Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Both Sides Used

In all my years, I have never put anything to do with exercise on a wish list. Not until now, that is. As a belated Hanukkah present, I asked for a Bosu Ball. I think Bosu stands for “both sides used.”

In my recent round of PT, I am working a lot on balance, trying to make up for the fact that I have little or no proprioception. One of the things that feels so good and is almost fun is the Bosu Ball, which I have used on both sides. It’s a great way to simulate uneven surfaces, teaching your body to react to sudden changes.

My ball came yesterday in this flat box. One of the first things we had to do was pump it up to a depth of about 9 inches. The pump seems like a real piece of junk, but it does the job.

(For Merle Sneed: Please note that I did not order a Tee shirt with Bosu on the back or front!)

Then instead of hopping on, we watched the DVD, in which terribly fit girls jumped on and off the Bosu and contorted their bodies over the top of it in killer AB exercises. It will be a while before I attempt most of those exercises, but it is really amazing what a workout you can get with this little ball.

My exercise goals for 2009 are CORE and BALANCE. I’m committed to a pilates lesson once a week. I’m looking for a new yoga studio. And I now have my Bosu Ball. There should be no reason why I can’t be healthier and in better shape by the end of 2009, right?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Different Approach to Laundry

Yesterday even my tolerance of dog hair on the comforter on our bed had run out. Shaking it outside seemed to have little effect. I didn’t want to take it to the dry cleaner’s because it would cost a lot and we would be without it for a day or two. There was no way it would fit into our washing machine at home.

So I decided to try the Latino Laudromat just a mile or so from our house. This reminded me why I am glad we have a washer and dryer in our house. It also reminded me that a lot of people are not so fortunate.

Not realizing it was multi-purpose building, I entered the front door to find a place for cashing checks, popular among Latinos who often don’t have bank accounts. To the left was a beauty salon. A customer, seeing me carrying a monster of a comforter, told me the entrance to the laundromat was on the side of the building.

It was like walking into any country in Central America. The TV featured soap operas in Spanish. The signs were in Spanish. The “out of order” signs, on about half the equipment, were in Spanish.

The washer big enough to accommodate my comforter seemed to take a card, not quarters. Switching into Spanish, I asked another customer how to get a laundry card. She pointed me to “la mujer limpiando los vidrios” (the woman cleaning the windows). For $6.25 she started up #19 with her card and I sat down to work on my husband’s scarf.

Soon a precocious 5-year-old appeared and asked if I knew how much the M&M machine behind my chair cost. It appeared to take quarters. I offered him one much to his delight and he knew exactly what to do with it. We talked about what I was making and who would wear it.

He told me his name was Natay. After we talked about his age and where he went to school, he asked how old I was and I told him to guess. He suggested 22, which seemed to be the highest number he knew. I told him I was quite a bit older than that. He went on to tell me his mother was 9. I could see she was more like 30. So Natay needs some help with his math skills.

The laundromat was full of people who were mostly Hispanic doing mounds of laundry. It made me happy I had just one large comforter, so I wouldn’t have to keep up with all those pieces.

The vidrio woman helped me find a working dryer and used her card once again to get it started. Meanwhile I continued to knit and Natay came around asking if I had any more quarters. I pretended they were all gone, not wanting to spoil his lunch.

I paid up and gave the woman a small tip for helping me navigate this strange new way of washing clothes.

As I left, Natay and his mother were still folding clothes and a lot of other people were waiting as the machines sloshed and turned and the soap opera blared overhead. I supposed it might be like that at most any hour of the day or night.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Please Mr. Postman

I’m kicking myself for not sending the cupcakes overnight or driving them to the main Post Office in Merrifield. I really thought there was a good chance that Priority Mail on Saturday would get them to San Francisco by Monday.

The only link to me and those cupcakes at this point is this little Delivery Confirmation Receipt. It sits by my computer and every time I sit down, I go to the USPS site and check. Each time it comes back with:
Label/Receipt Number: 0308 1400 0001 4920 4545
Status: Acceptance

Your item was accepted at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2008 in ARLINGTON, VA 22206. Information, if available, is updated every evening. Please check again later.
I know it says “updated every evening”, but I can hope, can’t I?

I tried to call the Post Office where I mailed them to make sure they hadn’t sat in some heated room all weekend, not even picked up yet. But no one even answers the phone.

Maybe if I let someone at USPS see the cute video my husband made for our daughter’s birthday, which is TODAY, the cupcakes could get on a nonstop flight for SF.

ARGHHH! I’m so bad at being patient and dealing with things that are out of my control!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daily Indulgences

I treat myself to wine and dark chocolate most every day, savoring a small sample of these two nonessentials. I could most certainly do without, but I’ve come to look forward to these rituals.

I grew up in a household where there was absolutely no alcohol, not even one drop. My mother came from an alcoholic family and never wanted to see whether she too contained a predisposition to abuse alcohol. I was thoroughly indoctrinated growing up. Other than drinking a few beers on the Florida beach and requisitioning a fifth of vodka from an older guy friend which I proudly shared with my girl gang as we laced our McD’s orange drinks, I was mostly alcohol free.

I went away to college and my friend and one-time roommate M, who was 4 years older, determined to teach me to drink. When I went to her apartment, we had real cocktails – things like 7 & 7. We never got drunk, but I learned to enjoy the effect of a little liquor.

What I soon came to find out, as did my dates, was that instead of a predisposition to binge, I have a cut-off switch that simply puts me to sleep if I attempt to drink more than one or two glasses of anything alcoholic. More than one guy lamented over the fact that instead of making me feel sexy, alcohol was simply soporific for me.

So today, I usually have one glass of wine that lasts from the time I start cooking until I take my last bite of dinner. It can be red or white, but only one glass.

