Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shana Tova

I confess to nodding off during the Erev Rosh Hashanah service last night. But only after I listened to the following poem and remembered how much I love it every time our rabbi Danny reads it.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

The first service of the High Holy Days is always a transition, as we settle into the space in the cavernous Methodist church, our home away from home because it can accommodate three times as many people as Temple Micah. These services are the equivalent of Christmas and Easter for Christians, when everyone makes an appearance.

After my last two years as head of the High Holy Days for Temple Micah, last night was almost relaxing. Well maybe just a little too relaxing as I nodded off during the sermon.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lacking the Language

Halfway through yesterday’s canvassing took me to two large apartment buildings that house senior citizens. But these are not just any seniors. They are all of Asian descent.

As I signed in as a visitor, the Middle Eastern looking guy at the desk warned me that they didn’t speak English. He was quick to show me his Obama tee shirt under his white shirt.

I know lots of languages, but no Asian languages. Thinking that I’m pretty good at making myself understood, I told him I would take my chances and headed on up to the second floor of one of the buildings. My thought was their English must be at least minimal if they had registered to vote. (Remember that my list was of people who were registered but who remained undecided.)

Was I ever mistaken. After staring at multiple smiling totally-uncomprehending faces, I realized that it would be impossible to canvass these two buildings without the knowledge of Vietnamese and Korean.

I chatted with the desk guy on the way out and learned a little more. Apparently the residents who were citizens had been taken by bus to register to vote. I’m sure there were people accompanying them who spoke the necessary Asian languages. He also commented that many of them have children in the area who are still very involved in their parents’ lives.

I felt rather badly taking back virtually half my assignment uncanvassed, but I felt I had no other choice than to recommend that someone return with the necessary language skills.

The first half of my canvassing netted an equal number of Obama and McCain supporters. There were a couple of others who would gladly vote for Obama if they were citizens. Maybe in 2012.

Today’s experience was such a powerful reminder that there are still enclaves of people for whom English is a totally foreign and unknown language. Their vote in the November Presidential election will count just the same as mine.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Please Mr. Postman

I’m on the Verizon team. If you are on the Hotmail team, I can’t seem to talk to you. In the last couple of days I’ve gotten those nasty “unable to deliver” messages from postmaster@verizon.net like the following when I tried:

Your message cannot be delivered to the following recipients:

Recipient address: pclarke***@hotmail.com (numbers replaced with asterisks by me!)
Reason: SMTP transmission failure has occurred
Diagnostic code: smtp;550 SC-004 Mail rejected by Windows Live Hotmail for policy reasons. A block has been placed against your IP address because we have received complaints concerning mail coming from that IP address. If you are not an email/network admin please contact
Remote system: dns;mx1.hotmail.com (TCP||62619||25)

I would have thought this was an isolated instance when this occurred with a message to E. But then it happened with a message to Pauline as well.

I Googled “mail rejected by windows live hotmail” and found this site and this lovely message:
Windows Live Hotmail, The likely cause is a compromised or virus infected server/personal co

My husband suggested that I call Verizon, our Internet provider. I knew it was someone in India when he picked up the phone. He was well intentioned, but only caused my blood pressure to rise as he told me everything on my side was “checking out”. He told me that the person who was blocking me would have to take action. I said it was almost impossible that both of these people had all of a sudden decided I was a menace and blocked me. That was a fruitless 20 minutes!

Thank God for Blogger or I wouldn’t even be able to communicate with E. and Pauline!

Has anyone else experienced this problem? If so, how did you fix it?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Making Peace with Yeast

I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with yeast. I’ve made bread as flat as a pancake. And I’ve made bread that was reminiscent of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. But today I determined to try again.

I’ve always believed that a really good Jewish wife/mother could make challah blindfolded. But that has never been the case with me. I took a class in challah-making several years ago at Temple Micah. The instructors were those who make gigantic challahs that feed the entire congregation on a Shabbat morning, wafting out the aroma of baking bread toward the end of the service. The resulting loaf, made with 5 pounds of flour, is warm and delicious and always looks to me to be perfect.

I was entertaining the people who were most involved in painting the Darfur tent for Shabbat dinner last night. I had determined to make a challah early enough in the day that I still had time to go out and buy one if it was a total disaster.

