Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hey, What Happened to the Good News?

I just spent the last hour out on the deck in Jake’s company on one of the nicest days in a long time. The humidity is non-existent. The mosquitoes have vanished. The sun is warm, but not hot. And there is a slight breeze. If only the news were as good as the weather.

Maybe it was just the way the newspaper sections were stacked, but I found one depressing story after the next. The Post debuted its 4-part series “Left of Boom”, talking today about the proliferation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are largely responsible for the damage done to our troops and to those who are attempting to live peaceably in these countries. They are made from junk for a pittance and often lurk in the trunks of cars and on the roadside just waiting to unleash their devastation.

Then I moved on to the Post Magazine’s story on Tom Murphy, the king of chess on Dupont Circle. I was particularly interested because someone who sometimes lives here is passionate about chess and has a rating similar to Murphy’s. This story revealed a man of incredible potential, who has watched his life spiral downward away from relationships and a career because of his obsession with gambling. He’s tauted as a gifted teacher, especially of young people. He’s constantly making money, hustling anybody who will play him with “Chess PLAY-ers wanted!” But as fast as he makes it, he gambles it away, being virtually homeless at this point.

The Outlook section usually has interesting pieces. I immediately gravitated to one written by a Kimberly Dozier, a CBS News correspondent based in the Middle East. It chronicled the mayhem caused by a bomb on a remote Baghdad street, which killed several of the people she was traveling with and gravely injured her. It told how she had almost had her right leg amputated, how she suffered from a common but deadly infection in these war zones, and how she dealt with out-of-control bone growth at the site of one of her many fractures. I looked at the picture of her as a healthy young woman standing with two of the guys who had been killed and asked WHY?

These three stories dampened my enthusiasm to read any further in the Post and the NY Times. I’m sure there are good uplifting stories somewhere in these two newspapers today. But these three didn’t leave me with the curiosity to seek them out.

Fifteen years ago, many people wouldn’t have had the slightest idea where Iraq was. But in that span of time, our news and our politics and our lives have become integrally connected to this relatively small Middle Eastern country. I would just love to revert to the days when war did not dominate the news every single day. I’m sure that getting a new President, a change of party, a breath of fresh air will do little to change the hard, cruel fact that stories of war are going to be with us for a long time into the future. No one (who knows anything) even talks about winning any longer. It’s really more a question of survival. Long ago it was determined that there would be no winners.

So on that bleak note, I get ready to go to the first meeting of our group which is being formed to enact “Random Acts of Kindness”. Maybe in some small way we can remind a few people that good things can still happen. We won’t make the news, but hopefully our impact will be felt.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Oops... again

This seems to be a season of social blunders. Wasn’t it just 2 weeks ago that we totally missed an important dinner? Well, today we showed up for a bat mitzvah, actually on time for a change, but 3 weeks early.

When the invitation came in quite a while ago, I remember saying, “It’s a good thing the party is a luncheon since we are having 40 people to our house to dinner that night for the Side-by-Side auction dinner.” I bought a nice card and wrote a check to enclose. I even pulled the invitation out of the drawer to check the time of services, never again looking at the date.

This bat mitzvah is for the daughter of one of our neighbors who at 46 found she was pregnant for the first time. She is a very special child who has brought great joy into her parents lives. We definitely wanted to be there.

The service is going to be at our old synagogue in Virginia. As we drove there today, I remarked that I felt the same degree of disinterest that I always had when I attended services there. When we were there, any attempts at creating a volunteer choir failed miserably. No one cared whether we showed up or not.

As we drove into the parking lot today, it was virtually empty. That’s when we started to wonder if we had the date wrong. Even at Temple Micah, there are a core of faithfuls who show up every week whether or not there is a bar mitzvah. But not so apparently here.

Instead of kicking myself too hard, I looked at an extra 6 hours on a day when 40 people are coming to dinner as an unexpected gift. My husband said, “I’m taking this as a sign from above that it’s finally time to by the iPhone.” I knew it was inevitable.

No one ever needs to know. However if she looks closely the bat mitzvah girl might wonder why the check was dated three weeks early...

Friday, September 28, 2007

And the Days Grow Shorter

It’s the squirrels who are announcing the coming of Fall. Their behavior has a definite change right about now.

I have to watch my head as I walk under the hickory and oak trees in my front yard. They are up there harvesting nuts and acorns, probably stashing them away for winter. It’s duck and cover as you walk underneath and they toss down the parts they don’t want.

They race in pairs up and down the trees. It must be some sort of mating game, but they seem very serious about it as they go nose-to-tail up and down and sideways on the branches.

Squirrels have never been good at crossing streets. But somehow the onset of Fall emboldens them and they dart out never looking both ways. As the car approaches they must decide whether to continue or retreat, sometimes being frozen in the middle of the street for that instant of indecision.

I’ve never considered these wild things with their bushy tails to be the pests that many find them to be. Perhaps that’s because I haven’t had a real vegetable garden for many years. I’m sure they are probably the reason my 5 little tomato plants this year never produced a single tomato.

I’m glad the squirrels are the harbingers of Fall. Fall ranks right up there with Spring as my favorite season.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Was I Wrong?

I’ve always thought of myself as a morning person, often getting up at 5:15 when I was working. But today I proved that I can sleep even later than my husband, rolling out of bed at 9:30.

It only made sense because I had been up until 1:00 am last night writing TY notes to my High Holy Day chair persons, doing a little Blogging, just puttering. I got up at 7:00 to let the dog out, but easily went back to bed and slept for another couple of hours.

I felt somewhat guilty that I had missed the farmers’ market with my friend Kris. I felt even more guilty when I learned that she had driven family to the airport for a 7:00 am flight and gone to the market all before I got up.

Here it is 8:20 and we haven’t even eaten dinner yet, the day being skewed by about 2 hours. I’m not sure I like this late-night schedule, but it does allow me to see more of my husband. “No particular place to go” does mean that it really doesn’t matter when I go to bed, when I get up, if I take a nap, or whether I accomplish anything at all. It’s a nice feeling not to have to be accountable to anyone.

But I still think my best hours are in the early morning. Maybe I will drift back in that direction... some day soon.

Getting Oriented

I would have thought that reading countless books to my two children as they grew up would be all the training I would need to read aloud to children in homeless shelters. As I attended the orientation training for my newest volunteer activity, I began to realize this was not going to be quite the same.

