Sunday, November 30, 2008

Star Power

It seemed so odd to be setting the table for 5 as I prepared for last night’s dinner party. The sixth person, the one who had connected 3 of us through Blogging, was no longer speaking to me and would therefore not be in attendance.

As my guests arrived and we munched on the empanadas that seemed to have miraculously turned out, I realized how strong relationships have a way of surviving, even when one falls away. Those of us who knew her missed her, but no one mentioned her name.

My guests ranged in height from 5'0" to 6'6", but intellectually we were all quite even. We talked about favorite books, about H’s life in Brussels, about S’s years in Morocco, about A’s novel in progress. My husband was the perfect host. Even Jake was quite content as he lay under the table at our feet.

It was a vegetarian meal that left everyone feeling full, but not stuffed the way meat often does. The main dish, contributed by one of my guests, was a baked rigatoni casserole with pumpkin and cashews and other savory ingredients. In addition to the empanadas, I made an apsaragus-gruyere ravioli soup with lots of ginger and dill, a red and yellow beet salad, and java cake with fresh berries. We finished off the last white wine brought back from Italy and then started on a bottle of red.

As we lingered at the table, I realized we were seated in the shape of a star, a very strong structure. As much as I would have welcomed the sixth guest, I thoroughly enjoyed my star-shaped evening with wonderful, interesting friends.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top Chef at Home

Tonight’s dinner guests are people who love good food and definitely know the difference. One of them is bringing the main dish and wine, but I am providing the rest.

The appetizer empanada recipe comes from an ancient set of cookbooks on regional cuisine. It calls for beef tenderloin. But in consideration for one of my guest’s vegetarian preference, I decided to substitute portobello mushrooms. My husband can’t tolerate anything spicy, so I left out the really hot pepper. They also include sauteed onions, raisins, green olives, hard boiled egg, paprika, cumin, and salt. I made the dough yesterday and assembled the little pies today. I decided to bake 3 of them so my son could try them before he heads off to the airport to go back to Hamburg this afternoon.

The trial batch turned out to be very white and somewhat lacking in taste. My first inclination was to pitch the whole lot of them and come up with a new appetizer. But then I had another idea.

I’m going to try something I’ve never done before with guests. I’m going to ask them to help me redeem the empanadas. I think they might brown better if we put an egg wash on them before putting them in the oven. While they bake, we can collectively come up with a jazzy dipping sauce.

I spent exactly 15 cents at the Safeway this morning on 4 possible ingredients: jalapeno, serrano, long green, and habanero peppers. (My husband will not be eating this sauce if we use any of these! But then he is content with bland.) In addition, I have cilantro, limes, lemons, tomatoes, curry, and a bunch of other things.

One of my favorite activities is cooking with friends, so tonight should fulfill that desire! I will report back as to what sort of sauce we concocted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

First Hurts

One of the great side benefits of going to PT is the discussions we have. An adorable little girl, who belonged to the patient on the next table, sparked our memories of first hurts.

Her mother was obviously in for a shoulder injury. I was being treated for my ongoing leg and hip condition. I remarked that the 5-year-old had never experienced the pains we brought to the PT table. The PT guy reminded us that instead she got to experience hitting her thumb for the first time with a hammer and other similar first pains. Here’s my recollection of those firsts in my life:

– When I was about 4 years old, I was applying an iron to my doll clothes for the first time with the ironing board quite low. I happened to run into my arm with the hot surface long enough to form two humongous blisters. I can smell the “Foil” my mother slathered on my burned arm.

– A few years later as I was looking forward to my first swimming party in a public pool I sliced into my finger with a very sharp knife. That’s one of those times when you are sure you will bleed to death. Layers of gauze and a Bandaid swathed that finger, which I must have held up out of the water. The huge pool was lovely at night as the chlorine filled the air.

– I learned to saw, hammer, and put in screws when a friend and I built a doll house that filled half my bedroom. We made couches, bunk beds, drop-leaf tables, and even a car for our doll family. He knew how to do the basics and I’m sure my father consulted when we had questions. We both pounded our thumbs multiple times as the doll house took shape.

– I was jumping rope at a neighbor’s house, looking forward to my first crab feast at another neighbor’s house that night. As my big toe bent under my right foot, I came to understand the crabs would have to wait for a few years. Instead I spent the next several hours in the ER getting X-rayed. I was mortified to find out I would have to wear tennis shoes to Sunday school.