The night before I read over the instructions from my class. When I came to the line “mix in enough flour to form a dough that comes away from the side of the bowl”, I knew I was in trouble. I called the challah experts and learned that meant about 6 cups.

At the crack of dawn, I was proofing yeast and getting ready for a morning of kneading, rising, and braiding. I do love the feel of warm bread dough. I love the rhythm you establish as you turn and push until it becomes rather elastic.

It never fails to amaze me that you start with a little puddle of dough at the bottom of a big bowl that wants only to grow (unless you kill the yeast). I took care not to overheat my little puddle of dough.

After two risings, I divided and braided the dough, making a little braid to sit on top of the big one. I put on an egg wash and sprinkled it liberally with poppy seeds.

After a third rising, I put it in the oven to bake. That’s when the bread aroma creeps into every corner of the house, overpowering the smell of last night’s onions or wet dog. It is a very comforting smell.

My monster loaf of bread emerged from the oven 45 minutes later. It was far from perfect, having turned some braid lines into small dimples. But it was certainly presentable.

My guests seemed to like it and were quite willing to take home doggy bags of challah.

The challah was the traditional part of the dinner. We also had beet-tomato salad, roasted potatoes with onions and garlic, Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts, barbecued chicken, and my favorite new dessert recipe from my friend LR: peach-blackberry crisp, served with homemade yogurt.

It was a good group. After talking for several hours, they went home with full bellies and leftover challah.

I looked at the two remaining packages of yeast and wondered if I would use them before they expired.

Friday, September 26, 2008

There but for the Grace of God

This photo was not taken in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, but rather right here in Seven Corners in Northern Virginia.

I was on my way from the Falls Church Obama office (dropping off the completed voter registration forms) to meet a good friend for a wonderful lunch at Black Salt in the District. I stopped at the Chevron station and happened to see this woman in front of my car. (The picture is lousy because it was taken through my windshield.)

At first I thought the woman was begging, but then I realized she was just talking out loud to no one in particular, probably in a language other than English.

I wondered how she had come to stand there and how long it might be before she moved on.

I wondered if she had some form of dementia.

I wondered how she came to have sorrow etched in every wrinkle of her leathery face.

I wondered if she even knew the grim news about the economy, or whether her pain was far more present.

I went on to eat raw oysters and tuna tartare and to-die-for chocolate mousse cake and wash it all down with sparkling white wine, but the image of that face stayed with me and still haunts me.

I wondered if I would find her in that same place tomorrow if I happened to drive by the gas station again.

I wondered if a gift of $20 would make a few minutes of her life easier, or whether her problems stem from some other demons.

I felt grateful for my life of plenty and relative happiness. It’s a face like this that makes me acknowledge my good life and the plight of so many others.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Elevating Cabbage on the Menu

I always associated cabbage with poverty. You know, a thin gruel of cabbage cooked in water. I’ve never made corned beef and cabbage. I don’t really like coleslaw. So I’m sure I’ve never bought a cabbage, any more than I had ever bought okra or beets.

In last week's CSA crate was a light green baby head of cabbage, not one of those rubbery soccer ball size things you see in the grocery store. It had languished in my produce drawer until yesterday when I determined to figure out what to do with it.

Instead of Googling for cabbage recipes, I decided to just put some things together that seemed like they might belong together. I wanted a faint taste of fennel and a little kick to my young cabbage.

Here’s an approximation of the recipe:

Lemon-infused olive oil
½ large red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 strip of lean bacon, cut into small pieces (inspired by Lemmonex)
Fennel seeds
Small cabbage, coarsely chopped/shredded
Fennel dill, clipped into small pieces
Chicken broth
Borsari salt (or any kind of salt)
Red pepper flakes
Splash of good Balsamic vinegar

In a large anodized pan, saute the onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil over medium high heat for several minutes. Move the onion and garlic to the side. Put the bacon and some fennel seeds in the center. When the bacon is mostly cooked, add the cabbage. Stir until it is wilted. Add clipped dill, a small amount of chicken broth, and seasoning. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until cabbage is thoroughly cooked. Add Balsamic vinegar and stir until all ingredients are completely mixed. Serve hot or cold.

