Thursday, April 30, 2009


I’m usually a very positive person who tries to see the best in life. But for the past few days I have felt down and out and even a little teary-eyed, a rare thing for me.

I kept wondering if that ill-fated podiatrist visit on Monday had touched off this bout of malaise. Or if it was somehow connected to the overwhelming level of tree pollen in the air. Or if it was the result of another round of an ongoing emotional saga.

But by last night as sneezes and sniffles moved in, I realized I have a garden-variety spring cold. This one didn’t start with the typical sore throat, but there is no mistaking the fact that it’s a cold.

I decided to go to meditation last night despite a runny nose. It was a supreme challenge not to be constantly blowing my nose, but rather to feel the unbelievable tickle as drops fell off the tip of my nose onto the Kleenex below. It took a lot of effort to stay in the present moment.

I’ve cancelled everything I was planning to do today in an effort to speed this spring cold along and on its way. I’m ready to feel positive about life once again and to get rid of the Kleenex box that seems permanently attached to my hand.

I guess I should be happy that I haven’t grown a pig tail! :) There are now confirmed cases of swine flu right next door in Maryland...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A 'Toon from the Distant Past

You will surely give away your age if you admit to having watched Tom Terrific when you were growing up. I recently found myself singing the TT song around the time in the morning before school when I would have been glued to the television set at about age 9. On more than one occasion my mother had to drive me to school so I wouldn’t be late.

This cartoon was produced by Terrytoons (CBS) between 1957 and 1959 in 5-minute episodes to be shown on the Captain Kangaroo show. The episodes were re-run for quite a few years after that. I always thought of the Captain as sort of an idiot. His sidekick Mr. Greenjeans (who was the cousin of someone in my small town) was a notch up. But Tom Terrific was definitely the best part of the show.

Tom Terrific was this great little guy with a funnel-shaped thinking cap that allowed him to morph into anything he wanted to be in order to carry out the feat of the day. His sidekick Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog was always along on any adventure. His arch-foe was Crabby Appleton, whose motto was “Rotten to the core!”

For those of you who were fans, here’s the song in case you are having trouble remembering all the words:

I'm Tom Terrific,
Greatest hero ever,
Terrific is the name for me,
'Cause I'm so clever;
I can be what I want to be and,
If you'd like to see,
Follow, come follow me;
If you see a plane on high,
A Diesel train go roaring by;
A bumble bee, or a tree,
When there is trouble,
I'm there on the double;
From Atlantic to Pacific,
They know Tom Terrific!

Following that last line, you would hear the big dog say “I’m Mighty Manfred, the wonder dog, Tom's ever faithful companion” in a dead-pan voice.

Here is how every episode began.

At age 9, the idea that anyone could instantly change his life just by using his head was a great way to start any school day, even at the risk of being late to school.

So who among you was out there watching Tom Terrific with me?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Importance of Positive Thinking

Yesterday I became painfully aware of the importance of psychology in additional to medical knowledge when it comes to a doctor working with patients. I had gone in for a simple consultation on orthotics and came away feeling devastated.

I had seen this podiatrist last summer for a gait analysis and to get orthotics. Having been pleased with her at the time, I thought of her as the warm weather made me want to put on my sandals.

I have an old pair of Naots which I got at the factory in Israel several years ago. As with all Naots, the insert can be replaced by a custom orthotic. I also wanted to get her advice on other more dressy sandals. Seemed easy enough.

My friends and family have been extremely supportive of my recovery efforts from the hip replacement surgery just a little over 3 months ago. My gait isn’t perfect, but I walk unassisted and my hip seems to be getting stronger.

I fully expected the same response from my doctor. But instead after a brief examination and watching me walk for a few minutes, she proceeded to tell me how my right hip was protruding, my right ankle was frozen, and a few other random comments that were equally unsupportive. She said I should quickly see a physical medicine doctor to deal with my scoliosis. She basically recommended against my wearing sandals at all and proceeded to show me pictures of shoes that an 80-year-old woman might wear in desperation.

I let her know that her remarks were not helpful, and in fact that they were extremely damaging to my psyche as I attempt to return to normal. Although she apologized and said she was just trying to look out for my future welfare, I don’t think she realized what a blow this was to me. I walked out of that office feeling like the wind had been taken out of my sails.

My husband, who is the consummate Internet shopper, found a site for custom Naot orthotics at a reasonable price. I’m planning to wear sandals in hot weather for the rest of my life. Certainly at 60 I’m not ready for socks and oxfords year-round!

I saw another doctor just today to deal with my aging bones. She was supportive and encouraging as she proposed a natural way to cope with yet another issue of getting older. It was refreshing to see how much difference a smile and a positive attitude could make. It reminded me that the mental component of healing may well be just as important as the medicinal one.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Remembering Work

Once upon a time my husband and I both worked in this building. This is what we found when we went back to a colleague’s retirement party today.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was getting up at 5:30 am so I could be in the office by 7:00 am to work often 10-hour days and then come home to make dinner, fall into bed, and then get up and do it again. I loved working hard and seeing the fruits of my labors as a major survey was launched.

But I have never once awakened since I retired 2 years ago to say “Gee, I wish I could go to work today.”

The timing was not of my choosing, but I was so frustrated at the end that I just had to do it and it turned out to be exactly the right decision for me.