These were the simple first pains that most children learn in their first decade. Pains of the heart would wait for a few years and not be so easily fixed with a Bandaid.

The discussion moved from childhood injury to book suggestions, with everyone in the therapy room adding their recommendations. I was happy to be distracted by book talk as my hamstrings screamed out in agony. Sometimes even 10 seconds seems like an eternity.

My PT guy, who is a master of multi-tasking, had sent me an e-mail message with the book list by the time I got home. Have you read any of these?

When Nietsche Wept
The Madonnas of Leningrad
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Weight, by Jeanette Witherspoon (or something else from the Canongate myth series)
The Art of Possibility
Sitting Still
Those Who Save Us
Breakfast at the Victory

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Turkey Verdict

I’m sure you all are anxious to find out how the humanely raised and slaughtered turkey tasted. I can honestly say it was the best turkey we have ever made.

But I’m not sure if I can give the credit to brining or to the turkey itself. This was hardly a controlled test.

I had bought a brining salt mix at The Spice House in Chicago. My daughter, who was home, read about how brining chemically alters turkey in a good way, by denaturing the proteins in the meat and through osmosis helping the meat to retain liquid. Yesterday we submerged our Polyface turkey in a solution of homemade stock, the brining salt mixture, and a small amount of brown sugar.

Today as the turkey roasted, it released very little fat. There was a small amount of dark brown drippings after the roasting was completed. I combined those with white wine, chopped giblets, a little flour, and turkey stock to make rich gravy. No salt was needed.

The meat itself was extremely moist and flavorful – both white and dark meat. We will be eating turkey for several more meals since it was just our family for dinner.

The other favorite on our menu was the cranberries with port and figs. It’s nice not to be overwhelmed by the flavor of oranges.

It takes a crazy amount of time to make Thanksgiving dinner. It almost seems a shame not to be able to eat for hours. But unfortunately the natural turkey was just as soporific as the grocery store variety, so we would be asleep by now if we were still at the table.

(The picture above is Polyface Farm.)

P.S. My neighbor KC who also tried a Polyface turkey for the first time didn't find anything remarkable about hers. She also thought there was not as much meat on those bones. I would rather know I had a skinny turkey because it had been enjoying itself on a grass farm instead of being cooped up in a little space to fatten up for somebody's Thanksgiving dinner. But then I wasn't trying to feed 12 people yesterday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Thanksgiving Economies of Scale

Just a small family Thanksgiving sounded so easy, so restful. But I had forgotten that Thanksgiving dinner, like the Passover meal, is the same amount of work, no matter how many guests, because there are so many different dishes to prepare.

The menu includes everyone’s requests:

Pumpkin soup (a late addition by Dan which I allowed only if he would be responsible for making it)
Brined turkey with bread-mushroom-sausage stuffing (one person is still fighting the sausage)
Giblet gravy
Cranberry sauce with port and figs
Brussel sprouts with pecans
Mashed white potatoes with pureed fennel
Sweet potatoes
Pumpkin pie

Yesterday I made almost 2 gallons of chicken stock for the brining process. I baked a pumpkin and scooped out the tender orange flesh after it cooled. You can see this is a family that does things from scratch. I have been using canned pumpkin for years, but my organic SF daughter insisted on buying a pumpkin and roasting the seeds.

Today I picked up two big challahs at Best Buns and cubed the bread for the stuffing. (My mother always did it the day before so it could dry out.) I made cranberry sauce with port and figs. (I used fresh figs.) Rachel assembled the turkey in the brining solution. I cooked up the giblets. I made the dough for the pumpkin pies, which will be baked tomorrow. Dan found a recipe for pumpkin soup.

Tomorrow as the house fills with the smell of a roasting turkey, I have a plan that we will take Jake for a long walk in Congressional Cemetery to burn off some calories in preparation for the meal that always puts you to sleep.

Next year maybe I will invite an army of people. It’s almost easier when everyone brings a course. There are no economies of scale in a Thanksgiving dinner for four people!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

About That Wedding

A faithful reader reminded me that I had said very little about the wedding, the real purpose of our recent trip to Detroit. I was waiting to get a photo from my husband’s iPhone first.