We had a simple meal of grilled salmon steaks, the cooked cabbage, and baked sweet potatoes. The cabbage was the best part of the meal. In fact in was outrageously good. Never again will I belittle these little green heads of goodness. I’m hoping for another cabbage in this week’s CSA crate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Get Out the Vote -- Part 2

Yesterday my husband and I went to the Clarendon Metro stop to attempt to register voters at rush hour. I promised myself that I would feel I had accomplished something if even one person filled out the form.

Our training encouraged us to get any potential new voters to fill out the form and give it back to us so we could turn it in to the Obama office and make sure it was transmitted quickly to the appropriate state office for processing.

We got such a variety of reactions to the above sign. These included:

– Yes (I’m already registered.)
– Thank you.
– Totally ignoring us as if we weren’t even there.
– No, I’m not voting and I’m leaving the country in a couple of years.
– I’m a visitor.
– I’m not a citizen.
– No, but I would like to register.

The last was like music to my ears. In the space of an hour we collected completed forms from 5 people and handed out another 5 or so to people who were going to mail them in.

I would probably have opted to do the latter, instead of giving some stranger my Social Security Number and my address. But I guess for some at least we looked honest enough and the thought of having to find an envelope and a stamp was worse than the idea of sharing one’s data.

I had multiple conversations with the nut vendor (I did not say nutty vendor), who said he simply wasn’t voting and was planning to move to a foreign country. He claimed he would have voted for Obama if he had picked Hillary as a running mate. At one point I said, “Couldn’t you just vote because many of us are sticking around and we would like to experience CHANGE?” He was not to be convinced.

The conversations with those who filled out the forms did my heart good and made it worth my time to stand out there recruiting new voters. We weren’t pushing Obama unless someone asked. We were simply pushing VOTING!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Traveling Back in Time

I’ve made the most wonderful new friend electronically through another Blogger. She lives in Florida, so I’m not sure when we will actually meet, but we have been getting to know one another through e-mail.

We have several similarities in our lives. Among them, we both grew up in Panama City, although mine was in Florida and hers was in Panama.

Our exchange reminded me of my visits to Panama in the mid-70's to provide technical assistance on processing the Censo de Tonosi, a census of an area of Panama. We worked extremely hard during the week, struggling to do all our work in Spanish. But the weekends were our own.

One weekend my friend Linda and I decided to visit the San Blas Islands, specifically Pidertupo, an island the size of a football field that had no running water. It was a resort owned by Tom and Joan Moody.

Just getting there required flying on the smallest plane I have ever seen. It seemed like we hovered just above the water or the trees and I white-knuckled it the whole way there. The plane landed in the middle of nowhere and Mr. Moody picked us up in a boat as the plane took off again.

The place turned out to have gourmet food, including local lobster that was to die for. They managed to get through the year on rainwater, one dry year requiring them to drain their waterbed to get by. Their 10-year-old daughter was home-schooled of necessity.

This was my first snorkeling experience, my first trek through the jungle, my first time to use a shower that simply dumped a bucket of water over your head. It was primitive, but so satisfying.

Before leaving Panama, I ended up buying several molas, handmade by the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands. I found the one in the picture above tucked away in a box in my sewing room.

Thanks to my new friend E. for reminding me about a time so long ago when I went on quite an adventure.

Unfortunately the nirvana of Pidertupo was eventually shattered for the Moodys. In this article, they recall how their San Blas paradise became an inferno that nearly cost Tom his life. An unexpected attack by terrorists caused them to move to Fiji, where they opened another resort.

Here is a photo from E's collection of Indian women attired in clothing made using molas:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Knock, Knock

You can see we were successful enough to earn our very own Obama lawn sign. I hope it lasts longer than our Kerry sign that disappeared the night after we put it up.

Today’s experience was truly multi-cultural. We talked to people in an apartment complex not far from our house who were currently listed as “undecided” in the Obama database. Some were young, some were old, some were Hispanic, some were African or African-American, some were from Middle Eastern countries, some looked just like us.

We quickly realized that we had a better shot at the door opening if it was my face they saw through the peephole.

We knocked on a total of 62 doors. A total of 16 doors were actually opened to us. I’m happy to say there was only one person in those 16 who said she was voting for McCain. I was tempted to say, “Why would any African-American person do that?” but instead I just said thank you and moved on.

At one point as a door was just about to close with “No hablo Ingles,” I said, “Una pregunta” and we started a conversation. The object of our visit was the elderly Hispanic woman who lived there. Her daughter stepped in between to tell us she hadn’t yet decided, but I looked over to see her mother mouthing “O-bam-a” behind her back.