I walked into a room of 17 other volunteers, fully expecting to find mostly people like myself who were retired and had the time necessary to devote to volunteer activities. But instead these were mostly people 20 years younger than I was who were still very active in a variety of careers. The one thing we all had in common was a love of reading that was obvious as we went around the table and named our favorite children’s book. I mentioned the Roald Dahl books, remembering quite well the year we read them all.

The coordinator opened the session by stating that the one factor that seems to most influence a child’s success in school is exposure to books and specifically to reading aloud. Whereas many children enter kindergarten having spent 1700 hours being read to by their parents, many lower-income families have spent an average of only 25 hours reading to their pre-school children.

The Reading Connection has been in existence for 15 years and now serves 14 sites in Northern Virginia and DC. Four nights a week volunteers at each of these sites spend an hour reading to the children and doing some sort of project with them all centered around the theme for the month. This month’s theme, for example, is “monsters” and you can guess that the Maurice Sendak book “Where the Wild Things Are” is a favorite. An individual volunteer has only one shift per month. But the book selection and “activity” is coordinated by the team to which that person is assigned. I had never envisioned reading to children involving so much organization and bureaucracy.

In addition to hearing books read aloud, each child receives a bag (made by a volunteer) containing books and a box of art supplies. Children are still eligible to receive free books after they move out of the homeless shelter.

As we talked about the importance of planning and doing a test-read ahead of time, I found myself thinking about the reality of what I might find the first time I was sent to read aloud. Would I have to spend more time dealing with behavior issues than in reading my chosen books? What if the children didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand the words I was speaking? What if the age range was so great that no book would be appropriate for everyone? What if I wasn’t sensitive enough to the circumstances that had landed my young audience in this situation? What if reading to my own children hadn’t prepared me for this task after all?

Then I remembered taking Santiago and his brother Jerry to the library in Oxon Hill. I remembered reading to them and realized although they weren’t homeless, they were very much in need of hearing English read to them and I had done just fine.

The next issue will be which site I get assigned to. They are desperate for volunteers for the 3 DC sites, which are all in Anacostia. I’m not crazy about driving alone to that area of the city at night, but I know those children need to be read to.

But before I can be assigned anywhere, the staff must call my references! That’s right, there’s a background check for this volunteer job to read to children. Yikes! I hope my friends say good things about me.

I have a feeling this is going to be a job I come to love. Reading has the potential to open doors to these children who have already experienced the harsh realities of life at a young age. I want to make a difference for them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beyond Repair

The (mostly) dark green Dodge minivan is no longer part of our (mostly) aged fleet of cars. It is in the process of being donated to Cars4kids, which we hope is not a scam.

This is the car that spent the last 4 years in Arizona and California and just recently brought my son and all his worldly belongings (of which there were plenty) across the country in just 3 days. It sort of reminds me of Charlotte’s web, where the spider gives up her life so her young can prosper. That trip across the country simply did the old car in.

After our son pulled into the driveway, he mentioned that the brakes needed some attention. Well, it turns out that the brakes on the right side of the car were metal on metal, rather nonexistent. I can’t even imagine how he made it home. Someone commented that the way he must have done the 3,000-mile report in 3 days was by never stopping.

In addition, the gas tank cover was broken off, the doors didn't close well any longer. It was just a worn-out car.

I had planned to do any necessary minor repairs and then just give the car to a needy family. But $800 worth of brake work on an 11-year-old car was not in the budget.

We bought that car at a time when we were still driving swimming and school and religious school carpools. It was a great car for vacations with our children because there was a space between the two seats in the middle. There was no reason for “he’s on my side” complaints.

Both children had minor mishaps in parking garages and elsewhere that left the green van with many a dent and scrape. At one point I bought a can of dark green Rust-o-leum and instructed them to spray the dents before they rusted.

At one point in Arizona the driver side window shattered leaving hundreds of small pieces of glass, which can still be found in interior cracks and crevices.

The amazing thing is that this car was parked on the streets of San Francisco for 8 months loaded with everything my son owned, including a television and a million other things. It was never once vandalized. Maybe that is due to the tinted rear windows.

So with a little sadness, I say goodbye to the old green van – ZMM9441 – now stripped of its license plates as it sits outside Skyline Auto Repair waiting to be towed. I hope someone can make the necessary repairs to keep it on the road for just a little while longer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Treasure Hunt

What is it about coins that makes men throw them into dishes, jars, cars, floors instead of just spending them? The men in my family seem to have a coin allergy.

My husband solved his coin problem by not dealing in cash any longer. It’s amazing how easy that has become. It used to be that many stores had a lower limit under which they wouldn’t allow a credit card purchase, but even in Starbucks your latte can go on your American Express card.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon searching for coins in every crevice and on every surface of the 1996 Dodge Caravan that recently returned from 4 years in the west. It was literally a gold mine of hidden treasure.

Today I tackled a bedroom, a basement, and pockets in long-forgotten clothes of someone who is currently studying abroad. There were lots and lots of coins everywhere and even a few bills.

I refuse to use the machine at Safeway that sorts your coins and keeps a percentage. Instead I invested in a bag of old-fashioned coin wrappers.

So what did I make on my treasure hunt? $90, with the greatest number of those coins being pennies. That’s more money than I have earned in several months!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Q&A and Just Chillin'

I now have an answer to Richard’s question of 10 days ago, but better yet I have time to do NOTHING if I so choose once again.

After my repair job on the blue velvet Torah band, Richard raised an interesting question in his comment, which I promised to ask during our “Ask the Rabbi” session yesterday. But when I heard the caliber of the other questions, I chickened out and decided to ask via e-mail instead. So here is the message I sent Toby, our assistant rabbi at Temple Micah, telling her my reluctance to ask my question during the public session:

How can we have fancy silver clasps on the Torah band that I repaired and a breastplate and elaborate Torah finials in light of the commandment not to make any graven image? Is it because we are not worshiping those things?

And she said:

First, thank you for all of your tireless work over the past few months. The High Holy Day experience was fantastic. The whole congregation is grateful to you.

Second, you should never be embarrassed to ask a question.

Here is my first crack at an answer.

The breastplates etc. are reminiscent of many elements that surrounded the ark and the Temple service. The priests wore elaborate garments with detailed breastplates, you may recall the long list of semi-precious stones and colorful yarns that were used in the ark and its surroundings. This, in some way, has to do with the culture of the times. You remember that people had trouble believing in or trusting in Moses, even though he was the clear leader. The priests had to look like a Vegas floor show to command confidence and attention (think of the Egyptian pharoahs whom the people followed previously). Some of this is bringing the Temple service into the diaspora.

