Monday, July 31, 2006

Works in Progress

When I first heard about the group that got together every month to play the piano for each other, I felt that old constriction that I had known growing up when I would be asked to play the piano for anyone outside my immediate family. What if I made a mistake? What if I didn’t play it perfectly?

The first time I joined them to play, I quickly came to understand that this group was not about perfection. It was simply about the enjoyment of making music. In fact, many of them play the same piece month after month, with incremental improvement each time.

The first time I attended, I played a duet with Deborah since I had not signed on to play solo piano. After we played, they casually suggested that I play something by myself the next time.
So I perused my ancient library of music and found something I had played at probably age 12. It was a beautiful Grieg piece and as I practiced it I recalled how much I loved it as a child.

At that particular meeting I circulated photos from our trip to Norway for everyone to look at while I played, a sort of distraction. But then the piece was over and they clapped. I had made a couple of mistakes, but no one cared. That’s the whole point.

Yesterday was my fourth time to join the "Works in Progress" group. Deborah and I played the Bach sonata we had done at Chautauqua. It had a few tenuous moments but it was fine. We stopped mid-way in the second movement as we had warned them that we would, going just as far as what we had comfortably learned. But it was farther that we had ever gone.

For my piano solo piece yesterday I chose "Scratch My Bach", a parody on Bach by Peter Nero, that launches into a jazzy ending. It seemed appropriate to follow such high-brow music. It was far from perfect, but they all loved it.

I have quickly fallen into the drill of introducing my piece by explaining all the things that might go wrong, sort of laying out the excuses ahead of time. This is what "Works in Progress" entitles you to do. What a joy to finally get to the point where playing is so much fun and you simply dwell on what goes right and not what goes wrong.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Making Family Connections

Why does boiling an egg remind me of my father? Because 30 years ago he made the ingenious kitchen tool pictured above to assure that the eggs didn’t explode while they were boiling. He was an inventor who used common materials to make practical things.

The “egg-poker”, as we have come to call it, is simply a very bright green golf tee with a needle embedded in the tip and a spring to add some resistence. It never fails to work perfectly.

As I poked 9 eggs as I prepared to make tuna salad for Deborah’s family for lunch today and for my Wolf Trap outing tomorrow to hear Fiona Apple, I once again thought of my father and his inventions. The eggs all turned out cooked to perfection and completely within their shells. Today’s recipe was a variation on my summer salad theme. I put in celery, sweet red peppers, a small amount of Vidalia onion, sweet pickle relish, capers, a little Dijon mustard, mayo, and of course lots of tuna, topped with chopped olives. This chilled tuna salad should taste good on what promises to be a scorcher of a night tomorrow.

I placed my little egg-poker back in the drawer until the next egg to be boiled comes along. My guess is that it will outlast anything in that drawer! Thanks to my Daddy for his marvelous inventions.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Restoring Balance

I have spent much of the past week feeling depressed and saddened by the situation in the Middle East. I was so distressed on Wednesday night as I sat down to meditate that I had tears in my eyes. (And those of you who know me well know that doesn’t often happen.) At one point I posted a very harsh Blog about it and then promptly deleted that post when a friend found it to be so upsetting.

Then last night as I was reading “The Sabbath”, a book by Abraham Joshua Heschel that Reya loaned me, I was surprised to find that he says it is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath. I started chewing on this little nugget of advice and decided to put my sadness away for Shabbat. We went to Friday night services, where we collectively prayed for those in Lebanon and in Israel who are so affected by the violence. I came home and slept the soundest sleep I have slept in a long time. We went out for a long bike ride this morning before the heat got cranked up. I spent the afternoon napping and rediscovering intimacy with my husband, something I had pushed aside to be so worried all week.

This 24-hour slice of time has taught me some important lessons. I am powerless to fix any of the problems in the Middle East. I can be informed and attentive and compassionate, but my depression will not make one bit of difference. Instead it is much more important that I focus on family and friends who are here in my immediate realm. Here I can make a difference for myself and for others.

The more I read of Heschel, the more I start to understand the important distinction between the day of rest and all others. By clearing out the worries of the past week for this period of time, we give ourselves permission to breathe deeply uninhibited by negative emotions. We restore an important balance to our lives that prepares us for the onslaught of the next week’s worries. But for those 24 hours we float unencumbered. Shabbat shalom...sabbath peace.

Getting Ready for France

Between now and October, I am intent on re-learning French and building up some biking stamina. We’re renting a house with another couple for a couple of weeks in the Luberon Valley in Provence. Isn’t it beautiful in the picture above?

This week I was once again humbled into realizing how much French I have forgotten. I took the written placement exam at the Alliance Francaise, followed up by an oral exam over the phone. Everything on the written test looked vaguely familiar, but there were a lot of question marks on my paper. I was happy that I carried on a reasonable phone conversation without ever having to ask the very French voice to repeat her questions. She seemed quite perplexed that I had gotten things like the present participles correct but I had completely mixed up the imperfect and conditional verb tenses. Her conclusion was that I speak much better than I write. That’s a good start because I’m really only interested in conversational French right now. Next week I get a teacher and we figure out when I can have my lessons. Meanwhile I checked out a books and tapes and French movies from the Alliance Francaise. If I was motivated this weekend, I could get started.

The biking part of this project may be more challenging. I love riding my bike, especially when the terrain is flat. I could ride forever. But unfortunately the Luberon Valley is full of hills. So I’m working at learning to do hills. We rode for 7 miles on a hilly route this morning with a Starbucks latte as the reward for going halfway. I go incredibly slowly on the hills and my husband is always having to ride ahead and wait for me. But I don’t give up and I finally get to the top. I guess that’s about all you can ask for. Riding in traffic still freaks me out because I have this suspicion that some of those cars would not mind hitting me. I’ll just need to look for bike paths with hills and stay out of the traffic.

Both of these projects should keep me busy as I work on tuning up my mind and body in preparation for our trip. I love having something to look forward to.

Friday, July 28, 2006

An Obligation to Serve

"I hope it’s a girl so I don’t have to experience the anguish of seeing my son on the front line," said a pregnant young mother-to-be in Israel on my recent visit. Every time there’s a new conflict I think about the obligation that Israeli children (both boys and girls) face to serve in the military. I think about it from the standpoint of the child and from the standpoint of each of their mothers.

As Israeli students graduate from high school, they understand that their next 3 years will be spent in the military unless they are ultraorthodox and are thereby excused from service. After that, there is a requirement for reserve duty for several weeks a year for something like 20 years. A rather hefty commitment to one’s country. When we were in Israel in April, I spoke at length to a brilliant young boy who would soon graduate and who was so ready to begin his university studies. He was resentful of the requirement that he serve in the miliary first. For many teenagers, military service is a time to figure out what they really want to do with their lives. For many, it is a time to meet their future spouse. For some, it is a death sentence.