We were invited in to sit down in the apartment of an 88-year-old woman, who said she was still studying the candidates. She complained about all the campaign promises that had been broken in her lifetime. I could tell she and her daughter were leaning toward Obama, but not yet ready to admit it. She said she might have trouble walking to the polling place a few blocks away because she had just started using a cane. I wrote down my name and phone number and offered to give her a ride, adding that I wouldn’t ask her who she was going to vote for.

At the end of our second hour, the smells of food cooking began to remind us that we had never eaten lunch. At that point it was almost a relief when no one answered the door.

We did manage to complete our assignment and deliver the results back to the house where we started. I claimed our yard sign and we headed home, hungry but proud of turning some undecided’s into votes for Obama.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Charting Personal History

When I compare myself today to the person I was 5 years ago, I hardly recognize my old self. I found myself mentally charting the course of the changes as I worked out on the elliptical machine today. The result was similar to a family tree, oddly enough.

So what was I like 5 years ago? I was a workaholic who had sort of given up on looking and feeling good and had placed my emotions on hold. I always got outstanding performance ratings and large monetary awards, but I was often too busy to even notice what was going on around me. My body was atrophying from lack of exercise. I was simply going through the motions of living. Fortunately I had a stable marriage to a loving husband, but even so I was often in physical pain and not always happy.

Then one of my employees suggested that I try yoga on Capitol Hill. At first I really struggled to get through a 90-minute level-1 class, using blocks and all the props I could find. But it made me feel good and I kept coming back each week. I got my husband interested in yoga and sometimes went more than once a week.

Meanwhile the owners of the yoga studio kept singing the praises of massage. So at age 55 I had my first massage and was instantly hooked.

I decided to try meditation after observing the lovely space devoted to that practice at the place where I received massage.

When I spoke of how much I had enjoyed playing the piano decades before, my massage therapist urged me to take it up again, which I did.

Through her I met Bill, who played my first duet with me, and soon thereafter introduced me to Deborah, the person I play with every week. Bill continues to be our “coach.”

Through my massage therapist I also discovered Blogging. I went from being a person who signed on to my home computer maybe once a week to a crazed Blogger who is compelled to write every day. I came to love my new electronic friends.

But one of the best changes over the last few years was my renewed appreciation of the people around me. I started to let myself get involved in their lives and allowed them to enter my space.

I’m grateful for this chain of people who have helped me on this journey. Was it just by chance that our paths crossed at the right time? Probably, but who ever knows for sure?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Get Out the Vote

I’ve been trained. I now know how to register voters and I have my very own clipboard to do it.

My husband and I stopped by the Obama office in Falls Church on Friday and got “the training.” The place was a beehive of activity, but I was impressed that the office chief, a 20-something named Ari, came over and welcomed us and answered our questions about how we might best help out.

The training for voter registration took about 10 minutes. We learned how to screen for convicted felons and mentally incapacitated people. It’s really not so hard. My biggest concern was there were no materials in Spanish and my guess is many unregistered voters are Hispanic.

We will go out tomorrow to do door-to-door canvassing. But first we must be trained for that, too. So we will be meeting at someone’s home first to learn what to say and what not to say. If we knock on 40 doors, we are eligible to get an Obama sign for our yard. Woohoo!

Monday morning my friend Marjorie and I plan to hang out at a Metro stop in Virginia trying to sign up unregistered voters. Before then I plan to translate at least some of the materials into Spanish so I don’t make a complete fool of myself with Hispanics who are interested.

I know that one person makes very little difference in this election. But I’m hopeful that there are many out there just like me who are so fed up with the current administration and the possibility of another 4/8 years of the same that they will get out there and work to get Obama elected.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's All About Family

It was well worth the hours of boring highway driving to see my 89-year-old uncle Rodger and to hear the family stories again. In many ways he is so like my father, but there are some wonderful differences.

After learning that his wife died recently, I decided to drive down and see how he was doing and take him out to lunch. It’s 170 miles each way, so that’s a lot of driving for one day for me. (I hear my friend KC, who drives by herself to Omaha, laughing at me.)

