Thursday, November 30, 2006

Strange Cookies

Have you ever cooked something that just didn’t turn out at all the way you expected it to, but you didn’t know why? I made chocolate chip cookies late last night that were unlike any I had ever made before.

I had decided to make "snacks" for the first meeting of my dream team this afternoon. And chocolate chip cookies seemed like something everyone would like. My husband bought the chocolate chips at Trader Joe’s, so they weren’t my usual Nestles that has the recipe right on the package. No problem, I said, pulling down my Joy of Cooking:

½ cup butter (margarine)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup + 2 T flour

Mix all ingredients together, put spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

Seemed easy enough and rather like the Nestle’s recipe. But after the first batch had been in the over for a couple of minutes, I looked in to see what looked like a lava flow that had run into some chocolate chips.

It was late so I divided the result into shapes that looked like cookies, but they were so thin they were more like chocolate chip cookie bark!

As I woke up this morning, I had the explanation: I had used twice as much margarine as the recipe called for. Of course they were thin!

I quickly whipped up a new batch and this time they looked like my favorite cookies.

But I didn’t throw the original batch out. This is the beginning of a holiday feeding frenzy at my office, so I contributed high-calorie cookie bark which has all managed to disappear.

It’s funny how a night of sleep can solve so many problems...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Love Your Neighbor

Who said it first? Most people would say "Jesus" without hesitation. But actually, Jesus being the good Jew that he was, was simply quoting from Leviticus, a book in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible.

This came up last night in an adult Hebrew class I was attending at Temple Micah. We were studying the Ten Commandments. Our rabbi Toby noted that the commandment was to "honor" your father and mother, not to "love" them. She added that we are never commanded to love. I said, "But what about ‘love your neighbor as yourself’?" Another class member said that we are told "not to hate", which is very different that being told to love.

I remembered it differently and with the help of Google found the verse in Leviticus 19:18:

Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.

This commandment is found in multiple Gospels and in James in the New Testament. After all, it is a fairly universal idea, but one that comes from that initial reference in Leviticus.

As for the "Don’t hate your neighbor", that’s there too in the preceding verse Leviticus 19:17:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.

I’m still pondering why it’s more important to honor our parents than love them. Is that because God knew there would be many times where a difference of opinion would make love difficult, but honor could still work? I wonder what my children would say about this?

But I’m most struck with how these 5 words are as applicable today as they were in 1000 BCE, or whenever Leviticus was initially written down. If only the world would just embrace this commandment...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Labor Pains

Every week as I watch my yoga teacher's belly swell, I think back to my own pregnancies and deliveries. I find myself sharing little bits and pieces with her, like the fact that my husband actually caught our daughter as she slipped out of the birth canal. I also find myself wanting to remember things such as what it really felt like to have a baby kicking inside its home for 9 months.

Yesterday I asked her how she felt about taking drugs during the delivery. This question had been on my mind since my Thanksgiving dinner with the wonder baby who never cried. His mother said that EVERYONE takes drugs these days in an effort not to feel the pain at all. I was somewhat surprised.

In my day, the goal was a drug-free delivery. We went to Lamaze classes and practiced breathing with our labor "coaches", who in most cases were our husbands. I purchased a beautiful crystal (see the above picture) to use as a focal point during those sharp pains. My babies were born in a private birthing room that looked like a bedroom and had soft light. A combination of my coach, the crystal, the natural setting, and my sheer determination resulted in two drug-free deliveries. Were my babies any better off for this? Whoever knows? But I was only numbed by euphoria, not by pills or drips or shots.

My beautiful Iranian yoga teacher said that she was hoping not to take any drugs. Her bigger concern was that they would induce labor or worse still perform a Cesarean section. With about one third of all deliveries resulting in C-sections these days, her worries were not unfounded. But she has hired a doula to work with her and her husband. This is a person who is paid to keep a level head and be your advocate in difficult times during the birthing process. I could have used one of those at a couple of scary moments.

My teacher is hoping that her daily yoga practice, the classes she and her husband will take ahead of time, and her doula will assure them of a delivery that minimizes pain and stress. I am confidant that they will do just fine as they bring their little daughter into the world.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Here Comes the Flush

I am becoming paranoid about the electronic toilets installed in our new building. There was something to be said for deciding when it was time to flush.

The new building sports many technological advances – elevators which only move when you scan your badge, lights that are triggered by movement, central heating and cooling that doesn't provide us with thermostats, and electronic bathrooms, sporting motion detectors for sinks and toilets. It's great that we no longer have to touch anything, but at what cost?

The electronic toilets are my current pet peeve. I admit to loving to be misted on a hot summer day at an outdoor café, but being misted where the sun doesn't shine as winter approaches is not nearly so pleasant.

I find myself sitting as still as a mouse for fear of triggering the electronic eye that initiates the flush. Last week as I sat there the toilet flushed 4 times before I got up. I never understood how these things worked, thinking maybe it was opening the stall door that triggered the flush. But that is definitely not true with our new toilets which are actually quite aggressive flushers.

I even envisioned bringing a "blinder" with me to the bathroom – something I could hang over the "eye" until I decided to let it see again. What do you think? Have I really lost it completely?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Comfort Food

Osso buco (veal shank) is definitely comfort food. As we sat there after dinner with friends looking at our plates empty except for the little bone, I couldn't help but think of Billy Collins' poem about osso buco:

Osso Buco

I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach--
something you don't hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife's laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief's favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

Billy Collins,
The Art of Drowning

Turning a Profit on Poop

As we were eating breakfast this morning, my husband read an article from the Post about a woman who makes more than $100K a year removing dog waste from people’s yard. No joke! She scoops poop for a living and makes a killing doing it.

Debbie Frazier started this business in Albuquerque 22 years ago and is not the only one making big profits these days around the country. The Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists now shows 127 members nationwide. She lauds her job as an opportunity to be outside all day petting dogs, claiming that dogs are a gift from God. I can’t argue with that.

Frazier says her son used to joke about her business when he was younger, but now he plans to take it over when she retires. Claiming not to care who makes fun of her, she says she laughs all the way to the bank.

Thinking about that feeling of squish when you step on a concealed clump of dog poop, I think I’ll Google to see if there are any APAWS members in this area. Our yard is always like a field of land mines just waiting for an unsuspecting foot.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Two Brothers and My Apologies

How fitting that the Torah portion at today’s Shabbat service was the story of Jacob and Esau and their sibling rivalry resulting in Esau’s disinheritance. It was good to think about how brothers relate prior to a meeting of my husband and his brother at our house this afternoon.

We’ve seen his brother just a few of times in the past decade even though both brothers and their families live in the DC area. As with many families, it's a complicated story. Not exactly the big happy family I as an only child thought I was marrying into.

Suddenly a couple of months ago my husband proposed to invite his brother and his family to Thanksgiving dinner. They had other plans but said they could come for a visit the Saturday following. That would be today.