My dear friend who is now retiring is someone my husband actually hired in 1978. We have worked together on and off over the years and I recruited him when the survey needed someone with his skill set.

I always thought that when he left, he would not look back, but it turns out they are dangling some attractive carrots for contract work in front of his nose and he may not be able to resist.

For a brief second, I wondered why no such carrots had been put under my nose and then I remembered the unhappiness just before I left. I affectionately named my two greatest enemies “the two B’s.” I saw both of them today. One pretended like nothing had happened. The other avoided me altogether. I didn’t care one way or the other. It was all in the past.

On the way out I just had to snap the picture of the demolition scene in front of the new building. My husband and I both took a final look at the building where we met in December 1971, or what was left of it.

Then we hit the road to leave the Suitland ghetto and remembered what it was like to drive in rush hour traffic.

As we pulled into the driveway, I noticed this azalea bush that is in such full bloom that it is literally covered in pink. When I was working it was always dark when I drove into the driveway. It’s nice to be able to see my yard in full bloom when the sun is still out!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Illegal = Unequal

I have struggled all day with my reaction to a story I read in today’s New York Times about people who are in this country illegally. Actually I have struggled with this issue since reading The Tortilla Curtain a few years ago.

The NYT article featured a young woman who with her mother and younger brother came from Ecuador as a tourist 8 years ago to join her father who was living in this country illegally. She was a bright child, having skipped a couple of grades in her country of birth. They all stayed on in New York City after their tourist visas expired, joining the thousands of others who live and work there without legal status.

In this country she easily finished high school, but was denied the right to apply to prestigious colleges because she didn’t have the necessary identification. She was able to get a degree in accounting in Queens, where she graduated with a 3.8 GPA, but then the doors were shut again when she went to apply for a job.

Meanwhile she watched her brother who had managed to be born in this country have all the freedoms and privileges she had been denied. And what was he saying -- Maybe I’ll go back to Ecuador to live!

The girl’s mother has urged her to drop her Mexican boyfriend, who is here on a student visa, and look for an American husband to secure her legal status. The mother even added that she could feel free to divorce him if it didn’t work out.

I find so many aspects of this girl’s plight sad. She must live in constant fear of deportation. Her hard-earned degree is being wasted on a low-paying accounting job, whereas her American friends easily landed jobs paying twice as much. The question of legality looms large as she decides on a life partner. There are no rays of hope for people like this young girl.

She and her boyfriend spend their free time volunteering with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an immigrant group pushing Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to high school graduates who were brought to the United States by their parents.

It would seem there are enough challenges posed by a new culture and a new language for children who come here illegally, not always necessarily by their own choice. Should they really be forced to spend the rest of their life in this country in the shadows without the chance that other young people have to realize the American dream?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Defense of a Poet

I read Leaves of Grass and marveled at Walt Whitman’s ability to celebrate the human body and soul. I read The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, loaned to me by The Gold Puppy, and learned how as a nurse Whitman brought comfort to those injured during the Civil War. I was sad to discover the cruelty with which Whitman was often treated during his lifetime because of his lifestyle and his willingness to write about things others would never dare to express. When Leaves of Grass was published, he lost his job at the Department of the Interior because of its content. I wished he could be alive today to be celebrated as the genius he was.

Then I read today’s Washington Post article about the seven congregants from Kansas who set up outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda to protest the sexual orientation of the poet for whom the school was named. I realized sadly that little had changed in the minds of some people.

I was encouraged to read that at one point 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up opposite the protesters to chant “Go home!” The school turned the day into a learning experience, spending time reading Whitman’s verse, having lessons on tolerance, even estimating the size of the crowd. Students were quick to condemn the paltry protest.

The congregants from the Westboro Baptist Church have gained national notoriety for their anti-homosexuality demonstrations. I hope they got the message that Walt Whitman High School is proud of its name and quick to defend its namesake. I guess they missed the lesson on tolerance in Topeka, Kansas.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A new slant on an old tune

Just this week I was listening to classical music on the radio as I often do. I learned something interesting about a piece I’ve heard numerous times, a piece which for some unknown reason evokes scenes from Dr. Zhivago for me!

Die Moldau is one of 6 symphonic poems written by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. You would recognize it immediately. This particular composition describes the course of the Vitava, one of Bohemia’s great rivers.

But here’s the interesting piece about Smetana’s most famous tune: “It is an adaptation of La Mantovana, a folk song of the Italian renaissance origin, which is also the basis for the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. The tune also appears in major in an old folk Czech song "Kočka leze dírou" (Cat is crawling the hole").” The radio announcer had obviously looked it up on Wikipedia, since this is what he imparted to his listening audience.

We always think the great composers came up with those melodies on their own, when as in this case their ideas often come from something written long before and borrowed repeatedly. Why not put a good tune to reuse?

What other instances of this can you mention? Twinkle, twinkle, for example?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

And the second farmer said

After a lengthy conversation with Erik Landau of Kimberton CSA, I have an even greater respect for biodynamic farming. (This is written for use on our CSA website.) Kimberton is located in rural Pennsylvania, not too far from Philadelphia. It’s a 10-acre farm on the property of a Waldorf School. (Waldorf schools were developed in 1919 by Rudolph Steiner, the man who also started biodynamic farming and gardening.) It’s where we get our eggs in the winter and any excess produce they have in the summer. It’s right next door to Seven Stars Dairy Farm, the producers of our wonderful yogurt.

