Friday, August 31, 2007

Looking for J and F

I’m searching for JOY and FUN as I wander through life these days. My life seems to be filled with people I love and so much to do that even LEISURE is not around as much as she should be. But JOY and FUN are totally missing right now and I long for their return.

JOY is the one that provides that inner warmth, almost a glow, that combines happiness, contentment, and all things good. Is there a Reiki treatment for the soul that brings back JOY?

FUN is the other one that can bring on gut-splittling laughter. It’s been a while since I’ve heard myself laugh. It’s a sound that’s not so natural for me, but one that makes me feel light and happy.

So if you see JOY and FUN, send them my way. Life is certainly good enough without them, but I know how much better it can be when they are around.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sharing the Bounty

Didn’t you always want to be one of those lucky winners of the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes or the lottery? Even a “queen for a day,” on a program from before most of you were born. My friend Kris has the idea of creating a way to do something unrequested and unexpected by humanity or by the world. She has termed it RAK – Random Acts of Kindness.

We met over lunch today with another neighbor and with Kris’s daughter to brainstorm our RAK. Kris got this idea from a friend in Nebraska who has been doing it for 20 years. The way her group works is that they meet monthly and each person throws $20 in a pot. If there are 20 people in the group, this amounts to $400, which one group member is then entrusted to spend any way she wishes, as long as the gift is anonymous and is beneficial to someone who needs it. The following month that person hosts the group and reports on how their collective money was spent.

We quickly came up with a list of ways we might spend our money, including helping people and helping the environment. My idea was to fix the brakes on one of the 4 older cars currently sitting in front of our house and then simply give it to a family in need. There are programs to provide school supplies for children in Guatemala, shoes for children in South Africa, you name it – there are an infinite number of projects just waiting to be funded. Some require the donor to do some work. Others simply require writing a check.

We came up with a list of potential people to include in our group, spanning both genders and a wide range of ages. We searched for people who were thought to be generous, resourceful, but most importantly those who would be willing to look at this as a group project where there was no named leader, but just a group dedicated to making the world a better place in which to live, even if in small ways.

We determined that we need a web site to serve as a common place for members to get information and to record the history possibly even with pictures of what we do. My web-guy husband has agreed to make the website.

We left with the assignment of contacting a set of the suggested participants to assess their interest. Of my two, one immediately bought into the idea. The other immediately said ABSOLUTELY NOT, saying she couldn’t see spending $300 a year that she couldn’t write off on her taxes. This just proves that we all have different ideas about philanthropy!

We will have a potluck dinner on September 30 to kick this off with those who are on board.

Interestingly enough, on our way home from lunch today we were driving along a neighborhood street that borders NVCC. A foreign student looked distraught as he attempted to pick up pages that were scattered all over the road. Kris immediately pulled the car over and we jumped out declaring this to be our first RAK activity. He looked at us as through we were from outer space as we handed him the pages to put back in the notebook that dropped. Perhaps no Americans had shown him a courtesy like this before.

Kris called in excitement this afternoon to report that Oprah had given $1,000 to every person in her audience and asked for a report on their RAKs. I love it!

For so many years I helped families in the Suitland area where I worked. I have missed this chance to help others and look to our RAK group as a new opportunity to continue the giving, where I don’t have to organize it all.

Please leave me a comment if you have any information about how a group like this might work. We are committed to making a difference!

How Free Is Your Will?

For as long as I can remember I’ve thought about predestination. It was a part of the doctrine of my birth religion that I rejected. In fact I remember long discussions with countless Sunday school teachers as we students plotted to foil God’s plan for us and were always told, “He knows what you will ultimately choose.”

I found myself thinking about it again today as I wrote the following comment on someone’s Blog:

I love the idea of a path already set out for us. But then I run into the concept of predestination and I have big problems with it. As much as I would like to be relieved of the necessity of making at least some choices, I want to exercise my free will. We're never content, are we?

That first sentence made me realize that there are a few things in my life that I consider meant to be. These would include:

– Converting to Judaism, a religion that made infinitely more sense than my Protestant birth religion and didn’t require me to believe much of anything other than the fact that there is a God (and even that is debated by some Jews).
– My love of music, including both listening to and playing music.
– My problematic skin. Recurring skin cancer has caused me to live for the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring and to trust my doctors to help me identify problems.
– My life partner, with whom I have shared 31 years of marriage as of today and who is like another half of myself.

When I accept that there was some sort of “master plan” that was responsible for these four things that provide a framework for much of my life, I realize that I have now bought into a form of predestination. But the good news for me is the fact that while these things provide the “shell,” there are so many choices accompanying them.

So free will is still very much a part of my life. I get to choose how I practice Judaism, what music I play and with whom, which doctors to see, and how to spend time with my life partner. This turns out to be an infinite number of choices that are all mine to make.

Ironically I am much more content with this hybrid mix of predestination and free will than I had thought. I rather like the idea of being handed a rough framework on which to hang my life. I like the idea of making choices that personify it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An Ounce of Prevention

Many of us are faced with difficult choices that have the potential to bring about pain and suffering no matter how we choose. Elective surgery falls into this category.

I’ve been suffering from a pain in my jaw that occurs when I eat acidic or salty food – food that would make you want to salivate. It all started with a particularly big juicy tomato I bought at the farmers’ market a month ago. I loaded it up with balsamic vinegar and aged olive oil and with the first bite I felt a piercing pain in my jaw on one side. Since then it has lessened in frequency and intensity, but it’s obviously still there. I’ve now consulted an endodontist, my dentist, and oral surgeon, and an ENT guy.

Nobody is sure why, but they all conclude my salivary glands on the side of my face are just barely functional and the right one may be blocked. When Reya first heard this, she immediately connected it to the radioactive iodine treatment I had had 18 months ago. The ENT guy agrees that this is definitely a contributor, but everyone says age plays a role too.

So about that radiation and about the surgery that preceded it. Three years ago I had half my thyroid removed with a malignant nodule in it. Although there was no definitive evidence that it had recurred, I was persuaded by multiple doctors to have the other half taken out and the hideous radioactive iodine treatment a year later. I obviously had a choice in the matter, but they painted a grim picture of me getting cancer 20 years from now and it being too late, saying they wanted to deal with it as aggressively as possible. I admit to being scared and to reluctantly agreeing to both procedures. So now my salivary glands are shut down and I am (probably) free of thyroid cancer forever. I will forever wonder if it was worth mutilating and bombarding my body in the name of prevention.

There are so many ways our bodies can betray us. It’s virtually impossible to protect against all the things that can go wrong. But choices that involve elective surgery will forever be difficult to make.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wherein Lies the Truth?

Yesterday I started ruminating on TRUTH after reading Red Dirt Girl’s post. She asks if there is such a thing as “the absolute truth”. It’s not clearly as straightforward as I had once thought.

Some truths are completely obvious and verifiable. For example, if you look out the window and see puddles forming, you can truthfully say, “It’s raining.” It’s something you can say with certainty.

