Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finding Urban Beauty

It suddenly occurred to me today that beautiful things and delicious food make me feel happy. I discovered both in the U Street Corridor of DC as my friend Kris and I wandered around on one of the nicest days of the Fall.

She commented last week that there are a lot of neighborhoods of Washington that she hasn’t explored and I suggested a “field trip” to the refurbished U Street area, remembering the charm that I had found the couple of times I had visited recently.

Having eaten only at Busboys and Poets, I asked a couple of people who know the area well for recommendations and came up with at least a half dozen possibilities. We read menus and checked them out as we wandered around the streets near 14th and U. We finally decided on Simply Home, offered by Richard, the hair stylist extraordinaire from Axis who cuts my hair (and does other things to it from time to time.) When I’m getting my hair done, we talk mainly of food and I’m convinced that Richard knows his DC restaurants.

We were delighted to find succulent Thai food in what sounded like a down-home southern restaurant. Not only was the food superb, but it was beautifully arranged on the plate. My chicken with basil had just the right amount of spiciness and Kris’s shrimp dish was loaded with pieces of ginger.

The best thing was the adjacent store that contained unnecessary but beautiful objects that would look good in just about any home.

But then that was the story of many of the small stores we explored. There was RCKNDY (known as Rock Candy), GoMamaGo, and Home Rule, just to name a few. In each of these stores, you could buy something of beauty which was well designed for under $5. But you could also spend $1,500. Quality and good design were high on the buyers’ list of things to look for.

I realized that I didn’t even have to buy anything much just to feel happy about seeing all these beautiful things. At one point I jokingly said to Kris, “What would you buy if someone gave you $1,000 right now?” It didn’t take long in Simply Home to find several possibilities.

We saved perhaps the best for last. After our Thai lunch we wandered down the street to CakeLove, suggested by Kris’s daughter. When you open the door, you are met by the smell of freshly baked cakes of all flavors that are made in the store. A sign offers you a free cupcake if it’s your birthday (with proof of course). We settled on a variety of cupcakes, which we reluctantly took home to share with family members who hadn’t come on the field trip. What a sweet ending to a great day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

I Heart Art

Every time I go to the Torpedo Factory, I am infused with the creativity of those who work and display their creations there. I want to do something splendid like the beautiful prints I saw today.

The Temple Micah Lunch Bunch outing today was to the studio of Isabel Field, a printmaker of many years. We got to see first-hand just why good prints cost so much, as she went through the many steps necessary to create a multi-color work of art and often one that is reproducible in quantities of 20, 30, or even 50. She talked about how painters originally showed a disdain for printmakers, putting them on a lower rung of the art ladder. But today printmakers are recognized as being on par with the finest artists in the world.

It’s the interplay of color and shading and shape and texture that makes the prints we saw so interesting. Some artists even choose to vary the color in the reproductions of the same print.

I found it just a little sad that the wooden block for the print must be destroyed after the requisite number of prints has been made so that it cannot be further used. It is slashed in a way that is supposed to render it unusable. The artist talked about once buying a Chagall print for $50 only to discover later that it had been illegally reproduced from a slashed block.

Seeing all the possibilities this art medium holds made me want to take a class in printmaking. The Torpedo Factory offers excellent instruction for all levels and ages of students through its Art League School. My friend Celia and I had been hoping to take a class there and it may well now be printmaking. Who knows? Maybe there’s a Grandma Moses in all of us just waiting to emerge!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Self-Taught Biking on Hills

It was a perfect day – cool and crisp and sunny. I needed to pick up a loaf of bread. I hadn’t ridden my bike in a while. What better reasons to go for a bike ride?

I invited my husband to join me. He claimed too much to do. I asked if he was really just concerned that I would ride too slowly. He finally admitted that his knee was bothering him and he was afraid of the hills on the way home from Best Buns, my favorite bread store.

So what was I, wimpiest hill biker, thinking? I pumped up my tires and set out on my own. On the way to the store, I noticed that there was a persistent clicking noise with every pedal rotation when the front deraileur was in the center position. Wonder what’s up with that? I thought.

After looking very French with my baguette and dog biscuit sticking out of my bike bag, I decided to go on over to Spokes and get some advice on the clicking noise. Getting from Shirlington on one side of I-395 to Quaker Lane on the other is a bit daunting. I opted to walk my bike so as not to further annoy the hordes of motorists who knew I had no business on that busy exchange over the highway.