Our plan was to put out simple deli food and just let people eat whatever they felt like eating – sort of a late brunch. I went off to services this morning, leaving my husband to go shopping and do a little sweeping up of dog hair and general picking up.

I really intended to be home to help with any last minute things. But after a wonderful intellectual exchange over the Jacob and Esau story and the general feeling of being in slow motion that Shabbat inflicts on me, as I drove up Barracks Row in SE Washington to drop off my friend, I just felt compelled to stop off and join her in a quick lunch before heading home.

We sat outside at Belga and feasted on egg dishes, crisp white wine, banana crepes, and rich coffee. What a perfect way to spend Shabbat.

But then as I reached my car, I realized it was just 5 minutes before our guests were to arrive. I really had screwed this up royally. I only took comfort in the fact that I was pretty sure not all 4 of them would come and they would be late, as seems to be a trait of many in my husband’s family. I called ahead and was surprised at not being yelled at.

It turns out that only my brother-in-law responded to the olive branch, and he was running a half hour late. His wife woke up with food poisoning. Our nephew had a date with his girlfriend. Our niece had too much school work to do.

We stood around in the kitchen for an hour and a half making small talk. Our daughter took off to join friends and dig up a time capsule they had buried 10 years ago when she was in the 7th grade. Hope to be able to tell you more about this later.

Then he was gone. On his way out the door, I wished his wife a speedy recovery and suggested that the 4 of us get together for dinner sometime.

My husband and I finally had a chance to talk about my truancy. When he said, “You would have been incredibly pissed if I had done this to you,” I realized he was right. But instead of nursing his anger, he simply dismissed it with “It really didn’t matter since they didn’t all come and he was late.” WHEW! I was so relieved. I told him to file this away to be used in the future when he does something I deserve to be pissed about. I will instantly forgive him – that’s a promise.

So as for the brothers, I don’t know if this was a perfunctory visit or if there is a strong desire on both of their parts to mend the past and unify the family. What a shame that our children hardly even know their cousins who live just 30 minutes away. Time will tell what happens. The olive branch was at least offered.

There is no birthright here. It’s not a question of parental blessing. It really shouldn’t be about past right and wrong, but about future relationships. I hope for their sakes they don’t wait too long to figure this out.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ending the Week on a Better Note

This week had a rough start that left me bitching and moaning and wallowing in self-pity. On the advise of someone who sometimes looks out for me, I pulled my post on “gossip”. It was one of those things that happened at the peak of my meltdown and probably not something I should have put out there for the world to read.

But I’m pleased to say that things are looking up today. I went into work to act for my big boss who is on leave this week. It was not too difficult to supervise the maybe 5 other people in our division who showed up today. Needless to say, it was a quiet day, one of those days when you can really get a lot done.

The best thing about the morning was an hour-long phone call from my boss, who is not supposed to be thinking about work. She listened and said all the right things. I have a new respect for her approach to problems and her willingness not to simply be a bureaucrat. This isn’t to say that the problems I faced are all resolved, far from it. But I now know that I have the critical support I need to do the right thing. I suppose I will not be shuttling out the door into retirement after all, not just yet anyway. Hopefully this will cure my insomnia. It’s amazing how much more effective an actual phone call is than a series of cryptic exchanges by Blackberry. I just haven’t learned the joys of texting.

My mid-afternoon treat made me realize just how nice something you have been missing is when you haven’t experienced it for a long time. I’ve had maybe 3 massages in the past 8 months, all of which have left me sore the next day, feeling a little like a piece of tenderized meat. But today I returned to my original massage therapist, who did wonders for all those kinks caused by my long absence and by my week from hell. She spent some time watching me walk, trying to internalize the necessary data to be on my “dream team”, the group of people who are meeting this week to figure out how best to deal with my walking issues. I listened to a CD of the ocean and its sea birds for over an hour while my body remembered just what I had been missing.

Tomorrow I get to relax into Shabbat. I will sing the prayers and speak the ancient words that Jews around the world recite every week. It will be a time to slow down, stop, and recharge for whatever lies ahead in the upcoming week. I think everything is going to be alright...

My Friends Are Back

As I turned on my car radio on the way to work, I was reminded that it is Thanksgiving Day that officially launches the Christmas season. Virtually the only music I heard on my way to work was Christmas carols of every variety.

I’m not one of those Jews who goes "Bah humbug" when it comes to Christmas. I love the music that I grew up with. How could I not? I know the harmonies and the descants to all the old standbys. I know many of the obscure carols because when I sang with the National Presbyterian Choir for those many years, my director unearthed new gems every year for our candlelight Christmas program.

Christmas would actually be a pleasant holiday if we could just do away with the commercialism that results in people lining up for days to get the latest Nintendo release and tempers flaring in crowded shopping center parking lots. It really brings out the worst in some people.

I haven’t even checked out when Hanukkah occurs, but we seldom do much more than light 8 days of candles.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the sing-along in between the messages for turkey dinners and last-minute shopping ideas. ‘Tis the season...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Eating Someone Else's Turkey

It is infinitely easier to be a guest at someone else’s table. I had the luxury of making just a couple of side dishes for a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

This is our second year to join two other neighborhood families that have been teaming up for years to make Thanksgiving dinner. They have their traditional roles. One family makes all the appetizers and desserts. The other family makes the rest. I still feel much like an outsider coming armed with my two little contributions.

One interesting difference about today’s dinner was the appearance of the first grandchild, who is only 2 weeks old. This was the best baby I have ever seen, willingly being held by virtually everyone in attendance. It wasn’t that he slept for 3 hours, it was just that he didn’t feel the need to cry. We all watched as our 20-something daughters held the baby, imagining what the first grandchild would be like. At one point I looked at my daughter and said, “Can you imagine having a baby of your own?” She suddenly got a rather terrified look on her face as she simply said, “No.” So today’s dinner included guests from 2 weeks to 85+ years old – 4 generations.

Our traditional menu included:
– Spinach-red pepper-sour cream spread with crackers
– Brie baked in a crust with preserves on top
– Turkey
– Bread stuffing with sausage in it
– Gravy
– Mashed potatoes
– Cranberry relish
– Cooked onions
– Gratin of squash, leeks, and rice *
– Corn and tomato salad with mustard-cumin vinaigrette *
– Parkerhouse rolls and butter
– Pecan pie with ice cream
– Crustless cranberry pie
– Cheesecake

There was no shortage of food. It’s only 7:00 and I feel drugged on the tryptophan that comes with eating turkey. I don’t even particularly like turkey, but I do like the feeling of being in a big family group with a lot of people I like.

Here are the recipes for my two dishes. They are both quite simple to make.