There is also an idea in Judaism of beautifying a mitzvah. Look at all of the Jewish objects around your home. You could put eggs and charoset on a paper plate or sit in a plywood hut with a thatched roof but most of us prefer glass or ceramic seder plates and make paper chains for our sukkahs. We want not simply to do the mitzvah but to make it as lovely as possible, showing our care and respect and enhancing our joy at the performance of the deed.

Hope this is a good start.
Have a wonderful, restful day.

I just came from a wonderful morning with my friend Deborah. After eating homemade blueberry waffles, we started learning a new piece of music: Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, one of those romantic pieces where you luxuriate in every chord. It was hard enough to force us to have several run-throughs, each time working on those sticky measures with the key change or the clef change (for her). I was touched and honored that Deborah and her husband had delayed a sudden trip to Chicago this afternoon for a funeral just so we could play together this morning. Hopefully it was as soothing and beneficial for her as it was for me.

For some reason Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go” popped into my head. It’s nice just to be chillin’.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Finding Awe

Every year during the High Holy Days, there is a moment when you sense God’s presence more than at other times. After services today, another choir member and I admitted to the same exact "God" moment, as she so aptly called it.

Before the Torah reading, it is the custom to invite two children to open the doors to the “ark”, the place where the Torahs are housed. At that time in the service, we watched as twins who are about 10 years old and their father approached. One of the girls was in a very small wheel chair, as she suffers from cerebral palsy. The other girl wore sparkly shoes with little grown-up heels. Before the steps leading to the ark, the father picked the girl up out of the wheel chair and helped her walk very slowly up to the ark to do her job, while her sister looked on and encouraged her. You could easily feel all 1200 congregants cheering her ahead. After the Torah was removed and sent on its procession through the congregation, the father picked the girl up so she could whisper something in our rabbi Danny’s ear. He smiled and so did she. By this time the tears were running down my cheeks and my friend Jan was crying too. Seeing what obstacles this young girl has in her life made me think about how very lucky we are to have two children with no disabling conditions.

I especially enjoy the Yom Kippur afternoon services, when we come back to Temple Micah’s building, where the reduced congregation once again fits. It’s sort of like going home to familiar territory. As many people are fasting, the continuous services help the time pass by. One of the most beautiful parts of the afternoon is the Yizkor service, which commemorates those who have died. Meryl sang the same song she sings every year (which includes words from the mourners' kaddish) that always brings a lump to my throat:


I know you were not a saint
because no mortal one can be.
But you were the kind of person
I have tried so hard to be.
And you said, “It does not matter
what you earn or where you live
for we all will be remembered
by the way that we would give.”
And you always were a giver.
You gave with all your heart.
But it pained you so to take
because you loved the giving part.
So I give to you these thoughts today
in sad memorium:
That my life has been much richer
because it’s you that I’ve learned from.

Yidgadal v’yitkadash
Sh’mey sh’mey rabah.
Sanctified and hallowed is
God’s kingdom over us all.
Oseh shalom bim’romav
Hu ya’seh ya’seh shalom
Aleinu v’al kol Yisrael
V’imru amen.

May God’s great name
be hallowed and acclaimed
for now and ever more.
Y’hey sh’mey rabah
M’varach l’olam
Ul’olmay olmayah.

So I give to you these thoughts today
in sad memorium:
That my life has been much richer
because it’s you that I’ve learned from.

My thoughts turned toward my parents and I felt sad they couldn’t be part of this scene, even though Judaism was not their religion.

After these moments of reflection on those that have gone before us, we ended our day of prayers with a havdalah service, which found us linking arms and swaying in a sea of bodies as we sang the songs that would mark the end of the High Holy Days 5768 and the 24-hour fast which many people observed.

My head is still pounding from caffeine deprivation, but I feel satiated with old songs and new thoughts to ponder. The Days of Awe are finished for another year.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Taking Stock

There is something powerful and ominous about Yom Kippur. It symbolically represents death and rebirth, as we end the past year by considering our sins and get to start afresh.

Tonight we heard the hauntingly beautiful Kol Nidre melody, sung by multiple people and played on a solo clarinet. I think EVERYONE heard it. The sound system worked flawlessly and has finally been blessed by the powers that be.

Tomorrow I will read the following passage during the Yom Kippur morning service:
Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day:
it is awesome and full of dread.
For on this day Your dominion is exalted,
Your throne established in steadfast love;
there in truth You reign.
In truth You are
Judge and Arbiter, Counsel and Witness.
You write and You seal, You record and recount.
You remember deeds long forgotten.
You open the book of our days,
and what is written there proclaims itself,
for it bears the signature
of every human being.

The great Shofar is sounded,
the still, small voice is heard;
the angels, gripped by fear and trembling,
declare in awe:
This is the Day of Judgment!
For even the hosts of heaven are judged,
as all who dwell on earth
stand arrayed before You.

As the shepherd seeks out his flock,
and makes the sheep pass under the staff,
so do You muster and number and consider
every soul,
setting the bounds of every creature’s life;
and decreeing its destiny.

This is indeed a time for personal reflection. I’m not proud of some of the interactions with people which I had during this past year, but as I think about them I hope I can start the new year with a clean slate.

Shana tova!

Finding a Jake-Sitter

A major consideration every time we go out of town has always been what to do with the dogs. For the last few years we have opted to have a live-in pet-sitter at the tune of $50 a day. That gets pricy for a 3-week vacation.

Now that we’re down to one 8-year-old well-behaved dog, it occurred to me there might be another way out of this dilemma. Why couldn’t we find a pet co-op arrangement where someone would keep Jake while we were away and then we would return the favor?

There is a loose association of dog-owners in our neighborhood who send e-mail messages around when a dog goes missing or there is other news of interest to dog people. I contacted the coordinator with my idea, which she floated to the members.

Within a couple of days I heard from the owners of Cassie, a border collie, and Xena, a shepherd puppy. Cassie doesn’t always play well with other dogs, so we were going to have a trial run of Jake and Cassie together. Then Xena’s owner e-mailed me to say Xena loves the company of other dogs and he was free during the period in October when we will be away. He said, “Just bring his food, and leash and any toys or blanket or bed if you want.” Seems perfect.

I assured him that we will welcome a chance to take care of Xena whenever he goes out of town.