But then, what about “It rained every day last week.” This one depends on memory unless you go to the trouble of looking at historical rainfall. Two people are likely to disagree on this.

But what’s the truth about how rain makes you feel? Some people would say “Rain makes me sad and depressed.” Others might say “Rain makes me feel content because it is so nice to listen to.” This is the gray area about truth because it calls into play perception. A group of people can perceive something many different ways, thereby making it difficult to even determine the truth of the matter.

Then there’s a statement made after the person in question is long gone, like “Mom always loved you better than me.” This is the ultimate in perception. If Mom were around, she would probably deny it even if it were true. But as far as the speaker is concerned, it is the truth.

Here’s something that actually happened. I had the following conversation with someone I know and love yesterday:

Him: I have been angry with you for months because you said you would never hire me.
Me: When did I ever say that?
Him: When I was talking about possibly falsifying my resume to cover up the long break in employment.
Me: Given that I know you suffer from “scrupulosity” (a form of OCD), I knew that you would never falsify your resume and that you were just baiting me. I told you that I was sure as an interviewer that I could tell if someone had done that and yes, I said I would then be unwilling to hire that person.
Him: But you still said it and it really bothered me.
Me: Let me assure you that if I were in the position to hire you, I would do so based on your actual credentials with no need for embellishment or falsification.

So here we have an example of how very misleading and far from the actual truth a statement taken out of context can be.

Red Dirt Girl is in the midst of an ugly divorce. Divorce often brings out the worst in people, causing them to “bend the truth”. Does that mean “to lie”? Not necessarily. You can often do considerable damage just by remembering something just a little differently. If you try hard enough, you can actually replace what happened or what was said with what you would like to remember. It becomes the truth as far as you are concerned.

So how about using a lie detector test? Sadly there are ways to pass such a test even if you are guilty. So there is no real litmus test for truth.

The bottom line is that my truth and your truth may bear no resemblance. But does that make them any less the truth?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Reluctant Yogi

I almost turned around and walked out when I realized that my regular yoga teacher Leyla was on vacation and we had a sub. After all, I had already biked 20 miles today, so I really didn’t need the exercise. But after making the effort to get there, I decided to stay for the 90-minute class.

I thoroughly understand that Leyla can’t be there 52 weeks a year, but this sub was the one who torqued my shoulder 5 months ago, leaving me with a problem that has never totally gone away.

Naomi is an adorable pretzel-like yoga teacher who is bubbly and enthusiastic and actually a little too talkative for my taste. She constantly walks around the room making corrections as we hold the various poses. I made up my mind to quickly tell her I was “injured” if she approached me to offer a correction.

I’m sure she cringed at many of my poses tonight, but only once did she say anything, simply telling me to put a slight bend in my knees without physically making a correction. I wondered if Leyla had advised her to let me do my own yogic thing, knowing that I had had a bad experience with Naomi when she (Leyla) was on maternity leave.

Tonight’s theme was twisting. We twisted while we lunged, twisted while we did the warrior poses, twisted in triangle pose, twisted while “threading the needle”, twisted while we sat on our sitz bones, and probably twisted in some other poses. When I couldn’t manage to create the requested pretzel, I just relaxed in child’s pose.

I made it through the class with no further injury and made my peace with Naomi. But I will be so glad when Leyla is back. I think I will be in her level 1 class forever. It’s just what I need to hang onto what little flexibility I have.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

En-raptored at Hawk Mountain

I know a hell of a lot more about birds of prey than I did just 48 hours ago. We spent 24 hours immersed in a small paradise in Pennsylvania which is dedicated to raptor conservation.

The bird refuge at Hawk Mountain was started in 1934 by Rosalie Edge, my friend Deborah’s grandmother, when she learned that migrating hawks were being shot in the hundreds as they were carried by the thermal drafts that are so much a part of this site in Pennsylvania. She somehow found the funds to purchase hundreds of acres and declare a prohibition on hunting on that land. She goes down in environmental history with the likes of Rachel Carson and other legendary greats.

I had written about this amazing woman 2 years ago when Deborah first told me about her grandmother, but until this weekend I had not had a chance to see Hawk Mountain firsthand.

We were last-minute invitees for a Saturday evening dinner at the groundskeeper’s house (dating to 1700) which Deborah purchased as a Hawk Mountain auction item.

Upon arriving yesterday we hiked up to the North Lookout, where from August 15 on through the fall there is a volunteer counting the various species of birds that fly over. This counting of birds has been done continuously since the refuge was first established in 1934. There was a noticeable dip when DDT was so prevalent. In fact, Rachel Carson used this bird count as evidence of her theories. Since this is just the beginning of the migration season we didn’t see the huge numbers of birds that will be flying over in mid-September, but those that were up there could fly freely with no threat of harm.

Last night we had our gourmet dinner in the old house that was once an inn. The story goes that quite a few merchants stopped at that inn never to emerge again and the innkeeper at the time profited greatly from their goods. Some say the old place is haunted with the ghosts of those murdered merchants.

Haunted or not we sat on the covered patio after dinner and were treated to a natural sound and light show that illuminated the surroundings in an eery way. Joining us were 5 interns to the bird sanctuary who came from Spain, Argentina, and Ivory Coast. These young ecologists from around the world receive scholarships to come learn and study at Hawk Mountain so they can establish sound conservation practices in their respective countries. We spoke in Spanish, French, and English and that language of hand gestures that needs no words. They were a delight as they told us why they had come and what they hoped to do to protect birds back home.

Today we went to a “Hawk Talk”, where a staff member inundated us with information about raptors as he held a live hawk on a gloved hand. (The hawk is a resident of the sanctuary because it had been illegally kept domestically and could not be reintroduced into the wild.) Here are just a few facts that I picked up:

– The characteristic of a raptor is its ability to capture food by using its feet which have large talons. Among the group of raptors are hawks, owls, eagles, and vultures, to name a few.
– The most dangerous time in a raptor’s life is the first year, when they must learn to hunt successfully or they will not survive. (There is not the option to come back home to your parents if it doesn’t work out. After just a few weeks the young birds must be self-sufficient.) If they do survive the first year, they can live for 20-30 years.
– Whereas many animals find their food by smell, a raptor relies mainly on sight, having acute vision even in the dark.
– Much of their migration is accomplished by riding thermal updrafts so they don’t have to continuously flap their wings and use up so much energy.
– If the raptor’s wings are V-shaped in flight, it’s probably a turkey vulture.

I learned one other painful lesson. On the big hike up to the North Lookout, I used a walking stick and had no trouble negotiating the rocks. However, today on a rather simple path, I didn’t bring my walking stick and I took a fall. My good strong bones are fine, but my knees look like a 5-year-old’s knees! My doctor friend insisted I go rinse off the scrapes, but my pride was actually more seriously wounded. From now on, my walking stick goes on all hikes/walks on an uneven path. It’s just good insurance and peace of mind.

What a wonderful weekend with people I love. It was such a good way to prepare for the discussions back home that have already started.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Rare Opportunity

We have a sudden opportunity to spend the weekend at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania with Deborah and her husband and another couple. Last weekend 30 migrating eagles were sighted at Hawk Mountain. I hope to see even a few of these magnificent big birds.