Erik’s love of farming is life-long. He dreamed of being a farmer when he was a child. His dream was nurtured by the Waldorf School he attended. After high school, he apprenticed on a farm in Northern Illinois and then one in New Hampshire, where he met his wife, another aspiring farmer. After living for several years in Germany, they moved back to the US and began working at Kimberton CSA. By 2002 they were managing the CSA.

Erik and his wife run the CSA with the help of several apprentices, who receive room and board and a small weekly stipend. It’s a lot of work for everyone involved.

They maintain the nutrient level of the farm by applying cow manure from the neighboring dairy farm and mushroom compost from another local farm. The flock of chickens also provide useful natural fertilizer.

Although Kimberton focuses on growing vegetables, they also have around 150 chickens at any point in time. When they mature, they sell them as soup chickens. These are the chickens who produce the delicious brown eggs we enjoy all winter, when the Kimberton CSA is not operational.

The chickens are a mix of Rhode Island reds and White leghorns, all laying brown eggs. I asked about the life of a typical chicken on this biodynamic farm. The day after the chickens are hatched, they arrive at Kimberton. They get one or two vaccinations, but no beak trimming, as would be done on a large commercial chicken farm. They live in the chicken house for 4-5 weeks until they are too big to slip through the electric fence. From that point on, they nest in the chicken house, but pretty much have the run of the farm. They get their feed and water outside, eating a mix of organic grains, soybeans, and corn.

There are only 3 roosters for the 150 chickens. They serve as the eyes and ears of the flock, often warding off potential predators. The electric fence also helps keep away animals that might otherwise prey on the chickens.

Kimberton CSA is too small to have much left over after their 200 members have been served. During the winter months, for many years they have been providing eggs to Spiritual Foods CSA, but otherwise everything they produce goes to their members.

As a relatively young man of 33 years, Erik says his biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to farm long-term without wearing out his knees and back. The season from May through October is intense with a huge workload.

His long-term goal is to have his own farm, instead of managing someone else’s farm. He would like to have more land and a more stable financial situation. He would like to be able to afford health insurance.

But for now, it’s his love of what he is doing and the fruits of his labor that keep him going.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Toys

I simply can’t go in a cooking store without buying something. So it’s no small surprise I came home from my class last Saturday with new kitchen “toys.”

So many principles of good design are incorporated in these simple tools. They feel good on your hands. Some of them stand up. And they are cute to look at.

I bought the silver strainer after watching Brock demonstrate how to blanch vegetables. I tried it on asparagus last night, popping them into boiling water for a brief cook, and then scooping them out with this strainer to immerse them in ice water. They were crisp and bright green, even though they were cooked to perfection.

The vegetable scraper can be “worn” on any finger of either hand. It’s compact but functional. And I love the bright green. It won’t get lost in any drawer!

The egg whisk is just the right size for an egg or two. I might have to paint a smile on the chicken’s face though.

I watched Brock use the pink pastry brush to apply melted butter to layers of phyllo dough. I could quickly see that it would avoid the bristles that ultimately get stuck together after multiple encounters with olive oil. This little pink brush is dishwasher safe and will be standing ready on the counter.

The best find was the avocado slicer. You cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Then in one swift motion, you come out with beautiful slices to adorn any plate as the skin simply falls away. Very clever indeed.

I could buy 5 new toys every time I walk into Hill’s Kitchen. But if I do, I will need to have a colossal yard sale because my kitchen has only so much space!

What is your favorite kitchen toy?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Please hold the line

It seems as though I have spent most of the morning on hold with little to show for it. I started thinking about the annoyance of being made to wait and realized I have strong opinions about it. I also realized that wait state takes very different forms, some of which are more annoying than others.

By far the most annoying is the one with background music that is interrupted about every 20 seconds with a message like “We appreciate your patience. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” After about 20 of those, I am ready to scream.

Today when I tried to call my local bank, I encountered a maze of choices, that would always result in my being on hold with some sort of background noise and then just as I thought I was being connected to MY BANK, would connect me to someone in Scranton or Wichita or some other city other than to my bank which is less than a mile from my house. ARGHHH!

The next holding pattern was one of absolute silence. In this case, it is impossible to know if you have been disconnected or if you are really on hold. And it is so maddening that you continue to hang up and redial, simply to encounter a new voice and once again be placed on hold while that person tries to answer the question that no one has been able to answer.

The only on hold situation that seems to give me any measure of contentment is one in which I am flooded with high quality classical music, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I settle in and hope the person doesn’t come back until Spring or Fall or whatever season is over. What a difference!

I’m sure there have been studies of this, since putting someone on hold seems to be the norm these days, as if answering the phone and talking admits to not having enough business or too much free time.

My husband has resolved this by using his speaker phone to alert him when the human returns or picks up, thereby allowing him to multi-task. Not all of us are so technologically savvy or willing.

How does being put “on hold” affect you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

How sure are you?

Several years ago as we were returning from a trip to Italy, one of my traveling companions presented us with a short play to read on our flight home -- Doubt: a Parable by John Patrick Shanley. We all read it and as we talked about it, none of could say with any degree of certainty that the priest was guilty.

I never saw a performance of the play, in which the 4 main characters have the entire dialog: priest, mean nun, nice nun, boy’s mother. There are no children on stage.