Rodger had skipped his morning coffee at the Chick-Fil-A with the guys so he would be sure to be home when I arrived. It was clear from the beginning that he was going to do most of the talking because he was not wearing his hearing aids and he simply couldn’t hear much of what I said.

He showed me boxes of his wife’s music near the front door, which I just assumed he was going to offer to me. But I soon realized that he was more interested in selling it to a paying customer.

He took me through every room of the house, pointing out all his wife’s clothes, things, and toiletries that still lay undisturbed. What a sad reminder of her. He said she kept everything, so that’s why there was so much. (It’s easy to blame her, now that she’s not around to defend herself for the piles of a lifetime that covered every surface.)

In the dining room he played the old phonograph that uses discs instead of records. Rodger is a mechanical engineer, so everything still works perfectly.

Although the house was filled with things, it was fairly clean. I asked if he had someone coming in to clean, forgetting that he doesn’t pay anyone for any services, and he said he vacuumed once a week. He also still mows his own grass and it’s not a small yard.

He showed me his Republican shrine, sporting photos of John and Cindy, W and Laura. I jokingly said, “You wouldn’t consider voting for Obama, would you?” to which he replied, “But I’ve always been a Republican.” It was hopeless, so I just accepted it and we moved on to the kitchen.

He showed me a Mason and Hamlin grand piano in the garage and asked if I wanted to play it. So I whipped out my music and played some Grieg among the tools, right next to his Mercedes.

He asked if I wanted to play the spinet back in the house. There was a big picture of Pat Robertson on the music stand. I told him I simply couldn’t play with that face staring into mine, so I turned it over and then played some Brahms.

As it got close to noon, I asked where I could take him to lunch. He said he really liked the Red Lobster, but it was pretty expensive. I said I thought I could handle it, so he actually put his hearing aids in and we went off in my car.

He got the “sailor’s special” and I had crabcakes. The best part of the meal was those greasy cheese biscuits that make you want to eat them all.

We then took a ride through downtown Hampton so he could show me a retirement home he was considering. I can’t imagine him forking out the down-payment to go to one of those places, but it would definitely be a good reason to have a huge yard sale and get rid of all those antiques he no longer needs.

By this time, I think the batteries in the hearing aids were shot because he was no longer responding, so I took him home and headed on up the road.

It was good to know I still have family and it was good to see how well he is handling being alone and old. I’ll probably go back down in a few months to check on him again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Mean Road Machine

I’ve always liked my Specialized Sequoia Elite bicycle, but now that I’ve had a few things changed, I like it even more.

I had never taken advantage of the dropped handlebars this road bike came with, always holding them on top with my hands too close together for stability. (OK, MediaConcepts – I hear you saying, “Why do you need to hold on at all?” But I do.) I also had always thought the gear shift levers to be a pain in the neck with no indication of what gear I was in. The rear view mirror I had never stayed in place and was usually pointing at the sky.

I asked the people at Spokes about the possibility of changing this and they said it would cost a fortune, basically telling me to live with it the way it was. But at Bikes@Vienna, where my husband bought his new recumbent tricycle, the owner pulled out a catalog of handlebars and gave me several options. Two weeks later he installed the one I chose and it is the perfect answer to my problems. I now have grip shifts. And I have a rear view mirror that works.

After my feeble attempt at learning to use clipless pedals, my husband found these Power Grips on the Internet that accomplishes the same thing without making a prisoner of your foot. No special shoes are required. Your foot can easily slip out before you come to a stop.

My wonderful bike advisor, Ulysses, who seems to have given up on Blogging, had advised me to get the gear range of my bike changed so as to give me a couple of easier gears. Spokes did manage that a couple of months ago and it does make a difference, especially noticeable now that I actually know what gear I am in.

My husband and I went for a bike ride on this picture-perfect day today. We started at Roosevelt Island, went over the Memorial Bridge, rode around Haines Point a few times, and then retraced our steps. It was so nice not to be always playing catch-up. In fact I was in the lead for much of our ride and he was pedaling hard to keep up.

I’m happy with my reworked bicycle. As cute as those trikes are, I’m not yet ready to give up my Sequoia!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on the Little Green Pods

After coming to love okra recently, I started to wonder how it grows. Does it grow on a bush, a tree, small, large?

I almost hesitate to write about this since the Google string that takes the majority of people to my Blog is “How do lentils grow?” Now it will be competing with “How does okra grow?”

