Friday, July 31, 2009

The Signature Exercise

The best possible reminder that I am not OLD is a trip to Detroit, where we inevitably end up spending a lot of time with my 94-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in an assisted living facility.

We drove out to Motown yesterday, wanting to pay her a visit and to attend an old friend’s daughter’s wedding. It was my first big trip away from home after my January accident. Not exactly a Garden of Eden, but definitely a change of scenery.

Although my mother-in-law looks pretty good for her age, she can’t hear squat and has no short term memory, and actually not much memory at all. We must have already answered the question about what our children are doing at least 6 times, each time seeing her marvel at the fact that they are no longer in school and then asking if they are seeing someone. It’s sort of like an infinite loop tape.

We all took in an early Shabbat service, which was fairly short and authentic except for the fact that they served cranberry juice so the blessing was not borei p’ri hagafen but whatever the equivalent for cranberries is.

We hung out on the porch for a while on a beautiful warm summer day, with my mother-in-law repeatedly asking if it had started to rain yet. This family is preoccupied with the weather and even a threat of rain.

The only thing we really wanted to accomplish today was to get my husband’s name on his mother’s checking account, along with his sister who has power of attorney since she is local. He had been assured it was an easy transaction, not necessarily involving his mother.

But nothing is so easy. The good news is the Comerica bank is just next door to the assisted living facility. The bad news was after waiting 45 minutes he and his sister were told their mother must not only be present, but must also sign 10 forms.

So after lunch we proposed a field trip in her wheel chair. It was actually a pleasant walk to the nearby bank. But once inside it seemed like a daunting and unnecessary task to get her signature on 10 copies of the same document. The bank also sent my husband back to the assisted living facility to bring back proof of who his mother was since some record they had showed her as deceased -- go figure!

She was a good sport about all those signatures, going from “I can’t see” to “Make the first D for me” to just signing her name in what is still a very beautiful penmanship. It occurred to me that a good exercise for an older person might be signing his or her name 10 times a day at the spot marked with an “X”.

So I once again thank God I’m not yet old and ask that he not gradually take my mind away. Instead let me be like the 100-year-old woman who sat in the back at Shabbat service, heard and processed every word, and then politely wheeled herself (with her walker) back up to her room after the service was over.

The birds are still around, some of them undoubtedly having outlived residents who were there when we visited last November.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mystery person

I realized how very foolish it sounded when I walked in and said, “I’m meeting someone here for lunch, but I don’t know what she looks like, so I don’t know if she’s here yet.” The hostess at Restaurant Eve asked if I would like to sit in the bar (above) and wait for this mystery person to arrive/find me.

I was having lunch with a Blogger I had admired for a long time, but never met in person. It’s funny that you get those same jittery feelings you have when you go out on a first date. Is my hair OK? Lipstick on? Followed by – How will I know this person?

But then the so-put-together LA of Lacochran walked right up to me and said, “Barbara?” and I knew we would be fine.

She related her good luck of getting change and donations for the parking meter. I mentioned I was parked directly out front. And we never stopped talking for the next hour and a half. I remembered later stories I never even finished. Does this mean I’m getting senile? But there was just so much to say.

Oddly enough our conversation was that of old friends, not new acquaintances. It covered the DC Blog scene, of course, as we each observed how very young most local Bloggers are and did the “Do you know...” thing. I’m sure I’m way out there as an outlier on the age curve. She’s comfortably more in between, and depending on the day of the week, her brain age is apparently down there with the younger generation. We each did a quick run-through of our life history, hitting the highlights, and noting we have a lot in common as we both spent many years in the computer world.

Meeting LA made me realize just how much I value the people in my life. The music and books and activities can go by the wayside, but please leave me the people. I’m anxious to get back into the DC Blogs scene, not necessarily to go to the noisy happy hours, but just to connect and reconnect with people like Lacochran, who provides me with something to think about most every day and occasionally says things like “Just because your hair is looking good today...” that makes me run to the mirror and see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's hear it for Zappos

After wearing the same pair of lace-up athletic shoes for most every day of the past 6 months, I could stand it no longer. I ventured out to Comfort One in search of shoes that could accommodate my orthotics, had good support, and didn’t look like something an 80-year-old would choose -- a hard set of requirements.

I had gone online earlier and found that Comfort One now carried a brand called Aetrex that looked promising. And sure enough, it was that group of shoes that immediately attracted me when I walked into the Old Town store. Despite the fact that my salesman was more interested in talking on his cell phone and they seemed to be out of my size in most styles, I managed to find the double-strapped Julia in black that would work well with pants or skirts in a variety of settings. (Those are my new custom Solo orthotics that cost 4 times as much as the shoes.)