Our niece Melissa has to be one of the nicest kids on the face of the earth. (I call her a kid, but she is actually 33 years old.) She and her sister spent a lot of time with their grandparents, growing up in an adjoining suburb. They got to experience the best years of their grandfather’s life after he retired and learned the patience that he never had with his own children.

Melissa was a regular visitor of her grandparents, after he had a stroke and she broke bone after bone. She helped empty out the apartment when her grandmother moved into the assisted living home.

Her husband Darren is just as devoted. The afternoon of the wedding, where was he? Visiting Zelda and Diane at Regent Street.

It actually took a while for the older generation of this Jewish family to accept the fact that the girls (as they call our nieces) might not marry someone who was Jewish. But gradually they came to see that love and devotion were much more important than religion in the long run.

Despite the fact that Darren is not Jewish, the wedding ceremony took place under a traditional canopy (chuppah) and was officiated by a lovely female rabbi, who obviously had gotten to know the bride and groom quite well. She said the seven blessings, they broke the glass, and they signed the marriage contract (ketubah). They recited the vows, repeating the ancient Hebrew phrases after the rabbi. It had all the necessary elements of a Jewish wedding.

The rabbi even tied in the week’s torah portion, talking about how Jacob met Rebecca, his bride to be, at the well. It was a beautiful ceremony, witnessed by Diane and Zelda in the front row holding hands throughout.

I somewhat expected the old folks to be ready for bed at 8:00 after the ceremony. But they seemed to find a reserve of energy to join the party afterwards. It was not until 11:00 that we convinced them to go home to sleep.

I’m sure both Zelda and Diane have dreamed about Melissa’s wedding ever since Saturday night. However, they have already turned their attention to my Rachel, telling her not to wait too long to find someone and settle down. I guess that’s part of the job description of the older generation!

Monday, November 24, 2008


This was one incredibly long day as we made our way home to be a family once again for Thanksgiving.

There were a few issues about the items we bought for lunch at Whole Foods since plane food is nonexistent these days. I chose the above candy bar without checking out the price of $8 on the back, generating gasps from the rest of my family. But then later another family member left her $7 sandwich behind in security, which caused me to wonder what’s worse, wasting money on a delicious bar of dark chocolate or losing something perhaps more nutritious worth almost as much?

It’s always difficult leaving my mother-in-law, who says things like “I hope I live to see you again before I leave this earth.” Unfortunately this is quite a legitimate hope because of her failing health. My daughter came away in tears and we all felt like jerks for abandoning her once again.

Another source of stress was the near blizzard conditions under which we drove to the airport, not having nearly as much time as we had planned for buying gas, returning the rental car, and checking in. The sudden snow was not in the weather prediction!

Despite the snow, our plane left almost on time. I think we all fell asleep upon boarding. In fact, my husband woke up and finding the plane on the ground said in all seriousness that it seemed like a short flight, not realizing we hadn’t yet taken off.

We drove directly from the airport to dinner with friends and a lecture given by Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. I could write several posts on that book, but instead I will simply say the author is as inspiring in person as he is in his book.

Finally by 10:00 we were able to pick up our Jake at the house where he had been staying. Was he ever surprised to see his favorite boy and girl in the car! His real dilemma tonight will be whose room to sleep in. I can only guess it won’t be mine.

It’s now time to think about family and Thanksgiving, offering up a big thanks for a safe trip and for a family once again all at home.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Geriatric Weekend

This weekend was a good reminder of the reality of growing old. We spent many of our waking hours in the assisted living facility where my mother-in-law lives and where Aunt Zelda was staying.

Regent Street is actually one of the nicer facilities I have seen. But even so the cloud of loneliness hangs everywhere as the residents shuffle slowly down the halls with their walkers or sit in their wheelchairs staring at the birds in the lobby.

A look around the dining room said a lot. There was Perry, the slightly crazy woman who lies through her teeth just to get everyone’s attention. She told my husband on his last trip that they had left her in the dining room all night. She told me her door wouldn’t close and enticed me to come try it, only to find out her door was fine.

Another woman was starting on her fourth dessert, leaving behind a small pile of chocolate chips. She was obviously not on a diet.

Looking around the dining room, I realized that probably everyone in there was wearing Depends. I can’t imagine how demoralizing it must be to trade in your cotton briefs for padded plastic pull-ups.

