Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Out of Steam

Can you imagine paying $400 for a steam iron? When I called my neighborhood appliance store, they quoted me a price range of $34 to $400.

My iron of over 35 years gave up the ghost this week. I thought perhaps I could just make do with a cheap Best Buy iron I had bought for my sewing room. When it nearly ruined my favorite white blouse with black sticky stuff, I realized it was time to go iron shopping.

I called Appliance Fix-It, a small family-run neighborhood store, at 8:00 this morning because I remembered seeing irons amidst every other appliance imaginable when I was in there recently to have keys made. A description of the $34 iron made it seem quite adequate for my needs.

I did, however, get to see and hold the $400 model, and let me tell you it weighed a ton! The owner said they sell them to people who wear hand-made suits and are really particular about their clothes. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why such people wouldn’t just send their suits to the dry cleaners. I would actually have a sore shoulder after ironing too many suits with that iron.

The new iron is really quite nice. It’s a Panasonic with a retractable cord. I could have paid $24 more for automatic shut-off, but decided I didn’t need or even want it. I really like the fact that it has a very sturdy base which means it won’t topple over easily.

I’ll bet I paid close to $34 all those years ago for the one that broke. It’s a good thing inflation has been kinder to that industry than it has to the price of gas. I think gas sold for under $1 a gallon in 1972.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Attn: Ice Cream Lovers

Who ever said you couldn’t get something for nothing? How about FREE ice cream? (Of all places, I learned about this at my yoga class yesterday!)

Today Ben & Jerry’s is celebrating their 30th birthday by offering everyone a free cone of ice cream. Check it out here.

And if you miss it, tomorrow is 31-cent day at Baskin and Robbins. Find out more.

Maybe it’s this kind of community outreach that has made it possible for these two companies to thrive for so long.

I’m thinking mint chocolate chip or maybe coffee. How about you?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Raining 20's

Picture the nightmarish I-Love-Lucy moment when you go to take your money out of the ATM and you drop it. I woke up in a cold sweat and admitted that’s exactly what had happened to me – just last night.

I needed cash to pay the person who cleans our house every two weeks. I don’t like going to the ATM near our house in a somewhat sketchy area at night. But I was sure I could make my withdrawal and be done in a minute or two.

I always look around to check out who else is there before getting out of my car. Only one car at the drive-by ATM. So I went to the walk-up one where there was no one around.

Card in, select ENGLISH, pin number, withdrawal, amount, wait, money. Then as I took it out of the dispenser, I dropped it – not just a bill, but the stack of bills. Not that there was that much, but it seemed like a lot as the wind tossed it around.

Maybe it would have been better if the long line of Hispanic men who are usually there had been there last night. My guess is they would have pitched in and rounded up every fluttering bill in no time.

But instead I was snatching at my flying money like a crazed woman. When I saw no more in hiding, I jumped into my car to count and make sure I had it all. Whew!

I wondered if anyone – perhaps the surveillance camera – had captured this little escapade. How ridiculous I must have looked picking my money up off the sidewalk.

Just a freaky accident with no harm done. But it makes me conscious of being more aware of what I am doing at the ATM machine. It’s not a time for making lists or daydreaming!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Squares of Hope

Today we launched the Temple Micah Tents of Hope project, with a focus on helping refugees from Darfur. It was an effort to involve the youngest people in our community, since they may well be the ones who end up solving the crisis in Darfur.

First we talked about Darfur in a simple dialog with me posing lots of questions like:
– Who can tell me where Darfur is?
– What is happening there?
– What is genocide?
– Where do refugees live?

This of course was all leading up to the activity of the morning, whereby each of them would use fabric markers to decorate a 1 x 1 canvas square with something representing peace, hope, or beauty. The squares will subsequently be sent to the refugee camps in neighboring Chad where children from Darfur will decorate the other side. Then the squares will be sewed together and made into tents.

They loved the physical contact with something that might actually be able to help these people struggling to survive. They took their assignment seriously and did some amazing work. Their work was temporarily displayed on the outside of the larger tent which we will paint over the next couple of months.

Meanwhile an adult, who is an artist, offered to come up with a design for the painted tent. At least 20 people (adults and kids) signed up to paint the tent. Two people signed up to pay for paint. Here’s an example from a similar tent painted by a congregation in San Francisco.

It was an intense 3-day Darfur awareness weekend at Temple Micah, especially for my husband who was in charge of it. We all experienced feelings of intense anger and helplessness as we saw graphic pictures of the atrocities being committed. We will continue to try to find ways to support the people of Darfur who are the targets of this genocide. Hopefully the coming months and years will find a solution to end the rape and senseless loss of life in this poor country halfway around the world from us.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Changing Face of Hardware

My trip to Home Depot today made me think about my many experiences in a hardware store and how the faces have changed over the years. I noticed a big change in the ethnicity of the staff.

