large order of hands, feet, head, face, and belly in addition to the standard fare. I think I could have easily filled two hours of her time. It’s not like I am running into someone else’s appointment because this is a second job for her and she does at most 2 massages a day.

At first the idea of getting a massage in my home seemed bizarre. WHERE was the big question. We finally settled on our family room with skylights and lots of space. The sound system is there. The massage table simply replaces the coffee table in the middle of the room. With the dogs outside it is actually quite peaceful.

It had been well over a year since I had had a belly massage, so there was an amazing amount of tension in that area of my body. I could just feel my battered colon saying a big THANK YOU as she gently worked my entire stomach and internal organs. It’s soft and pliable now and much more relaxed.

My intention had been to have Lori come once a month. We’re already moving to every two weeks because massage is the form of therapy my body loves the most. This was definitely the perfect way to end a week that packed a wallop of stress to body, mind, and spirit.

Pretty Feet

Three of my toenails have taken on a life of their own, with one of them starting to resemble a bird claw. I want to have pretty feet once again.

Fortunately the offending toes are the little ones that can hide under their neighbors. It isn’t so obvious. But I see them and I don’t like them.

They started out as nails that were thicker than the others. Now they are slightly discolored and they are hard to cut. These are not happy toenails.

I’m sure I’m not alone because when I get a pedicure they simply do the best they can with those nails but never tell me I have freaky feet.

I understand there is some sort of prescription medicine you can take to get rid of the fungus that causes these monster nails. Unfortunately it can have undesirable side effects, like liver damage. That worry has kept me from pursuing these pills.

My husband’s toes are infinitely worse than mine. He recently came home from a doctor’s visit with two varieties of paint-on medicine. If this works, I will gladly go that route in order to keep my liver in tact while my toes become beautiful again.

What a bitch getting old. Even toenails don’t seem to last forever!

If you managed to conquer toenail fungus and are happy with the results, send me your story.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Apologies to June

Seventh grade was perhaps the worst year of my life. I was the object of bullying by a group of girls who knew exactly how to inflict the most pain. Until now I have never talked about this with my teachers, my parents, or my friends. But finally I have to write it down.

Being 13 is a hard time for everyone. Your body is changing, your hormones are raging, and you are always vying for a place in the societal pecking order. It’s a time when someone who isn’t just like the others sticks out and begs to be dumped on. That would have been me. I was a smart kid who never got in trouble, who made all A’s, who was an overachiever, who still had short permed hair – the kind of kid other kids love to hate. Most of the taunting took place as we hung around outside waiting to be let back into our junior high classrooms after lunch. This group of piss-ass girls not only said awful things about me, but they also included my father in their insults. What was most discouraging to me was watching people who had been my friends for years just stand there or even join in. It wasn’t us against them, but rather me against them. Fortunately this never occurred in earlier grades or after 7th grade. It was as though they got it out of their system, but I can never forget that time.

Yesterday as I thought about this, I also remembered with shame what happened next. I am normally a person who goes out of my way not to hurt others, but instead I found myself seizing on a similar situation and becoming the bully. June was a girl in our class who was a little short on mental ability but long on imagination. As she told story after story about her fantastic older brother, I knew she was lying through her teeth because I had known her family years earlier and was well aware that she had no older brother! The story about how he had just broken his leg caused me to initiate a collection to send get-well flowers. I’m not sure what happened next, but ultimately there were tears and confessions on June’s part. I had felt so vindicated as I controlled that situation, but like such a shit when it finally was over.

I hope June has no memories of this today because we really don’t need hurtful childhood memories to occupy our adult minds. I keep wondering how I will view that group of teenage bullies when I see them next year at our 40th high school reunion. I’m sure they will all be there. After all, they were the most popular girls in the class.

When you were an adolescent, were you ever bullied or did you ever hurt someone else and later regret it?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

In the Hands of Mr. Sandman

Yesterday I found myself in the difficult position of choosing between intense pain and intense nausea. What a choice!

My colonoscopy 3 years ago in a doctor’s office was under "twilight" sedation, which most people find masks all sensation during the procedure. In my case, however, I screamed out in pain repeatedly. This time I was in a hospital so I could be knocked out completely.

In my intake interview at Sibley Hospital yesterday, I just happened to casually mention that I didn’t want morphine or any other narcotic during my procedure, remembering all too well the severe nausea I had experienced after my two thyroid surgeries. I never thought these drugs would be necessary for a non-surgical procedure that doesn’t leave you in pain. The nurse raised her eyebrows and said, "You’ll need to discuss this with the anaesthesiologist."

Here’s how my conversation went with the anaesthesiologist, Mr. Sandman we’ll call him, as he did his obligatory pre-op discussion of drugs with me:

Sandman: I see you don’t want any narcotics. That’s what we use to control the pain during the procedure.

Me: I came to this hospital to avoid the pain I experienced the last time, never realizing that you would need to give me narcotics to do this.

Sandman: I could just wait until I see you are obviously in pain before giving the narcotics.

Me: NO, absolutely not. This time I want no memory of pain, so just give me whatever it takes to make that possible and I’ll retch afterwards if necessary.

After I woke up an hour later, I realized that I was much more lucid that with the "twilight" drugs, I had absolutely no memory of the previous hour (good, bad, or otherwise), and I had no sensation of nausea. When Mr. Sandman walked by, I asked him what actually had happened. He said he used NO narcotics, only Propofal and Zofran. I had him write these down for future reference on the page that showed pics of my colon in living color (what a sourvenir).

