Saturday, September 30, 2006

The French Connection

It’s starting to dawn on me that our trip to Provence is just around the corner. As I stood in line at Whole Foods today, the above CD caught my eye. What better way to get accustomed to French than through good popular music? But then who buys good popular music of any sort in a grocery store?

My techie husband quickly downloaded the CD to his IPOD and we listened to it as we went into Georgetown to dinner tonight. It is filled with wonderful amorous music that you might find on the streets of Paris or on the Metro – you know the kind with those sexy deep female voices and the accordian and an occasional saxophone. There is nothing like the sensual quality of French set to music. Fabulous! Songs like Au Café de la Paix, Quelqu’un M’a Dit, Serre-Moi. I’m excited!

Another French connection sort of fell into our lap. We had an inquiry for High Holy Day tickets from a family who had just moved here from Paris. They stopped by our synagogue to pick up their tickets on Friday night. It turns out the Dad still lives in Paris and commutes to see his wife, who works for the World Bank, and his daughter. They will both be in Paris when we are there and we hope to get to see them. What a coincidence.

It’s so funny how the music has made this trip seem real, more than my French lessons with Ameneh, which have been fun but more like class than I had originally hoped for. When I listen to the music, I can close my eyes and find an espresso in one hand and Le Figaro in the other while I munch a crusty bagette. I am so ready for this trip to happen!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Secure but Sneezing

Yesterday when I called to check on the delay of my new allergy serum, I couldn’t believe my ears.

The person who mixes the serum at my allergist’s office told me that their entire shipment of "ingredients" had been confiscated at the airport by Homeland Security! This is taking that moratorium on liquids to a whole new level.

While they wait for a replacement shipment, my symptoms brought on by the advent of fall are getting worse and worse. My eyes are itching and watering. I am sniffly at times. My throat is scratchy and I have random sneezes.

So do I feel any more secure knowing that my serum ingredients are deep-sixed along with captured bottles of baby formula, containers of contact lens solution, and tubes of toothpaste? No, and truthfully I am outraged that Homeland Security could inflict sniffling and sneezing on me at this important time of the year.

I have a hard time forgiving the idiots who dreamed up this rule that now makes it impossible for me to get an allergy shot! This makes a mockery out of the whole search for terrorists. For heaven’s sake...

But I Promised

On Wednesday evening I found myself so torn by wanting to continue my dinner and discussion with my good friend who is having a difficult week and having to leave to unlock the door of the space where my meditation group meets. I had received a call the day before from the owner of the treatment center about opening and I had promised her that I would be there with my key.

It was a gamble. Sometimes no one else shows up for meditation. But it was impossible to know if there would be 1 person or 6 or no one. My friend begged me to stay and my response was "But I promised."

I left the restaurant with just barely enough time to get to the meditation space on time if all the lights were green. Of course that never happens. So with a couple of interminable red lights, I arrived 2 minutes late.

Out front of the dark row house sat one person next to her bicycle. Upon seeing me, her face lit up and she said, "I am SO glad you showed up with the key."

I told her my story and she asked if I wished I could have just stayed with my friend. I admitted that to be the case and said, "But I promised to be here."

It was just the two of us in that wonderful calming space with its dark burgundy cushions, its low lighting, its single candle, and its soothing bell. My mind occasionally strayed to my friend who had walked home by herself. I felt grateful for the opportunity to still my mind and put my thoughts on hold for 35 minutes. I felt interested in the reading of the week, which focused on "non-doing," as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I will continue to talk to my friend about the big decisions that loom in her life when and if she seeks my input. For now at least I will continue to open the door for Wednesday night meditation. I’m glad I was not the only one who showed up to meditate. Otherwise I would have felt really cheated.

A promise still holds a lot of power over me. But sometimes promises and desires are in conflict.

How about you? Have you experienced this tug-of-war?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Golfing Comeback

Yesterday as I joined the winner's circle at my office picnic for hitting a practice ball further than any other female, I remembered that time 45 years ago when I received my one and only sports trophy. The inscription says: Panama Country Club, Jr. Girls Tournament 1962, Winner.

Don't for a minute think that I was another Michelle Wie. I took up golf at age 8 so I could spend time with my father. He and I would go out for a round of 9 holes early Saturday mornings. He concentrated on his own game, paying little attention to me as I hit the ball into the rough or into the many bodies of water on our course. He quietly taught me golf etiquette while ignoring my outbursts when things didn't go right, which often happens with beginning golfers. Occasionally some of my father's friends would join us and make a fuss over me, in a way that he never did.

When I was 12, I played in a tournament that paired everyone up in two-somes on a ladder. Our mothers had to walk the course with us to make sure we were accurately recoding the score. I was never more proud than the night when I received my trophy at a meeting of the board of directors of the PC Country Club.

Golf was really my only sport. Even as a teenager, I would sometimes drive out to the country club and play all by myself. Golf is one of those sports that doesn't require a partner or a team. I can still smell the steamy humidity of that course on a hot summer day. I can hear the water lapping at the shore on the many water holes. I can remember the fear of being caught outside on a distant hole when a thunderstorm came up suddenly. But I mostly remember that process of trying to make small improvements in a game that could be a challenge for a lifetime.

Yesterday was my comeback. My office spent the entire afternoon at Cosca Regional Park in PG Country. It was well deserved by all of us who have continued to work so hard. After gorging on pork Bar-be-cue and potato salad and baked beans, we had more fun than I have had in ages. The first contest was an egg toss, where pairs of people tossed an uncooked egg back and forth, stepping back after each throw. My partner and I were the first to be eliminated because I hadn't yet discovered that you don't stop the egg suddenly, but rather keep it moving after you catch it. You also take off all rings. Only my hands were smeared with raw egg yolk.

I was a spectator for the relay contest where teams had to put on and take off an assortment of clothes before running from one side to the other. Absolutely hilarious to see 6 foot men running with size 12 women's shorts around their knees.

But the golf contest was my time to shine. You got 2 shots on a teed-up practice ball. The secret is to keep your head down, watch the ball, and not try to kill it. Mine went almost as far as the winning male ball. I actually won $10, which was a much better prize that the large container of candy corn someone else won.