But I recently saw the movie and had no trouble making up my mind that the priest was indeed guilty as charged. I would say I was about 95% sure. Now why was that? From the onset, he seemed a little sleazy. I was repulsed by his statement about growing his nails long and then making all the boys look at his carefully manicured nails. Meryl Streep did her usual wonderful job of playing the mean nun, whose job it became to make the case against the priest. But in addition to what happened in the film, over the past few years I had been conditioned to suspect priests in matters of child abuse.

However, my husband and others who saw the movie with me said their certainty level was 50% and 60%. I’m wondering if this implies that I make snap judgments in matters such as this, perhaps without the necessary proof? I do find that I’m seldom ambivalent, instead falling on one end or the other of the spectrum of possibility.

Just yesterday as I read the Post article about the shooting of 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings by an off-duty DC cop over the possible theft of a red motorbike, I found myself quickly laying the guilt squarely on the cop. There are many things about the story that still don’t make sense. The mayor’s office must have recognized the high probability of wrongdoing on the part of its police force since the DC government paid for the boy’s funeral. The motorbike was recovered, but the boy was dead, never to resume his place in the world. The charges against the cop and his cop friend have since been dropped. We will probably never know for sure exactly what happened in those few minutes before and after the shooting. And yet I want to pronounce the cop guilty.

Do you have an opinion about either of these -- one fiction, the other quite real? Are you more comfortable that I seem to be in honoring the room for doubt?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Frijoles Negros

Making soup with dried beans really requires thinking about it the day before. I soaked the little black beans overnight and today as I drained them, I noticed many of them had turned beautiful shades of blue and purple.

I attempted Cuban black bean soup, which didn’t taste exactly like that of my good Cuban friend, but was actually very good.

Here’s what I came up with by combining a couple of recipes and adapting them to use the 1-3/4 pounds of black beans I had:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (recipe called for Jalapeno, but I didn’t have any)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1-3/4 pounds black beans, rinsed and picked over to remove debris
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
4 cups water
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher/sea salt

Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover by 2 inches. Rinse the beans and cook in a large pot with water covering the beans for 2 hours, bringing to a boil and then turning down to simmer. In a large Dutch oven, saute the onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and green pepper in the olive oil over moderately high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the spices and stir to coat all the vegetables. Add the drained beans, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and place in a 325 degree oven for 2 hours. Puree about 1/4 of the soup in a food processor and then put it back in the Dutch oven. Add the vinegar and salt and serve over rice.

I threw in 4 skinless chicken thighs which added flavor since there is otherwise no meat in the recipe. They were a nice addition.

All you need is a green salad for a complete meal!

SHOULD'VE'S: Next time I won't drain the beans after their first cooking, thereby retaining the lovely black color that otherwise gets washed away. I will also serve them with some really good hot sauce since I refrain from adding spiciness in deference to my husbands GIRD!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The First Course

I had the greatest educational cooking experience this afternoon. I went to a class called “Small Bites” at the newly opened Hill’s Kitchen on Capitol Hill. It was a 2-hour class devoted to my favorite part of any meal: the appetizers.

Brock Kuhlman, a former chef from the trendy restaurant Sonoma, designed and taught the class in the upstairs level of the store, with its gourmet kitchen and high student stools around a table facing the kitchen.

I was incredulous that our chef instructor took on making all of the following recipes in the space of 2 hours, leaving us time at the end to sample everything while we drank champagne:

Mini Asparagus-Shitake Quiche
Tuna Tartare
Roasted Nuts
Herb-roasted Olives
Tarragon Chicken Pate

After class I approached Brock about a 1-on-1 class around the contents of a CSA crate and he was excited about the idea. It is so exciting to work with someone as adventurous as Brock who doesn’t measure much of anything and who insists on tasting as you go.

I learned a lot today, but started to think about the other courses of the meal and how much I could benefit from additional cooking classes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Music to make you feel good

Two very different and very separate stories of music recently warmed my heart. It’s music that brings me most quickly to tears of joy!

One of my former work colleagues sent me an e-mail about work his son is doing in NYC. This is a kid who once was bouncing off the walls and challenging his teachers, but who eventually found his niche in the musical world as a performer, composer, and teacher. He seems to have an understanding of how to get kids motivated to like music. He was contracted by Carnegie Hall to design a music appreciation course for children. But most recently he has been scouting for local talent to support. Check out his latest find: Fly Girlz, a rapping duo who haven’t yet made it to high school, but who are going places with their music. Kudos to Sam for his efforts to help young people find a place in the world of music or at least a love of what they are listening to.

And this week, who wasn’t incredulous at the performance by Scottish Susan Boyle as she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis on Britain’s Got Talent 2009? The audience clearly showed everyone’s initial reaction to this woman who looked somewhat like Mrs. Doubtfire. But when she started to sing, we were all mesmerized by her performance. As we learn more about this woman, it becomes clear that she has some learning disabilities and was often the brunt of jokes as she was growing up. But at 47, she has captured the worlds’ interest and left us with a song in our hearts. She stands as the perfect example of why we should never make a snap judgment based simply on what we see.

Music is indeed the food of the gods. Better than any medicine to fix whatever ails me!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Need to Know?

Seeing a new doctor for the first time always means paperwork. It’s usually the same set of questions more or less perhaps arranged in a different order. But I encountered a few new ones on a recent new-patient questionnaire.

I was actually quite intrigued with the fact that a doctor might want to know:
What has been your greatest challenge in life?
What has been your greatest disappointment?
What has been your greatest joy?