It will be a timely getaway that will give each of us in our family a chance to contemplate the next steps.

I will give you a full report with my own pictures upon our return!

Love, Jake

The homecoming honeymoon lasted less than 24 hours. By 10:00 last night my son and I had rediscovered all those things that push each other’s buttons and we were embroiled in a shouting match with my peacemaker husband standing on the sidelines and saying repeatedly, “I don’t think tonight is the right time for this discussion.”

All day yesterday as the contents of the 1996 Grand Caravan slowly took up residence in our family room, dining room, and laundry room, there was the same charged feeling in the air that must be there in the dry California forests before the spark touches off the blaze. The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

But we managed to make it through dinner before anyone lost it. I had made boiled shrimp and homemade marinara sauce over pasta, things I know my son likes to eat and may not have had much of lately.

The catalyst to this round of fighting was my husband’s innocent question upon our return from choir practice as to whether the dog had been out. But if it hadn’t been that question, it would have been another.

This morning I will acknowledge there had been major progress on at least getting the mountains of stuff out of sight. The laundry room is still a work in progress, but even it is better than yesterday.

But the wounds have been made and are festering now. I admit it’s not a one-sided fight. We share the blame equally for the mess we have created. We simply must figure out what to do next. Three people cannot continue to live in this close proximity with so much anger.

The one thing we seem to agree on is the need for a family therapist to counsel this currently rather dysfunctional family. We need someone who can give unbiased advice on issues like living on credit, rights of children returning home to live, rights of parents who want a peaceful household.

We will spend some time searching for this person to pull us back together again before we even begin to address issues pertaining to our son’s getting a job or paying rent or finding a more permanent place to live. Those questions will just have to wait.

Meanwhile, I had the thought that Jake might want to write us this letter:

Dear Family,

I was so hopeful that we could be a happy family once again and that there would be someone available 24x7 to throw my Kong for me. But instead you keep yelling at each other and making me nervous that someone else might disappear. You know Dylan left and never came back. I will continue to jump on whoever is screaming in at attempt to let you know how unhappy it makes me. Please get some help with this because you are not working it out on your own.

Meanwhile I promise not to pee or poop in the house even if no one takes me out. I won’t even try to escape. I really am a good dog who just wants peace at home.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Beauty of Settling In

A recurring theme in my life these days is settling in. It would seem that so many things are better if your body is given just a little time to adjust. Today I added yet another example of this.

This first came up in yoga, where my instructor Mariana always advised us to endure 30 seconds of a pose or an itch before moving or scratching. My current teacher Leyla constantly tells us to sink into a pose to experience the benefits of it. I’m sometimes surprised at how different a pose feels when it is repeated or held for a while, after the body accepts it.

My PT guy Quentin had a routine of slowly stretching, releasing, then stretching again, over and over until a muscle finally released. It was almost as though muscles had to be convinced to do what he wanted them to.

My osteopath, Dr. Craddock, uses a similar approach to his approach to therapy. His movements are more subtle as it almost seems like he is looking inside your body to see how things hang together. The pressure he applies is usually not so intense that you want to scream, but it is constant and sustained.

I experienced yet another form of therapy today administered by someone recently trained as a reiki master. Reiki combines the hands-on approach of osteopathy with the transfer of body energy. This powerful energy can be directed at a particular problem area or systematically administered over the whole body. It was one of the most unusual and therapeutic experiences I have every had. There was the perceptible release of energy in the form of heat from the practitioner’s hands in a series of sustained applications that reminded me of a very slow piece of music where all the chords are held and you get a chance to enjoy them before they change.

On a larger level, my last three months have been about settling into retirement. It is my own attempt to hold for a while and then release, hopefully resulting in a life that is more balanced and mindful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dealing with an Oil Crisis

As I turned off of North Capitol Street and headed toward Washington Hospital Center to see my melanoma doctor for my semi-annual check-up, the oil light came on bright red. With a car having 180,000 miles on it, seeing any of those warning lights seems like impending death for my 1991 Honda. So I take them seriously.

I eased into a parking spot and hurried to my appointment, cognizant of the fact that I had to come up with a plan sooner or later. For the moment, finding out that I was not dying of melanoma trumped the oil problem in my car.

I love my crusty old doctor, Gary Peck, who is the head of the National Melanoma Center and who as I learned today invented Acutane for acne. I trust him to look me over from every inch of my scalp to the cracks between my toes and either find the lurking cancer or pronounce me clean as a whistle. Fortunately today was an “all clear” day.

So back to the oil crisis once again. Although I’m not afraid in the least at WHC, which is in a not so great part of DC, I hadn’t the slightest idea where to find a store or a gas station that sold oil. I came up with several alternative solutions:

(1) Limp home to VA, hoping against hope that my engine wouldn’t burn up.
(2) Go exploring for a source of oil.
(3) Hire a taxi to go buy oil for me.
(4) Ask a taxi driver if by chance he/she had a bottle (or 2 or 3) of oil which I could purchase.

I passed a couple of cabs in a taxi area as they killed time waiting for their fares to return from a doctor’s visit. I hesitatingly approached a 65+ woman cabbie and gave my story of woe. She quickly replied, “Lord have mercy, I’ve got everything you could ever need in my trunk.” She proceeded to fish out a bottle of oil and a funnel from the box that contained transmission fluid and a number of other car products. I went and got my car out of the garage. She had by then pressed the male cabbie into service to add the oil to my car. He realized that one bottle was not nearly enough and pulled 2 more out of his trunk. The dipstick finally registered full after adding 3 quarts of oil. I asked how much and they requested enough to cover the cost of the oil.

They gave me a lecture about going out and getting a supply of oil and carrying a rag to clean off the dipstick and showed me exactly where everything was under the hood. I’m about as bad with cars as I am with cell phones. But I do know that an oil light is something to take seriously. Given the age of my Honda, I think I will do exactly as they suggested and be better prepared to deal with the next oil shortage. I am convinced this Honda is going to last forever! But meanwhile I am grateful to these two good Samaritans who went out of their way to solve my oil crisis.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Musical Coordination

There are many challenges in playing the piano – playing fast, playing octaves, playing big chords with many notes; but playing a different rhythm in your left hand from what is going on in your right hand is something that simply defies the way our brains work.

When I was probably about 12, I first encountered this in Franz Schubert’s Serenade, which is just full of 2 against 3. I just learned from Google that this is called a polyrhythm. This means that while your left hand is playing two notes, your right hand is playing a triplet or three notes. This is infinitely harder than playing 2 notes or even 3 notes for every one in the other hand.