As I sit here staring at my fake medal from the golf contest, I am thinking maybe I should take up golf again. What fun!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No More Drool

For the last year or so I would wake up every morning with a wet pillow and a drool line down my chin. I had thought I was too old and still too young to drool. I was having trouble dealing with this annoying fact of life.

Then I got my sinking teeth fixed last week by my miracleworker dentist Larry Bowers, who also made me a replacement inline retainer for my lower jaw.

That night I slept more soundly than I had in a year. I woke up with my mouth totally shut and no drool on my pillow. Exactly what had changed?

About a year ago I had had a crown done on a lower molar, which had caused Dr. Bowers to need to cut off the back part of one side of my retainer, which I had worn faithfully since getting my dreaded braces off. I think it was this imbalance that caused my mouth to skew and give me symptoms of TMJ and lots of really gross drool at night when I was attempting to sleep.

So now I wake up with my jaw, which has seen so much strain and stress over the past 3 years, RELAXED. My pillow is dry. And most importantly my teeth feel like they like coming together once again. The balance of my mouth has finally been restored. I have a new appreciation for just how important balance can be – even the balance of your mouth!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'd Rather Be Biking

I felt a mixture of envy, anger, and desire yesterday when my husband called yesterday to see if I would like to skip work today to bike the Crescent Trail. Didn't he know that I couldn't just walk out on my job on a moment's notice?

It's times like this that I am so jealous of his unscheduled life that permits him to do whatever he feels like doing most every day, as I head off to my usual 8:00 to 5:30 workday.

Every one of his daytime bike trips makes me realize what a slug I'm going to be when we go to France and attempt to ride around Provence on our rented bikes. While I'm exercising my fingers typing away on my computer at the office, he is building up his biking stamina.

I would have considered taking the day off, but my staff is responsible for an hour-long presentation to our division tomorrow and we had a dry run today. I just couldn't skip out on that. It went well as I looked out the window at one of the nicest days of the fall and wished I were on my bike.

The Crescent Trail looks like a fantastic ride, especially during the weekdays when it's not so crowded. Maybe the weekend before we leave for France, I'll finally have a chance to find out. If not my sole contribution to this trip may be as translator and part-time cook!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Boston Connection

What will they think when a Comair flight attendant empties the contents of her luggage into the backseat of a Volvo with VA plates tomorrow AM and hands our daughter the black pea coat over her arm before disappearing back into the terminal at Logan Airport?

My oldest best friend FL had an overnight in DC today before heading up to Boston tomorrow. As we were having a leisurely dinner, I was bemoaning the fact that I had never gone through the boxes of winter clothes our daughter had sent home at the beginning of the summer to send her some sweaters and scarves and socks befitting Boston weather.

Then a light bulb went off and we cooked up a scheme to have her things personally delivered during FL’s 2 hour layover in Boston. I now have all of her spare underwear, her bathing suit, and all the other things that she will NOT need during her 4 legs of flying tomorrow. And she has a suitcase packed with an assortment of sweaters that would not fit either one of us even in a pinch.

She will come home with an empty suitcase and I will deliver its original contents to her hotel tomorrow night when she collapses back in DC after a hard day’s work serving Diet Coke and peanuts to Monday’s travelers to and from Boston.

FL is the mother of 4 who became a flight attendant just in the past year. She is not making a lot of money but she is having a great time finding a new independence and visiting her children who are scattered all over the country. She understands how important it is for a 22-year-old to have her winter clothes and was only too happy to be the courier.

The only glitch would be if for some reason her schedule is changed and FL doesn't return to DC tomorrow night. But we are thinking positively...

I suppose this is just one more thing on the job description of a best friend. We had a wonderful visit and I get to see her again tomorrow. What more could I ask?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thoughts on Cleaning

Our newest rabbi Toby in her Rosh Hashanah sermon talked about the therapy of cleaning as a reaction to a world which puts increasing demands on us to be afraid. Her thesis was that cleaning is one way in which we can add order to our otherwise chaotic lives. She presented 3 examples of her recent summer cleaning frenzy:

The lesson of the dishes: She has reduced her 4 sets of dishes down to 2, discarding the K-Mart starter set and another set which was intended for the unknowing person who attempted to bring meat into her kosher vegetarian home. She cited Ecclesiastes 3, “to everything there is a season”, saying that in our larger lives, the challenge of Rosh Hashanah is deciding what to keep and what to cast away.

The moral of the tee shirts: She talked about coming across old beat up things of little worth – a holey tee shirt that was once her brother’s, a picture drawn by her niece when she was 8. Things like these are keepers because they serves as reminders that we are not alone in the world, we are part of a larger community.

The message of the Mason jars: She still has numerous Mason jars, originally intended to contain the makings for chocolate chip cookies to be given as gifts. Even though the jars have simply been taking up space, they could be reused for another purpose, much as Judaism teaches us to see things in a new light. Psalm 126 talks about sowing in tears, and reaping in joy.

After a summer of cleaning, her cupboards and her life have taken on a new order. Everything that is left is there for a reason. There has been plenty of time to contemplate the words of Rabbi Nacham of Bratslav, who said, "The world is a narrow bridge. The key to the crossing is not to be afraid."

Along with making me realize how long it has been since I did a major cleaning, she presented the idea of using the physical act of cleaning to restore control to our lives which are constantly bombarded with the struggles all around us. She invariably has such sage advice.

Thank you, Toby!

Like a Forest of Sequoias

My eyes are sort of glazed over after one of the busiest weeks I have ever had. In launching the Temple Micah High Holy Days, I have dealt with sound techs, movers, florists, people who are panicked about getting tickets, and a host of others this week. But the first service happened without any major glitches and I am breathing easier.

The pearl of wisdom I took away from tonight’s service had to do with sequoia trees. I learned that despite their extreme height, sequoia trees have a very shallow root system. So how do they keep from toppling over in a big wind? They grow in groups and their roots reach out to entwine with those of other trees. In that way they all stay erect and balanced.