I always loved going to hardware stores. I loved running my fingers through the bins of nails and screws and seeing how many different solutions there were to any building or repair problem. I loved the smell of fresh-cut lumber. I loved the fact that they often gave children scraps that would have otherwise ended up in a trash bin.

When I was young the typical clerk, who might also have been the owner, was a middle-aged white man who wore an apron with lots of pockets. He would offer suggestions, help you locate the necessary items, and then ring you up on an old-fashioned cash register.

Soon after I moved here, I noticed many of the employees in my local Hechingers were black. By this point in time, there was no longer the requirement to know how to make home repairs; an employee had only to be able to scan a barcode.

When Hechingers went out of business and Home Depot opened, I started to notice a very diversified workforce. There were people from all over the world, even people with physical disabilities. I remember once communicating with an employee on a small slate because he was a deaf mute.

For a while there were lots of Hispanics working at my Home Depot, but they must have figured out they could make more money in construction and cleaning houses because they no longer predominate today.

So who did I find as I went to check out with one enormous dowel today? It was a very helpful and efficient woman in a head scarf. She quickly took the dowel over to a place to measure it, telling me it was indeed 16 feet long, not 12 as I had thought. She found a man to carry it back to get 2 feet cut off of it, as I compromised on 14 feet. She probably knew very little about home repairs, but she did understand how to make the customer happy. As I looked at the other clerks checking people out, I realized that many of them were similarly attired Muslim women.

The days of the family-owned hardware store where the proprietor knew all his customers and knew how to do the many things they were trying to do are long gone. There are a few hold-outs like Brown’s in Falls Church, but for the most part we go to the UN of Home Depot where the price is right and the stock is plentiful. The people employed there are working hard to make the American dream a reality.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Considering Anonymity

Someone recently suggested that I start an anonymous Blog into which I could pour my sexual fantasies and all the family drama that I just cannot put out there under my name. She observed that Looking2Live had served its purpose and perhaps I should consider moving on to something else.

I must admit that I have felt more and more restricted as friends and family and Temple members read my Blog. There was a certain freedom in those days of 0 comments when nothing I wrote was on anyone’s radar screen. There were never any ruffled feathers.

But writing anonymously would require so much care to make sure there were never any revealing details. I marvel that someone like Washington Cube can continue to pull off anonymity.

Furthermore I suck at keeping secrets, so I would inevitably tell someone and that would be the end of it.

I even discussed this briefly with my therapist this week, who said, “Why don’t you just keep a journal? Isn’t that what an anonymous Blog would be?”

That’s when it really hit me how much I love the exchange with other people. A few of these people are locals whose faces I would recognize. There are also people I know only through the Internet, many of whom live far, far away. Then there are a few faithful readers, like the person whose IP address is registered in Kernersville, NC, but who shows up as being in Tampa. This person doesn’t have a name or an identity and never leaves a comment. But he/she comes back most every day to read. (My StatCounter still fascinates me!)

After 1200+ posts I worry that I might be just recycling the same old ideas. But I take comfort in the fact that if my readers’ memories are as bad as mine, no one will ever remember that I said it before.

So I guess the bottom line is business as usual on Looking2Live. The X-rated stuff will forever live only in my imagination.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Passing Thought

Apparently the big guns at the agency where I used to work are leaving over a huge controversy. My replacement, a very capable guy, keeps me informed of the continuing comings and goings.

I was not prepared, however, for this: “There was a call for finding people with experience. Maybe you want to come back.” It sent chills up my spine, but at the same time roused my curiosity.

It was just a year ago on May 3 that I left my old job, never to look back in sadness. It was a parting not necessarily of my choosing, but I simply could not stay in the current environment. I have never once had any regrets about my decision.

But a chance to go back and become a double-dipper? I must admit the lousy economy is eating into our savings at a faster rate than we had planned. And it is true that my husband is the only one earning money beyond our annuities.

As hard as I tried to imagine getting up early and getting dressed for work to throw myself into rush hour traffic, it just seemed like a bad dream instead of a lucrative possibility.

As for those in high places who are shamed into leaving, I feel a little sorry for them, even though they certainly didn’t come to my aid when I was embattled. They are good, hard-working people who have given their lives to the Federal government. They never expected to leave in shame. It’s sad that every disastrous failure needs a scapegoat to go down in infamy.

As for me, I think I will pass up this chance and continue to let my life take its shape without any extra funding. I’ve just become too enamored of my freedom!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Psychology of a Deterrent

The secret of a good deterrent is in making the punishment sufficiently strong that people just don’t want to get caught.