The concerns about how Zelda’s meds would be administered caused me to think about the challenges of handling pills for even 60 residents, who all take a different regimen of medications on a variety of schedules. Turning over my few pills to someone else to dispense would seem like turning over a piece of myself.

My initial response after seeing all these old people, many of whom look like they are simply going through the motions of life, was to say “When I get that old, just shoot me!” I’m sure I don’t mean that, but I’m not convinced I ever want to be institutionalized.

The thought of living 41 more years to be as old as Aunt Zelda is daunting. My body complains occasionally now. I can’t imagine what shape it will be in by 2049, if indeed I live that long.

Tomorrow we will leave the geriatric world behind and head home to get ready for a family Thanksgiving. We will enjoy a week with our children before they go back to their distant homes. And we will thank God for still being on the young side of old.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Family Connections

While we are here in Detroit to see a young couple officially tie their lives together, there are other significant reunions playing out this weekend. Yesterday I was part of one and got to witness another.

100-year-old Aunt Zelda in Chicago has been an important part of the bride’s life. We determined to get her here for the wedding. Our daughter flew from San Francisco to Chicago to accompany her. We found a long-time friend of Zelda’s drive them both to Detroit.

The friend Bryna, is a 6’4” black woman who happens to be the daughter of a former Boston Celtics player. What a threesome as they rolled along I-94 with Zelda wearing Bryna’s orange sunglasses!

They finally rolled in around 6:30, tired but otherwise none the worse for their 5-hour road trip. Zelda walked in without even using her walker, just holding onto Bryna’s arm.

The reunion of Zelda with my mother-in-law (her deceased brother’s wife) was one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. Neither of them could believe it was happening. Undoubtedly this will be the last time they will see each other before one of them dies.

They just sat there holding onto one another and smiling. Zelda can’t see. My mother-in-law can’t hear. But they have memorized every detail of one another over the past 75 years.

While their reunion was playing out, we had one of our own. Our beautiful daughter completed our family foursome. But there was still much work to be done before we could relax in one another’s company.

Zelda is staying in the assisted living facility with my mother-in-law. But we had to deal with the details of getting her meds dispensed, getting her settled in a strange room, showing her how to call an aid, etc.

I’m sure Zelda and Diane slept soundly last night and continued to dream about their visit and the wedding today. We will need to remind Diane of things like who we are and the fact that there is a wedding. But I don’t think she will forget who her long-time friend Zelda is.

Our immediate family of 4 will enjoy the next week together before our children head back to their distant cities.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Live from Motown

We're in Detroit for our niece's wedding. Hopefully it will be the happy moments and not the inevitable family drama that we remember from this long weekend.

I spent yesterday, our travel day, tied up in knots as I tried to roll my latest yarn up in a ball in preparation for making my husband a scarf. Around midnight I eliminated a section of yarn that had the quality of dreadlocks. But knitting is just background activity!

The really good news about this weekend is our immediate family will be together for the first time in at least a couple of years. Our son flew in from Hamburg. Our daughter is coming today by way of Chicago, where she is meeting up with 100-year-old Zelda to accompany her to Detroit.

The rehearsal dinner was last night at Amy's Family Restaurant. Everyone showed up in jeans to eat delicious homemade soup and stuffed cabbage. Midwest portions are about twice as big. I heard a humorous exchange between the bride's father and a cousin who had come in from Tucson. He declared he could never live in Arizona because of all the snakes. She was dumb-founded as she said she had only seen an occasional snake in the desert. But he was positive he had heard that Arizona was infested with snakes on some talk show. I can guarantee he will never find out for himself!

We're staying with my husband's oldest friend from kindergarten. We have the middle daughter's room with the above pictured cards on the wall. Each of our children has a "private" room, so everyone is quite happy and the price is right.

Today we will head over to see my mother-in-law, who is not in nearly as good shape as Zelda, but who wouldn't miss this wedding for the world.

My husband's brother and his wife will arrive from Rockville. It's interesting that we have to come 500 miles to see them.

My brother-in-law, the snake-hater, who used to work for Chrysler before he retired, assured me he will still get 80% of his pension if Chrysler folds, but he is confident the government is going to bail out the auto industry. Time will tell, but the rest of Detroit is very worried.