How would I have felt? As a girl, I would not have been required to serve on the front line. Probably a good thing, since I can’t even kill an insect. Instead I would have been relegated to a support role. I would have had to go through the same training as the boys, learning to use a gun and explosives. I would have hated this part. I would have been devastated every time my unit was placed in harm’s way, constantly praying that no one was hurt and mourning any casualties that were inflicted.

How would I feel today if I were living in Israel and my two children were serving in the military as they most likely would be? I would constantly be afraid. I would be demanding that they call me on their cell phones multiple times each day. I would be hoping that they weren’t sent to Gaza or to the current conflict in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. But invariably they would probably end up in either or both of these places. I would just have to hope that they were the lucky ones who survived.

Since the early 70s in this country, no one has had to fear the draft. In my college days, boys stayed in school longer, developed new-found health conditions, even went to Canada to avoid the draft and be sent to Viet Nam. But since then virtually no one that I know has served in the all volunteer army, largely made up of African Americans and Hispanics and others for whom the armed forces provide the best paying job possible with opportunities for training that would otherwise not be available. Do I feel differently about casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing that they are not the children of my friends? Unfortunately, probably so. It is definitely not the same as the situation in Israel, where everyone serves.

As I look at those young Israeli soldiers carrying their lethal weapons, I don’t see children born to kill, but rather I see children doing what is required of them to guarantee the existence of their country. It’s not their choice, but their obligation. They are living a patriotism of which we have been spared in this country. May God be with them, with their mothers, and with everyone who is a part of the current conflict.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I was thinking today about how our lives are so influenced by the circumstance of our birth. I was born an only child into an upper-middle class family in a place that has never known war during my lifetime. I found myself postulating about my fate had my birth been as a girl in any number of other places:

– The child of an African-American single mother in NE Washington, DC.
– The first child in a family in mainland China.
– The 10th child in a family in rural Mexico.
– A child born on a kibbutz in Israel, where communal living was practiced and children lived apart from their parents.
– A child born in a Palestinian refugee camp.
– A child of an Islamic fundamentalist family in Kabul.
– A child born to a mother with AIDS in an area of Africa hard-hit by drought.
– A child born in a concentration camp.

If I even survived to adulthood, my life would be quite different undoubtedly in any of these other birthing circumstances.

As I look at the war-torn Middle East, the drought-ravaged areas of Africa, the parts of the US where racial discrimination still flourishes, I count myself lucky to be so unscathed. I can sympathize with victims of war, famine, and discrimination, but I have no first-hand knowledge of what it is like to live under these conditions day in and day out with no possible remedy.

I am feeling completely powerless to change the world, but I pray for people who suffer in any of these situations. I will continue to wonder why I am so lucky...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Can I Say?

Coming out of a meeting today, I overheard someone complaining about the use of profanity by one person in attendance. I have come to accept this person's style, knowing that if he feels passionately about anything, the description will be laced with 4-letter words.

I view his invectives as a way to liven up a dull meeting. The same guy has a collection of PEZ dispensers, which he often passes around at meetings. He never swears at anyone's expense but he definitely swears a lot.

The complainer was saying things like, "In my house, we just don't tolerate that sort of language. It's so unnecessary." I was thinking to myself, "It's a good thing she has never visited MY house where we do tolerate just about anything in its uncensored form."

For many years I have realized that there are several words that simply make me feel good to say. I suppose they make me feel powerful and just a little bit bad. But there is definitely a therapeutic effect of a good F___ or S___. It's as though they trigger some magical endorphin.

As we walked down the hall, I didn't openly defend the offender, but I did file away a caution against my freest speech whenever this person was around. I suppose she is right that a formal meeting is hardly the place for pool-room venting, but I still have mixed feelings about it.

Any opinions?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Intro to Opera

As much as I’ve been around music all my life, I had never been to the opera before last week at Chautauqua, always preferring orchestral music, chamber music, solo piano, or choruses. If I wanted drama, I turned to Shakespeare or to modern theater.

For various reasons, two of our housemates bought us tickets to the opera on Friday night. David graciously accepted even though he really wanted to see Lonestar, the country western act that was included in our week’s pass. I was curious after our discussions earlier in the week with someone who works on sets for the opera.

The two one-act operas were Sister Angelica and Gianni Schicci. Although they were sung in English, you were at a great disadvantage if you didn’t know the story line. However, as I looked over at Deborah during the performance, she was bawling like a baby and she said it was simply the music that has this effect on her and not the story at all.

We talked to Steve, the set guy, after the performance and learned that the old man in the second opera instead of shattering his cane as he had in rehearsal, had thrown it into the orchestra pit. It turned out that it hit the cellist in the face. I guess there are perils to any performance. As far as I could tell, no one ever missed a beat and the whole episode went unnoticed by the audience.

Is opera in our future? Not for David, who managed to sleep through most of both acts. I would be interested in trying again, but this time learning a little more up front and hopefully having English surtitles.

Opera – a weird sort of combination of Shakespeare and the symphony and choral music. Seems like the perfect thing for me since I like each of those individually.

How do you feel about opera?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Incredible, Edible Egg

I have stuck by the egg through thick and thin. Despite warnings about the cholesterol levels of eggs, I have continued to eat them with no apparent change in my cholesterol level.

I grew up eating eggs every single day. My Mother rotated the menu: fried, scrambled, poached, soft-boiled and then again back to fried. I liked the yokes to be runny in all but scrambled eggs, where I liked them firm but not dry.

At some point in our marriage, my husband became convinced that brown eggs were healthier for you than white eggs. That’s probably like saying black people are superior to white people, but whatever – from that point on we bought only brown eggs.

We now buy organic eggs at Whole Foods, where even the most expensive organic egg is a bargain compared to the cost of an equal portion of protein from virtually any other source anywhere. There are nights when I cook up two eggs for dinner at a cost of maybe 50 cents.

There are lunches where I eat egg salad, enhanced by Dijon mustard, a dab of mayo, sweet pickle relish, crisp peppers, green onions, and capers.

I was feeling just a tad guilty about my loyalty to the egg until we spent the last week at Chautauqua with my doctor and her husband. I watched her eat two eggs every morning for breakfast and said, “What the hell? If my doctor can eat 14 eggs a week, I am surely safe with my 3-4!” She’s never given me advice on eggs, probably because I have such a low cholesterol level. But I figure she can’t be terribly convinced about the danger of the egg if it forms such a staple in her diet.

