Thursday, August 31, 2006

Saving the Life... of a Plant?

“Senora Barbara” I heard as I looked up from my computer screen on Wednesday at my office. It was Sandra, the daughter of the woman who cleaned my office in our old building. She always speaks to me in Spanish, even though she is now fluent enough in English. She was offering me “a beautiful plant” someone had discarded in a garbage can. What I gradually came to realize was that she wanted a temporary home for the plant because she is not allowed to take anything she finds in the trash.

Sandra came to this country from El Salvador at age 15, when her mother (who is still in her 30s) could afford to send for her. She is now 19, a recent high school graduate, with a 1-year old baby Michelle. Following in her mother’s footsteps and following the example of so many Hispanic immigrants, she cleans offices. It’s a job that requires no English and pays reasonably well.

I have come to know this family well, serving as their English-speaking go-between for everything from ordering bulky trash collection to being an advocate for one of the boys in the PG County School system. I am rewarded handsomely with homemade tamales and pupusas from time to time. They have given me a window into the lives of Hispanic immigrants. I now understand just how hard they must work to accomplish things we take for granted or never have to deal with at all, such as navigating complicated bureaucracy and gaining legal status in this country.

Sandra’s “beautiful plant” now sits in the corner of my office, with the hope that the building “police” will not come along and snatch it because it has parts that “hang down”, the kiss of death for plants in the new building. More than one person has taken those long plants home or thrown them in the trash. The other problem is that many of us have interior offices with absolutely no natural light, not a healthy environment for plants.

Whereas she cannot leave the building with the plant, I can carry it out and drop it by her apartment, where it can continue to grow even longer under her loving care. It is a nice plant that certainly doesn’t belong at the bottom of a dumpster. This philodendron was rescued...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A New Low on the Lunch Front

Working in the suburban ghetto as I do has been an impetus to me to bring my lunch. Now that I share a refrigerator and a microwave with 140 other people in our new building, I am opting for lunches that don’t require refrigeration or heating. Today’s menu featured a container of cottage cheese with 8 Kalamata olives, a Black Cherry-Almond CLIF Bar, and a banana with water to drink. That’s just about as unexciting as lunch could possibly get.

But to my utter surprise, my next-office neighbor brought me in a little "tasting" from his rather gourmet lunch, consisting of a bite of: grilled salmon, soba noodles, sauteed fennel, and stewed home-grown figs. Mind you, these 4 bites were a heavenly respite from my otherwise dull room-temperature lunch.

My neighbor’s generous offer reminded me that even lunch at your desk need not sink to such a low level. It just requires thinking ahead a little more than I have been inclined to do. I am more in the mode of grazing the refrig and the kitchen counter on the way out the door in the morning, as opposed to his approach of packing his lunch the night before as they sit down to dinner.

Maybe I’ll have to show him that I too can do more than open a can of tuna fish or cottage cheese. Dammit – I really do know how to cook!

What about you? Is your lunch a gourmet treat or just something to stave away hunger?

The Year of the Pearl

It’s a shock when you realize that you’ve spent more than half your life being married, and even more of a shock when you realize that you’re still married to the same person. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary yesterday – the year of the pearl.

It’s funny that I never had any doubts about this relationship. It was never with the thought that it might not last. We started out as just good friends, office mates that found an attraction beyond work. The romance part of it sort of snuck up on me. Probably a good thing, because I tended to run any time someone seemed seriously interested in me.

We were married on a hot steamy August day. It was not a day without incident. The first problem occurred when my husband-to-be put on his tux and found there were no studs included. This is when it was great to be living in a group house in Wesley Heights, where we could go next door and borrow studs from our neighbor, who had several sets to choose from. Meanwhile, my husband’s Aunt Zelda was insulting multiple guests and relatives while we attempted to get to the "synagogue" on time. The only snafu in the wedding was when I almost ran down the aisle before we had our wedding kiss. You see I had never before been to a Jewish wedding and I was so caught up in doing everything I was supposed to do that I almost forgot the most important thing!

Thirty years is a very long time. It hasn’t been problem-free. But we’ve always been able to talk to each other. Sometimes in loud voices, but we always talked. We weathered the storm of raising children, dealing with sick parents, dying pets, you name it. There have been many times when we were just too tired to be romantic, but they never lasted for very long. Sex has continued to be an important part of our relationship.

My card from my husband yesterday said, "Our love grows stronger every year (despite an occasional screw-up like The Magus)." To which I replied in my card, "Let’s go for another 30!" I really can’t imagine myself with anyone else, not ever!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Memorable Loss

My mini-meltdown last night reaffirmed my life-long obsession about lost things. Last week my husband inadvertently gave away my 35-year-old copy of The Magus, which had been given to me by an old boyfriend and inscribed with a statement that stuck with me all these years. Ironically I had just written about this book and those words last week. At this point my book is either at the bottom of a young Israeli’s backpack or discarded in a large dumpster in NYC, the perfect place for a ratty old book once the last page has been read.

So who was this guy who gave me the book all those years ago? I didn’t love him, although we spent a lot of time together over a 2-month period in 1972, helping each other in very different ways. A catalyst for our split was probably his reluctance to make any level of commitment to our relationship. My last memory of Bill was my hurling 4-letter invectives at his back as he walked down the front walk, having just brought back the key to the group house in which I lived at the time. But he left me with a book that I re-read several times over the years and which in a strange way has had an impact on my life.

My concern for lost things goes back to my earliest memories. For years I wouldn’t play with my maroon and grey plastic tea set because it was missing a piece or two. I remember when I lost the beaded change purse that my father had given me in the 3rd grade. In the 7th grade it was a white jacket that I had spent $5 of my allowance money on. When my children were small and pieces of special toys turned up missing, I immediately ordered replacement parts, being practically on a first-name basis with Fisher-Price.

After I screamed "I can’t believe you gave my book away!" my husband immediately sent off an urgent e-mail to Yonathan, requesting that he mail back the book upon completion... if he still had it. Who knows? It might come back, but maybe not. If not, it will simply get chronicled with the other losses of my life, most of which really don’t matter anyway. But for some odd reason, I have a hard time giving in to loss of any kind.

Does anyone else share this strange attraction to things?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Time Does a 180 Sometimes

What a difference 30-some years make! I contrast my first visit to my in-laws with my current visit and it’s like night and day.

I first came to Detroit in 1974 before we were married to meet his parents and attend his 10th high school reunion. That was before I was Jewish also. It was as if I was a ghost in his parents’ house. His mother asked him what he wanted for breakfast while looking straight through me. My enthusiasm for embracing his family was squelched as I pondered what in the world I was getting myself into in this relationship.