Yesterday is snowed here, but I am wearing my new grown-up black wool coat and we are driving a rental Explorer. We are not going to let a few flurries keep us from "getting to the church on time."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Economy in Freefall

I have been following the grim news of the failing economy as reported in the newspaper and on the news. But it was only in the last couple of days that I started to sense it just about everywhere I went.

A couple of days ago I saw a sign at Pentagon City announcing that Linens & Things was going out of business. Yesterday when I took the old Volvo in to be serviced, they said they had worked on only two cars the previous day. Today as I shopped at Bed Bath & Beyond, REI, Ann Taylor Loft, and even Safeway, I was virtually the only customer. These stores were fully stocked for the impending Christmas shopping spree that just may not happen this year.

Today we are going to Detroit for our niece’s wedding. It will soon be a city of unheard of unemployment if the auto industries are allowed to fail. I am sure we will sense the fear that hangs over the city.

The only good news is gas prices are plummeting. My Volvo mechanic reported gas at $1.75 a gallon in Prince William County. Isn't that the same gas we were paying more than $4 a gallon for just a few months ago? I would like to understand what’s really driving the price of gas. I would worry that people will be rushing out to buy SUV’s once again, but no one is buying cars of any sort right now.

At this point I am not so much afraid for myself and my family, but I am afraid for society as a whole because we have just seen the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come. Hopefully we will come out of this downturn with an economy that has new regulations to prevent such a disaster in the future. But it’s going to be a long time before we can feel good about the economy of our country and of the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finding a Place in the Pack

For the first time in his 10-year-old life, my Jake became a pack animal yesterday. I think he wanted to show the other dogs in Congressional Cemetery that dogs from Virginia know how to do more than fetch tennis balls.

Jake had been invited to join Jacob and Amos in a walk on familiar territory for them, but a new place for him. It would seem that Congressional Cemetery draws dogs from all over Capitol Hill. It’s a great place to let them run free off-leash because there is a large iron fence surrounding the place.

After we entered through the main gate, I could see Jake had a real dilemma on his hands because every gravestone begged to be decorated. Soon however he was distracted by all the other dogs, who were racing at full speed in and out among the stone markers.

Jake’s typical reaction is to totally ignore other dogs and spend all of his energy looking for a ball of any sort that he can convince someone to throw. But today, he ran non-stop for 45 minutes instead while I walked and talked with my friend through the beautiful old cemetery.

As a result, Jake has been rather comatose since coming home.

He’s actually resting up, because next week his boy is coming home for the first time in over a year. Our son, who has been living in Hamburg, Germany, for the past year is coming for a visit. There will be no doubt as to whose room Jake will be sleeping in. They have actually been known to be playing with Jake’s Kong in the wee hours of the morning.

Although I was frozen by the end of yesterday’s walk, it was a fun outing into the District. Jake was delighted that this car ride didn’t end at the vet’s office, but rather at a place where he could run with some new friends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I will never again stir those white crystals into my tea or coffee without thinking about a documentary I saw last night concerning the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic. Haitians are being lured to the DR to cut sugarcane, where they are treated like slaves.

Life in Haiti is certainly no picnic, since Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. The promise of work in the more prosperous Dominican Republic attracts Haitians to cross the border under the blind eye of the police. Once there they are stripped of all identity and forced to live in batayes, where they work for something like 90 cents a day doing grueling work.

Just as Californians complain about Mexican illegals, the Dominicans don’t want the poorer, blacker Haitians in their country.

The Haitians are being supported by a saintly priest, Christopher Hartley, who has helped them organize and seen small but significant improvements as a result. He has also brought in much needed medical care for the Haitians, who are plagued by things like malnutrition, TB, and parasites from impure water.

The film claimed that the US is paying twice the world market value of sugar to the DR for its sugar. I’m sure this is somehow related to CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement), but I can’t make sense of it.

Whenever I think of migrant workers, or any illiterate, unskilled workers like these, I always get this feeling of hopelessness. It seems like these people are destined to remain in an endless cycle of poverty that never gives them a way out.