This is quite obvious in the approach to public transportation in many European countries these days. We were somewhat amazed that there is very little checking of tickets on the German train and subway systems. Our son says he is checked maybe a couple of times a month. He buys a monthly subway-bus ticket for 70 euros. The fine for being caught without a valid ticket is 40 euros.

We hadn’t been checked once in a whole week. So when our subway ticket ran out the day before we left and we had just one ride left to get to the airport, we considered taking a chance. It’s a good thing we didn’t because wouldn’t you know that was the one time the police boarded our car to check. Every single person had a valid ticket. So the system really works.

What about with speeding – does an increased fine act as a stronger deterrent? For me it did, even as the outlandish Virginia ticketing system is currently being challenged in court. So let’s see, I was willing to take a chance when the fine would have been $150, but at $1,000 I slowed down. Not a very good citizen, am I?

And then there’s Blogging. What about writing something not entirely flattering about someone who never reads your Blog? Well, almost never? Is the risk of getting caught enough to make you think twice about creating a reason for ill will? After getting caught a few times in 4 years by people I care about, I am going to reform. So if you are one of these people I have offended who checks in occasionally, you should know I at least have a good intention. Keep me honest by continuing to scrutinize what I write!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More than One Way to Go

A first glance at the Washington Post today resulted in articles on dying and the toxicity of plastic – not exactly how I intended this day to go. But interesting, just the same.

“A Life Worth Living” by Claire Panosian Dunavan (now at UCLA) focuses on her experiences with death as a young resident. She recognizes that at 27 she was far more ready to label a patient’s situation as hopeless than she is decades later. She is still troubled by the memory of a beautiful young spinal cord victim who bled to death through her tracheotomy while no one attended. But in her medical practice she has come to have a healthy respect for the human spirit’s power to “survive, rebuild, and soar.”

The next article reported the first decrease in life expectancy for women since 1918. It is fairly localized to the Deep South, Appalachia, the lower Midwest, and one county in Maine, but it is not limited to a single race. The culprit? Probably obesity and a rise in women smoking.

The final article is the one that really disturbed me. It looks at the toxic effect of plastics on our lives. We are surrounded (literally) by plastics these days: water bottles, food containers, food wraps, CD’s, toys, you name it. Scientists are now saying that man-made components in plastics can leach chemicals that get absorbed into our bodies causing increased rates of cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and infertility. My immediate response is to think how I can eliminate such plastics from my life, concluding it would be difficult. Then I wonder if I’ve already sealed my fate by microwaving my broccoli with Saran Wrap stretched tightly over the container for years. I wonder if drinking spring water out of plastic bottles is worse than drinking tap water containing trace elements of multiple drugs. Could I buy my food in non-plastic containers even if I wanted to? This health what-if-ing always leads me down a slippery slope.

So I closed the Post with the declaration that I had had enough enlightenment for one day. I haven’t touched a piece of plastic today, I promise!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A New Face in the Circle

He was waiting outside the yoga studio door when I arrived for meditation, sort of looking like a lost puppy. A boy hardly older than my daughter. Our first exchange:

Me: Are you here for meditation?
Boy: Yeah, are you the teacher?
Me: No, I just happen to have a key to open the door.
Boy: Will there be a teacher? Will someone show me how to do this?
Me: It’s pretty much self-taught. You will be fine.

As we were setting out blankets and candles and generally getting ready to meditate:

Me: How did you find our meditation group?
Boy: Through yoga. I’m new to all this stuff. I can’t sleep. Can you tell?

I gave him some ideas about how to get started. I told him it was OK not to be perfectly still. I invited the bell 3 times and three of us began our sit.

For the first 15 minutes he fidgeted and cracked his knuckles. Then he got up, walked over and got an eyebag, lay down, and proceeded to go to sleep. I guess meditation had solved his insomnia problem.

I rang the bell at the end of 30 minutes and he continued to sleep. Marjorie and I looked at each other as we tried to figure out how to bypass his sleeping body in our walking meditation. But then as I sounded the little shrill bell to begin, he woke up.

His initial attempt was to leap to his part of the circle and then he realized how slowly and deliberately we were walking. He had soon mastered this form of meditation.

But even as Marjorie slipped out, he settled in for the second sit, or sleep as was actually the case after another round of knuckle-cracking. This time I made sure the bell loudly announced the end of the sit.

Our final exchange:

Me: How was your sit?
Boy: I never really figured out how to do it.
Me: It comes with practice.
Boy: How was yours? What do you think about?
Me: I try not to dwell on any one thing, but rather to calm my mind.