In their eyes I became a real person when I converted to Judaism, which I always reminded my father-in-law was at my choice and not because of their threats not to come to our wedding if it wasn’t in a synagogue. From that moment on, they were courteous and attentive to my feelings, but the initial meeting always lingered in the back of my mind.

Today my mother-in-law constantly compares me to her daughter-in-law born of Holocaust survivors and I come out on top. On this current visit, she has invited several extended family members over just to meet me, bragging to them about how I read from the Torah and how I made the brisket that was in the oven. The joke is that David really made the brisket (I cut up the onions and garlic), but cooking is still a woman’s job in her eyes, so I must take the credit.

So while some things are exactly as they were 32 years ago – we’re still sleeping on the same lousy beds with the exact same sheets and bedspreads – my status in the family has improved incredibly. Time has this way of wearing away the early misconceptions and proving once again that people are not so very different after all.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Never Too Late

While visiting in Detroit, we bought my 91-year-old mother-in-law her first computer – an Apple MacBook. I’m listening to Laptop 101 at about 10 decibels above normal as my husband teaches her the rudiments of using her new toy.

Why did she want a computer? Her hearing has been degenerating for years and it has become impossible to carry on a conversation on the phone, our only link when we are in DC and she is here. Recently her 90-year-old alterations lady told her that the computer had virtually saved her life, giving her a lifeline to the outside world and a never-ending source of amusement. So she greeted my husband with "I think I need a computer."

As my husband explained the concept of a bookmark and showed her the one he had created for the local weather, her face lit up with the realization that she could check the weather 24x7. She immediately jumped to the idea of being able to check our weather as well. You see, “the weather” has dominated any conversation we have ever had with my mother-in-law. The weather dictates her entire approach to life – what she will wear, the real need for the ever-present umbrella, etc.

Her first challenge was to learn how to use the track-pad. But she is a quick and eager student and in no time at all she was rolling and clicking. She sent e-mail messages to her granddaughter and her great-neice. Both of whom were astounded to learn of her new-found Internet savvy.

I hope when I am 91 I will be up for learning something new. I wonder what the exciting new technology will be when I reach that age.

(The second picture above is of my husband at the kids’ table in the Apple Store in Detroit where we took turns reading our e-mail after making the big purchase.)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Troubles at Home

I seem to have a case of perpetually leaky eyes today as I feel the weight of a family crisis that seems irresolvable. I can’t provide the specifics because my family occasionally reads my Blog.

Suffice it to say, this problem has been years in the making. It’s nothing new. It would be more surprising if it suddenly went away.

I start to detest myself as the unmerciful nag I’m accused of being. I have tried so hard to limit my inquiries and suggestions to things that involve other family members, the dogs, and the safety of our house. But inevitably I seem to cross some line and become nothing but a source of annoyance.

I long to share interesting conversations with this highly intelligent person – conversations that put us on an equal footing as responsible adults. But instead our encounters always degenerate into wishes for separation and release.

I ask myself if this is the way it will always be. Do old family wounds ever really heal? Will anything other than distance allow me to replace the feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration that currently occupy my heart?

Friday, August 25, 2006

My Taste in Books

I received my first "tag" from Cee on the topic of books. It caused me to think about my choices in literature and I remembered some very good (and some very bad) reads. So in answer to the categories she posed:

1. A book that has changed your life: The Magus by John Fowles, which was given to me by my boyfriend of the moment with the inscription "I hope this opens some doors that may have not been opened yet." As much as the Magus was a mind-expander, so Bill expanded my experiences. Our relationship was far too volatile to last, but the book has stayed with me and I have read it several times over the years, with a different set of doors being opened each time.

2. A book you have read more than once: Exodus by Leon Uris. This was my first glimpse of the struggles to establish a permanent home for the Jews. I read it again prior to our family trip to Israel in 2000. It was such a wonderful preparation for our visit to many of the sights mentioned in the book. I shuddered when I remembered the scenes from the book, which were only too real even though the book is historical fiction.

3. A book you would want on a desert island: My first inclination was a long and complicated book, so what better choice than the Torah – the first five books of Moses. I could spend a lifetime reading and re-reading this text and never really understand parts of it. But I would also like to have a book like "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon, a book that makes you think outside the box, probably a good thing to do on a desert island.

4. A book that made you laugh: "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. This colorful tale spans centuries. The major themes of the book include the quest for immortality, the meaning behind the sense of smell, individual expression, self-reliance, sex, love, and religion. He manages to put a smile on your face as you cover all this ground.

5. A book that made you cry: "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath, an autobiography written by this talented woman who took her own life at a young age. "The Time Traveler’s Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger is another book which I was tempted to put on the list of books that made me laugh. It includes scenes that bring tears to your eyes followed by scenes that prompt gut-busting laughter.

6. A book you wish you had written: "Crossing to Safety" and "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner. The prose in his books is the finest I have ever read. If anyone could paint best-in-show pictures with words, it is Wallace Stegner. If you start either of these books, you will have a hard time putting it down.

7. A book you wish had never been written: "The Charterhouse of Parma" by Robert Stendhal. Whoever wrote the NY Times review in praise of this book needs to have his head examined. It was the only book I have had to really struggle to complete. And I only read it because it was a book club pick. Even the person who chose it regretted her choice. That was when we introduce the requirement to read the book before recommending it.

8. A book you are currently reading: "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle, who lives in the French town where we will be renting a house in October. It is giving me a gourmet taste of what life in the Luberon area of Provence will be like. In addition, I am reading "The Sabbath" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, in my continuing quest to appreciate and understand this religion I embrace.

9. A book you have been meaning to read: Several on the best-seller list which have caught my attention include "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, "The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger, and "A Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. I always have a stack of books that are waiting for time to read.

10. Now tag 5 people: I have tried to name people who have responded to my posts about books or who have indicated a love of books, but I will inevitably miss someone who wants to join in this fun. I will suggest: Kassy, Kate, Kristin, Old Lady, and Reya for starters. Just add a comment if you decide to write about your taste in books.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Giving Anger a Time Out

After our 35-minute sit in silence tonight, our reading was “You Can’t Stop the Waves but You Can Learn How to Surf” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. His point is that meditation is neither shutting things out or off, but deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them. He says that just as you can’t put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, you can’t artificially suppress the waves of your mind without creating more tension and inner struggle.

During our discussion, I was struck with the idea that I am unable to fuel the fires of anger while I am sitting quietly, sitting still. I have given up on the idea of totally focusing on breathing, and surrendered to the fact that the most I can hope for is to be able to calmly and rationally process my thoughts in a positive way. If I can adhere to this notion, it means that any anger I sit down with will at worst be put on hold, but perhaps it will actually be dissipated through the act of silent meditation.

