Sunday, May 31, 2009

Searching for Zest

Have you ever made a recipe and left out a key ingredient, like lemon zest? The result is acceptable but flat and not nearly as interesting.

I’m feeling a little zestless right now, like I’m missing something in my life that used to be there. I’m trying hard to figure out what it is because I don’t like this feeling.

Even Blogging has suffered. There are days when I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t read Blogs nearly as often as I once did. I read all my comments, but sometimes fail to respond to them. It’s not as though I care any less for my Blogger friends.

If I wake up at night, I find myself hoping it isn’t time to get up yet and I can just drift back to sleep. It used to be the thought of eggs and toast or tea with honey would make me feel excited about getting up.

My days are so predictably filled with the same things. Practicing the piano, exercising, cooking are daily activities. Two sessions of yoga and a piano lesson each week. Wednesday night meditation. Monthly reading at the homeless shelter. Occasionally time to read for myself. It’s not as though I accomplish a whole lot, but I also don’t seem to be sitting around with free time on my hands.

I feel happiest when I am playing music, either by myself or with my friend Deborah.

One of the few things on my horizon to look forward to is the return home of my son from Germany. I’m hoping that will at least temporarily give me a boost.

I don’t feel sad to the point of shedding tears. I simply feel empty. I need to figure out what sort of zest is missing and work to add it back into my life. Maybe it’s the structure of a class. Maybe an art or craft project. Maybe reaching out to people more. Maybe even rediscovering the wonderful qualities of my life partner. Maybe all of these things. I’m on a quest for zest.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Chance Encounter

Somewhat by chance I met someone for the first time tonight only to realize I’ll probably never see him again. I’m thinking I missed out on a very special person.

My friend Deborah plays in multiple orchestras. She managed to find a free ticket for me to hear the McLean Orchestra play tonight. She had also invited Louis, a 92-year-old patient and long-time friend of hers.

The only thing that might make Louis appear even the least bit old is he walks with a cane. He also wears a hearing aid, but he can hear and he is as bright and engaging as they come. Something about Louis reminded me of my father, but he was as talkative as my father wasn’t.

He credits his longevity and good health to Deborah, his doctor for the past 30 years. I found myself saying, “I hope she can keep me going for the next 30 years,” only to realize that she will be 90 by then too and I hope long retired.

She was much more than just a doctor in Louis’ life. He told me her quartet had played at his wife’s funeral. I could tell he really missed his wife.

After talking to this interesting man all evening when the orchestra wasn’t playing, I suddenly realized that I would likely never see him again. He is soon moving to Seattle to live with one of his children, probably about my age.

Our lives intersected for just a few hours. But it was long enough to give me some much-needed inspiration to look positively toward the next 30 years.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Losing a Great Teacher

For months now we have known that we would have to say goodbye to our rabbi Toby sometime this year. The official farewell service was tonight, attended by more people than I have ever seen at a Friday night service. The sanctuary was packed to capacity.

It seemed like just yesterday she was joining the staff, hand-picked by our rabbi Danny. She had never had a congregational position before and we at Temple Micah had never had a second rabbi, so there was a lot of learning for everyone.

But it didn’t take long until she was winning the hearts of young and old. We quickly came to see her greatest strength was in teaching. She made the Torah come alive and learning Hebrew with her was actually fun.

Many of us were in a state of shock when her departure was announced over a year ago. The full story of why it was necessary is still a closely guarded secret among a select few. The rest of us simply know she will soon be gone and we’ve already begun to miss her.

The service tonight was filled with speeches, songs, gifts, clapping, and a standing ovation. When she wasn’t leading the service, Toby was sitting in the front row just taking it all in. There were occasional stray tears, but for the most part she remained upbeat and in total control. I could tell she was extremely touched when 5 teenage girls she had mentored got up and sang a special piece of music to her.

Toby spoke to the congregation at one point, saying she had found God while serving as our rabbi. She thanked us for helping prepare her for her next big step, where she will be The Rabbi of a congregation that worships at the DC Jewish Community Center.

There was no more fitting tribute than the “special prayer” sung by our cantor, which translates as:

Get yourself a teacher; and acquire a friend.
Who is wise? Those who learn from everyone.

She was one of the finest teachers I have ever had. Instead of saying goodbye, I simply said, “Until we meet again,” and I have no doubt we will.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out Damn Spot

The 30 seconds of red dye on the rug refuses to end. Jake never imagined what a chain of events he was unleashing.

