Thursday, January 31, 2008


My son has just run the gauntlet of German bureaucracy to get a work permit. They make it next to impossible for non-EU citizens these days, probably because the Germans don’t really want any additional foreigners taking scarce jobs.

He is so principled that he really felt uncomfortable even trying to work illegally (without a permit) as many people do. But it’s clear that red tape in Germany may be even worse than it is in this country.

Here are the major requirements to even be able to apply for a work permit:
(1) A job offer.
(2) A permanent address (meaning NOT a hostel).
(3) An acceptable form of comprehensive health insurance.
(4) A tax number.

Any one of these might not seem so hard, but all 4 were a real challenge for someone who does not speak German, who in fact was only in Hamburg because he wanted to teach ENGLISH! That idea that all Europeans speak English is a myth apparently.

He was so excited about his success that he woke us up on Monday morning to tell us he had received the official notice that he now had a work permit.

I’m sure that takes a load off his mind, now that he can pursue his two job offers legitimately. In addition, he can also advertize his services.

I’m thinking maybe he should hit up those offices that made this process so difficult. Maybe a quick course in business English!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From Generation to Generation

Most of us can easily see the imprint of our mothers in our day-to-day lives. It’s inescapable that we will carry on many of their traits, even some of the ones we scorned as children. But just recently I’m coming to see myself in my daughter and getting a real kick out of getting to know her as an adult.

She surprised us with a visit this week, a free trip on Alaska Air earned by being bumped. She is in between jobs, having left the sinking ship of a start-up venture to work at UCSF. She will be doing the psychological interviews and follow-up in a study on lupus, at least initially. The job sounds like a much better fit with her bio-psych background.

My daughter has become a GREAT cook. I found it interesting that instead of a fashion magazine she had bought the latest issue of Gourmet in the airport. She swears by organic ingredients and loves to experiment with new things. She was quickly on board with homemade yogurt after sampling my latest batch. We cooked together last night. I made a garlicky tortellini tomato soup. She made Australian baramundi with lemon and shallots. My husband cleaned up.

Her tastes have broadened to include mushrooms, ginger, spinach, beans, and all sorts of things she would have turned up her nose at as a younger child. She was my finicky eater. She’s still not enamored with broccoli, asparagus, or eggplant, but I’ll bet in a couple of years they will be there too.

She’s such a smart shopper. We hit Loehmann’s together yesterday. She told me the one skirt I was about to buy from the “Backroom” at $100 was simply not worth the money. She bought a handful of tops and a sweater at a great discount to wear to the new job. Not much in SF requires suits and heels fortunately.

After our shopping expedition, she suggested we stop at G Street Fabrics to buy silk to make flax-lavender filled eyebags. Just the kind of thing I love to do, especially with someone else. I'm sure her friend back in SF will love using the handmade eyebag when she does yoga.

She is in a long-distance relationship with a boy who just started medical school in Grenada. They have decided not to see other people because that would simply diminish their relationship. She told me she could never understand polygamy. This boy, whom we have not yet met, shares her love of the environment and a natural lifestyle. They sound like a perfect couple, just separated by 3,000 miles unfortunately. But they are online multiple times each day.

She is so many things that I am not: an outstanding athlete, a talented artist, a person with dainty feet! But the imprint is definitely there. It’s so much fun to see your legacy right before your very eyes. I loved her as a little girl, but I love her even more as an adult!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What's Cooking?

As I sipped my green tea and talked to my friend’s daughter yesterday in Murky Coffee on the Hill, I suddenly had a revelation about how I might want to spend some of my yet very free time. She was studying a bunch of catalogs as she prepares to open a fabulous new cooking store just steps from the Eastern Market Metro stop.

Leah is a young woman just barely older than my son who has a vision of what she wants to do with her life. She has been working hard over the last couple of years to make her vision happen and it’s now becoming a reality this Spring. Her mother, who is incredibly supportive of entrepreneurs, was my very best customer in my one-day stint at the Eastern Market.

We talked about the progress on renovating the space that will house the new store. Leah mentioned what a daunting task it is to choose the initial inventory and decide how many of each thing to buy.

When we got around to staffing, I found myself suggesting that I might be interested in working in her new store part-time, with a definite discount on the many things I will probably end up buying there.

I can’t imagine a better job than working in a cooking store, unless it would be working in a hardware store. But in a cooking store, you could do demonstrations. Leah assured me there would be a full kitchen on the second floor of the store. I could already smell bread dough rising and a pungent gingery stir-fry in a wok.

If I were staffing a cooking store, it would be with handsome young gay men who adore cooking and love to talk about it. But maybe, just maybe, there is room for a straight retiree who also adores cooking and also loves to talk about it.

There is this little issue of the fact that I live in VA and could not easily park my car in DC for hours at a time. I would definitely have to become a Metro rider, somehow dealing with the problem on my end of not having a convenient Metro stop. But that’s definitely getting the cart ahead of the horse. I don’t even have the slightest offer of a job yet.

But I’ve planted the seed with Leah. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Meanwhile I can’t wait for Hill’s Kitchen to open!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jake's in the Doghouse

Jake has never been a gracious host to new people coming in our front door. Last night was no exception, although he went to extreme and unprecedented means to show his displeasure.

Before the 25 or so people arrived at our house for the monthly RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) meeting, David suggested I stay with Jake in the kitchen as people arrived. With every additional voice, his bark grew more frantic, especially since he couldn’t see who was coming in our front door.

At some point I let him loose figuring everyone was in and knowing he would quiet in about 45 seconds after he sniffed out the guests.

Instead in about 45 seconds, Sam said “Your dog just lifted his leg on Jan’s leg.” WHAT? This was the dog who had been instantly housebroken. The dog who would pee every time someone even looked at her had been our insane dachshund Schnizzy, long since gone.