Is this perhaps the intention of the forced time out that is so often used with young children to stop wild kicking, biting, or other undesirable behavior? Wouldn’t it be great if we could put a positive spin on this approach to punishment, perhaps saying “Let’s sit together and take 10 deep breaths” as opposed to “You are being banished to time out in the corner for the next 5 minutes”?

The poisons of anger leach into our entire beings, not stopping with our minds or our hearts. I love the idea of putting anger in time out with silent meditation. I love the feeling of peace that results from a silent sit with trusted friends.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The New Office Pics

I neglected to show you the "tiki hut" exterior of our new building, created by pieces of wood mounted externally over all the windows -- why??? You can see for yourself if you venture out to Suitland. The new buildings will be obvious from the intersection of Suitland Road and Silver Hill Road.
It would take a "before" picture to make you appreciate the "after", which looks just like any other office space. Not everyone has Guatemalan toucans flying over their desk though!
Here's my precious mobile of dancers (made by my artistic daughter in the 7th grade). This definitely distinguishes my office from all the others.
One of the "dancers" taking a flying leap in front of the glass that forms the front wall of my office and overlooks the printer that doesn't yet work.

An office tour would not be complete without an introduction to the green that I had described as "lime green." Someone corrected me yesterday and called it "grasshopper green." Whatever it is, you can't escape it. The gray 1/8" carpeting is probably the ugliest I have ever seen. But it comes in squares that can be replaced if needed.

There really are people working here. In an effort to protect people's privacy, I just didn't show you the worker bees.

Has Her Killer Been Found?

When authorities arrested John Mark Karr in connection to the JonBenet Ramsey murder, people around the world had a variety of reactions. There was general relief that perhaps the book could finally be closed on this case. There was guilt for having suspected the parents, specifically Patsy who since died of ovarian cancer.

The brutal murder of the young beauty queen 10 years ago, the day after Christmas, was on the front page of the Enquirer and other such magazines for well more than a year while speculation led to dead end after dead end and the public stayed glued for the next nugget of news. It was such a weird case, where the parents did odd things, where the Boulder Police Department seemed totally inept at times. But no killer was ever found.

For many of us it was our first look at the sicko life of children like JonBenet who are made to act as adult women in 6-year-old bodies. We learned all about the child beauty pageants. We learned how these children were robbed of their childhood. It was no small wonder that JonBenet was still wetting the bed at night. But we never learned who killed her with a severe blow to the head.

Then out of nowhere comes John Mark Karr, apprehended in Bangkok with a history of child pornographic tastes and a confession that he killed JonBenet on that fateful morning in December 10 years ago. He claimed to have loved JonBenet and said her death was accidental, meaning that it was second degree murder.

As much as we would like to believe this guy is the killer, there are still so many things unanswered about this case. Like the whole business of the ransom note which was possibly written in Patsy's handwriting? Like how this creepy guy could have gained entrance to the Ramsey home? Like why the child would have gone to the basement with him without making a sound?

I hope we finally get answers. I hope society will look at the case of JonBenet and at the young Swan who is still alive and competing and will say "This is simply wrong." But meanwhile, is John Mark Karr the one who did it?

Monday, August 21, 2006

The No Big Deal Move

I came to work today fully expecting the worst because my office was moved to our new building over the weekend. A commercial company is moving 300 employees each weekend for as long as it takes to get our entire agency moved. We were the third group to move and I had heard a few horror stories from the first two groups, including the 12" black snake which fell out of the ceiling onto someone's desk as she unpacked. So I entered the building prepared for snakes and rodents and just general chaos.

Finding my office was the first challenge. I am in 3K277 in the lime green corridor. Someone went a little over the top with the colors, but it's OK – I can live with lime green.

When I finally did locate my office, I was surprised to find my old furniture installed just as I had requested and my 9 crates sitting in my office waiting to be unpacked. Everything appeared to be accounted for. Nothing had been broken during the move. My computer booted up on the first try. Unbelievable! The printer across from my office doesn't work yet, but a color printer 25 steps away works fine.

By lunchtime I had unpacked my 9 crates, hung my certificates and other crap on the walls, and attached my mobiles to the ceiling. I have the most terrific artistic mobile of papier mache dancers made by my daughter in the 7th grade – 5 dancers that continuously rotate and do pirouttes with a little breeze. I also have a mobile of 4 colorful toucans from Guatemala. They add interest to an otherwise uninteresting office of 35 years of government work.

All in all the new building is a huge improvement over the neanderthal that has housed my agency for the last 50 years. But I do have just a few complaints – as though anyone reading this can do anything about them:
– I share a single refrigerator and microwave with 140 other people. Do you know how many cubic inches of cool space that is? Can you imagine how long the line to heat up lunch is? I actually opened a can of sardines today and didn't bother to find out.
– I am no longer allowed the luxury of my rental Deer Park hot-and-cold water dispenser. This means that I will be shlepping in 5 large bottles of water each week because I still refuse to drink the tap water even though they say it's OK in the new building.
– The walls between offices are like rice paper, meaning that I can hear every word my boss says on the phone and in meetings in her office. This is the one time when my voice that doesn't carry is an asset.
– I am miles (it would seem) away from my staff. I'm sure they are looking at this as a big improvement.

As for unwanted creatures, I have seen only one small roach so far. I didn't even bother to kill it figuring that it was one of many. No snakes, no rats.

Someone just came by and said my office looked the nicest of the lot. I graciously accepted the compliment, claiming no real credit.

It is starting to feel like home after just one day. Surprisingly the day from hell died without a bang or a whimper. The move came off without a hitch. I am utterly amazed!

(Tomorrow I'll take a picture of the real thing and post it.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Voice from the Past

I have always thought that the mark of a good friendship was one that could just pick up where it left off many years earlier. When my roommate from my senior year in college called today, we talked forever about what has transpired in the 10 years since I last saw her, the only time since we graduated. It was just like old times.

Caridad (Cary) is a petite 4'10" of Cuban descent. We were always like Mutt & Jeff. My memories of her include:

– Eating canned squid in its own ink with chopped onions and toast courtesy of her mother’s care packages.
– Watching her roll her hair on orange juice cans to straighten it.
– Her unique approach to hemming her pants which inevitably had to have several inches cut off: Scotch tape.
– Eating bags of Cheetos together in our room.
– The day she showed up with a small Honda motorcycle in our sorority house parking lot.
– Her sleeping an awful lot after her father died suddenly while we were in college.
– Her first car, a Pontiac Firebird, which was customized for her height.

She has lived in Miami ever since we graduated. Although she dotes on multiple nieces and nephews, she never married and has no children of her own.