After I had worked on the initial spots on the rug, they were far from perfect but they were in a room not often used and I wouldn’t have minded leaving it at that.

But Monday after the cleaning people left, I went upstairs to find a bigger very red spot on the hall carpeting and evidence that some sort of red disaster had taken place in my bathroom. (I remembered I had left the opened package of dye in the trash can in my daughter's room, which they must have been emptying.) Why hadn’t they at least told me about it?

My attempts at dealing with the new red rug spots were futile. So I found carpet remnants in the attic and called a carpet cleaning/repair place which agreed to come out and work on my multiple problems.

Yesterday they did an exceptionally nice job of replacing the damaged red carpeting with pieces of remnants. And they also did a badly needed cleaning of all the upstairs carpeting.

They were just getting ready to leave when they asked my husband to turn on the outside water (which had been turned off over the winter). That’s when all hell broke loose because a pipe had obviously burst.

Within minutes of the tidal wave of water, my husband had turned it off. But the water had already flooded the pantry, his office, and was on its way to other parts of the house.

The carpet guys sprang into action, getting a super wet-vac and 3 giant fans from their truck. They stayed an additional half hour and kept apologizing profusely for asking for the water to be turned on. They left the fans behind to blow all night. I can’t imagine how much worse this would have been if they had not been here.

So days later we continue to pay literally and figuratively for 30 seconds of red dye on the rug. As Gewels said, it’s a good thing he’s a cute dog.

I am going to have to have a serious talk with the cleaning people. Meanwhile I need to review words like alfombra (rug), toallas (towels), cuidado de me casa!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Matchmaker at Heart

We got some good news yesterday to pass along to our son who is planning to go back to school to get an LLM in intellectual property in the fall. A fat letter came from Wash U, his top choice in schools, so we opened it figuring if it were a rejection it would have been very thin. He’s in! Now he must figure out how to pay for another year of law school.

He was so hopeful he would get in that he applied to take the Illinois bar this summer and bought all the weighty books used off Craig’s List in preparation. Like in chess, he things many steps beyond the present.

I happened to remember that my childhood best friend’s daughter is a lawyer practicing in St. Louis, so I called FL up just to see if her daughter was still there. Here’s the story:

Her daughter is 3 months older than my son. She went to Wash U as an undergraduate, then went elsewhere to law school. She returned to St. Louis, where she works in a prestigious firm doing intellectual property law. Looking her up with Google, I see she is just as cute as my friend was and quite accomplished.

So at least I have a great contact for my son as he figures out how to live and go to school in a new big city. They do have a lot in common. I hope they can at least become friends! And if something more happened, would I complain?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An aborted probe

Can you imagine anything worse than going through the hours of prep for a colonoscopy, by far the worst part of the whole ordeal, only to find out it didn’t work? It happened to my husband and thereby started the day off badly for both of us.

He follows medical directions to the letter. So he ate the clear diet all day yesterday, faithfully took the 2 Ducolax pills at 4:00, and then started in on the 4 liters of Trilyte at 6:00, in preparation for an early morning appointment. The idea is this combination of cocktails cleans out your system so that the doctor can see your colon during the procedure. By the time I went to bed at around 10:30, nothing had happened. He talked to the on-call doctor who assured him that it is only about 2 cases out of 4,000 a year their office does that have to be delayed because the prep fails. When he came to bed at 1:00, he was quite uncomfortable, but still nothing was happening. He was obviously extremely constipated to defy that onslaught of flushing. He told me he was going to cancel and that I could just sleep in.

However, I was rudely awakened from a deep sleep because he had been unable to contact the office by phone and wanted me to drive over and tell them he wasn’t coming. I tried to hide under the covers, but he threatened that if he were to go he might have an accident in the car.

So in the middle of flash flooding at 7:30, I dutifully jumped in the car without even brushing my hair and drove to the office to personally beg off for him. I think his real reason for not going was he thought they might insist that he continue drinking Trilyte until his system was cleaned out.

If it had been me, I would certainly have wanted to get the show on the road and over as quickly as possible. But no, he rescheduled for a day next week and now has to do 2 days of prep to get ready. I would be asking for something to calm my nerves in addition to the new Rx of Trilyte if I had to repeat this procedure.