Gratin of Squash, Leeks, and Rice

2-1/2 pounds of yellow squash and green zucchini, grated
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
½ cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium leeks, well cleaned white and light green parts only, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Place the grated squash in a colander set over a bowl and add 1 teaspoon salt, tossing to distribute evenly. Allow the juices to drain for 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Squeeze the squash in handfuls or wring it out in a clean dish towel over the bowl to collect the juices. Reserve the juices and dry the squash carefully on paper towels.
3. In a medium saucepan bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil and add the rice. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve.
4. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the leeks until slightly soft, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the remaining olive oil and saute the shredded squash over medium-high heat until almost tender and all liquid is evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley. Saute for 1 minute.
6. Sprinkle with the flour and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the partially cooked rice, ½ cup half-and-half, and 1/4 cup vegetable liquid, and stir to combine. Continue cooking, stirring constantly until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
7. Continue adding the cream, ½ cup at a time, cooking until thickening begins to occur. After the last of the half-and-half has been added, stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Add the remaining salt and the pepper.
8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Transfer to a greased casserole if desired. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the dish. Bake until browned and bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Cumin and Tomato Salad with Mustard-Cumin Vinaigrette

4 cups frozen corn (in a bag), defrosted
1-1/4 cups chopped red onions
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

1. In a large bowl, combine the corn, onions, tomatoes, and parsley. Stir.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously.
3. Pour the vinaigrette over the corn mixture and stir to combine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reading Your Confidence Barometer

I am starting to have a better appreciation for the parliamentary system that votes leaders in or out based on public confidence. Yesterday I started to question the level of support I had among my peers and my superiors.

One of the reasons I was incredibly successful in developing the massive processing system for this mammoth survey was the fact that I had a boss who allowed me to work fairly independently and who backed my professional recommendations, trusting that I was in the best position to judge. But he left last January and my relationship to the two women who took his place is still being formed. Although they did give me a promotion this year, the jury is still out as to how far they will go to bat for me.

It’s been a long time since work matters kept me awake at night. In the earlier years, I actually found myself writing programs or coming up with solutions to elusive processing problems in my sleep. When you are having sex and an algorithm flashes before your eyes, you know you are in trouble. Last night was simply thrashing about for hours as I pondered the events of the day, occasionally thinking of the technical solutions required by the upcoming changes. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes this morning, I knew that something had to get resolved.

I had sent out a note to my bosses yesterday after the meeting, not laying blame but simply stating what had happened. I got back a cautious response from the senior person instructing me to set up a briefing meeting sometime next week. There was no promised support. Nor was there a condemnation.

But I am a person who thrives on pleasing others. I made straight A’s. I have always gotten outstanding performance ratings. It’s just in my nature to want the approval of everyone – family, friends, coworkers, bosses. So this uncertainty is not a comfortable position.

I replied to the e-mail message, agreeing to set up the requested meeting, but also outlining the larger issue of support. I mentioned that if I sensed I no longer had general support, I would probably follow in the footsteps of our agency director, who is leaving partially because he no longer enjoys the confidence of those to whom he reports.

In addition to vowing not to bang my fist on tables again, I will now add that unless I am given a thumbs up by those around me, I will opt to slip away into retirement. Who knows, maybe this is a fortunate turn of events that will give me that free time I have been craving just that much sooner.

It’s somewhat interesting that my last two posts have been accompanied by such diametrically opposing hand gestures!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Beyond Anger

Was I really the person banging her fist into the table and speaking in almost a scream at this afternoon’s meeting? For those of you who know me, you would probably say you can’t imagine me acting like this, but indeed I was that person.

My father had this habit of bringing home a “sick headache” when the contention at work got too great. He just couldn’t go to battle with the bureaucrats, instead internalizing his own frustrations until he became physically sick. I never really understood that until today when my stomach felt really queasy and my head was pounding on the way home from work. I can imagine that my ordinarily low blood pressure was soaring.

This all has to do with upcoming “improvements” that are being made to the gargantuan survey I work on. The processing currently runs like a well-oiled machine and I am extremely cautious about making any changes that might affect 3 million households of data a year. There is a small group of people whose whole life it seems is centered around these changes. They do nothing else, whereas I have at least 10 other things of equal priority going on in my working world.

Yesterday one of these people approached one of my staff members and started badgering him to the point where he came to me to say “help!” Today I learned that the same person had orchestrated an e-mail message from someone else on high to my boss making similar complaints about our staff dragging their feet.

I tried to head off the conflict by calling her directly and appealing for her to bury the animosity, adopt a positive attitude, and look at this as a team effort, apparently to no avail.

They backed me into a corner in this afternoon’s meeting and guess what? I had learned from their behavior over the years how to come out sluggin’. I was fighting for something to do with principle that had nothing to do with the amount of work I would have to do, but rather had the potential to affect the data we collect and process and that to me is tantamount. I stood my ground and said I would appeal to my upper management to support my position. She countered with “I’ll do the same.” I quickly added that I would live with whatever decision was reached.

What disappointed me most was my two colleagues who just sat there in the meeting and let me hang out on a limb all by myself. Apparently they are still intimidated by those who speak loudly and carry big sticks.

As self-righteous as I felt, my slightly sick stomach reminded me that I could retire and just walk out of the place tomorrow without even saying goodbye. I refuse to get sick over principle. I’ll see where my management comes out on this and then decide what to do. I want to enjoy the rest of my life without all this stress and for heaven’s sake I never want to have to bang my fist on anyone else’s table!

Thinking About Work and Pleasure

As I listened to Anne-Sophie Mutter play her violin last night at the Kennedy Center, I wondered how being a concert violinist has affected her love of music? I wondered about how she maintains a normal relationship with her husband Sir Andre Previn, when they are both often giving concerts in different parts of the world? I wondered how very different my life would be had I chosen a career in music, never for a moment dreaming that I could have the accomplishments of this woman or last week's Nadja Solerna-Sonnenberg.

Long ago I realized that something you love can take on a whole new light when it becomes your job. When I was young, I could make anything. I took on projects to make wardrobes for Barbie dolls, to make my cleaning lady a white dress for her church choir, to alter someone else's skirt. But some element of the fun of creating seemed to be lost when money exchanged hands. I could never quite describe it, but it just happened. I continue to love making things for people I love today, but long ago I stopped accepting money.

So how does this relate to music? We actually had a very interesting conversation at my monthly meeting of the "Works in Progress" piano group. One person mentioned that she was working on a piece to play at an upcoming Levine School recital. I asked if she was going to memorize it, to which she replied that she was petrified of getting up to play and having her mind go blank, even though all of the other students (children) would have memorized their pieces.

I made the point that as adults we are entitled to look at things a little differently, to cut ourselves some slack so to speak, in an effort to maximize our enjoyment of the things we do. Maybe this means not doing the 15 minutes of Hannon scales when we sit down to play for an hour. Maybe this means refusing to ever be intimidated by memorization again. Maybe this means playing what we want to play and not what we or someone else thinks would be good for us to play. Maybe it means accepting the fact that most pieces will be less than perfect when we leave them and move on to something else. And definitely it means not feeling guilty for not practicing.

Often when Deborah and I sit down to play together, we both blurt out "You know I just haven't had time to practice since the last time we played together." We laugh and inevitably make some small progress during the session. It is increasingly important to look for the small joy of a beautiful moment and not dwell on the part that continues to be difficult and not sound quite right.