I love the guys at Spokes. First of all, they always look at your bike right away when you walk in with your helmet on, knowing you are in the middle of a ride and really don’t want to leave it. Second, they never make you feel stupid when it’s something as simple as the brake cable that was causing the clicking noise. And third, they never charge anything for a simple diagnosis and repair. I guess they figure you paid them enough money for the bike originally. So my Specialized Sequoia was back in business with no more click.

Then I remembered those various hills I had to deal with on the way home. Here was the strategy I used today: (1) get up momentum BEFORE the hill, (2) lean forward and make my legs do the work, (3) don’t be afraid to shift into the easiest gear, (4) think about the great lunch I was going to make when I got home. This seemed to work like a charm. I rode, albeit slowly, up every blasted hill and arrived home to be greeted by “That was quick!”

So maybe, just maybe, I’m learning to cope with hills. However, I’m still waiting for a session with my friend who is a biker and a trainer. I’m ready to do some serious work to strengthen my legs. As much as I hate exercise, it’s a good thing to do!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talking of Books

I can’t imagine receiving 75 books a week from authors who are all vying for their book to be reviewed. That’s the life of Maureen Corrigan, who reviews books on NPR’s Fresh Air and reviews mysteries for the Washington Post.

She was tonight’s speaker at our Shabbat service, as part of the Fall Book Fair at Temple Micah. I tried to picture a stack of 75 books and found it to be daunting. Especially so as you attempted to decide which 3 to read during the week. He answer to how she finds time to read all those books was, “I get up very early – 4:00 a.m. every day. But I love my job. I can’t imagine a job I would like better.”

She talked about how her basement is absolutely overflowing with books – let’s see 75 x 52 comes out to just about 3,900 books a year. I hope she has a lot of shelves and a lot of reasons to donate books to charity. The first question after her talk came from the Bat Mitzvah girl’s mother, herself a published author: “Is my book in your basement?”

She read a clip from her own recently published book, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading,” which she said repeatedly to her mother as she was growing up. It convinced us to buy the book and get it signed by the author.

On the way home we talked about the fact that there are so many published authors in the Temple Micah congregation. My husband said, “Maybe we should write a book.” I replied that my friend keeps suggesting that I write a mystery called “Rock Creek” and that it include a lot of sex. In truth, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to begin, although I do think it’s a good title.

But for now, I will put Maureen Corrigan’s book in line just after Harry Potter #6, the last one I own. It promises to be a good read.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I felt slightly like I had been reading a book during the sermon as my friend Kris and I planned our next vacation while holding up signs like “Honk for Darfur” in front of the Sudanese Embassy today.

It was bone-chilling cold in the misty rain. If I hadn’t been married to the organizer, I would have happily opted out. But he needs help carrying the signs and he needs bodies to hold them. So Kris and I are his most faithful protestors, showing up most every month.

Given a number of reports of less than perfect vacations to Greece, we decided yesterday to think about another place for our next major vacation. The four of us are ideal traveling companions, having now done Tuscany and Provence together. If we could survive France with 4 bikes on a Kangoo, we can go anywhere together.

So to distract ourselves from the penetrating cold today, we talked about the Amalfi Coast, Sicily, Pompei, Kauii, other sites in France, and food – lots of food. Homemade pasta with rich tomato sauce. All that wonderful food of southern Italy.

Every 5 minutes I checked my watch to see if we could quit asking motorists to honk their horns in protest of the atrocities in Darfur. By the end of the hour, I was incredibly hungry and ready to get on the first plane going anywhere warm.

I came home and cooked pasta and that homemade tomato sauce. I poured myself a glass of good red wine and sat down to a feast.

I hope none of those passing by knew that my mind was not focused on Darfur. They still honked their horns, so it must not have been too obvious.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Following a Path

My walking meditation as I traversed the labyrinth at the Church of the Epiphany today focused on my son and his arduous decision-making path. As I took the first step, I realized how similar the labyrinth and his thought process are.

Having completed his English-training course in Budapest, he is currently in Berlin, where he is searching out job possibilities. This is never straightforward and easy, but especially not in an EU county with a high unemployment rate. We have given him a couple of ideas from friends here, but he is largely on his own in a country in which he doesn’t speak the language.

Just as with the labyrinth, he follows a promising path for a long way only to find that it twists and turns and doubles back again. But he is amazingly upbeat and happy as he is searching. He wrote today to tell me he had gone on a free walking tour of the city of Berlin. That would be so exciting.

As I arrived at the center of the labyrinth today, I looked up at one set of stained glass windows and turned 180 degrees to look at another set even more beautiful. There is something so sweet about resting in the center before picking up the path that returns you to the place where you initially started.