We exchanged e-mail addresses and vowed to make good on our pledge to get together sometime during the coming year. I wonder if we can actually make this happen. It’s fun to sometimes be reminded of a time long ago when I was young and carefree and my life was still a mystery.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In Search of the Perfect Brisket

In the 30 years of our marriage, I have made some God-awful brisket – too sweet, too tough, falling apart. It was never at all right. And a good brisket is definitely the mark of a successful Jewish homemaker!

So when the following message came 10 days ago:


At the Spring Auction you signed up to participate in the First Great Temple Micah Brisket Bake-Off to be held on SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, from 7-9 pm at the Temple.

There are three ways to participate: 1. Enter a brisket, a kugel or a cheesecake in the bake-off competition. 2. Come to the Temple with a huge appetite to taste the briskets, kugels, cheesecakes (as well as salad and drinks) that others have entered and to vote on the ones you like best. 3. Best of all worlds, do both--enter an item as well as taste and vote on the items (no cheating).

I quickly concluded that if I was going to enter this contest, it would have to be brisket. I’ve never made a kugel and I suck at cheesecake.

Given our lack of previous success, I suggested that my husband find a recipe on the Internet. He printed out about 10. I picked the one that had the fewest ingredients and seemed the least complicated. We agreed on a few substitutions in the way of ingredients. I bought the brisket at Costco and chopped up the onion and garlic on Thursday night, leaving him with the task of assembling and cooking it on Friday, since I remember reading somewhere that brisket is better if cooked the day before.

When I came home from work, there was that great smell that results only from a slow-cooked brisket. Neither of us had the nerve to taste it.

We followed the instructions and brought our brisket cold and unsliced to Temple Micah on Saturday night, where it was then sliced and heated up in the oven.

The group of 30 participants each received a plate with 3 different briskets, each sporting a colored toothpick. A separate smaller plate contained a 4th. We tasted each and then cast the toothpick of our favorite into the brisket bowl. Since I hadn’t tasted ours, I wasn’t even sure which one I was voting for, but I definitely preferred it over the other 3. Apparently a lot of other people also voted for the RED toothpick brisket, which turned out to be ours! Finally after all these years, a winning brisket I can make for my mother-in-law...

For anyone who’s interested, here is the recipe:

BBQ Brisket

5-pound brisket
2 bottles of Charlie Beiggs Maine Apple BBQ Sauce (the secret ingredient)
2 onions, chopped
1-1/2 pkg. Lipton onion soup mix
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Borsari seasoned salt
Red wine

Chop onions and garlic and put in the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay brisket on top of onions. Season brisket on both sides and lay in pan, fat side up. Put onion soup mix on top. Pour BBQ sauce on top. Fill one BBQ sauce bottle with a combination of red wine (3/4) and water (1/4) and put in pan. Cook in 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours.

Refrigerate over night. One hour before serving, take out and slice. Put slices back in sauce and reheat.

This recipe combines EASY with DELICIOUS – definitely a winning combination.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Tickets Are in the Mail

Mailing out tickets to an event means it’s probably going to happen. Stuffing tickets into stamped envelopes last night was the first tangible evidence that the High Holy Day services at Temple Micah are on track for just a few weeks from now. Most of those families who have paid 1/3 of their dues will soon receive their HHD tickets in the mail.

Dues? Tickets? Those words didn’t figure into my WASP upbringing in the Bible belt of the Deep South. We made pledges and passed the plate at every service to bring in the revenue. No one was ever asked for a ticket at the Christmas Eve or Easter sunrise service, although people of color were denied entrance.

Aside for huge theological differences, the concepts of dues and tickets were the biggest fundamental changes I discovered when I converted to Judaism. Most congregations have a sliding dues requirement, based on a family’s ability to pay. At Temple Micah, those who are 1/3 compliant receive their HHD tickets at no charge. Anyone else who wants to attend these services that mark the most important days of the year must pay a considerable price to gain entrance. All Jews understand that this is just the way it works.

I have found that it’s really nice not to think about money in connection to weekly services. There are no envelopes for your weekly tithe. There are no ushers passing plates. The subject of money is simply not mentioned. Only this one time a year does it matter whether you are a dues-paying member.

I feel so totally responsible for all operations connected to the HHDs at Temple Micah. When I came home I found myself pulling out my own tickets to make sure there were no typos. I found myself worrying that we might have made a mistake and given some family the wrong number of tickets.

Then I said to myself, for heaven’s sake! You have a chairperson for ticket distribution. Let him feel responsible. Move yourself on to all the other minutiae yet to be sorted out and done in the next 5 weeks. And there is plenty.

The tickets are in the mail and the show will go on...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Shhh! Don't tell

Secrets... From the time Eve took a bite of the apple, we have been asking for forbidden knowledge. You boys/men reading this will probably not identify with this topic because secrets are a girl thing, not playing a big part in male culture. But for women, there is enormous power in possessing a secret and in prying one out of someone else.

From the time we are young children, it is shared secrets that determine who is in and who is out of any group. Secrets mark every ritual initiation. I’ll bet anyone who was ever in a sorority or fraternity or any other selective group to this day remembers the password and the secret handshake.

Some secrets are insignificant pieces of information. However, others have the potential to ruin relationships and turn friends into enemies. Secrets can be as powerful as hand grenades.

It’s interesting that we go to great lengths to declare our intentions to keeps secrets. The stack of Bibles that have been sworn on would probably reach to the sky. There have been countless pinky swears. There has even been the exchange of blood. But often even those intentions cave in under the intense pressure of one who wants to know.

For the most part the Blogosphere is not about secrets. We generally put it all out there for public consumption. But yesterday I read the following (edited) comment on a friend’s Blog:
"I guess I'm going to have to write you privately about this because A, B and C have all cropped up in interesting ways in my life."
My immediate reaction was that I wanted to know what this person had to say. I wondered why it was privileged information, especially given the anonymity of the commenter. My friend is resolute about not passing on information vouchsafed to her by others, so it will forever remain between them. Was it wrong of me to want to know?

What’s your take on secrets? Can you be trusted to keep one? Are there situations under which you really should tell all? What are the ethics associated with secrets?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Four Days on the Outside

Can you imagine anything worse that being committed to an insane asylum for the remainder of your life? Especially if you are not really insane? Shades of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest."

Yesterday as I was driving to work, I heard that John Hinkley Jr. was petitioning the courts to allow him to leave St. Elizabeth’s for a 4-day visit with his parents. This caused me to remember his story and to once again consider the reality of spending the rest of your life in any place not of your choosing.