Sure enough, Jan’s lower pant leg was wet and there was a large puddle on our hardwood floor. As David mopped up the pee with multiple paper towels, I offered Jan a change of clothes, figuring she wore about my size. She graciously declined, choosing to roll up her jeans leg instead.

Poor Jan’s woes didn’t end with the dog pee incident. She noticed that the glass of red wine my husband served her had a nick in the rim. This poor woman, who may not have been in my house since she recruited me for the babysitting coop some 27 years ago, may never want to set foot in my door again.

I can only commend her good nature in laughing at our warm welcome. Fortunately the meeting eclipsed the rocky start as we learned how January’s members had spent their $400+. Every one of us feels indebted to KC for starting the RAK concept in our neighborhood, an idea that is now taking shape in other metro DC neighborhoods. There is no end to the need out there. It’s all a matter of connecting those who have with those who have not. I’m so lucky to be a part of this group!

But meanwhile, Jake is in the doghouse.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Calling All Poetry Lovers

This invitation is from a friend of a friend. Pull out your poetry books or write something to post on Groundhog's Day!

From Deborah Oak's blog

Let poetry bless the blogosphere once again!

WHAT: A Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading

WHEN: Anytime February 2, 2008

WHERE: Your blog

WHY: To celebrate the Feast of Brigid, aka Groundhog Day

HOW: Select a poem you like - by a favorite poet or one of your own - to post February 2nd.

RSVP: If you plan to publish, feel free to leave a comment and link on my blog. Last year when the call went out there was more poetry in cyberspace than I could keep track of. So, link to whoever you hear about this from and a mighty web of poetry will be spun.

Feel free to pass this invitation on to any and all bloggers.

Thank you, Reya, for beginning what is now an annual event.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On Becoming a Mad Hatter

I will never again look at a felted wool hat without realizing how much work went into making it (if it’s not mass produced). For years I have admired the beautiful hats made by my friend Karen. For years she has been offering to teach me how to make them. I finally got around to Felting 101 today.

Karen had gotten out books and hats to give me the background for this new adventure. I looked at two whole walls of hat forms in her workroom, mostly brought back from flea markets in Europe. She started off by reassuring me there are no problems in felting that cannot be resolved. Then she showed me a couple of cases where mistakes had actually turned into something interesting and unusual.

But Karen wisely decided to teach me the basics today instead of just jumping in and making a hat. I picked colors I liked from her bins of scrap wool and then started putting them together in what would become a purse/pouch/whatever bag to carry things in.

It’s a multi-step process to assemble the fibers and then felt them so they stick together and shrink so they lock in place. Warm water performs the same function the dryer does on a wool sweater. After felting and rolling and squeezing and throwing my little colorful collection of fibers, it finally took shape.

When I suggested adding a button with a loop, Karen immediately pulled out her spinning wheel and spun some yarn I could use to make the loop.

So now that I have an idea of what I am getting myself into, my homework is to choose fibers for a hat. Karen is going to New York this week and will buy whatever I choose at The Yarntree. I will probably make a beret as my first hat. I hope it has one of those little curls on top like this one has.

Maybe some day I will graduate to use one of those cool hat forms and make a classy Fedora or something with a big brim. As with so many craft projects, the choices are infinite!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

After filling my car up with baby items on Capitol Hill for the second time, I am starting to understand the power of an organization. Glenda and the other girls in the Arlington teen parenting program will be the lucky recipients of this bounty.

On Monday night I happened to mention my search for a stroller and other baby items to my wonderful yoga teacher Leyla, who lives and works on Capitol Hill. She has a young daughter of her own, but it turns out more importantly she is part of an organization of mothers called Moms on the Hill (MotH). She went home and issued the following message:

Dear MOTH,

A good friend of mine is helping a nineteen years old mom from
Guatemala take care of her 7-day old daughter. She is in desperate
need of any baby items.

My friend, Barbara Diskin, can pick-up these items from your home. If
you have anything you could donate (clothes 3 months and up, books,
toys, stroller, etc), please contact Barbara at


And the offers started flowing into my inbox. I scheduled pick-ups yesterday and today and finally had to turn down offers of assistance.

As my husband said, many of these items don’t even look used. There are two strollers, two carseats, a jumper, a bathtub, diapers, formula, blankets, toys, and lot of clothes. There are hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.

Invariably each donor thanked me profusely for helping her clean out and get rid of unneeded items. My “you are welcome” included the invitation to contact me in the future if more things were surplused.

This experience finally makes sense of the warehouses of teddy bears and backpacks that we heard about after hurricane Katrina. It’s the multiplying effect of generosity.

My job tonight is to go through all this stuff (which is pretty much covering my family room floor) and determine what to give to Glenda, what to save for the future (like the jumper that’s not to be used before 4 months), and what to pass on to the other girls for their babies.

We live in a place where many people have more than they need and are only too willing to share with others. I’m just happy to be the conduit for this batch of plenty.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yummy Yogurt

I had forgotten how easy it is to make homemade yogurt. I had also forgotten how much better it tastes. My friend Kathy recently gave me a sample of hers and I immediately ordered the above Salton yogurt maker from Amazon for $10 with free shipping.

Years ago we made yogurt for our dog who had every malady known to the canine world. Our neighbors gave us a culture they had smuggled out of Bulgaria years before. We simply put warm water, powdered milk, and a small amount of yogurt in a quart jar; shook it up; and let it sit under a blanket overnight. The next day it was ready. That yogurt then provided the starter for the next batch. But when that dog departed, I stopped making yogurt and resorted to buying it.

For years we bought the sweetened kind with fruit and then I suddenly lost my taste for all that sugar and switched to plain yogurt, knowing I could always add fresh fruit.