Thank you, Mr. Sandman! It was a sleep with no nightmares during or afterwards...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Probing Where the Sun Don't Shine

Almost as dreaded as the C word is that periodic reminder that it’s time to have another colonoscopy. I was so hoping my friend, doctor, and musical partner Deborah would just forget that this is the year, but she never forgets anything and sure enough, she reminded me after one of our practice sessions by handing me a list of three doctors who specialize in endoscopy. Why anyone would want to have a medical specialty that involves probing people’s colons is beyond me.

I’ve had only one previous colonoscopy. Everyone told me that the preparation was much worse than the actual procedure, that the twilight they put you under masked all pain. That was definitely not true in my case. I can remember screaming out in agony as the probe rounded the corners of my colon. That doctor left me with the news that he had removed a small polyp and an admonishment to never again go for twilight.

So three years later, I sit here drinking Lemon-Lime TriLyte, the prep that “cleans you out.” It’s this weird sort of chalky tasting powder that comes in a 4-liter bottle with 5 optional flavor packets: Cherry, Lemon-Lime, Mixed Berry, Pineapple, and Orange. It’s simple – you just add the flavor, fill the bottle with water, shake it up, and start drinking an 8-ounce glass of the “cocktail” every 10 minutes. You continue this until everything is crystal clear and then you are ready. From that point on, you can have only clear liquids, like chicken broth and white grape juice until after the procedure.

Mid-day tomorrow I have my probe. The good news is that there are no after effects. In fact, I am rewarding myself by having two of my favorite people over to dinner. I will definitely be good and hungry by then.

But for now, I drink and gag. This stuff is really GROSS! I’m on glass #4 right now. I should in fact be thanking my lucky stars that this is all it takes to avoid colon cancer. The taste isn’t really that bad...

(Tuesday AM)

This morning my colon is undoubtedly cleaner than it has ever been. For breakfast I am sipping the gourmet combo of clear chicken broth, white grape juice, and green tea. Yummmm...

Got any good colonoscopy stories to share?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Turning My Life Over to a Blackberry

When my young boss offered several of us the chance to get a Blackberry, in a moment of weakness I said YES. Up until now I had sworn off all forms of PDA, preferring to keep phone numbers and my calendar in my head. I’m not sure if this was motivated by a desire not to turn my memory over to an electronic device or my aversion to operating techy things.

I was out for dinner with a friend last week when she asked me what my job title was. When I said "IT Specialist", she said, "You’ve got to be kidding. You don’t even know how to use your cell phone!" And how right she was. I am a damned good computer programmer, but hardware is another matter. I think it’s sort of like my lifelong aversion to driving a stick-shift car, which suddenly disappeared when we no longer had a car with an automatic transmission and I realized that I could do it.

Last week a technician delivered my new "toy" and gave me a 20-minute overview of all its functionality. I followed along, but after she left I had two immediate observations: it is really hard to hit those tiny little keys with your thumbs and I can’t get beyond keying in my password in terms of doing those things that I need to do with this device.

My part of the agreement in getting my Blackberry was that I agreed to use it pretty much all the time. Does this mean that my boss will be texting me at night? Will I be answering my Blackberry phone in Whole Foods along with everyone else who is speaking on a cell phone? I truly hope that nothing I do warrants needing to use it outside of office hours, but I did agree...

So this afternoon I am getting remedial Blackberry training. I have requested that a technician come and sit with me while I push the keys (if my thumbs can figure out how) and assure that I can make and answer phone calls, read and send e-mail messages, and check my calendar. I will feel good if I can just master this set of functions for now. Maybe next week I will explore the other 15 icons that pop up on the main screen.

I’m surrendering my mind to my Blackberry. God help me!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rise and Shine

How do you know when you’ve had enough sleep? When you wake up without an alarm clock and it’s not because you have to pee.

This doesn’t happen to me often. In fact I’m usually deep in sleep when the alarm goes off. I groggily roll over and crawl out of bed.

But what a difference when your body signals the time to get up instead of an obnoxious alarm. I’ve experienced this the past three days and it is luxurious. Today my eyes fluttered open and the first thing I saw and heard was the steady rain. My body was missing that tension that results from the jar of the alarm, even though it is music.

I wish I could start every day just like this, following my body’s clock instead of an alarm clock. I like my internal clock.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Burning Question

As I was driving to work this week, I heard an ad for advice on how to keep your child from smoking by none other than Philip Morris. I wondered if there was a hidden agenda.

Then I read this weekend’s NY Times article which featured an interview with Steve Parrish, the VP for corporate affairs for Altria Group, the owner of Philip Morris. Parrish came on in 1997 as CEO to go up against the FDA’s David Kessler. But since hurling all those innuendos back then, he has come a long way. For one thing, he quit smoking. He has convinced his company to publicly admit that cigarettes are addictive and cause disease. He has started multiple programs to educate the public on the dangers of smoking. He has supported the regulation of the tobacco industry, bills that the tobacco lobby keeps getting scuttled in Congress.

He has displayed all this missionary zeal as he walks to the bank each year with $14 million dollars in compensation. So what’s up with this guy, with this company?

When asked the question – Why don’t you just quit making cigarettes? – Parrish said that if Philip Morris closed down tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a dent in the number of smokers. In other words, there are already so many people who are hooked and pay no attention to attempts to educate the public or to their source of cigarettes, that they would simply buy their cigarettes elsewhere.

It turns out that Philip Morris’s goal is not to quit making cigarettes, but rather to come up with a form of cigarette or other tobacco product that is not harmful to your health. Unfortunately over 400,000 people in the US will die from tobacco-related deaths each year while they are working in their labs and the youth of America will continue to smoke their Marlboros.

I suppose it is refreshing to know that tobacco executive Steve Parrish appears to have a conscience.

But doesn’t Philip Morris and anti-smoking seem like an oxymoron to you?

