Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from Chicago

Today we spent hours on the Magnificent Mile doing what we allegedly came to Chicago to do -- shopping. Ironically my only purchases were at Ann Taylor Loft, Nordstrom’s, and Border’s, stores I could just as easily visited at home.

We decided to take the El into the city today, leaving the car behind. We discovered a relic of the past in the subway station.

All day long we were reminded that it was Halloween. Shopkeepers, little children, and the general public were dressed up in celebration.

The city was in the midst of a heat wave. The streets were adorned with lovely displays of Fall flowers.

People were sitting in outdoor cafes dining as the temperature hit a high somewhere in the 70’s.

We’re definitely eating well on this trip. Last night we had Mediterranean food brought from home. Tonight we are cooking chicken with artichokes.

In a few minutes Diesel will be home from doggy daycare, reminding me of how much I miss my Jake.

And tomorrow my husband will arrive for the second purpose of our visit -- celebrating his Aunt Zelda’s 100th birthday on Sunday.

For today, Happy Halloween from Chicago!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Getting Oriented

It was a perfect day to get oriented to Chicago and we took full advantage of the nice weather.

Diesel told us all goodbye from his observation point in the living room. His two-year-old energy reminds me that my Jake is really getting be an old dog.

We managed to drive downtown, finding parking near the Navy Pier. As we walked toward Lake Michigan I was happy to put on my hat with the ear flaps, clearly distinguishing myself from my stylish companions.

While we waited for the Architects Tour boat to board, we wandered around the Navy Pier. We rode the giant Ferris wheel, giving us an excellent view of the city.

The hour-long boat tour introduced us to the variety of architectural styles that make up the buildings in this city. I particularly liked the ones that have a reflective surface.

We wandered through Millenium Park, where we encountered the giant silver “Bean”, which is a lot more fun than the circus mirrors. For those of you who delight in reflection photos, you would have been in paradise!

After wolfing down some Chicago pizza, we drove up to Old Town, specifically to visit the real Penzey’s Spice House. I love this place about as much as I love hardware stores. I am bringing home ginger nibs, turkey brining spices, pumpkin pie spice, and several other things I just couldn’t resist.

After wandering around Old Town for a while, we managed to get ourselves “home” without getting lost, where we collapsed with hot tea and snacks.

We’re gearing up for day 2, but tonight we’ll rest up as we put a few more inches on our scarves.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Westward Ho

It was a day of driving and knitting as we covered the 700 miles between DC and Chicago. My biggest revelation was I knit as unconventionally as I hold chopsticks.

We were unprepared for the blizzard of Pennsylvania and Ohio. No one came prepared for snow.

The first-shift driver took some well-earned R&R as we started our first book. Gary’s suggestion “Follow Your Heart” was indeed the perfect movie for 3 old romantic mothers on a road trip.

As soon as the sun was up, I started casting on and relearning how to knit. I have this very unorthodox way of propping one needle in my lap and moving only my left hand as I slowly add another row of stitches.

The Chicago skyline was a welcome sight. The only difficulty we had all day was trying to find KC’s daughter’s house after we got here. We finally found her jumping up and down cheerleader style on a street corner while she waited for us with her dog Diesel.

We’re a little bleary-eyed as we try to figure out the plan for our first day in the Windy City. At least it looks like we left the snow in the East.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chicago, Get Ready!

The idea of hitting the road on a big road trip before the sun has even come up has always appealed to me. At 6:00 a.m. tomorrow our odyssey to Chicago begins and I am so excited. I just told my friend KC I wasn’t sure if I could even go to sleep.

When I was a young child, we would drive to Minnesota every other summer to see my father’s family. It was a 3-day trip before the days of interstates. We packed a lot of food and brought huge Thermoses of coffee so my father could stay awake, since he did all the driving. I loved it when we would get started about 4:00 in the morning.

My husband is definitely not a morning person, so the days of early departure are long since past. We are lucky to roll out after rush hour these days.

But not tomorrow. We are making this 600-mile trip in just one day and planning to arrive before dinner, so an early start is a must.