I hope he will emerge at the end of his job search with the same feeling of peace and fulfillment I experienced today. The mindfulness of walking one carefully placed step at a time is very satisfying.

Princesses Come in All Sizes

Reminiscent of the Three Bears, there is the large tutu, the medium tutu, and the small tutu. Hopefully elasticized waists will make up for the fact that I didn’t have any measurements to go by.

I talked to the person who works at the shelter today about exactly who needed what in the way of costumes, trying to push the idea of using various pieces to come up with costumes for the children. She mentioned three little girls who wanted to be princesses and could probably wear the homemade tutus. All I have to go on is

– A large 5-year-old
– A small 2-year-old
– A large 3-month-old (and why does a 3-month-old need a costume?)

Never before have I sewed anything for someone I have never seen and for whom I have no measurements. It should be interesting to see just how they fit.

I went through the boxes of costumes in my attic and came up with a vampire cape and teeth, a purple and gold king’s cape, bunny ears, and a plush wolf mask.

The funniest part of our conversation had to do with Thanksgiving, and not Halloween. She asked me if I had a turkey costume. It seems one of the mothers wants to dress her son up as a turkey for Thanksgiving. I politely told her that I didn’t have that one in my attic and wondered to myself just what the turkey boy was supposed to do!

Tomorrow I’ll drop off the bits and pieces I’ve collected from friends and my attic, and of course the 3 tutus. It’s at least a good start on Halloween attire for these kids.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Green Wonder "Drug"

Today’s Post reveals even greater powers of broccoli, that green vegetable that was so maligned by George H. W. Bush. Its potential to prevent skin cancer caught my eye.

I have long suffered the consequences of being a foolish teenager who slathered cocoa butter on my body and fried out in the strong Florida sun. I’m not sure why, because I never tanned well at all. But that was just what we did in the 1960's because we were too dumb to know better. So four melanomas and countless basal cells later, I am a good audience for skin cancer prevention.

The article claims that a green smear of broccoli sprout extract blocks the ultraviolet rays, thereby saving the skin from the potentially cancer-causing damage inflicted by the sun. I find it so interesting when natural cures arise after so much money has been dumped into chemicals.

The new product is still under development. One hurdle is how to remove the green pigment from the broccoli smear so that we don’t look like Martians when we go outdoors. But it may ultimately be possible to treat our skin and then just wash the green goop off, because the broccoli just acts to jump-start to turn on the body’s natural cancer-fighting machinery.

What is it about broccoli that gives it this curative potential? The secret ingredient in 3-day-old broccoli sprouts is sulforaphane, a compound that activates certain enzymes in the body.

So bring on the broccoli sprouts. I’ll throw them in my salad to prevent colon cancer and blend them in my food processor into a lovely green mask. Who knew that this most common of vegetables could be so powerful? And it doesn’t even have to be organic broccoli!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Helping Is Contagious

I have always believed most people really want to help the less fortunate. They just need a little inspiration sometimes. It’s sort of like a domino effect once it gets going.

I’ve told quite a few people about the reading program, many of whom say, “An hour a month, of course I can handle that.” I just sent the link for The Reading Connection to three friends. One lives about 5 minutes from the shelter where I will be reading. Two others work at the Census Bureau, which is only about 10 minutes away. All are more than willing to read in Anacostia.

After looking at those pictures of my kids, I just felt the need to make something. So I went to Joann’s to buy some fabric to make a couple of ballerina costumes. They will be pretty much one-size-fits-all, so any of the girls can wear them.

As I was standing in line to pay, I mentioned to the woman ahead of me in what I was doing. It turns out that she works at The Papery in Arlington. She said they had a huge bag of paper products which her boss asked her to get rid of. I was wondering if they have an expiration date?! Anyway, she offered to discard it to me if I thought the shelter could use paper plates and napkins. Of course they can!

I stopped by my friend Kris’s house today and saw a growing pile of costume parts in her basement. She has found everything from a lacy white tablecloth that can be turned into a ghost to multi-colored “Genie” pants to Mardi Gras necklaces. Fun stuff!

So instead of heading off to the beach tomorrow, I will be stitching tutus in pink, lavender, and turquoise and adding elasticized sequins at the waist. Just the kind of project I love to do!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dressing Up

Gewels inspired me to dig out some photos of my children in home-made costumes over the years as I ponder the many possibilities for Halloween.