Friday, June 23, 2006

An Ode to Zuppie Sue

The next best thing to seeing my old friend Marilyn was having dinner with her husband last night. We met him at Raku in Bethesda since he is taking a week-long course at IBM in Gaithersburg. They live in San Francisco so we don’t see each other often.

Marilyn and I met when I was a freshman in college (and she was a grad student) because we both liked the same guy. He was the one who gave her the awful nickname of Zuppie Sue. We ended up liking each other better than either of us liked him. Since she was 4 years older than I was, she turned out to be a good life mentor for a naive only child.

I remember distinctly living with her the summer after my freshman year in a dump called Seminole Plaza. Memories of that summer include:
– Learning how to cook since my mother had done all the cooking and never taught me. This included basics like potato salad and spaghetti sauce.
– Listening to Dionne Warwick belt out “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass all summer long.
– Learning how to drink and not get (too) smashed.
– Making out with my neighbor at a drive-in theater (the one I convinced to quit smoking before I would go out with him).
– Corrupting my boss's 16-year-old son.
– Watching Marilyn learn Cobol one lesson ahead of those of us who were in her class. She was a great teacher and fortunately for her a quick study.
– Having my 3-speed bike stolen.
– Hating to move back into a dorm in the fall.

Marilyn shared her car with me and treated me like I was her age. I knew I could always stay at her apartment if I needed a place.

Marilyn lived with her boyfriend Brian (the one I had dinner with) for years before they got married. My mother made a big deal about letting them share a bed in their unmarried state when they came to visit in PC. For heaven’s sake, she was so screwed up when it came to sex. Marilyn and Brian and I spent a lot of time together, especially in that summer of 1969 so long ago. I miss her.

When she was in town a few years ago, we contacted Joe, the guy we both liked who also lives here, and the three of us had lunch together. He was still the same old know-it-all and we both decided we had done a lot better in choosing a life partner. But thank you Joe for introducing Marilyn and me!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Exodus in Style

As we sat outside at Sonoma in the early evening last night, we were particularly attracted to the shoes that were busily taking people down Pennsylvania Avenue. They were going to dinner, to the Metro, to meet friends, or just stopping for a drink. These were not sensible feet but feet dressed to kill.

What happened to the tennis shoes that used to be tucked into a work bag for the after-work walk? These shoes had high heels and severely pointed toes and some had ankle straps to make sure they weren’t falling off. I could almost feel the pain of some of their owners as they made their way somewhere, often at a brisk pace.

When you get to be my age, you have a very different view of stylish shoes. They engender thoughts of podiatrists and osteopaths to fix corns, callouses, bunions, and fallen arches. Instead we wear sensible sandals or closed toe shoes that bring comfort to tired feet.

But last night’s parade of shoes provided entertainment and variety as they all kicked up their heels just beyond our table.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wanted: Hair Doctor

My hair has gone from being my best feature to being this limp mop on my head. I pamper it with expensive products and take care not to blow dry it too hot, but it’s just lost its pizazz. I wish someone could tell me how to fix it.

I’ve thought of several possible reasons for this transformation from chic to shaggy:

– The radioactive iodine treatment I had earlier in the year.
– An overdose of harsh coloring chemicals.
– The wrong products.
– Washing it too often.
– Blow-drying it incorrectly.

I made an appointment at an upscale salon with someone who has a good reputation. Maybe he will be my Hair Doctor and give me an Rx to bring it back to health. I hope so because I miss my good hair!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What Will She Be When She Grows Up?

As my recently college-graduated daughter waits tables in a chic restaurant in Harvard Square, I find myself wondering what she will eventually do in life. My only hope is that she will be reasonably happy and have enough money to enjoy life.

From the time she could hold a pencil, my daughter was always sketching. Her early animals looked real. Her people were happy, sad, or conveyed whatever emotion she gave them. At four she sat down and played the piano without lessons, picking out all the songs that she had in her head. She did a summer at RISD. She thrived on the arts.

But when it came time to declare a major in college, she decided that she did not want to chance being a starving artist and chose to study biology and psychology. In her internships to try to find the practical application of what she learned, she has so far rejected the laboratory rats and the troubled girl group home. The prospects for someone with an undergraduate bio-psych degree are not bright – that is, not if you want to be more than a starving biopsych person. Type A student that she is, she needs a break from school and simply doesn’t have the passion for these fields to launch into a graduate program in either biology or psychology right now.

So she is making a lot of quick, but hard-earned money serving the Harvard grad students trendy food in downtown Boston. Meanwhile, I am sure she is working on a game plan for the next chapter of her life. I will probably know what it is when she needs a little help to launch it.

For now, I can only wonder where this talented young woman is going to take her life, or where her life is going to take her. I hope it will be an interesting journey, one with few regrets, one that allows her to feel good about herself and her lifework.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer Break

Does it make sense to take the summer off from organized religion just as you do from school? I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, especially in light of the fact that our rabbis at Temple Micah pretty much turn the Shabbat morning services over to lay-persons during the summer.

The issue of attending services has always perplexed me. I grew up as a Presbyterian, where we went to multiple services on Sunday year around. There was no break for Sunday school in the summer. I’m sure there were many members who attended church services on Christmas and Easter, but they were not GOOD members.

When I married into Judaism, I found a completely different attitude. Some of the best and brightest Jews attend services only on the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My husband explained that Judaism is a home-based religion that doesn’t demand attendance at services. It doesn’t require an intermediary to access God.

I keep asking myself what would happen if God took the summer off? What if he just let the sun stay in the sky and not set or stopped the seasons in their tracks? We mortals would definitely take notice! Does he then not notice if we become summer slackers?

I’ve been rethinking my own observance of Shabbat in light of my last two weeks. I didn’t attend services, but I made a point of stopping my normal routine and just relaxing in a way that felt so good. It’s a 24-hour break that leaves me recharged for another week. There definitely is something to this idea of making Shabbat different from the other days.