Sensing that he could really profit from some uninterrupted sleep, I asked if he had to go on to work or school. Work at 9 AM.

As with so many people, we see them once and then they don’t come back. I don’t know if it’s the utter silence or the discipline of sitting still or the frustration of not achieving what they think they should be doing.

I’m thinking a 15-minute sit at the beginning of his day would do this boy a lot of good. It would actually do most people a lot of good.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Holiday of Bitter Herbs

Every seder we host is just a little bit different. The menu changes and so does the haggadah. We figure out new ways to tell the age-old story of how the Jews came out of Egypt.

My husband, who should probably have been a rabbi, concocted the most wonderful haggadah using bits and pieces from lots of places. Much of it came from The Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, assembled originally by Rachel Barenblat at Williams College. He had interspersed readings about Darfur and miscellaneous other materials. In addition, he sent out homework ahead of time, including questions like What has liberated you in the past year? and What is an example of a current-day plague?

Our guests included several Catholics, several not-so-believing Jews, and the rest of us for a toal of 9. Two of them were grad students from GW, referred to us by the Hillel group there.

As we sat down to begin, for once I knew our dinner of lamb shanks would only get more tender if we took a while with the first half of the seder. That is never a problem for my husband, who would be happy to discuss all night.

Our seder plate included a couple of new things this year:
– An orange inspired by a criticism of Jewish feminism “Women belong on the bimah (pulpit) like oranges belong on the seder plate.” Susannah Heschel subsequently wrote: “An orange is suggestive of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.”
– An olive as an embodied prayer for peace, in the Middle East and every place where war destroys live, hopes, and the freedoms we celebrate.

I always like the part of the seder when we use our pinky to put drops of wine on our plate to symbolize the 10 plagues: blood, frogs, lice, insect swarms, cattle plague, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born. This year we added 10 additional drops for horrors currently plaguing Darfur: rape, torture, looting, destruction of property, displacement, separation of families, loss of community, starvation, disease, and murder.

We read the following poem by Marge Piercy before we ate our hard-boiled eggs, symbolizing the new life of springtime:

Season of the Egg

It’s the season of the egg,
older than any named creed:
that perfect shape that signs
a pregnant woman, the moon

slightly compressed, as if
a great serpent held it
in its opened mouth
to carry or to eat.

Eggs smell funky
slipped from under
the hen’s breast, hotter
than our blood.

Christians paint them;
we roast them. The only
time in the whirling year
I ever eat roasted egg:

a campfire flavor, bit
burnt, reeking of haste
like the matzoh there was no
time to let rise.

We like our eggs honest,
brown. Outside my window
the chickadees choose partners
to lay tiny round eggs.

The egg of the world cracks
raggedly open and the wet
scraggly chick of northern
spring emerges gaunt, dripping.

Soon it will preen its green
feathers, so it will grow
fat and strong, its wings
blue and binding.

Tonight we dip the egg in salt
water like bowls of tears.
Elijah comes with the fierce
early spring bringing prophecy

that cracks open the head
swollen with importance.
Every day there is more work
to do and stronger light.

Of all the Passover foods, the horseradish ranks right at the top for me. It reminds us of the bitterness of bondage. I was honored to share my recipe (or I should say Joan Nathan’s recipe) with our Rabbi Toby this year who reported: “It rocked.” So if you are so inclined, here it is:

1 lb. horseradish root, peeled and cut into inch-long pieces
1 red beet, peeled and quartered
½ cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Put all ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and grind until fine. Take care as you open the processor because the fumes will surely clear out your sinuses and may knock you over!

The Passover of 2008, which seems to have gotten separated from Easter this year, is officially upon us. For 8 days we avoid bread, flour, even rice, as we mark the exodus of the Jews from Egypt thousands of years ago.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Close Encounter with Water

I had one of those close calls yesterday that remind us that fate sometimes smiles upon us. It was plumbing gone way wrong.

Just as we were both walking out of the house to go downtown to get allergy shots, I heard a loud crash and then a hissing sound in the kitchen. It seemed to be coming from the sink. It was when I opened the cabinet doors beneath the sink that a torrent rushed out.

My husband threw me a bunch of towels and then headed to the basement to turn off the water to the entire house. But there was so much water I just couldn’t keep up with it. Then it stopped and so did the noise.

At first I was clueless as to what had actually happened. On closer inspection, it appeared that the water filter under our sink had come unmounted and crashed to the bottom of the cabinet, cracking the plastic housing in the fall.

We managed to get all the water to the sink turned off so we could once again have water in other parts of the house.

Then the task of finding a plumber began. “How about Wednesday of next week?” or simply no answer and an answering machine. None of those would do as we are entertaining 10 people for dinner tomorrow night and there is much work to be done in that sink. Finally a plumber who was available today.