This is definitely a win-win situation. For me, I can quit paying out all that money for pet-sitters and I can occasionally have the second dog I long for. For him, he gets the charming company of Jake, a “golden lab” who is the best of both breeds he represents!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Exploring the Globe

Have you ever thought about what the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time looked like? The current exhibit at the National Building Museum called “Reinventing the Globe” addresses the history and the future of the Globe Theatre. One of the benefits of being retired is that I can now join the Temple Micah Lunch Bunch for interesting mid-week tours like this. Our docent was a cousin of one of our members so we got the inside scoop and the free entry made it even more attractive.

Our guide highly recommended the book “Will and the World” by Stephen Greenblatt as an introduction to the life and times of the famous bard. Apparently he was highly ridiculed by his contemporaries, such as Marlowe and Spencer, because he lacked the formal education they had. His success was difficult for them to accept.

Prior to his writing, plays were generally put on by wandering bands of players that went from town to town and didn’t need much of a repertoire because they simply moved on. However, with the opening of the Globe and other permanent theaters, there was suddenly the demand for more plays to perform. This is apparently what attracted Shakespeare to London, leaving his wife behind in Stratford.

I found it utterly amazing that there is no historical evidence of what the original Globe Theatre looked like. Most artists give it a somewhat rounded or multi-sided shape. The thought today is that it had a “thrust” stage which occupied much of the lowest level of floor space. Those with wealth occupied the covered seating that wrapped around much of the stage in multiple levels. Groundlings, or those who had little money, sat on the floor around the stage. The capacity was around 3,000 people.

It was located in one of the seedier parts of London, not far from the structure where they did “bear baiting”, reminiscent of Vick’s dog fights. I picture a raucous crowd who were eating and drinking and in intimate reach of the performers, who sometimes simply blended in with the crowd.

The second segment of the exhibit featured the many attempts to reproduce the Globe Theatre in cities around the world. Our own Folger Shakespeare Library ranks right up there with the best. Washington is blessed with multiple options for great Shakespeare, including the Folger, the Shakespeare Theater, and the newest Sidney Harman Hall, which was designed by Michael Kahn. Many of these theaters attempt to reinvent the Globe, including the Ice Globe in Sweden, built and melted several years ago.

The final segment of the exhibit looked at possibilities for the Globe Theatre for the 21st Century. These included several attempts to recreate the original idea of roving troupes of players:

– Shakespeare on a floating barge that could be moved around various waterways in New York City.
– Shakespeare on a truck that featured inflatable seating for the audience.
– Shakespeare with a movable structure in components that resembled a large Erector Kit, called Globetrotters.

Although there is so very little that can be documented about the life and times of William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre, I highly recommend this exhibit that gives you a much better feel for the structures that have supported and will continue to let us enjoy the works of one of the greatest writers the world will ever know.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mac&Cheese and Jake's Got a Girlfriend

While the weather is hardly the dog days of Summer, today was a dog day. My friend Velvet brought her two dogs, Sammy and Thora, over for lunch. While we grown-ups filled up on comfort food, Jake courted Thora.

Our lunch was timed so that Velvet could meet our son before he takes off for Budapest on Friday and so we could hear about her escapades in Greece. Velvet would not be a great representative for the Greek tourist industry, making me wonder whether we have picked the right country for our next big vacation.

I decided to make macaroni and cheese for lunch, knowing that Velvet liked it and my son needed a little fattening up before being cast into a country where he doesn’t speak a word of the language. I think one serving must give you about a month of your required cholesterol, but if there was ever a good mega-calorie dish, it is mac & cheese. I’m including the recipe below because I think it is a good one.

It was a glorious day which recommended lunch on the deck. The sun was out, but not too hot. The humidity was down. The mosquitos were present but not swarming. The dogs could have their free run of the back yard.

After Jake demonstrated his ability to fetch his Kong a couple of times, we started to realize he was following Thora everywhere she went. He was thinking about humping her, but being a little more polite than that, especially when she growled. By the end of the visit, Thora was carrying around his Kong and he was still following her and then she rolled over as if to say, “I’m yours!” It was obvious that Jake, who has never shown interest in even one other dog (besides Dylan), was smitten.

A full belly, a dog in love, and a visit from one of my most favorite people. You can’t ask for much better on a Wednesday.
Mac & Cheese

* 6 tablespoons butter, divided
* 1/4 cup flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper
* 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire
* 3 cups milk
* 1 small onion, grated
* 3/4 pound shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (3 cups) (I used cheddar, gruyere, and colby)
* 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
* 3/4 cup soft bread crumbs

In saucepan over medium low heat melt 4 tablespoons butter; blend in flour and seasonings, stirring until smooth and bubbly. Gradually stir in milk; cook and stir until thick and smooth. Stir in grated onion and cheese. Place cooked drained macaroni in a buttered 3-quart casserole. Pour sauce over macaroni and gently mix to blend. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the macaroni. Bake at 375̊ for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Macaroni and cheese recipe serves 4 to 6.

(You can see the leftovers above. Sorry Jake and Thora declined to pose for a picture today but here's one from a while back. Thora is the small black dog with the red collar and of course Jake is the Golden Lab.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Newest Hero

How could I have missed out on Harry Potter all these years? I’m making up for lost time as I immerse myself in Harry’s world of fantasy.

All too often lately I’ve found guilt and anger to be my current companions. As I finished the end of Book 1 in the middle of the night last week, I realized how nice it is sometimes to escape the real world and leave behind the negative feelings that can weigh us down.

I love everything about this story. I love Harry himself, with his wild black hair and his lightning scar on his forehead. I love to hate the Dursleys, the Muggles family where Harry grew up. I love the wonderful Weasley family with their flaming red hair and their penchant for getting in trouble. I love Hermione, the lovable know-it-all who comes from a Muggles family. I love Hogwart School, with its cast of colorful characters including Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Gileroy Lockhart. I love Hagrid, the giant who looks out for Harry and his friends. I love the owls, who carry messages and packages. In particular, I love Harry’s owl Hedwig. I love the fact that people in the pictures continue to move and even leave and return.

I adore the game of Quidditch, an elaborate game using 4 balls that is played on flying broomsticks and ends only when the Golden Snitch is caught by one team’s Seeker. I so want a Nimbus 2000 broomstick to fly around on. (Maybe it’s time to cash in the hot-air balloon ride.)

I’m still only on Book 2, “The Chamber of Secrets”. At this rate I can last for quite a while, with 5 books left to go. But I will be sad when I finally read the end of Book 7 and this fantasy world has no more stories for me.

Harry Potter is my role model and hero these days. He deals so incredibly well with adversity. He is so loyal to his friends. He’s not a stuck-up goody-two-shoes, but rather a real boy who takes on the world with the idea of saving it.