But then I came to:
Are you sexually active? ___ Sexual preference _______________

The last blank leaves a lot of room for interpretation:
My husband/ someone else’s husband
Hetero/ homo
Any of a variety of positions
No preference -- Would that imply I was bisexual?

I started to wonder what use would be made of the information about my sex life. Would it really inform any decision or make the least bit of difference?

BTW, my husband voted for HETERO.

I suppose I could just leave those questions blank, but I will probably provide answers so as not to get off on the wrong foot with this doctor.

Have you ever encountered questions like any of these?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Questionnable Special Treatment

I read a couple of things in yesterday’s Washington Post Metro section that gave me pause. “African American Families Celebrate with Day at the Zoo.” And “The White House allocated some tickets [to the Easter Egg Roll] for gay and lesbian parents.”

I wondered if this was yet another manifestation of affirmative action. I wondered if families in these two demographic groups felt special because of this accommodation or whether many of them would have preferred not to be singled out in this way.

If we really want to move toward equality of all people regardless of their race, sexual preference, age, country of origin, etc., why in the world would we continue to do things like this?

I’m sure the African American families enjoyed their day at the zoo, but if I were a Caucasian with children, I wondered if I would have felt unwelcome at the zoo or even been denied entrance on Monday. I wondered where the biracial family fit into this picture.

I wondered how the White House screened for the sexual preference of those applying for tickets to the Easter Egg Roll. Did they have to check a box that said “Gay/Lesbian”? If so, did they think up front this might improve their chances of getting in when it could just as easily been used to keep them out?

When I worked for the Federal Government, I always had problems with all the special weeks (Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and practically enough others to fill the year it seemed) when most of them did not address the white person born in this county, still the predominant group of people.

Issues like this are always tricky. We walk a fine line between discrimination and going overboard in the opposite direction.

Any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Experiment

Do you remember the old song that began with “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?” I’m wondering about frozen homemade horseradish.

This year I decided to freeze the leftover gefillte fish before it could smell like 3-day-old fish. So packages of two pieces with their little carrots on top went into freezer Ziplocks. And of course you have to have homemade red horseradish to eat with the fish, so today I divided up the leftover horseradish, that was still plenty strong enough to clean out your sinuses, and froze it in serving sizes as well.

I’ve never frozen either of these foods, so it will be interesting to see what they look and taste like when they thaw. I’m wondering if the heat of the horseradish will be negated by the cold of the freezer. I’m wondering if the fish will become mushy and flavorless.

It’s almost a relief to know I won’t be sick of gefillte fish by the end of Passover, but rather I will have an occasion to rediscover it in the heat of summer. I always marvel at the fact that the freezing process can extend the life of food, maybe not indefinitely, but for a long time.

Any bets on whether the bite will be gone when the red stuff thaws out?

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Long and Winding Road

Hearing Maureen McGovern’s theatrical concert last night was special, not because she is the greatest singer around, but because she is my age and sings the songs that are woven into my life. “A long and winding road” summed up the evening quite well.

She touched on the death of JFK, the Vietnam War, the emergence of the Beatles, the horror of AIDS, the music of Carol King, Bob Dylan, and many others. A memorable “piece” was the conglomeration of nonsense syllables, like "Shoo-bop, shoo-bop," "Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang" and maybe 20 more, that characterized some of the songs we baby boomers grew up with.

I realized that I had never paid a lot of attention to many of those songs, like Rocky Raccoon, that all of a sudden made so much sense when she slowed it down and I listened to the words.

For some reason toward the end of the evening when she sang, “After all the loves of my life, I will be thinking of you and wondering why,” I found my eyes filling with tears. It was indeed a long road for all of us who are at or around 60.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Dilemma of Aging Bones

As late as two years ago I passed the bone density scan with flying colors, attributing my good bone health to the fact that I always consumed a lot of dairy products. But my most recent scan after breaking my hip says my bones are not as good as they used to be. I am bordering on osteopenia.

I have been taking Citracal for a while as a calcium supplement. But my doctor recently recommended an increase in my calcium and the generic equivalent of Fosamax. She prescribed the one that you take once a week, reminding me to stand up for 30 minutes after I take it because it has been known to burn a hole in a person’s esophagus otherwise. YIKES! I just read this “Fosamax is in the same chemical class (phosphonate) as the chemicals used in the cleaners which remove soap scum from your bath tub.” I guess that would explain it.

Yesterday I happened to take a walk with a neighbor who suffers from the onset of osteoporosis and has a history of it in her family. Her doctor has been urging her to take this drug for years, but she has resisted because of a disdain for medicine in general, but also out of fear of getting osteonecrosis of the jaw. This article indicates additional side-effects.

My cousin (whose father turned 90 this week) considers himself an “herb doctor” as the owner of a health food store. He says a lot of things that make sense. But he did say he eats no dairy products, preferring to get his calcium from other sources.

If I listen to all these people I have a huge conflict about what to do for my aging bones. I’m planning to do a lot more research and perhaps get a second or third opinion before I make any changes to my diet and pill consumption.

I figure I only have one body and I want to make sure I don’t do things that have the potential to cause more harm than good!

Any healthy bone advice out there?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No deeds to do, no promises to keep

Today I woke up to a blank day -- not necessarily empty or boring, just unplanned. There’s not a thing on my agenda. And it feels good as I sit here in my pajamas watching the soft rain fall on the deck to know that there’s no compelling reason to get dressed.