It’s only after the practical problem-solving steps that you sit back and say, “That would have been a fucking disaster had it occurred 5 minutes later, or worse yet last week when we were in Germany.”

This close encounter with water will be added to the short list of averted disasters that sits somewhere in my brain. I say a blanket THANKS to a higher power or to fate that allowed this to turn out alright.

Our household inventory of towels have been washed and the sink is once again functional. Life goes on and my respect for the power of water is ratcheted up just a notch.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where Speech Is Still Not Free

I see bumper stickers all the time that reflect the anger of the driver, mostly about the current administration. As I drove down a quiet Arlington street the other day, I saw a sign in a front yard that said “Impeach them both” with “Bush and Cheney” hand-written in below, as if anyone would have a doubt about who they meant. I thought to myself how great it is that we can wear our feelings for the public to see with no fear of reprisal.

Then I read today’s Washington Post article about Wang Qianyuan, a freshman at Duke University, who by a well-meaning act has set off untold anger in the Chinese community around the world.

What had she done? Written “Save Tibet” in blue body paint on the backs of some American students who were participating in a vigil in support of human rights. It was never her intention to join the protest.

In no time at all a photo of Wang, standing between the pro-Tibet activists and the Chinese counterprotesters, appeared on the Internet. That unleashed a flurry of angry comments, some sexual in nature but others as strong as “Shoot her where she stands.”

In addition her personal information and that of her parents back in China was made public and they too began to take on the punishment for her actions. They have since had to move.

Since this happened, she has communicated daily with her parents only by e-mail, fearing that their phone is bugged. Her father urged her to make a public apology, which she refuses to do because of her strong belief in human rights.

It’s stories like this that make me realize what a treasure the First Amendment is. Although some of our Constitutional rights have recently been threatened, we can still express our thoughts openly without fear.

I wonder what will become of Wang? Will the Chinese find better people to torment and will she eventually slip into anonymity once again? Or did this one act have a permanent effect on her future? I suppose only time will tell.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And the Main Course Is...

There’s always a question of what to serve at our Passover seder. I could always trot out the award-winning brisket, but truthfully I’m tired of it. Roast chicken is safe, but rather pedestrian. Then the Post came today and I knew what we would be eating: lamb shanks with root vegetables.

This dish has the advantage of not being so sensitive to the timing of the meal, which inevitably is later than anyone would like it to be by the time we plow through most of the Hagaddah. I just like the sound of root vegetables; it seems so earthy at a time when we celebrate new life.

The recipe calls for some rather strange things, like date molasses and star anise. Calls to Whole Foods, Balduccis, and Dean & DeLuca failed to turn up any date molasses. A rather comical exchange with someone at Balduccis in Old Town:

Me: I’m looking for date molasses.
Clerk: He ain’t here.
Me: It’s a product, not a person.
Clerk: We still don’t have it.

Fortunately the Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria has the date molasses. And Whole Foods had the star anise, the adorable little brown stars like the one in the picture.

I ordered the lamb shanks from Whole Foods to be picked up on Friday morning.

This is rather cooking-intensive holiday, so I will be busy on Friday and Saturday making things like gefilte fish, red horseradish, chicken soup with matzoh balls, fruit compote, and now lamb shanks. I will go through lots and lots of eggs, carrots, and onions. Then I will get to sit down with some sweet wine on Saturday night as we once again tell the story of how the Jews came out of Egypt. It’s the same old story, but the main dish will be new this year!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Almost Royalty

The idea of a religious leader who has God’s ear ended with Moses for us Jews. But for Catholics, the Pope is just that. In fact, he also must have the ear of the DC Government because Massachusetts Avenue and Rock Creek Parkway have been transformed for the visit of Pope Benedict.

As I made my way to my Hebrew class at Temple Micah tonight, I was utterly amazed at what I saw. Along Rock Creek Parkway from Georgetown on and on both sides of Massachusetts Avenue west of the Parkway, the streets are lined with rented barriers. Some company is doing a landslide business in what must be thousands of pieces of metal that have been hooked together for crowd control. I wonder who is paying for all those barriers?

In addition, Massachusetts Avenue was newly paved last week and has now been reduced to two lanes with concrete barriers down the middle of the street for many blocks to allow private access to the Catholic site where the Pope is staying across the street from the National Observatory.

I was most curious to see if the man who is always at the corner of 34th and Mass protesting would be there tonight. He’s originally from Italy and supposedly was abused as a child. At first I thought they had managed to keep him away altogether. But there he was on the other side of the street waving a new colorful sign “Pope Hides Pedophiles.” He was in the company of about a hundred demonstrators who each carried a sign saying “Celibacy Has Failed.” I wondered if the Pope had actually glimpsed those not so happy to see him.