Harry Potter, much better than Valium for putting things in perspective!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Breaking an Old Habit

I always thought it was in a mother’s job description to nag her children. My children would report that I have fulfilled my role in this regard quite well. However, I am currently making an effort to change this behavior and I can tell you it’s not easy.

When I look in my son’s room and see wall-to-wall stuff with no floor showing, I want so badly to say “When are you going to clean this mess up?” But I don’t say it.

When at 9:58 a.m. he says he’s meeting a girl in Arlington to play tennis at 10:00, I want to say “You need to call her to tell her you’re going to be late.” But I don’t say it.

When there is still a greasy spot on the washed cookie sheet he used or I find multiple glasses on the sink, I want to lay down the kitchen rules, but I don’t do it.

Instead I notice that he has taken out the kitchen trash every time the can fills up and totally reorganized our recycling efforts, which previously sucked.

I thank him for researching used grand pianos on Craig’s List for me.

Part of recognizing your child’s transition to becoming an adult has to be learning when to stop giving advice about everything. I’m not saying I’ll never again voice my opinion, but I am really trying to pick and choose as I make an effort to shed my tendency to nag. I can see that it makes for a much more comfortable relationship with my adult son, who usually has a plan for everything even though sometimes it differs from my approach.

My Finger-Licking Loss

Do you ever get that sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you’re missing something important because it just slipped off your radar screen? That guilty feeling washed over me last night around 8:30 when I looked at my (paper) calendar (in fact the one I stole from my old job) only to find that a long-awaited dinner party was well under way.

It was “Hot Smoke and Cool Jazz”, a dinner given as an auction item for Temple Micah. It’s an annual event and one I have long wanted to attend. It’s the best of smoked meat and jazz piano played by the host’s accomplished 20-something son.

I sheepishly called with my humble apologies, citing my concentration on all the details of the High Holy Days, for which I am responsible at our temple. The host said they had wondered where we were and would miss us, but she totally understood.

Today I’m wondering how this happened – how neither my husband or I had remembered about this dinner party.

I think I have a clue. Most things in my life these days have an associated e-mail message. I leave those messages in my inbox until the event takes place, letting them serve as my daily reminders of what lies ahead. This one had a paper invitation sent about a month ago with no follow-up e-mail. It languished in the kitchen drawer and on my paper calendar with no chance for a reminder.

So as I ate yogurt with a sliced peach for dinner, they pulled their smoked meat from the bones and enjoyed Justin’s jazz. It was a dinner that just wasn’t meant to be for me. Fortunately we were not the only invited guests...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Highway Robbery

Do you remember the emergency room episode as my daughter drove across country to San Francisco? We finally learned what it costs these days to go to an emergency room.

She had called to say she had been up all night with excruciating lower back pain and shaking chills. My brilliant friend and doctor Deborah had immediately diagnosed this as a urinary tract infection. She agreed with my suggestion to have her go to an emergency room for treatment.

This was in rural Wisconsin. She was seen immediately. She peed in a cup. They quickly tested it, handed her a prescription for Cipro, and agreed to send her parents the bill since she was uninsured.

I speculated with Deborah about how much this brief sojourn in the ER would set us back. She said “a couple hundred dollars”. I had thought $300.

Over a month went by and no bill showed up. I was feeling kindly toward the good folks in rural Wisconsin, some of whom could easily be my Norwegian relatives. A freebie perhaps for a young tourist just passing through?

Not so. The bill came this week. $800 they wanted for a pee test and a prescription. I do understand that we must pay for the unfortunate people who can’t pay their own way, but this is highway robbery. The itemized $250 lab test that consists of sticking a strip into the cup of urine and looking at its color.

My husband tried to call, but HIPA laws would not let them talk to him since he wasn’t the patient. So my daughter must call if there is to be any adjustment.

I rather doubt we will get off with paying less than the billed $800. But this just makes a much clearer case for national health care which is affordable to all.

My daughter now has a job in San Francisco with health insurance included, so she is off the rolls of the uninsured. However, as my son heads off for Budapest, we are probably going to spring for health insurance, for which some companies do not provide overseas coverage. I sincerely hope he doesn’t get sick and I doubt an ER visit in Budapest would cost $800, but I don’t want to find out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Extreme Measures

Getting into college and landing a job have become so competitive that people go to great extremes to craft the perfect application.

My children went to a very competitive high school where the norm was to take AP classes and to go to Fiske 5-star schools. They excelled in their classes. They worked hard to have something to say on every part of the application. Whether they enjoyed doing community service or not, they made sure they had something to report. Whether they liked being in clubs or not, they joined. This of course was in addition to prepping for the dreaded SATs.

In their college application they tried to find a unique niche so as to have their application land in a small pile for consideration. This required a carefully crafted student essay.

It worked for both of them. They got into schools of their choice and did well. They knew the next round of competition would be for grad school, law school, or a first real job.

It seems there is a never-ending requirement to prove yourself and to give yourself the credentials you think someone is looking for.

I see this happening all over with my son who is still working up to a post-law school job. To explain the growing gap between graduation and employment, he is planning to say that he traveled and taught English abroad. Yes, he did travel after graduation. But wait – he didn’t yet teach English to anyone! So he is off next week to live in Budapest, where he will take a month-long course in how to teach English to foreign students somewhere abroad.

Then he will need to find a school in which to practice his newly acquired teaching skills. In an EU country, that will necessitate a work permit, which then will entitle him to teach up to 20 hours a week. One way to get a work permit is by becoming a student. So his plan is to study a foreign language with the idea of being able to teach legally and then being able to say that he is fluent in another language on his resume.

We have had some heated discussions about the difficulty of becoming fluent in a brand-new language, like Dutch for example. He points out that he bought a book and a CD on Dutch. Does that give him a leg up? Not a very big leg in my opinion. But he has proven me wrong on many occasions.

All this to be able in good conscience to offer a convincing resume that portrays him as an individual some law firm will want to hire.

What happened to the days when you simply presented yourself and said, “Here are my current credentials and here’s what I want to do with my life. How does this match what your business/firm does/needs?”

It would seem that young people are having to jump through some expensive and time-consuming hoops to make themselves sufficiently attractive. Our society has created an application nightmare that only gets worse with time and the emergence of the baby boomer children.