I also fell in love with green Lizzy, which was nowhere to be found in my size in any store in the DC metro area.

So back online when I got home, I discovered that Zappos not only had my size, but their price was a full $30 lower than that of any of their competitors. I ordered the adorable Lizzys with the customary 4-5 day shipping, figuring they would be here by the time I got back from our road trip to Detroit next Monday.

But low and behold almost immediately I got an e-mail from Zappos saying they had significantly upgraded my shipping for who knows what reason, and miraculously the shoes appeared at my door the next day. They are probably quite impractical with their white meshy toes, but they are just so cute and such a nice shade of green.

The other thing I really like about Zappos is their policy of free shipping BOTH WAYS. So if I try on my new shoes and decide I don’t like them or they don’t fit, they can be returned at no cost to me. I call that excellent service.

Why would you want to drag into a shoe store to try to find shoes that are no longer in stock when Zappos will deliver those shoes to your doorstep the very next day and charge you less for them?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not ready for the junk yard yet

Waiting for the results of the yearly inspection of my 1985 Volvo wagon is like waiting for a biopsy report as I wonder whether it will make it just one more year. This time around it failed on two counts: front brakes and a cracked left front “marker” light.

The brakes are no surprise because I just assume that with a Volvo you repair the brakes every year. For some reason they seem to eat them up as no other car does.

I figured the cracked lens on the light would be a few bucks to replace. But then I remembered Volvos are never cheap. The independent mechanic near our house said he could get a new or used light for $225. To me that sounded like a lot of money for a small piece of plastic.

I decided to check the Internet and sure enough I found Lamar Automotive, a junk yard in Pittsburgh, Kansas, where I spoke to a nice mid-western guy named Don who seemed to live, speak, and breathe Volvos. He had the same light assembly for a mere $75.

So last week I took a pink slip on the inspection, meaning I had 10 days to complete it, and ordered the part from Don in Kansas. The little box came yesterday and the old wagon is once again legal.

While I had it in, I asked them to repair the sagging glove compartment, which they glued and taped, sending it home like this for the glue to dry.

I applied a fresh batch of duct tape to the trim on the right side of the car, which would otherwise have fallen off a long time ago.

Even though this is one of those cars that would probably qualify for the Fed $4,500 voucher toward the purchase of a more fuel-efficient car, I would give it up with reluctance because it is so dependable. And I never have that new-car worry about someone banging a door into it. At 24 years, it just doesn’t matter any longer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A cute little face

Today we got a glimpse of what grandchildren might be like. Our cleaning person brought her daughter Stephanie with her and initially left her sleeping in our laundry room.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for the year-old baby to wake up in our strange dark laundry room, but she seems to have survived quite well.

Jake is totally accepting of this new little person, occasionally going over to sniff her.

She watched me intently as I ate my lunch, so I made her a tortilla with melted cheese that she eagerly consumed.

If I ever do have grandchildren, I hope they are as well behaved as this little girl, who seems content to babble to herself as she sits on our family room couch waiting for her mother to finish her work.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A changing of the guard

As a child I alway had trouble letting go of a teacher at the end of the year. I was sure I could never have another teacher as good as Ruby White, my first grade teacher, wishing I could stay in her class forever. I find that I still cling to a good teacher decades later. And so it was with great reluctance that I said goodbye to our rabbi Toby when she recently moved on from Temple Micah.

I harbored a certain amount of distrust and suspicion over the circumstances of her departure and had already convinced myself that whoever took her place could never fill her shoes in actuality.

Then I showed up at Friday night services last week for the first glimpse of our new rabbi Esther. She’s 35, beautiful, and full of enthusiasm. She instantly remembered my name as she shook my hand, seeming to welcome me as much as I was welcoming her.

Her remarks on the week’s Torah portion were brief but well spoken. As we begin the book of Deuteronomy, she said that it’s all about teaching, as Moses tries to give a crash course in Jewish history to the new generation who are about to cross into the Promised Land. Just as Moses attempted to give them a religious grounding, she said our job today is to try to discover what it means to say “I was at Sinai” when in fact none of us was there. The challenge is to make the Torah’s story our own.

There’s a certain essence of Toby that will never be replaced by Esther, but I am now convinced that at the end of the day I will be equally attached to this new person who has come to teach and lead and console us. Her obvious love of music will also serve her well as she assumes her new role at Temple Micah.