My ideas about religion are constantly evolving. I always have more questions than I have answers. I’ll continue to ponder summer observance of Shabbat, especially as I prepare to read from the Torah on July 15.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Blueberry Pie Fit for a Father

When my husband requested blueberry pie for dessert on Father’s Day, I immediately pictured the disastrous crusts of my past. I have spent a lifetime trying to learn how to make a pie crust like my mother’s. I obviously did not inherit her secret.

Yesterday while I bemoaned my pie crust dilemma over gin and tonics with my friend Reya, she told me exactly what to do to create the perfect pie crust: chilled ingredients, a few drops of balsamic vinegar mixed into the ice water, frozen crust before the filling is added. She looked at me and said, "I have a good feeling about this pie of yours." Although Reya isn’t doing much magic these days, a good feeling still counts for a lot. So I went home hopeful.

This morning before I dashed out of the house to play music with Deborah, I made the dough. I must confess that as usual in my cooking I didn’t exactly measure everything. I just guessed at the quantity of shortening, but I think it was pretty close. I was also making a slightly bigger recipe because I planned to use a 10 inch pie plate.

As I rolled out the dough for the bottom crust, I could see that it had a different consistency than my previous disaster doughs. It was almost a little bit elastic. Whatever... The good news was that it didn’t rip, didn’t tear even once. I deftly rolled it onto the rolling pin and lowered it into the pie plate, trimmed and fluted the edges, and put it into the freezer, as instructed.

Meanwhile I mixed the blueberries with tapioca, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest. I was then ready to assemble, but wait – I couldn’t find the pastry cutter that I needed for the lattice crust that I probably hadn’t used for a million years. A quick call to my next door neighbor and I had a pastry cutter.

The blueberries with their gloppy sugary mix glistened as they awaited the crowning lattice. Once again, the second crust rolled out as nicely as the first. I cut the little strips with their decorative edges and carefully placed them on the top of the pie. A pinch here, a pinch there to seal the lattice, and the pie was ready for the oven.

If it tastes as good as it smells, this will help erase my past attempts at fruit pies. Instead of hiding behind the appetizers and salads, I may now volunteer for dessert the next time I go to a potluck!

This is a picture of MY BLUEBERRY PIE! Isn't it pretty?

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

My Love-Hate Affair with Exercise

As I worked out this morning in our basement “gym”, I reflected that I have had a lifelong love-hate affair with exercise, mostly hating doing it but loving those friggin’ endorphins that it releases.

I have a distinct memory of dreading going back to school in the 7th grade because we had to pass the President’s physical fitness test to get an “A” in physical education class and I really sucked at things like situps. That “B” was the only blotch on my otherwise perfect junior high school record.

I’ve always loved riding my bicycle and even playing golf, but the gym-oriented forms of exercise and running were never things I was just dying to do.

But it turns out that my body was dying just a little at a time from not doing any of those types of exercise. So about 2 years ago, I met a really cute talented personal trainer Brian at an open house at my yoga studio. Brian helped us set up a home gym and prescribed a program that was not so ambitious that we would never do it. He came over once or twice a week until we knew what we were doing. I was so committed to this while Brian was in the picture.

That original exercise plan has morphed somewhat as I started doing pilates, but it still takes place in my basement when I do it. But therein lies the problem. It takes about an hour to do the whole thing, including 15 minutes on the elliptical machine. There are many mornings when I just don’t have an hour and I know by now that I will never do the whole thing after work.

Exercise is increasingly important to me because it makes me feel better and it helps me not gain weight. So I simply must figure out a way to make my exercise program a habit and not the object of an excuse.

What about those of you who go to the gym religiously – what is your motivation? Are you addicted to exercise? Convinced that you will be fat if you don’t exercise? In search of meeting your next date? Or like me just trying to stave off atrophy?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Where Your Money Goes a Lot Further

I had a hard time even spending my allotted per diem of over $100 during my work trip to Indiana. For $60 I had a humongous room with a couch, a chair, a coffee table, a full kitchen, a walk-in closet, and a queen-size bed.

For $22 including generous tips, I ate enough yesterday to gain 5 pounds:
English muffin
Pork BBQ
Mac & cheese
Turnip greens
Margarita (special price of $3)
Wedding soup with meatballs

I can’t figure out why the same lodging and food would cost at least twice as much in the Washington metro area.

This cost of living differential also extends to housing. People at headquarters often think about spending their last few years before retirement in Jeffersonville so thay can afford to live palatially.

Even the price of gas is at least 30 cents lower here.

So why is it that we pay so much more to live with bigger rush hours, more pollution, greater anxiety, and a higher crime rate? Would we all be better off just moving to Middle America?

There’s not a chance that I would want to live in a small Midwestern town. I have convinced myself that I thrive on spending money, buying expensive gas, sitting in rush hour traffic, and stressing over work. But maybe, just maybe I should rethink my life choices…

Thursday, June 15, 2006

All Those Other Jobs

My visit to our agency’s processing center in a small town in Indiana has pointed up a number of jobs that are necessary to the success of our survey:
-- Sorting returned questionnaires and slitting the tops off their envelopes for up to 10,000 forms a day.
-- Examining every page of every returned questionnaire for foreign substances like anthrax.
-- Checking in with a “wand” all the questionnaires returned in a day.
-- Performing data entry of batch after batch of questionnaires.
-- Spraying addresses on 250,000 questionnaires for mailout each month.

All these jobs are repetitive and deal with incredible volume. In reality they don’t differ from any other production environment, like a plant for manufacturing automobiles.

No one I saw today appeared to be unhappy or stressed. Instead they reflected an image of contentment, sometimes even wearing a headset and listening to music while they worked.