We have enough recorded reading material, thanks to your suggestions and some help from my husband, to drive across the country and back. We have plenty of snacks. We have our knitting projects. We have each other’s company.

And I hope we have maps. I spent a lot of time when I was a young traveler following the progress of our trip. I quickly took over from my mother as the navigator because she hated being responsible for telling my father when he needed to change course. Our driver KC could probably make this trip with her eyes closed she has done it so many times, but I hope we still bring a map.

I asked if we were eating breakfast before we left. KC proceeded to tell me how she was just going to have a yogurt on the road. I couldn’t quite figure out how one could drive and eat yogurt. I asked if she sucked it out of the container. She went on to explain that she put it between her legs and... I promise to post a description of breakfast on the road with pictures tomorrow.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Missing Monday's OM

I never thought I would miss down dog or plank or lunges or sun salutations as much as I do. It was Monday night and I was supposed to be at yoga, but my yoga studio is no longer. So I sat in Deborah’s kitchen twirling spaghetti on my fork when I would otherwise have been settling into my 6:15 class.

Capitol Hill Yoga, which was once Dancing Heart Yoga, had been in existence for probably a decade when it closed earlier this month. It is going to reopen in a different location in a couple of months, but right now we are in a hiatus of no yoga.

I tried another class last week. But it just wasn’t the same. Many poses went beyond the level 1 that I am most comfortable with and I started watching how good everyone else was instead of concentrating on my own practice.

I am such a creature of habit. I love my teacher’s approach to yoga. She’s soft-spoken and can lead a fairly strenuous class, but she has a touch of playfulness that makes it fun to stretch and hold and even do lots and lots of down dogs.

I’m comfortable with the routine of my usual class. I’ve actually come a long way in the 5 years I have been practicing yoga. But there are always poses I need to work on.

I’m trying to decide how to continue my yoga practice during this in-between time. I might take a few private lessons with my usual teacher. I may shop around just to see what else is out there. I may even try a daily practice on my own down in the basement.

But I will definitely come back to Capitol Hill Yoga when it reopens in 2009 at 641 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Meanwhile I am missing my teacher and the group of friends I have made over the years as we OM’ed together on Monday nights.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Personal Weirdness

Last week, Cyndy at Photocynthesis tagged me for a meme. I meant to respond right away, but life got in the way. And so I'm late. (I just copied this paragraph from Kristin’s post on the same.)

Here are the official rules:
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

And here are the seven random/weird facts about me:

(1) I am fanatical about keeping my money in order from lowest to highest value in my wallet, with the bills all facing the same direction.
(2) I am left-handed, but I play baseball and golf right-handed.
(3) When I first was learning to write, I wrote from right to left – backwards. You needed a mirror to read it!
(4) I have a good memory for telephone numbers. I stubbornly resist entering them in my cell phone, preferring to take up space in my feeble brain instead.
(5) I have vivid memories of living in the house where we lived until I was about 2. I once described my parents’ bedroom, including the angle of the bed and the pink, blue, and white chenille bedspread. My mother was quite surprised.
(6) I grew up in the Florida panhandle, but I hate lima beans and black-eyed peas, staples of the southern diet.
(7) I can juggle. When I worked in the computer center at FSU, everyone knew how to juggle. Many people had even attended circus class.

I will suggest that Angela, Adrianne, and Huck do this meme. They are about the only Blogger newbies I can think of who haven’t already done it. If you are reading and feel so inclined, by all means reveal your weirdness to the Internet world!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

From the Heart

I’ve been thinking a lot about the heart recently – you know that place that is the seat of our emotions, that muscle that pumps blood through out bodies until our dying breath, beating as many as 6 billion times without ever taking a break. I’m thinking about what it is that makes for a healthy, happy heart.

I started coming up with words, phrases that include the word HEART and was amazed at how many there are, some of which come in pairs of opposites. Things like:

Hard-hearted and soft-hearted
Heavy heart and light heart
Heart worth its weight in gold
Black heart
Take heart

In yoga we do a lot of heart-opening poses, working hard to “shine out” our hearts that often get hidden as we hunch over our work and fail to use good posture. For many of us this is difficult because an open heart seems so vulnerable.