So he can eat again, but he has to live with the anticipation of what's to come next week. We both badly need a vacation, an escape from the reality of our current existence!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A musical mystery tour

Yesterday I thought a lot about pianos. It was the monthly gathering of my musical group “Works in Progess”, where we all play for each other. And our book club was discussing “Grand Obsession” by Perry Knize.

I credit the piano group with making performing FUN for me. For most of my life I had been terrified of playing for others for fear of making mistakes and/or making a fool of myself. But then I found this group of amateurs who get together once a month just to listen to each other and give encouragement. We range in age from 9 to 75+. There is a wide range of experience and skill level. Without a doubt the best player is the 10-year-old girl who plays everything from memory and seldom hits a wrong note. In addition to piano, we get to hear cello and double bass most times.

We each take a turn, with no set order, until everyone who wants to has played. Then we eat decadent food and (adults) drink wine. It is really very civilized and non-threatening.

This was the perfect segue to our book club discussion. Grand Obsession is a non-fiction book that chronicles the author’s rediscovery of music in her forties, her search for the perfect piano, and her extreme measures to make the piano she purchased sound like it did in the NYC showroom.

When I first started the book, I quickly surmised that the only people who would like it were those of us who were musicians, about a third of the group. But I was so wrong. What made the discussion even more interesting was the varied backgrounds of the readers.

I could certainly identify with the author’s experience as she joined a performance group much like ours and began to understand how much better you play if you relax and just trust your fingers to do what they know how to do.

The book was as much about music appreciation as about finding the perfect piano. Here’s a quote (from the book) from David Burton, who often writes on a website called Piano World:

When one sits down at one’s piano and begins to play, there is no idealism to be reached for, the experience is THERE, right now, instantaneous and totally REAL. When one is able to realize with clarity the breathtaking achievements of some great master, to the point where one is almost not conscious of playing as being played by transcendent forces, or even transcendent beings, one is not trying for some ideal, one has achieved a state of being that exists in few other human experiences.

Last night’s discussion touched a lot on vibration. We learned in the book that a room full of pianos will somehow find a common vibration, much as a group of female friends find they have similar menstrual cycles. We talked about how people get good vibes from those of a like mind.

The author is clearly obsessed in her search for perfection, a sound that most people are incapable of identifying. We follow her around the country, to New York, even to Germany and Austria, where her Grotrian piano was made.

We all breathe a sigh of relief when her piano “Marlene” is finally restored to her original beautiful sound. But we also realize just how much we have learned about pianos and music in the course of her odyssey.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In search of color

As I did some Theraband stretches in one room today, little did I know that Jake was tearing open a package of Rit dye he had found among Rachel’s art supplies in her room. It would have to be SCARLET!

After I figured out what he had been up to, I tried my best to pick up the dye crystals on the light-colored carpet. I should have gone downstairs and gotten the vacuum cleaner. But like an idiot I grabbed a wet washcloth, only to see the rug turn a nice shade of deep pink.

Several washcloths later, I resorted to a Clorox solution, which didn’t completely take out the color, but made it a lot less vivid.

You can still see color on his right front leg. I imagine his mouth is red on the inside too. If Rit dye is toxic, it doesn’t seem to be having an immediate effect on the culprit.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Today’s bat mitzvah girl posed this question which our rabbi Toby addressed in her sermon: Why does society still insist on determining who’s Jewish by the way people look and by their last names? The girl herself was blond with blue eyes, hardly the Jewish stereotype. Most people would never know that her last name Korn derived from Cohen, one of the two names that originally could always be determined to be Jewish (along with Levi).

Toby mentioned the usual Jewish sterotype of short, big nose, and dark curly hair. But looking around the Temple Micah congregation today we saw people with Hispanic characteristics, Asian characteristics, and many others that hardly matched and yet they are all Jews.