I was reminded of those greeting cards that say “intentionally left blank for your message.” They can become a birthday wish, a get well sentiment, or a greeting to a friend far away. It’s up to you to transform that blank page into the message you wish to convey.

There was a time when I would have looked at an empty day as a challenge to fill it to the brink with cleaning projects or shopping trips or anything to obliterate the emptiness. But that urge is long gone.

It gives me the time to ponder things like how long it will be until my magnificent backyard dogwood comes into bloom. It gives me time to massage Jake’s stomach. It gives me time to watch as my husband takes the last bite of his breakfast cereal while reading the morning paper.

Blankness as a steady diet would be depressing. But a blank day here and there is like a gift of time to use as I wish.

What about you? How do you view a day where anything is possible but nothing is required?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Food for a Good Friday

On this Good Friday, I made a soup that would be good for just about any day. The flavors of this Mulligatawny with Lentils were subtle but very Indian.

It was the large package of brown lentils in this week’s CSA delivery that made me look for a recipe. I decided to try something new, figuring anything that purported to be mulligatawny would smell and taste good.

This recipe is quite different from my standard Joy of Cooking recipe, sharing mostly Indian spices.

Mulligatawny with Lentils

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
1/4 cup black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons tandoori spice mix
2 teaspoons curry powder (I use sweet curry, not the terribly hot stuff)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
6 cups vegetable stock
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove debris
1 cup coconut milk
1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed well and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 skinless chicken thighs (optional)

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, over moderately high heat saute the ginger, garlic, and onions in the olive oil for about 4 minutes. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop. Add in the garam masala, tandoori spice mix, curry, salt, cardamom, and cayenne and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, and chicken (if you opt for the non-veg version) and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour, until the lentils are tender. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach, lemon juice, and sugar. Ladle into bowls containing cooked brown rice and top with the cilantro.

Not only is this a good way to use up a lot of lentils, but it is delicious as well. It’s hot enough to make your nose run, but not so hot that those who hate spicy food will complain!

How do you feel about mulligatawny soup?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Old and the Young

My day today was all about balancing the very old and the very young. I have new-found respect for both.

We made a quick trip down to Newport News to celebrate my uncle’s 90th birthday. It was rather low-key for so many years. My 62-year-old cousin came down from Friendsville, MD, where he owns a health food store. The 4 of us went to a lunch of sandwiches in the cafe of “The Chesapeake,” a senior facility where my uncle now lives. We split 2 cookies 4 ways for dessert. I gave him a collapsible cane and a can of chocolate macaroons we forgot to serve at our seder last night. We looked at a bunch of old family photos and the few momentos my uncle salvaged from his house of 50 years. He showed us his latest book purchase: Card Games for Dummies, so he can learn to play “those games the ladies here are playing.” He seems happy and well-adjusted, despite being all alone now. He said we would have a steak for his 91st birthday, so obviously he is signing up for another year! I gave my cousin a hug and shook my uncle’s hand (because most of that family are not huggers) and we headed back up the road for what should have been a 2-1/2-hour trip home.

I started to worry when the traffic on I-95 came to a standstill around 4:00. I had to be at the shelter by 6:30 to read. I was in charge tonight, so I didn’t want to miss it. Finally the traffic broke loose with no explanation after about 45 minutes of stop and go.

There were almost as many volunteers as children at the read-aloud. We worked hard to settle squirming bodies onto individual carpet squares. Two children had to be bodily removed from the room for short time-outs. But all in all they did a fairly good job of listening to books about babies and baby animals. We did a “warm-up” for the activity by counting to 100 as a group, with everyone joining in and a 3-year-old doing a break dance in the middle of the circle when we passed the numbers she knew. They each whipped through several pages of dot-to-dots, always somewhat amazed at what animal they formed.

Then they got to each pick an animal finger puppet out of a grab bag. The idea was that they could give the puppet a voice. It quickly became apparent that the animals were channeling a lot of inner feelings in these young children.

As a group we came up with the idea of reading a book and then doing a puppet show the next time it’s our turn to read. If anyone has a book in mind that would give about 6-8 children a part, please let me know.

It was a long day, starting at 6:00 am. We covered 330 miles. I felt like my encounters with both the old and the young today were far too brief. But they left me with a lot to think about.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fish and Horseradish for a Fairy Godmother

I realized yesterday that I was in trouble when the used baby animal dot-to-dot book I had ordered from Amazon had not arrived. I was in the midst of preparing for a seder for 10. We were planning a quick day trip to Newport News on Thursday to celebrate my uncle’s 90th birthday over lunch, knowing that I had to be back to read to the kids at the homeless shelter that night. I was counting on that book for the activity.

Every local bookstore I called either had no dot-to-dot books or the wrong ones. That is, until I came to Fairy Godmother Children’s Books and Toys, a place on Capitol Hill which I had never before noticed. I called at 5:45 just as the proprietor was closing so she could go home and cook. She took the time to make sure she indeed had two very appropriate dot-to-dot books in stock. After we determined we were both making a seder tonight and she was the lone lover of gefillte fish in her family, I offered to bring her in a couple of pieces with some homemade horseradish when I came to claim my books today.