I thought the Greek yogurt Fage was the best until I tasted Kathy’s yogurt. Here’s her recipe:

1/4 cup of yogurt to use as starter (Kathy says the Greek yogurt won’t work as a starter)
½ cup of nonfat powdered milk (I used Organic Valley)
4 cups of milk (any kind – I used Organic Valley 1% lactose free)

Warm the starter in the yogurt maker while you heat the milk. In a heavy saucepan, mix the powdered milk with a small amount of the milk until it dissolves. Add the remaining milk and heat to 180-200 degrees, just before boiling. Cool to around 115 degrees. (A candy thermometer is handy for checking the temperature of the milk.) Mix the starter into the milk mixture. Place in the yogurt maker and leave overnight. In the morning you will have delicious yogurt for breakfast.

The beauty of this yogurt is my husband who is lactose intolerant can eat it. It’s mostly lactose free. He has yet to get used to the absence of sugar, but he’s happy to be able to take advantage of the benefits of yogurt once again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Remedial Blue Yonder

As I thought about my upcoming second tap dance lesson last night, in a moment of weakness I dialed the number on the little piece of paper my teacher Roberta had passed out to ask about that offer of remedial help.

Could I come at 3:00 today? She already had a session scheduled with someone else in my class who had missed last week.

So following the sage advice of Mother of Invention, I stopped by the Alexandria Pastry Shop and picked up 2 raisin scones on my way to tap this afternoon.

Lovely house in a lovely neighborhood. Big circular drive. Roberta and Bob were obviously not depending on what they earned through Fairfax County Rec for their retirement support.

I walked into their family room and met the other student needing a little help. Pam, it turns out, is BLIND! Apparently she is determined to learn to tap dance and is doing quite well.

This discovery cast my limitations in a whole new light. I put on my tap shoes with a renewed determination that if a blind person could learn to do this, so could I.

This lesson was an entire hour-long session, starting with the warmup and building up to our “number”, that is the first 90 seconds of our number. The CD was at the rec center, so Roberta just sang as we tapped away.

With two teachers and two students, there was a lot of individual help. These people have the patience of Job. They went over and over the Buffalo and Time Step, repeating the elements of the steps and talking about where your weight is supposed to be. We Buffaloed and Time Stepped until each of us had it and could do repeated steps without screwing up.

When I expressed any inkling of doubt, they reminded me that Beverly, the girl in our class who almost bounces on her taps, was just as klutzy as I am when she started 3 classes ago. She just keeps taking Tap 1 and now dances like a pro. Somehow I don’t think I will ever shuffle off to Buffalo like Beverly, but she gives me hope.

Will I remember this on Sunday? Will I practice in between now and then? No promises.

What I have come to realize about tap dancing is that it is probably the best form of therapy for someone like me who is balance-challenged. It’s all about knowing where your weight is and being able to shift it at will. Roberta even has high hopes for increasing the range of motion of my right ankle. I wanted to tell her it was as good as it’s going to get, but who knows?

Bob himself is a runner, who developed balance issues a couple of years ago. He does tai chi, martial arts, and tap dance. Swears by it to improve balance and hopes to run again.

Roberta did ballet when she was younger, actually being recruited by Juilliard. But her parents said no. She often wonders if she could have made it in the dance world.

Together they are the best ambassadors in the world for tap dance. They love it and want everyone else to love it too.

My parting gesture was an offer to help with costumes for the “show” at the end of class. We are supposed to wear Air Force blue. Remember it’s Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder as we spread our arms like wings.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

People with Policies

I was reminded yesterday that people with policies scare me. (I couldn’t help but remember my previous therapist, who was so policied that she wanted to see me weekly unless I was dead!) As I search for a piano teacher, I’m carefully thinking about why I want to study and the environment that will make me most productive and happy. I’m hopeful what I finally settle on will be virtually policy free.

A couple of months ago as I began to tackle more difficult music, my friend and “coach” Bill suggested that I should study with a piano teacher. I haven’t studied with anyone on a regular basis for about 15 years and I agreed with him that it was time to look for a teacher.

He gave me one suggestion. This person lives in Virginia, has absolutely stellar credentials in the chamber music field, and has the reputation of being a lovely woman. After exchanging several phone messages, we finally connected yesterday. She dodged my question of how much she charges and instead said she would e-mail me her policies prior to our arranged meeting today.

When I looked at the policies last night, I was shocked to find out she charges $100 an hour with all sorts of other fees. You basically commit to a monthly fee. But as I read further there were rules like the following:

Students must wash their hands before their lessons and practice sessions, and keep their fingernails short, flush with the end of the finger. If not, the student will use lesson time to fulfill these basic requirements.

There were more rules about notification of lesson termination, late fees, recital requirements, and on and on and on.

I could feel myself getting tense as I read over the policies.

I made a couple of phone calls to people who had reason to know the going rate and determined her fees to be well above the norm. So I called her back to decline the chance to meet her today that was going to cost me $105.

Meanwhile, one of the friends I called recommended her teacher of 10 years who happens to charge $55 an hour. She also happens to be the mother of a boy who went to high school with my daughter.

I called her today and got a very different first impression. She seemed totally flexible to whatever study approach I wanted to take. I’m sure she will teach me music theory and proper hand position, but she didn’t give me any rules for fingernail length. (My nails are of necessity short in order not to click on the keys.)

We agreed to meet and see if there is a musical good fit. Then we’ll come up with a plan for lesson frequency and figure out what music I will work on.

As I hung up, I realized how great it is to be able to make important choices like this as an adult. I acknowledged that I should never have to feel uncomfortable with anyone with whom I study anything.

My goal is not to become a concert pianist, but rather to get as much pleasure as possible out of this thing that currently occupies so much of my time. It will work best for me if policies don’t get in the way of making beautiful music.