Temple Micah is sort of like a forest of sequoias. It was only because I was so well supported by so many individuals in the congregation that I could pull off planning this series of events for 1200 people. Volunteers have come out of the woodwork to do virtually any job I handed out. Not one person said NO when asked to do something. We hold each other up so we can reach for the sky and not fall on our faces.

L’shana tovah. A good and sweet year to everyone!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

For the Sins...

We say the Avinu Malkeinu at almost every service during the High Holy Days, in which we ask God’s forgiveness for a litany of sins. But first we are told to make amends with those we have wronged during the past year. Only then are we worthy of asking God’s forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the problem with one of my colleagues that I described in the "half-empty" post last week. I’m a stubborn person, so I was not ready to just offer a blanket apology for something that I didn’t feel was totally my fault. But I was more than ready to have a conversation with this person to see if we could work things out, so I sent her an invitation to have lunch together.

I was shocked that my olive branch was initially met with another scathing e-mail message of accusations. When she finally came to realize that the latest round of complaints against me was totally unfounded, she agreed to a meeting.

Late yesterday afternoon we talked in my office for a long while. We first spent some time discussing the paper that had been the source of the conflict. I came to better understand her frustration when during last week’s high-level meeting I suggested some radical changes in the overall direction of this paper that she thought was ready for final approval. She felt as though I was attacking her. She’s in a staff position with no one reporting to her. She feels a bit in limbo. So perhaps she is more sensitive than someone else might be about something like an issues paper that has now been made my responsibility.

I emphasized that my concern was much more about our continued relationship than about the paper, which I knew would get modified and finally accepted. I wanted to restore the mutual respect that had for many years existed between us. I suggested that if her frustration level with me ever reached a similar point in the future, she pick up the phone and call or stop by to see me. E-mail is a dangerous sword to wield.

After expressions of renewed mutual admiration, we came up with a plan to get the paper done. We also talked about hoping to have the luxury some day to collaborate in a one-on-one relationship to do research on data from this survey we have both been involved in launching.

Today I sent her an e-mail message reiterating my relief at patching up our differences. She responded with a message that was characteristic of the person I have known for 30 years.

I’m sure there are many more people I have wronged in the past year. But this is a good start in my effort to make amends.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Power of Water

For millenia Jewish women have been visiting the mikvah, as is evidenced by archaeological digs in Isreal that clearly show ritual baths with sources of free-flowing water. Part of my preparation for the High Holy Days has become a trip to a local mikvah with a small group of trusted friends.

Last Sunday afternoon we made our yearly pilgrimage to the mikvah at Adas Israel. It is in a beautifully tiled pristine room in the lower level of the synagogue. It is partially filled by rainwater, which runs directly into the space from the roof of the building.

I was so happy when my friend Lynn served as the organizer this year, given everything else that is going on in my life. The group was mostly the same, with one new face.

Much of the importance of this ritual is symbolic. However, the idea of cleanliness is pervasive. Preparation for immersion in the mikvah invites you to clean out crevices that you rarely inspect. When was the last time you swabbed out your belly button? As I carefully trimmed my fingernails and toenails, I started to think about why I was doing this and hoped it would be as meaningful as it had been last year.

After we made our nominal contribution to the “mikvah lady,” each of us took a turn. I continued to read my book on The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel as I anticipated my moments of contemplation.

This year’s experience was totally different for me. For one thing, as I entered the room, a High Holy Day niggun came into my heart and head and I found myself humming and even whistling the tune repeatedly when I wasn’t reading prayers. My favorite prayer continues to be the one that associates three points in time with three immersions: what has come before, what lies ahead, and what is now.

My three immersions were much longer and calmer than they had been in the past. I loved the sensation of floating, of freely moving my arms and legs in all directions as I gently held my breath. It was a feeling of complete and unlabored movement that my body seldom knows.

As we ate lunch at an outdoor café on one of the nicest late summer afternoons ever, we compared notes. For each of us there was a feeling of acceptance of our bodies, of our complete selves that was not there last year. One person has come to terms with her body which is permanently scarred by radical breast surgery. Another person noted a recent breakthrough in a long period of psychotherapy. A third talked about slow victories over Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.

And me? I had experienced a feeling of being in utero, with my back straight and my hips moving easily and fully as my body was supported by the warm water. It was my beginning at understanding my traumatic birthing process that could well have resulted in my current physical problems. Coming to terms with water and with my body are life-long goals of mine.

This year’s High Holy Day trip to the mikvah was just one step closer to realizing my dream.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Taste of the Days of Awe

The High Holy Days offer Jews a chance to reflect on the past year, make amends for wrongdoing, and look ahead to the new year with a clean slate. What an opportunity!

Putting aside all the hundreds of tasks involved in actually making the services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur happen, I began to get ready for these Days of Awe last Saturday by attending a Selichot service at 11 PM on Saturday night.

Selichot are prayers for forgiveness that are added to the regular set of daily prayers for an Orthodox Jew and are said for the last few days before Rosh Hashanah up through Yom Kippur. For Reform Jews, this single service marks the beginning of this important season.

The service I attended was full of music. It was like a small taste of what’s to come in the upcoming weeks. A fundamental part of the selichot service is the repeated recitation of the "Thirteen Attributes," a list of God’s thirteen attributes of mercy that were revealed to Moses after the sin of the golden calf (Ed 34:6-7).

A friend shared with me a beautiful modern psalm written on Seclichot:

The night darkens as I come to You, Holy One.
In Your mercy, You leave a moon’s sliver;
It guides me to You, and Your people.
Let me come with them to Your presence.

If I pound my breast in sorrow and guilt,
It does not relieve me. It is a vain gesture.
Only my pale imitation of Your compassion
Begins to unravel the knot of my failings.

Help me start the contemplation of my days,
I must heal myself if I am to heal the world;
Transform me as I search inwardly,
Turn me outward to merit your kindness.