Perhaps the best part of Toby’s sermon though was the lyrics from Vanessa Hidary’s recent performance of her rap poem “The Hebrew Mamita”:

I meet a guy in a bar that's cute
He wears LL Bean duckboots and guards my bar stool when I have to go pee.
He asks me out to dinner for the following Tuesday.
I decline. Tuesday is Yom Kippur. I will be fasting.
"You’re Jewish?
“Wow! You don't look Jewish.
You don’t act Jewish."
And he says it in this tone that sounds like he's complimenting me.
And I say… And I say…
I say nothing, which when combined with a flirty smile translates to thank you.
I say nothing because I got a contact high off someone’s anti-Semitic crack pipe.
I say nothing because somewhere along my life’s graph I’d been swayed
to believe that being Jewish is not too cool, not too sexy.
I say nothing cause I’m in a deep sleep,
A Snow White coma,
Destined to meet my prince five years later.
In the form of stone, in Jerusalem, in the Wailing Wall.
I place a folded paper with written prayers for the dead, in a nook,
in a nook in the wall, next to a woman with concentration camp numbers
tattooed on her forearm. Surrounded by fervent praying, and bodies
swaying, I am far more awake than I ever thought possible.
I suddenly remember The Exodus of the Israelites,
And I walk barefoot from the wall in the desert to the bar,
And look for the guy with the duckboots.
He’s not there, but I have something to say to him.
He’s not there, so I make a soapbox, and reenact the scene.
Bartender, tell me I don’t look Jewish.
Tell me I don’t act Jewish.
Cause I am thinking, I’m saying,
What does Jewish look like to you?
Should I fiddle on a fuckin' roof for you?
Should I humor you with Oy-Veys, and refuse to pay,
Because you know how we like to Jew you down.
Jew you down? I'd like to throw you down
Cause I walked here, long miles on hot sand,
To publicly repent my sins,
Cause I…
Almost forgot 6 million died without having the option of giggling on bar stools,
Almost forgot that Concentration Camp survivors are now a dying generation,
that my children may never have the sensation
Of seeing in person.
And if you must see me as that blood-sucking Jew,
See me as that pesky mosquito that bites and sucks the prejudice right out of you,
Just feel the need to say I can't be the only exception to the rule,
Just the one right now using my poetry as a tool
To follow KRS-One I will use my gift to only uplift
And maybe change just one heart tonight.
I’m the Hebrew Mamita, long lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah
The sexy oy-veying chutzpa having non-cheaping, non-
conspiring, always questioning, hip-hop listening, Torah Scroll reading,
all people loving, pride filled Jewish girl!
Bigging up all people who are a little miffed,
Cause someone tells you don’t look like or act like your people.
Impossible cause you are your people.
You just tell them they don't look period!

Makes you think, huh? Maybe with a few more generations, we’ll put aside the worn-out stereotypes and just see people without trying to give them labels of Jew, Moslem, Arian, gay, lesbian, homeless, or any of the other unnecessary words like these.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Watch out!

Another new food in this week’s CSA delivery. This time with warning signs that might have caused some to dump it straight into the trash can for fear of being stung.

But I was intrigued by a seemingly harmless looking green plant that might in fact make me feel very uncomfortable if I came into contact with it. So I went online to learn that nettles are in fact a delicacy with a very short growing season. If submerged in boiling water, they quickly lose their sting and can then be made into all sorts of interesting dishes.

I’m always inclined to go for soup, so here is my evolved recipe, which also includes some additional vegetables since I didn’t have as many nettles as the original recipe called for:

Nettle Soup

1/2 pound fresh nettles
8 stalks Swiss chard, chopped
Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 russet potatoes, coarsely diced
4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk

In a large pan, sweat the leeks and onions inn the olive oil over moderately high heat for a few minutes. Add the potatoes, chard, parsley, and broth and cook until the potatoes are soft. Meanwhile, blanch the nettles in boiling water, taking care not to touch them. After 2 minutes remove them and chill in ice water.

Combine the potato mixture and the nettles. Put the combined mixture through a food processor. Return to the large pan. Add the milk and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until bubbling and serve. Garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt.

I find it so interesting that such a threatening food can result in something as delicious as this nettle soup.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A year later and a different teacher

It was just a year ago that I quit taking piano after only 4 lessons with a new teacher. I had played the same piece, or rather one page of it, badly for 4 weeks straight.

I could tell from the first lesson that our chemistry just wasn’t right. She was fastidious, impeccably dressed, and perfectly coifed and manicured. That would have been fine, but she also made me extremely nervous.

She spent a lot of time focusing on my shoulders, how I was holding my hands, how far away from the piano I was sitting, even my glasses -- to the point where I could barely play 3 notes in a row correctly.

I lamely told her the commute was just too great for me. Granted it was 30 minutes in non-rush hour. But ironically my current teacher’s house is just 2 blocks away in the same neighborhood.