I was overjoyed when my friend Mary gave me two $77 tickets to last night's concert. Anne-Sophie Mutter stood up on the stage (not that far from where I sat), looking absolutely gorgeous and playing 5 Mozart sonatas from memory. She took her bows and did not play an encore. I wondered if just maybe she would rather have been curled up in front of a fire with her husband or perhaps just a good book and a glass of wine. Could she take a break from music without feeling guilty? I wonder...

Monday, November 20, 2006

My Obsession with Straight

As we were hanging the now-matted-and-framed poster from the horse festival in Provence, I realized how obsessed I am with pictures being straight. It's as though looking at a crooked picture throws my whole system out of balance.

When I come home from work every 2 weeks, I can always tell when Angelina has cleaned our house. There is a marked absence of dog hair on the floor and virtually every picture is slightly crooked. I tell myself to be grateful that she is conscientious about dusting everything hanging on the walls as I walk around straightening them up.

This obsession of mine is not limited to my own house. I distinctly remember being the middle of a pilates class and asking my teacher Chris to adjust the picture I was repeatedly looking at because it was simply cockeyed. Chris himself is a very ordered guy so he understood, but some people just look at me and shake their heads.

There are many things in life that don't offer the same ease of alignment if they should get out of balance. Wouldn't it be great if you could adjust your spine or your mindset with the same ease?

As I make that small adjustment and then step back to check out the result, I'm always happy to have had the ability to make this one thing straight.

Is this something that matters to you?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Go Clean Your Room

Cleaning your room is definitely a form of therapy. And in addition there are added benefits, like finding things that have been missing.

My room had gotten to a mixed-up state of all seasons with not enough space for anything. I had begun to dread opening the closets to be reminded of the chaos. Now, don’t misunderstand – I am not one of those people who owns tons of clothes; I just don’t have the luxury of walk-in closets that can house my entire wardrobe.

I always dread this activity of changing seasons, where I go through everything, sorting and culling and putting off-season things in the basement. But today was the day.

I started with the middle closet, the one that has shoes, socks, underwear, yoga clothes, and lots of miscellaneous. I pulled it all out on the floor and began to carefully match up socks into pairs. Recently I had had trouble finding 2 of anything that matched. Lots of old worn-out hose that were weird colors or had runs or were totally stretched out to the trash pile. Two extra socks whose mates never turned up. But the real prize – the pair of mauve wool socks that I have been missing for weeks. It had gotten mixed in with a large pile of clothes. This alone made the entire cleanup worthwhile.

As I pulled out the pants from closet #2, some went into the “summer” pile, many got tried on. This is where it gets a little tricky. Do you keep the ones that might fit if you gained or lost a few pounds? I mostly said yes unless I was really sick of them. I mean, if I had saved every piece of clothing that hadn’t fit over the years, I wouldn’t have any space left. So the giveaway pile grew considerably.

Did you ever realize just how much room extra hangers take up? Every trip to the dry cleaners means one or two additions. I sorted out the yucky metal ones to be recycled to the dry cleaners.

One of the nicest things about cleaning closets is rediscovering things you forgot you had. Maybe this gets worse with age, but I found quite a few today. I will have a whole new look this week as the forgottens once again become part of my wardrobe.

This really wasn’t so bad. I don’t know why I dread it each time. Maybe it’s that need to make so many decisions. I can’t say that I regret ever parting with any piece of clothing. I’m just not that attached to what I wear.

The extra breathing room in my closets will make it easier to find whatever I am looking for now. It’s nice to have a sense of accomplishment about cleaning, since everywhere I look I’m reminded that I need to be doing more of it.

What are your thoughts on cleaning?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Fly in the Ointment

I suddenly have an anonymous commenter who has nothing good to say. So far this person has managed to convey that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that my chocolate mousse looks like a pile of shit and told me in the mousse post to “get a life.” That one didn’t exactly compute.

Since I started Blogging almost 2 years ago, I’ve had many readers who don’t leave comments, but I have had few anonymous commenters who didn’t give me a clue as to their real identity. The pattern I’ve seen across the Blogosphere is that these people generally leave insulting comments that they hope will hurt the author. Maybe they are trying to embarrass or get a rise out of someone who is generally a positive person. I suspect they usually have an ax to grind that may or may not even involve the Blogger.

If indeed the problem is with the author, why not take the more direct approach of sending an e-mail message than continuing to post hate messages on someone’s Blog? Most people would welcome the chance to have an open exchange without even requiring the person to reveal his or her identity.

I’ve watched other people deal with far bigger problems in this arena than I have. Some have killed their Blogs. Others have started requiring a password to allow their readers access to their posts. Others have invoked comment moderation.

I know a lot from my StatCounter about where my hater is coming from. This all started with the “sad pet story”, so I assume this is a person who is for some reason unhappy about what I wrote.

I’ll wait a day or two before deciding to turn on comment moderation. That will definitely allow me to see what people have to say before publishing it. It’s too bad when one person makes this necessary.

But meanwhile, if you want to contact me off-Blog, my e-mail address is I invite you to continue to speak your mind about what I write. I am not in the least offended by a difference of opinion, but snarky comments that are simply meant to hurt are not welcome.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Starbucks to the Rescue

I’m in love with Starbucks once again, but this time it is only costing me 53 cents. I searched high and low for raspberry syrup to put in the mountains of chocolate mousse that I’m making later today, only to find it for almost free at Starbucks.

I’m part of the brigade of volunteer Micah Cooks, who cater for bat mitzvahs, weddings, virtually any occasion where someone in our temple needs good food at the right price. This week I am charged with making chocolate mousse for 60.

One of the ingredients is raspberry syrup, which sounds easy enough. But my husband's calls to multiple Whole Foods, Balducci’s, and Dean & Deluca came up with exactly one bottle at D&D’s coffee bar to the tune of $19. My friend Mary suggested just boiling up some frozen raspberries with sugar and making it.

Then I called Starbucks and low and behold, the one in Old Towne was willing to give me 7-1/2 tablespoons of raspberry syrup at no cost. My local Starbucks puts a price of 53 cents on it. Yay for Starbucks! I no longer buy their coffee, but they are solving my problem today.

I’ll add a picture later today of the biggest mound of chocolate mousse you have ever seen.

Later... after 2-1/2 pounds of melted chocolate, 18 eggs separated and beaten, 6 cups of heavy cream whipped, and don't forget the 7-1/2 tablespoons of raspberry syrup, here it is, ridiculously unhealthy but oh-so-delicious:

(adapted from Maida Heater)

12 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 eggs at room temperature (graded large or extra-large), 4 of the
eggs should be separated and 2 left whole.
2 ½ tablespoons raspberry syrup
2 cups heavy cream
pinch salt

Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot water on moderate heat. Cover until the chocolate is partially melted. Uncover and stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from the hot water and set aside, uncovered, briefly to cool.