I imagine that some day in the not too distant future the poor maligned egg will be shown to actually be beneficial to your health. Stranger things have happened...


Sometimes I feel like I go through life like a whirling dervish, never stopping long enough to savor one experience before moving on to another. As my friend put it, “You tilt so fully at everything.”

So after some intensive preparation to read Torah and a week of adult chamber music camp, wouldn’t it make sense to just take a few days off from work, put my feet up, and read a book? Or even better, just do nothing? Yes, that would be the right thing to do.

But instead I find myself moving on to French. We’re spending two weeks in Provence with another couple in October and they are relying on me to dust off my once-upon-a-time ability to speak this beautiful language so that we don’t come off as ugly Americans. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE speaking French or any foreign language. If I could, I would be in a French immersion program for the next 12 weeks and come out with the fluency I once had.

Unfortunately I still have a job that takes up a huge chunk of my waking hours. So instead I will dust off the book you see above (published in 1965) and get ready to undergo a placement test at the Alliance Francaise (AF) tomorrow. At the Temple Micah auction in the spring, I purchased a year-long membership to the AF, which entitles me to attend classes, check out CDs, and hang out in their offices off of Kalorama Road, sipping wine and speaking French to everyone else in the “salon”. What better way to learn a language?

I have this idea that languages occupy your brain in layers. For me the last layer in was Spanish as I prepared to go to Mexico last summer. So first I must push the Spanish layer down and find the French layer again, knowing that some words will forever float between the two. Then I must plunge into grammar, read poetry, listen to whatever I can muster, and SPEAK, SPEAK, SPEAK. I will make the grossest of errors. But the idea is to make them with confidence and just keep going. Somewhat like playing a Bach sonata.

I just dug out my French notebook from when I was 11. It brings back memories of learning this lilting language before I even understood English grammar well. I learned the subjunctive as a natural part of the language instead of some weird grammatical form that had to be invoked for so many reasons. I found this great poem by Victor Hugo, which we memorized:

A quoi bon entendre
Les oiseaux des bois
L’oiseau le plus tendre
Chante dans ta voix.

Que Dieu montre ou voile
Les astres des cieux
La plus pure etoile
Brille dans tes yeux.

Qu’Avril renouvelle
Le jardin en fleur
La fleur la plus belle
Fleurit dans ton coeur.

Cet oiseau de flamme
Cet astre du jour
Cet fleur de l’ame
S’appelle l’amour.

This is why I am so excited about rediscovering this beautiful language, where all roads lead to LOVE.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Camp Is Over

Now that the recital is over and we actually did quite well, I am realizing that Deborah was probably right when she said that we probably wouldn’t accomplish nearly as much in a week if we didn’t have the goal of giving a recital.

It was actually a very intimate audience of about 25 people – mostly people who knew us well. They came with cameras and flowers and they were guaranteed to applaud no matter what.

There were more errors in the printed program than were made during the little concert. I had someone else’s last name. They left our Bach piece off the program altogether, although we got to play it. Someone else was listed as playing the wrong instrument. And during the concert there was a dump truck doing some sort of maintenance outside. Not conducive to the best listening, but good enough.

As I watched Susan play the piano part on the more difficult Bolling movement, I realized that her secret was leaving out notes. Maybe that’s what they teach you in music school. I was still under the impression that you were supposed to play them all. I really got into our Irlandaise movement. You can see a couple of pictures of our quartet above. (You can also see what looks like the remains of a flea market on the stage of McKnight Hall.)

Deborah and I scored a real coup on the Bach sonata. We had never once before managed to get through the piece and stay together for the whole thing. Bill had worked extensively with us on how to recover if we got off without having to stop altogether. But this time a miracle happened and we actually ended together.

There were some wrong notes here and there on both pieces, but nothing that immediately comes to mind. They were fine, everyone clapped, we took our bows, and that was it for another year.

We always leave with big plans for next year. Someone will identify a piece early in the year. Roz will come down from Philly to play her flute with us. We’ll find a violinist. Who knows?

The week taught me a lot of things about myself. It taught me to be more confident in my ability to do something without looking for a way to bail out of part of it like I did. It reaffirmed that I can maintain my nerve under pressure. But most of all, it emphasized the dimension that playing with others adds to the experience of making music.

I’ll miss the sweltering heat of cabin #13 as I sit down to play again in the AC at home. Until next year…

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's All About Performance

As the week here at Chautauqua has worn on, I find myself being somewhat resentful of the emphasis on this little performance at 4:00 this afternoon. The whole week has been devoted to perfecting 2 pieces, leaving little time just to sit down with various people and read through music. Although there have been some wonderful moments in cabin #13, its walls are way too familiar with the Bolling Suite and the Bach sonata that are on the program this afternoon.

But then I realized that we live in a world of performance. We are constantly setting goals, making ourselves jump through smaller and smaller hoops, raising the bar. Why is it that we have become so obsessed with proving that we can do things?

Instead of practicing myself silly like I did yesterday, I decided to take a very different approach to getting ready for the hour of reckoning. I’m getting a massage at 12 noon. St. Elmo’s Spa could only offer me a half hour. But that will just have to do. I know what a calming effect massage has on my body, so this is the best antidote to nerves I can imagine.

I hope our recital goes well. If not, I hope I have the good sense not to dwell on the mistakes. I mean, really, there’s no grade, no degree in performance, just a small gathering of friends and family to hear what we’ve been doing all week. How can that possibly be intimidating? Sounds like a good line, yes?

P.S. My massage with Maurizio was 30 minutes of deep-tissue nirvana!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

And the Beat Goes On

Meet Brian, the student drummer who turned us into a jazz quartet. The Bolling Suite was written for piano, flute, bass, and drums. Until now we have been missing the drums. But as of today we have a drummer.

Brian just finished his first year at Julliard and is a student in the summer program here at Chautauqua. I’m sure he was happy to make a little money in between his classes, practice sessions, and performances.

Brian joined us in cabin #13 for an hour or so this morning to run through the pieces that we will play tomorrow in the recital. I had never before played with drums. They add an incredibly strong beat which makes it much easier to stay together. Brian also helped us out with some tricky rhythms that are a piece of cake for a percussionist. There were moments when we sounded quite good. And a few moments when we didn’t, but that’s OK – we have until tomorrow to fix the mistakes and then who really cares, since our families will probably be the only ones who come to the recital anyway!

So now, having experienced playing with a drummer, I would like to find someone at home who can play with us. Got a friend who would like to play jazz with some amateur musicians? Not a paying gig, but a lot of fun…

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Reminders About Communal Living

Sharing a house with people for a week is a good way to confirm just how you feel about each of them. When you get past the newness of everything and rooms are decided, there are issues of communal living that simply must be addressed -- like who will cook, who will take out the trash, who will clean up, and perhaps most importantly, whether anyone gives a shit if the counters are clean and the trash is emptied. I mean, after all, we’re on vacation!