This year I have had an entirely different experience. And my lesson today convinced me just how different it has been. I played the same piece -- the Rondo from Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata -- all the way through with very few mistakes after just one week of practice. My teacher was humming along and by the end was singing my praise. Even I was surprised and impressed, given my previous experience.

So what made the difference? Was it the fact that I had just come from water yoga and was totally mellow? More likely it was the fact that Anadel and I simply click. She is supportive and encouraging and full of little tricks to make difficult passages easier and to make any piece sound better. I once asked her how she knew so much about the nuances of the music, to which she replied, “I just make it up.”

There is never a clock ticking when I take a lesson these days. I simply play until I am surprised to hear the next student ring the doorbell. And then I go home determined to try to remember all the things she said as I practice the next week.

What a difference a year can make.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For the sake of appearance

I just realize I haven’t shaved my legs more than twice in the last 3 months. I haven’t worn mascara in at least 6 months. I haven’t bought an article of clothing of any sort since Christmas. And no one has noticed.

When I retired, my plan was to continue getting up every day, showering, dressing in something reasonably nice, putting on make-up, etc. But this has been reduced to changing my underwear daily and doing the rest only as needed.

If I am going out to a class or have the occasional opportunity to do lunch with someone, I consider my appearance, even throwing on some jewelry. But more often than not, that is not the case.

It’s not as though I live alone. In fact I live with someone who has a very rigid morning routine in which he shaves, showers, exercises, dresses, and eats pretty much the same breakfast day in and day out. But I’m convinced he never observes the state of my hair, the absence of lipstick, the old tee shirt I am inclined to wear.

This dangerously reminds me of my mother about the time I started to think of her as OLD and I’m not quite there yet mentally at least.

So I’m trying to figure out how to feel rejuvenated enough to once again care about these things for myself, if for no one else. Maybe I have to take myself shopping and buy something cute and new to wear. Maybe I have to go in and have that makeover I’ve been threatening to have at some Mac counter somewhere. Maybe I have to take the lead more proactively in getting together with friends for lunch or a museum visit.

Now that my broken hip is no longer in the forefront of my mind, perhaps it’s time to once again take some pride in how I look. It’s not as though I need to attract a partner, but just maybe the one I have will even notice if I do this right. (He will definitely notice the Nordstrom charges at least.)

If you want to be part of my rejuvenation plan, just let me know! I’m happy to have company.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wish he could talk

For 11 years my dog Jake has eaten anything put in his food bowl, never begged for more, and basically never made food an issue. But he’s suddenly lost interest in his usual dried food.

This morning after he refused to eat, I offered him some of the Woofy food from Polyface Farm, a mixture of beef and vegetables that looks disgusting, but apparently tastes good to dogs. He ate it and then promptly threw up. Of greater concern, there were flecks of blood in what came up. He has been eating a lot of grass lately.

I’m terribly concerned about what’s going on in Jake’s stomach. So much so that I looked up homemade dog food and found the recipe below.

For now, I’m cooking up some chicken feet into a good stock that I’ll use to make some bland rice for his dinner.

I know dogs go off their food for many reasons. But for one who has always been an eater, it is a great cause for concern. I can only imagine the worst and hope for the best.

Basic Dog Food Recipe

4 cups uncooked rice
9 cups water
1/4 cup oats
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling add:

1/2 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
3 ounces liver, chopped fine
8 ounces ground beef (or chicken or lamb)
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), chopped fine

Stir, turn heat to low, and cook for about 20 minutes until all water is absorbed. Then spread out in flat Tupperware containers, cool and cut into half cup squares. When feeding, add cottage cheese or yogurt, and 1 tsp. supplement mix per 30 lbs of dog weight:

Supplement Mix

1 cup brewer's yeast
1 cup wheat germ
1/8 cup powdered kelp

Monday, May 18, 2009

Someone's Coming

I’m excited and a little apprehensive at the same time about my son coming home. He’s finishing up in Germany and just about to enter a new era of his life with an undefined stop at home on the way.

After teaching English in Germany for well over a year, he is going back to school to get a masters in law. He will have applied to 6 schools, including 2 in the UK, for programs that start in September. So it will be a waiting game to see where he gets in and whether anyone offers him a financial incentive to attend. The latter part would be nice since the bank of Mom&Dad is no longer available to him. Having already seen him through lots of schooling and other endeavors, we all agree it’s time for him to be financially responsible, even if that means taking out more dreaded student loans.