This morning I made the horseradish before zipping into the city to get the books. I’m always so amazed that something as ugly as this root of horseradish can become the delicious red stuff I love at Passover.

It’s an easy recipe. You just have to remember not to put your face directly over the food processor when you take the top off because the fumes will almost take your breath away.

The store is delightful. I found not only the dot-to-dot books, but some adorable finger puppets, thinking the children could create a little play about how the animals greet spring after they do a page or two of dot-to-dots. (As a child I adored doing these. They are valuable as a counting skill as well as creating something artistic.)

The big surprise was the huge box of beautiful free books she sent home with me. It seems they get books to review before they are published. They are not allowed to sell them, but they are perfectly good books. She had been looking for a home for these books and the shelter will be just the place. I was happy to walk away with everything I came for and more.

And she was thrilled to get some homemade fish and horseradish. It seemed the least I could do for a Fairy Godmother!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Matzoh Ball Soup my way

I never could figure out why there was no chicken in Jewish chicken soup, AKA matzoh ball soup. But there never is. It’s all about the broth and the balls.

Well, I’ve got the broth part down now, thanks to my new secret ingredient. I buy packages of chicken feet from Polyface Farm for practically nothing and they make terrific stock. I can’t think too hard about the chickens they were once attached to, but instead I have to focus on the gelatinous broth they help create.

So I made my soup yesterday, throwing in an Empire chicken for good measure and lots of fresh dill. Then I fished out the feet and the chicken and added carrots, parsnips, celery, onions, and salt and pepper. When these were cooked, I declared my soup done.

That is, except for the matzoh balls, which I have yet to master. I bought seltzer water this year after someone claimed that was the secret ingredient for light fluffy balls. The real problem is how to make the matzoh balls ahead so they can be added to the soup after everyone is screaming ENOUGH of reading the haggadah. (At some point dinner trumps the Jews’ exodus out of Egypt and I must feed the hungry seder goers.)

I am convinced that if I could serve the matzoh balls at the moment they come out of their boiling water, they would be great. But alas, once again the balls must wait in a Pyrex covered with aluminum foil while we cross the desert in search of the Promised Land.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Spices from A to Z

Passover is supposed to be a time for cleaning out your cupboards. If you are really observant, you take a feather duster and remove every last bit of chametz (bread, grains and leavened products that are not consumed on the Jewish holiday of Passover).

I don’t follow these dietary restrictions, except for the seder meal. But I did feel compelled to do some symbolic cleaning. So today I tackled my spice cabinet, which was woefully overloaded.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a lot of spices and I have stored them in alphabetical order. This works well until my daughter comes home and just puts the spices away in any empty spot after cooking. When my son came home from California, he added at least 20 jars to my full shelves.

When we remodeled our house 10 years ago, I wanted something that would maximize the accessibility of my spices, so we installed this revolving 4-tier shelf. When space was no longer such a constraint, I was never forced to discard the older cans/jars.

But today I did a thorough cleaning, getting rid of things like this can of Whole Allspice which cost 77 cents, a clear indication of its age. The tubes of cake decorating frosting are at least 15 years old and probably well past their expiration dates.

It was fun to find things I had forgotten about (like Rose Water) and to make sure they were in alphabetical order: Ground Jamaican Allspice to Zatar Seasoning.

I once heard that most spices have a shelf-life of about 6 months. I’m sure about 90% of mine are expired by that rule, but I’ll keep them anyway.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Playing with Passion

Last night I found a couple of hours of pure passion as I reconnected with FC, someone who has always held a special place in my heart. Of course FC has been dead for many years, so it was at the hands of BG that I was able to have this experience. And my husband was on his own for the evening.

A friend and I went to an all-Chopin concert played by Brian Ganz, an accomplished musician whose goal is to record everything Chopin ever wrote. The venue was the old Dumbarton Oaks Church in Georgetown, the perfect place for such an evening.

From the minute he sat down at the piano, Mr. Ganz mesmerized the audience with a mixture of some of the most beautiful music ever written, all committed to his memory and executed flawlessly.

The first piece he played was Chopin’s Military Polonaise, a piece which was broadcast daily on Polish radio in 1939 as a sign of defiance against the German invasion. Its significance for me was the fact that I had memorized the entire piece when I was 15. I’m sure I never played it nearly as well as he did!

The last piece was the Heroic Polonaise, a piece I have always wanted to play. It was said that Liszt commanded that his students play the stirring middle section, marked by cascading octaves in the left hand, with “all the thunder of the Polish cavalry.” I would love to think that I might be able to play this piece some day.

But for now, even though I have been flirting with JSB, this evening of Chopin confirmed that he is still the greatest of classical composers in my mind. His music evokes the purest of passion.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Today’s Torah portion was about sacrifice. It was a rather boring portion where God tells the Jews precisely how to offer up animals and other sacrifices in the Temple.

Our rabbi always responds to a question from the Bar/Bat mitzvah student in the sermon. Today the girl’s question to Toby was whether she had personally ever made any sacrifices. Toby responded that she had once said kaddish over a dead goldfish (that she hadn’t killed), but she rather assumed the girl was referring to sacrifices of inconvenience or discomfort.

She said she had thought long and hard about this. She realized she had made choices in life that might favor someone else, but nothing she had ever done had caused her great personal anguish.

I started thinking about this from my own standpoint, and realized my situation was much the same. Whereas immigrant parents might make huge sacrifices so their children can succeed, I never had to do anything comparable to give my children a relatively good life. My life in general has not been terribly demanding.