But just in case you too are curious about okra, I found an excellent site that will answer most of your questions.

Here are some things I learned:

– The Egyptians were cultivating it in the Nile basin in the 12th century BC.
– It first arrived in the Americas in 1658 in Brazil.
– Okra plants grow best from seed; they do not transplant well.
– The plants can become quite large, sometimes as tall as 7 feet.
– The plants produce large, light yellow flowers. They bloom for only one day and then each becomes an okra pod.
– The plants strongly resemble marijuana plants.
– Okra is a rich source of many nutrients, including fiber, B6, and folic acid.

Check it out. But more importantly, go buy some okra and enjoy eating it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chili and Frank Mills

Whoever heard of a progressive dinner focused on chili? Saturday night we ate chili in many forms as we paraded around Capitol Hill.

There were 35 of us who gathered first at a row house behind the Marine Barracks, where we had spicy salsas with chips and margaritas, followed by salad topped with turkey chili, white corn, and any number of other toppings. A great start to the evening.

Then we walked 8 blocks to another row house, this time on A Street SE, where we had the main course of veggie chili and jailhouse chili with two wonderful corn bread choices. It was the home of two architects, so the space was as enticing as the chili.

Dessert was another 4 blocks, ending up on 8th Street NE. It was fresh fruit with tiny jalapeno slices and the best dark chocolate flan I have ever tasted. It was the subtle flavors that made the chocolate dessert so special. I managed to find the recipe thanks to Google.

As we polished off our flan, I happened to mention that we had recently seen Hair in Central Park. At that point the woman sitting next to me, who is recovering from yet another bout with cancer but has the most optimistic approach to life you could ever imagine, launched into Frank Mills. Suddenly a handsome 6'6" gay man joined in and with David’s and my help we managed to get to the end of the song with most of the words. This sudden outburst of song was as special as the various chilis of the evening.

I was thinking a little more about Frank Mills’ disappearance and how much harder that would be today. With Google and PeopleFinder and Facebook, it’s rather hard to just drop out of sight for long. It’s a sure thing Frank would probably be in debt by more than $2 today!

Frank Mills

I met a boy called Frank Mills
On September twelfth right here
In front of the Waverly
But unfortunately
I lost his address

He was last seen with his friend,A drummer, he resembles George Harrison of the Beatles
But he wears his hair
Tied in a small bow at the back

I love him but it embarrasses me
To walk down the street with him
He lives in Brooklyn somewhere
And wears this white crash helmet

He has gold chains on his leather jacket
And on the back is written the names
And Mom
And Hell's Angels

I would gratefullyAppreciate it if you see him tell him
I'm in the park with my girlfriend
And please

Tell him Angela and I
Don't want the two dollars back
Just him!

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Search of a Jump Start

I’ve come to one of those lulls in life when everything seems to be winding down and I’m waiting to see what happens next. I feel like I need to be jump-started.

The image that comes to mind is the old power mower we had when I was growing up. You had to pull a cord, often repeatedly, to get it to start. Then it would sputter into life as you crossed your fingers and smelled gasoline.

I’ve been playing the same music for months now. As much as I like that Brahms sonata, I’m feeling anxious to move on to something new. Maybe not something quite so challenging, but equally beautiful. I’m frustrated that I never learned to play the second movement up to speed, but I’m starting to accept the fact that a lifetime of practice would not make that happen for me.

As the Darfur tent nears completion, my responsibility for making it happen is also winding down. I’m happy with the result, but almost a little sad to see this project be finished.

As for my style project, the flurry of activity is over. I have the words to describe who I am. The shopping trip to Chicago hovers on the horizon as one of the few bright spots out there.

We have no other trips planned, other than perhaps a visit to the Eastern Shore to do the 30-mile bike circuit. It may be some time before we cross the country or go abroad again.

I have no big sewing project right now. There’s the possibility of bike flags, but that’s not the same as a creation like a quilt. I need to get motivated to find a new project that might spark some creativity.

Are you getting the gist of why I need a jump start?

My husband suggested that I just throw myself into campaigning for Obama. I’m sure they could use any amount of time I could spare for phone banking, going door-to-door, or handing out fliers at Metro stops. I will do those things, but I consider them to be my civic duty, not something that is necessarily fun or exciting.

Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I need to just focus on the fact that I am relatively healthy, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, I have a roof over my head every night, I have a loving and devoted husband and family, I have good friends. All those positives must outweigh the fact that I seem to have the blahs right now.

I’m still hoping something yanks my cord and lets my engine race at full speed once again. I guess I actually prefer life in the fast lane.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tent Update

The Temple Micah tent for Darfur is coming along. It will definitely be ready to join the hundreds of other tents as part of the Tents of Hope project on the Mall November 7-9.

I’m in charge of this tent painting project for Temple Micah. I panicked somewhat when I learned that the building renovation would not leave space for us to paint the tent inside the synagogue building over the summer.

But a wonderful elderly congregant who lives directly behind Temple Micah offered us her garage. That’s where the tent has been housed for the last month as the design takes shape.

A talented woman named Margaret conceived the design for our tent. She did her homework to learn what would be appropriate from the standpoint of a Muslim country.

She determined that pictures of people are not so acceptable. So our tent is mostly rural scenes with vegetation and animals. Even the inside has a pleasing frieze along the top of the walls.

We had volunteer painters of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Every one of them took home new knowledge of mural painting, thanks to Margaret’s thoughtful instruction.

It’s been exciting to see this project come together and to know that we will now be ready to proudly add our tent to the many others from all over the country.

There are still hurdles to be jumped in sending the tents to Darfur, but I’m confident that we will find a way to allow the refugees to appreciate the work that went into decorating a home for yet another family in need on another continent far, far away.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A New Business Venture

I’ve often wondered if there was a way to make a business out of my love of sewing. I may have discovered a market niche in making flags for recumbent bike/trike riders.

My husband recently asked me to make a bigger flag for his new recumbent tricycle. I have a lot of rip-stop nylon in various colors left over from making a huge 4-line kite for a friend’s son in San Diego. So I made him a blue and yellow flag. I actually made him 2 because the first one flew off while he was riding and he couldn’t find it.

When I was in to pick up my bike with its new handle bars and grip shifts, I was talking to Al, who seems to be the recumbent guru at Bikes@Vienna. He was intrigued with the idea of custom-made flags and quickly sketched out two that he had been thinking about, based on things he saw at the Taiwanese National Palace Museum website. Al is quite a character.

Today I showed up with one of his two designs. Al promptly put it on a bike and demonstrated for everyone to see. That’s Al in the picture above. Another customer who is buying a bike gave me his e-mail address and offered to pay $35 or more for a flag that will probably take me about 45 minutes to make.

My husband now wants a better design after seeing these new possibilities.

So it looks like I could be buying more colors of nylon and taking orders. There are infinite possibilities for flag designs, so there should be no problem with keeping each flag unique.

If you have a bike with a flag, let me know if you want a spiffier flag!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Presidential Education

Even though the children can’t vote, I decided the theme for our read-aloud at the homeless shelter last night would be “Presidential Elections.” Some day they will be old enough to vote and they can certainly encourage their moms to vote in the upcoming election.

I held up the above book "Son of Promise, Child of Hope", published on August 26, which I had ordered from Amazon. Here’s the way the conversation went:

Me: Does anyone know who this man is?
Kid 1: I don’t know.
Kid 2: Barack Obama.
Me: Can you tell me something about him?
Kid 2: He ran for President and lost to a white man.
Me: Not just yet. The election will happen later this Fall and many people are supporting him.

BINGO! That’s why this is an important topic, even for kids.

The book, which obviously was published in haste, was quite well done. It interspersed the questions and comments of a single mom and her son David who were watching this year’s Democratic Convention with the life story of Barack Obama.

The kids got to read David’s part and to say “Yes, we can” at the appropriate place.

We then read a book called “So You Want to be President”, which was a treasure trove of information about all our Presidents to date. It included such trivia as the following:

Theodore Roosevelt’s children didn’t just have pets, they ran a zoo. They had dogs, cats, guinea pigs, snakes, mice, rats, badgers, raccoons, parrots, and a Shetland pony called Algonquin. To cheer up his sick brother, young Quentin once took Algonquin upstairs in the White House elevator!

By the end of our reading, a 7-year-old boy announced in all seriousness, “I think I want to be President.” I replied, “I’ll be you can do it!”