Meanwhile, if you know of anyone who had either a good or a bad experience teaching English abroad, please leave me a comment. I’m anxious to know what my son is in for in this next chapter of his life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prayer versus Production

Any choir that sings for a religious organization is challenged to create a prayerful atmosphere without putting on a performance. I hadn’t realized just how sensitive our rabbi was to this concept until this morning when he literally exploded over something that I had facilitated in my role of chairing the High Holy Days for our synagogue.

We hold our services in a very large, very old stone church with three times the capacity of Temple Micah. We have struggled for the past few years with the antiquated sound system that comes with the Methodist Church, being plagued by a buzzing speaker in one of the chandelier lights, feedback, and dead spaces where no one can hear anything.

Largely as a stroke of luck, I was offered an $8,000 sound system using state-of-the-art components at no charge for our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. After our choir rehearsal with this sound system in the old church, we realized just how good the choir could sound and how it was no longer necessary for our cantorial soloist to strain her voice.

Last night’s service seemed to go off without a hitch. Everyone I talked to in the congregation marveled at the fact that they could finally hear everything and it was all in balance. I felt like this improvement was my legacy to the High Holy Day process as I near the end of my term as chair.

But then as we were in the middle of our rehearsal before the morning service today, the rabbi came in and simply exploded. He didn’t like the look of the speakers on stands. He didn’t like the monitor on the altar that allowed him and the staff to hear themselves properly. He didn’t like the fact that the music now seemed like a production. He didn’t like their “rock-star” microphones. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn’t like the fact that no one had told him about it ahead of time.

I could feel my ego deflating about as fast as a helium balloon with a sudden leak. Did he have any idea how hard I had worked to make this happen? Did he realize that no one in the back section of the Church had ever before been able to hear? Had he checked with anyone in the audience to see how they felt about the new and improved sound? Did he understand that my motive was simply one of wanting everyone to be able to concentrate on praying instead of on listening?

The choir is better than ever this year. We are so much enjoying the fact that we finally can hear each other and the room sounds so alive. It makes such a difference. But we still have a lot of musical ground left to cover.

I don’t know how this is going to be resolved. No one is blaming me for this problem, but I was certainly part of the small group that made it happen.

As for the prayer versus production issue, to me what seems important is not the music itself but rather the spirit in which it is presented. Some people would have definitely classified our big number this morning that included piano and clarinet as a production, but in actuality it was just “making a joyful noise.”

The Temple Micah staff will meet this week in at attempt to dissect this problem and construct a workable solution. Hopefully it will still result in a sound system which allows everyone to hear. But despite my role in the changes this year, it’s no longer my problem.

I knew things were going entirely too smoothly. But if there is one thing Jews are good at, it’s dealing with problems. So I’m guardedly optimistic.

Shana tova!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Unexpected Repair Job

When I signed on for a second year to chair the Temple Micah High Holy Days, I never imagined that my duties included taking in sewing! But today there was an urgent job to be done.

After my haircut today, I stopped by Temple Micah just to make sure everything was in order for the myriad of moves and tasks that would be initiated to get ready for the beginning of Rosh Hashanah tomorrow night.

Our assistant rabbi Toby (as she was repairing the hem of her pants with Scotch tape) approached me about a sewing project that seemed pretty critical. It seems the elasticized band that keeps the Torah from unrolling had gotten stretched to the point where it was too big and wasn’t doing its job. It made the Torah, which is large and cumbersome at best, difficult to take in an out of its cabinet. She had heard I knew how to sew.

I brought the stretched velvet band home with me and tackled the repair job at 10:30 after choir rehearsal tonight. GASP – I had very little navy blue thread left.

Not to worry. Remember those appliqued napkins I made recently using invisible thread? I had a whole spool of that left.

Hopefully the re-made velvet band with its silver clasp will now fit properly. That Torah is going to get a lot of use over the next couple of weeks, so it was none too soon!

And now I need to get some sleep before my job as chair-person goes full tilt tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Post-Menopausal Curiosity

Have you ever heard that girls who are good friends often end up with exactly the same menstrual cycles? It just happens. I always thought that to be somewhat curious and actually incredible. And it was definitely true among my group of close friends.

Now that monthly cycles are a thing of the past (thank God!), I found a new phenomenon among post-menopausal friends. Today is the second time my good friend and I have scheduled a haircut back-to-back without ever talking about even needing one. Given that I get a haircut only every couple of months, I find this so interesting.

Why do things like this happen at all? Do friends need a way to stay in sync?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Finding Joy

“You have to smile to sing about happiness (Yis’m’chu) and joy (oneg),” Teddy, our choir director extraordinaire said. ONEG – we all thought that meant food.

You see we have an “Oneg” after most services at Temple Micah, where people gorge themselves on challah, humous and pita, herring, cantaloupe, cheese, brownies, you name it. There’s always way more food than we need, but it’s such a sweet way to end a prayer service.

At Washington Hebrew Congregation and even at Temple Beth El, the oneg was a catered affair. At WHC they used real silver and the bought pastries were divine. But truthfully, I like homemade brownies a lot better. At Micah it’s about the food, not the silver service!

So you see I have found JOY in a most unexpected way. I have been experiencing JOY every time I attended services and just calling it by its Hebrew name.

The next time through the Yis’m’chu we smiled and remembered that we were singing about happiness and joy. It made all the difference in the world. But all that discussion of Oneg did tend to make me hungry!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Blogging as History

As a genealogist every little tidbit of family history becomes important. There is so much more to writing a family history than drawing the family tree. It’s those stories about the people that make them come to life.

My Norwegian family history goes back centuries. I know only that Filippus Erlendson lived in Sogn from 1290 to 1340 and was married to Ingeborg Erlendsdatter, who died in 1332. But what else do I know about Filippus and Ingeborg? Absolutely nothing.

Recently I have become concerned about the legacy that we are going to leave behind for family who might want to discover their roots in the future. The fact that we seldom print out pictures, write letters on stationery, or write in diaries concerns me. It is true that the records of births, marriages, and deaths will probably be available. But those result in just names and dates. The anecdotes that define us will be missing.

The other day I was thinking about how just a year’s worth of someone’s Blog would be the perfect way to understand what made that person tick – what brought happiness, what brought sadness, what brought anger, how the person approached life in general.

But it’s hard for me to envision that in 100 years Blogger is going to be alive and well. The safest way to preserve a Blog would seem by printing it out. However, looking at my own that would approach 1000 entries. With technology constantly changing, there is a real issue about preserving anything electronically with the intention of using it in the distant future.

The wonders of technology that have supported digital pictures and Blogs may be the very things that make them entirely impossible to preserve for future generations.