The employees in the processing center never fail to thank us for providing them with stable employment – our survey is by far the biggest thing they do when there isn’t a Census going on. They like the fact that the survey is continuous, stretching into the future forever.

Most of us can offer up adjectives like stimulating, interesting, varied, evolving to describe our jobs. Maybe the tradeoff is that the processing center employees never have another thought about their jobs after they punch out at the end of their shift. We, on the other hand, often stay awake nights thinking about work. I wonder which type of job is better for your health.

Any thoughts on this?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Travel Jitters

As I sit here at the airport waiting for my flight to board, I realize that I am worrying about ridiculous things. Did I bring the right clothes for my work trip to blue-collar America? Will the hotel have a hair dryer? If I get hungry and need a snack on my break, will there be anything other than Cheetos to eat?

Good grief! I’m going to Jeffersonville, Indiana, for a 2-day conference on key-from-image versus key-from-paper, the methodology for capturing the data from our national survey of 3 million households a year. Although Jeffersonville is not a thriving metropolis, I’m sure I could buy anything I forgot to pack.

Then there are the anxieties induced by airports. For security reasons, there is no bathroom in Legal Seafood. I was sure the waitress had absconded with my government credit card because it took her so long to come back. The 2-bag rule is in full force here. In order to get through security, I had to expand my single suitcase so I could pack my purse since I had my laptop. What exactly is the difference I ask?

They just cancelled a flight to Providence. What if my flight got cancelled?

The plane isn’t huge. They will undoubtedly make me stow my one suitcase in the baggage compartment. What if something like my mousse explodes?

They were predicting thunderstorms this afternoon. What if…?

STOP! There is not one legitimate worry in this list. But this is my familiar pattern. It actually stops the minute I board and fasten my seatbelt. At that point I am finally at peace, resigned to whatever the flight brings, not even thinking about whether there will be a snack, because I now know that there won’t be.

More from J’ville, where the salt of the earth do all the jobs that no one wants to do any longer at the headquarters offices of my government agency.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Whose Father's Day Is It?

Yesterday I found myself thinking ahead to Father's Day and then I realized I don't have a father any longer. Why do I feel so responsible? Mother's day was a grim reminder that if there is no initiative on the part of the other parent, the most you can expect is a phone call.

Maybe I just didn't drop any hints early enough. On our bike ride the other day, my husband cleverly remarked that if anyone was looking for a Father's Day idea, he could use bike shorts, a rear-view mirror (like Reya's), and a GPS system for his bike. Good God, I hope it doesn't talk, that's all I could think!

So I dutifully passed on these none-too-subtle hints to our children. Our daughter replied that she was getting him baseball tickets. I've yet to hear from our son. So I'm wondering if it's up to me to once again do his wish-list shopping. My plans were more along the line of a romantic candle-lit dinner with a good bottle of wine, not hanging out in some bike store.

The real question I'm trying to answer is at what point do our children suddenly take responsibility for remembering our one day a year? I can't remember when that happened for me, but it was probably early on because my parents would never have suggested spending money. After all, I would like some recognition of the fact that I spent 9 months (twice) looking like a beached whale, changed my career plans to cut out international travel and work part-time for a while, chauffeured them to lessons and practices and birthday parties for years, and then provided a car so they could make me crazy late at night when they didn't come home.

I take great joy in the fact that my children are growing up into responsible, intelligent members of society, who have no addictions or arrest records or personality disorders. Why in the world do I care whether they are obvious about their appreciation for their parents?

By the way, if you have a father, don’t forget that Father’s Day is this Sunday...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Playing Some Gutsy Jazz

After two glasses of wine at my friend Bill’s wedding party yesterday, I found myself inviting the principal flutist from a mid-western symphony orchestra to join me at my lesson with Bill today to play the Claude Bolling Suite for Piano and Flute ( which also has a double bass part). She is a friend of Bill’s wife who was in town to audition with the NSO. Was I out of my friggin’ mind? I am still learning this difficult piece and I am way out of my league playing with two professionals of this calabur. But I love the Bolling Suite and look for any opportunity to play it.

My friend Jeff introduced me to this piece back in 1976 when Claude Bolling wrote it specifically for himself and his friend Jean Pierre Rampal (with his golden flute). Jeff was one of those people who had the best in stereo equipment and loved to take pictures of young girls doing strange things with vegetables (maybe a post some other day). But he did know his jazz and this was quite a find. I bought the record (we still did vinyl back then) and played it until it nearly wore out. Then I forgot about the piece for many years.

Just last summer at Chautauqua, my friend Deborah suggested that we read through the Bolling Suite just for fun. I quickly realized that this music was far too tough to sight-read – at least for me. But I bought the CD and once again became addicted to it. Then I ordered the sheet music, with its parts for piano, flute, bass, and drums. Since last summer I have been working through just three movements of the Suite – Baroque and Blue, Sentimentale, and Irlandaise.

These three are works in progress right now. But at 4:30 today I will sit down with Bill and the cute young blond flutist I met yesterday and we will play some slow jazz that has its imperfections, at least in the piano part. But at least I will get to experience the thrill of playing this wonderful piece with people who are more credentialed than I will ever hope to be.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lessons in Leisure -- Part II

My idea of the perfect Sunday morning is to eat scones by the river and then go for a bike ride with someone I adore. Today seemed to be the right time to continue the spontaneous wandering inspired by my afternoon with Reya yesterday. So we got up, stretched a little, and then threw our bikes on the back of the car and headed for West Potomac Park via Starbucks and the Alexandria Pastry Shoppe.

There is nothing more decadent than a ham and cheese scone followed by a blueberry scone for dessert. As we sat by the river savoring every bite, the wind was strong enough to insist on long sleeves but the sun was bright and the sky so blue.