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Praise of Women Over 40

I apparently missed the "60 Minutes" airing when Andy Rooney spoke about women over 40:

As I grow in age, I value women over 40 most of all.
Here are just a few reasons why:

A woman over 40 will never wake you in the middle of
the night and ask, 'What are you thinking?' She
doesn't care what you think. If a woman over 40
doesn't want to watch the game , she doesn't sit
around whining about it. She does something she wants
to do, and it's usually more interesting. Women over
40 are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match
with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive
restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won't
hesitate to shoot you if they think they can get away
with it. Older women are generous with praise, often
undeserved. They know what it's like to be
unappreciated. Women get psychic as they age. You
never have to confess your sins to a woman over 40.
Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 40 is
far sexier than her younger counterpart. Older women
are forthright and honest. They'll tell you right off
if you are a jerk if you are acting like one. You
don't ever have to wonder where you stand with her.
Yes, we ! praise women over 40 for a multitude of
reasons. Unfortunately, it's not reciprocal . For
every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over
40, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants
making a fool of himself with some 22-year old
waitress. Ladies, I apologize.

For all those men who say, 'Why buy the cow when you
can get the milk for free?', here's an update for you.
Nowadays 80% of women are against marriage. Why?
Because women realize it's not worth buying an entire
pig just to get a little sausage!

I totally agree with my friend who sent me this: Andy Rooney is so smart!

Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder

Never did I imagine myself dancing in a chorus line at age 59. But yesterday we linked arms and made lots of noise as our taps hit the floor while we grape-vined across the room.

I finally joined the adult tap class on its 3rd session of 10. I was greeted by Roberta, the instructor who is probably 10 years older than I am but definitely in much better shape. She had brought her husband Bob along to give special attention to anyone who needed it. She handed me a little slip of paper with their names and phone number on it and told me they actually make house calls for people who need remedial help – at no extra cost! You see Roberta and Bob met in their tap shoes and love to dance. She was wearing a tee shirt that said something like, “You’re never too old to tap dance. You’re only old when you stop dancing.”

As we put on our shoes, my friend Cindy handed me a screw driver and told me to loosen each screw on the taps a quarter turn. That way they make more noise when you tap. I was more concerned about tripping over my taps, but I did as she said.

The next hour was about as good a cardio session as I could have ever asked for. We warmed up our ankles and our toes and the balls of our feet. We lifted and shifted our rib cage. Then we started seriously tapping.

I was OK with the simple one-part instructions. I could brush and step and even do shuffle circles. I managed to do a solo grape-vine across the room, the last of the 8 students to try it.

But the real challenge for me came when we started doing “Buffalo” and “Time Step.” These require processing multiple movements and weight shifts. I could mentally understand what Roberta said, but my feet were not so cooperative. They were the foot equivalent of tongue-tied.

That was the point at which I first heard that we are going to be in a recital at the end of the 10 weeks. Are you kidding me? I can barely tap 2 successive steps correctly. But yes, we are dancing to “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder.” This was when we did the chorus line thing (tallest to shortest) and attempted to learn the first 90 seconds of our number. I must say it was nice to be able to hold onto the arms on either side for balance, but I really suck at remembering what to do. If you are expecting to be invited to the recital, forget it!

Roberta had thought ahead. She sent each of us home with a hand-written description of the warm-up and the two most challenging sequences. That’s all I need – something else to practice at home. I am really toying with the idea of inviting Roberta and Bob to come over for a little private lesson so I don’t totally embarrass myself in this tap adventure.

As bad as I am, I must admit how much I love to hear those taps clicking on a hard-wood floor. It’s a happy sound!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Irish Music and Paper Airplanes

One of the highlights of my husband’s musical year is always the annual World Folk Music Association’s benefit concert, which took place last night at NoVa’s Schlesinger Hall. This year’s concert was dedicated to the memory of Tommy Makem, an Irish legend in the folk music world.

Every year I notice that the average age of the audience is creeping up just as fast as the average age of the performers. Gone are the days of groups like The Kingston Trio, Christine Lavin, and Buskin and Bateau. But there are new faces like the all-women group Hot Soup.

I’ve never quite connected with folk music, probably because it is usually piano optional. There was not one group that used anything more than an electronic keyboard last night. I still have a lot of trouble processing and understanding the words. So much of it just seems like plunking guitars.

But I did enjoy the emphasis on Irish ballads in the second half of the concert. They seem to mix feelings of sadness and love with a wistfulness that bespeaks a life of hard work. The final acts included three of Tommy Makem’s sons, who seem to have inherited their father’s gift for music.

At intermission I chanced to run into two people from my old office whom I really liked. After a round of hugs, they invited me to come back for the annual paper airplane contest on February 13. For years I have made a plane with varying results of airborne success.

The issue for me was not whether I would have a winning airplane, but rather how I would feel about seeing those people who were the reason why I left. Truthfully I have a hard time calling up the same feelings of anger that made me miserable just a year ago. Maybe it’s time to go back and see the many people I loved working with.

That will just about complete the healing process that has taken place since I left in May. I should probably thank those who caused me so much angst for giving me a reason to retire. I have never regretted my decision for one minute, and it might have been difficult to decide totally on my own.

So as I hum an Irish tune, I’ll start folding the paper to make this year’s plane. Maybe I should call it Freedom Flyer.

Here’s one of Tommy Makem’s most beautiful songs:


Come over the hills my bonny Irish lass
Come over the hills to your darling
You choose the road love and I'll make a vow
That I'll be your true love forever

Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows
Fair is the lily of the valley
Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne
But my love is fairer than any

It's down in Killarney's green woods that we strayed
When the moon and the stars, they were shining
For the moon shone its rays on her locks of golden hair
And she said she'd be my love forever


It's not for the parting with my sister Kate
It's not for the grief of my mother
It's all for the loss of my bonny Irish lass
That my heart is breaking forever

Friday, January 18, 2008

Feelings of Gratitude

I have recently been reminded of the large gap that exists between the rich and the poor in this country. I’m certainly not among the richest, but my life is so easy compared to that of many others.