Perhaps a better idea is to live in the moment and to forget leaving a personal legacy to the world. One person I know is even going as far as deconstructing her Blog after having quit. I struggle with this idea, thinking about how long it took to write years of posts and assemble and edit photos. But maybe they serve their purpose only when they are written and read and are not really meant to inform history.

How do you feel about your Blog being a part of your history?

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Newsworthy Ride

“On your right” just didn’t seem to register with this pedestrian on the bike lane near the Lincoln Memorial. This Canadian goose felt he had the right of way, so I stopped to let him pass.

One of the times I most appreciate being retired is when I take a mid-week bike ride and I realize that everyone else is otherwise occupied. On Tuesday we shared the path with a few miscellaneous bikers, runners, rollerbladers, and nannies pushing strollers. But for the most part, we had the Capital Crescent Trail to ourselves.

We started at Haines Point, so we got that lovely ride along the river under the weeping willows and past the Kennedy Center. It was warm, but not hot, and the humidity was remarkably lower. The breeze came through every now and then.

As I stopped for half a Cliff bar, I could look out and see a few lone souls in boats on the Potomac. It made me want to rent a kayak at Fletcher’s Boat House and join them.

One of the reasons we like this trail is because it is so nicely shaded by overhanging trees and an occasional tunnel. But of course the most important reason we like it is because it is relatively flat. It’s actually a slight uphill grade all the way to Bethesda, but nothing you have to stand up for or work exceptionally hard.

As we reached Bethesda at about mile 10, I realized how hungry I was. The trail dumps you out on Woodmont Avenue with more restaurants than you can possibly choose from. We were both in the mood for sushi, so Raku it was for lunch. As David locked up his bike, he realized he was being filmed by a camera crew. For what?

After lunch as we were preparing to head back, I saw the same camera duo interviewing people near the bike path. They were from Channel 9 and were doing a story on “Bethesda going green”. I gave them my 2 cents, as a Virginian who comes to Bethesda mainly to eat. I understand I made the nightly news, although since I don’t watch TV, I didn’t get to enjoy my fame.

The ride back is always the best because you can put your bike in the hardest gear and pedal a little and just fly downhill. Ten miles seems like nothing.

I love this trail that gives me the sense of being in the wilderness when Georgetown and Bethesda are actually just on the other side of the path.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dining in a Chilean Grape Arbor

How many times have you eaten in a restaurant far far away only years later to forget the name? My son’s possible move to Santiago caused me to remember my travels there in the 1970's and a particular restaurant that I loved. I knew it was in Providencia, an upscale neighborhood like Georgetown. But what was the name of it?

I could picture the quaint restaurant with its live grape arbor growing inside. I could taste the “carne a la plancha”, grilled steaks that were to die for. I remembered the customized salads that were made to order at the table with green beans, onions, and a host of other things. I remembered the wine – those “reserva” bottles that were never exported. I remembered Sam, the American guy who first introduced me to that restaurant. But what was the name of it?

I had a dream the other night about all my favorites restaurants in the world. There was El Fogon in Tegucigalpa, so named for the bottom-lit clay pot in which succulent beans were served. There were still nameless restaurants in Bogota. There was the restaurant in New Delhi where I ate masala dohsa every day. There was the Nazi hangout restaurant in La Paz. And there was the restaurant in Santiago with the live grape vine.

Then I recalled that it was named for the vine itself. And suddenly it was called El Parron – meaning a wild grape vine. It made perfect sense.

But would searching for El Parron be like trying to find El Bodegon or The Rive Gauche in Georgetown? These were restaurants that had known their popularity many years ago and been replaced by more modern fare without Henry Kissinger in attendance. So was it even possible that El Parron could still be open in Providencia, a 12-hour plane ride away?

I Googled “El Parron Providencia” and found not only that it still exists, but that it is still a popular place to eat. So guess where I will be taking my family for my first dinner in Chile if and when we actually go there. I can’t wait!

But perhaps more importantly, this favorite restaurant of mine once again has a name, until I forget it again that is. Maybe that’s where my Blog will come in handy...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Difficult Loss

I felt an incredible sadness and sense of grief when I learned last night that our friends had just lost their first grandchildren – twin boys who decided to be born mid-term. It just didn’t seem fair after their daughter had spent years wanting children and was finally pregnant.

She had been one of our treasured babysitters, the one who was willing to drive our children to camp in the summer so they could go to swim practice with the rest of the neighborhood. She had designed the perfect nursery for her children before she ever finished college and thought of getting married. She was ideal for motherhood.

But nature was not terribly cooperative in her attempts to get pregnant. Finally they resorted to invitro fertilization and two of the three implanted embryos took. My friend affectionately referred to them as the “bros”, also saying she was sure they were both boys, which turned out to be the case.

Their daughter is a petite woman of under 100 pounds, so the initial worry was whether she could carry twins. But all the experts agreed that she should have no problem. She worked hard on eating for 3 and staying active. They (and we) all breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the first trimester, the time within which most miscarriages occur.

So when I called last night about today’s bike ride and learned that my friend was on a plane to be there for her daughter who was still in surgery, my heart just went out to these people.

This is one of those times when you ask how a loving God could take these babies who were so cherished, while abortions were being done all over the country to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. We had all seen the pictures of these little boys, who had kicked inside their mother’s womb and were most certainly alive.

I remember when I miscarried my first pregnancy. It is a feeling of incredible emptiness that almost consumes you as you pick up the pieces and prepare to start over again. Your grief cannot be assuaged by the fact that you were able to get pregnant once.

This family will be fine eventually. They have a strong faith and resiliency that will pull them through this crisis. I just hope and pray the next attempt is successful. There are children out there somewhere deserving to be born into this loving family.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Truce and Plan B

Do you scream if there is no one there to listen? I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have no audience. But today that’s how it felt as few people even came to read and there is still a goose-egg number of comments on today's earlier post.

I acknowledge that I made some home-grown rules for my Blogging practice once I had readers, especially family readers. There are so many things I would like to write right now that simply destroy those rules, so I won’t.

I’m really better now, but I have been so incredibly angry lately that I just didn’t know what to do. The family therapist thing just didn’t pan out, at least not yet.

With a lot of false starts, we have finally learned how to talk to each other in this family and no matter what the outcome, that is a big accomplishment.

It looks like my son will be heading off to Chile to teach English while he gets his law credentials in order and figures out where his career path is leading. I’m on board with this plan and have done a lot of work today contacting people I met in Chile 30 years ago who can be of invaluable assistance to him now.