And after dinner I treat myself to one small square of dark chocolate, letting it melt in my mouth as I experience that pleasure that only chocolate can bring.

At this rate, a bottle of wine and a chocolate bar last just about a week. My husband seldom imbibes, but he too likes dark chocolate, sometimes not stopping at one square.

If my mother is smiling down on me from heaven, she will be relieved to know that even though I will die a Jew, I will not die an alcoholic Jew. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to go when the time comes than just slipping away after my glass of wine and single bite of chocolate.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Baby!

How do you celebrate your daughter’s 25th birthday from 3,000 miles away? With award-winning cupcakes, of course!

I had this crazy idea of sending her 6 gourmet cupcakes from Best Buns, the second runner-up in the recent DC cupcake contest. I went in and placed my order for a half dozen beautiful cupcakes of different varieties. I actually talked to the general manager, Carlos Fernandez, about how to decorate them. I love the fact that they are so accommodating in this bakery!

But in the back of my mind was the looming question of how to ship them across the country without ending up with a box of sticky crumbs. No one at Best Buns had any idea.

I Googled thinks like “cupcake carrier” and came up with a plastic thing for transporting 24 cupcakes to a pot-luck dinner. Then one smart penny-conscious person suggested two muffin tins put together.

I just happened to have two pans designed for 6 mega-muffins, from the days when I baked muffins for hungry swimmers. I put double-sided tape in the bottoms of one pan.

The Best Buns people did the rest, all the way to curling the ribbon. The cupcakes were simply gorgeous, at least before the top pan went on. But I think they will be well-protected as they make their way across the country.

Will the USPS people even look at my “THIS SIDE UP” note on the top or all the arrows the postal clerk added? Perhaps not.

But I’m sure the cupcakes will be well received by a daughter grateful that someone back home remembered she is turning 25.

Happy birthday, baby!

(Photos at Best Buns used by permission!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Secret Ingredient

Whoever heard of rice oil? It turns out to be the secret ingredient for making successful potato latkes. Our latkes were never so good as good as those we made last night, our contribution to a spectacular Christmas dinner at my friend Deborah’s house.

After having eaten many heavy, soggy latkes, my husband did his usual thorough research on the Internet and came up with some useful information about how to make those light crisp ones that are so delicious.

It turns out the oil is perhaps the most important thing. One article suggested using rice oil, instead of the more traditional peanut or canola oil, as it has a higher smoking point and a delicate flavor. It’s probably “not a common choice” because it’s so hard to find. He finally found it at MOM’s, a local organic market.

Another article had the following hints for good latkes:

(1) Keep it dry. We squeezed most of the water out of the grated potato-onion mixture using cheesecloth.

(2) Keep it thick. Thick pancakes absorb much less oil than thin ones.

(3) Keep it hot. Less-than-hot oil seeps into food, making it soggy and greasy.

(4) Keep it steady. Do not overcrowd the fryng pan.

(5) Keep it white. Don’t grate the potatoes in advance because they will turn brown. If they have to sit, add a touch of white vinegar to the grated potatoes.

(6) Keep it fresh and hot. Latkes should be eaten immediately!

Here’s a couple of fairly foolproof recipes adapted from Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America”:

Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1 medium onion
½ cup chopped scallions, including the green part
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup matzoh meal
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Rice bran oil for frying

1. Peel the potatoes and grate them using a food processor. Grate the onions as well. Put about 1/4 of the mixture back in the processor with the blade to turn it into “mush”. Put all of this in cheesecloth or a tea towel and squeeze out the liquid into a bowl. After it settles, pour off the top layer, saving the potato starch at the bottom and adding it back into the potato-onion mixture in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the scallions, egg, matzoh meal, salt, and pepper.
3. Heat an electric skillet or a griddle to around 375 degrees. Add about 1/3 ” of oil. When it is hot enough to sizzle, form latke batter into small pancakes in your hand and place in the hot oil, frying about 4-5 at one time.
4. Remove to paper towels on a cookie sheet to drain off any excess oil.
5. Eat immediately with sour cream and homemade apple sauce.

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less)
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
Rice bran oil for frying

1. Grate the sweet potatoes coarsely. In a separate bowl mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.
2. Add the eggs and milk. Add the potatoes and mix.
3. Heat an electric skillet or a griddle to around 375 degrees. Add about 1/3 ” of oil. When it is hot enough to sizzle, place large spoonfuls of batter in the hot oil, frying about 4-5 at one time.
4. Remove to paper towels on a cookie sheet to drain off any excess oil.
5. Eat immediately with sour cream and homemade apple sauce.

Rose Zawid’s Applesauce with Cranberries

3/4 pound fresh cranberries
1-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
4 pounds apples, unpeeled and quartered

1. Put all ingredients in a large saucepan. Simmer, covered, 20 minutes or until the apples are soft.
2. Cool slightly and put through a food processor, leaving the liquid behind in the pan.

The is day 6 of the 8 days of Hanukkah, so you still have time to enjoy latkes of some variety while the oil lasts!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Winter Thoughts

In honor of the first snowflake of the season (mine), I give you two poems about winter by one of my favorite poets, David Budbill (from While We’ve Still Got Feet):

Winter Is the Best Time

Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.

Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,

cold time, dark time, holed-up,
pulled-in time and space

to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.

Winter: Tonight: Sunset

Tonight at sunset, walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause at this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening,

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Simple Message

Peace, Joy, and Hope are wishes that transcend the approach you take to this holiday. May you find inner tranquility and small joys in the world around you as we all hope for healing of the many things that are broken.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Cutting, pasting, and glitter have such a therapeutic effect on me. They not only warded off yet another knock by the pesky bug that keeps stalking me, but they got me thinking about the season.