Way back when, I resorted to using fractions to teach myself how to play this because it really is counterintuitive to your brain. If you think of this in terms of 6 beats, you play the left hand on 1 and 4 and the right hand on 1, 3, and 5. I tried to explain this to my piano teacher, Mr. Lightburn, who I learned years later was an alcoholic. He came to my house at 8:30 a.m. every Saturday morning, after a long night playing jazz at the Elk’s Club. He always smelled of after-shave lotion, which was probably to cover up the stale smell of alcohol. Anyway, when I offered up my mathematical approach to 2 against 3, he looked at me like I was from outer space and just wrote the word “slow” in the music. But you see slow really doesn’t work, so I just counted my 6 beats and nodded my 12-year-old head at him.

I have a new version of this now in Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu that is much worse for my poor befuddled brain: 3 against 4, more like what is in the picture above. Mathematically I now have to think in 12 beats, with the left hand playing on 1, 5, and 9 and the right hand on 1, 4, 7, and 10. This does become somewhat more intuitive with practice, but it is a slow process to make our brains think in two speeds at the same time.

Now that I have time to practice, I hope to really learn this difficult piece that I have loved so much since the first time I heard it. It will take a lot of work. I have no delusion that I will ever play it up to tempo.

I’m wondering how they teach polyrhythms at a musical conservatory. There must be a standard approach to this sort of thing.

You are probably saying to yourself, if this is what I had to do in retirement, I would just keep working forever. But 3 against 4 is actually keeping me quite busy as it challenges my brain to think in a new way.

A Fascination with Lentils

I am somewhat incredulous at how many people continue to ask Google the question: “How do lentils grow?” and end up on a post I did over a year ago.

I remind myself that I have written much better posts than this one, but this is their ticket to Looking2live. Do they ever come back? Probably not. If you are a reader attracted by your curiosity about lentils, PLEASE leave me a comment letting me know.

I would never know this if it weren’t for my StatCounter that reveals this sort of trivia all the time. They search on HOW LENTILS GROW, NYDJ JEANS, SAD DOG STORIES every single day. The lentils people come mainly from the UK.

There are other combinations of city, computer type, and operating system that let me know when faithful readers visit my Blog. I can say with certainty that the person with an older computer in San Francisco, who has been a loyal daily reader for years and never left a comment, came again to read. I know when Richard, MOI, Reya, Pauline, Gewels, Steve, OldLady, Rise (in Ireland), and a few more have stopped by. It’s sort of like an open house that is always there for a cuppa something with whoever is in the neighborhood.

But this fascination with lentils continues to amaze me!

Making Space

Who wants to live in a guest room? No one, or not for longer than a guest would stay that is. Today my plan is to thoughtfully make space in a house that is overflowing with “stuff”.

When my children moved out, I took advantage of the extra closet space to move my seasonal clothes just across the hall. I will find another place for them today.

I currently shower in one bathroom and do hair and make-up in another, the one that used to be my son’s bathroom. I can easily consolidate those “products” back into my upstairs bathroom.

It seems like my son will feel more welcome if he has some legitimate space to call his own. His room will undoubtedly take on that lived-in look that it had when he was living here. Jake will luxuriate on his bed, often having a sock in his mouth.

Jake is going to be on cloud 9 when my son walks through the door. His Dylan is gone, but his boy will be home. He knows that day or night my son will throw his Kong. He knows that sleeping hours will have somewhat of a reversal. But that’s OK. His companion is coming home.

My son is the one who searched the Internet to find the OOPS litter into which Jake was born. Jake is the product of two champion retrievers of different breeds that secretly found each other. He has inherited that spirit of adventure.

Yesterday when I brought the rug Dylan had spent his last days on back from the cleaners, Jake spent a long time smelling it and still trying to figure out why Dylan didn’t also come back.

My son will be just the distraction to pull him out of his funk. Maybe he will have a similar effect on my son.

But just now I am going to make some space.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

An Unexpected Surprise

I got some shocking news during my piano group concert this afternoon. My husband called to say that our son who has been living in San Francisco since December is coming home.

I don’t have an answer to the question of why his attempt to establish himself as a young lawyer in this expensive western city just didn’t work out. I may never know the answers to all the questions that come to my mind.

But I do know that among our closest friends, many of them have adult children living at home. They have all left to find their way and then returned home for one reason or another.

I ask myself what the dynamic of our family will be now that we are 3 adults once again. It’s not the same as a brief visit, where a non-conforming living style can simply be overlooked. We are going to have to negotiate the rules of our house in a way that preserves what is important to us and yet allows each of us autonomy.

In the financial arena, I think paying a small monthly rent to contribute to house upkeep and food and gas is reasonable. This implies that our son will need to get some sort of job so that he has an income on which to draw. The nature of the job isn’t that important at this point. He simply needs an income.

I’m sure he is coming home as a place of last resort. He will not be happy to be here. He is probably angry and frustrated and bitter over the fact that things just didn’t turn out as he had planned.

I still have every bit of confidence that he can be a great lawyer. It just may not be in San Francisco. But right now his immediate job is going to be getting integrated back into this household that he ostensibly left a long time ago. It will require a certain amount of patience and understanding on all of our parts.

Two's Company

Jake has become a clingy dog since our older dog Dylan was put to sleep a couple of weeks ago. He doesn’t like to let us (particularly me) out of his sight. He barks when we leave the house. He doesn’t like to sleep alone.

We let him come upstairs on Friday night and spent a very restless night as he tried to settle in on our bed, on our floor, wherever he could. Every time he moved, I woke up. We were tired all day yesterday as a result.

Last night we banished him to the downstairs area of our house. But at precisely 5:45 he began to emit a very plaintiff bark of loneliness. I finally went down and opened the gate as he wagged his tail so hard I thought it might fly off.

He actually settled down fairly fast upstairs, but then there were three of us in the bed when we work up at 9:00 a.m. Feeling amorous, we said to each other, “What exactly do we do with the dog?”

We laughed at the fact that our stupid dachshund had slept with us every night of her life and probably never even realized what else we did in that bed besides sleep. But then my husband reminded me that she weighed all of 14 pounds, not the hulking 85-pound monster that is Jake.

The solution to this morning’s dilemma was to lure Jake back downstairs before luxuriating in each other’s company. A threesome which includes a dog just doesn’t work for either of us!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Catalog That Survived

What is it that occasionally makes me actually order something from one of those many colorful glossy-covered catalogs that come most every day in the mail?

Most of them go directly in the trash can, telling myself that I’m saving money by never opening the cover. But today there was a Gaiam catalog that advertized everything at least 50% off, so I read it cover-to-cover while I munched on salted cashews and fresh cherries – seems an appropriate snack for an all-cotton yoga-centric tree-hugging sort of company.

I actually do need a new yoga mat since mine is now about 7 years old. And I need some new shorts and a Tee or two for yoga and pilates. And, by the way, there are no more purchases of business suits, so there is money to spare for workout clothes.

I dog-eared quite a few pages, falling victim to the great savings by spending, spending, spending. It must have been that 50+% discount line that sucked me in, but Gaiam is getting my order tomorrow.

Maybe I should throw out all the other catalogs I have squirreled away, saving them for another day. I just realized that if I don’t order something right away, it never happens.