Seeing this film put our economic problems in perspective. There still exists the memory of Horatio Alger in this country that reminds us that anything is possible. Unfortunately that is not the case for many of the poor Haitians cutting sugarcane in the Dominican Republic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In the Name of God

I read a very disturbing piece in yesterday’s Washington Post about a local minister who seems to be running his church like it’s a cult. After reading MediaConcept’s post about Mormons interfering in California’s Proposition 8 issue, I reflected that in both of these instances, religion has gone very wrong as it adversely affects people’s lives.

I’m somewhat incredulous that thinking parishioners would allow Pastor Star R. Scott to become a dictator over their lives, resulting in multiple broken families. There was a 16-year-old whose parents were given the ultimatum of throwing him out of their house or being excommunicated after he told them he wanted to leave Calvary Church. Another member was told to divorce her husband, a non-member.

Pastor Scott’s interpretation of the Bible results in statements like this: “Church isn’t for everyone who just wants to show up. It’s not a community club. We’re not looking to build moral, successful children. We’re looking to build Christians.” WHEW! Since when are Christians not expected to be moral?

Scott seems to control every aspect of this church, including its finances. Families are expected to tithe sometimes as much as 20% of their earnings. In addition to paying for Calvary Temple’s building, multiple houses for pastors, and all of Scott’s living expenses, the money has gone to purchase a fleet of RACE CARS that allow Scott to conduct a racing ministry around the country.

It gets worse. When his wife died of cancer several years ago, he announced within a few weeks that the Bible instructed him as a high priest to take a virgin bride from the faithful. A week later he did just that, marrying a pretty 20-year-old who had been a star basketball player on the church team.

The 2,000-member congregation has dwindled to 400 as more and more people’s lives are adversely affected and they finally leave.

This is the sort of thing that gives religion a bad rap. But then, I suppose people have been doing evil things in the name of serving God since the beginning of time. It’s just that this is awfully close to home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Talking Turkey

Were we out of our minds to drive 150 miles each way in the rain to pick up a couple of turkeys? Probably. But my friend KC and I did it anyway. Having recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it seemed like the perfect Thanksgiving to celebrate with turkeys raised humanely on a grass farm like Polyface.

There were a limited number of turkeys this year. They did not make it easy to get one. We had to show up in person at Polyface Farm either this Saturday or next to claim our birds.

It rained steadily as we traveled out I-66 in the early morning. It was still raining as we went south on I-81 headed toward Staunton. It was just after we crossed I-64 that the fun of going down more country roads that we could count started.

We pulled into the parking lot and were welcomed by 3 honking geese. That was about the point where we realized that we were supposed to have made an appointment to pick up the turkeys. By then the rain had let up so we got out of the car to walk around in the mud. There were black chickens and these mottled chickens. They all looked quite happy.

Here is one of the portable chicken coops they move all around the farm to allow the chickens to fertilize the grass and clean up the insects in the cow pies, of which there were quite a few.

Just as we were about to despair that no one was home, we spotted some guys dealing with new cows. One of them headed up to give up a quick tour of the chickens and rabbits before going in search of our turkeys.

We couldn’t pass up other temptations like bacon, sausage links, and strip steaks. After throwing everything in the cooler, we started to go out exploring the farm once again. Just then a sheet of rain fell from the sky, utterly drenching us.

We made a dash for the car and headed off in search of Staunton, which we found with some instinct and a little difficulty. Homemade tomato soup, a small piece of quiche, and hot coffee were the perfect lunch for us. We were eating at Cranberry’s, one of the fine establishments using Polyface meat.

After lunch we indulged in a different kind of grass – wheat grass put through an extractor to produce a bright green drink, served with a hunk of orange as a chaser.

It was only as we neared home on I-66 almost 8 hours after leaving home on this adventure that the sun came out and we saw multiple rainbows.

It remains to be seen if these will be the turkeys that rise above all others. But even if not, it was an adventure into rural Virginia, a part of the state that moves just a little slower than life in the Washington suburbs.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Need to Know More

I was somewhat taken by surprise at Shabbat services last night when a man a little older than me asked how he could contact my friend, the _____ (her profession). I wasn’t exactly sure what to say.

I could have just said, “We’re no longer friends” and left it at that. But I knew her number like I know my own, having called it so many times. And he was asking for professional reasons. The status of our friendship didn’t matter in the least to him.

I quickly wrote down her name and number and wished him well.