Today I’ll head out to have lunch with a wonderful vegan acquaintance at Heritage, a gourmet Indian restaurant in DC. We have a lot of catching up to do as we both go through some interesting shifts.

Then I’ll brave the crowds and venture into Costco, Trader Joe’s, and World Market in search of some last minute gifts for people who celebrate. Am I crazy to even drive into those parking lots?

So as another Christmas looms large, I think back to the days when I was so caught up in shopping that I seldom thought about why I was doing any of it. It’s no longer about any of that for me, but rather about simple things like making a few cards and sharing dinner with friends.

I love the feeling that Christmas is optional. It makes it so much more enjoyable!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fa-la-la with a Dreidel

The holidays are upon us once again, but I feel more like a guest than an initiator. I seem to be making no effort, but rather celebrating only upon invitation.

On Saturday night we went to a Christmas sing-along at the home of someone with whom I had meditated for several years. He’s now married and has a young child, so he no longer makes his way to the early morning sits on Capitol Hill. He’s a real musician through and through. He played carol after carol on his beautiful Kawai shiny black grand piano and we sang with gusto. I love all those songs about snowflakes and Santa and silver bells and logs on a fire. They are my first memories of Christmas and I still remember all the words.

Yesterday as I left my friend Deborah’s after playing music all morning, she gave me a bag of Hanukkah gifts – homemade granola and rum balls. She couldn’t have found anything I would like better.

Yesterday afternoon we went to a traditional Christmas cookie party. It was a great chance to see neighbors we seldom connect with and this year there were more and more of the youngest generation. I tried not to hang out near the table laden with cookies, knowing full well how many pounds of butter and sugar went into their preparation. But the killer cookie was a peanut butter ball wrapped in dark chocolate.

Last night we were invited to a Hanukkah dinner to celebrate the first of the eight nights. We lit menorahs and sang the Hanukkah blessings. The hostess served three kinds of latkes and terrific homemade applesauce.

I received one on-line Christmas card and one beautiful Hanukkah card from an old friend.

I seem uncharacteristically un-proactive this holiday season. I’m enjoying what’s put on my plate, but not doing much in return. The sum total of my holiday purchases to date are three poinsettias.

Maybe today I’ll haul out my card-making supplies and see if I can jump-start my holiday spirit, which currently seems to be stalled.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just Go Away

For the past couple of weeks an unwelcome visitor has been knocking at my door, ringing the bell ever so often. So far I’ve managed to keep this seasonal bug at bay.

But he is as persistent as the missionaries who want to come in and sit on my sofa to tell me how Jesus Christ or Joseph Smith saved them from eternal damnation. You know the ones that often travel in pairs on bikes.

It’s somewhat of a miracle (in this season of miracles) that I’ve not succumbed, given my husband has been sick for the past two weeks. He’s gone through the various stages of aches, sore throat, sneezing, a miserable cough, and general malaise.

I’ve been taking extra vitamin C and keeping my distance as I get an occasional twinge of a symptom. It would seem that I’ve managed to discourage this unwanted guest who has been looking for a vulnerable spot in my immune system. So far, so good.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Veal cutlet? Nope. Chicken cutlet? Not even close. How about Chickpea cutlet? Bingo!

Veganomicon has scored yet another success in our vegan experimentation. For just a few dollars, we had a meal that was healthy, filling, economical, and most importantly tasted good. Here’s the recipe:

Chickpea Cutlets

(Makes 4-6 cutlets)

Time: 30 minutes

1 cup cooked chickpeas -- otherwise known as garbanzo beans (I used a small can)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vital wheat gluten (the only difficult-to-find ingredient)
½ cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/ teaspoon dried rubbed sage
Olive oil for panfrying

In a food processor, blend chickpeas and olive oil until no whole chickpeas are left. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until strings of gluten have formed. (I’m not sure I saw strings of gluten, but I let the processor run for about 90 seconds.)

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile form cutlets out of the dough, pressing them into flat rounds. Add a thin layer of olive oil to the skillet. Place the cutlets in the skillet and cook until browned on both sides. Add more oil if needed, when you flip the cutlets.

Serve immediately!

They were crisp on the outside, but savory on the inside. The taste was every bit as pleasing as that of meat.

I also served beet greens, cooked with onions, garlic, and raisins. And then there was the mystery food. I recently bought what I thought were beets at the Dupont Circle farmers’ market. I roasted them and was surprised when I went to peel them that they were white inside instead of red. I cut them into cubes and marinated them in a Dijon Balsamic dressing, figuring that enhances most foods. They were somewhat crunchy, but still not identifiable. My husband suggested not buying them again; I said that might be difficult since I didn’t know what not to buy!

This was a dinner entirely of things I wasn’t eating even a few months ago. It feels good to be exploring new ground in the world of food. It’s fun to try new things that I look forward to eating again!

About those white vegetables – any ideas?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Never-ending Loops

That’s what obsessions are. Just like my little Moebius strip that goes from red to blue and back to red covering inside and out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the anatomy of an obsession, having just read When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom.

We all obsess from time to time, some of us more than others. We obsess about people of the same sex, people of the opposite sex, things said to us, things not said to us, the sports car we desire, persistent pain, food, and on and on and on. For some, the obsession is so extreme that it is diagnosed as OCD. But for many of us, it’s just there from time to time.

When I find myself in one of these endless loops, there are a couple of ways I get at least temporary and occasionally permanent relief. Sometimes writing about my obsession puts it in perspective and makes it go away. This may take the form of an e-mail or a Blog post. In either case, it’s a chimney-sweeping activity that tends to at least help.

Meditation is also a great escape. Mindfulness training asks us to clear our minds of persistent thoughts to the degree possible and concentrate on our breathing. Every breath in tends to put the brakes on the obsessive cycle. But at some point the bell calls us back to reality and often the thought picks up where it left off.