Welcome to Rabbi Esther, Temple Micah’s new reigning queen!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Canine Geriatrics

When we buy a dog, we simply must accept the fact that its life cycle is 7-10 times shorter than ours. I’ve suddenly become aware that Jake is surpassing me in age and it scares me.

A month or so ago I watched him stumble coming up the stairs. He doesn’t hear us when we come home sometimes. He can’t always see me throw his Kong and must find it by smell.

His big brown eyes seem to have a glaze over them. I suspect he has cataracts. Surgery to remove them would be prohibitively expensive.

I face this sort of situation every time something goes wrong with my 24-year-old duct-taped Volvo wagon. But I continue to decide to invest in its future because it is so low maintenance and it never leaves me stranded, although losing it will not be an emotional loss when it happens.

So do I make a similar decision for an 11-year-old dog? He’s not in any pain, but his vision is really compromised. Cataract surgery in dogs is not without risk and the cost is unquestionably high. I guess the question is whether or not it will significantly improve his quality of life during his remaining years.

Any advice?

Friday, July 24, 2009

5 Little Words


Bozoette offered to throw out 5 words to anyone who wanted a writing challenge, so I said sure. They came with no real instructions, so here goes.

Family can be the cause for extremes in emotions in our household at least. Both love and hate bubble to the surface when we are all thrown together as we learn how to exist together once again. I find myself trying to right the wrongs of decades as I sometimes struggle to make sure love wins out in the end. I think I’m going to adopt the attitude of fellow Blogger Kellyann, who recently commented, “I tell my family that we don’t have the luxury of being offended at each other.”

My mother was a role model for community service. I was sometimes jealous that she spent so much of her time helping others, as though she was really neglecting me, her only child! But now I find I must have gotten that gene, because nothing makes me happier than reaching out to the larger community and giving someone a hand. I read to children in a homeless shelter in Anacostia as my current service to the community. It’s definitely a win-win activity.

Who ever heard of organic when we were growing up? We shopped at the Piggly Wiggly and collected our Green Stamps, with little thought to how the food was grown or where it had come from. But things have changed. Movies like Food Inc. have convinced some of us that it’s worth the extra price to be rid of the pesticides and anything else that might make food seem more perfect that it is. We would like to think that much of what we eat was either in the ground or running around happily eating grass fairly recently and quite close to home.

Playing music is an important part of my life these days. For many years I was a “closet” pianist, not really wanting anyone other than my family to hear me play. When I was a teenager, my mother tried to get me to enter a piano competition. I lay awake nights worrying about it and finally said NO, to her dismay. As an adult, I have learned how much fun it can be to share music in an unthreatening setting. But most importantly, I have learned to play with others. That experience is perhaps the ultimate in a dance partner as you take turns leading and following. The result is richer than either instrument would ever be by itself.

The last word -- light -- throws me for a loop. In trying to discover my own personal connection to it, I came to realize just how many meanings the word can have. I have a light-colored dog named Jake. I can drink a Coors Light. On most days I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Occasionally someone or something lights my fire. I am a Blogging light-weight, compared to many with a much bigger following.

Well, that was fun. For once, I didn’t start the day with a blank slate, but rather my slate had 5 words on it. Want some words? Just let me know!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wolftrap 2009

The good news is it didn’t rain last night as we sat out under the stars listening to Jackson Browne at Wolftrap. The bad news (lesson learned) is that people dump tickets at face value or less on the day of the concert, especially if it looks like it might rain. (File that one away as a reminder to my zealous husband who easily falls prey to scalpers.)

We arrived 45 minutes early so we could stand around waiting at the front of the crowd who were preparing for the mad dash onto the lawn so they could position their blanket in the center. (I love the guy below who definitely knew how to chill out while waiting in line.) As I lay back later listening, I realized that I would have heard the exact same thing from the side.

Our picnic would easily have stood up to the scrutiny of any gourmet cook: chicken-apple pate, homemade guacamole, Israeli couscous salad, homemade vegetarian lasagna, and a host of leftover desserts from our dinner party the night before. But the coolest thing of the evening (for me) was the inauguration of our new wine sticks that eliminate the need to balance your wine glass on a hill. Even neighboring quilts noticed and commented on them. Hill’s Kitchen, once again!