So mid-June he will take up residency in his old room at our house. Jake can barely contain himself since D is his favorite person on the face of the earth.

Things will go well for a couple of days. We may do some cooking together. We can take Jake on family walks. We will definitely go out for Indian food.

Then his lifestyle and ours will have that inevitable collision that always occurs. My husband is better than I am at not being the one to antagonize. Maybe we’ve learned enough from past mistakes to avoid going down the slippery slope that can often follow.

I’m really hopeful we’ll get it right this time and be able to live in harmony for the time he is home before his studies begin in some place yet to be determined. Since I don’t seem to have a lot of travel plans right now (make that none), it will be nice to have company, but even better to have family!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Contented Cows and Others

As we walked around some of the farms that make up the Camp Hill Community in Pennsylvania yesterday, I was constantly struck by how content the animals were. They were clean, quiet, and obviously very happy with their environment.

The cow above is one of the 55 cows that produce the milk that becomes Seven Stars yogurt, delivered by our CSA and also sold by Whole Foods.

A young CSA member was comparing her height to that of a very small and friendly donkey.

These three large and very pregnant sows live together peacefully in the woods on Sankanac Farm, the farm that produces most of our summer produce. Their diet is enhanced by food from organic grocery stores that is destined to be thrown out otherwise. They don't care if the veggies are wilted.

Meet Norbert, a charming goat who was rescued from slaughter and now acts as king of the goats.

This gorgeous black horse pulls a lot of weight on the farm, where mechanization is at a minimum.

Here is a portable chicken coop, pioneered by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, featured in The Omnivore's Dilemma. By moving the chickens around the farm, the farmer can get natural fertilizer and insect control, while giving the chickens a continuous supply of fresh grass to eat.

This hen has more grass than she knows what to do with. Compare her life to that of a Purdue bird, which can barely stand up in its little indoor cage.

Here is a young calf getting acclimated to life on the farm. He/she will soon be turned out to leisurely graze with the bigger ones.

This all seems so idyllic when compared to the large commercial enterprises that produce most of the meat consumed in this country.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On the Road

Between showers we walked around farms in the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside where our CSA bounty is grown. I’m finally starting to understand the concept of biodynamic farming, practices that continue to improve the earth naturally rather than deplete it.

Much of the labor is done by humans, not machines, on these farms. I met a 21-year-old woman who said she had the back of a 50-year-old because of the hard work on the farm.

We learned about Rudolph Steiner’s methods for dealing with insects and fungus and other things that threaten the plants with homeopathic remedies instead of pesticides.

After walking for what seemed like miles, we shared dessert with members of a local CSA. The rhubarb crisp was gobbled up and it was very good.

We’ll head home tomorrow and count the days until those plants we saw today are ready to harvest. It was good to actually see the source of our food.

Tomorrow I’ll share pictures of some adorable and very contented animals which live on these farms.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Something New

Another new vegetable in this week’s CSA delivery. I had never bought or cooked rhubarb before.

In looking for a recipe, I quickly realized they all call for sugar! I try to stay away from refined sugar as much as possible, but the acidic nature of rhubarb seems to make it a necessity.

Here’s the recipe I ended up making:

Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups sliced rhubarb
2 apples, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla


In mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, and cinnamon; mix together until crumbly. Press half of the brown sugar and oats mixture into a buttered 8-inch square baking dish. Top with the rhubarb, apples, and raisins, which have been mixed together.

In a saucepan combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, water, and vanilla. Cook until thickened, then pour over the rhubarb-apple-raisin mixture. Top with remaining crumb mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.

Anything with this much sugar has got to taste good!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scary Closets

Tonight I was terrorized by 4 monsters -- ages 5 to 8. With wonderful ideas from Gary, tonight’s read-aloud at the homeless shelter was all about monsters and the kids loved it.

We started out with Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a young boy Max who is punished by being sent to his room with no supper. His room quickly grows a forest and he sails off in a boat to a land of monsters who crown him king of the monsters. When he banishes them to bed with no dinner, he gets lonely and sails home to find his dinner (still warm) waiting for him.