In my old job we used to call this the “kitchen table effect”, meaning that if a respondent didn’t fill out our survey questionnaire right away, it was likely not going to happen. Instead it would languish in the pile of junk mail on the kitchen table.

It is strange psychology that makes us operate this way. But someone at Gaiam obviously gamed me right today, because I’m placing an order!

Then I get to wait for the mail to come, something that has always thrilled me since my childhood days of ordering things off of cereal boxes.

How do you deal with all those catalogs that come in the mail?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Balancing the Scales

I have been immersing myself in thoughts about “justice” for the past many weeks as I prepare to chant from Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. (If you’re curious enough to go read it, it is Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9.)

It so happens that some of the very best Torah portions always fall in the summer, when only the most faithful show up for services. That’s the time at Temple Micah when the service leaders are not the rabbis, but rather just lay people from the congregation. Tomorrow my husband David and I are those lay leaders. There will be around 25 other people in attendance if this is a typical August Shabbat morning.

The first of the three sections I am chanting contains the line “justice, justice shall you pursue.” The thought of pursuing justice makes it seem like some sort of elusive quality that can never really be attained. This same section describes the establishment of a judicial system and admonishes the judges not to take bribes. Whoever wrote this (D, the Deuteronomist?) obviously understood human nature quite well.

The second section in chapter 19 describes a novel idea for those who have accidentally taken the life of another: the establishment of three cities of refuge. These would be places where the guilty person could go in safety while the friends and family of the victim cooled off. The murderer would be safe as long as he didn’t leave the confines of the city to which he had fled. This seems like such a sane way to stop the violence that all too often occurs as people take the law into their own hands.

The third section is perhaps the most controversial. It begins by requiring more than one witness to convict someone of a crime. It stipulates that the consequence for lying under oath is the very thing the person was falsely accusing another of. This is where the old “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” comes from. This is the passage that some have used to justify capital punishment. Maybe the application of this passage today would influence the recent tendency of people in high places to bend the truth.

I searched for some pearl of wisdom to offer people as they pray silently at the beginning of the service. I found these 4 quotes:

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just. Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, and physicist, 1623-1662)

Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. Dwight David Eisenhower (American 34th President, 1890-1969)

If you want peace, work for justice. Henry Louis Mencken (American humorous journalist and critic of American life) And here I thought the Justice Department had coined this one...

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice. Harrison Ford (American actor, b. 1942)

Do you have any thoughts on justice?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Being Accountable

As I went to the local farmers’ market with two other recently retired women about my age this morning, we all confessed that the words that strike fear in our hearts these days are a casual question (usually from someone who is still working): What did you do today? Or perhaps: How do you spend your time these days?

We live in a society that prides itself on accomplishment. It is still not acceptable to smile and say: NOTHING.

In truth, most days I can come up with something, but by many people’s standards, it might be insignificant. How I wanted someone to ask me the day I made the tablecloth and napkins.

My friend Kris has developed a technique which seems to satisfy most people, whereby she says she is using her first year of retirement to try lots of things before picking anything in particular to pursue. I don’t know what happens in her second year.

In my case I usually say that I’m doing lots of music and starting a volunteer position in the fall. All true and that said, I can rest assured that I am acceptably occupying my time.

But you have to wonder what’s behind this need to accomplish something. Wouldn’t it be great if instead we were looked up to because we had finally learned how to release our stress and just breathe? Somehow I don’t think that day will come in my lifetime.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Health Concerns

When I went in to see my long-time dermatologist Dr. Braun, who pioneered Mohs surgery for basal cells and operated on Ronald Reagan’s nose, I dreaded the diagnosis and surgical treatment for the lesion that suddenly appeared next to my nose last week (not the actual picture above). I was convinced it was yet another basal cell.

Because of my damaged skin, the result of frying in cocoa butter on the Florida beaches in my youth, I see two different skin specialists a total of four times a year. And in between, I often find things of concern.

This was one of those “things”, a strange spongy lesion that seemed to come from nowhere one day last week. It had that pearl-like look that basal cells often have. So I called for an appointment. The receptionist offered me his first appointment – in November. I politely said that would not do and asked to be worked in this week instead, since I have been in that office too many times to count and greatly subsidized his 3 children’s Princeton educations. So I was one of three “walk-ins” who helped fill his waiting room yesterday.

To my delight he speculated that the thing I worried about was actually an inflamed seborrheic keratosis. To be sure he removed it and sent it to pathology for confirmation. If he is correct, the surface excision and a small Band-aid will be the end of this one, instead of the Mohs surgery which would have resulted in an inch-long incision with stitches.

Today’s medical inquisition took me to an oral surgeon. Three weeks ago as I was savoring a particularly acidic tomato from the local farmer’s market, I felt a sharp pain in my right jaw. It is greatly improved but still noticeable when I eat acidic food of any kind. My doctor Deborah said it was probably nothing to worry about. But the endodontist who did my recent root canal and my dentist both seemed anxious that I see an oral surgeon about it. Undoubtedly they were concerned about a stone or a mass that might be causing the pain.

So today I saw Dr. Emery, who didn’t really come up with a good explanation for the pain and instead decided I must have xerostomia (dry mouth) because neither of my parotid glands is pumping out a lot of saliva. He said it is common in people in their fifth and sixth decades – yikes, I’m almost in my seventh decade when put that way. (My friend Reya speculates that this could be caused by the radioactive iodine treatment I had a couple of years ago.) So what do you do for "dry mouth"? Hydration, plain and simple. Maybe that’s why I am always carrying a water bottle these days.

In any event, I have now addressed everyone’s concerns (including my own) about my current state of health. I will see Dr. Peck (the melanoma specialist) next week for a routine visit and then I can rest easy for another couple of months.

This getting old is quite a bitch sometimes!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Passion I Never Knew I Had

Last night at dinner I found myself in a very unexpected and uncomfortable argument over the state of Israel and its role in the current Jewish world. This was not a discussion with my neighbor Joe who continues to deny the existence of the Holocaust, but instead it was with someone who was born a Jew and who has been a member of Temple Micah for longer than I have.

The conversation started when she commented that she thinks it inappropriate the we have the flag of Israel on the bimah at Temple Micah. Please tell me where there is a Jewish congregation that does not display the Israeli flag. Israel is after all the homeland of the Jewish people and has been for millennia.

She said she is thinking of dropping her membership at Temple Micah, primarily because of philosophical differences about the Israel with our rabbi Danny, who is the most ardent Zionist you could ever find. He absolutely loves the State of Israel and takes every opportunity to visit. He urges people to buy Israeli products and thereby support the Israeli economy. His eyes fill with tears every time he relates the story of how the modern pioneers of Israel made the dessert bloom and have defended the country with their lives and the lives of their children.

She surmised that because it was a religious state, non-Jews must be poorly treated. I asked her if she had ever traveled to Israel and recounted the fact that I had met Christians, Arabs, and Druse who would defend Israel, even by joining its army, rather than leave the country that provides them excellent health care, a good transportation system, culture, and many other things that they would probably not find just 50 miles outside the Israeli borders in any direction. She had never visited and seemed to have no interest in seeing firsthand.