I have lately been praying for a soft and open heart. Is it too much to ask that someone else’s heart be open as well, dropping the protective veneer?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Read to Me

Can you believe I’ve never listened to a recorded book – a book-on-tape? I’m going to find out what this is all about on my upcoming road trip to Chicago. We (who are not driving) now have something to do with our hands, but we all need something to engage what’s left of our brains during at least some of those 25-30 hours in the car.

Here’s your big chance to make a contribution to our trip. If you have listened to anything recently that seems like it would be good background material for knitting and driving, let me know.

None of you readers is timid, so I expect a wide range of suggestions. Remember we are all on the other side of 50 and we shy away from violence and relentlessly bad language. Other than that, it’s fair game. Bring on the suggestions!

For Love of a Cat

I am typically not a cat person, much preferring the predictable behavior of dogs. But I have taken a strong liking to a regular feline visitor in Sidamo, my favorite coffee shop on Capitol Hill.

The unique thing about this cat is he’s on a leash. He follows his owner in and jumps up on the same high stool every day while his owner orders his coffee.

The cat is a beautiful mixture of yellow and white. He’s very approachable and gives a clearly audible purr for any affection shown him.

When the coffee has been poured, the owner says, “Are you ready?”, the cat jumps down, and they make their way out of the shop.

This cat is such a regular visitor that his picture is on the wall and everyone knows him.

I could actually warm up to a cat like this. But I’m not sure I could ever convince Jake, who seems terrified of all cats.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Red Alert

When you give a perfunctory look toward the toilet bowl, the last thing you want to see is RED. For those of us who are either male or post-menopausal, this can cause some angst.

It happens once or twice a year and I have finally learned to tell myself to see if it happens again before calling my doctor. Fortunately I have never needed to call.

But today was one of those days. The odd thing was it looked different. It was sort of beet red. Then it hit me.

I had eaten beet salad for both lunch and dinner yesterday, consuming a lot of beets. They contain a powerful natural dye that obviously doesn’t go away in the digestion process.

For once I had a logical explanation as I flushed the toilet and prepared to get on with more important things, like buying yarn for my scarf.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Should I feel fortunate or cheated for not having to play scales until I was 59 years old? My new piano teacher is a firm believer in scales, promising that the mastery of the basic scales will cure all my piano-playing ills.

It sounds easy enough. C major: play every white key up and back for 4 octaves on a metronome setting of 72. NOT! First of all, the fingering is important. But your left hand has a different pattern of fingering from your right hand. It’s sort of like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Successful piano-playing seems to be about training your fingers to remember how to repeat something with less and less reliance on your brain for direction. Does that make any sense?

I’ve been dutifully playing scales every day, using the fingering indicated in the Hanon book (The Virtuoso Pianist). I’m nowhere near 72 on the metronome and so far my fingers are not terribly reliable at their job of remembering.

My next lesson is on Thursday, so I’m hoping for some scale breakthrough before then so I don’t look like an old fool to my yet older teacher who can play scales with her eyes closed I’m sure.

But whether I succeed at scales or not, I think this teacher is going to work out well. I arrived to be greeted by a large Obama sign in her front yard. At least our politics are the same.

She was just pulling up as I knocked on the door, having alerted an older gentleman (who turned out to be her husband) to watch for me and tell me she was on her way.

She came in and made herself a chicken sandwich while she listened to my piano history and before any notes were played. I could see that the formality of my last teacher was totally absent, a good sign.

I played a couple of pages of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. That was enough for her to note the tension in my shoulders. But she also noted that I know how to pedal and I have a good sense of rhythm.

She decided (probably wisely) to steer clear of the chamber music, letting Bill handle those lessons. Instead she will work on purely piano pieces with me.

She dug out an ancient book of Chopin mazurkas and told me to work on #45. What a luxury – a beautiful 2-page piece that I can actually play pretty well by now.

My new goal in taking lessons is to get help in choosing music that is within my reach, that I will delight in playing every time I practice, and that will help me work on avoiding injury to my aging body. She has an additional goal of teaching me a lifetime of music theory in a short time that will help me understand why I’m playing what I am.