Today as I sat in the free clinic waiting for Glenda to get the baby’s jaundice checked, I watched the never-ending overhead TV. It seemed ironic that the feature show was about expensive dog-wear, featuring glitzy sweaters starting at $49. I’m not sure how many of those in the waiting area even understood the show, but they must have wondered about Americans who were spending that kind of money on their pets.

Yesterday when I went to Good will in a desperate attempt to find a coat for little Angeli, I realized that many of the things on those racks had been worn little or not at all. I was able to buy a fleece sleeper, an infant bunting, and a small snowsuit for $10 because rich people whose babies had too much or had outgrown them dropped off their garbage-bags full of clothes.

I take it for granted that I can get in any one of four cars to go wherever I need to go, when Glenda’s family has not even one car. They rely on their feet and the bus to take them to work and to school and home again.

Certain things transcend economic boundaries. I count as one of my prize possessions the fact that I now have a “nieta adoptiva”, an adopted grandchild. Glenda told me today that I could consider Angeli as my surrogate grandchild until I had one of my own.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hear No Evil

I heard an interesting story at meditation last night from someone who is a relatively new teacher in the troubled DC Public School System.

She takes her job seriously and often hears what is going on in the lives of her young wards. Occasionally she reaches out for help and advice.

This week a particular issue took her to a social worker who is not part of the school system per se. She had always found this person to be helpful before.

But for some reason, she distinctly seemed not to want to become involved. My friend finally walked out shaking her head in amazement.

She wondered if this is the backlash from the recent discovery of the 4 dead girls, killed by their mentally ill mother and not discovered by the system until months later. Many people have been caught up in the chain of accusations about what went wrong.

Is it now better just not to know so that you cannot be held culpable in case something goes really wrong? What a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Miracle of New Life

There is nothing better than a perfect newborn baby to reaffirm the miracle of life. I was introduced to Angeli Daniella today and was simply incredulous at her beauty.

She did not have an easy trip into this world. Glenda was in labor for an entire 24 hours and finally gave birth mid-day yesterday to what we thought would be a baby as tiny as she is. Instead her baby was 7-1/2 pounds and a lot of inches long.

She has her mother’s dark shiny hair and her father’s light skin. She in no way resembles most babies a day old, at least not the ones I’ve seen. She has perfect skin and seems awake and alert most of the time.

Glenda is tiring of the hospital routine where people are always coming around for one reason or another and the food is not so good. The baby stays in her room, so she must always be responsible. She will probably feel much more relaxed when she is back in her family’s apartment.

I was fascinated to observe how a non-Spanish-speaking pediatrician communicated with her, enlisting the help of a translator and using a phone with two receivers. I’m sure her lack of English language skills continues to plague Glenda in this world where many professionals do not speak Spanish.

Tomorrow afternoon we will return with the blue gently used car seat to take mother and baby home. She will wrap little Angeli in several blankets because at this point she doesn’t have a bunting or snowsuit or coat small enough to fit a newborn. I promised to take her on a shopping trip to Target (where she has a couple of gift cards) soon to get some sort of warm outerwear for the baby.

I wish for this baby, who is a US citizen, a life that is not quite so difficult as her mother’s has been. At this point endless possibilities await her. This is just the beginning.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Cost of Inflation

My morning’s research into infant car seats showed me that a lot has changed since my children were babies. Today’s car seats have all sorts of bells and whistles and prices that would have bought a crib back then. I’m not sure I could afford to raise children today if the price of car seats is indicative of how much it costs! Take a look at this.

For as long as I can remember hospitals have had a policy of not sending a baby home in a car without a car seat. But I thought there used to be programs within the hospital for those who couldn’t afford one. Arlington Hospital confirmed the rule still is enforced and they no longer provide any assistance.

I looked into used car seats and found numerous admonishments about their safety. Calls to the Salvation Army and Good Will would indicate they may not even carry them for that reason.

It used to be that subscribers could get car seats for $25 from Geico, in an effort to support safety and as a perq for their customers. I called to find out that program had been discontinued. I guess they think everyone can now afford to be safe on their own.

I called Glenda's school to see if they might have some leads on a free or affordable car seat. It turns out car seats are given out to students who attend a one-hour class given by the Arlington Car Seat Safety Program. My suspicion is that Glenda either didn’t attend the class or they ran out of car seats that day. I just spoke to the woman who runs the program who insisted she still had to take a one-hour class, even though she is currently in the hospital giving birth. She is verifying who got the car seats after the most recent class.

The cheapest new infant car seat I have found goes for $49.99 at Kids R Us. If all else fails, I will just go buy it. A $50 car seat is starting to sound like a real bargain!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Answering a Call for Help

I’ve been on a state of high alert ever since I received Glenda’s call this morning telling me she was in labor and needed to go to the hospital. Envisioning myself delivering her baby in the car, I grabbed my husband away from his conference call with a client and said, “Come on, we are taking Glenda to the hospital.” He willingly came along on this mission of mercy.

We made it to her apartment in Roslyn in record time and after our call out came a scared girl with a belly the size of a giant basketball. No one had been home when she went into labor. She said her pains were 3 minutes apart as we sped away toward Arlington Hospital. As she suffered in silence, my husband called ahead to try to find out where she should go.

Unfortunately the instructions to take her to the Emergency Room turned out to be wrong. So after getting poor Glenda out of the car and back in, we headed to another building where labor and delivery take place.

There was no one to meet her with a wheel chair. Instead I accompanied her up to the third floor where I wished her luck as I turned her over to the staff.

I feel like I’ve been pacing the floor smoking a Stogie as I wait to find out the news. I finally called this afternoon and spoke to Glenda, still in pain but with no baby delivered yet. Her mother had left her restaurant job to be with her in the hospital, so I was glad she had company.