The service concluded with a single protracted sound of the shofar by our Rabbi Danny, and it was awesome because he is a first-rate trumpet player. Then the 50 or 60 people in attendance all left silently, having been told to utter no words that would in any way diminish the effect of this foretaste of the Days of Awe.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mistakes Will Be Made

But how do you deal with them? One of the most important questions I posed to candidates for 2 jobs I was filling was "How would you deal with discovering a serious problem in data that had already been released to the public?"

For those of us who produce "official" data, finding a mistake after the fact is a worst nightmare. These data are used for allocating funds, for determining policy, for informing companies about the demographics of an area. A mistake could cause untold hardship for data users and the general public.

The candidates I interviewed all said the right thing, noting a series of steps: determine the extent of the problem, tell all the relevant people, find the source, propose a solution, fix it, put steps in place to avoid it in the future. It makes you slightly nervous to even talk about this in the hypothetical.

But we got to experience this first-hand on Friday when one of my employees found a problem with data we had released 2 months ago. Staff worked all weekend to assess the impact of the problem and to correct it. It turned out to have negligible effect on the data, but we didn’t know that initially and you always imagine the worst.

Ironically I was at a dinner party with a prominent data user on Saturday night. He was singing the praises of our data, going on and on about what he is doing with them. At one point, he said to me, "The data as they were released are final, right?" My husband who had overheard looked at me to see how I would respond. I simply dodged the question, not wanting to say anything before I knew the extent of the problem and the position my agency would take on it.

I must say I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the word came down yesterday that there was virtually no change in the data products we had released. It could have been so much worse.
I have once again concluded that my interviewees were absolutely correct: full disclosure and honesty is the ONLY policy. Anything else will only lead to trouble.

I suppose I will need to look for another reason to retire since I am not getting canned over last week’s problem...

How about you? Had any experience 'fessing up to a mistake made by you or someone who works for you?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another Vegetable Bites the Dust

It’s a sad state of affairs when something as nutritious and delicious as spinach becomes an object of fear. The E-coli count is now up to 102 according to today’s NY Times.

We went to a gourmet dinner party last night, which was supposed to feature a spinach dish they had been perfecting for months. On Wednesday they had bought 2 5-pound bags of spinach. On Thursday morning they were back in line to return that same spinach. What a difference a day can make! The clerk asked if there was something wrong with the spinach. Our host referred to the latest news on spinach and she replied, “Oh yeah, I guess I did hear about that...”

So what’s the real skinny on spinach? Did you know the contamination is fecal in nature? GROSS! Just how many bags of the stuff are actually affected? Is it possible that organic spinach is still OK? Does anyone have even the slightest idea?

We’ve seen this same scare phenomenon at work on beef, chicken, eggs, and probably a host of other foods. It’s really unfortunate that the whole lot is labelled “suspect” when in fact it’s probably a very small percentage. What seems strange is that we were all happily eating our spinach salads just last week and suddenly spinach salad is off the menu.

I wonder how long it will take the FDA (or whoever works on these things) to come up with something even marginally definitive? I almost feel like throwing caution to the wind and continuing to enjoy spinach in all forms. I’ll bet it will never be a bigger bargain!

And you? Do those green leaves still have an appeal for you?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Feeling My Age

Last night I realized I was feeling old and tired, with a glass-half-empty attitude that is uncharacteristic of me. What had rendered me more interested in going to sleep than in reading my favorite Blogs?

I think this week’s downward spiral began at the end of last week when I was acting for my boss and I received a very terse e-mail message from someone stating “This is the WRONG way to handle this...” and she went on to berate me for sharing data with a small group who had been discussing a paper she was writing. I was really PISSED at being treated like a 5-year-old. The upshot is that the responsibility for the paper has since been transferred to me, but she has never apologized to me for this rude and uncalled for behavior.

Even DC Blogs seems to be conspiring against me. Early this week when I realized that my posts were no longer being picked up by the Live Feed, I contacted the administrator who patiently worked with me (from his out of town location) to try various things to no avail. I changed a setting and republished, but the problem remains. I’m sure this one is fixable, but meanwhile I don’t exist any longer as far as the Live Feed is concerned!

The weight of my High Holy Day responsibilities is becoming obvious. My mind is constantly firing off messages: Did you contact...? Did you take care of...? What time is ... arriving? down to the minutiae of How many glasses of water have to be provided on the “bima” at the Church where we hold services? I must really be micro-managing when I haven’t assigned someone else to worry about water, for goodness sake.

But perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back was a potentially serious processing error from 2 months ago committed and discovered by one of my staff yesterday. As a data processing manager you always dread that sheepish admission by one of your staff, “I think I may have done something wrong.” I half jokingly said to my long-time colleague and friend, “Maybe they’ll just make me the fall guy for this and boot my ass right out the door.” It was actually starting to sound somewhat appealing. After my staff have worked all weekend on overtime, we should know by Monday the severity of the error, but meanwhile it’s a burden of unknown weight.

So what am I doing to dig out of this hole in which I seem to find myself? Right now, I’m up in the middle of the night from a fitful sleep trying to unburden my mind of these thoughts. Sometimes writing them down is cathartic. I’m getting a massage tomorrow morning. Unfortunately what I need is the Mother Superior massage that is no longer my option. But any form of massage should help. Hopefully I’m seeing a friend tomorrow to just sit and relax for a while. I’m going to the mikvah with Temple Micah friends on Sunday in preparation for the High Holy Days. This should be the perfect opportunity to wash away all this anxiety with the living waters of this sacred pool.

My mind is suddenly blank once again, so maybe sleep will come to heal the space that has just released all these words. I long for the return of my glass-half-full attitude. Life looks so much better with those eyes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

An Incident That Never Made the News

Shootings in Suitland have become so commonplace that they don't even make the news unless there's something exceptionally grim or novel. I would venture to say that many of them are never solved and those cases just drift into obscurity.

On Wednesday just after lunch I received the following broadcast message to all employees in my agency:

A shooting at the Liquor Store on Suitland Road across from the Suitland Federal Center occurred within the last 30 minutes. You will notice multiple Police and Fire Department activity. Please remain clear of the area. More information will follow as it becomes available. If you witnessed this incident, please contact the Federal Protective Service Police at ...