The really amazing thing is that as we rode all the way around Hains Point, we saw things for the first time. I never knew there was a memorial to George Mason! I never knew just how many people actually fish in the Potomac River. Do they eat those fish???

We saw ducks and geese that were completely comfortable with humanity on foot and on bikes.

We saw a beautiful building across the water that we couldn’t identify. A passing jogger said it was part of Fort McNair. I envied the people on the sailboat just offshore.

On the trip back we rode into the wind and had to pedal hard even though the ground is flat. What a good feeling to feel your legs burning off those 1500 calories of scones!

A kiss at the end of the trip was our promise to do this again soon. Days like this are few and far between and just beg to be enjoyed with someone you love!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Free Parking

This Shabbat afternoon was a lesson in leisure, quite in contrast to my normal overly scheduled life. I experienced spring in DC at its finest in the company of one of my nearest and dearest friends.

Reya understands the “day of rest” part of Shabbat better than most people I know. Instead of rushing off to services to sing for a bar mitzvah as I did, she was leisurely drinking her Peet’s Coffee and eating her Cliff Bar, walking the dog, and taking in the beauty of Capitol Hill. But we did make plans to meet for lunch.

I had not before experienced Busboys and Poets, one of the newest funkiest spots in the renewed 14th Street corridor. The beauty of this place is that it sits right on the boundary of rich and poor, black and white. The prices are right, the menu is good, and the staff are engaging. Instead of the typcial “Hello, I am Nicole and I will be your server”, we had a lengthy discussion with our African American waiter about the mixture of lipstick that Reya was wearing and he recommended something from the Mary Kay line which he sells! How very cool that we could enjoy our food and talk about other things in the company of such an eclectic group. And there was no pressure to free up our table, so we had a leisurely lunch.

On our walk toward Dupont Circle, we found a street of fun gift and clothing stores that featured things I haven’t seen elsewhere. Reya found a drop-dead gorgeous huge crystal vase with an amethyst bottom for Bill and his wife as a wedding present. We both commented about how much more you really see, hear, and feel while walking than when you drive or even ride a bicycle.

We checked out Bang, a hair salon on P Street recommended by Velvet. I just couldn’t resist taking the picture above of not one, but two, decommissioned parking meters on the sidewalk out front. With a few more of these, maybe I wouldn’t get so many parking tickets in DC.

We ended our Shabbat stroll with a drink in Kramerbooks. This was no ordinary drink, but one custom-made to our tastes: Myers Rum with lemonade. Yummmmmy!

I must admit that walking around with no particular place to go, with no agenda, is so relaxing. Especially on one of the nicest days of the spring. The warm sun and cool swooshy breeze in the company of my good friend made it so easy to learn to be leisurely.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Full Circle at Eyebar

I am probably the first person to post about tonight’s happy hour because everyone else is still there partying. I must say this was a lot more comfortable than my first Eyebar happy hour when I went all by myself, not knowing anyone. This time I had a DATE – my husband David, who was experiencing that feeling of meeting celebrities.

I, on the other hand, had now seen these people enough times to know that they are just ordinary, although special, people. Here’s the rundown of everyone I met or re-met tonight:


I must thank Velvet in absentia for introducing me to her friend KassyK, who was definitely the life of the party.

Cookie, once again, took us under her wing. If anyone could get Dsquared to write again, it would be Cookie. She made both of us feel incredibly welcome.

Everyone universally said good things about Dan, our son, whom I dragged to a happy hour earlier this year.

And I proved for the bezillionth time that I can get drunk on just two glasses of wine. I was glad I was not driving home and that I had an arm to hold onto as we walked to the car.

I really love the DCBlogs community. I can’t imagine what I used to do with all the time I had before I started writing and reading. But I know I am having a lot more fun now. And I am positive that David is wishing that he was about 30 years younger and single so that he could be vying for the likes of Kathryn and Cookie!

Wedding Bells

What in the world do you buy for people in their fifties who are getting married for the first time? They probably already have two of everything essential. I like to buy wedding presents that are a little out of the ordinary and that will serve as a reminder of my best wishes for years to come.

My friend Bill, who plays the double bass in the NSO and coaches Deborah and me, actually got married last December to someone who was a principal oboist in another symphony orchestra. They have had a commuting marriage for the last few months while she finished out her contract. But his bride is finally in town and they can at last live together in one house.

They are having an open house this weekend so that local friends can welcome them as a couple. I’m sure it will be a gala affair as they both like to cook and they adore champagne.

I thought long and hard about what to buy as a gift for them. Deborah suggested a plant. But I know my luck with the plants I have received as gifts and thought some more. I finally came up with the idea of decorative glass salt shakers from The Kindred Spirit. No one can ever have too many salt shakers. Each pair is unique. Some are animals, like pigs, cows, and birds on one leg. But I opted for something a little more classy. Don’t you like them?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Question of Legality

One of the white-robed girls at the JEB Stuart graduation on Tuesday night received honor after honor. She is an International Baccalaureate candidate. She is the recipient of multiple scholarships. But she may not be allowed to attend college and it is not for lack of funds or qualifications.

She is an illegal immigrant from Honduras. Her parents have been deported. She lives with her brother. Unfortunately most colleges and universities in the US require legal status in the country of residence. I understand there may be a deal worked out the George Mason University to accept her as a student, but there is no certainty.

My mind turns to the growing number of college students who are there simply because they have nothing better to do and they are not yet ready to join the work force. It seems grossly unfair that this young woman who desperately wants to go to college should be denied the chance.