For me, obsessive thoughts usually focus on something I think I want and can’t have or something I have lost and want restored. It’s usually just out of reach and still within the realm of possibility.

This reminds me of a relationship I once had when I was much younger with a guy several years older than I was. We were somewhere between friends and becoming lovers for many years. I fantasized about what it would be like to be his “main girl” as I watched him date others, thinking the time we spent together was so special. It was only later that I learned that he was doing those same special things – like grilling shrimp on the beach – with everyone. He gave me a copy of The Prophet upon graduation from high school. A few years later when I visited him in California and perused his library, I found the same book with an almost identical inscription in the front, a gift to him from a girlfriend. When he finally decided a year or so later that I was indeed the one he wanted, my obsession had been dissipated by the knowledge that I was not any more special than anyone else. I wanted fresh flowers, not a second-hand bouquet.

When Nietzsche Wept was incredibly useful in understanding the endless cycle of obsession. I don’t want to reveal the way the two main characters managed to rid themselves of their personal obsession because that would give away the best part of the book. (If you’re in my book club, be forewarned that this will be my choice when it’s my turn to suggest a book!)

It occurred to me that we may cling to obsession as a way of keeping our minds actively engaged – notice I did not say profitably engaged. It’s those rare moments when I think my life is perfect and I have no obsessions when I also have no creative juices and nothing in particular to say. I told my PT Guy (who loaned me the book) that I equate this to living in San Diego, where the weather is the same year around and for me would be BORING. He reminded me that in that situation, you must simply go inside to create the variation and interest.

Is there something here with which you can identify? Do you have any pearls of wisdom on getting out of those endless loops that can tie our brains up in knots?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pet Peeve

I’m starting to think medical receptionists get some sort of insidious pleasure out of handing patients clipboards laden with forms that must be filled out prior to seeing the doctor. I started to see the insanity of this today when I visited my neurologist’s office.

Before I went to see this particular doctor the first time (about 10 days ago), I dutifully printed all 8 pages of forms from their website and filled them out prior to my visit. I didn’t even complain that several of those forms required me to repeat information.

But today when I went for an appointment to find out the results of a recent MRI, I was handed a clipboard with one of those same forms to fill out. When I reminded her that I had already done this just 10 days ago, she said it was REQUIRED at each visit. I quietly said “This really sucks” under my breath and filled out the form. No small surprise that my medications and the reason for my visit had not changed in the least.

In this age of automation, there is no reason why we should be dealing with paper at all. Instead of completing all those paper forms, we should be able to go online at home to fill them out (as my husband did for a recent doctor visit). When going for a repeat visit, we should be able to verify our information on a screen and provide any relevant updates.

By collecting all this data (repeatedly), the office I visited today must have to have a full-time person to do nothing more than enter or scan data. What a terrible waste for someone like me who may well be taking those same two medications for the rest of my life. Period.

But perhaps even more in question is whether I needed to make an appointment and drive 25 minutes to hear “Your MRI showed nothing.” It would seem that my time slice could have been better used by someone who could benefit from a doctor’s care and my insurance company could have been spared the cost of yet another visit.

Health care in this country is in bad need of reform! It’s this sort of thing that contributes to the fact that it remains unaffordable to a large segment of the population.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I’m flossing with a vengeance these days, trying to make up for the past 5 months of slacking off. This is what happens every time before my 6-month visit to the dentist.

I always leave with clean teeth and a new resolve to be a regular flosser. For years hygienists have volunteered to show me the proper way to floss, as a kind way of noticing that I must not be doing it, or doing it right if I am.

I flossed every day when I had braces for two years. Otherwise, my mouth felt like a garbage can of trapped food. However, since the braces came off, I’ve been a backslider.

But when the reminder card comes about a month prior to my visit, I determine to try to hide my bad habits. You can see the floss I’m using has been around long enough for the Giant label to have partially worn away. That’s embarrassing.

Every night for the next month, I’ll pull off a long piece of floss, expertly wind it around my fingers, and then attack all that pent-up tartar hiding between my teeth and under the edges of my gums.

It will not be the same as doing it daily for the 6-month period, but it may toughen up my gums to the point where they don’t rat me out.

The truth is I really don’t have a good excuse other than pure laziness. But I couldn’t admit that to my hygienist.

Photo looking into my medicine cabinet, which contains lots of mirrors.


Have you known someone who always knows just the perfect gift for any occasion? I was the recipient of such a gift from just such a person yesterday.

The three of us who went to Chicago in search of style and the fun of spending a long weekend with like-minded women got together for tea and knitting yesterday afternoon. LR had placed beautiful small bags brimming with gold tinsel in front of KC and me.

For someone who no longer celebrates Christmas, a gift was totally unexpected but for that reason even more fun. I love finding a little box in the bottom of a gift bag. That often means JEWELRY! And indeed inside the little box lay a beautiful glass heart intended to be worn as a pendant. It was my style exactly and matched even the outfit I was wearing yesterday.

I came home and gave it a place on the velvet jewelry “hanger” on my closet door. I will search for a lovely ribbon on which to wear my beautiful little glass heart.

I can’t even imagine a more perfect present, for a person who wasn’t expecting more than a wish for a Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


For me trust is perhaps the key component in any successful relationship. You want to know with certainty where you stand with that other person – be it a friend, a lover, a spouse, a partner. After experiencing two failed relationships in the past couple of years, I seem to have taken on an unfortunate wariness that makes it difficult to be confident in new relationships without occasional reassurance.

My Rock of Gibralter is my husband. I can’t imagine ever doubting his fidelity or love for a minute. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had serious disagreements. But they were usually over things like who stayed home with a sick child or who cleaned the toilets (solved by hiring a cleaning woman). We were always solid on the things that really matter.