The guy half of the couple we were with and I admitted to thinking Jackson Browne was from a different race prior to last night’s concert. Obviously we were not long-time devotees. He said he recognized one song. I actually recognized 5 or 6 songs and found myself standing, swaying, clapping, and singing along with songs like “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.”

It was an entertaining evening. Part of the fun of going to Wolftrap is spending time with friends in a beautiful setting. Obviously a lot of other people had the same idea.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A not-so-pleasant memory

When I woke up this morning, my stomach had a strangely familiar feeling that I hadn’t experienced for about 25 years. Then when I realized I was thinking about Perrier and saltines, I remembered the last time I had felt this way and immediately said NO WAY. The possibility of my being PR was about as likely as a virgin birth.

As I recall it was the battle of the hormones that was responsible for morning sickness. But I had thought all those guys had given up the ghost a long time ago, when it looked like they would no longer be needed.

So what could possibly be responsible for my queasy stomach? Could I possibly be sympathetic with Lacochran, who wrote about struggles with motion sickness yesterday?

Obviously I have no answers. I don’t even have any Perrier or saltines. But if this continues, I may just have to buy some.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rules of engagement

Here’s a question about the ethics of being a friend: If 2 of your mutual friends part ways because one of them offended the other, do you side with the offended friend and drop the other one or do you maintain neutrality?

A couple of years ago when an issue arose between two people I knew quite well, I was surprised that the one assumed I would join her in disconnecting with the other. In fact, when I chose not to, she reminded me for weeks thereafter that she couldn’t understand how I could continue to have contact with the other person.

I’ve always been of the mind that if my dog wasn’t in the fight, I was not taking sides. In fact, if I had followed that person’s rule, I would be minus at least two friends I dearly treasure. And when the “stick-together” friend dumped me, I would also have lost a number of close friends if they had been of her mindset.

So when this sort of thing comes up, I usually run the other way, not even wanting to know about the offense for fear I will be caught up in the unhappiness. I’m no Pollyanna about relationships, but I do insist on being personally wronged before ending a friendship. And I usually give someone the benefit of the doubt, encouraging a complete exchange before declaring the end.

So if you can follow this tangled trail of logic, where do you stand on being a good friend? Any thoughts?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Doctor My Eyes

Suffice it to say I live with a very determined person, who is never dissuaded by “No more tickets available.” When he went online a couple of weeks ago to order lawn seat tickets for the Jackson Browne concert at Wolftrap this week, there was nothing left. Nada. Nothing under the stars. Nothing inside.

But he has since been following the offerings on Craig’s List and eBay, talking to some surly people who are out to make a killing and today some nicer people who just want to unload tickets at a much smaller profit.

“How much are you willing to spend?” he hit me with this morning, figuring this was the day to clinch the deal. “I don’t care. Ask K and B (the couple we are going with),” I replied, not wanting to be the cause of paying too much or too little.

About 2 hours ago, he scored 2 lawn tickets, knowing we really needed 4, to which I said, “Well, now at least you and K can go,” since the 2 of them are the most enthused about this concert.

Just 30 minutes later, 4 lawn seats came online at an even lower cost. So he bought them, meaning we have gone from 0 to 6 tickets. Unfortunately we have not had an exchange with the eBay seller, and as far as she is concerned there is no rush since she has our money. So the quandary is whether to trust that she is legit and then figure out what to do with the first 2 tickets.

Calling the first guy back and politely giving them back (since he doesn’t yet have our money) seems a rather sleazy option, but it would save us a trip to McPherson Square tomorrow at noon to pick them up and it would save trying to find 2 other people to use them. Or I suppose we could join the fray and advertise those tickets, helping to defray the cost of the 4. Decisions!

It’s feast or famine in the ticket world these days. I’m sure people are getting rich over buying up tickets like these and selling them to suckers like us.

One way or the other we will be sitting on the lawn Wednesday night (hopefully not under umbrellas) and crooning along with Jackson as he sings all those old songs we know and love.

Want to join us? We have 2 tickets for sale -- cheap!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A video for everything

We’ve come a long way in the way we learn how to do new things. Like how to butterfly a chicken, for example.

My husband recently took a class on grilling at Hill’s Kitchen, where one of the things they made was BBQ chicken. Instead of cooking the pieces separately, the idea was to cook the whole chicken as one big piece. This required removing the backbone and smashing the remaining chicken carcass flat.

He knew basics of what to do, but couldn’t quite remember the details. In the old days, he might have consulted a cookbook or called up a friend who had good culinary skills. But today I came down to find him with the whole chicken on a cutting board and kitchen shears in hand as he watched a U-Tube video of how to butterfly a chicken.