Alright, I said. Danny is over the top with his zeal and enthusiasm, but what about the rest of the congregation? If ever there was a place where divergent opinions could flourish, it is Temple Micah. Our second rabbi, although she does love Israel, is much more focused on Jewish life in this country. We have members that cover the spectrum of beliefs and practices and no one is ever made to feel unwelcome because of her beliefs.

This went on and on and I could see none of my arguments were making any difference to her. She simply has it in her head that she is leaving this place that has provided classes, services, and most importantly a group of friends to do things with when she was lonely.

I’ve never found myself, a convert of 30 years, getting so worked up over a religion I was not even born into. Our other dinner partner, a less observant Jew, watched this argument unfold like watching a tennis ball get lobbed back and forth over the net. She did caution the unhappy woman to look at her alternatives before simply leaving this community that has provided such a richness to her life for so long.

At this point I don’t have dog in this fight. But it was a lesson to me that I care more about Israel than I would ever have imagined. Having been there four times and met countless delightful Israelis, I know firsthand the sacrifices these people have made to be able to have a State of Israel. I in no way agree with all the politics of Israel, but I cannot deny my support for this tiny country that sits on the edge of the sea with its enemies constantly licking their chops on every border.

I came home thinking that it was a good thing she had this conversation with me and not with my husband, who tends to be almost as Zionistic as our rabbi Danny. It would not have been good for either of their blood pressures!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Remembering to Care

It’s so easy when you live with someone for a long time to forget to do anything special for that person. You fall into the habit of talking about the things that are most on your mind, which can be as mundane as your current set of aches and pains, the state of your ailing elderly parent or dog, or your children’s current crises, or things that need to be done around the house.

The problem here is that it is no longer necessary to woo the other person by the little kindnesses or gestures that say “I am thinking of you more than I am thinking of myself.” You know the kind of thing you do when you first meet someone special. It’s simply hard to keep “specialness” alive for a long time.

I suggested to my husband a couple of days ago that we try for one week to think of something every day that would recognize the other person in some way or make that person’s life just a little easier. For me it could be as simple as reading my Blog and leaving a comment (which has happened less and less lately). Yesterday I made my husband a nice surprise lunch and took out the trash (normally his job). We’re not talking about gifts that cost anything here, but gifts of time, which we often hold more dear than money. After all, we live in a society that tries to buy its way out of most responsibilities.

To my husband’s credit, he bought into this one-week trial, but indicated this morning that it was OK if I couldn’t think of anything to do for him today. Probably an indication that he’s already a little tired of playing this game.

I’m wondering what will happen after a week. Will we lapse back into the old mode of not really looking at the world through the other person’s eyes? Or will there be a reminder to be nicer than necessary sometimes?

Has anyone else experienced this problem with familiarity?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Sad Truth

There are real-life stories that top anything on the soaps. The dysfunctional family I recently wrote about has hit a new low.

The matriarch of this family died just 3 weeks ago today, leaving behind a beautiful older home in a wealthy part of the city and 4 adult children all 50+ years old, with the only girl being the youngest child. The oldest and youngest are the named executors of the estate.

The girl had given up her life in another big city to come live with her mother in the final months of her life, a great sacrifice in anyone’s book. She performed her role as caretaker with dedication up to the very end.

The boys in the family all show the signs of troubled childhoods, which included both verbal and physical abuse. They seem to be fixated on getting their inheritance, as if that will significantly change their lives. Each of them struggles with either unemployment or a business at risk. They have made it clear that they wanted their sister out of the mother’s home the minute the mother took her last breath.

Knowing full well what she is dealing with, the girl has taken their verbal abuse and tried to put this broken family back together over and over to no avail. Her body is significantly stressed by these attempts.

Yesterday marked a breaking point that defies belief. She and the oldest son were in the basement of the mother’s home when an argument ensued. He punched her in the face, breaking her glasses and cutting her nose. He then sat on her body to pin her down to the floor. She finally escaped his hold and ran upstairs to call 911. She was then taken to the hospital so her nose could be stitched up.

She told me that she had been mugged before and was always able to fight back. But being attacked by her older brother made her totally unable to defend herself.

The brother was taken into custody and released on bail with a 72-hour restraining order from entering his mother’s home.

My first reaction upon hearing this was “change the locks on the house and don’t let him in without supervision.” The girl is in a tricky position. The house is not hers or his, but instead it belongs to the estate. So she can’t legally change the locks.

This man is obviously a troubled soul who needs to be under psychiatric care. But meanwhile he poses a threat to his sister’s safety.

She is trying to get the restraining order extended to 2 weeks, which would allow her time to pack up and leave. But what if this isn’t possible and she is left to fear his return at any time during the day or night?

I had a long talk with this girl, who is really a woman, this week. She is grieving for her mother, but more than that she is grieving for her family that continues to disintegrate. The things will somehow be distributed, as will the money upon the sale of the house, but the family will probably never survive the passing of its matriarch. This is where I hope the dead don’t have a vision of what they left behind because this is a picture that no mother would want to see.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Were They Soul Mates?

Dylan and Taffy, a dog and a cat who never met each other, had such a similar last few months. They were both loved and are now gone, but Taffy’s passing today deserves a mention.

Around the same time we were getting Dylan those many years ago, Deborah’s family was choosing a cat. It was Taffy, who undoubtedly was an adorable little gray kitten. I can’t say that Taffy was the sweetest of cats, but she loved her owners and they reciprocated.

Deborah and her entire family commiserated with me when Dylan ran away this past spring and rejoiced when he was found 36 hours later. Just 10 days after the escape as I was over at Deborah’s house to play music, we were sitting out on her screened-in back porch with the door cracked to provide a breeze. A visitor came in with a small dog that apparently scared Taffy enough that she bolted through the cracked door and simply vanished without a trace. They put out flyers and searched the neighborhood. Someone described a dead cat on 14th Street that sounded like Taffy, but Deborah couldn’t bring herself to tell her daughters. Then 3 weeks later just as they were ready to give away all the cat gear, a neighbor three houses down inquired as to whether anyone was missing a cat. Taffy was returned after being given up for dead. She was emaciated but still alive and glad to be home.

Taffy has not thrived since her foray into the outside world, but recently she has looked very frail and tired. Today when I went over to their house for lunch, only the movement of her ribcage indicated that Taffy was alive. Deborah said she hadn’t eaten for 24 hours.

After lunch we played some really beautiful music, beautiful enough to have played the cat right out of this world. So just 10 days after Dylan’s death, Taffy was also gone.

There was some debate about what to do with her remains. After a family discussion, they took her small body over to the vet’s for cremation. Then they drank a toast to Taffy as they called the daughter in Portland.

When our dog Schnizzy died and my daughter was 5, she kept asking me where the dog went. Was she in a trash dumpster? Was she buried under the street? Just where was she? I never knew quite what to say, feeling as unattached to the dead body of an animal as I do to a dead human body.