Fortunately everyone likes clean counters. If there’s a smutz, invariably someone will clean it up. Neal may not approve of the wad of paper towels that David attacks it with, but it will not just go unnoticed.

Bill and I are the ones who like to cook. We have an appreciative audience who are content to show up when food is served and to clean up afterwards. Just the way I like it.

The trash seems to be getting taken out without my help. That may well be Neal, who has also been able to magic up anything we need, such as a broom and dustpan. (We have gone through a prodigious quantity of white wine and managed to break a few glasses.) Neal also shows up with current newspapers each morning.

Mary sets the table and clears it. Deborah makes coffee and unloads the dishwasher. David makes trips to the farmers’ market whenever we need something and is on the clean-up crew. Bill, the gardener, waters all the plants. And so on and so on.

When I lived in a group house in the 70s, it was a royal pain in the ass to get anyone to do anything in the way of cleaning. There were novel excuses, like “I can’t mop the floor because I don’t know how.” I resorted to a job chart that gave each person one of 5 major jobs each week. It failed miserably and I ended up doing some things when my disgust exceeded my level of tolerance.

So as you can see, since the initial issue about who got which bedroom, this week has been the perfect example of communal living. It’s unclear as to whether we could keep this up for more than a week, when politeness might give way to someone feeling like he or she was carrying a bigger load. But for now, I like it. I can cook and have people compliment my food and not feel compelled to do much of anything else.

Only Good News

Can you imagine a newspaper that prints only good news? Only in Chautauqua! I came out of my early morning meditation (which took place in the building in the picture) to hear a young voice literally singing “Music, Art, and Philosphy – All Right Here for You to See” to a very catchy tune. This 11-year-old was selling the Chatauqua paper with its good news for 50 cents.

Of course when I got home the NY Times was on the table on our porch, reminding us of the horrors actually going on in the world outside this utopia. There’s the situation in the Middle East, there’s a tsunami in Indonesia, and the list goes on.

I think I’ll stick to the Chautauqua paper for just this week and get fueled up with positive news before facing reality again when I leave the gates.

How long has it been since you’ve seen a paperboy? And more importantly, one who sings to sell his papers? And when was the last time you paid 50 cents for a newspaper? My paperboy was only too proud to display his paper and let me take his picture. What a perfect place for a romantic sap like me who loves good news and movies with happy endings…

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Little House

Practice cabin #13 is my new home away from home here at Chautauqua. It contains a beautiful Kawai upright piano and a piano bench. It has two small windows with miscellaneous pieces of wood for keeping them propped open. And fortunately it has a ceiling fan.

Deborah and I were there from 8:30 to 1:00 today, practicing with Roz, our flutist friend, playing with each other, and taking a lesson from our NSO friend Bill, who is here for the summer.

Our cabin is just one of a whole “neighborhood” of cabins. There are pianists, horn players, flutists, singers, you name it practicing in these cabins. Since it is the middle of summer, you have no choice but to leave the doors and windows open. So when you are not making music, you can just enjoy the concert going on all around you. The “players” are mostly college-age kids who study at the music school here all summer. Many are destined for careers as professional musicians, so there is some extraordinary music happening in these little cabins.

The cooler weather with a breeze and an earlier start undoubtedly were a big help to me today. Except for the 20 minutes when we lay down outside on the grass in the shade and took a little break, we played all morning long. We played the Bolling piece that I was so bummed out about yesterday and it was incredibly fun today. Our Bach sonata is starting to take on that steady relentless rhythm that so characterizes Bach.

Our time with Bill was extremely productive. He has tricks to help us listen to each other. Sometimes I wonder if he makes these things up or if they teach such techniques at Eastman, where he went to school. When Bill took off for his symphony rehearsal, we closed up cabin #13 and headed home to lunch.

I’m not sure I can say that practice makes perfect, but it definitely makes better. Maybe I’ll carve my initials into the crude wood of cabin #13 just to remind someone some day how many hours I will have spent there this week!

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Better Cook than a Pianist

As I struggled through a practice session with my chamber ensemble at Chautauqua trying not to be the one who kept the piece under tempo, I found myself thinking of lunch. As fun as it can be to make music together, I suddenly wanted to be creating something all by myself and I was hot and hungry.

When I got back to our amazing house on Miller, I whipped up some bodacious tuna salad, putting in tuna, hard-boiled egg, mayo, sweet pickle relish, crisp red peppers, and a hint of Vidalia onions. I love that feeling of creating food from what there is -- and that is basically what you do when you rent a house with 5 other people for the week.

After lunch I returned to my hot little practice cabin for another couple of hours on my own. But once again as I got hot and tired and the music started to sag, I started dreaming of food. This time it was potato salad for dinner. Back at the house, I boiled up potatoes, peeling eggs and sautéing onions and peppers while they cooked. I mixed up a base of Dijon mustard, mayo, pickle relish, and balsamic vinegar. I sliced the hot potatoes into this dressing, stirred, seasoned, and topped with sliced green olives.

I am scoring big points as a cook. It’s a good thing, because my confidence as a pianist among all these accomplished musicians is flagging. I relinquished the first part of the Bolling Suite to another pianist, a music major from the U of Wisconsin, who is unbelievably talented. I could see that I was never going to be able to play this movement up to tempo by Friday. So on Friday I will play the lovely Irlandaise (from the Bolling Suite) and a movement or two of a Bach sonata with Deborah. Maybe by dropping back to something more manageable, I can free up some practice time to enjoy scenes like Lake Chautauqua pictured above.

And maybe my culinary skills will bring me the recognition that I am definitely not headed for as a pianist. I do love to cook, just as much as I love to play the piano!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Question of Housesharing Ethics

When sharing a house and you got there first, would you just automatically take the room with the king size bed? That was the choice of one of the couples we are living with in Chautauqua.

We knew up front that this magnificent house had a room with a king, one with a double, and two with two twins each. Nice choices for an extended family with 4 grandchildren. But for 3 couples all in their 50s?

It’s even more interesting because the couple who are now occupying the room with the king urged us to take this house because they didn’t mind sleeping in separate beds. Go figure! Their excuse for their choice last night (they must have known that we were all wondering even though no one had asked), was that they were going on to Vermont from here and had a lot of luggage.

When the other 4 of us arrived around the same time, Deborah suggested that we choose from the remaining rooms since I had found the house. That was even more generous than just drawing straws as I would have proposed. She was already planning how she and her husband could just put 2 twins together and make a big bed. But I could tell she really preferred the double bed room.