I’m sure this is just good practice for when I have grandchildren. But it’s exciting and a little scary at the same time.

Meanwhile I called her school to let them know why she wasn’t there. I arranged to borrow a carseat for Glenda’s trip home with her new baby. But that will be for another day.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

No Good News

A quick scan of today’s papers showed a lot of killing going on. There was Daniel Kim of Virginia Tech killing himself in a Target parking lot. There was Banita Jacks killing her four daughters ranging in age from 5 to 17, claiming they were possessed. There were 121 documented cases of returning veterans who killed someone, possibly as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Then there was the article suggesting we may be cruising for extinction as Greenland continues to melt at an alarming rate.

Death and dying are always in the news. But today those themes made me wonder at the senselessness of humans extinguishing other human life or their own. I ask myself if this is the way it’s always been. I wonder if there will be anyone left to become extinct when the melting is complete.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Kneading Bread and a House Concert

What in the world do these two things have in common? Shabbat-Shalom-Around-Town, Temple Micah’s yearly home-style Shabbat celebration.

I hadn’t made challah in years, but I just had the urge to make bread today in preparation for my dinner for 8 tonight. I had forgotten how good the warm yeast smells. I had forgotten how therapeutic kneading bread can be. I had forgotten how much I like to braid the long strands of dough together, making a second little braid to adorn the bigger one.

My challah didn’t exactly look like the above picture because as it rose during the baking, the braids largely disappeared. But it tasted authentic and my guests all wanted a hunk to take home, so it must have been OK.

Tonight’s guests happened to be people we have known for years at Temple Micah. There was a 76-year-old widow. There was a couple who are probably 65. There was a second couple who are probably close to our age and her 90-year-old mother.

Tonight’s dinner was part of the “Israel at 60" year-long celebration so the menu focused on Israeli foods and we listened to David’s collection of Israeli music while we ate. We had hummous and baba ghanouj, courtesy of my guests. There was a tomato soup with Israeli couscous. The main dish was a chicken curry with apples served with brown rice. Dessert was a fruit compote made with mixed dried fruits and port, served over ice cream.

In between the main course and dessert we had a small “house concert.” The 90-year-old woman, who has been teaching piano for 60 years, played a beautiful Schubert piece. Her daughter, who plays the clarinet in a local orchestra, and I played a short Faure duet. We had never even rehearsed the piece together and still it came off quite well, largely due to the fact that she is a professional musician. She had the challenge of having to transpose her part, which was written for flute. I then played my Chopin Etude, which is definitely still a work in progress. This experience reminded me of how people in times past would entertain themselves.

Our dessert conversation turned to politics. One guest conducted a poll of those present which came out: Hillary 4, Edwards 3, Obama 1. No Republicans in the crowd. But one person admitted that if it were a choice between McCain and Hillary, he would vote for McCain!

The dishes are mostly done. We have an annoying water problem coming from under the tiles in front of the refrigerator, but fortunately it seems to be a rather slow leak somewhere. It will just have to wait until tomorrow.

It was a long day, but we managed to pull off a fairly complicated meal with no arguments. I would like to dream about making beautiful music. Or maybe kneading bread.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My New-Found Fame

I now understand why there are no mirrors in our yoga studio. It’s somewhat mortifying to see what you look like in those yoga poses.

I was interviewed for the current feature article in the Hill Rag “How Yoga Changes People’s Lives”. My yoga studio had asked permission to submit my name as a potential contributor. I had a 10-minute chat on the phone with the author. At the end she indicated that “Andrew” would be contacting me to arrange for a photo shoot.

It turns out Andrew is the Jack-of-all-trades at the Hill Rag, having helped grow this neighborhood paper from 2 pages in the mid-70's to its current 180-page spread. Andrew called and arranged to meet me at the yoga studio one day.

I came in prepared to offer up a warrior pose or a tree pose, thinking I could probably hold either of those long enough for him to get a picture. But no, he wanted something maybe on the floor. How about plank? I said, commenting that plank is one of the few poses that I can do fairly well while other people grimace.

We tried plank, but his camera made me look like I didn’t have any feet, like I could have just been scooting around on a cart with no legs.

So that’s how we arrived at Chair pose. It is definitely not my favorite pose, as the picture caption states, but at least I am smiling.

The article itself is basically what I told the author, with the exception of the part about “caught up in the frenzy of raising children.” That would have been why I didn’t have time for physical exercise or much of anything else for myself for 20+ years.

I feel honored that they included me in this article since the Hill is really my adopted neighborhood.

As I sink into chair pose in my yoga class tonight, or probably any time in the future, I will remember posing for Andrew and my moment of glory in the Hill Rag.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Celebrating Motherhood

Yesterday was a blending of cultures and customs as we focused on the one thing we all had in common – motherhood. The baby shower for Glenda and Lorena demonstrated the best of American generosity.

My attempt to give Glenda a familiar companion at the shower failed completely because her good friend Lorena went into labor last Friday and had her baby on my birthday, January 5. She had gone in for a check-up with a due date of January 15. But on Friday they simply kept her at the hospital, which solved the tricky problem of how to get there quickly with no car when in labor. Cynthia Yvette came into the world at 5 pounds and 19 inches.

But even without her friend, Glenda was willing to find out about this American thing called a “baby shower” on her own. As we drove into our neighborhood, she asked “You live in a house?” and seemed somewhat surprised since she and most of the people she knows here live in apartments.

The outpouring generosity of so many people resulted in a mound of presents stacked on and around the coffee table in our living room. We had a treasure trove of things from one neighbor’s daughter who has a beautiful boy and was now happy to part with the yellows and greens and many other unused baby toys and supplies. There were beautifully wrapped packages sent via UPS from one of my best Blog friends. There were packages from some who were at work. There were bilingual books donated by The Reading Connection. And there were even more gifts from those in attendance.