This little clown obviously was still in need of a changing table. You can also see Schnizzy, our deadly dumb dachshund, who had every malady known to the canine world.

A few yards of colored net was all it took to make dance attire for my daughter and a friend.

We have always had a neighborhood Fourth of July parade with Popsicles for everyone at the bottom of the hill. This particular 4th we went for red, white, and blue.

And here's Kermit getting ready to go trick-or-treating. Does this look familiar, Gewels?

When my daughter was 6, all the girls in our neighborhood wanted to be brides.

Here's the Little Mermaid in a red wig and her brother, the Chess King, who looks just slightly like a character out of a Harry Potter movie.

My daughter is the clown being attacked by Frankinstein.

A costume reinvents a child at least for an evening!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

As people I had worked with 30 years ago descended on my house last night, I wondered if the house could contain all of them and all the food they were bringing to our pot-luck reunion. We had shared a relationship much like a family as we traveled to developing countries in our younger years to impart technical assistance to people all over the world.

Time had been much kinder to some than others. One of my ex-bosses had quadruple bi-pass surgery. Another recently had a hip replacement and came in walking with a cane. I had to look hard and try to morph a face back in time to figure out who some of the people were.

I had forgotten those office potlucks where we always had way too much food. I have a lot of counter space in my kitchen and yet it was quickly filled up with Indonesian shrimp curry and chicken paprikash and every imaginable international dish. It was a logistical nightmare just to figure out how to put out all the food and get 50+ people through a buffet line to pile their plates high. I was ever indebted to the weather gods who gave us a balmy night which allowed 15 people to sit out on the deck.

Several people had brought photo albums of the “good old days.” Jeff pointed to one picture of me as we were working in Panama and remarked at how young I looked with my long blond hair. “It was 30 years ago, you bimbo,” I said, remembering that trip when we ran all over Panama City sampling the local cuisine and entertainment when we weren’t working at the Office of Statistics.

At one point in the evening, the boss who was most responsible for hiring all of us and who had left because of a scandal handed out “Lifetime Achievement Awards” to each person in attendance and talked about how we had been ambassadors to the world. Despite his faults, he totally believed in what we were doing and knew how to get money to support our program of international assistance.

As exciting as it was to travel to places like Nairobi and Lesotho and Bangkok and Santiago, I acknowledged that this was just a chapter of my life that provided enrichment and a view into the world beyond the US borders that most people never have. I hugged them all as the crowd finally went home, urging them to take their leftovers. I vowed that we should do it again before another 30 years pass because some of those people will no longer be here by then.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Costume Dilemma

As we talked about Halloween last night, I found myself wondering just how these children would celebrate the holiday that most kids love the most. Would they dress up? Would they be allowed to trick-or-treat outside?

Each one of them had in mind the ideal costume. The little girl with the pink Crocs who was sitting on my lap wanted to be a mermaid. The boys wanted to be a vampire, a monster, and a spider (no, not Spiderman but an arachnid with 8 legs).

I was mentally checking them off. I had a Little Mermaid size 6 that would be perfect. A cool mask would do for the vampire and monster – I must still have those in a box in the attic. I even came home and researched how to make a spider costume.

I checked with the staff after the reading session to learn that they are planning a Halloween party in the house on Monday before Halloween. The children will not go out on the street to trick-or-treat, but they will all enjoy the in-house fun.

Then it occurred to me that these were not the only children in the house and there would likely be new families by Halloween. It would be horrible for 4 children to show up with nice costumes and others to have nothing to wear.

So as much as I would like to give these children a special Halloween, I can’t do it if it will cause unhappiness for others. I will call on Monday to find out if there is something else I can do that everyone can enjoy. Maybe some chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting for the party.

The Little Mermaid and the homemade Kermit the Frog will have to return to the attic in the hope that grandchildren will someday remind me how cute my children looked so long ago.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Halloween Stand-in

After my one hour of training to read to children in a homeless shelter, I was supposed to observe a “live” reading session before my group of three women have our first official session. I also wanted to check out the logistics of commuting to and from Anacostia and make sure I felt safe.

From my house it took me exactly 20 minutes in rush hour to get to the shelter. I parked in front of a large brick building that could have been anyone’s large house or small apartment building. It looked just like the other structures on the quiet street and there was plenty of space to part right in front of the building. Ironically it is located just 5 blocks from where my parents lived when they were newlyweds in 1942.

As I waited around for the assigned volunteers to show up, I noticed that the building seemed clean and attractive. The room used for the reading sessions has comfortable couches, a large TV, and tables where the children can do crafts and have a snack.