I immediately imagined a clerk behind the counter bleeding onto the floor, just as the woman at the local florist shop had bled to death in the middle of the day a couple of years ago and my friend Tondrea had died in the crosswalk leading to the liquor store just last year. I assumed that this was yet another murder in Suitland.

When Sandra showed up to collect my trash, she asked me (in Spanish) if I had heard about the incident. She lives in an apartment with her husband and baby just a couple of blocks from the liquor store. She said, "Siempre tengo miedo," admitting that she hated to walk in this neighborhood, always fearing for what was behind her back.

Then yesterday a second message came out:

The shooting which occurred at the Liquor Store on Suitland Road on September 13, 2006 did not involve any government employees or visitors to the Suitland Federal Center. The Prince George's County Police are investigating the incident. The victim is recovering in a local hospital. The Office of Security would like to thank everyone who came forward to report what they witnessed.

What a pleasant surprise that some unnamed victim may actually survive. I have continued to search for any published news on this incident, other than the notification sent to me by our security office. It must not have been deemed newsworthy, because Googling on "Shooting Suitland" nets about 36,000 hits, but none of them references this incident.

Now do you understand why I eat lunch at my desk?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Mouthful of Trouble

I have probably spent more per square inch on my mouth than on any other part of my body. With 4 crowns, 2 root canals, more fillings than I can count, and 2 years of orthodontics, it’s pricy real estate.

Last year when the braces came off, I admired my perfect bite and thought I was done with the straightening part for good. I mean I vowed to wear my retainer every night for the rest of my life. Furthermore, I had a wire bonded to the back of my lower front 6 teeth. Those were my guarantees, right?

Well, not exactly. After a couple of months, 3 of my front bottom teeth starting with my eye tooth began to gradually sink. The orthodontist claimed never to have seen this happen. His solution was to cut some little things that tether the teeth to the bone and put the braces back on for another year. And guess what – no guarantee that this would work. I immediately said I wasn’t at all interested in this approach.

But meanwhile every day when I woke up and removed my retainer, my mouth felt off kilter because my teeth didn’t all come together. The balance of my mouth was simply thrown off by the sinking teeth, which also leaves a visible space on the right side of my mouth when I bite down. GROSS – after paying $5,000 for braces!

So today when I went in to see my fantastic dentist, Larry Bowers, about a potential crack in a molar, I mentioned the sinking phenomenon of my front teeth. With all his resourcefulness, he came up with a noninvasive correction which wouldn’t even involve Novocain. He is going to add bonding material to the 3 problem teeth and restore my bite. My teeth will once again all connect and they will still look like real teeth. Some will just be a little longer than they currently are.

The good news today is I may be able to fix the sensitivity problem with Sensodyne toothpaste instead of paying for a crown. Instead I will put that $1,000 into the experiment in bonding. But I have a mighty trust in my dentist. I’ll bet in a week my smile will once again look like the picture above (not really me)!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lessons in Relaxation

Sunday afternoon as I flew across the Chesapeake Bay on the front end of a speed boat, I realized what an unlikely picture this was for someone who is afraid of water! I had my little life jacket on with the instruction as to what to pull if I suddenly found myself pitched out of the boat. And when my friend Ginger told me to just relax so as not to be jarred every time the boat slapped the rough water, I gave up my white-knuckled grip (pictured above) and concentrated on the perfection of this day out on the Bay.

The boat trip with a stop at a local Annapolis restaurant was one of the highlights of our year courtesy of the Temple Micah spring auction. Not only do we get to enjoy good food and things (like power-boating) that we would never otherwise do, but we also get to experience the company of interesting and just plain nice people.

Sunday was a day created just for our outing. The water was rough enough for sailboat races, but not too rough to make our stomachs turn. The sky was that pure cerulean blue without a cloud to be seen. The sun was hot but tempered by a constant breeze.

After winding our way through a half dozen racing sailboats, we ended up in Mill Creek at Jimmy Cantwell’s Crab House. Our hosts had warned us that "parking" was not their forte, so we had to maneuver a bit to tie up next to the dock where we went ashore to gorge on steamed and fried shrimp, crab cakes, and broiled fish. This is when you realize what a difference "fresh" really makes.

After getting back in the boat, we took a historic tour of Annapolis from the water where we saw the largest dorm in the world (at the USNA), we learned that Jews had been given full "rights" in Annapolis in the early 1800's – Annapolis being a largely Catholic town, we saw the multi-million dollar home of the owner of Britches of G’town, and we figured out which boats were houseboats by the laundry hanging out.

The trip back across to Thomas Point was on a much calmer bay. We explored the Thomas Point lighthouse which is now in the middle of the Bay. We waved to their neighbors as we approached their dock.

But the best surprise was saved for last. Their crab trap had 4 big blue crabs, which turned out to be 3 after Ginger released the poor female who was the object of a last attack by one of the males. Then she steamed those 3 big boys and sent dinner home with us.

As we found our land legs once again and felt the warm glow of an afternoon in the sun, we realized just how special it would be to live on the water and have the freedom to enjoy this body of water that is so important to the ecosystems of the area in which we live. Thanks to our TM friends for sharing this afternoon with us.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What's in a Birthday?

My comment yesterday about a September 11 birthday spawned an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend. I began to ponder just how our birthdays and our names affect who we are and how we feel about ourselves.

I still maintain that having a birthday that is also significant to the majority of the population for another reason has to have an impact on a person. Until 2001, September 11 was just like any other day, but on that fateful day it took on a new significance. I would love to hear from someone who was born on September 11 just how that feels. My friend declared that if it were her birthday, she would celebrate the importance of life. But would you feel like blowing out your candles was just a little too close to the lives that were extinguished on that day?

To the contrary, what about a person who has a birthday of December 25? Would you want to eat your birthday cake as dessert after Christmas dinner? Would you feel you were in some way blessed by sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ? Or would you prefer just to share it with a bunch of regular people?