Let’s hope I can achieve all of these goals because I think Anadel is a keeper of a teacher and she’s a good 12 years older than I am.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reluctant Tears

I come from a long line of stoics – people who just never cried. Heaven forbid you should “break down”, as they referred to the loss of control that would allow someone to visibly weep.

This “no cry” policy was ever present when I was growing up. I can remember my mother crying just one time, after she had lost a baby at 3 months. My father never hugged and never cried, not even at my mother’s funeral.

Can I possibly have a lifetime of tears stored somewhere in my body? Just as we females are born with a finite number of eggs, do we also have a fixed number of tears? If so, my supply is largely still in tact.

I’ve come to wonder about this as I felt the levees starting to crumble in my recent bouts of sadness. I’ve even had the feeling that a good cry might clear away a lot of old emotions.

I often envy people who can cry at the drop of a hat. They are the ones who are always sobbing at the end of a sad movie. They cry over birth, death, and many things in between.

But that’s not me. I’m the one who still marvels at the saltiness of the occasional tear that slips out of my eye unnoticed by the rest of the world.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paying for Performance

DC students, who have been among the poorest academic achievers for decades, now have a new incentive to study. They can earn money. But is this really the message we should be giving to young people?

I was probably in junior high school when I first learned of students who were being paid for A’s. In some cases it was as much as $5 an A. Most of those students were lucky to pull one or two top marks in any grading period, so their families were not going broke. But it never sat well with me, as I consistently brought home all A’s.

I was somewhat appalled to read Saturday’s Post article about checks being passed out to over 3,000 middle school students in DC for good grades and good behavior. These kids can make up to $100 every 2 weeks during this school year in a program jointly sponsored by Harvard University and the DC Public School System.

I can imagine that it may well motivate some students to attend school more often and to do their homework. But it may also foster other behavior like increased cheating – anything to make the grade. I wonder if we will see middle school students being mugged for their good grades checks?

I’ll bet the love of learning takes a backseat to the love of money.

Maybe I’m just a cynic. But then I have always had a negative opinion about performance-based pay, which extends from the students to their teachers. Something is definitely wrong with a system where teachers are paid extra money if their students excel on standardized tests and now students are paid to study. In the end isn’t it just the taxpayer who is footing the bill?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dim-Sum Homestyle

Saturday’s new crate brought with it another vegetable I had probably eaten at dim-sum, but never bought or attempted to cook. A baby bok choy peered out at me and just begged to be cooked.

Not having a clue about this green vegetable, I Googled and found a recipe for which I actually had most of the ingredients. Enjoy the fact that I am providing quantities and I pretty much stuck to the amounts indicated, although I profess to pouring in the glaze ingredients because I was too lazy to look for measuring spoons. On second thought, I read the measurements but didn’t really follow them.

Soy-Glazed Baby Bok Choy

1 T. sesame seeds, toasted
1 T. lemon olive oil (the recipe called for peanut oil, but I don’t use peanut oil these days)
1 pound baby bok choy, ends trimmed, chopped coarsely

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
2 green onions, chopped (I used sweet yellow onion instead)

1-1/2 T. rice vinegar
1-1/2 T. soy sauce
1 t. sesame oil
½ t. sugar

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry non-stick skillet until golden. Set aside.

Add the oil to the skillet and heat on medium high. When it’s hot, add the bok choy. Brown for 3-4 minutes. Remove bok choy to a bowl.

Add the garlic, ginger, and onions to the skillet. Cook for 1 minute or until onions are translucent. Add the glaze ingredients and cook until just beginning to thicken, about 1 minute. Return the bok choy to the skillet and cook for a minute or two, tossing with the glaze. Remove to a serving platter and top with toasted sesame seeds.

This was one of the best investments of 20 minutes I have ever made!

Not Your Traditional Stuffing

We are definitely eating a greater variety of food as a result of participating in a CSA program. By the end of the week, I am most interested in getting rid of any remaining veggies from the previous week in order to make room for Saturday’s new crate.