We opted for the penthouse of twin beds instead. It’s really pretty cool up here. We have two dormer rooms and a window that overlooks the “Carey Cottage.” I can’t tell you who the Careys are, but I can tell you that they are providing us with free Internet service. We have 4 beds or any combination of them to choose from.

I can’t wait to jump on the shiny red bicycle that came with the house and go exploring around the grounds of this fairyland. I’m looking out my window at a whole neighborhood of gingerbread houses with their porches and wicker furniture.

It’s great to be in Chautauqua!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Second Time Around

Most things are easier after the first time. Chanting the Torah is certainly no exception. The butterflies that swarmed my stomach last year had flown away. And I was not even tossed out for my questionably disrespectful d’var torah (sermon).

I decided to read my post from earlier this week and to talk about the various comments it had evoked. The author of one of those comments was in the congregation. As I sat down after chanting from Pinchas and making my remarks, my husband’s first question was “Who gave you comment #3?” After the service he paid our friend the supreme compliment, “Now you are MY rabbi!” She beamed in appreciation.

People were intrigued with the idea of using a Blog to supply sermon material. Two people came up and asked me my Blog address after the service. What a way to attract new readers!

As much as I enjoy the discipline of practicing the Torah and Haftarah chanting, I am just as happy to take a break, especially given the looming responsibility of the High Holy Days, which are fast approaching.

Many thanks to my friend Lynn for inviting me to chant with her today. We were a good team. Maybe we’ll do it again next year. And thanks to those of you who shared your ideas with me!

Getting Ready for Camp

All sorts of thoughts are going through my head as I anticipate the upcoming week of music “camp” at Chautauqua. At least I know what to expect having done this last year.

When I called ahead to register, I signed up for 4 hours of practice time a day. This year I will be in practice hut #14. It is outfitted with a piano and is big enough to hold at least Deborah and her bass and Bill, our coach. That will probably just about do it.

On Monday we will gather at 10 AM in the Music School to see who showed up and to form little groups of chamber players for the week. Then there is the issue of figuring out what each group is going to learn and play in the “recital” at the end of week. This is the absolutely scariest part for me. I have to be absolutely certain that I don’t get committed to playing something that is beyond my ability to learn in just 5 days. That’s not a lot of time, even at 4 hours a day.

We will then start to practice as a group and in between on our own. We will be coached by really great musicians, who probably secretly roll their eyes before sitting down to a session with us amateurs. But I think they actually give us a lot of credit for leaving our non-music jobs behind and working intensively as musicians for a week. It gives us just a small taste of what it would be like to do this as a profession.

It can be a test of your nerves as you get used to 3 or 4 new personalities and have to figure out how to work together. It’s a case where a bad apple sticks out immediately. There’s only so much any other player can do to compensate for someone who can’t pull his or her weight. God, I hope that’s not ME!

These are my thoughts as I sit here throwing things in my suitcase, trying to remember what I forgot to bring last year. Oh yeah, I remember now. Last year was the scorcher, where it was above 95 degrees every day and no one had air conditioning. Let’s hope that’s not the case this year. Extra shorts and tank tops just in case.

In addition to music, I hope to take some yoga classes and do morning meditation, maybe down by the lake. There will definitely be time to spend with my husband and with my 4 other housemates, including Deborah and her husband. We’ll have chilled white wine and (store-bought) appetizers on the porch of our house in the late afternoon before dinner. Dinner will be whatever we can make in 20 minutes or less. This is not a week for heavy-duty cooking.

I remind myself that Chautauqua is that magical place where there is no bad news, where the ice cream is the best in the world, and where the symphony concerts in the amphitheater by the lake are like being in heaven.

Although it sounds like I am trading my government job for another sort of demanding job, it is actually a welcome change. In just a week I will already be mourning the fact that summer camp is over and looking ahead to next year, when once again I will luxuriate in a week of making music with other people.

Friday, July 14, 2006

My Hair Guru

As I sat back to wait for the color to “take” in my hair today, I came to an important realization. My eyes were not burning from the fumes of the chemical product and I hadn’t smelled any obnoxious odors as Richard had done my partial highlights. This was my first experience masking the gray in an upscale Dupont salon.

When I came in for a trim and a consultation a few weeks ago, he suggested adding a variety of color so that my hair wasn’t so boring. So that’s exactly what he did today, laboriously applying three different shades and wrapping the hair in what seemed like hundreds of little foil packets. I hoped I wouldn’t come out looking like some striped animal.

It’s hard to tell about color when your hair is wet after being shampooed. But as he started to blow dry it, I could tell that he had worked magic with my hair. It actually looks more like it did when I was a teenager than it has in years. People always commented back then about how my hair was actually so many different colors. (That’s really my head in the photo.)

I had always said I would never color my hair, but would just accept the gray as it appeared. But it seems I’m not quite ready for that, not just yet. It will sneak back in over the next several months I’m sure, but I trust that Richard will figure out how to age me gracefully.

It’s nice to be able to put your hair in the hands of someone you trust!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Breaking Point

As I stood in line at Starbucks the other day, I saw a 3-year-old sobbing in her mother’s arms. This wasn’t a head-banging tantrum, but she had obviously hit that point of falling apart. The conversation went something like:

Girl: But I want the white kind of chocolate milk.
Mom: They don’t have it here. They are making you a special drink.
Girl: But I only want the white one.
Mom: We’ll get it the next time we visit Grandma.
Me: I suppose we all have our breaking point.

I’ve been thinking about this since that incident. It is true that most of us don’t burst into tears when we can’t have the food or drink we want. But at the same time, there’s probably at least one thing that pushes each of us over the emotional edge to the point where all we can do is sob.

For me it is usually associated with an occasional fall that leaves me scared and sometimes physically hurt. It’s that helpless feeling of being out of control of your destiny. It’s a feeling of wanting to be held and comforted by a mom.

Usually some sort of distraction is all that it takes to turn a hopeless situation like this around. In the case of the little girl, I commented on her pretty pink dress that so nicely matched her flip-flops and headband. She mustered a smile and said she had picked out her dress. So the white chocolate milk had taken a back burner.

Is there something in particular that pushes your buttons to the point where you just can’t deal with it other than by falling apart? What defines your breaking point?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Searching for the Right Words

As I prepare to chant Torah this Saturday, my biggest concern is what to say about a God that appears to be a discriminating jerk. I had been happily practicing the Hebrew trope, but when I thought about its meaning, I was somewhat appalled.