My musical partner Deborah has turned out to be the perfect friend as well. I remember being so afraid the first time I played music with her that I would not be good enough to merit her time. As it turns out, we have spent hours together making music and enjoying each other’s company. I can’t imagine ever being in a position of need with her not being there to help.

I could say the same of long-time neighbors and Temple Micah friends. You know when the chips are down, they will come through for you.

But recently as I’ve made new friends, both in person and electronically, it sometimes seems to take a while for me to allow myself to trust in the relationship. If someone fails to answer my e-mail or if I’m always the one initiating activities, I tend to see potential cracks that may not be there at all. I wonder if I’ve said too much, too little in my last contact. And when I find out that indeed everything is OK, I feel incredibly embarrassed for having thought otherwise.

One thing that has become increasingly clear to me is how much I need people in my life. As much as I love interests like music, they are not a replacement for the interaction with those who care about me and who provide interest in my life. As complicated as they are, it’s relationships that add texture to life. I want to confidently enjoy the luxury of relating to others.

Photo of the space that seems to occupy much of my time. My constant companion Jake said I could use his picture.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Questionable Ethics

I was reminded yesterday that I am rather unscrupulous in the use of images on my Blog. My friend who is no longer used to serve as my Blog conscience. On more than one occasion, she reminded me that what I had posted was illegal, offensive, or inappropriate and should be removed. But there is a gray area in which images may be legal, but not ethical.

There are some people out there who are the model Bloggers when it comes to images. Media Concepts would be the first one who comes to my mind. He is careful to cite sources and never posts random pictures of people. He obviously had journalistic training.

Long before I learned how to post my own photos, I learned how to steal things from Google Image. And believe, me there are multiple choices out there for just about anything you could type in. I know it’s a no-no to use Stock photos, but there are a whole lot out there that don’t have that banner plastered across the image.

From time to time I have included pictures of people. The friends we vacation with are aware of this and don’t seem to mind. I have yet to take a photo of a stranger and ask permission to post it. I just have this feeling most people would say NO when they hear the word Blog.

I have taken great care NOT to post photos of children in the homeless shelter where I read or pictures that I know have the potential to put people (like anonymous Bloggers) in compromising positions. But this is not always sufficient.

On one occasion when I posted 20-year-old photos of an old friend’s children, he was irate and contacted me to let me know. I immediately removed the entire post and expressed my apologies. But it was an unfortunate incident. Since then I have tried to be more careful about pictures of people.

Jake has given me his permission to post photos of him any time.

I have always gone under the (possibly false) assumption that someone would contact me before suing me for the illegal use of an image. This is probably a stupid approach to take. But I’m just hoping there are bigger profit-taking fish to fry before someone would go after me.

So help me out here. If you see something that looks questionable, please let me know. That applies to the content as well. I think it might be time to clean up my act.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


While I was trying so hard to relocate the mice of my neighborhood, I managed to run over a squirrel yesterday. It made me feel just a little sick.

I’ve always amazed at how those squirrels dart out and at the last second know just when to retreat or even manage to run under a moving car unscathed.

But not so today. I wasn’t even speeding, which is slightly unusual for me. He just ran out as I slowly drove down a neighborhood street and I heard the sickening thud as my tire obviously went over him. I looked back in my rear view mirror and saw his tail moving, but he was still in the middle of the road.

As I returned from my errand, I hoped to see that he had been stunned and had managed to get up and run on across the road after I left the scene.

But alas, there was the dead squirrel in the middle of the road. It was not a gory bloody scene, but he was quite dead and his tail was now still.

It made me remember the time my father, who drove about 10 m.p.h. all the time, hit a neighbor’s dog. The dog had just run out into the street and he couldn’t stop. It seems a little worse in the scheme of things than hitting a squirrel, but a dead animal is a dead animal and it plays on your conscience in any event.

I wondered if this was one of those acorn-starved squirrels, who was so depressed about the depleted food supply that he just threw himself under my wheels. I’ll never know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Live Catch

Our neighbors are no doubt convinced we’re trafficking in illegal substances. They see us drive slowly to the neighboring park, get out with a bag, go into the woods, and then return several minutes later.

But plain and simple we have mice once again. We have humanely trapped two so far in this little black trap, which lures them in with peanut butter.

Last night I drove the getaway car and my husband carried the bag. I wish I had taken a picture of the adorable mouse that got flung into the woods, but I was too busy holding the flashlight so he could see what he was doing.

My apologies to those who live near those woods, LR included. However, I can rather imagine the released mice forming small armies of little brown rodents and leading them back to our treasure trove of dirty drawers. Perhaps arriving even before we have parked the car.

We had talked about how to catch them this time. I have a real distaste for seeing their little necks and legs snapped in the Victor traps. My PT guy says he doesn’t even mind using glue traps, but hearing them scream in my attic doesn’t sound good either. So we settled on the live catch approach, which requires a trip to the woods every time we hit pay dirt.

Amazingly this morning the trap is still ready and waiting, so maybe it was just a pair this time. No doubt they will be back when they run out of dirty drawers in the other neighborhood houses.

Friday, December 12, 2008

All About Me

Tonight’s read-aloud at the homeless shelter was “All About Me.” These are children who are often searching for their own self-worth.

For starters we made permanent name tags. They like anything that involves stickers. They could write their names or use glittery sticker letters. You can imagine what most of them chose to do. They loved the idea of hanging a badge around their neck.

A 4-year-old little girl explained to me that she was covering her nametag in glittery stickers so people would think she was pretty. I reminded her that she was beautiful even without her glitzy nametag.

The favorite book of the evening was “I Love My Hair.” It talked about the many different ways a young girl could wear her hair. We then talked about the ways boys could wear their hair, too. The reader was a new 17-year-old African-American volunteer, who could provide her own personal experience in hair-styling.