Hey, this will give us a reason for a winter vacation to the far far south, an area I have been wanting to visit since I last saw it 30 years ago. Maybe it was meant to be, who knows?

Another Holiday Bites the Dust

For many years it was Labor Day, and not the autumnal equinox, that marked the end of Summer for me. Labor Day was as significant as Christmas, as my birthday, in being a milestone marking time.

I was the sort of child who started grieving for the end of summer on the first day of summer vacation. I counted down those precious months, weeks, days until we had to go back to school. I obviously had not learned how to live in the present moment in those days.

As Labor Day loomed large, I thought about what I would wear on the first day back to school, often making a new dress, which inevitably was too hot in the humid sultry South. I had to buy new shoes, always. And I loved shopping for school supplies. But I did dread going back to school and giving up my freedom to fish for minnows in the stream near my house or read piles of Nancy Drew mysteries or play for hours with my friends outside.

In northern Florida it was always still HOT HOT HOT in early September and the schools were not air-conditioned in those days. So we dripped through the first month of school after Labor Day sent us back.

By the time my children came along, Labor Day still was significant in forming the dividing line between Summer vacation and school. But now I actually breathed a sigh of relief that I could quit looking for interesting things to do with the children or acceptable teen-age babysitters while I trudged off to work. The return to school marked a return to sanity, knowing that they had a rather permanent place to go for the next 9 months. They never saw it quite like that, but from a working mother’s standpoint, Summer vacation is a nightmare.

I was somewhat surprised last night when my friend Kris asked what we were going to do on Labor Day and I realized that Labor Day had not even registered on my radar screen. It seems to have lost its significance as a milestone in the year. The only hint of fall I had today was the weather, which has taken on a sudden cool crispness while throwing out Summer’s mugginess. As I drove to meditation this morning in virtually no traffic, I realized that the rest of the city was honoring Labor Day by sleeping in and staying home.

There is always that question when you are retired as to whether every day is a holiday or whether you simply get no more holidays. It seems that all days look very similar these days. But Labor Day is a thing of the past.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Goodbye to Goldpoppy

When your mentor for something decides to retire, you immediately question your own next steps. Blogging has suffered another loss as my friend Reya decided to quit writing this week. As with so many big questions in life, I find myself now asking, “How do you know when it’s the right time to stop?”

When Reya first wrote her Blog address on the back of her business card and gave it to me in December of 2004, I didn’t even know what a Blog was. I logged onto my computer maybe twice a week to read e-mail.

That was the point at which my computer-usage changed radically. I had been doing some personal writing, but I had no where to put it. Creating my Blog gave me the instant status of being an author. I was hooked.

Then DC Blogs came along in November 2005 and our world was enriched with hundreds of local Bloggers doing the same thing we were. After having 0 comments for almost a year and knowing only of Reya’s Blog, I felt like I suddenly had a family!

The following month I somewhat reluctantly took myself to a happy hour at Eye Bar where I met people like DC Cookie and Direct Current. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, despite the generation gap. I first learned of StatCounters from Direct Current.

My next years of Blogging were occasionally punctuated by being “featured” on DC Blogs, WaPo Express, and Wonkette. What an ego boost (and a StatCounter boost) every time that happened.

But one of the things I most enjoyed from the very beginning was a daily dose of Reya’s wisdom and all those wonderful photos each morning. Her mind is so unique that you could never predict what the next post would bring.

I was utterly shocked when she decided walking home from work one day this week to end her Blog. There was no warning. It was just over.

And in so doing she joined the ranks of many of DC Blogs’ finest who have moved on from (almost) daily writing to occasional writing or to not writing at all. The ones that come to mind include:

Direct Current
Rhinestone Cowgirl
DC Cookie
Circle V
Washington Cube
Always Write

I’m sure there are others, but those are the names that first came to my mind.

Of the locals that I read regularly and who were in this from the beginning, I can see only Kristin (Candy Sandwich) and Jamy (Grateful Dating) who are still actively Blogging.

I have loved discovering new DC Bloggers and Bloggers outside the DC area, as far away as Ireland and Australia, many of whom are closer to my generation. So I have a secure feeling that Blogging in general is alive and well.

But I’m already missing Reya terribly. And even she is feeling the pangs of leaving this era of her life behind, as she said in an e-mail message to me today, “I'm having terrible withdrawals from blogging. Don't quit until you HAVE to, that's my advice.” She has a talent for giving advice.

Of course this leaves me with some questions, like:

– Does Blogging of necessity have a natural life cycle that implies we all must quit someday?
– How will I know when that time has come?

Meanwhile, I still have a lot to unload on you faithful readers, so please keep coming back and please keep giving me your own thoughts when they spill out onto your Blog.

Farewell to Goldpoppy! You are always a much treasured and welcome reader here.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Balinese Medicine Man

Eat-Pray-Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is an elixir that attracts at least Joy and sometimes even Fun. Liz travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of herself and God. In Indonesia, she meets Ketut Liyer, a Balinese medicine man. Here are a couple of vignettes from her time with Ketut:

[After he has just seen a rural Balinese family who have brought their one-year-old daughter because she is teething and has been crying for several nights] :

Ketut Liyer has given this family about forty minutes of his undivided attention, for the fee of about twenty-five cents. If they hadn’t any money at all, he would have done the same; this is his duty as a healer. He may turn nobody away, or the gods will remove his talent for healing. Ketut gets about ten visitors a day like this, Balinese who need his help or advice on some holy or medical matter. On highly auspicious days, when everyone wants a special blessing, he might have over one hundred visitors.

[His approach to meditation] :

He tells me there are many ways to find God but most are too complicated for Westerners, so he will teach me an easy meditation. Which goes, essentially, like this: sit in silence and smile. I love it. He’s laughing even as he’s teaching it to me. Sit and smile. Perfect.
“You study yoga in India, Liss?” He asks.
“Yes, Ketut.”
“You can do yoga,” he says, “but yoga too hard.” Here, he contorts himself in a cramped lotus position and squinches up his face in a comical and constipated-looking effort. Then he breaks free and laughs, asking, “Why they always look so serious in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile. All finish for today. See you later, alligator. Come back tomorrow. I am very happy to see you, Liss. Let your conscience be your guide. If you have Western friends come to visit Bali, bring them to me for palm-reading. I am very empty in my bank since the bomb.”

And I ask you, when was the last time you paid twenty-five cents to a Western doctor who treated you AND taught you how to meditate?