Those of you who know me know what a romantic sap I am for stories with a happy ending. Well, this week’s portion, Pinchas, is hardly that. Instead it continues the story of a heavy-handed God who is making it clear that only the younger generation will be allowed to go into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering around the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

In order to justify this, God uses a trumped up charge based on the angry reaction of Moses and Aaron to the bitching and moaning of the Hebrew people when they needed water in the desert – the waters of Meribah incident. But it gets worse, not only are the old guard not being allowed to enter the land of Israel, they "breathe their last." That’s right, God ordains their death.

This travesty has been going on for the last several Torah portions. I have listened as the Torah readers called upon Biblical scholars and the Mishnah to explain away this gross unfairness. Some postulate that this is simply the passing of power from the old generation to the new generation. Some say it was written after the fact to justify what actually happened. Wherever the truth lies, the text in Numbers 27 angers me greatly.

I am a firm believer in recognition for a job well done. In my mind, Moses and Aaron should be elevated to the equivalent of sainthood for their role in leading this stubborn people for those many years and bringing them finally to the edge of the Promised Land. But instead Eleazar, Aaron’s son, is given his father’s role as high priest and Joshua is anointed as the new leader and Aaron and Moses are discarded with no fanfare. Not even a "Thank you very much."

Maybe I am more sensitive to this because I am of the older generation. I am on the lookout for age discrimination. But furthermore, I have come to like these guys after reading about them for more than half of every year.

So can I get up there on Saturday, chant the trope with its lovely melody, and then say these disparaging things about the God we in the end always revere? Will I be cast as a heretic? I guess we’ll see.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A New Identity

It's official. The haggard woman on my government badge is now dead. She has been shredded and recycled. She looked old and tired and unhappy. She looked like she had lost her last friend.

Today I posed for my replacement badge picture, the one that will allow me to enter our new building next month. This photo features a woman who is sitting up straight with her shoulders back and head high. She is wearing makeup and has hair that is layered and slightly blown back. Most importantly she is smiling, obviously thinking about something other than going back to work.

I begged them to let me keep the old photo, just so I could remember the difference. But government regulation required that it be turned in, so she is forever gone. Maybe it's for the best that I will not be reminded of that time when I was just barely alive. I really love the woman on my new badge. She looks like she would be a good friend.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Healthy Habits

As Deborah and I were smearing sunscreen all over each other's back on Saturday before doing laps in her pool, I remarked that putting on sunscreen before swimming had become as habitual as putting on my bike helmet before cycling.

I realized that there are several things like this that I now do for health or safety reasons that were never part of my routine when I was growing up in a small town in northern Florida.

If I had worn sunscreen as a child, I would probably not be discovering new melanomas today. Instead I was donning cocoa butter and frying in the hot Florida sun on the world's most beautiful beaches. Who ever heard of sunscreen back then? And weren't you supposed to at least try to get a tan in the summer? My skin turned red and blistered and complained, but I just kept lathering on the cocoa butter. Today it is SPF 45 or the highest number I can find, but I know the damage was done before we knew what SPF meant.

When I was 9 I fell off my bike and got a nasty concussion. I remember distinctly opening my eyes to find Lois White, my neighborhood friend, who walked me and my bike home. I spit up blood that night, but my parents in their wait-and-see attitude towards all health conditions never took me to the doctor. I had headaches for months, but eventually they went away. That was the days before bicycle helmets existed. Today I could not manage to start pedaling without my helmet securely fastened. I have fallen a few times since I was 9 and never hit my head, but my helmet is my insurance against another concussion or perhaps worse.

Cars have changed a lot since I was a child. We had seatbelts installed in our little 1962 Oldsmobile F-85. That was our first car with seatbelts. Today I couldn't push the gas pedal without great guilt if my seatbelt was not fastened. I always had a running controversy with my in-laws who complained about putting on their seatbelts, refusing to move the car until they did. The crash statistics are just too convincing to ignore this one thing that everyone can do as a precaution.

As I drove away from home to make my way to Washington, DC, I was given lots of advice by people who had never been out of the state of Florida and who imagined this to be the den of iniquity. But I did take one piece of advice to heart: "Always lock your car doors." When I was growing up, we never locked our cars; we didn't even lock our house. It was actually a pretty slow and very safe town back then. But the city is different, as I now know. My car is always locked these days when I'm not in it and even some times when I am.

Do these things make us safer or just crazier as we try to remember to sunscreen, helmet, buckle, and lock? It's hard to say. But it is with certainty that today's world is different than the world of the 1950's.

I'm sure there are more examples of these Pavlovian responses to everyday life. Can you think of some?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Summer Camp -- Then and Now

As I get ready to head up to Chautauqua next weekend for what seems like a week of summer music camp for adults, I find myself thinking about my first real adventure with summer camp 40 years ago – Math Camp at FSU. This was one of those experiences that changed my life forever, proving that math and sex are actually quite compatible.

Math Camp was for 30 nerdy kids from all over the country who excelled at math. I wrote 3-cent postcards to all the girls ahead of time, so we arrived quite thick already. I was perhaps the most naive 17-year-old. But I found myself sizing up the boys and picking me out a boyfriend the first night at orientation. Steve was the one that wore so much Jade East that it nearly bowled you over. He was cute and funny and within days we were a couple. We attended 4 classes every day and had tons of homework, but Steve and I were inseparable and seemed to end up necking on park benches every night until they blinked the lights at 5 minutes before dorm closing. Then I would go back and do my homework.

Being in love does wonders for sleep deprivation. But in addition, my friend Lucy’s solution to a wake-up breakfast was a large Coke mixed with orange juice with a Excedrin popped in. This is how I got through our 8 AM geology class every morning without falling asleep amid the discussions of dust bunnies and meandering rivers.

I had the time of my life with Steve even when we weren’t making out on the park benches. We listened to Red Rubber Ball by The Circle until I could sing every word. He taught me to play pool. I have always fallen for guys who were real pool sharks. We were the best of friends.

We learned computer programming – Fortran 2 back then. This in addition to my Cobol class taught by my friend and roommate Marilyn two summers later and the fact that I worked at the FSU Computer Center for 4 years were the credentials that landed me a job after graduation. So there was a practical side to Math Camp, but my memories are more focused on my summer romance with Steve than the math classes I took. What a liberating summer!

Playing chamber music intensively with other adults who love it equally well was also liberating last summer. It showed me the joy of making music together and convinced me that I could perform without my nerves taking control.

Last summer I went to Chautauqua with someone else’s husband. If you’re curious about that just read last summer’s posts (June 20). Bill was just a friend and we actually didn’t spend much time together because I was so busy with music. But this summer my husband is going, so it will probably be a different story. I wonder if we will end up making out on park benches as we stroll around the grounds of this amazingly beautiful place at night? Undoubtedly my summer camp experience will be quite different than it was 40 years ago when I first experienced the freedom of being totally in charge of myself and loving every minute of it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tired of Gotcha

I realized as I was driving to work yesterday morning that I have changed my commute to work in an effort to avoid the traffic enforcement cameras in DC. It’s a little longer but the possibility of getting a ticket is greatly diminished.