The children were exceptionally attentive so we read lots of books, with titles like “It’s OK to Be Different” and “Incredible Me.”

For an activity, each child filled out a personal information sheet. They loved jumping on my neighbor’s scale to be weighed and standing in front of the tape measure on the back of the door to determine their height. Then they did a self-portrait to complete their personal data.

They selected a give-away book to take “home” and we put a special name plate in each book so they would know who it belonged to. The name plates seemed as important as the books themselves.

Each child took away a tape measure so they could continue to measure their height. When you are 7, a few inches of growth mean a lot!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


In last night’s post-meditation reading, Pema Chodron admonished us to show the world how we solve our problems. I actually took that train of thought down a different path to acknowledge the comfort in knowing you are not alone with a problem.

When my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, I was mortified to think I must be the only person on earth to produce a blighted ovum – a bad egg. Even in those days, losing a baby at any point in the pregnancy was not talked about and it was only years later when I was to discover that just about everyone I know had experienced a miscarriage. In fact something like one in three pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

Just this week I’ve had three independent conversations with people who have experienced similar manifestations of a problem I have had for the past several months. Knowing what they went through doesn’t in the least diminish my problem, but it allows me to feel validated and not so alone as I deal with it.

Perhaps the closest I come to following Pema Chodron’s suggestion is laying out my problems and occasionally their solutions on this Blog. But mostly I benefit from the knowledge of shared experience that comes from a commenter who says, “The same thing happened to me.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Willing to Wait

It was only recently after I had taken up knitting that I began to relish the 30 minutes sitting in my allergist’s office after getting my injections. For 25 years I had perfected the art of sneaking out when no one was looking.

Virtually every place that offers allergy shots has a sign posted warning patients to wait for as long as 30 minutes to see if they have a reaction. Supposedly reactions can range from red and swollen arms to anaphylactic shock. Even Deborah has told me stories about what happened to those who didn’t wait. But since I have never experienced anything in this reaction gamut, I ignored the warning signs and ducked out... always!

Yesterday as I sat there knitting, I calculated that I had passed up as many as 325 justified hours of sitting doing anything of my choice over the course of my allergy treatment. What a shame to have given up all those hours so I could race back to my desk at work or get over to swim practice to drive the carpool home or go home to cook dinner.

How many opportunities does life present us with to sit and relax? I can’t do anything about my 325 wasted hours, but I can assure you that from now until the day I either expire or quit taking allergy shots (which will probably be the same day), I will be taking full advantage of that luxurious half hour.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blogger Intrigue

I find my anonymous readers to be fascinating. Some of these people read every day at around the same time, but most never leave a trail. It was a comment just a couple of days ago from an Anon that started me thinking about them.

You might wonder how I know about them at all and exactly what information I have. StatCounter tells me who comes to my Blog, giving their IP address, where it is registered and (supposedly) where they are when they read. I can also tell how they initially came if it was through a Google search. Those keywords are interesting clues. I can tell if they come from their own Blog or that of someone else. I can tell how often they return.

This week I am worried about two long-time readers who suddenly disappeared off the radar screen around Thanksgiving and have not resurfaced. One is in the San Francisco Bay area. The other has an IP addressed registered in Kernersville, NC, and it looks like the person is in Tampa, but I somewhat doubt it. (I think there are tricks to “fake” your location.) This person once left a comment under the name of “Fiddler”, which would indicate a political preference about 180 degrees from mine, but that’s totally OK. Anyway SF and Kernersville are both gone right now and I miss them!

The Anon on my Four Years Later post was the only one to really answer my question about what kept her (I’m thinking this person is female) coming back. She’s been around for several months now. I thought I had an idea about who she was, but additional information in her comment threw that out the window. So far she has not taken me up on my offer to clarify what she said.

One of yesterday’s commenters is someone who Blogged anonymously and had an amazing following as DC Cookie. Then she came out of the Blogger closet as Jessica, got married, and will soon have her first baby. Although her wild days as the life of every party are behind, she knows what it’s like to be hooked on Blogging.

Another anonymous reader identified herself a few months ago and actually started her own Blog. We got together and learned that we have quite a lot in common.

And yet another anon came out and started a Blog of her own. We have mutual friends and a shared love of music.

Then there’s John, who keeps peppering my Blog with Viagra ads. I don’t know John, someone who lives in India. I’m not sure what he thinks is to be gained with throwing that crap up on my Blog, but I’m too lazy to go behind and delete it.

Some people detest anonymous comments, going so far as to delete them. I find them intriguing. Every one of these people has reasons for staying in the shadows. If you are among them, I look forward to meeting you if and when you ever choose to reveal yourself. But for now, continue to come here to read, comment if you wish, and know that if I do discover your identity, the secret will remain with me.

And if anyone sees SF or Kernersville, please tell them I miss them.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just Average

You’d think after the fanfare of a big Blogger anniversary, I would have something profound to say today. When in fact, I’m simply going to say how grateful I am to be average.

Yesterday I played music with people who mostly live on Capitol Hill and come together to play for each other every month. We call the group “Works in Progress” to try to make it less like a formal recital. It’s acceptable to play the same piece for several months or to stop in the middle, announcing that’s as far as you have gotten.

The star of yesterday’s show was a 10-year-old golden-haired little girl, who couldn’t even reach the floor with her feet. She played a sonatina by memory and everything about her performance was perfect. The person who played last was a very accomplished pianist who thrilled us with three very difficult dances by the Argentine Alberto Ginastera.

One person struggled hard with the two waltzes by Schubert and Schumann, never quite settling into that 1-2-3 cadence. She persevered to the end, often trying a phrase again. As she retired to her seat amid our unfailing applause, she muttered that she had played them both perfectly at home before coming.