Hinckley is now the 51-year-old version of the young man who attempted to assassinate President Reagan on March 30, 1981, seriously wounding him and permanently paralyzing his press secretary James Brady. A highly publicized trial and extensive medical exams resulted not in the death sentence for young Hinckley, but rather his commitment to St. Elizabeth’s for the rest of his life with no possibility for permanent release.

Hinckley has been the model citizen over the past 25 years of his confinement. Last year he requested and was granted permission to make 7 overnight visits to his parents’ home in Williamsburg. He is now requesting that his seventh and final visit be a stay of 4-days.

How do I feel about John Hinckley? When he shocked the country with his assassination attempt, even though I didn’t vote for Reagan, my initial reaction was to lock him up and throw away the key. Since then President Reagan has died a natural death and James Brady has continued to lobby for gun control from his wheel chair. My initial anger toward this midguided individual has turned into a profound sadness for him and his family.

I wonder how his parents have dealt with this shame and their loss? I wonder how long Hinckley will continue to live at St. Elizabeth’s at the taxpayers’ expense? I wonder just how mentally ill he is? I wonder what would happen if he were allowed to rejoin society?

I continue to try to understand the penal system, with a fervent desire to heal the offenders in our society and not just to confine them.

And your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Getting Ready to Move

This week at my office everyone is pitching and packing in preparation for the move to our new building next week. I filled my 9 allocated crates and decided to deep six the 200+ file folders in the picture above because they hadn’t been opened in over 5 years. Seems like a good measuring stick to me.

When I went to play music with my friend and doctor Deborah yesterday, I mentioned that my day had focused on the dirty job of packing crates. She commented that she would never get paid to clean out and pack and move because doctors only get paid when they see patients. What a different concept.

Today I brought in a bucket, lemon cleaner, and paper towels. My hourly rate is a lot higher than I pay the El Salvadoran woman who cleans my house. My guess is that I won’t do as good a job as she does. But the grime under all those file folders must be eliminated.

There is something almost soothing about the monotony of doing menial jobs like packing and cleaning. It’s nice to take a break from serious data to doing mindless tasks and smelling lemon cleaner.

An interesting anecdote from someone who has already taken up residence in the new building: Yesterday as they were moving into their offices on the 4th floor, a black SNAKE fell out of the ceiling. That meant that it had gone all the way to the 5th floor in search of what? – a rat, a mouse? That would be a rather unsettling welcome. So the bottom line is that we can now drink the water in the new building, but it is already rat and snake infested. Great way to get started...

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Difficulties of Choosing a Book

I belong to a very opinionated book club where it is virtually impossible to please everyone. I consider myself successful if even half of the other 12 people like the book I choose.

My husband probably gives more thought to his choice than anyone else in the group, always hoping for unanimous approval. The only rule for the selecting person is that you must have read the book, after we were burned a few times by people recommending books with good reviews that really sucked when you read them (like The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal). So he always reads several books before making a recommendation. He reads reviews. He is always convinced that his latest choice will be the one that finally meets with a room of nods.

Last night he led the discussion on "The World to Come" by Dana Horn. I absolutely loved this book that reads like a Yiddish folk tale. But unfortunately 4 people in the group vociferously panned it, not even letting him get through the brief bio of the author before talking about what they disliked. I could see his ego getting wounded as he took on a rather defensive attitude during the discussion. It turned out that there were an equal number of those of us who liked the book a lot, a couple of ambivalents, and one who probably never read the book at all. My husband and I talked about it after the meeting and I reiterated the importance of believing in a book yourself and saying to hell with the rest of them. But for a person who made all As and who likes to please his audience, that is not good enough. He now has somewhat over a year to come up with his next choice.

There are many ways to go about choosing a book. You can pick a classic, like Wallace Stegner’s Sacred Hunger, that has been shown millions of times to be a crowd pleaser. Or you can turn to Oprah’s list or Border’s list or another list of current favorites. Or you can just go with your gut feeling, knowing that it will probably not match a couple of other gut feelings.

My selections have never come close to pleasing the entire group. Since we started this book club in 1997, I have recommended:

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok
The Magus by John Fowles
The Narrows by Ann Petry
The Special Prisoner by Jim Lehrer
Fool's Crow by James Welch
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Mutual Life and Casualty by Liz Poliner
The History of Love by Nicole Kraus (for October 2006)

After last night’s comments, I can predict that the same people are going to hate my October pick. But oh well...

The beauty of a book club of diverse people is that the discussion never ends with the single sentence, "It was a great read." It’s that curious interplay of the positive and the negative that makes me read the next book. This is freedom of speech at its finest.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Biking Lessons Learned

I have taken two big (for me) rides on this beautiful weekend in preparation for our “Tour de France" in October, which will definitely be laughably shorter and less difficult than the real thing. We won’t even be tempted to dope, preferring instead to take Alleve for sore muscles.

During our 2-week stay in Lourmarin, I picture myself using my rented bike to get baguettes from the village patisserie for breakfast, visiting local vineyards, riding into the country for leisurely gourmet lunches, or perhaps visiting a regional farmer’s market for dinner ingredients.

Yesterday’s trip took me from Capitol Hill to Georgetown for lunch and then back, by way of the Capitol grounds (fantastic sights), the river (never more beautiful), and the mall (thronged with tourists). In addition to affirming my insistence on wearing a helmet, I learned that I prefer any street (even one with Metrobuses) to a sidewalk full of pedestrians. Sometimes they give you killer looks as you politely say “On your left.” I learned that I hate all those posts they have installed for security reasons. I never did well in bicycle obstacle courses as a child and I still have a real aversion to going straight in tight places. This extends to the 2-foot bikeways under some of the overpasses along the river. I actually knocked my rear-view mirror off going through one of those. I learned that the important thing for me is fully taking in the sights and sounds along the way, not holding to a steady pace. I learned the value of those lowest gears for going uphill. I managed never to need to get off my bike and walk it uphill.

Today’s trip was quite different. My husband and I rode from our house to Four-mile Run and back. It’s a great trip going, mostly downhill with a lot of chance to just coast and breathe in the warm but not hot summer air. Then you realize at the bottom of all those hills that the trip home is virtually all uphill – that would be for most of 3 miles. Once again I became a tortoise and just inched up those hills. At one point I was passed by two serious bikers, standing up and pedaling as they talked about being taken out on the inside of curves. They must have looked at me and thought I should be in an old folks home instead of laboring on a bicycle going up that hill.

On both trips I learned the importance of being aware. Drivers are not always watching for pedestrians and cyclists, sometimes being far too absorbed in a cell phone conversation or the loud music from their stereo system. If you can’t see their eyes, they can’t see you. Even a helmet will not save you in many such cases.