Place the 4 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add raspberry syrup. Stir with a wire whisk to mix well (they should be thoroughly mixed but not beaten until airy). Then gradually add the warm chocolate, stirring constantly with the whisk, until smooth. Set aside.

In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters whip the cream only until it holds a definite shape but not until it is stiff (stiff cream will make the filling heavy and buttery instead of light and creamy). Set aside.

In the small bowl of an electric mixer add the salt to the 4 remaining egg whites and beat until the whites hold a shape or are stiff but not dry. In 2 or 3 additions add the whites to the chocolate/egg mixture and fold them in using a rubber spatula. Then in 2 or 3 additions, add the whipped cream and fold that in. Do not handle any more than necessary to blend ingredients.

Turn into a bowl. Mousse is better if made the day before. However, if you are going to decorate it, that should be done right before serving. Recipe says will serve 12-14. Will probably serve 20, especially if you are having other desserts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dinner with the Dogs

I wasn’t quite sure what sort of hosts my Jake and Dylan would be for Velvet’s Sammy and Thora who came along to dinner. But dogs are pack animals and after a few introductory barks they fit right in and mostly moved as a group.

I have seldom seen Jake so alive. I think he panted for the entire 3 hours they were here. At one point he was just about to mount Sammy and then thought better of it, letting Sammy, the smallest of the 4, be the alpha dog.

Dylan, who is moving pretty slowly these days, was up and around the whole evening. He politely didn’t try to hump either of the guest dogs, probably because he prefers blonds – golden retrievers if possible.

At one point they all made a field trip into the back yard to explore. I think even Dylan went down the steps. A mystery dog pooped on the family room floor and another threw up on that poor abused floor. Probably both courtesy of Dylan. But other than that, nothing unwanted left behind.

The only point I worried about a dog fight was when a piece of pear landed on the rug and all 4 dogs wanted to claim it. Then they realized that it wasn’t even worth a growl. The interesting thing is that Reya has just mentioned the word "dogfight" in another context when the pear incident happened. I was reminded just how vicious 4 dogs can sound.

Maybe we’ll have to make more trips to the dog park. Dylan and Jake really enjoyed their company.

Meanwhile, my husband got to meet Velvet, whom we all affectionately termed a "Blog rock star." And Reya entertained everyone with her take on life, which is always unique. Dinner was simply comfort foods: a garlicky spinach tomato soup, wild mushroom risotto, mixed green salad, and poached pears on homemade graham crackers with marscapone. And of course, lots of white wine.

A good evening for all 24 legs in attendance...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stream of Consciousness

Today you get a smorgasbord of random thoughts as my mind seems a little chaotic and distracted.


While shaving my legs in the shower today, I wondered why on earth I was doing it. I used to just let my leg hair grow and become soft over the winter when my legs were always covered with either hose or long pants. My husband seems only to notice if I’m wearing socks and not whether I have hair on my legs. So why in the world do I bother?


Angelina cleans our house every other week and Mr. Sotha takes care of the yard. This is not her week to clean and he has yet to deal with the fallen leaves. As I looked around at my house, which is full of dog hair, and saw a sea of leaves on the walk and driveway, I had to hope that my dinner guests tonight would see beyond the state of the house. I actually took a broom to the front walkway just so it would be obvious.

Contrasting Marriage and Friendship

A friend who has struggled with marriage and commitment finds strength in friendship. I see commitment as an essential component of both marriage and friendship. In fact, the "bill of rights" for a good marriage and a good friendship would likely include many similar characteristics: loyalty, fidelity, trust, refusal to spread gossip, willingness to forgive. The big difference is that society lauds a person for having multiple friends but is quick to judge failures of monogamy.

People Finder Caution

I learned that finding someone’s phone number through People Finder can be dangerous. Instead of reaching him, the message I left was received by his ex-wife. Oops!

My Health Insurance Plan Sucks

My PT sessions have become an important part of my life over the past month. I now have to face the reality that GEHA will subsidize at most 6 more sessions. Then I am on my own at $175 a pop if I choose to continue this year. It’s a good thing this is open season. I hear Blue Cross is a lot better when it comes to PT. They probably get their money somewhere else.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Sad Pet Story

This is a story of a girl and a dog that unfortunately is true. It makes me value the care my dog received last week from a loving vet.

Yesterday morning as I was making a cup of tea, a woman in my office, whom I think of as just a girl, related a story of what happened to her feisty golden retriever last Friday. She lives in a fairly rural area of Calvert County, an area where dogs have lots of space. Her dog, however, as he attempted to escape under a fence caught his back leg and did tremendous damage to it in freeing himself.

At the animal hospital, she was given 2 choices by Dr. CG: orthopedic surgery with the entire amount due on the spot or putting the dog to sleep. She begged them to give her a payment plan because she simply did not have that kind of money in ready cash, adding that she had always paid her balance on time in the past. When that wasn’t acceptable, she asked for help in contacting the golden retriever animal rescue organization. They claimed not to have any information. In a final plea, she asked to be with her dog when they put him to sleep and was told that it would be too costly. Go figure!

In desperation, she released her dog to these heartless so-called animal caregivers and went home to tell her children their pet was dead.

Having come through such a scare with my dog last week, I was livid when I heard her story. I was also suspicious of what was really going on. Did they not want her to be with the dog because they were going to use him in some sort of experiment or as a lesson in surgery? Or worse still, was he destined to supply dog meat to the highest bidder? God forbid either of these was true.

I am simply appalled at this type of behavior from a very-much-for-profit organization whose goal is to help animals get well. This one never had a chance.

I called them up to ask some pointed questions, but they refused to talk to me since I wasn’t the one who had the experience. I made it quite clear that I would go way out of my way before setting foot in this animal hospital if this is the way they treat sick animals and their owners.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Mother's Worries

I sometimes wonder if I worry more about my children as adults than I did about them when they were toddlers. The difference is that back then I still had control over their lives, and now they are in control.

Last week my daughter called to discuss a medical procedure she was contemplating to deal with a real issue. Not knowing much about it, I contacted Velvet, who is my source of all knowledge of what’s happening with the younger generation. When even she was appalled at the idea, I got really worried. My daughter had not been calling to ask me to pay for it, just to see what I thought about the idea. So even if I think it sucks, she can opt to go ahead. I worry for her long-term health and safety.

My son, the law school grad who has now passed the Arizona bar and decided not to accept a fultime position at the firm he worked for while going to school, called to say he is moving to California. His lease is up at the end of this month, he has an aging car that is probably dying, he has a mountain of student loans, and he is talking about taking out a "bar loan" so he can study for the California bar. Any lawyer will tell you that this is the hardest bar exam in the country. This calls for big-time worry on my part! What will he do with an apartment full of furniture? Will the car break down on the trip? How will he find a place to live? What if he doesn’t like the strangers that become his roommates? What if his cell phone doesn’t work any more and I can’t even reach him? When will he find an acceptable paying job as a lawyer and start digging himself out of debt? He is not attempting to make this my problem either. He’s not asking for money because he understands the family bank is closed.