Part of me wondered how their conversation would go. When he mentioned my name, would she say, “I haven’t seen her in months” or would she just dodge the truth as I had? After all, the status of our friendship didn’t matter in the least to him.

I was just the liaison and she was just the provider of services. The fact that we were once friends didn’t matter in the least.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And the Answer is... Maybe

I had not paid much attention to the medical report that followed my MRI’s in July after my doctor told me there was no sign of anything to worry about. But yesterday I found myself paying $155 while a physiatrist read the report and looked at the images on the disk I had obtained.

He was the doctor who had suggested CP in utero and said I could find out definitively with an MRI. I had chosen not to go through with expensive testing at that time, asking myself what I would do differently if I found out I had had CP.

But this was different. The MRI was done for another reason and now I had the chance to find out, or so I thought.

I have to say the rotating image of my perfect carotid arteries is really interesting to watch. There were other views of my brain and neck that didn’t tell me a lot as a lay person.

The doctor read in the findings: “Mild hyperintense T2 signal is seen in the left parietal periventricular white matter.” This is the area of the brain that controls the right leg, where my problem resides.

I suppose I was expecting to find some sort of flashing CP trail that was conclusive. Instead I have a mild hyperintense T2 signal that might indicate something, or might not.

So the best evidence to date is still my peculiar gait, which has an element of spasticity similar to that of a person with diagnosed CP.

My husband suggested at dinner that there must be some specialist who could say something with greater certainty. After all, whatever evidence there might be must be on that scan. Would this person be a neurologist or some other specialist? Is there a person who is an expert in adult CP?

Maybe I’m not destined to get an answer to this health issue which has been with me since birth.

Meanwhile I started PT this week and I constantly remind myself that the pain associated with being stretched and rotated is necessary to produce the increased flexibility that I need.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Knitting Mindfully

Since it was my turn to anchor our meditation group last night, I got there early to set up and light the candle. I sat down with my knitting to await the arrival of other meditators.

But 7:30 came and went and no one walked through the door. Instead of starting the sit, I just kept knitting, promising myself to quit after each additional row about 10 times. I’m still so new to knitting that I can’t really think about anything else while I’m doing it so it is almost a form of meditation.

At 7:40 I put the knitting aside and began to sit, telling myself I’d go for 20 minutes. I invited the bell 3 times and closed my eyes. At precisely 8:00 I looked at my watch for the first time. It was a calm sit with virtually no distractions. After the concluding bell, I blew out the candle, turned off the lights, collected my knitting, and locked the door on my way out.

I’m now into my 3rd of three balls of yarn. The scarf is approaching 3 feet as you can see. I’m having lunch with an experienced knitter who can tell me what to do with the yarn ends that remain from where I’ve finished one skein and started the next. I’ll be curious to see whether the approach is to tie them in a knot or work them into the scarf with a crochet hook or maybe something else that I haven’t even thought of.

I’m afraid I’m becoming one of those annoying people who whip our their knitting any time they sit down. There is something very soothing and meditative about the repetitive motion of picking up a stitch with one needle, wrapping the yarn around it, and then transferring it to the other needle – over and over and over again.

It was really OK that no one showed up. I had a new sort of practice that was equally beneficial.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mystery Vegetable

When I unloaded my last CSA crate, I found this long white thing that looked like either a white carrot or an albino phallus. Not having the slightest idea what it was, I called Food Matters (where we have a CSA membership) to inquire. “It’s a daikon,” the person said.

Never having purchased such a vegetable, I immediately Googled DAIKON to find out what to do with it. You can grate it in salads. You can saute daikon slices in sesame oil. You can make a great stock using daikon.

Yesterday we were making dinner for a person in Temple Micah who is recovering from a badly broken leg. I was in charge of couscous and fruit crisp. So I decided to work in part of a daikon.
But first I have to tell you about something I brought back from Penzey’s Spice House in Chicago. I bought it after asking each employee what their favorite product was and then promptly buying a sample of everything they mentioned. “Silk Road Seasoning” drew great accolades. Here’s what the label says:

In honor of Silk Road Chicago, Summer 2006. The historic Silk Road trade route ran from East Asia to India and the Mediterranean from about 100 B.C. until 1500 A.D. This seasoning was hand blended by The Spice House to commemorate the spices found along the Silk Road. Ginger is the number one ingredient, but it also includes: black pepper, cassia cinnamon, cardamom, mustard powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and sugar.