But probably the biggest lesson from my weekend on my bike was the reminder of the freedom that it presents to me. From time to time walking is a challenge for me because of some longstanding structural issues with my body. But on my bike, it’s just the strength of my legs that matters, not every little crack in the sidewalk that might cause me to trip. I love riding my bike!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

To Helmet or Not to Helmet

One of my friends and I agree to disagree about several things, wearing a bicycle helmet among them. She would rather ride on the sidewalk and keep her ears uncovered, pointing out that most Europeans ride without a helmet. Whereas for me, riding a bicycle without a helmet is tantamount to riding without clothes on. It would just feel so wrong.

I’m not sure when bike helmets first came out. But I might have avoided the nasty concussion I got at age 10 when I fell off my bike if I had had one. I think I bought my first helmet in the early 70s after I moved to DC.

Since that time I have always worn one. And my children have always worn one, even when they sat in kiddy seats on the back of my bike.

So why do I feel so strongly about this? I just visualize what would happen to a cantaloupe dropped onto a concrete surface from 4 feet above. Does this vision mean that I’m a fatalist? I say it means that I am a realist because I acknowledge that I can only do my part in avoiding accidents. There is always the chance that someone might hit me.

And what about putting bike helmets on young children – children who are barely 18" off the ground? I support this because it gets them in an early habit of wearing one. Furthermore, they can easily fall and strike their heads, by their fault or that of someone else.

To me a bike helmet doesn’t guarantee my safety, but it is a fairly cheap form of insurance that greatly diminishes the chance of head injury in the case of an accident. I’m a person who doesn’t leave such things to chance.

Do you ride a bicycle? How do you feel about helmets?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sifting Through a Career of Paper

As we get ready to move to our new building in 10 days, I find myself reliving the past 35 years of my working life. It’s like going through a multi-layered archaeological dig of more pages of paper than I could begin to count.

I’ve found some things that definitely bring back memories. There my first personnel action – the one that establishes my salary at $6,938. Contrast that to the paperwork for an award I received earlier this week for $5,000. I suppose that’s what inflation does. Then there’s the memo I wrote in response to my being summarily fired from a job in 1994. "Fired" is probably not the right word. What they often do in the Federal government is just put you aside to rot from lack of anything to do. The two people responsible for this are the only two for whom I have venomous feelings after all these years of work. One is now an SES and the other a retired re-employed annuitant. Neither ever apologized to me for what was an egregious error on their part.

But if it hadn’t been for that unfortunate incident, I would never have ended up in my current job. So perhaps some things happen for the best.

The real challenge is deciding what to keep and what will not be missed. I look at this as an opportunity to get ready to retire now. So from a 4-drawer lateral file that was chock full, I saved exactly 8 folders of information. I hadn’t accessed any of the rest of it for 10 years, so I decided to chuck the whole thing in the dumpster.

In thinking of things I have tossed out over the years, my one and only regret has to do with the massive cleanup of my parents’ house after my father’s death. I threw out a folder of his inventions that I really should have saved. Once it was gone, it was impossible to find it in the humongous garbage heap that resulted from 50 years of never throwing anything away.

More and more I seem to rely on electronic files at work, perhaps saving a few trees. So more often than not, I will be just pitching it out if in doubt. The entire next week will be devoted to getting ready for the big move. They’ve only been talking about a new building since 1972. But it is actually happening. The best news is that the water will be safe to drink, or so they say.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Adult Children Leaving the Nest

Is it the complexities of life today that make it more difficult for adult children to leave home and become financially independent of their parents? I have two who are in that transition period with one foot still in the nest.

When I graduated from college, there was no question that I was expected to fully support myself. I had worked since I went away to school so that I was not bound to the life of penury to which my father's stipend would have committed me. I liked good clothes and things that he considered frivolous, so I knew that it would have to be up to me to earn money to buy them.

My first job out of college was for a starting salary of $6,938 – and that's before taxes. After I paid my $115 share of the group house rent, it didn't leave a whole lot of spending money. But I would never have thought of asking to be subsidized by my parents. It never even crossed my mind.

But things are so much more complicated for today's children. We have been paying their VISA bills, their cell phone charges, their health insurance premiums, their car insurance, and so many other things. It's a lot more complicated to just cut the strings and say "Now you're on your own."

In our son's case, he just completed law school, took the Arizona bar this summer, has substantial educational loans to pay back, and turned down his one and only job offer in Tucson to come home and look for a government law job. I'm sure this took a lot of thought on his part – to give up a job with an excellent starting salary because he came to realize that he was going to be miserable working under the stress that it generated. So at least for a while he will be living at home while plan B materializes.

Our daughter just got a BA in bio-psych. She had almost perfect grades and a lot to recommend her, but starting salaries with an undergraduate degree don't support expensive lifestyles. She is so much like I was in that she has always worked in the food industry since she went to school so that she could pay her bar bill and have a fairly nice life. She will continue to waitress at a trendy restaurant in Boston as she starts her first real job.

But we're still paying some of their expenses each month. And then there are crises that seem to occur now and then. Our daughter's house was burglarized last weekend and her laptop was stolen. My husband immediately ordered a new one for her, knowing that stolen laptops are never recovered. Our son in traveling in Europe right now. His VISA card was stolen and his checking account is overdrawn. My husband deposited some money in his account to tide him over until he returns.

The real question is whether we are asking for this continued dependence by our willingness to come to their assistance or whether we would better serve them by just telling them that the bank is closed. I'm sure many of you reading this have been through this transition period and could give us advice.

Meanwhile if you know of any government law jobs for a smart kid who had a 3.5 at the U of Az, was on law review, and is not demanding a 6-figure starting salary, please let me know.

I'm sure that in a few years I will look back on this time and forget the difficulties of kicking them out of the nest. This is assuming that by that time both children are happily on their own and we really are empty nesters.

Making Peace with Summer

When I woke up this morning, I knew something was different: I still had my pajamas on! For the past 10 days, I have been throwing off sheets and clothing in the middle of the night because it was so friggin’ hot. This wasn’t change of life hot, but rather dog days of summer hot. However, with the temperature about 20 degrees lower, I was luxuriating this morning under the covers.

Yesterday I also noticed that the bottles of Costco water that I keep in my car trunk were drinkable once again, as opposed to being hot enough to brew tea.

But perhaps the best effect of this weather change is the chance to take a long walk or bike ride this weekend without being soaked in sweat within 5 minutes. Now that’s a luxury.

As Reya recently pointed out, a change in temperature and humidity is even more dramatic when it has been as ridiculously hot as it has been here over the past couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to thoroughly enjoying this new weather because I’ve been in DC long enough to know there are still some hot days left in this summer of 2006.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Daily Double

I find myself looking forward to my double shot each morning – my half-caf short skim latte from Starbucks. It would seem that $2.59 is a small price to pay for such enjoyment. But holy shit, I just calculated that a year of caffeinated pleasure is costing me $945. Doesn’t sound so insignificant.