Neither one of my children has a significant other as far as I know. So we haven’t even seen the host of worries associated with falling into and out of love. But there is still plenty to worry about. I sometimes wonder if my parents ever worried like this about me. Probably so, but they were good at not letting on.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Just an Apple Dapple Sunday

When I think of Fall, I think of apples. So it’s not surprising that I decided to make an apple cake for the book club meeting tonight.

But this is not just any old apple cake recipe. It’s Rosa’s apple dapple cake, which she has made for me many times over the years. Rosa was once my secretary, who also served as a surrogate mother and was able to confront just about any dilemma head-on. She managed to raise 5 children while she helped support her family and always looked out for her parents until their dying day. I want Rosa’s strength and positive attitude as I slip into old age. They have served her well as she now approaches 80.

I love this recipe because it is forgiving and it always works.

Rosa’s Apple Dapple Cake

1-1/2 cups Canola oil
2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 cups chopped apples
1-1/2 cups chopped nuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

Slightly beat eggs. Then mix with sugar. Add vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to eggs and sugar. Add oil, apples, nuts, and spices. Batter will be stiff. Bake in greased and floured tube pan or in 2 loaf pans at 350 degrees for an hour.


1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
½ cup margarine

Cook 2-1/2 minutes. When cake is baked, pour topping over hot cake while still in pan. When completely cool, remove from pan.

I used less oil and sugar and guessed at some measurements and I just realized that I forgot to put in the nutmeg. But it will be fine. That’s what I mean by forgiving.

So pick or buy some beautiful Fall apples and make Rosa’s cake. You will love it!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Taking a Week Off

My friend suggested that I cut myself some slack, sleep in a little later, and just be a congregant at Temple Micah today, instead of trying to get there early and sing in the choir. This is the kind of thing I would never have come up with on my own.

But I found myself explaining over and over again why I wasn’t standing up front with the choir. The rabbi, the choir director, and countless members had to be told that I was recovering from being sick this week. It’s not as though I have a solo voice that makes much of a difference in the sound of the choir, but people seemed just a little edgy because I wasn’t fulfilling my customary role. Proving once again what creatures of habit we are.

I was surprised to realize that after 6 years, this was the first time I had been able to listen to and observe the choir. It’s an education that every choir member should have. I noticed the body language, their degree of attentiveness to the director, the amount of enthusiasm they brought to the music. I realized just how exposed the choir is, especially those people in the front row.

I’m sure for the next bar mitzvah I will be up there again in my usual place, but it was such a nice change to be a participant, with the ability to sing or just to listen from time to time. The music was every bit as impressive, with Teddy singing tenor (since there were none) and playing the tambourine with his foot while he did his usual piano magic. It’s just that my window on the musical world of Temple Micah had changed directions. Besides I was in good company in the audience.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Evening with the NSO

Tonight I confirmed that Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D Major is my very favorite orchestral piece of all time. What was even better was that I had comp tickets in the orchestra section of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

I came to know this piece when I was a freshman in college. My roommate played violin in the FSU orchestra and this was one of their performances in 1968. She played the 33-1/3 record of this concerto over and over on my old stereo, to the point where I could hum the whole thing. I knew which parts were a challenge for the violins. I knew where the high points were in this piece that builds and recedes and builds again, much as an ocean wave.

When my friend and teacher Bill, who plays the bass in the NSO, asked if I wanted 2 complimentary tickets to tonight’s performance that included pieces by Ravel and Tchaikovsky, my first thought was “Can I possibly sit through a 2 hour concert without coughing?” But then I decided to be optimistic about my cold and to just say YES, of course I would love to go.

After my husband politely declined my offer (this isn’t really his favorite music), I called my 80-year-old friend Mollie, who adores classical music. What a deal – she cooked dinner for me and all I had to do was drive to and from the concert. We arrived to find we had excellent seats in the middle of the orchestra section. We were sitting next to a guy who had also been given a comp ticket by someone in the orchestra. This may well have been his first symphony orchestra concert. He shoes horses for a living and met the violist while caring for her horse.

The real thrill of the evening was Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, whose enthusiasm for the Tchaikovsky concerto was genuine and infectious. She came onto the stage dressed in a black pantsuit and a red silk jacket. It almost appeared like she and her violin were one. The expression on her face completely matched whatever she was playing. She seemed like a racehorse getting ready to leave the starting gate when it was her turn to make an entrance. Her foot tapped and her body swayed to reflect the mood of the music. The high notes must have eclipsed the range of the violin as they reached the stratosphere. She periodically adjusted her headband when she had a break, leaving us to wonder if her hair would have just taken flight otherwise. It was probably the most exciting performance I have ever seen.

Mollie surmised that she had probably played the piece countless times before, committing every note to memory. But for us it was as if it were the first time she had ever performed it.

The NSO was in fine form tonight, with guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony. They played 3 very different pieces, doing a credible job on each of them. Ravel’s Rapsodie Espanole was just one of several pieces which declared his fascination with things Spanish. The program after the intermission was a bizarre piece by Sylvestre Revueltas, a Mexican composer, who tried to depict the clash of the Mayan civilization with later civilization. At one point, an orchestra member was blowing through a conch shell. There were endless special effects. I feared for the safety of my friend Bill’s bass as the bass section did something between plucking an slapping their instruments in the third movement.

What a great way to spend a Friday evening. And even greater was the fact that I made it through the whole thing with not one cough, partially thanks to a purchase of cough drops today.

An Update on My Dream Team

The dream team meeting I fantasized about last month is becoming a reality. Finding a time when 5 professionals can meet may be an impossibility, but everyone is on board with my intention.

(For those of you who don't have a clue as to what this is about, on Sunday, October 8, in a post entitled: My Fantasy Team:
Now that I’m coming to a better understanding of my peculiar gait, I’ve created this fantasy of getting all the people who might be able to help me deal with it in the same room. With any sort of medical intervention, whether it is with medication or some alternative form of treatment, it’s so important that the components be compatible.)

I saw Dr. Spiegel, the physiatrist, yesterday and mentioned my idea to him. For a doctor whose practice is called “Onemedicine” and who claims to treat the whole person, it didn’t sound so radical. He asked that I schedule the appointment at the end of his work day so that he wouldn’t feel rushed.

The most difficult person to schedule is Dr. Spiegel because he has office hours in Virginia just one Thursday every 3 weeks. But I have an appointment scheduled for November 30 at 4:00 for this purpose.

Quentin, my PT, is covering for his office partner that week and Thursdays are late days for his office. But he agreed to think about how he could participate.

Reya, my massage therapist, has clients Thursday afternoons also, so I hope I can just book one of those slots and steal her away for this hour-long meeting.

Chris, my pilates instructor, usually sees me about this time on Thursdays. He just called to confirm that he can make it.

I have yet to talk to Leyla, my yoga teacher.

I started to worry just a little when I realized that the person I have charged with leading this meeting is the one I know the least. In fact, I have had but 2 appointments with him. Whereas I have known the other 4 for years and seen them countless times for treatment or classes.