Part of me hopes there is an afterlife for pets, that Dylan and now Taffy are in a better place. I hope they meet each other and can become as good friends as Deborah and I are. In any case, Dylan and Taffy will always live on in our hearts.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Where Did They Come From?

I’m still trying to figure out how we ended up with an overflow crowd at meditation last night. I can’t even remember the last time seven people showed up, but I do remember bass-player Bill one time commenting that it felt good to have seven in that space.

August is a slow month in general in DC. People go on vacation. People don’t like to move once they get home. We had actually talked about cancelling meditation for the month of August, fearing there might be nights where only one person would show up to sit.

When I arrived last night, there was a petite young woman named Chris sitting on the steps of Healing Arts. “Are you still having meditation?” she asked me. I assured her that we were as I welcomed her inside to escape the 95+ degree heat outside. She said her partner would be joining her after he made his way from Union Station. Well, we were up to 3.

Then an old-faithful Sharon arrived with Ellie, who hadn’t come to meditation for almost 2 years since the birth of her son. I can remember thinking she was going into labor one night when she was close to her delivery date. That would make 5.

Mary, who always arrives just in the nick of time, did so once again, bringing in with her Karen, who apparently had helped found the group almost 10 years ago. That would make 7.

We then figured out how to divide up the 6 cushions among 7 people, leaving one person using a meditation bench without a cushion.

As we checked in before the sit, I simply expressed my disbelief that 7 people had shown up on the hottest day of the year in a city where everyone was on vacation. It was warm but not hot in the meditation space, as the candle burned and the overhead fan moved the air. It was surprisingly quiet outside, probably because children and dogs were too hot to move.

As I reviewed the order of the evening, I noticed that no one winced at the idea of sitting for 35 minutes. This was a seasoned group of meditators. I invited the bell three times and we started our sit.

We drank in that quiet and stillness, searching for our breath and basking in the presence of so many. The time seemed to fly by, but not before I had my ususal visit with my parents, who now seem to have met Florence. Wednesday nights have become my time for looking across to the other world.

The reading from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever You Go There You Are” was “What is my Job on the Planet with a Capital J?” It was a good reading for everyone, but especially for one of the 7 who is currently between jobs and wondering what the future holds.

Promptly at 8:30 I invited the bell once again and we ended our peaceful time together. I always wonder as people leave if I will see their faces again the next week. It’s highly unlikely that we will have 7 people in the near future, but it was a good reminder that anything can happen, even on the hottest day of the year in a city that is on vacation.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cushions and More

I had forgotten how much work it is to tackle a big sewing project. I should have realized when I bought 10 yards of fabric and four 50" zippers and 32 yards of cording for piping that it was not a quick one.

The first big challenge in upholstering anything is to measure and calculate to make sure the fabric adequately covers the foam cushions but isn’t so loose that it’s baggy. I looked around for some evidence of a pattern from when I had done this job 7 years ago, but no such luck. The first evening was spent just in cutting out all the pieces for the 4 cushion covers.

I decided to make one start to finish to make sure there were no surprises. It took 4 hours with a couple of seams to rip out. But the biggest time sink was in covering the cord to set into the seams.

I calculated around 2500 hand stitches (all 4 cushions) to get it ready for assembly.

After I finished the first one and assured that it fit OK, I decided to approach the next 3 in “assembly line” style – that is, do the same step to each cushion cover. So I started with the prepared cording and 3 piles of fabric pieces ready for assembly.

Projects like this always seems to be easier the second, third, or even fourth time you make whatever it is. It was equally true in this case. But it reaffirmed my decision never to work on an assembly line. I was totally bored after doing the same thing even 3 times.

As the first big spool of blue thread ran out, I was glad I had opted for a second spool.

After I stuffed all the cushions into their new covers and threw the old ones into the trash, I realized I still had quite a bit of fabric left. This is when this sewing project got a little more interesting.

I decided to make a table cloth and napkins. My idea was to take flowers from the print fabric and somehow put them on the red napkins. After consulting with my friend Kris (who was in Santa Fe at the time and probably thought I was crazy), I asked the people at G Street Fabrics for their recommendation on how to do this sort of applique work without making it into a gigantic effort. They recommended double-sided fabric adhesive and smoke-colored invisible thread for zig-zagging around the edges.

There was even enough fabric left for 4 blue napkins as well.

As much as I was bemoaning making 32 yards of cording, I’m somewhat sorry this project is over. I’m gratified to look at bright cushions once again, this time with a matching table cloth and napkins. Jake has already inaugurated the new cushions as he does his daily look-out on the window seat. I hope they last another 7 years! I saved the pattern this time...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reach Out and Plug In

I love the way Blogging provides topics of conversation. As I sat drinking iced coffee with my friend Lydia today in the Arlington Murky Coffee after hiking around Roosevelt Island in the stinking heat, I threw out Aileen’s comment about the disappearance of manners and an interesting conversation followed.

Here is my comment on Aileen’s post:

The bottom line is we live in a society of selfish people. Selfish people breed selfish little people. They all think the world evolves about them and they can do as they damn well please (with no thank you.) Children learn from the example of their parents. If they see the parents abusing cell phone use in public, how can we expect anything else from the next generation? I'm happy to say that I think my kids would pass a politeness test, with perhaps a few points deducted from my daughter's score for cell phone usage. But much of our society would fail miserably and not even wince at getting a bad grade. It's sad that good manners have become as passe as rotary dial phones. We gave up a lot when we entered into the new millennium! So how do we get it back? Is it lost forever?

Lydia saw an interesting extension of this, noting that even though we are more connected electronically with music and with friends, it’s a virtual connection. We have traded tangibility for immediacy. This translates into the fact that a person now walks down the street with a Bluetooth earbud and an Ipod and a cell phone to completely mesmerize her to the point of never noticing the beautiful flower or the beautiful building or the beautiful person she passes. She suggested a movie called something like “You and Me and Someone Else”, which addresses this topic. Does anyone know this movie – the exact title?

This type of behavior creates a totally virtual world in which it is seldom necessary to have face-to-face interaction with anyone. We can have Internet friends and Internet tunes and Internet games and Internet shopping and virtually any number of other connections we could possibly want without having to go anywhere at all. It also means there is no necessity to dress up or brush your teeth or extend your hand in greeting.

What a very different world children today live in from the one in which I grew up. We played outside all day with friends, coming home only for dinner some days. We rode our bikes to the park. The only electronic staple in our lives was the television set, where we often took an afternoon break to watch LoonyTunes. In the South, we said “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” and never addressed adults by their first names. Manners were not optional.

Did the presence of manners and the absence of electronics make us better people? Probably not, but ours was a different world back then before life became virtual.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Revisiting My Past Life

Three months into retirement I must say I have not spent even one moment wishing I was back at work. As much as I liked designing systems and programming and I was good at both, there is simply no regret over leaving them behind.