The first time I came home and my husband held out a photo and greeted me with “Looks like you were on candid camera”, I had a vague recollection of the bright flash of light in my rear view mirror. That’s when you of course say to yourself, “Oh shit, I hope the license plate is blurry.” A couple more of these and I have now learned exactly where the cameras are positioned and which ones are still turned on.

A few months ago, the state of Virginia decided that there were more accidents being caused by people speeding up when the light turned yellow to try to avoid the camera than there were previously, so Virginia has pulled the plug on the red light cameras.

But DC is still raking in far too much revenue to turn off these cash cows. That’s OK. I can avoid South Capitol Street and I am well aware of the camera just past the tunnel under the Capitol.

It’s not that I am a blatant lawbreaker. It’s just that sometimes it’s a close call and I’d prefer not to pay any more money into the DC treasury – at least not until they fix the potholes that are spreading like the plague. I have a healthy respect for a yellow light, but would prefer to think of it as CAUTION and not PANIC!

How many times have you starred on Candid Camera?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Remembering The Velveteen Rabbit

As I savored every page of the children's books in Borders while searching for the perfect new baby gift, I remembered all those bedtime stories I read to my children. Often the page corners were worn and my audience could easily have told the story, which was read over and over and over again.

There were Bernstein Bears and Care Bears and Spot books. There was The Little Engine that Could that always ending up climbing all those steep hills. There were oh-so-many Dr. Seuss Books. There were those wonderful Judy Blume books. I think I loved that reading time before bed as much as my children did. It was a good chance for me to leave behind the cares of the day and immerse myself in my favorite kind of story – one that has a happy ending.

I finally settled on Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and the Velveteen Rabbit, complete with matching stuffed rabbit that looked just like the one in the book. I always loved that story of how toys become real.

The books I was buying on this occasion were definitely for a happy ending baby. O'Malley was born through IVF after years of unsuccessful attempts. There was never a more longed for child. She is a petite, but perfect, little girl who flashes a very contagious smile. I greeted her with the Velveteen Rabbit and got to hold her as her Mom unwrapped the books. Her Mom is a kindergarten teacher, so she is well versed in children's books. I can just see her reading these and so many other books to O'Malley as she grows up.

We decided that I could be O'Malley's surrogate grandmother since her real grandmothers don't live in the area. I hope they will take me up on my babysitting offer some time soon.

Books and babies – I love them all!

Do you have a favorite story from when you were a child?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Figuring Out Who You Really Are

Sometimes I feel like a cameleon as I adapt my personality to my current audience. "Is one of them the REAL me?" I ask myself.

We've all experienced the ability to be the child our parents wanted – the perfect child – at least some of the time. I then went on to create a "perfect wife" personality – you know the one that doesn't upstage her husband. And then there's the "perfect mother" personality. This one makes sure her children get a positive spin to the public and tries to be supportive without being dictatorial. For me all of these attempts have resulted in variations on a rather boring, uninteresting theme. This person wins accolades from the public, but doesn't even give them a hint at what's going on inside. A few glasses of wine chip away at this personality shell, but sleep comes before the real person can emerge.

So when my friend recently said to me, "You really are sort of a nut," I was overjoyed. I think she is one of the few people who know the real me, the one I want to be anyway. The difference here is that we talk about everything. We talk about encounters with our dead relatives. We talk about our weirdest dreams. We talk at length about our feelings. We talk about the things we haven't done but would like to do. We laugh a lot. There are never any eyebrows at 4-letter words. The only time she said "Enough" was when I was a little too graphic about my bathroom emergency on the beltway earlier this year.

My challenge is to figure out how to introduce this hidden person to the rest of my world. This is the personality that makes me truly happy. I want to live it more than just occasionally.

Does this make any sense to you or am I the only one who has this multiple personality disorder?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Family – That's What It's All About

I have come to view my fellow Bloggers as something of a second family. In many cases our relationship is virtual, but it’s a family feeling nonetheless.

I’m not talking about a conventional family structure with a Mom and Dad and other relatives, but rather something like a commune, where everyone has the same role and responsibility.

A few people distinguish themselves. There’s Reya, who was my Blogging mentor. There’s a group of younger women – including Velvet, Cookie, Kathryn, Asian Mistress, V, Kristin, and Cee (in Australia) – whom I think of as my children. There’s a growing number of people of my generation – including Kate, Mother of Invention, Renny (in Norway), and Old Lady (who is actually younger than I am.) And there are a few in betweens, like Sue, John, Jamy, Pagan, and my newest Blogger friend Richard.

What do these individuals have in common? They all pour their hearts out on a regular basis in their respective Blogs. AND they read my Blog often enough and some leave comments on a regular basis.

Whether we have a mental picture of each other or not, we have come to know an awful lot about one another. We have sweated through biopsies, dried the tears of broken loves, offered encouragement on new adventures, and just been available to listen to each other. Sounds like family to me...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sew On and Sew Forth

I spent a lot of time today on projects for family members. I designed and made my daughter a purse and I solved the problem of my husband’s defective Eddie Bauer jeans with their missing belt loop.

When I was in Boston at my daughter’s graduation, she admired my purse (which I had made). We seldom have the same taste in clothes, so I was delighted when she said she would like one of my purses.

I have spent a lifetime designing and making things, starting when I was turned loose on the sewing machine at 6. I hated playing with dolls, but I did love to sew for them. So my dolls languished in style in smocked dresses and fur capes.

When my son was born, I stupidly thought I could make all of his clothes. This didn’t last long when I realized how unexciting it is to sew for a boy and that I could buy most things cheaper than I could make them.

When my daughter came along, another story. She loved fancy dresses with matching hair bands. I made ballet outfits for her and her friends. I made Halloween costumes. I dressed the cast in the school plays.

I have made things for myself over the years, but lately they have been more in the category of accessories. For some time I have been intrigued by quilted purses and all the possibilities they offer to combine fabrics and ribbons in a unique design with each new creation.

The purse I made for my daughter has a bright green interior. It has two outside pockets and 4 small pockets inside. It should go with lots of things since there are so many colors. (That's an actual picture above.) I’ll ship it off tomorrow and hope she likes it.

My husband recently presented me with a really odd repair project. I could hardly refuse since he is my constant source of technology help. He realized that a new pair of jeans was simply missing a front belt loop, somewhat essential to keeping them up. In looking through all the denim that I possess, I found lighter shades and darker shades, but nothing that would work. I finally woke up today with the idea of cannibalizing some fabric from somewhere inside, like the little piece that sits under the zipper and voila! a new belt loop was born. It looks reasonably like the others and will definitely do its job to keep his pants from falling off.