Even in this time of economic woes, while our net worth has greatly decreased, I’m not being forced to go back to work to pay the bills.

Toby mentioned that when recently asked about the need for specific personal sacrifice, President Obama had said that Americans were already making daily sacrifices. And I suppose we are by choosing not to drive so much, not to take expensive vacations, not to eat out as often.

But so far nothing hurts to the point of feeling like a sacrifice.

What about you? Have you made sacrifices in your life?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Defining Old

I have this lingering fear that January 20, 2009, will mark the beginning of OLD age for me. It’s probably a totally irrational fear, but it has of late been haunting me.

I always thought old age was something you just slid into gradually, much as one passes from youth to adulthood to middle age. But maybe there is sometimes a more rigid boundary.

I’ve been experiencing a little of that glass-half-empty syndrome this week and that may well explain my worries about being old.

Maybe I’ll just get a remedy from Dr. Seuss that will put me back in a state of advanced middle age. That would be just fine.

I still have a lot of things I want to see and do. I’m mentally not quite ready to be a senior, except when I go to the movies, where the age is now 60!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Playing Electronic Catch-up

My life has been turned over to something that fits in my pocket. My hand-me-down iPhone is now in charge. And for once I am not resisting new technology!

For years I have prided myself on keeping phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and my calendar in my head. During the last month those spaces have been freed up as the information was gradually loaded on my iPhone.

Several years ago I gave away my iPod to a good friend, who was much more technically savvy than I was and who needed it, whereas I seldom turned it on. Now that I’m becoming so electronic, I’m finally ready to deal with music, so tonight I will start learning how to load it up.

I have become quite adept at checking my e-mail when I’m stopped at a light, or even Googling to find a watch repair place when I needed my watch battery changed. There are very few places when I am not able to be connected these days.

This is quite a departure for me, but one I am coming to like. I hardly realize that my iPhone is several generations old, that my husband now owns to most current model that has GPS ability and other bells and whistles that mine doesn’t have. It doesn’t matter because I’m still learning how to use many of those icons that make the entry screen so colorful.

What is really cool is the fact that my computer and my iPhone get synced up every night while I sleep. I also like the fact that when our couples book club is choosing a date for the next meeting, I can now whip out my electronic calendar.

To make things work together well, I have moved to gmail. So if you happen to communicate with me by e-mail, my new address is

Luckily I live with someone who provides hand-me-downs and free consultation. He has so far figured out how to do everything I asked about. He’s working on a shared electronic calendar so we can be conscious of each other’s appointments.

I feel like I have made a leap like the one that took me into word processing so many years ago. I suppose it’s better late than never!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Powerful New Play

The cool cane saved the day yesterday as we attempted to enjoy some spontaneous entertainment. It was an interesting evening which left us with lingering heavy thoughts.

Late in the afternoon, I got a message from a good friend who always seems to know what is going on in town: If you guys don’t have plans tonight-- I suggest a trip to Woolly Mammoth for its pay what you can preview of Antebellum-- we went last night-- original new play with some interesting and heavy themes- racism nazism war and hollywood to mention a few.

I was somewhat bored and declared that we should go. What we didn’t realize was that most everyone else was already in line at 5:30 to get the pay-what-you-can tickets given out at 6:30 for the 8:00 performance at Woolly Mammoth. By the time we got to the box office window at around 6:45, they seemed only to have standing room tickets available. We looked rather forlorn, knowing that neither of us was up for standing through the entire performance. But then the ticket person said to me, “Is he with you?” as he pointed at David and I stood there with my striped cane. When I nodded affirmatively, he pulled out box tickets reserved for handicapped people and said, “Enjoy the show.”

Along with many others, we dined at Teaism and waited for time for the show.

By 8:00 the theater was packed with almost no empty seats and about 25 people standing to see the premier of Robert O’Hara’s new play Ante Bellum. It’s a complex play that strangely juxtaposes the premier of “Gone with the Wind” in Atlanta in 1939 with scenes from Nazi Germany. It seems that before the war many African-American jazz musicians fled discrimination in the US to move to Germany, where they were (and once again are) welcomed. But with the rise to power of the Third Reich, they fared no better than Jews as Hitler attempted to purify the Aryan race. They were often sterilized and imprisoned.

Much of the story is told through one such musician, who suffers at the hand of the Nazis but then appears in Atlanta on the opening day of Gone with the Wind. Through a series of flashbacks we see what happened in Germany and how it relates to the scene in Atlanta, much of which takes place in a Jewish family’s house.

The heavy subject matter involves homosexuality, nudity, self-mutilation, gender-changing, suicide, and betrayal. But there are also scenes that show incredible love. There are discussions of racism and anti-Semitism along the way.

It’s an action-packed couple of hours. The many intricate relationships are finally made perfectly clear by the last scene, which is something like the final act of a Shakespeare tragedy. Definitely a play that makes you think.

We stayed afterwards for a discussion with the playwright and the theater’s artistic director, during which they asked the audience for their feedback. It was so interesting to see scenes being altered as people made excellent suggestions.

By chance we ran into Aileen of Infinite Connections, who was one of those in line at 5:30. Next time we will know that no one in Washington ever waits until the last minute for such a deal as this. People naturally line up early for a bargain. And this was just that, thanks to my cool cane.