It turned out to be a good thing I came because one of the volunteers was a no-show. (The Reading Connection's policy is that there must be two volunteers or else the session is cancelled.) The other man had brought books on Halloween and asked if I wanted to read with him. As I watched the children come in, I realized this was going to be no different than reading bed-time stories to my children – there were just more of them.

The 4 children ranged in age from 4 to 9, one little girl and three boys. The girl quickly found my lap and as she listened to the stories checked out my earrings and necklace. She seemed not to even notice that our skin was different color.

One of my stories contained a collection of sounds that grew longer with each page. A little boy could reproduce them all in order by the end of the book. He was the same one who said repeatedly, “I’m not scared of anything.”

The other volunteer had brought paper plates, scissors, and crayons so that the children could make masks as their activity. He cut out eye holes and taped a pencil onto the back of each finished mask and they went around scaring each other for the rest of the hour. It obviously doesn’t take much to amuse these children.

I can’t wait to plan our first session, which will take place on November 1. We need to come up with a theme, some books to read, and an activity. By the time you read several books and do an activity, the hour is over. It’s really not a long time.

I was so impressed with the fact that these children were well-mannered, dressed in clean clothes, and receptive to whatever we threw their way.

I keep coming up with so many ideas of what I would like to do with them, telling myself that we get just one hour a month and the participants will undoubtedly change over time. This was just a reminder of how much I have missed my interaction with families who need a little extra help.

I welcome any suggestions you might have of themes, books, and activities!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

HH Comes to DC

What was I thinking? That I would be meditating with thousands of other people at the foot of the Dalai Lama, as he appeared at the Capitol today? I was rubbing shoulders with throngs of people, but I would definitely not characterize it as a meditative state!

On a positive note, I was impressed that the U.S. Government didn’t buckle under to threats from the Chinese, who are livid over all the attention being paid to this guy who is clearly a thorn in their side.

But honestly, the heat and the fact that I couldn’t even see the Dalai Lama didn’t provide the atmosphere that I had expected. In fact, for all I know the image on the screen and the accompanying voice could have been pre-recorded.

There was a lot of confusion about when he would speak. Initially it was scheduled for 1:00. Then it was changed to 2:30 to accommodate the Gold Medal ceremony. But he was already speaking when we showed up at 2:20. His 15-minute speech was all about compassion and tolerance, the mainstays of Buddhism. He didn’t cast aspersions on oppressive governments or dwell on other unfortunate situations for Buddhists around the world. Instead he preached the traditional nonviolence. It seemed a little like the Beatitudes of the New Testament.

We were obviously not the only people who were confused about the time. As we were leaving, people were still arriving from long distances away and standing in lines to pass through security. It was actually interesting to see the variety of people who showed up – ranging from native Tibetans to suits to teens in short skirts to toddlers. And even dogs were in attendance.

I’m glad I went, but honestly I enjoyed sipping iced tea with my friend and cooling off just as much as listening to HH.

UPDATE: This evening at meditation I came to realize that what I heard was the Dalai Lama's acceptance speech INSIDE the Capitol Building. His address OUTSIDE started an hour later and was much less formal. This just emphasizes the lack of information. It wasn't like there was a program or anything that indicated what was going on on the screen. So I guess all those people who were coming in when we were leaving knew a little more than we did and the joke is on us! However, the heat would have been equally oppressive at 3:30!

He Can Fetch, but Can He Dance?

Jake could have a bigger future. Check out this video sent to me by my daughter. Maybe we should look for a dance teacher!

A Star Is Born

Jake is going to be a star. We found out today that he has been selected to be in a commercial for the Dog Whisperer, a new production of National Geographic.

Our neighbor’s daughter, who is in the film industry, put out a blanket e-mail message last week inviting people with big dogs to submit a picture of their pets as an application for the commercial shoot. We sent the one of Jake with his kong on the gate in the snow. Just today we learned that he was chosen.

The filming date is Friday of next week. I will give Jake a bath and brush all the loose hair out so he will look his best for his film debut. We will be a part of the commercial as well, but I don’t yet know exactly what any of us has to do or say or bark.

I will let everyone know if they actually use the film footage from next week’s shoot. Meanwhile, I have to make sure Jake’s new stardom doesn’t go to his head!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shhh! Don't Wake the Baby

Jake has become my shadow when I’m home, sitting beside me while I play the piano, watching me type on my computer, sleeping next to my side of the bed.