I have tried other coffee and have concluded that it’s that strong, smooth taste that I’m hooked on. Other coffees often leave my stomach on edge because of the excessive acid. But my habitual latte just leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction.

It’s more than the coffee that attracts me to Starbucks. I love checking out the attire of the other customers. I love seeing what everyone else orders. I love watching mothers interact with their young children as they wait for the fix that will make them so much nicer. I love the conversations I strike up while I wait for my latte. I love sitting down with my coffee klatch friends at the 8th & Penn Starbucks. I love the way we all hold the door for each other on entrance and exit.

I wonder why it is that I never try the more exotic coffees. Today I noticed an ad for banana coconut frappucino. That has no appeal for me. I could probably get hooked on mocha, but I don’t need the extra calories. So I stick with what I know I like, at least minimizing the price that I am paying for this habit of mine.

Are you a Starbucks addict? If so, what do you order?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mystery Reader

As I sat there and watched my StatCounter go through the roof while someone read virtually everything I had ever written over the past 2 years, I wondered who in the hell this person was? How did this reader find me? Was it a random connection?

This is where a StatCounter becomes a valuable tool. I could tell that the person was in LA and that the search string was "Zelda Diskin Chicago," landing on a post I did at the beginning of this year. This level of knowledge would mean that this was a relative. I asked my husband who in his family lived in LA. "One of Uncle Herman's children," he said.

Never having met this person, I found myself saying, couldn't you first introduce yourself before looking through my photo albums, going through my dirty laundry? Then I remembered, this is the Internet. You put this stuff out there for EVERYONE to read – friend, foe, stranger, relative. Sure, there is a place to leave a calling card in the form of a comment. But it's optional.

So for 2 days now, I have seen more page loads than I normally get a in a week as my new-found LA connection reads all about my life and continues to try various search strings on other family members.

I would love to know for sure who this person is. I would love to have a phone conversation and find out what motivated the initial search. After all, Aunt Zelda is approaching 100 years old and is a feisty old lady who still lives independently despite deteriorating health, but not exactly one that a lot of people would be Googling on the Internet.

It will be interesting to see if LA sticks around, becomes a new devoted reader. Or was this just a quick (well, really not so quick) genealogical foray that netted my Blog. It remains to be seen...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Staying on Top of the HHD Power Curve

I think I finally have an appreciation for all the tasks and outstanding issues associated with being a co-chair of the Temple Micah High Holy Days. It has taken me several months to sift through the two-inch stack of historical documents related to this job I signed on to do.

I have turned what I learned into a new pared down notebook and a table of nearly 200 items, including everything that must be moved, purchased, or rented and every task that must be done. This ranges from purchasing additional parking cones to moving the Kiddush cup to the proper place in the Church to conducting appropriate sound checks to identifying a doctor to be on call to configuring and restoring the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, where we hold services. I can sort this table in a variety of ways: by date, by person responsible and date within, by items with outstanding questions, etc.

I have moved a lot of the necessary communication into the website. Members can volunteer to help on particular committees online. Committee chairs can learn who has volunteered by consulting an online report. Additional reports reflect ticket, childcare, and handicap parking requests. Fortunately I live with the webmaster, so I can influence how the website supports my coordination of the High Holy Day activities.

Only now do I feel like I have this job under control. It’s absolutely enormous, but with the assistance of everyone who has signed on to help, we will be ready for Rosh Hashanah, when it arrives on September 22. And if we’re not ready, it will happen anyway as it has for 5767 years.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hidden Gardens

The Aquatic Gardens is a tiny jewel of a park hidden behind the garbage of Kenilworth Avenue in Washington, DC. This is peak blooming season for these aquatic plants, so even though it was beastly hot out today, we paid a visit. Here's a description from their website:

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. Situated on 14 acres along the east bank of the Anacostia River, the Gardens were begun as the hobby of a Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw in 1882, and operated for 26 years as a commercial water garden. During the time that Mr. Shaw, and later his daughter, Mrs. L. Helen Fowler, operated the gardesn, they were successful in developping many new varieties of water lilies, two of which bear their names. In 1938, the Gardens were purchased from Fowler by the Federal Government. It was as that time that the facility ceased operating as a commercial enterprise and because part of the National Park system.

We were lucky to join a tour with a park ranger, who revealed some of the challenges of operating a park like this. We learned about the delicate balance in the food chain, about the persistence of turtles, and about the predilection for pink water lilies displayed by hungry beavers.

I highly recommend a trip to the Aquatic Gardens if you haven't been. You will never again see so many water lilies in one place!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Bounties of Summer

There's nothing more enjoyable than a trip to the farmer's market on a summer Saturday morning before it gets unbearably hot out. My friend Kris and I explored the Del Ray Farmer's Market this morning, sampling everything from mushroom chili to sweet white peaches.

So on a day when I would normally be gearing up for the morning Shabbat service at Temple Micah, I found myself worshipping at the foot of the oyster mushroom and the fresh tomato. It's never good to go to one of these places with an empty stomach like I had today. I came away laden with bags of cheddar cheese, creamy yogurt, ratatouille ingredients, white corn, fresh basil, homemade pesto, white peaches, blueberries, and one of those baskets of mixed oyster mushrooms pictured above.

We decided to merge our purchases into a dinner of the summer's finest offerings tonight, reaffirming that we could both easily be vegetarians. If the men in our families are craving meat, it will just have to wait.

I think scrambled eggs with pesto sounds like a good breakfast, don't you?

P.S. Here's the dinner menu for our feast on summer's finest offerings:

Fresh sharp cheddar on gralicky crackers
Linguine topped with mixed oyster mushrooms and fresh pesto
Ratatouille with the vegetables still a tiny bit crisp topped with fresh basil
Crusty French bread
Mixed fruit including melon, white peaches, and blueberries with a choice of blueberry ice cream or lemon sorbet
Chilled pinot grigio

The meal was served on our deck with the sun setting. It made all that early morning shopping worthwhile.

Friday, August 04, 2006

And Yet Another Happy Hour

As I sat there letting Richard (who’s just a few years shy of my age) cut my hair at Axis in Dupont, I mentioned that it was so convenient because I was going to a Blogger happy hour at 7 p.m. at Gazuza. He literally cracked up and said, “I really can’t picture you there in all that noise.” I told him to give me a 30-something haircut so I would fit in.