I had found a picture book of Guatemala so as an opener Glenda could show people where she came from and talk about the bright colors that are so typical of her native country.

No shower is complete without a couple of silly games. LR so wisely chose games that didn’t require a lot of language or writing skills. She paired us up for the first which was to look at a picture and find the 9 things wrong – like a high chair on rockers, a pot with 2 handles. My partner and I actually won but didn’t know it because we couldn’t count.

The second game had everyone explain the origin of her name. I found it interesting to hear about my neighbors’ names that I have used all these years, never knowing how they came about. By this time my good friend from Guatemala and her daughter had arrived. She related how they had simply made up the daughter’s name to honor various relatives. Glenda said her father had picked her name and she had never liked it. I was reminded that I had been named for the reigning Miss American in 1949, as were so many other Barbaras who are now in their late 50's.

Then Glenda unwrapped all those beautiful presents and passed them around for everyone to see. Meanwhile KM skillfully designed a paper plate hat with all the bows from the gifts.

Glenda’s baby is going to be one very well dressed little girl. It made me realize how much I love baby clothes. Every little outfit was just adorable and soft and cuddly.

There were lots of books and toys as well. And diapers in multiple sizes and wipes. And gift cards to spend at Target. WOW-WOW-WOW is all I can say about all those presents.

There was a comparable pile set aside for Lorena who was home mothering her 3-day-old baby.

Then we ate all that sugary food that is so essential at a baby shower. The majority of those in attendance are on Weight-Watchers, so they counted up lots of points as they downed frosting-laden cake, hand-made and decorated sugar cookies, and pink punch. The cookies were in the shape of little hands and feet and were decorated with admirable baby attributes – cute, feliz, musical, etc.

The biggest challenge was getting all those gifts into my car so I could deliver Lorena’s and take Glenda home.

We spent a few minutes ooh-in and ahh-ing over little Cynthia, who is an absolutely beautiful tiny baby with perfectly clear skin. Lorena looked on in amazement as we filled half her family’s living room floor.

Then I took a very weary, very pregnant Glenda home. Her mother and stepfather came out to help her carry everything inside. They are obviously hard-working people who are making their way in their new country and are completely supportive of their daughter. They all said “Muchisimas gracias” as we exchanged Adios.

I had worried that it might be awkward blending our cultures, but everyone came with open hearts and smiles. That’s about all it takes to make something like this work. My heartfelt thanks to all those people who contributed to the success of the baby shower, including my husband who made the punch and then promptly disappeared and LR, our neighborhood photographer!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clean Teeth and More

Today’s trip to the dentist for my 6-months cleaning had some unexpected results, in addition to a squeaky clean mouth. You know that feeling when you almost don’t want to eat for fear of undoing all that scraping and polishing.

Since I switched to Larry Bowers, I can truthfully say I no longer dread going to the dentist. I am happy to have left the ceiling-mounted TVs playing CNN continuously behind and instead traded them in for classy artwork with soft jazz playing in the background. Instead of People and Newsweek, there are reading choices such as a bound volume of the last 15 or so years of New Yorker cartoons.

But most of my time there is actually spent tilted back in the dental chair as my patient hygienist carefully scrapes and does whatever is necessary to clean up my teeth.

The first piece of unexpected good news was the fact that instead of berating me for slovenly flossing, for the first time in 59 years I was told that I was doing a good job. It undoubtedly helps to have straight teeth. But I must say that was a small victory and a reward for attentive flossing.

When I asked her what was new in her life, she said “Tap dancing.” We talked about her 10-week course with Fairfax County Rec Dept, of which she has taken the first class and loved it. All people about our age, including the teacher. Not too fast. Doesn’t assume you know squat about tap dancing. Does this sound perfect?

I have been looking for a class that fits this description for the last 2 years since I visited my friend FL in FL, where she took me to a tap dance class that indeed made us feel young. The instructor of her class was in her 80's I believe. The class cost something like $2. And it was the most fun I had had in a long time as we shuffled and brushed and turned.

But then I came back here and was greatly disappointed by my one attempt to join a class of 20-somethings. I couldn’t keep up, my knees hurt, and I felt OLD.

So today I came home and rumaged through my closet to find the tap shoes I had purchased and worn once. Thank goodness my latest clean-up spree hadn’t sent them to Value Village.

By DC standards this class is a bargain at $80 for 10 classes. I will show up on Sunday at 3:00. I will definitely enjoy this chance to talk to my hygienist without having my mouth wide open.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Just a Dream

I woke up in a cold sweat today. I had been dreaming about work and it was a nightmare. I’m sure this was prompted by a call from one of my ex-employees yesterday to see how I was doing.

I haven’t devoted more than 10 minutes to thinking about the old job since I retired in May. But last night I was in the hot seat. Part of my job description had been to deal with problems. And in my dream we had a big one. There was an error in one of the questions on the 2008 version of the questionnaire for our survey and they had already printed 2 million copies. I found myself quickly assessing the extent of the problem and coming up with alternative solutions. Meanwhile my head was starting to ache and that old familiar tension was taking hold.

Then I woke up and thanked God it was just a dream.

In truth, my ex-employee reported that all is going well. One person left for a promotion, but everyone else is still working hard. I’m happy to know that my leaving has not had a negative impact on the people or the project. It’s a useful survey and they are really a dedicated group of employees.

But I am somewhat relieved that when the inevitable problems do occur, they will not be mine to resolve!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Lost and Found

I’ve come to the sad realization that not everyone who is lost wants to be found. Sometimes there are no reasons given, but simply the acceptance that our paths will probably never again cross.

One more reason to concentrate on the present moment. It’s all we can be sure of as we breathe in and breathe out. That’s life.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I’m not sure what the custom for baby showers is in Central American countries. But next week I (with the help of my neighbors) will be showing two young women from Guatemala and El Salvador how we do it here. I’ve never given a baby shower, so it will be a learning experience for me too!