When my husband and I decided to take a “nap” yesterday afternoon, I looked at the dog and said, “What do we do with him?” We have always been very private about love-making. When our children were young, I always wanted to make sure they were fast asleep. I joked that having a dog in our bedroom seemed like having one of our children as an audience.

We opted to close our bedroom door, leaving Jake out in the hallway. He scratched on the door for a while, and then just settled down to guard our room.

When I opened the door, I swear he looked at me with those big brown eyes and asked for an explanation. Everyone says dogs don’t hold grudges, but for the rest of the day he had his nose out of joint with me, chastising me for banishing him from our room.

Today I’ve been forgiven. But I must say this new separation anxiety of his has complicated our life just a little!

Maybe he needs a girlfriend of his own. He’s actually got a “date” with Bailey, an 11-year-old female about his size, who may be his companion during his next “camp experience” when we go to San Francisco in November. Maybe Bailey will steal his heart and he will be happy to dream of her by himself downstairs, where he spent the first 8 years of his life.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Second Time Around

Have you ever realized how much more you notice when you read a book the second time? I finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides about two months ago only to find it was chosen as our couples book club selection for October.

I sat down a little too late yesterday (the day of our meeting) to re-read the book and only managed to make it up to about page 175 (out of 500+ pages). But it was an entirely different experience than reading the book the first time. I was noticing all sorts of things that I completely missed the first time. This is a book that was very carefully crafted over a 9-year period with all sorts of allusions to mythology and other texts, things that might escape the first read. So I was well prepared to talk about the part in Greece or the early years in Detroit and I remembered the gist of the rest of the story. Miraculously everyone had actually finished the book and we had a very interesting discussion.

It struck me that a foreknowledge of what was going to happen completely colored how I read the book the second time around. A similar thing has happened when I read The Magus for the second time. I suppose the same thing would hold for seeing a movie subsequent times, although I am lucky to see most movies a first time.

Then I wondered what it would be like to live through certain periods or even episodes in my life a second time. Would I make the same choices, the same decisions, if I had the knowledge of what had happened the previous time? Oops – too much Harry Potter! That’s right, we don’t get to wear a Time-Turner which gives us the chance to turn back time and have another go at anything.

So instead I will just have to re-read another book. Our November book is The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. I have a vague recollection of this book, which I read for another book club several years ago.

As I get older, my memory is still good enough to register the fact that I have already read a book, but not sufficiently complete to make the second read boring.

Any thoughts about the second time around?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gifting a TV

We almost forgot about the television set in the far back when we donated the old green Dodge Caravan to charity recently. But at the last minute, I asked a burly guy at the auto repair place to load it into the back seat of my Honda, where it has sat ever since.

It was a good TV when purchased 4 years ago. It even included a built-in DVD player. But we hardly need another TV, given I rarely ever watch the large-screen one we have in our family room. And with our son currently in Budapest and the cost of moving a heavy TV anywhere, we really needed to get rid of it.

My friend’s TV has recently died, but she lives in a small efficiency and thought the rather large clunky old-style model just too big. So I offered it to my friend Deborah, who has never owned a TV. My hat goes off to her, given she managed to raise two well-adjusted children.

But recently when she was recuperating from surgery, her daughter gave her a Net-Flix subscription and subsequently she and her husband have been watching movies on their computer. It works fine for one person, but it’s a little difficult for an audience of more than one.

So today the TV from the back of the green van took up residence in Deborah’s house. There was debate about where to put it in their house, which doesn’t have much unused space. Perhaps in a closet, only to be brought out for movies. But it is really heavy, so that’s not terribly practical. Perhaps in the cleaned-out fireplace. But their daughter asked how they would ever again have a fire. They will figure it out.

But the question still remains – does it actually work after its ride from Tucson to San Francisco and then across the country? I really hope so after so many people have turned their thoughts to this old TV this week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Misfit

I find shopping to be either a bonanza or a terribly disappointing experience. I now know what stores have clothes that fit me, and I should just stick to those stores. I am always successful at Ann Taylor Loft or at Filenes.

However today I tried H & M, a favorite of my 23-year-old daughter. My friend needed new pants and it was the first store we came to. I thought I could pick up a much-needed pair of cords while she shopped.

I casually picked out two styles and took an 8 and a 10 in each into the dressing room, after waiting in line for 10 minutes. I didn’t even bother with the 8's when I found the 10's to be several inches below my waistline and several inches from closing. I quickly concluded the people who shop at H & M must not have stomachs. How mortifying to think you are a size 8 and not be able to zip up a size 10!