I really love the concept of the happy hour, but I am so frustrated with the fact that I can’t hear anything. I meet all these wonderful Bloggers and can’t hear a word they are saying. So I had my perfunctory 2 glasses of pinot grigio, which is about all I can drink if I am driving home, and I talked to (or rather tried to listen to):


I finally realized that it was time to go home just as the party was getting into full swing. Maybe someday we’ll have a Blogger picnic outdoors where I can hear because there are an awful lot of very cool people in this DC Blogs community that I would definitely like to know more about.

Trouble on the Reservation

As I was working in my suburban ghetto government office today, I heard sirens for what seemed like hours this morning. Then one of my employees stuck his head in my office to tell me that a fugitive was roaming around on the INSIDE of our massive security fence. The word was that he had robbed the Rite-Aid across the street, crashed his car into the fence while attempting to get away, and then jumped over the fence to hide on the inside. Someone else added that the perp was an escaped convict. Lovely!

I work in the Federal complex on what is known as the “Suitland reservation,” which occupies quite a few acres at the intersection of Silver Hill Road and Suitland Road. The Federal property is surrounded by an imposing fence, which separates us from the world-of-crime that lies just outside the fence. This is a place where stores are robbed and women are raped and people are run over in hit-and-run accidents in broad daylight. At night there are several murders a year that mostly go unsolved. Not the kind of place where you comfortably “do lunch.”

So this morning, I started to get a little more concerned when a little while later I got the following broadcast message:

A suspect being chased by the PG County Police Department jumped the fence at Gate 3. The suspect is described as a white male wearing a tank top, shorts and is scruffy looking. The Prince Georges County Police and FPS, and ONI along with the Security Office are making a sweep of the compound building by building. The building is no longer under lockdown but cars are being checked upon entering and departing the area. Please contact the Security Office (3-1716) if you see anyone matching this description.

In just a few minutes I was scheduled to leave for a doctor’s appointment. Did I really want to go out into a parking lot which might be harboring a dangerous criminal? Not particularly.

Then all of a sudden the sirens stopped and I got the following message:

The individual has been apprehended outside of the compound. The individual was spotted hiding underneath a vehicle on the compound by Gate3 and was chased and apprehended on Hudson Ave. Please resume normal day to day activities. Thank you for your patience.

All was well once again on the inside of the fence. But on the outside... that’s another matter. It may be a long time before all is well in that neighborhood. A neighborhood where drugs and desperation add a level of discomfort to every waking moment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Given Any Thought to Your Philtrum?

I have encountered at least half a dozen references to the dent in your upper lip in an amazing book called "The World to Come" by 20-something author Dara Horn. Google tells me that the anatomical name for this little dent is "philtrum."

I recalled hearing a charming myth on the origin of the dent – from Google:

A story was told about how children come to earth. Before they come, God tells them they cannot speak of heaven for otherwise people will not stay on earth and do their work. Even
though the babies are not allowed to "tell," God says they will remember heaven always and long for it in their dreams. God puts a finger to the babies' lips to hush their speaking of heaven directly. And this special gentle touch is what in humans makes that tender indentation below the mentum of the nose.

References to the dent in Horn’s book range from a drop of blue paint landing on someone’s philtrum to the protagonist putting his index finger on his lover’s philtrum. The dent serves many purposes, but seems to fascinate the author.

I put my finger in the dent (and it fits just perfectly) and wonder just what I know about heaven. Is it all stored somewhere inside my being, just waiting to kick in at the right moment?

Now be honest, had you ever heard the word philtrum before reading this?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

You and Your Car

Do you view your car as something more than a car or just as a means of transportation? I heard on the radio this morning that our love affair with our car is on the downturn, with 75% of the population viewing their cars as just a means to an end.

Until we got the speaking Prius, I never personified my car. It was always just "the Honda," "the old Volvo," "the new Volvo," or something else as unimaginative.

Some Bloggers have mentioned their cars by name. Velvet drives Speedracer, Cookie has a named red Mustang, and Reya still mourns the loss of her beloved Neptuna. So there are those among us who have included their cars in their family, so to speak.

Is the car divorce rate on the upturn because of the rising fuel allowance that we have to pay these family members? Why else would that be happening?

But most curiously, who paid for a study to analyze our relationship to our cars?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What Do You Read?

As we rode out to Wolf Trap last night, we were having such an intense discussion about our daily Blog reading list that we managed to miss the Wolf Trap exit. I’m embarrassed to say that we were in the Prius with its God damned GPS system. I cannot bring myself to listen to Monique in either French or English, so I never turn it on. But that’s fodder for another post.

After swearing that we read each other’s Blogs every day, it turns out that each of us has definite favorites, not necessarily in the DC Blogs community. It then becomes an issue of whether you stick with the same list and follow those Blogs, or whether you just hit them occasionally to check in.

There are certain Blogs where I feel I’ve missed a chapter if I skip a post. I devour those voraciously. Then there are others where I know if I visit, I will find something worth reading, but it is not necessary to read the ones that I missed. There are a few who seldom post any longer and I therefore check less frequently.

I tend to read Blogs on which I would at least occasionally feel comfortable leaving a comment. Otherwise I feel like a stalker who just doesn’t belong. Sometimes I go back and look for a response to my comment, especially if it was a question.

My list of favs continues to bump up the average age. The ones in my generation are pretty much spread around the country and around the world. I don’t always want to feel like someone’s mother when I read.

I keep wondering what my Blogging experience will be like in a year. In December it will be 2 years for me, with a post most every day. I will continue this only if it never becomes an obligation to write. It won’t have anything to do with my audience because for almost a year I seldom had a comment. Not that I’m flooded with comments now, but my StatCounter tells me that someone out there is reading.

I wonder who will still be in the game in a year, who will have bailed, who will be new? It’s sort of like a population of shadows that are always moving. Don’t you think?

The Perfect Recipe for Wolf Trap

After 30-some years of going to Wolf Trap at least once or twice every summer, I have reaffirmed that the perfect evening includes the following two ingredients:

– A pre-show picnic with wine and cheese, something cold like a main course salad, and a light dessert, maybe with some dark chocolate thrown in. Nothing complicated or fancy, but all food that I enjoy sharing with friends.

– Lawn seats, where you can just lie back and look at the sky, at the stars sometimes, as you listen to music. I have heard the NSO, Judy Collins, PP&M, Lyle Lovett, and now Fiona Apple, among others. Whether it’s my choice of music or not, it always sounds 100% better to me from the lawn, where I don’t have to swelter in the heat of the 10th row from the stage, where my eardrums are not perpetually pummeled, and where I can just imagine what the performer looks like (which is sometimes better than watching the real thing).

Maybe I’m just a creature of habit, but this is one habit that works for me.

Wolf Trap... where the arts come out to play!