The pomp and circumstance afforded the Pope seems almost like the pageantry that accompanies royalty. There is something rather alluring about a single figure who serves as the focal point for the close to a billion Roman Catholics worldwide. It’s hard to imagine an individual of greater importance.

We Jews are more or less on our own to deal with God, given that no one has been elevated above anyone else. We pray directly to God and not through a mortal here on earth. This lack of a spiritual leader means there will probably never be any traffic diverted in DC for the visit of anyone Jewish.

But meanwhile the Pope’s visit will certainly snarl rush hour traffic for the duration of his visit. And then the rental barriers will be returned and the road will be transformed to 4 lanes once again and traffic will get back to its normal pace.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost and Surprisingly Replaced

It’s rare to have a happy ending to a lost earring story, but I now have one. The credit all goes to a customer-oriented store and an artist who obviously doesn’t throw things out.

Over 10 years ago I bought a necklace and matching earrings at Appalachian Spring in Georgetown. The thing I have always loved about this store is that there is an artist behind everything they sell and many things are one-of-a-kind. In fact, they always include a card with the artist’s name when you make a purchase.

I had overlooked this jewelry for several years when it lay hidden on the bottom of my jewelry box. But then I rediscovered it when I figured out how to organize my jewelry on my door.

The last time I wore it was the Saturday when I met Reya and Mouse at Montmartre for lunch. It was only when I got home that I realized I had lost one of the earrings. I had been to services at Temple Micah that morning and to the restaurant. But calls to both failed to turn up the lost earring, which probably fell on a street in Capitol Hill.

On a whim, I called Appalachian Spring a few days later to see if they had any ideas. They said they had been able to replace lost earrings on a few occasions when the artist was still contributing to their stock. They suggested that I bring the necklace and remaining earring in so their buyer could have a look at it. (The buyer has obviously been there for a long time.)

A week or so later I got a call that the buyer had confirmed they no longer sell items made by this artist, BUT she had contacted the artist, who had agreed to consider replacing the earring.

A month had passed and I wondered if I would ever hear anything more about the lost earring when we returned from Germany to a message from Appalachian Spring: We have your replacement earring.

I now know that the artist who made the necklace and earrings is Denise Althea Graham of Radiant Shadow in Portland, Oregon. The ticket showed total charges of $35, with the following note:

I apologize for not contacting with cost beforehand. I had asked the artist to call me with cost, but I think she was so amazed she still had some of the same pearls left that it slipped her mind. I waived shipping.

Denise (the artist) had left me a hand-written note on the back of the earring card: Remember -- If you use the rubber stoppers provided, it helps prevent earring loss! (This experience has made me a rubber stopper convert, as much of a pain the neck as it is.)

What a store! Can you imagine getting customer service like this at many other stores in this day and age?

I cannot go in Appalachian Spring without buying something. And true to form, I found something beautiful to add to the collection of little things I imparted to my favorite dog-sitter. Gewels, if you are reading this, you will just have to wonder what’s in the box until I next see you!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Home Again

I always forget how positively horrible I feel the day after crossing 6 or more time zones. In addition to being quite jet-lagged, I have a sinus headache that makes it hard to even keep my eyes open.

But despite my pounding head, I managed to drive an hour each way to pick up our loveable canine friend Jake. Actually he seemed rather ambivalent about coming home, perhaps preferring the company of the other (now 3) dogs. He must have behaved acceptably well because he has been invited back in May when we go to Italy.

Whereas my husband hates preparing for a trip, I dislike coming home to wash all the dirty clothes, replenish the empty refrigerator, go through the stacks of mail, and get back into my normal routine.

I already miss the miles of walking we did each day. Yes, of course I could do it here, but experience says I won’t. I miss deciding where to eat dinner. I miss trying to make myself understood in someone else’s language. I even miss riding the subway.

The sole purpose of our trip was to make sure our son was doing alright in his adopted country. I’m happy to say he is really doing fine. Although he has very little money to spare, he has managed to buy the necessities, like a winter coat and a good pair of shoes. His job teaching English gives him enough to pay his living expenses.

I’m in total awe of the way he is embracing this totally foreign culture, where he didn’t know a single word of the language when he arrived. He has a good grammar book and a pocket dictionary and he arranges language exchanges several times each week with German students who want to learn English.

It’s still a little hard for me to accept the fact that this career detour to teach English abroad is not part of some master plan with a known time frame. He’s very noncommital when asked about the future.