Personally I always wanted a summer birthday when it was warm out and everyone was enjoying a vacation from school. Instead my birthday of January 5 was just after Christmas and more than once I received a single present intended to cover both.

My friend was born on Friday the 13th. I reminded her that the negative connotation for this date is simply superstitious in nature, not connected in actuality to an enormous and unnecessary loss of life as we experienced on September 11, 2001. And it would only be foreboding every 7th year.

Birthdays are a given, but our names are quite another thing. Many of us have our names because they were popular in the year of our birth. Take mine, for example. How many little Barbara’s do you know today? That became my name because Miss America at the time of my birth was named Barbara. Probably every other Barbara you have ever met was born in 1949.

Last year when New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane of the century, Katrina was on the hit-parade of names. But how many babies have been named Katrina since then? And how many Katrina’s have thought about changing their names to get away from the stigma of a killer hurricane?

We are who we are despite our birthdays and our names. But sometimes they complicate our life in this society that marks time by significant dates and events and personalities.

How do you feel about your birthday and your name?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Day We Learned to Fear

Until September 11 five years ago, we thought this country was invincible. But in a few hours that morning, we learned that just a few individuals working together could wreak havoc and create unimaginable destruction. This was the day when a new level of fear was born – a fear of airplanes, a fear of cropdusters, and a fear of young men from the Middle East. Just close your eyes – you can easily picture the one on the plane that might blow it up. See how well we’ve all learned our lesson in fear?

I feel sorry for the one out of every 365 people in this country whose birthday is September 11. Instead of a day of joyous celebration, it will forever be the day that eclipsed Pearl Harbor as a trigger of sadness and bad memories – memories of people falling out of burning skyscrapers, memories of those same skyscrapers collapsing into themselves, memories of brave police and firefighters that went into to save the people and never came out.

But this was just the beginning. Since September 11, we have learned to be afraid of rental trucks, shoes, bottles of baby formula, Swiss Army knives, knitting needles, white powder, and any number of other things. New objects to fear are invented daily. Traveling has become an unbelievable ordeal as we struggle to check off and check out all the things we have been programmed to fear.

Our buildings have even learned to be afraid as we began a never-ending program to make them all fortresses. The Capitol grounds now have little posts everywhere so no crazed terrorist can drive in. There are barriers and new high sidewalks being continuously erected around every national monument in the city.

Many elections have been won on a platform of security from the threat of terrorism. So many people are willing to cast their hat with the one who paints the most striking picture of doom and gloom and promises protection to believing citizens (and recommends that all the would-be terrorist non-citizens be deported).

Once we got beyond the initial carnage and destruction wrought by that small band and the debris had all been cleared away, we still had a legacy of that day in the fear that was birthed. It will be with us forever as a reminder.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Doggy Double-Dipper

I became sad as I watched my 13-year-old dog Dylan slowing turning into a skeleton. My son had taken him to the vet and had one expensive test run that didn’t show any problems. When the vet called back and suggested a CAT scan at the tune of $300, I decided to try another approach.

I had suspected for some time that the younger dog Jake was stealing Dylan’s dinner. As Dylan’s hips were becoming narrower, Jake was taking on a new girth. I'll bet that if we had been weighing them regularly, their combined weight would have remained constant. So I presented my theory to my husband who feeds them at night and he agreed to watch them eat instead of ducking back into his office after giving them their food.

Sure enough, one week later Dylan is obviously gaining weight and Jake is starting to look sveldt once again. I have added cottage cheese and plain yogurt to Dylan’s mostly meat diet and he is increasingly excited about mealtimes. Jake, who always finishes first, gets to lick the spoon while the old man makes his way through his new gourmet breakfast.

In this day and age where every pet cure comes with an outrageous price tag, I feel overjoyed at having exposed the double-dipping dog, putting my precious Dylan back on the road to old age with a full belly and saving me big bucks at the vet’s office.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Triple Tag

What an interesting number three is. This is in response to being tagged by Old Lady.

3 things that make me laugh
1. Anything written by Velvet in Dupont
2. Cartoons in The New Yorker
3. Movies with Chevy Chase in them

3 things I can do
1. Sew
2. Play the piano
3. Make home-made cards

3 things I can’t do
1. Ski downhill
2. Touch my toes
3. Swim in deep water

3 things I’m doing right now
1. Drinking green tea
2. Blogging
3. Looking out my window at a beautiful day

3 things I want to do before I die
1. Swim without fear of drowning
2. Find out what a vibrator is like (thanking Velvet for the inspiration)
3. Have grandchildren

3 things I hate most
1. People who are mean to animals
2. People who will run you over to get ahead
3. Sitting in rush hour traffic that isn’t moving at all

3 things that scare me
1. Going downhill fast (on skis, on a bike)
2. Falling
3. A terrorist attack that affects our water or food

3 things that I don’t understand
1. How the Internet works
2. How to kick properly when swimming
3. How to parent without giving advice

3 things I’d like to learn
1. How to play a string instrument (cello?)
2. How to sing better
3. How to really relax

3 things that describe my personality
1. Type A
3. Responsible

3 things you should listen to
1. Classical music
2. Your heart
3. Nature

3 things you should never listen to
1. Popular opinion
2. An ultra-religious person of any religion (right-wing conservatives scare the hell out of me)
3. Malicious gossip

3 of my favorite foods
1. Chocolate
2. Cheese
3. Fruit of any kind

3 beverages I drink regularly
1. Water
2. Green tea
3. White wine

3 shows I watched as a kid
1. Loony Tunes
2. Captain Kangaroo
3. Gunsmoke

3 Blogs I will pass this on to
1. Richard
2. Cee
3. Renny

Friday, September 08, 2006

Another Piece of the Puzzle

When I was 10, kids asked me, "Why do you walk funny? Did you have polio?" and I never knew quite what to say. Today from time to time, people who have known me for years ask, "Did you hurt your foot? Your leg? Why are you limping?" and I now reply, "It’s just the way I walk." And that’s the way it’s always been.