That left the rest of us smack dab in the middle feeling good about being good enough, or even just average. Deborah and I played a lusciously romantic Adagio by Johann Geissel. There were no major glitches and the couple of times we were not together, we managed to find each other without our audience knowing what had happened. I then played a Chopin Mazurka (#45) and it was acceptably good.

I’m already thinking ahead to what we will play next time. I would like to try something a little different, perhaps hoping to score points for originality! Deborah and I are learning an aria from Rigoletto. It is written for a duet of male voices. I’m thinking it might be fun to find a tenor and a bass who would be willing to sing while we play.

But that’s for another day. For now, I am feeling oh-so-good about playing my pieces with confidence and enjoyment for my small band of friends on a cold Sunday afternoon in December.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Four Years Later

Today marks my 4th Blogging anniversary. 1,442 posts in 1,460 days, not counting the half dozen or so I deleted for various ugly reasons.

Little did I know what I was getting into when I began writing in 2004. That was a time when I was lucky to sit down at home to check my e-mail twice a week. With the advent of my Blog, that certainly changed.

My Blog has provided a space to serve as a diary, an emotional dumping ground, a recipe file, and a travelog. If it were ever to be deleted, I would be hard-pressed to account for these past 4 years.

The beginning of my Blog coincided with a point in my life when I was making significant changes in an attempt to experience new things and reach out to people. Hence the title: Looking2live.

I have experienced the gamut of emotions with this Blog. There has been the high of connecting with great new people of all ages locally, nationally, and internationally. The beauty of Blogger is it knows no boundaries. Whenever my posts have been recognized by DC Blogs or WaPo Express or Wonkette, I have felt a thrill.

I have also felt the awful guilt that comes from saying something about a friend or family member and being called on the carpet. Although I can take pride that most of my posts are of a more positive nature, I have made mistakes more often than I should have. Most of those posts are long gone, but I still feel badly when I think about the incidents they caused.

I’m not sure 4 years of writing has made me a better writer. I’m certainly faster than I was at the beginning. I’ve learned how to incorporate photos. I’ve learned that shorter is usually better.

I gave serious thought to ending this Blog at this point, but I’ve come to realize that one of the things I enjoy most in life right now is staying electronically connected to so many people. So I guess Looking2live will go on doing just that, at least for now.

If I have ever touched your life with something I’ve written, let me know what it was. And thanks to my loyal readers – past, present, and future!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Or who really needs it? I’m starting to feel less possessive of the parts of my diet that have always distinguished me from vegetarians, or in their strictest sense vegans.

Last Saturday my friend Adrianne, a dinner guest, actually offered to bring the main dish. That was an offer I couldn’t pass up! In keeping with a fellow Blogger’s preference for a vegetarian diet, she made Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping from Veganomicon.

It was such a huge success that two of us immediately ordered the book from Amazon. I must say as I paged through it, my mouth watered at recipe after recipe. And here I thought being a vegan meant continuous sacrifice!

Tonight I made Rustic White Beans and Mushrooms accompanied by Tomato Couscous with Capers. Even my husband declared both to be winning recipes.

I mentally calculated how much tonight’s dinner had cost and quickly concluded that we could be healthier and save money at the same time – a winning combination.

I really have no philosophical problem with eating animals or eggs or dairy. But the bottom line is that we don’t really need those things and my husband is severely lactose intolerant.

So the plan is to make something out of this book a couple of times a week. Tonight’s recipes actually made enough for a second meal.

Of course the true test will be whether we are farting all day tomorrow from the beans. If so, I may have to curtail the bean dishes. But I soaked those suckers for a long time and so far, no gas.

My whole life of cooking has been one of continuous evolution. I have gone from frying breaded veal cutlets in chicken schmaltz to making white beans with mushrooms in a little olive oil. From a health standpoint, probably a good move.

I’ll be curious to see if this new-found interest continues or if Veganomicon finds its place on a crowded shelf with cookbooks that seldom inspire dinner. Time will tell.

What about you? Could you go vegan a couple of times a week?

Friday, December 05, 2008


Pompeii and the Roman Villa at the National Gallery of Art was especially meaningful since we visited that part of Italy earlier this year. We were in Herculaneum and Oplontis, places that provided artifacts to this exhibit.

My friend KC and I went through the Museum of Antiquities in Naples, which houses undoubtedly the greatest collection of the relics from this era. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well curated the current exhibit at the NGA is. The movie gives everything a touch of reality that sometimes didn’t come across in the museum in Naples. Instead of being overwhelming, the current exhibit dwells on the villa itself, the home of the wealthy at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The wealthy were a very privileged society who had the time to collect and care about fine art and jewelry. The nature of the disaster preserved much of that era completely as it was on that fateful day when it seemed that all hell had broken loose. Only centuries later would the modern world unearth the remains of such beauty.

I couldn’t help but compare our current society to those living in the first century. We certainly have our collectors of fine art who live in lavish houses in McLean, Old Town, Kenwood, and other prestigious neighborhoods in the metropolitan area.

I couldn’t help but think of the prediction just a few days ago that we would likely be subjected to a biological disaster before 2013. If such a thing actually occurred, I wondered how well the mansions of the wealthy and their inhabitants would be preserved for future generations to study.

I couldn’t help but wonder who might take the place of Pliny the ancient historian to record the disaster as it claimed its victims and made time stop for those in its wake.

The remains of 50 people wearing their finest clothing and jewels who were found in the front room of the villa at Oplontis reminds us that we could find ourselves in a situation where there is no escape and our material goods are of absolutely no use.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fun, Fun, Fun

The bellwether of depression for me is when I look forward to brushing my teeth and going to bed. The last few days have been like that.

My husband suggested that maybe I should see someone about my lack of excitement for life right now. I replied that all I needed was someone to have some spontaneous fun with and I didn’t need a shrink to tell me that!