Sometimes I love an afternoon like this one that is so different from my usual Tuesday afternoon pace at work. It’s fun to be creative for people who are important to you!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Never a Mermaid

One of the things I inherited from my mother was a pronounced fear of drowning. My earliest memories of the beach include her admonishment to stay close to shore for fear of the undertow.

There was never any real effort to teach me to swim when I was a small child, so I arrived at a pool party for a 10-year-old classmate in fear and trepidation. I had never before been in a pool. (I really did lead a sheltered life as a child.) I resolutely stayed in the 3-foot area and splashed appropriately, never revealing my inability to swim.

Someone must have suggested to my parents that I needed to learn how to swim, so they found me a swimming instructor – Mr. Herring. He was about 75 years old and had some form of palsy that made it difficult for him to speak clearly or move very well. I'm sure it was a bargain deal. He taught me to blow bubbles while I hummed. I never really learned how to swim.

As an adult I discovered that a snorkel and fins can compensate for a lot of inability in the water. I was comfortable doing laps at our health club with a constant depth of 4 feet, aided by those props. But deep water still conjured up intense fear in me. I most certainly would drown in water over my head.

Contrary to my mother's approach, I made sure my children could swim at an early age. They not only swam, but they also competed and brought home walls of ribbons and trophies. So the water fear was not genetic!

At some point, I decided to take a few lessons from one of their coaches in an effort to wean myself of the snorkel. Barry patiently worked with me to teach me to turn my head and breathe without gasping.

From time to time my children have tried to teach me to kick so that I could free myself from all swim props, but to no avail. So I am down to fins and the need to be near a wall if I am swimming over deep water. Or at least that was the situation the last time I swam laps, which was probably at least 5 years ago.

My friend Deborah asked me to go swim laps with her at her pool on July 4. I went and bought a new pair of goggles as my old ones no longer had a good seal. I'm already preparing my little speech about my water phobia.

People who are swimmers just don't have a clue as to how much fear deep water can engender. If I could change a few things in my life, coming to terms with water would be high on the list. I would like to think of swimming as enjoyable and relaxing, as well as aerobic. Maybe I will have to get serious about taking lessons. Maybe I can find someone who specializes in water wimps. Maybe I can be hypnotized out of this anti-water spell my mother cast on me so long ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dealing with Plane Legs

I loaned my good friend a couple of things for her European vacation this week, but I forgot perhaps the most important thing – socks that keep your legs and feet from swelling on the long flight.

My first reaction to these socks was that they must be for really old women with bad circulation. But after several bouts of swollen legs, one that resulted in cellulitis and nearly landed me in a Paris hospital, I bought the socks at CVS. They feel a little tight, like good support hose. But they work. When I land, I simply peel off the socks and my legs and feet are the same as when the plane took off.

I sincerely hope my friend was at least in Business Class, where you get a little more leg room. And maybe she is not one of those people whose legs tend to swell. I hope not, because she has some serious walking cut out for her in Rome this next week. They are probably just searching for a quaint little restaurant with the typical fixed price 3-course dinner menu and wine, of course, lots of wine. I envy her the after-dinner cappuccino before a long stroll around the city that never sleeps, as it watches over thousands of years of history. Adds a certain level of insignificance to July 4...

Here’s to her Roman holiday with healthy feet and legs!

The Impossible Dream

Do you ever wonder about all the things you have never experienced? For me this list is probably a lot longer than the list of my experiences.

It includes things that take more nerve than I have been able to muster – like hang-gliding, bungy-jumping, and scuba diving. I don’t even go on roller coasters any longer. But I once was addicted to them and I imagine I would get that same rush from these other adventures.

I’ve never smoked a cigarette (at least not one filled with tobacco). I’ve never snorted cocaine or shot heroine. These are experiences I can easily forego because I know they are addictive and bad for your health.

Then there’s that whole gamut of sexual experiences that only happen occasionally in my dreams. Pursuing any one of them could be a serious threat to my current lifestyle, which is comfortable, stable, and still sexually active.

But with every birthday, I look at my Pandora’s box of inexperience and I wonder what would happen if I just cracked the lid, just a little. Then I become afraid of what might happen and I quickly dismiss this from my mind.

Do you have a mental list of things you might like to try during your lifetime?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Striking Resemblance

I have recently come to realize just how much my 12-year-old black lab Dylan reminds me of my deceased father. The similarities have always been there, but they have definitely become more pronounced as Dylan got older.

“Slow” doesn’t come close to describing the speed at which Dylan moves. It can take him 10 minutes just to walk the short distance from our back yard into the house. It’s not that he’s in pain – he is simply in no hurry. My father, who earned the name “Speed” when he was a child (because he was so slow), was the same way. He was never late to anything, but he moved slowly and always drove well under the speed limit.

Dylan doesn’t go for kibble or anything that requires much chewing any longer, preferring instead that soft squishy canned food. I suspect he might have dental issues, although the vet finds no apparent problems. My father’s teeth were always bad. They fell out over the years, rendering him toothless in his early 80s. He never wanted dentures, preferring instead to gum his food. He would probably have done well with food the consistency of canned dog food.

Then there’s the matter of smell. Dylan has that musty old dog odor, but it seems like he has always smelled that way. I have come to realize that every dog has a unique smell, as our other dog Jake has a completely different smell. My father too had his own smell. Some mixture of pipe smoke and excessive coffee would best describe it. Because he didn’t believe in over-bathing, there was also the faint hint of BO. But the pipe smell predominated.

Dylan is a non-social dog most of the time. When we first saw him, he was the puppy in the corner chewing on the plastic lamb chop, while all of his litter-mates formed doggy pyramids in the welping pen. His only deviation from this loner behavior is his penchant to hump young dogs of any sex at the dog park, something that has gotten us kicked out more than once. My father never preyed on young girls, but he did stick to himself. He undoubtedly spent many more hours dreaming up inventions in his work room than he spent hanging out with other people, family included.

Dylan has recently developed this habit of just standing near me staring out into space. I feel him asking me just to talk to him. I have guilt pangs that I never talked to my father or listened to him enough in his last years, staying so busy with my young family.

I know that dogs don’t live forever and that a 12-year-old lab is already an anomaly. I’m trying to prepare myself for Dylan’s departure, hoping it will be swift and painless when it occurs. My father actually died just a month after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I’m sure he suffered, but not for long at least.

Dylan and my father – what a weird pairing, but how very alike. Two of the favorite entities of my entire life.