I want to make absolutely sure that everyone’s professional contributions are considered on equal ground, regardless of title or years of training. I hope this can be a balanced discussion, where everyone has a chance to speak and give advice. I want them all to understand why I value each person enough to include him or her on this “dream team.”

I have a very positive feeling about this. My hope is that it will initiate an integrated approach to strengthening my body for the “end game,” as someone so aptly called the latter part of our lives.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Poem I Like

This is a beautiful Billy Collins poem I promised to find for Pauline, a wonderful poet herself. I had published this on February 8, 2005, in a post about our upcoming poetry night.

Horizon by Billy Collins

You can use the brush of a Japanese monk
or a pencil stub from a race track.

As long as you draw the line a third
the way up from the bottom of the page,

the effect is the same: the world suddenly
divided into its elemental realms.

A moment ago there was only a piece of paper.
Now there is earth and sky, sky and sea.

You were sitting alone in a small room.
Now you are walking in the heat of a vast desert

or standing on the ledge of a winter beach
watching the light on the water, light in the air.

Consciously Breathing

I understood a new meaning to "thinking about my breath" as I sat with my medication group last night. With every breath my mantra was "Don’t cough".

If I hadn’t been responsible for opening the door and for leading the group last night, I would probably have opted to just go home and eat more of my husband’s awesome chicken soup. But I take my responsibilities seriously, so I showed up with the warning that at any point I might launch into a coughing frenzy.

It is true that if you are conscious of every breath, it is hard for outside thoughts to intervene. So in a sense I achieved one goal of meditation. But at the same time I was acutely aware of every tickle that might unleash pent-up coughs – you know the ones that just feel like they will never stop.

I managed to get through our 35-minute sit with just 3 little episodes of clearing my throat. But then after I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s piece on Generosity and we discussed it, my cough came forth full force. It just couldn’t wait any longer. That was OK. I was careful not to cough on anyone and the need to respect the silence was over.

Hopefully by the next time I join a group for meditation I will be breathing a lot easier and I can once again lose myself in my breath instead of being so conscious of it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Close One

At 6:59 PM I ran through the door of my polling place to learn that I would be the next to the last person allowed to vote. That was cutting it a little close.

I had left work at a little after 6:00 for what should have been a 30-minute trip home. But I had forgotten what happens to traffic with even a few raindrops. Several instances of gridlock nearly doubled my commute time. At the end I made an illegal U turn and did several rolling STOPs.

But get me to the polls on time. This was an election I didn't want to miss. The Virginia senatorial race is still too close to call. Unfortunately I don't think my vote made a difference in the ridiculous marriage question.

The really interesting thing that happened was when I pulled out my driver's license (or what I thought was my driver's license), the poll worker read back the name on the license. I suddenly realized that I had the license of one of my traveling companions – how I got it I don't remember. As I whipped out another driver's license – one that looked a lot more like me – the woman gave me a curious look. But she was counting down to the end and didn't want to even attempt to figure out what I might be trying to impersonate someone else.

I quickly made my selections, voting a basically Democratic slate, with the exception of Jim Moran, who will never get my vote again, no matter what party he represents. In that race I voted for the independent, a vote that did not make a difference except in my conscience.

For a split second as I was struggling in the traffic and coughing my head off, I had thoughts of skipping yesterday's election. But I'm glad I got in under the wire. I'm glad I exercised my right to choose in this country that still purports to be a democracy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

I left for work today not knowing if I would ever see my old dog Dylan again. He's almost 13 and he is showing definite signs of slowing down and being sick.

I'll never forget when we went to see his litter of black lab puppies. He was the one quietly chewing on a plastic lamb chop over in the corner while the other 7 puppies crawled all over one another. We got him because he had an overbite and the breeder did not want to keep him as a show dog.

From the beginning this dog was a dream come true. He never learned to fetch, but he was easily housebroken, didn't chew much, didn't bark, was hardly ever sick, and was on the other end of the spectrum from aggressive. He was such a pleasant change from our dachshund, who was really stupid, and the 2 vizslas, who only knew how to run away. His main interest in life has always been food of any sort and female golden retrievers, the only time his alpha tendencies are on full alert.

When he was little, I remember well having him in my lap as I drove the children's carpools. It's hard to believe that a dog that at one point weighed 80 pounds could fit on my lap.

Just this year we have watched Dylan slow down. He's lost some weight. Sometimes he will just lie down and not be able to get up on a short walk. About a month ago, he began pooping in the house and not even knowing he was doing it. This was very uncharacteristic of a dog who never ever had an accident inside.

When we returned from France, Dylan was there at the gate to greet us. The dogsitter commented that he seemed feeble but not in pain. Feeble, sort of like my father seemed shortly before he died.

Yesterday, the poop was streaked with red. My husband agreed to take him to the vet's today to find out what is wrong with him. I made him promise not to make a decision without consulting me.

I went to bed not knowing what I would find this morning. But there was Dylan, interested in breakfast. I decided to make him scrambled eggs, just in case this was his last meal. He slowly ate the 3 eggs and would have been happy to eat more. But not knowing what is wrong, I didn't want to burden his stomach.

I rubbed his head and kissed him goodbye, just in case.

The problem is that when we get a young puppy, we never stop to consider that it will probably grow old and die before we do. I find myself in that same panic I faced when my father died – you know that feeling of guilt for not having done enough. If only I had walked him more. If only I had played with him more. If only he had lived forever...

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Uncommon Cold

As we played through our Bach sonata, I occasionally stopped to catch the drip from my nose or to cough. Deborah, my musical partner and doctor, said at one point, "Are you alright?" To which I responded, "I think I’m just allergic to the fall leaves. It can’t be a cold because I never had a sore throat." I jokingly added, "If it’s not better in 3 days, I’ll contact my doctor."

But as we sat down to eat dinner together later, my nose had started to run in torrents to the point where she offered me fresh Kleenex and pronounced, "You.definitely.have.a.cold." She even asked me if I needed a written excuse to miss work.

I probably had picked up something on the flight home. I admit to having felt tired and not my usual self since getting back, but I had just attributed it to jetlag.

Meanwhile, my husband, who had the same symptoms as I did, had taken Airborne and was totally fine. I always thought that was just a waste of money, but maybe it really works. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t jump for my little bottle of ImmuneUp, that wonderful Mikael Zayat concoction of essential oils which in past years has helped me ward off URI’s. I suppose because I never thought I was sick.

When I got home I started feeling guilty for exposing Deborah and her husband to whatever variation on a virus I actually have. Then I realized, she sees sick people for a living – people a lot sicker than I am, so why in the world should I feel guilty?

No sooner had I sent her an apologetic e-mail, but she responded to say how much she had enjoyed playing together again and told me to rest up and get well.