As I looked at the bright red peppers and inventoried what else I had on hand, it seemed they were destined to be stuffed. With what? Well, how about curried rice?

I refused to Google stuffed peppers, not wanting to know what ingredients I might be missing. Instead I simply invented this recipe:

Sweet red peppers, tops and seeds removed
Brown rice
Broth (I used chicken, but it can be any kind)
Lemon olive oil
Golden raisins
Pine nuts
Sweet curry powder
Cinnamon (mainly because it appeared in the list of 11)
Ground cumin
Garlicky bread crumbs *

Cook rice in broth. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil over moderately high heat. When onions are translucent, add raisins, pine nuts, spices, salt, and pepper. Cook for another minute or two. Remove from the burner. When the rice is done, stir it into the curry mixture. Fill the cavity in each pepper completely. Top with seasoned bread crumbs.

Wedge into a baking dish that will hold the peppers upright. Add water to a depth of about ½". Cook at 350 degrees until the peppers are done (turning very slightly brown) or about 45 minutes.

* Cook a minced garlic clove in a small amount of olive oil. Add bread crumbs from a fresh baguette, salt, and pepper. Cook over moderately high heat until the bread crumbs are golden brown.

I’m sorry to be so noncommittal about amounts, but I didn’t measure a thing except for making sure there was twice as much broth as rice!

Note: Photos are before the peppers were cooked!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Knitting the Miles Away

It’s been a long time since I spent almost 30 hours in a car, which will be the case on our upcoming road trip to Chicago. My friends and I met yesterday to talk about exactly how we planned to pass the time on the road.

“Just know that if you let me drive, I will speed,” I said. My friend KC, who is so practical about everything replied, “Cruise control.” “But I’ve never used it,” I said, in my typical please-don’t-make-me-learn-something-new voice. “We’ll teach you,” was the answer. So at least it looks like I won’t be getting a speeding ticket.

We talked about books-on-tape, food, music, and quiet time, something we all agreed was necessary.

Then I had the idea of making something, like a scarf, on the trip. I figured if we were sitting still all that time we might as well have something to show for it.

We all have a vague idea about how to knit, something way back there in the recesses of our mind. I have an unfinished sock I started 3 years ago. But the basic stitches are the same for a scarf. To be sure, my friend MM is bringing me a basic knitting book tomorrow. Next week we will go to a yarn shop in Old Town and buy whatever we need in the way of yarn and needles.

Since the pursuit of fashion is the incentive for this trip to the Windy City, a scarf seems an appropriate souvenir.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cyberly Close

What an odd feeling for my comment to land next to that of a person I once knew well on someone else’s Blog. It’s almost like smelling a distinctive perfume and knowing someone had been in the room.

It happens so frequently, it almost seems like meeting for coffee on a regular basis.

Do I dare plant a note for tomorrow that says,

How are you? What’s new in your life? Do you remember me when you turn on my old gifted iPod?

Cyberspace offers us a remarkable feeling of closeness that is sometimes impossible in real life.

A Black-Tie Event

I have always had a warm spot in my heart for penguins, which have to be the strangest of all birds. Unfortunately they have begun appearing in places where they shouldn’t be and where they can’t survive. Just like with beached whales, there are penguin lovers out there who want to help them get back home.

Recently Magellanic penguins have been showing up on the balmy beaches of Brazil, way outside their normal comfort zone. These birds are native to Patagonia and tend to migrate somewhat north during their summer following fish that travel with the warm waters. But this year the birds went much further north because of warmer than usual ocean currents.

Returning this latest group of birds to Patagonia was a 2-step process. They were first taken by boat to Brazil’s southern border with Argentina. There they were released into the open water in the hope they would be carried back to Patagonia on the ocean currents.

Check out this video of the release of these adorable birds in their little tuxedos.

Is this just one more manifestation of global warming? I wonder about the long-term future of these birds if indeed all of Antarctica melts one day. Will they then be on the endangered species list? Or will they evolve as humans must have to deal with climatic changes? Are there still people out there denying that global warming exists?