My friend found multiple pairs of brown pants that fit, except for needing to be hemmed. How could she be so lucky?

I consoled myself by realizing I had just saved money on this shopping expedition.

Some day soon I may head over to AT Loft or Filenes in search of those cords. But today I will just have to be content with my current wardrobe.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Becoming Profit Motivated

When my friend suggested that we sell things at a table at Eastern Market before the holidays, I found myself getting excited about this idea of going into business. But I have come to the rude awakening that I don’t have a clue about how to make money in the business world. I was always a salaried employee, who never needed to think about inventory or pricing or production rates.

I have occasionally done sewing projects for money – like the wardrobe of 10 Barbie outfits for $10, including a bridal dress. It takes about 10 cents of material to make a Barbie outfit and I had loads of scraps, so it was essentially pure profit. Of course, that’s not taking into consideration the 10 hours of work that went into making those minuscule clothes.

This time around I’m focusing on “napkins for all occasions.” I will have Thanksgiving and Christmas napkins, maybe even some Hanukkah napkins if I can find any appropriate fabric. I will also have general purpose napkins that you could use all year.

And what is my current inventory of napkins to sell? Exactly zero. So yesterday I started shopping for fabric and the other supplies I will need. Being in a fabric store is right up there with shopping for hardware. I love the elderly sales ladies who want to know what you are making and who have the best ideas for the perfect fabric.

But I must say I have expensive taste. I automatically gravitate to the Hoffman and the Moda prints, which are definitely the nicest ones, but also the most costly. I suddenly realized that the fabric alone for the Thanksgiving napkins would come out to $2.50 per napkin. That doesn’t include any labor cost. And what if no one bought them – I would be losing all sunk costs. I guess the bright side would be that I would have 8 Thanksgiving napkins for my own use!

To make them more appealing, I decided they needed to be sold with napkin rings. The first ones I saw at World Market were $2.99 each. That was definitely too high. I finally found a nice black wire ring at Pier One for $1. I found decorative ribbon at a 70% reduction at a craft store which will dress up those little black napkin rings appropriately for the right occasion.

There’s still the question of what to charge. I noted the napkins in World Market ranged from $1.99 to $10. They were nothing special. So I think I could do $10 a napkin (with ring) or $35 for 4 napkins (with rings). Does that seem reasonable?

I have no excuse for not getting to work. I’m sure I will learn some tricks about mass producing napkins. My worries vacillate between being able to amass enough inventory for the first sales day and thinking about what I would do if no one bought anything.

I find this whole notion of profit so interesting. The trick seems to be that of balancing quality with a reasonable cost. I’m sure I will have a new-found respect for people in retail after this little venture.

Meanwhile think about stopping by our table at Eastern Market during November and December to check out my napkins and my friend’s fantastic photos. There’s no charge for “just looking.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Difficult Decision

Since my training session a few weeks ago, I have been waiting to find out where I will be assigned to read to children in homeless shelters as part of The Reading Connection. I had listed my priorities, putting question marks beside the DC box and knowing that’s where they really need volunteers.

During the training, the coordinator could tell us only the general location of the various sites, not wanting to disclose the exact location of shelters, but the DC locations were all in Anacostia, an area where safety might be an issue.

Since then I have tried to drum up interest among people I know, thinking about safety in numbers. But no one has been dying (probably a poor choice of words!) to work with me in Anacostia so far.

When I got the e-mail today asking how I was feeling about DC and wondering if I had found anyone else to join me, I had to stop and think about my reply. The e-mail went on to describe the location, giving me the exact address and saying there would probably be 5-6 children in each reading session. I would be reading just one evening each month.

Part of me wants to say these children are just as deserving as children in Alexandria or Arlington, even though they might be located in a less desirable area. I could almost see their faces looking up at me as I was about to begin a story.

I wrote back to ask if I could talk to someone else who has worked at this site. I have practical questions – like how available is on-street parking? How well lit is the street? Could someone walk me out to my car after we finish? Who would I be working with (since there must be 2 volunteers)?

I will probably sign up for the Anacostia site and it will probably be fine.

What would you do?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thinking About

Tonight after our 40-minute sit at meditation we read the vignette on “Anger” from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are. This was probably well-timed, given my recent bouts with my own anger over a family matter and my return to therapy to seek help with it.

On the trip home, I found myself contrasting the anger of a young child with the anger of an adult decades older.