When I was a child, I was in denial over this problem that caused me to walk differently from other children, telling myself that if I just tried I could change the way I walked. When I was 10, my mother had a 1/4" lift put on the right heel of my new Easter shoes and I refused to wear them until she had it removed. I didn’t want to admit to being different. At about that same age, I remember having some pretty intense pain in my right hip as I went through a growth spurt.

At 14 I fell down for the first time and experienced the embarrassment of being in jr. high school and finding myself splat on the pavement. I still ignored the source of the problem and my parents had long since quit noticing.

So how does this problem manifest itself? My right leg is a tiny bit shorter than my left, my pelvis is twisted to the left, and I have a slight scoliosis in my back. When I walk I swing my right foot out and around and if there is anything raised in the sidewalk or pavement, my toe is likely to catch on it.

Over the years I have sought answers and healing from every sort of professional imaginable: orthopedists, physiatrists, rheumatologists, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and probably some others that I have forgotten.

Yesterday I added one more specialist to this list – an osteopath, who had been recommended by my yoga teacher and my friend who does bodywork. They had both used him for different sorts of injuries and had good things to say about his approach to healing.

I went in with absolutely no expectations, having been disappointed so many times before. One of his first questions was "When did you first notice this problem?" to which I responded that it had been with me my entire life, from the time I took my first steps as a baby. I did explain that my birth had been a difficult one, as I was a baby in the worst possible breech position.

After a thorough exam, he proceeded to describe the details of my position in utero and exactly what might have happened during the birthing process that resulted in my hips with diminished mobility and my constricted spine and legs that don’t always move so well. I wanted to cry when I envisioned the trauma my body had probably received during that 48-hour period. No one had ever before traced this condition back to my birth as the original source.

He requested that I bring in some X-rays so that he can corroborate what he found in the physical examination. He suggested that I see him at least several more times, while he figures out where to go with my case. This is not the first doctor to have more questions than answers, but at least he has some new answers that I had never heard before.

It’s too early to say, but I’m thinking this might just be the one who at least gives me the understanding I need and the medical intervention to keep this condition from worsening as I grow older.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Going Cold Turkey

I've kicked my Starbucks habit and substituted green tea without sugar. Not only am I saving $2.59 a day, I no longer have that morning jolt that only goes downhill as the day progresses. It's been only 3 days, but I really think I can do this.

This time of the year I always think about weaning myself off of caffeine altogether so I can fast on Yom Kippur without the caffeine withdrawal headache. It worked last year, so I thought I would get started a little earlier.

I calculate that I will be well over $100 richer by the time I go to France just from giving up my daily latte that I had grown to love so much. I will miss those wonderful Starbucks employees, who had come to know me so well that the started my order as I walked in the door.

And about the origin of that expression "going cold turkey" – Google provides the following:

Cold Turkey Origin:

By 1922, cold turkey was not always a leftover from Thanksgiving dinner. For an addict, it was quite the opposite. "This method of sudden withdrawal," explained a writer that year, "is described in the jargon of the jail as 'the cold turkey' treatment." It meant "to immediately and completely give up a substance, such as narcotics or alcohol, to which one was addicted."The shock to the system was such that few addicts voluntarily chose it.

"Mention of the 'cold turkey treatment' gives a chill of horror to a drug addict," said Newsweek in 1933. "It means being thrown in jail with his drug supply completely cut off." And Mickey Spillane wrote in I, the Jury (1947), "I doubt if you can comprehend what it means to one addicted to narcotics to go 'cold turkey' as they call it."

This use of cold turkey is an outgrowth of a previous sense, attested as early as 1910, meaning "extreme plainness and directness," going back to talk turkey, attested in 1830. Carl Sandburg used the term this way in a 1922 letter: "I'm going to talk cold turkey with the booksellers about the hot gravy in the stories." Nowadays going cold turkey is not restricted to narcotics and alcohol addiction. We speak of it as an extreme means of quitting any attachment or habit that we find hazardous to our health: cigarettes, chocolate, a television show, sex--perhaps even a sports team.

What have you given up lately? Do you miss it?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Feeling the Heat

When a young choir member asked me for a ride home after our rehearsal last night, I immediately agreed but inwardly groaned at the thought of spending an extra 20 minutes to drive out of my way when I was way beyond TIRED.

The is an altogether too familiar feeling – this feeling of burning the candle at both ends and suddenly feeling the heat.

There is an end in sight – when we go to France in mid-October – but that’s still 6 weeks away. In those 6 weeks I’m performing in my works-in-progress piano group on Sunday, taking weekly French lessons, chairing the Temple Micah High Holy Days, going to two choir rehearsals a week, while I continue to Blog daily, work 40 hours a week, do regular meditation and yoga, and exercise when I’m not totally exhausted.

So what do I do to change this situation? Give up Blogging – no way! Take a break from music – out of the question! Work part-time – not an option!

I find myself once again in the position of bitching about being overextended, but not being willing or able to fix it.

These 6 weeks will go by one way or the other. Some things will get short-shrift. But probably no one will notice or care.

I keep wondering what happens when the two flames meet in the middle? I don’t think I want to find out...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Playing in DC on Labor Day

Brushing away the negative cloud that seems to sometimes be over my head these days, we enjoyed one of the last nice days of summer yesterday as we took a long bike ride. It seemed fitting to play on Labor Day.

We started on Capitol Hill by thoroughly exploring the Capitol grounds, posing for pictures along with the other remnants of tourists. We were constantly annoyed by the posts they have erected everywhere. You have to aim your bike between them and then hope you don’t veer to either side by even a few inches. I suppose they are there to keep a would-be terrorist from driving onto places like the Capitol grounds.

After taking note of just how high Capitol Hill is, we coasted downhill to the American Indian Museum. The native American crops growing just outside the door in the middle of the city always fascinate me. There’s 6-foot corn stalks with pole beans climbing up those stalks. There’s calabaza (squash). There’s tobacco that looks so innocent with its big shiny green leaves. Even a "no smoking" sign next to the tobacco (pic inspired by my friend Reya who first mentioned it).