There’s a Nightmare in My Closet made everyone (including the adult volunteers) think about what has made them afraid from time to time as they are going to sleep. For one girl, it was a wicked pink bunny. For another it was a mean mother.

After another couple of monster books, we moved on to a very clever activity. There was a big poster of one of the monsters who befriended Max just waiting to be colored. When it had yellow eyes and purple horns and red scales, the kids were ready to play pin the tail on the monster. The tails actually consisted of curled ribbon with tape on the end. Our decorated monster ended up with tails in bizarre places and we ended up with 15 minutes left, so each child drew and colored his/her personal monster. There were zombies and snakes and just plain scary figures.

I’ll bet most of us have a nightmare in our closets, something that threatens to haunt us as we go to sleep from time to time. Sometimes these nightmares stay around for a long time unfortunately.

Any monsters haunting you?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the Pink

This is a crazy busy day, but I wouldn’t want to give up anything I’m doing. I much prefer being busy to not having anything on the horizon.

This morning I went to yoga at Temple Micah, a class I recently organized so I could continue practicing with my new teacher Sally, who was so helpful during my recuperation.

Then I played duets with someone from my choir and yoga class. We played a variety of Corelli duets for piano and violin. His dog was our only audience, so we could start over as many times as we wanted to and no one cared. We played the movements marked Adagio and Grave as we're not quite up to Allegro and Vivace yet.

I’m off to pick up the CSA delivery and then take half to my friend with whom I share a membership.

Then at 4:30 we leave with friends for Annapolis, where we will have dinner and then enjoy an evening of music from Vienna Teng:

I am sure I will fall into bed exhausted but content.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying the full force of my favorite azaleas which are dripping with pink blossoms.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Sewing Challenge

Saturday after services when our rabbi Toby asked me if I would mind taking on a sewing project, I was intrigued. There’s nothing I like better than a sewing challenge that requires some thinking and even some hard work.

It seems there is a bat mitzvah for twins in June. We’ve watched these girls grow up at Temple Micah and blossom into young women. But one of them is challenged by CP and is confined to a wheelchair. So for her reading from the Torah presents a somewhat different set of problems.

But Temple Micah is rising to address them. They recently installed an attractive wooden ramp to the bimah. Saturday when that twin came up to help with a part of the service, we all noticed that the reading table can now be lowered for her and then raised again with push buttons.

The task requested of me was to modify the velvet cover of the reading table to allow the push buttons to be more easily accessed and to accommodate her chair (and any wheelchair) under the table.

I basically decided to remake the back of the purple velvet cover. I installed a see-through “window” that will let someone access the buttons. I put in two giant zippers that will allow the center (reinforced with a dowel at the bottom) to be rolled up and secured with Velcro. When the opening is not needed, it can then be zipped back down and will look much as it did originally.

(These pictures all reflect the table in its lowered position.)

I must be out of practice because it took me several hours to make these changes. It was somewhat interesting to see how many different people must have worked on that velvet cover over the years. There were 5 colors of thread and lots of Band-aid jobs. Some of my time was spent redoing the worst of the repairs before I ever got started.

I can’t wait for the day in June when the twins lead the service. I’m sure the strong bond of sisterhood they share will be just as apparent on that day as they read from the Torah. I’m hopeful that the modifications I made will allow the girl with CP to more easily perform her role in the service.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reminders of Motherhood

I always approach Mother’s Day with no expectations. That way I can never be disappointed. But yesterday my children, my husband, and even Jake came through with flying colors.

I woke up to an adorable homemade card from none other than Jake, which included his picture and the message “Woof, woof! Happy Mother’s day. Love, Jake”. He even left me a gift bag containing a device that plugs into my cigarette lighter and allows me to play my iPhone in the car. Now wasn’t that a thoughtful dog!

At 9 AM I got a call from Dan in Germany. I’m sure that took some effort on his part because Mother’s Day is a US holiday I think. We talked about his last few months in Hamburg as he prepares to start graduate school in the fall.

While I was doing laps at the rec center, Rachel called from San Francisco. By the time I called her back, she had fallen back to sleep, so our “real” conversation was delayed a few hours.

My husband had made reservations for brunch at Cafe Belga, one of my favorite Capitol Hill restaurants. It was one of the few beautiful sunny days we have had recently, so we sat outside and enjoyed the spring weather. I had a waffle with roasted tomatoes and goat cheese that was so savory and just perfect for brunch. But the dessert was the best part of the meal. It was a sampling of just about every dessert they serve, including two versions of chocolate mousse, creme brulee, a waffle with chocolate sauce, homemade espresso ice cream, and a few more.