But his success in realizing his dreams should be all I need to convince me to trust that all will work out. There are times, however, when I would just love to look in a crystal ball and see where he will be in 10 years and what he will be doing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen to Germany

It seemed fitting that I would be lighting Shabbat candles in a thriving liberal (Reform) synagogue the night before our departure. That says a lot about how Germany has changed.

We traveled by train to Hanover yesterday afternoon to worship in one of the 35 Reform synagogues in Germany. The mother of our young lawyer friend in Berlin was instrumental in starting this synagogue.

When they asked me to light the candles, I of course worried: What if I don't do it in their tradition? What if I forget the words? The tune?

It was fine. They recognized the end of my trope and joined in. What a warm feeling to be among Jews so far from home repeating a custom that was happening all over the world at sundown.

The Jews of this synagogue in Hanover, who come from 14 different countries, all have a story to tell. The only ones who were in Germany during the war had to be hidden. Some are actually converts who were attracted to the religion.

One man, was only 10 years old in 1944, told me he doesn't yet feel it's his privilege as a German to convert to Judaism. But he believes in his new-found religion.

It's definitely a good sign that Jews can worship freely and no longer feel the wrath of the government and their fellow citizens. This country has come a long way in making amends, but there can never truly be forgiveness for the sins of a past generation.

Baruch atah Adonai. Blessed are you our God.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Perfect Day

Today has been picture-perfect, by far the sunniest and warmest day of our trip. We were lucky to have our son's company this morning.

We sat out in the big square in front of the Rathaus (city hall) marveling at the day and the friendly feel of the city of Hamburg.

We took a boat tour of the lake around which much of Hamburg lies. Although there was a pamphlet in English, the tour was conducted in German so we missed quite a bit of the explanation of what we were seeing. The old homes on the shore of the lake were breathtaking. And the weeping willows reminded me of those at Hain's Point at home.

We had a savory curry wurst for lunch and then parted ways as our son headed off for a language exchange (he's learning German, she's learning English). We took that opportunity to do some shopping.

A little different style building for fast food here: Burger King!

You can find just about anything you want within just a couple of subway stops in Hamburg. We found
-- A cartridge for our son's printer so he can print out his California bar application (for the time when he's ready to earn a little more money).
-- A German grammar book and a pocket dictionary to aid him in his language studies.
-- A few treats for our favorite dog-sitter.
-- A collection of lucky stones for someone back home who is making big positive changes.
-- Some heavenly body butter.

Somehow it's much easier to spend money when the sun is out. Probably a good thing it has been so rainy and cloudy until today.

The Germans love their dogs about as much as the French do. The dogs, who all look like the Heinz 57 variety, are welcome on the subway, in restaurants, and on the street. They are all well-adjusted and seldom bark as they fit right into the daily life of their German owners.

Note there are 3 dogs in this picture!

Bicycles are the predominant mode of self-transport. You pay attention when you hear a loud "Mensch" (man), the German equivalent of "on your left". It pays to stay clear of the bike lanes!

We will meet up again with our son for some early dinner and perhaps a movie in English. In his low-income state, a movie is a treat!

Another subway push for acceptance of cultural integration: Learning is not a question of heritage.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Travel Day

It seems ridiculous to declare today a travel day since we are gone for a mere 8 days and we traveled only 90 minutes away from Berlin to Hamburg. But that's what it seems to have become as we sit here waiting for our son to be finished with his class so we can go to dinner.

We managed to get to the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin a half hour before our train. Here is a compliant traveler picking the appropriate recycling bin for his banana peel. Our train sliently glided to a stop soon thereafter.

The streets of Berlin may be littered, but this train was so clean you could have eaten off the floor. It exemplified the obsessive German mentality I had expected to find everywhere.

Upon arriving in Hamburg, as we studied our city map, we were approached by a very toothy woman who declared her love of America in English and wanted to help us. It was never too clear whether she was really just well-meaning or entirely nuts.

We checked into our hotel, which costs considerably more than our funky Berlin apartment and has about 25% of the space. Everything is very compact, as is illustrated by this shot of my husband checking his e-mail.

This picture of the beds shows an interesting German phenomenon in that the pillows are about 3 times the side of pillows back home.

After learning that breakfast at the hotel would cost 11 Euros each, we opted to walk around the block to the Toom megastore and buy 13 Euros of groceries that would easily feed us breakfast for the next 3 days.

We are in the far suburb of Altona one subway stop from where our son lives. It would seem that we will need to take a train to anything of interest.

We're just hoping that the next couple of days give us the sunshine Hamburg enjoyed this afternoon.