Then we rode through the mall, dodging tourists who seemed deaf to my husband’s bell on his bike. Instead of moving, they seem paralyzed as they turn around to look at you. We stopped outside the American History Museum to eat a Clif Bar and listen to live music pouring out the doors.Just past the World War II memorial, I snapped this picture of the Washington Monument as it towered over the Mall. It’s a presence that is recognizable from every direction. Finally we negotiated the construction mess around the Lincoln Memorial and arrived at West Potomac Park. The water is always so lovely as it is framed by the weeping willows. By this time there was a gentle breeze swaying their gentle fronds.

I almost succeeded in getting us killed by a crazed motorist as we headed up a one-way street near the Jefferson Memorial. But then finally we were back to the Mall, going the right way once again.

Throwing our bikes in low gear we climbed up Capitol Hill, propelled by the fact that we were hungry for lunch. It was a perfect day for lunch at a sidewalk café. Café Belga was just the perfect choice. I chose a puff pastry with salmon and roasted red peppers; my husband had eggs benedict with lox, a favorite of his. We split a most decadent "sampler" dessert, that easily cancelled out the calories we had burned on the bike ride. I watched the adorable toddler pictured above deftly pull mussels out of their shells.

I headed home to take a nap and savor the sights of our Labor Day excursion. Our bike trip was a wonderful way to mark the passing of the summer of 2006.

Today it’s back to school, back to work for those of us who still labor.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Dealing with Obligation

As the alarm went off at 6 AM I realized that 99% of the people in the US were probably sleeping in today in honor of Labor Day. Why was I getting up of necessity to drive into DC to unlock a door so that anyone who showed up could meditate?

I was so happy when Marjorie arrived just as the clock showed 7:00. The 30 minutes of meditation were actually more quiet than usual since the rest of the world was asleep and the garbage men were off duty. If no one had showed up, however, I would have felt grossly cheated of my chance to sleep in.

I started looking at my life and sorting things into 3 piles: the things I do out of obligation, the things I do because I love to do them, and a third pile of everything left over.

Many of the things I do because I feel obligated turn out to be things I ultimately enjoy – like exercising, practicing the piano, studying French, going to choir rehearsal, even reading the current book club selection – most anything that I feel I must do and I am already tired. But I often need to bribe myself to get started.

The love to do group includes going out with friends, eating out, riding my bike, playing music with others, cooking, listening to music outdoors, sharing a spontaneous moment of intimacy with my husband.

Going to work, cleaning the house, putting gas in the car – these are the things that are left that don’t evoke a strong feeling one way or the other, although if I didn’t do them I would be poor, living in filth, and out of gas.

I want to think more about why I do anything out of a sense of obligation. Obligation has such a negative connotation. This can’t be a healthy was to approach life. Maybe I’ll work on moving things out of that first group.

Have you been able to reclaim your life from obligation?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Worries du Jour

I can imagine that I will be worry-free only when I die. I always have something to chew on, to go off like an alarm clock at random times during the day and night. So what does my current crop of worries look like?

I worry that my best friend is going to go away for ever. I am trying to make this worry about her happiness and not about my already missing her. I worry that if she leaves the financial security she gains will not offset the loss of emotional freedom and independence she has here. I worry that if she stays she will always wonder what it would have been like to leave. I worry that the process of figuring out whether to go or stay will be prolonged and difficult.

I worry about my older dog Dylan, who is losing weight. Dylan is almost 13, having lead a very healthy life. But all of a sudden he is really slowing down. He looks at me sadly with those big brown eyes and I so wish he could talk. I won’t take extreme measures to extend the life of such an old dog, but I would like to know what is wrong with him, making his back half look wasted. I want a James Herriot to take him to – someone who doesn’t have to do expensive or painful testing to say, “Dylan has _______. It can be treated by _______.” Is that asking too much?

I worry about my son, the unemployed lawyer. He will know soon whether he passed the Arizona bar. I hope someone out there realizes his potential as a lawyer. I hope in the meantime he learns how to support himself in whatever way he needs to so that he can be the totally independent soul he wants to be. As much as I love him, I know it is time for him to cut his dependence on us.

I worry about my huge responsibility for the High Holy Days at Temple Micah. I think everything is under control. But I haven’t done this before. What if I totally overlooked something that must be done to make this a success? What if someone I have entrusted with a job fails to do it?

These are the biggest worries. There’s always a second string of less significant worries, but I won’t bore you with them.

Sometimes I think about worries as the counterbalance to the fun and good times – the weight that keeps us from just flying away in giddy happiness. Life must continue to hold a mix of thoughts and emotions and some of them will always be worries.

What do you worry about?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Enjoying Fresh Figs Together

I savored the experience of cooking with other women last night as three of us collectively chopped the ingredients for our dinner in my kitchen while sipping glasses of wine. A friend of my daughter’s from Boston and her mother were our house guests and they gladly pitched in to make dinner.

Dinner had been inspired by my office-mate, who had left me the book that was the source of the fennel with fresh figs recipe: The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook. The beauty of this book is that it combines healthy eating with gourmet ingredients and simplicity. Our menu for last night included:

Braised fennel with fresh figs
Yukon gold potatoes mashed with arugula
Salmon with mushrooms and lime juice

The total prep time for all three recipes was 45 minutes max. There was just enough chopping to remind you that you were using fresh ingredients, but not enough to make it a chore. Here’s the fennel recipe for those of you who have easy access to fresh figs:

Fragrant Fennel in Fresh Fig Sauce

6 small fennel bulbs,3 lb. total trimmed
½ cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
6-12 fresh figs, coarsely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used syrup)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

– Cut each fennel bulb in quarters lengthwise.
– Put a small amount of olive oil in skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add the fennel in a single layer and cook, turning, until lightly browned on all sides, 2-3 minutes.
– Add the broth, water, salt, and figs. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the fennel is tender, about 20 minutes.
– Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, 5-7 minutes.
– To serve, divide the fennel among individual plates. Top each with an equal amount of the fig sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley.

I hope you can enjoy this recipe with other who have helped you cook dinner. It is a most civilized way to share each other’s company.