Here’s my made-up couscous recipe:

½ large daikon, cut into small cubes
1 carrot, cut into small cubes
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Israeli couscous (large grained couscous)
Small onion, chopped
Garlic clove, minced
½ sweet red pepper, chopped
Lemon olive oil
Silk Road seasoning
Borsari salt

Cook daikon and carrot in chicken broth until soft, about 15 minutes. Add couscous, cover, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until couscous is soft and broth is absorbed. Sprinkle lightly with Borsari salt and return the cover. Meanwhile saute onion, garlic, and sweet red pepper in a small amount of lemon olive oil. Add 1-2 teaspoons of Silk Road seasoning. Cook for another minute and then add to the couscous mixture.

I will soon be ordering a bottle of Silk Road Seasoning since my 1 ounce isn’t going to last long. Definitely love it! And so did our friend Ellen with the broken leg.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Step at a Time

I continue to look for answers to the weird way I walk, being thankful that I have always been able to get around unassisted, albeit somewhat slowly and with a cumbersome gait.

My latest consultations have been with a wonderful podiatrist, a woman as determined as I am to explain this phenomenon that has been a part of my being since birth. She prescribed orthotics to help the fact that my right foot tends to collapse when unsupported. She’s not totally buying the CP diagnosis of several years ago because she says my legs are equally quite strong. My hamstrings are unbelievably tight, to the point where she is sending me to physical therapy. She is totally perplexed by the fact that I have excellent balance when standing on either foot. I watched as she scratched her head and said, “This just doesn’t make sense,” a phrase I have heard doctors of many different specializations say over the years.

The other purpose for PT is my total lack of proprioception – knowing where my body is in space. In addition, she suggested that I take walks using two walking sticks, which will give me the audible feedback of where I am as they go click, click on the pavement. She asked that my PT guy, whom I’ve seen for several rounds over the past 5 years, give her a call so she can discuss the specifics of what she want him to accomplish.

Meanwhile I have exercise homework to be done every day. She is determined to see a difference.

When a physiatrist suggested possible CP in utero several years ago, he added that I could confirm this diagnosis by an MRI of my brain. At the time, it didn’t seem to warrant the expense. But I was recently reminded by my friend KC’s daughter, who is a physiatrist in Chicago, that my MRI done this past July when I was having headaches could be read again to confirm or deny the CP. The podiatrist thinks this is a good thing to do so we know the possible limits of strengthening. This morning I will be picking up the MRI results on a CD. On Thursday AM, I have an appointment with the physiatrist to take a look.

So once again it would seem that I’m cobbling together a set of people dedicated to coming up with a definitive diagnosis and treatment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Weekend of Hope

This past weekend marked the culmination of the Tents of Hope project, with the gathering on the Mall of over 300 tents from around the country. After the weekend festivities, the tents will be sent to Africa where they will be used as classrooms from refugee children from Darfur.

Sunday morning as we attended an interfaith service at the 6th & I Street Synagogue, I was taken by the following poem from Emithal Mahmoud, a 14-year-old girl, a refugee from Darfur now living in Philadelphia:

War in Darfur

The merciless soldier,
With a heart that’s a boulder,
Driven by money, blinded by fear,
Desperate cries for help, he’ll never hear.
Roaming the streets with a charred black soul,
No one is safe, not woman, not man, not young, and not old.
Knowledge is forcibly pushed aside,
Because power has now taken the stride.
What was once a sanctuary, a haven for all,
Is now no haven, but a place where innocent lives did fall.
What’s going on is a senseless, cold hearted war;
Bad against good, strong against weak, all in Darfur.
Possessions are gone, everything is wrong.
People aren’t happy, they’re homeless and hungry,
Worst of all is that no one is free.
Families are shattered in this big bloody battle.
Good people lose jobs
And are replaced by slobs.
No female is safe,
Because she is a subject to rape.
People are murdered throughout the nation,
Because of this mostly orphans make up the population.
There is no respect and there is no pride,
The only thing there is, is GENOCIDE.
I believe it’s time to put this to an end,
For there are lives to defend.
Take action, or sit in grief?
If you still don’t know which side to choose,
Ask yourself one question, “What did the children do?”