Here's a picture from Berlin of our son standing in front of a graffiti-ed chunk of the remains of the Berlin Wall. He looks like a typical German, ja?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sunny Berlin

Everything always looks better in sunshine. Berlin is no exception. I can't say the day was rain-free, but the periods of sun were a pleasant change.

We are staying in an apartment on a street that dead-ends into the are that used to be "no man's land" when the Wall was in existence. It's a quiet mix of apartments, small shops, and restaurants.
One of these balconies is ours.

Germans are fanatic about recycling. There is a separate container for everything imaginable behind our apartment building.

Bicycles are a major source of transportation. There are bike lanes on every SIDEWALK, which makes biking much safer. It is rare, however, to see anyone wearing a helmet. We actually saw a couple out on a date tonight on a bicycle. The woman looked like she was sitting in the man's lap as he pedaled.

Today's sites included the Neue (new) Synagogue, a somewhat restored version one of the largest synagogues in Europe. It was bombed during the war, demolished by the East Germans in 1958, and then restored starting in 1988 after the reunification of Germany. Thanks to Kate for mentioning this before we left on our trip.

We met a young German Jewish friend who is clerking to be an international lawyer for lunch at a sushi restaurant. He is an amazing kid who knows German, English, French, and Hebrew fluently.

On his recommendation we spent much of the afternoon in the free museum to those in the Resistance (WWII). This is a fitting tribute to those who were not afraid to speak up or to act on their principles.

A visit to Germany always makes me wonder how the non-Jewish Germans of today feel about the role of their country during the war. Is it a feeling of shame, denial, anger, or allegiance? Within a few years all those who fought in that war will be gone and we will have only their stories and the history books to tell the story.

Just as we get ready to leave Berlin tomorrow for Hamburg, we are feeling much more comfortable with this city. We actually saw big expanses of green today when we got on a subway line by a mistake we didn't realize until we almost at the end of the line. Our dinner in an Arab restaurant tonight was superb. And the sun made even the graffiti-covered walls and the streets look a little brighter, a little cleaner.

This billboard which you see in many subway stations is attempt at making the melting pot work: Friendship is not a question of heritage.

Who Knew?

It would seem just an ordinary book in German on my bedside stand. But then my husband noticed something remarkable.

The author is our landlord. That would explain why he's always around. He's a writer. His book, Arbeit und Streben, published in 2006, translates to "Work and Striving."

We found it on Amazon in German for $84, not a real bargain.

We asked him yesterday if it had been translated into English and he said someone was working on it.

Our quaint apartment in the old East Berlin, at 50 Euros a night, must supplement his income as a writer. It's probably more predictable.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Sobering Experience

We spent over an hour this afternoon traveling by subway and bus all the way across Berlin to see our good friend who has spent the last three weeks in the hospital and undergone half a dozen operations after breaking more bones than you can count in a subway fall. We brought her a suitcase packed with clothes from home she had requested and get well wishes from people back home.

We arrived at the Klinikum Steglitz and then began the actual process of trying to find her room. I had to undergo an interrogation in German before they wrote the room number down on a little slip of paper.

Seeing her lying there with bandages and casts on every appendage justified my careful slow approach to stairs and uneven pavement.

She is getting excellent care here and get this -- the total bill for 6 weeks of hospitalization, including all those surgeries and physical therapy, will come to the equivalent of $29,000. That same care would cost many times that amount back home.

Unfortunately Kaiser Permanente has yet to respond to their plea for help in submitting a claim.

Her husband, who arrived two days after the accident, confided to us that the real hurdle is how and when to get her home. They are most worried about thrombosis (blood clots) during the flight. I can't imagine how she could travel any other way than flat on her back. What a dilemma.

This experience emphasized the fact that it takes but a few seconds to change your life forever.

After such a dreary rainy day and a somewhat depressing feeling seeing our friend so disabled we stopped for coffee and a large sacher torte. There is nothing like chocolate to cheer you up.

Dinner restored our faith in German food. A couple of helpful Berliners restored our faith in humanity.

We walked miles and miles today with hundreds of stairs. Good practice for Italy, as my husband keeps reminding me.

Good news from home: Jake loves sleepaway camp and is behaving himself. Thanks to Gewels for the good care and the report.

Maybe tomorrow the sun will come out of hiding. We still have lots to see.

P.S. Guess I wasn't meant to be the photographer. The few pictures I took today somehow got erased. Sorry, Pauline, no pictures of our chocolate cake!

A Few Berlin Photos

The Brandenburg Gate, which previously was part of the wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin. What a joy to see people moving through in both directions.
Above and below: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A somewhat controversial memorial that leaves the interpretation to each individual who walks through it.

A section of flooring in the Jewish Museum, where you are actually walking on these faces.

The remains of a curry wurst, still the best food I've had in Berlin.