What is your take on this? Should an illegal alien be denied a slot that could otherwise be occupied by a full-fledged US citizen? Or should this young woman be allowed to embody the American dream? Where should this country draw the line on issues dealing with immigrants – legal or illegal?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

And Yet Another Graduation

As I listened to our friends’ daughter, Lizzy, give the valedictory address at our neighborhood high school last night, I realized that I had never seen that football field before. Our children had gone to a private high school in the city, where they had a completely different experience.

On the way in last night, there was a table where attendees could pick up a headset for simultaneous translation in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Arabic. This attests to the fact that the school is 85% minority. For many of those families, this was probably the first child to ever graduate from high school. They carried bouquets of flowers and balloons and extended families welcomed their graduates with shouts and whistles.

All of the speeches lauded the school’s efforts to rise against all odds from this melting pot and make a name for itself. It now has an established IB program and many of its graduates are going on to reputable colleges. Lizzy will attend Pomona next year. For many of the other graduates, however, formal schooling will end with high school and they will join the work force in some capacity.

The expectation at the school our children attended was that everyone would go to college, many to Ivy League schools or their equivalent. Although the students were not ranked, there was definitely competition to excel. The average SAT score was above 1400. Graduation ceremonies were held in the comfort of Lisner Auditorium, with nationally known speakers.

Last night’s experience called in question our decision to pay our way out of an education dilemma. In the end, was it the right thing to do? By going to the local high school, our children would have gotten a much better sense of the reality of society. After all, most of their high school friends came from families much wealthier than ours. They were intellectually stimulated and challenged and they were completely prepared for the rigors of college. But they missed out on those other experiences that can only come from attending a diverse school like our neighborhood high school.

Aside from the fact that we were spending their inheritance to educate them, I sometimes wonder what effect attending public schools would have had on our children. Is this something that makes a difference for life?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Artwork from Princess Alice

As I ordered my latte at Murky Coffee on Capitol Hill this morning, I noticed a short gnarled very old woman hunched over a notebook. Although her flowered clothes didn’t really match, they were clean and she had a tiny pink barrette in her hair. While I waited for my coffee, I saw her walk slowly using her metal cane over to the woman at the cash register, show her the notebook containing a small crudely drawn sketch entitled "leaves", and then walk out the front door.

After she left I inquired as to her story. The girl who prepared my coffee said, "Oh, that’s Alice. She comes in every day to sell her pictures. We have about 20 of them in the back. We give her a little something for them. Sometimes she has the smallest coffee, but she always insists on paying." As for the price of the drawings, she started at 50 cents and is now up to a dollar.

As I walked outside into the bright sunlight, I once again spied Alice who was showing her drawing to a couple who were drinking their coffee outside. I approached Alice and suggested that I might be interested in purchasing her latest. I could not understand one word she said, but she communicated that $1 was not the right price for this one. It was worth $2. As she ripped my original out of the steno pad, I noticed that there was another work in progress.

As I walked away, I noticed that my drawing was dated and signed "Princess Alice." I hope I will think of myself as a princess when I am 85 and failing to communicate. I hope I will find as clever a way to mingle with humanity and make a little money. I hope I will charm the people instead of annoying them the way the man just around the corner was doing with his hand out. "Leaves" by Princess Alice is truly an original.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Talking Across the Fence in Six Dimensions

What do Jews and Baptists in the same room find to talk about? I have participated in an interfaith dialogue over the past year that has taught me things about both religions.

Our Rabbi Danny and his good friend Pastor Bledsoe came up with this idea last fall and 6 people from each congregation were invited to participate. ( The group represents a mix of races, as well as a mix of religions.) We spent an entire session talking about our personal views of holiness. We toured each other's sanctuary and talked about what things symbolized. We talked about baptism through immersion and the rite of bar mitzvah. We were surprised to find that we actually have more similarities than differences.

Tonight is our final meeting for this year. We have been asked to think about 6 "dimensions" that define a person's personal religion. Here are my short answers:

(1) Sacred narrative: The creation story and the giving of the Ten Commandments are two of my favorites.

(2) Doctrine: The doctrine of monotheism is important to me.

(3) Ritual: The bar/bat mitzvah ritual is significant because it serves as a rite of passage.

(4) Institutional expression: The Reform movement of Judaism is an institutional expression that defines what I practice.

(5) Experience: My conversion to Judaism greatly affected my religious evolution.

(6) Ethics: Social activism, a concern for all of humanity, is a necessity for me.

This first year we concentrated mostly on defining ourselves, taking extreme caution not to say anything that would offend. We steered clear of topics like chosenness, that often puts me off as a Jew even though theoretically I am chosen. Now that we have laid the groundwork and proven that we have respect for each other's religion, I hope we can really delve into the differences next year as we pursue this project that helps us better understand our community. I want to take on topics like our respective views of the afterlife, the concept of a messianic age, the revelation of the Bible, and many more controversial issues on which not even people in the same religion necessarily agree.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Blog as Thriller

Reya and I sounded like missionaries for Blogging as we sipped green tea at Teaism with her friend Kimberly yesterday. For us writing our daily rant has become as habitual as brushing our teeth. But Kimberly is a published author, a serious writer of mysteries. She asked lots of questions about this writing phenomenon that is in many ways so different from what she does.

She asked about the feeling of community that comes from Blogging. Reya is particularly interested in artists and knitters right now. I’m intrigued with Bloggers who live in the far reaches of Canada, Australia, and Norway. We’ve both branched out considerably from the small group of 30-somethings who so warmly welcomed us into the local Blogging community and then proceeded to have a number of quarrels among themselves to the point where many of them are not even speaking to each other. I could see Kimberly filing this piece of information away.

We talked about the power of StatCounters, which give you a lot of information about your readers, but not their names. Reya refuses to look at hers, preferring just not to know. As a mathematician, I am fascinated by all those numbers and percentages and cities and countries. I look at the search strings that led people to my Blog and wonder about the people that typed in some of them. We talked about how some Bloggers have used those stats to reveal stalkers and lurkers.