For our activity, the children could write a letter to anyone in one of the current campaign families. Here is a letter to Malia and Sasha from the boy who wants to be President one day:

And another to Senator Obama:

I'm trying to figure out where to send these letters. It would mean so much to these kids if they got an answer. Any ideas?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughts about Letting Go

Our reading last night after meditation focused on cultivating an ability to be on your own, without clinging to someone or something for support and emotional sustenance. It made me think back over my life and look ahead, not such Buddhist traits but so be it.

I distinctly remember when I was 4 years old lying on an old (yellow plaid) glider on our screened porch and listening to the rain fall. I was worrying about how I was going to survive when my parents finally died. I suppose that might have been an appropriate worry for a 4-year-old only child. Forty-six years later when I buried my father I realized that I could do it.

There have been several instances in my life when I was far too dependent on another person, subjugating my will to that person’s. As secure and wonderful as you might feel when you have the other person’s company and attention, there is an all-encompassing loneliness when the person is no longer in your life, as sometimes happens.

I think Pema Chodron’s point was not to tell us to forsake all relationships, but rather to examine them to make sure they are emotionally healthy. So I started going through my inventory, one by one.

Husband: One of the reasons why we have managed to stay together for so long has been our ability to live easily with each other, while still allowing a tremendous amount of freedom of choice and will. I am somewhat dependent on him for financial bookkeeping, but I could manage if I had to.

Children: I love them dearly, but our lives are already so separate. There is no longer a financial dependence. Our times together are as adult friends.

Friend that went missing: I still think about her every day, but with each passing day I realize I’m perfectly capable of creating unique and interesting things to do with other people.

Other friends: One by one, I value their presence, but feel no dependence.

My dog Jake: I am quite attached to feeling that cold nose every morning as I wake up. I will miss it terribly when he is no longer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite comfortable and attached to my world as it currently is. But I’m convinced that I have the inner strength to deal with loss, to let go of any “hands” that I might be clinging to. I love the feeling of knowing I could be independent, but also knowing that I don’t have to be, not right now in this present moment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Looking for a Way to Help

Yesterday’s report that the Presidential race is a dead heat once again fired me up to do something besides whine. After coffee yesterday, my friend Marjorie sent me some information about volunteering and I made the plunge today.

I keep wondering who these women are who are jumping ship to support McCain-Palin. I couldn’t recall having even one serious conversation with an intelligent person who is a McCain supporter. But in truth I probably do know some of them, maybe more than I think.

After a fantastic trip to see the gardens at the National Cathedral with the Temple Micah Lunch Bunch, as we were sitting at Café DeLuxe, one of my favorite restaurants, one of them spoke out. I had thought of the congregants of Temple Micah as invariably bleeding liberals. This woman said she had been a Democrat all her life, but in January when she looked at the Democratic possibilities, she went to work for McCain. She’s smart. She’s a lawyer. She cleverly refuted every point any of us could make to the point where I had to leave before I exploded in frustration.

I went directly from lunch to the Obama office in Arlington and asked what I could do to help. I would have done just about anything not to work the phone bank, but that was the job with my name on it today. So I called and called and called, getting about 1 in20 home. Of those I reached, their preference was equally split between Obama and McCain. Two hours of phoning was about all I could take. I’ll be back another day to do more of whatever they need most.

I will probably join Marjorie, who has been working for the Obama campaign for about a year, when she goes door-to-door in Chantilly, a Northern Virginia suburb.

I’m somewhat incredulous that people are not running as fast as possible from another 4 or 8 years of Republicans in office. A quick look at our economy, the price of gas, the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the failing health care system would seem sufficient reason to vote for the Democrats.

As a retiree I have been liberated from the Hatch Act restrictions placed on Federal workers, and I plan to do everything in my power to campaign for the change that is so desperately needed in this country!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Poor Jake

It’s that time of the year when Jake is miserable. He suffers from a seasonal allergy that flares up every Labor Day like clockwork.

He becomes so itchy that he literally chews the hair off until his pink skin is raw. It’s an ugly sight.

He goes to a veterinary dermatologist, who insists on seeing him every other year. But this year, Dr. Hansen simply called in a prescription for Medrol to our local Giant. Hence the bottle for Diskin “Jake” Dog.

He’s already settling down after just 3 days of steroids. Thank God for meds or we would have one ugly mongrel of a dog!