This is definitely not my usual cold, which progresses through multiple predictable stages, but my nose is still running and I have an occasional cough or sneeze. Maybe my body is on strike because I didn’t give it proper time to recuperate. I’ll probably never know, but I’m sure whatever it is will be gone in a couple of days.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reality Check

Adjusting from a big trip is a lot more than just getting over jetlag. The realization that there was not a photo op and a story ready to tell every hour of the day sent me into a tailspin yesterday. I was back to using Google images and felt like my creative well had run dry.

But then I realized that was an unreal life that could not have gone on much longer than 18 days without literally burning me out. It was fun and full of beautiful pictures everywhere I looked, but it was simply not real.

Today as I got up I noticed the fall leaves through the window in our bedroom. Hmm... now that’s worth a mention.

Then I went downstairs to greet my guys who are always at the gate waiting for me. Jake is perpetually exuberant. Dylan is slower and slower and knows not where he poops these days. He is simply the shell of a dog that is just about used up at 13. But they are dear and they are certainly worth coming home for.

I will dust off my music and head over to Deborah’s house to play together with her later today, remembering how much her bass does to compliment my piano part. I really missed our times together on the trip.

I’m slowly getting back to looking for the small things in life that make the day not so ho-hum. It may be a story on NPR, or the fox running past my window on the world where I write, or an interesting conversation with family or friends. This is reality and a life that will sustain me.

Home sweet home is the realest of worlds.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Discovering Ecstasy

A couple of years ago after my first therapist Ann pronounced me emotionally half dead, I was convinced that I needed ecstasy in my life to jump-start my emotions. I envied my good friend, who had participated in the spiral dance and in all sorts of group rituals when she was in Reclaiming. I wanted to experience that feeling of emotional release that gives you goosebumps and an emotional high. I wanted to share this experience with a coven like she had had in her life as a witch.

After she attended services at Temple Micah shortly thereafter, she said to me, “You have everything you need right there. You have a ready-made coven of interesting people. You have all the elements of ecstasy in the service.”

Until today I had not really discovered this for myself. Maybe it was the fact that I had been away for 3 weeks. But from the opening niggun in today’s service I felt something that beat and swelled with the repetition of familiar words and the clapping that emphasized the rhythm. I’m sure this is nothing new, but it was only today that I experienced the goosebumps, not just once but several times during the service.

Today my coven was my choir, who joined together as if holding hands in a circle to produce a group sound. I was struck once again with just how much music there is in the service. We were especially balanced today with exactly four people on each part, so the result was the perfect blend. The flute rode above the sound of the voices and Teddy provided the anchor with his extemporaneous piano.

We marveled as 13-year-old Faith shared her interpretation of the portion L’chi Lach – go forth – where God tells Abraham to journey to Canaan, where he will make of him a great nation. She recounted the story of her immigrant great-grandparents who had ventured forth for new lives in America. She related this to her own feeling of starting on a journey as she becomes an adult. I experienced ecstasy once again as she chanted the Torah in her beautiful soprano voice.

Sometimes the answer to a quest is in taking a closer look at what is all around you. Today I found the ecstasy I had been searching for.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pondering Electronic Friendship

Some of my best friends these days are people I have never met. People actually look at me a little strange when I talk so affectionately about my Blogger family, which now includes people in several countries and in multiple states in the US, most of whom I have never even met in person.

When I was on my recent trip, I delighted in the comments from this extended family, often sharing them with my traveling companions. If I didn't hear from a "regular" for a couple of days, I became concerned. I was deeply touched when two different people (Steve and Pauline) in the same day wrote posts triggered by something I had written.

I sometimes fantasize about getting everyone together for my 60th birthday or some other big deal occasion. For a split second, I wonder if we would like each other as much in person. Could we have created expectations about each other that would only be dashed in face-to-face contact? Then I remind myself that it would probably be so much better in real life, where we could have a round of hugs, share some good food (since we all seem to like to eat), and then have a slumber party where no one was allowed to go to sleep. We would never run out of things to talk about because we know so much about each other.

This post was all prompted by Steve, who welcomed me home, acknowledging that it was really no different communicating across continents thanks to the Internet, but "somehow I feel like I missed you." How can you miss someone you never met who is only in a different location? I don't know, but I totally understand and appreciate his sentiment.

My day started out with a coy comment by my PT Quentin, who announced he hadn't yet installed the gold fixtures when I came out of the bathroom this morning. For a moment I wasn't sure what he was talking about; then I remembered that Quentin had been reading my Blog while I was gone. The topic of conversation as Quentin worked on my right leg, hip, and foot was what it would be like to get a massage with chocolate massage oil, also prompted by the Paris chocolate expo. Another female patient and I both thought it would be yummy, but Quentin kept trying to decide if he would prefer bacon or popcorn flavor. Gross! I brought back chocolate massage oil and hope to report on this at some future time...

I have been talking to Reya for over a year about organizing a Blogger weekend, never imagining that it might include people from distant places, not just the DC Blogs community. What do you think? Could we actually make this happen?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Cinderella Syndrome

As the clock struck 12 last night, I felt like my world was becoming a pumpkin once again. Only instead of a glass slipper as a souvenir, I had only a pile of dirty clothes. For a moment I wondered if the trip had been real or whether I could have just imagined the whole thing.

Then I looked around my room at the poster from the horse festival in Cadenet and remembered our first venture out on the bikes in Provence, when we just stumbled upon this afternoon of fun.

I saw Rick Steves' book on Provence that guided us into all those little towns and told us when the market days occurred.

Finally I remembered the afternoon when I sat outside on a beautiful day with my friend Kris and sketched in Aquarelles. My artwork sucks, but it serves to remind me of the actual scene with the old tower with its red tile roof, all those beautiful trees, and the hills in the background.My body was struggling all night to make sense of time.

It was as though I was hearing the bells of the old church clock in Lourmarin chime on the hour, finally getting up at 5 AM when I should otherwise have been thinking about lunch.I have had to at least acknowledge the various reminders of responsibility being hurled at me all day long:

– Feed the dogs

– Practice the piano

– Re-read the The History of Love for the book club meeting on November 12

– Write up a final report for the Temple Micah High Holy Days

– Read 800 e-mail messages at work

– Plan my next vacation – Oh yeah, that one I am game to do!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reading My Way Home

I can recall just a few books that I read cover to cover, stopping only for a bathroom break. Among them, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Gone with the Wind. But today it was Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

This was one of those days when time is warped as we added 6 hours to the usual 24, passing much of the day in transit.

I don’t ever sleep much on a daytime flight and I never seem to find the in-flight movies appealing.

As I read the opening chapter of this book set in rural South Carolina, I realized that although the story cleverly incorporated the habits of bees, the protagonist was actually a young girl with terrible guilt and a yearning to be loved.

I laughed and cried with Lily as she discovers the secret life of the mother she may well have killed, while coming to realize that skin color really matters very little when the heart is concerned.

What a perfect book to while away untold hours of travel time with a story that ultimately results in the rebirth of the queen mother in Lily’s heart, allowing her to survive a world fraught with pain.

This most unusual book gets my vote for a best read.

What was the last page-turner you read?