We mentioned the concept of a parody Blog, one that a friend of ours knows only too well. As a sick takeoff on her Blog, it nearly caused her to kill her Blog.

At this point, Kimberly started to voice the plot of a thriller in the making. She wasn’t about to jump on board as a Blogger, but the Blogging world was showing her a who-done-it just waiting to be written. So as Reya and I submit our daily offerings, Kimberly could be out there writing a best-seller about exactly what we are doing. I will be the first to buy it and say “Who said it first?” (to quote one of my favorite sages).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Worth the Schlep?

One day this week as I was almost 10 minutes underway in my commute to work, I looked in the mirror and made a quick U-turn. I had forgotten to put on my make-up. If anyone had told me two years ago that this would EVER happen to me, I would have totally denied it because I was still in my 25-year au-natural look without make-up. I must not be the only person who does this because I read just yesterday that Pagan Marbury carries spare make-up in her purse for just such an occasion.

I re-introduced make-up in my life much as a person who is going through food allergy testing – one thing at a time. I started with a little lipstick, then added tinted moisturizer, then blush, then eye shadow, etc. I’m not even sure it really makes much difference. It’s just that I now feel naked if I don’t apply a bare minimum.

I still really need help with the eyeliner and mascara. Many days I avoid those because the lines are usually crooked and the mascara seems to glop more than it lengthens. I would love for someone to help me find the right products and teach me exactly how to put them on so they enhance without being noticeable. (Is there such a thing as a make-up coach?)

So I got to work 20 minutes later than usual that day. I don’t even remember which day it was or whether my lateness mattered at all. But I am glad I didn’t have to go through the day seeing a pale face every time I looked in the mirror. I guess some things are worth the schlep, even if it is only buying you peace of mind.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Singing the "Do I Have to Move On" Blues

I can remember feeling sad this time every year as a child when I realized that the school year was almost over and I would have to leave the teacher I had grown to love and think of as the best I would ever have. I still find this reluctance to leave something that is known and try something new.

I can name every one of my Deep South elementary school teachers: Ruby White (1), Edith Alexander (2), Sammy Bell (3) – a woman who was a staunch Nazarene, Myra Jean Porter (4), Evelyn Swann (5), and Judy Willard (6). With the exception of third grade, I never wanted to matriculate. I loved the routine, I idolized the teacher, I was so comfortable and happy with status quo. Inevitably, after just a few weeks in the next grade, I had a new favorite, but the late spring blues were a constant.

I recently found this happening all over again as I had my last massage with the best massage therapist in the world. We had become good friends and she wisely recognized that it’s difficult to maintain a therapeutic relationship in addition to a friendship. So for two months I have gone without a massage and my body has been reminding me that I really benefit from this form of therapy.

In 15 minutes my new massage therapist arrives at my house, no less, for our first session. She works as an EMT at a fire station in Virginia. She is just coming off a 24-hour shift and I can’t imagine why she would want to schedule such strenuous work in her R&R time, but I haven’t yet met her.

I hope I will be able to look for the new things that Lori brings to this healing form of therapy and not dwell on why this isn’t a carbon copy of my previous massage sessions. She just drove up. She’s a big girl, easily hefting the portable massage table onto her shoulder. She looks strong and confident.

Later... I confess – I missed the soft sheets, I missed the pillow, I missed the reiki and the foot massage. BUT, for everything that I missed, there was a new surprise. Lori was busy for 75 minutes, covering most of my body repeatedly. She commented that it was obvious I had enjoyed massage in the past because my body was so receptive. The truth is my body simply soaks up massage. All my tissues feel so warm and comfortable right now.

So I suppose I have successfully gone through massage matriculation. I graduated from the Mother Superior school of soft and nurturing with an element of magic to the at-home school of deep muscle therapy best experienced without talking. There isn’t that connection of spirits that was there from my first visit with my last massage therapist, but I feel really good about Lori. I have no intention of turning her into a friend. I simply intend to benefit from her skill as a therapist.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Do You Care Where You RIP?

I recently found myself in a meeting where people were having serious and sometimes heated discussions about options for burial sites. When their focus turned to who their after-death neighbors would be, I found myself blurting out, "But you are going to be DEAD! What do you care about where you are buried and who is nearby?" Then I was embarrassed because I was actually a guest at the meeting, not invited to talk about that topic at all.

It caused me to think a lot about my seeming lack of respect for the dead. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in honoring a person’s wishes about burial practices, but I actually view the body itself much as the skin of a snake that has been shed and no longer has a function.

I admire people like my aunt in Minneapolis who tends the graves of our rather large Norwegian family, year in and year out adding new colorful plantings and keeping the weeds under control. She visits those graves often to take care of them and show her respect.

I, on the other hand, have never once set foot in the ugly little building that houses the two urns of my parents’ remains. Part of it may be my disdain for the practice of cremation. (The idea of burning even a dead snakeskin sends shivers up my spine.) But I seriously doubt I would be there often even if they had plots in a cemetery. I would probably pay my way out so as not to look disgraceful.

My husband and I own burial plots in one of the two disputed cemeteries that were the subject of my meeting. I haven’t ever visited our plots to see where we will eventually repose. In fact, I haven’t given even 5 seconds to thoughts about funerals or the Jewish traditions that surround and follow death, preferring to pretend that I am immortal and concentrate on life in the here and now.

I have a deep and abiding belief that the soul lives on when the body fails. I think that is what allows my callous attitude about death and burial. Often when I meditate I visit with my deceased parents, who bear no scars of having been cremated, but rather seem more connected in death than they ever were in life.

Can anyone out there identify with my feelings on this?