I had toyed with the idea of having a shower for Glenda, the recipient of the RAK sewing machine. But I pictured her by herself in the midst of a bunch of gringos all older than her grandmother and decided she needed to bring along a friend. So the shower will be for Glenda and Lorena, due on January 19th and 15th respectively. They are both having little girls.

When I mentioned the idea of a shower and asked if they needed anything, they initially both said no and seemed very shy. But as we talked about it and they talked to each other, I could see they were warming up to the idea. So we agreed on a date and I asked them to think about what they might need.

Will we play those stupid games? I don’t think an American baby shower would be complete without at least one game. We will have to find one that can be explained in a way they can understand.

We will need a cake with at least “Bienvenido” on top. Maybe two little angels. Lots of pink gooey frosting. Perhaps some decorated sugar cookies. And punch – that kind with the ginger ale and sherbet.

We must get the invitations out quickly since the shower is only 5 days away. Time is of the essence since their babies will be arriving in just a couple of weeks.

I invited Angelina, the 20-something woman from Guatemala who cleans our house. She will bring her adorable 6-year-old daughter as well. I hope she can become a mentor for these two girls as they embark on this new phase of their life in their recently adopted country. She has first-hand knowledge of what they are going through and has proven that immigrants can be successful with hard work.

What to get them for gifts? Not even looking at their list, I’m sure they could use clothes, blankets, diapers, books in both languages, toys, and so much other baby periphernalia.

This may not be the model baby shower, but it will undoubtedly be the only one given by Americans in honor of their daughters! It will be a cross-cultural experience.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bring on the Cold

I passionately hate dressing for winter. I go coatless until it’s just too cold. But I recently came to the realization that even though I might wear a coat, my head is still freezing. So today I invested in not one, but two hats.

I’m sure the main reason I haven’t worn hats is they tend to smash down my hair. I don’t have that hair with boinnng that springs back to life after you peel off a snug-fitting hat. So I’ve gone without for all these years.

Today I was on a winning streak in Filene’s. Any time I buy more than half of what I try on, I feel victorious. The best news was it was greatly reduced, as they try to get rid of all their winter merchandise in preparation for spring. I ended up with 2 pairs of pants and 4 sweaters (two of them Cashmere) for around $180.

Then I remembered about my cold head and asked about hats. Main floor the clerk said.

Hats of every description. First the “dressy” hat (above) that is warm without fitting tightly. It’s extremely soft and will go with most every color.

Then I couldn’t resist a hat with ear flaps at $12.99.

It even fastens under your chin to really seal out the cold.

All this in under an hour since I was at a 1-hour meter. I definitely didn’t want to offset my sale savings with a $50 parking ticket.

That should be the last shopping I need to do until spring.

Starry, Starry Night

Can you imagine having a bedroom ceiling that looked like a night sky? Yesterday I was reminded just what money can buy as I attended a New Year’s Day open house.

My friend B is about as southern as they come, a good Jewish girl from South Carolina. It was hardly expected that she would fall in love with a handsome Turk all those years ago. But this is a love conquers all story that worked out just fine.

They went on to open bakeries and elegant restaurants in DC and meanwhile to raise a family. As their children went out to make their own fortunes, my friend and her husband bought two penthouse apartments in a building on the edge of Georgetown. They created their dream house with a view of the best sights in the city. At sunset you can see the National Cathedral sitting high on its hill, the spires of Georgetown, and the Potomac. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The inside of their penthouse is like an art museum, much in the style of the Hirschhorn. This is the result of a love of art and a lifetime of collecting beautiful pieces all over the world. It’s all very tastefully done, with something of interest everywhere you look.

But as B greets her guests in her long elegant kaftan, she is at once on everyone’s level. She is the most gracious hostess I know. And her guests are an eclectic collection of Washingtonians.

Yesterday’s feast, catered by Provisions, provided so much more than provisions! It was all about small mouthfuls of divine creations. There were little spoons containing tuna tartare on seaweed, shrimp and grits, and creme brulee. There was duck in tiny corn muffins. There was scallops wrapped in bacon. There was a tray of sushi with huge sculpted corners of wasabi and a bed of colorful ginger. There was butternut squash soup in little glasses. And so much more as we sipped our prosecco to welcome in the New Year.

But the thing that impressed me most was the master bedroom. As we claimed our coats there, her husband explained that they wanted to have the feeling of looking at a beautiful night sky when they went to sleep. The result was a sea of silk with tiny lights that are on a dimmer. It indeed looked just like a starry, starry night.

Wealth is so attractive when it’s artfully combined with humility and grace. May B and her prince charming live to be 100 as they fall asleep under their starry canopy each night.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Without a Bang, Not even a Whimper

I wouldn’t even know New Year’s Eve had come and gone if I didn’t look at the calendar and realize today is January 1, 2008. I was blissfully asleep at midnight, put to sleep by a single glass of white wine, not even Champagne.

It seemed all the people we usually hang out with had other plans – other friends, a cruise, you name it. So we ate our homemade pea soup with corn bread as our New Year’s Eve dinner, split a TJ lava cake, and settled in to watch a movie.

My husband, who is in charge of our NetFlix account had but one movie on hand – The Astronaut Farmer. Maybe if I had been high on something besides white wine, I could have found this movie funny. But instead it seemed like the stupidest movie I had ever seen, not even well acted. So 10 minutes in, I politely bowed out and went up to bed.

Did I miss the usual celebration? Not in the least. I got up relatively early today feeling energetic and ready to begin again. I reminded my husband we had saved a bundle by our modest homestyle celebration. Does my enjoyment of simplicity mean that indeed I am getting OLD? Probably, but it’s OK.

P.S. I did get my kiss, but well before midnight!