Most of my friends are either working or busy with the holidays or family. They are very scheduled people who must haul out their personal scheduler to find an opening. Even my husband who is retired stays quite busy building websites and he has foot problems right how which limit his desire to go walking around.

So it’s no surprise that when I floated the idea of going to the Pompeii exhibit at the National Gallery with multiple friends, the best I could get was “Maybe after the first of the year.”

There was indeed a time when my friend who is no longer would call up on a Monday afternoon and say, “Can I convince you to blow off yoga and go eat dinner with me at ______?” And of course I was only too delighted to trade 90 minutes of down dog for white wine and decadent chocolate desserts. (We never skipped either.) But in truth most of the fun was in talking about the many things we wanted to do, but in fact never did.

I jokingly talked about putting an ad on Craig’s List “Wanted: someone to have spontaneous fun with.” I would need to clarify that this did not mean sex, but the garden variety fun of going to a driving range or a museum or a new play or for a walk in a beautiful place. But I would probably be judged as a first-class nut if I did such a thing.

I’m heading downtown in a little while to get my hair cut. I’ve decided to do the Pompeii exhibit on my own afterwards. Maybe I will just need to make my own fun for a while.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Open Season for Parking Lot Anger

This morning when I rolled into the parking lot for my PT appointment in the pitch black, I was startled to hear the guy in the next vehicle over yelling at me as I got out of my car. HEY, WATCH OUT OPENING YOUR CAR DOOR!

I realized that I must have let my door make the slightest contact with the door of his truck or SUV or something that had the ruggedness of a Hummer.

Being somewhat incredulous, I responded with “Isn’t it a little early for all that anger?” I offered him a chance to get out and come around to see that I had done absolutely no damage to his vehicle. He replied that it was too dark to tell and he was probably right because it was exactly 6:40 a.m.

This was the first visit I had made to my PT guy in his new Bethesda (almost Rockville) office. I allowed extra time, not knowing what beltway traffic was like across that God-awful bridge at that time of the day. It turns out that it was a piece of cake getting there; it was the trip home that took an hour.

I mentioned the old curmudgeon to my PT guy who offered up his typical snarky wisdom and put my anger on a far back burner.

Midway through my PT session, who should appear at the next table over but THE OLD GUY! It turns out he had obviously arrived a full hour early for his appointment. I wondered if he recognized me as he rolled up his sleeve for therapy on his left arm. Probably not. It had been very dark when I arrived.

As I finished my therapy and walked past him, I was tempted to ask if he had checked his door when the sun came up, but decided to just let it go. Maybe his anger had been caused by some lingering pain from an injury.

I did notice when I went to get in my car that he had moved his truck to a different parking space. Perhaps he thought I might retaliate by actually banging the shit out of his door when I got into my car. But I had already relegated ours to what will become a growing set of parking lot encounters over the upcoming holiday season. It never fails to bring out the worst parking lot behavior in many people.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Gifting Money

Giving away money to anyone always begs the question of how it will be used. As many legitimate uses exist, there is still be possibility that your donation will purchase drugs or alcohol.

On our recent Chicago road trip, we were stopped at a light when a young woman knocked on our window and told us her baby was in the car, which was out of gas, and she was trying to get to Milwaukee. Several people quickly found money and handed it to her through the open window before the light changed. As she disappeared, a man walking past said, “She’s out here every night.”

The initial reaction is one of anger for having been scammed. The driver of our car, my friend KC’s daughter, said, “You’ve put it out there to the universe. You did exactly the right thing.” And it’s true, we had absolutely no way to know what became of those dollars intended for gas. Maybe they did buy gas or dinner for a young child. We’ll never know.

But it’s the this type of thing that makes us suspicious of any appeal for money. At our RAK meeting, when I brought up the idea of contributing to help with school projects in Mozambique, the group was skeptical because I had learned of this project through Blogging. How did we know that these people were real? That they were doing the good deeds reported in their Blog posts?

I’m sure there is deceit in the Blogging world, as there is in the world in general, but I like to think my Blogging family is on the up and up. I came home determined to do something to help the poor people in southern Africa, even if my neighborhood group was not convinced.

But this begs the issue of how best to help at a distance. There are inherent dangers in giving money, but it costs so much to ship things. And if we’re talking about putting a roof on a school, that is something that simply must be bought locally.

I think each of us would like to assure that our gifts go as far as possible to help their intended recipients. But at some point we find ourselves having to trust in the goodness and intentions of others.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Where Have All the Acorns Gone?

Yesterday’s Washington Post explained why I am not ankle-deep in acorns as I walk down my driveway. It also proclaimed an acorn famine that will severely affect squirrels and many other animals who rely on acorns for their existence.

Every Fall I marvel at just how many acorns there are and I curse the squirrels who sit up in the trees in my yard and drop acorn bits on my head. But this year the driveway is fairly uncluttered and there is no sound of squirrel munching.

Apparently the absence of acorns has been noted as far away as Kansas and Long Island. Take a look at these comments.

Oak trees can live for hundreds of years, with most having a cycle of acorn abundance that varies but is seldom non-existent. It is actually stressed trees that tend to overproduce acorns. Although botanists are somewhat concerned and have no convincing explanation for the total lack of acorns, they seem to be saying to wait a few years before attributing this to global warming or some other gloom and doom phenomenon.

But meanwhile squirrels, deer, and other animals that feed on acorns through the long winter months are foraging hard to find food. Park service employees are putting out nuts and smearing peanut butter on trees, but that will help only a small fraction of those who are hungry. The bottom line is that many animals will either starve or fall victim to roadkill as they scurry around looking for food.

So cut the squirrels a break as they find creative ways to raid your bird feeder. This year they are not just being lazy!