Rachel called back in the evening after she finished studying for her last final. We compared CSA’s, shared our latest cooking adventures, and talked about when she might come home for a visit.

So they all remembered. It felt good to know my family was thinking about me!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Summer of Love

Back in the summer of ’69, we wanted to go to Woodstock in the worst way. We were definitely a product of the music of that time. But Woodstock, NY, seemed like a foreign country when you lived in Tallahassee, FL. So we had to experience the festival vicariously.

As Woodstock turns 40, it looks like there may be some sort of recreation to appeal to those of us who remember those good old days. There are lots of ideas being tossed around by Michael Lang and Joel Rosenman, two of the original organizers, although their inability to agree on anything is getting in the way of pulling something off. It seems Rosenman is the practical member of this duo, and Lang shoots from the hip.

There is the possibility of a concert in Prospect Park in the fall that would accommodate 300,000 people. I’m sure that would sell out completely as people of my generation remember what that summer was like.

But meanwhile there’s a Heroes of Woodstock concert tour (with Jefferson Starship and Melanie) that seems like it’s actually going to happen.

I’m going to dig out my tambourine and an old recording of “Candles in the Rain” just in case. I really don’t want to miss it again.

Doesn’t the '69 picture below of Michael Lang tug at your heartstrings? At age 64, he still sports a shaggy head of hair and an alluring smile.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Limping Along

My confidence in my recovery has been shaken a few times this week with people commenting that I am STILL limping.

I’m never sure whether to remind them it’s been only a little over 3 months since my hip replacement or of the fact that I limped differently if not worse before the fall and subsequent surgery.

These comments from well-meaning friends have made me worry that I’m suddenly getting worse instead of better. I know my gait is a lot more uneven after I get up from sitting for a long time or when I am tired, but I wonder if it’s worse than it was 4 weeks ago? My husband says no, but he is not terribly observant.

I feel like I am doing everything in my power to strengthen my muscles and increase my endurance, but maybe it’s not enough or the right things. I do my PT exercises religiously every day. I do yoga. I do gyrotonics. I swim. I walk. I ride our stationary bike.

I have come to accept the fact that my gait will never be normal. My permanently tilted pelvis and slightly curved spine make normal an impossible goal. At this point, I will accept just reaching the point where my balance is adequate, my legs are strong, and nothing is getting worse.

But for now, it seems like I will need to have a ready answer when well-meaning people express surprise at the fact that I walk with a limp. Maybe someday they will just learn that it’s part of who I am.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Healing Power of Water

I slept like a baby last night. It was a sound and untroubled sleep that let me wake up feeling refreshed and relatively painfree.

Now why might that be? Was it because I had spent the evening at choir rehearsal singing feel-good music? Or because it had finally stopped raining? Or because I’m being extra careful about caffeine?

It was actually because I discovered the wonder of water yoga yesterday. My class was conducted in a relatively small oval-shaped heated indoor pool at the yoga ashram which runs our CSA. There were 6 students in the class and the teacher, Lakshmi, a soft-spoken woman with gentle blue eyes. Just looking at her face puts me into a peaceful state.

We did many of the standard yoga poses, which were adapted for use in the water. In some instances we used a “noodle” to keep our heads above water. In “baby” pose, we actually curled over the noodle with faces in the water to just float, much as a baby would in utero.

It was a real workout for legs, shoulders, abs, you name it. Everyone quickly realized that the water actually allows you to go deeper into many of the poses. Today I have a good feeling of soreness in much of my body.

Shavasana, or final relaxation pose, was done floating on two noodles in the shape of a cross with a small white floatation circle under our heads. It was such a delicious feeling of being suspended in the water that I wished it would never end.

When I walked out of class, my hip felt better than it had in a long time. But in addition to being totally relaxed physically, I had taken on a much-needed mental calm that purged my mind of recent stress.

I ask myself how I was so lucky to find out about this class and think such things may not always be just by chance. Starting down this current CSA road has led me to many wonderful discoveries.

I sent a message of thanks to Lakshmi today and got this reply: With natural "healing", wonders never cease. The water is so very special.

And indeed it is.