Babies are born with an escape valve that vents their anger either by crying or kicking or biting or head-banging or some combination of the above. Although we adults don’t encourage these behaviors, we understand that this is the primal way to deal with anger. Those same babies are likely to work out their frustrations and hold no grudges afterwards, often peacefully falling asleep.

As we grow up, we are taught “anger management” and even encouraged not to let ourselves become angry. This results in adults who fall into several broad categories:

– There are those who fail anger management and continue to have temper tantrums, like my 30-something neighbor who recently was so angry at a car parked on his lawn that he punched the side mirror off, resulting in 25 stitches in his hand.

– There are those who deny their anger, as I did for much of my adult life. The biggest revelation of my first round of therapy was that I was angry and that it was OK to be angry. My upbringing did not recognize anger as an emotion. Instead those feelings were squelched, resulting in lots of old baggage.

– There are those who acknowledge their anger and simply try to make sense of it, without letting it get the better of them. This is the group I want to belong to. I love the way my therapist is helping me identify the patterns that set me off and her strategies for coping. She is no Pollyanna when it comes to dealing with feelings.

My initial reaction to tonight’s reading was that anger between adults can have no positive effect on either the angry person or the object of her anger. It can leave behind scars and a wake of hurt feelings if it reaches confrontation. It’s a balancing act between venting our anger and holding it in for fear of the consequences. There must be a middle ground. I’m searching for it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Along for the Ride

We had a new passenger on this latest trip of ours. My husband’s new iPhone made it possible for him to do e-Mail on those long stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike where your only other company is scores of trucks.

The iPhone is quickly becoming his most prized possession. We went on a bike ride yesterday, leaving the door to our house wide open as we always do. Ten minutes into the ride, he exclaimed “I left my iPhone back at the house on the table. What if someone steals it?” I reminded him that any intruder would probably be much more interested in the 3 laptops that were sitting there in plain view.

But then, who knows? The iPhone is incredibly small for the capabilities it provides. To have all your music, your cell phone, your access to the Internet ANYWHERE all in something that easily fits in your pocket is pretty amazing.

It made me wonder why computer manufacturers don’t work a deal with AT&T to provide the same uber-Internet service in all computers. For me the downside to the iPhone is that you still need skinny little fingers to type anything and the screen is by default miniscule.

I’m sure we’ve just seen the tip of the technological iceberg in the iPhone. I’m sure within 5 years I could be posting this to Blogger as I sit here as a passenger with nothing better to do while I count down the miles.

I am so excited because in just a few hours I can give my Jake a big hug and tell him I’m home once again for a while at least. Going away is nice, but coming home to meet a big slobbering dog is the best!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Boating Party

The motley crew who ventured out onto Lake Chautauqua in a catamaran is hardly the subject of a Monet painting, but we experienced the lake from a very different perspective on the last day of our mini-vacation.

We are not really boat people, but we figured it couldn’t be too hard to power, steer, and stop a big flat boat that didn’t have a chance of turning over.

In truth, Kris has always loved boats and water and really knew what she was doing, even before the 20-minute crash course in catamaran-ing.

One of our crew wasn’t taking any chances.

Here are some random shots from our 2-hour trip around the lake, which is 17 miles from north to south. It was a perfect day with lots of sun and just enough wind to give us a slight breeze.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mindsweeping for Safekeeping

What if you could selectively deposit your memories in a place to keep them safe and to free up your mind for other, perhaps more pleasant things? I just learned about a “pensieve” in Harry Potter book #4, “The Goblet of Fire.”

In this chapter Harry stumbles onto a shallow stone basin containing a strange substance and emanating silvery light. It just happens to be the pensieve where Dumbledore deposits his memories.

There are many clever things in these books, but I find the pensieve to be one of the best. Instead of ruminating on scenes you would rather forget for the present, you simply draw them out on a silver strand from your head and deposit them in the pensieve.

I’m just at the point where Harry comes face to face with Lord Voltemort, so it is rather hard to put the book down. However, the day was so perfect that I simply couldn’t resist a long walk around Chautauqua, where my husband imparted the secrets of his photography class, often bemoaning the fact that my camera was just not quite good enough to get it right. Here are a few random shots from my walk. They include:

-- The cow down the street

-- A first ride on a bike without the training wheels

-- The remains of a black-tie event

-- The local Episcopal Church

-- Me in my new brown Tee shirt

-- A guest lecturer in the Hall of Philosophy

-- He always did like doing rabbit ears on unsuspecting victims

-- Lake Shore Drive
-- Two views of the Bell Tower from the porch of The Atheneum

-- The amphitheater just waiting for the next performance