So what has been happening at my former place of employment? More and more people are getting out as the baby boomer bulge moves into retirement. This would include one of the two B’s who left on July 3. They have announced a date in September for demolishing the 60-year-old former office building. Although employees are going to be allowed to watch from the new garage (the one that almost fell down with the snow), I wouldn’t be caught dead within a 10-mile radius of that building because of all the asbestos trapped in that hulk. When it goes, all those fibers are going to be released into the air to add yet another set of problems to drug-ridden downtown Suitland. The locals will now have a choice between being shot to death in broad daylight and breathing deep to ingest asbestos fibers and die a much slower death. Probably not actually that bad, but I’m not taking any chances.

And finally my old job is being filled. I got an e-mail last week from a former colleague asking me to review his application and to be a reference for him. Although he is a little light on the systems experience, he is undoubtedly the best choice for the job so I have no problem recommending him. However, I warned him that the selecting official (my infamous old boss) might not want to even see my name in print, let alone call me up. It will be interesting to see if she calls me and if so what she has to say. I can assure you that my days are much more fun than hers right now.

Perhaps it was that interaction that made me dream of being back at work last night. I was counting down the days to a February 3 retirement date. I was in a panic because so much remained to be done. But then I woke up in a cold sweat and realized that I no longer had to count down to anything.

I got a friendly e-mail today from Corinn at The Reading Connection welcoming me into the program of volunteers who read to children in homeless shelters. I will go for training in September and then start reading, with the option of doing craft projects with the children as well. That actually sounds infinitely more rewarding to me than going to work, even though this is an unpaid position. There comes a point in everyone’s life when money is no longer the primary motivator.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

More Trouble on the Road

When the phone rang at 8 AM this morning while I was exercising, I knew someone was probably in trouble. This morning’s call from my daughter was to tell me she was beginning to feel better, but that the bottle of Cipro had been ruined because of a freak storm that left inches of water in their tent. Unfortunately she had not secured the bottle top after her bedtime dose. Only one pill survived intact and that was just enough for the morning.

She was terrified during the night when the storm came up suddenly as they camped amid the South Dakota corn fields, bringing with it a free sound and light show. She could clearly see the lightning through the tent. Her worries alternated between the tent being totally blown off of them and their being struck by lightning. At one point she absolutely had to go outside in the storm to find a bathroom (or whatever one uses at a campsite).

This morning I started to appreciate the power of cell phones and the Internet. Within minutes I had Googled “pharmacy Sioux Falls” to find a drug store reasonably close to the campsite where my daughter and her friend had spent the night. Then I called Deborah to plead for yet another round of her doctorly help. She very willingly called in a prescription for 7 more Cipro pills to the Sioux Falls Walgreens. I called my daughter on her cell phone, which fortunately had not been damaged by the flood, to let her know where to go pick up the prescription.

It’s probably a good thing the tent is the smallest size Target sells, so not a lot of damage was done to anything other than the Cipro bottle. By now, she has her new supply of meds and I’m sure the damp things have begun to dry out.

The flowers I took Deborah yesterday can never begin to thank her for bailing us out not once but twice. She jokingly said, “It’s the least I could do for making you sit through that awful movie last night” (Kontroll – which was pretty bad).

So life is good once again in South Dakota where my daughter is on the mend and has enough pills to make sure she will be just fine in a few days.

I’m somewhat reluctant to pick up the phone if it rings tomorrow. Maybe I will just let my husband be on phone duty since he is coming back from Detroit today. I never got around to my sit-ups today, but I made up for it with mental exercise. Now I need a nap!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sick on the Road

When I picked up the phone and heard my daughter’s sobbing voice, I knew something was very wrong. She and a friend are driving cross-country en route to San Francisco, currently in beautiful rural Wisconsin. We are about to find out how the uninsured deal with healthcare costs.

She came home last Friday to get ready for the big trip. She mentioned on Sunday that her back was hurting, but she is in great shape and we all just assumed it was muscle fatigue from sitting in the car for 11 hours on Friday. Of course I worried it was from lifting Dylan into the bathtub, into the car for his final trip to the vet’s.

It was still bothering her as they took off on Wednesday. They reached Chicago, where they had a long visit with 98-year-old Aunt Zelda. She confided in me that the back problem had not gone away but they headed on to a camp site in Wisconsin last night.

When she called this morning, she was obviously scared and worried. She said she had shaken uncontrollably for at least a half hour last night as they slept in their $30 tent from Target. She was worried about the cost of going to a doctor.

I assured her that money was not an issue, that we would pay whatever it cost. I told her to ask the locals to recommend a hospital where she could just go to the emergency room.

Then I called my friend and doctor Deborah. I could just see her mind working on a long-distance diagnosis:

Lower back pain?
Uncontrollable shaking?

She probably has a urinary tract infection. She should make sure they check her urine in the ER. It will not be difficult to treat.

I relayed the information to my daughter as she was sitting in the ER waiting room. She said that she had been experiencing pain when urinating and seemed greatly relieved to connect that to her back pain.

Hopefully she will be back on the road with an Rx to fix her problem as they head west toward the Bad Lands for more camping and hiking.

As a parent you never forget how to worry. I’m so grateful for a friend on call who could ease all of our worries just a little today. Of course I will be happy when the problem is completely under control, but I think she’s going to be alright.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Modern-day Virgin Birth -- Part Deux

Some unanswered comments and a further conversation with someone whose opinion I value have given me reason to keep thinking about this topic.

Aileen said: Thinking of my mom and dad exploring toys and different positions is as disgusting to me as the idea of incest.

AvocadoinParadise said: I'm assuming that frank & interesting conversations about sex will happen with the parents once I'm married.

Richard said: Sex between unmarried people or adultery always had that ewww! factor for me.

Friend said: The reason children in this country don’t talk about sex with their parents is because just having the conversation seems akin to incest. She suggested that it is totally different in many other cultures. Friend also suggested my boundaries around the discussion of sex might be a little shaky.

First, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I was never advocating multi-generational discussion of the details of what goes on in anyone’s bedroom or backseat or wherever – but rather just the open acceptance that sex can and should be a healthy source of pleasure, enjoyment, and satisfaction, whether it involves one person or two consenting people who are responsible. If it is indeed that, I question why a casual reference would be off-limits in a discussion between parents and their child. It will be interesting to see if Avocado’s statement is true for our family.

Notice that I said “two consenting people” not “two married people” (sorry Richard). Long ago I realized how unrealistic that was for me and for many others who waited a while to get married or never married at all. I do remember quite well that my mother refused to let my good friends who had been living together for two years sleep together in our house just because they weren’t married. I wonder what she would have said had I brought home a lesbian couple. I never asked for myself, preferring discretion instead.

Second, I’m not one of those people who has to be an expert at most things, including sex. I have never explored the hardback copy of “The Joy of Sex” or any other books on sex that sit on our bookshelf, preferring instead to let my body and that of my partner be my only instruction. For the same reason, I have never enjoyed watching porn (either live in Thailand) or on film. It just seems to destroy the beauty of this act that we have been given as a gift.

I’m starting to get the cultural education that will keep me from going down this path again with friends or family. But a part of me is wondering what it would be like to live in one of those cultures where sex is not so taboo.