The finished product looked every bit as good as the one in the movie and tasted even better!

There’s probably not much that someone hasn’t recorded at this point.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fair warning

Thanks to Trapster, I am a reforming driver. This newest app on my iPhone may be depriving the DC Government of revenue, but it is making me a better driver.

Just yesterday I read in Merle Sneed’s Blog about an iPhone application that was infuriating DC’s Police Chief Cathy Lanier because people were being warned about police cameras and traps.

I mentioned this to my husband, who is an iPhone app expert, and as of today it was installed on my phone.

I just came back from my first trip into DC, where I was alerted to all sorts of places to get caught on camera or radar. The phone actually speaks to you with phrases like “Police often hide up ahead” and “Approaching red light camera”. In each case, the phone displays a map showing the exact location.

The overall effect was that of making me more cautious and observant in general, and specifically at the places indicated.

So back to the question of why these traps exist in the first place. Is it because the DC Government wants to educate those of us who drive there? Or is it simply a matter of revenue?

I’m more than ready to quit starring on Candid Camera and now I have help to keep me off the show!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The question of updates

I’m sure people fall into two distinct groups – those who install software upgrades immediately and the rest like me who put them off as long as we can.

I’m generally of the mind that if my computer seems to be running just fine, I don’t see the need to change anything. So I continue to say “Not now” when asked. I wonder if there is a “Not now” counter that eventually just does it instead of asking any longer?

I can guarantee that my techie husband is of the first group who always wants to be on the cutting edge of things. He would probably be as embarrassed as hell if someone saw on their statcounter that he was running an older version of Firefox. Heaven forbid!

I seriously doubt I have missed out on much by not being software current. But maybe I will just kindly say “OK” the next time I am asked. But then again, maybe not.

Which group do you fall into?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Next up on the reading pile

I’m finally getting around to reading this classic. But why now, you might ask, would I begin a 1069-page book that has been around since 1957?

As I was sitting at the allergist’s office waiting for the reaction that never comes, I noticed a fellow patient who had made it almost to the end of this book. So I ventured to ask her if it was worth it and she gave me an honest positive review.

That was enough to send me to the public library on the way home, only to find that all 20 copies were either checked out or on hold. It immediately piqued my curiosity as to why a 50-year-old book would be so popular. Then I remembered those summer reading lists and realized those 20 copies were probably languishing on some rising seniors’ bedroom floors.

The first time I remember hearing about Atlas Shrugged was when my best friend FL and I were in 9th grade. Her older brother, who was probably the smartest kid to ever grow up in our town, had recommended it to her. I wonder if she finished it back then or later or not at all.

Back home Amazon gave me a choice between new with free shipping or used with $4 shipping that both ended up at around $8. So I now have a thick new paperback just ready and waiting.

Have you read it? Was it worth all those pages and all that tiny print? I’ll let you know what I think 1069 pages from now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


It’s so funny how life can seem like such a drag one day, and the next the sun has come out. Here are some snippets of my life that are putting a smile on my face.

-- My friend Anon F is back from her vacation and we have resumed our frequent communication.
-- I suggested a new class at Hill’s Kitchen on dog food making. The chef instructor was very enthusiastic and we have have started bouncing around some ideas. My thought is to demonstrate making Jake-style dog food, dog biscuits, and yogurt to put on top of the dog food. Each participant could take home a legitimate “doggy bag!” I’m not sure what role I will play in teaching the class, but I hope I can be involved.
-- My homemade pickles are deliciously sour and sweet at the same time.
-- I’m hoping to take a bus trip some time in August to Western Massachusetts to visit my Blogger friend Pauline. With any luck, I can see another Blogger friend Steve in NYC for lunch and maybe a look at some prize graffiti.
-- Perhaps a trip to SF in September, depending on my daughter’s availability. I hope to see at least 3 Blog-related friends there.
-- In addition to my long-time musical partner Deborah, I am now playing with a violinist. I got to play for an hour or so with each of them today.
-- My PT friend is coming over this weekend to give me some help with a knee problem that has been making it difficult for me to take long walks. Hopefully he can tell me what to do to strengthen the ligaments that are getting strained. In return, I’ve invited him to dinner.
-- I got to eat some fabulous food my husband brought home from a grilling class tonight. Who knew that BBQ could be so good?!
-- We are going to dinner with good friends on Friday at Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen in Fredericksburg (named one of the top 10 farm-to-table restaurants in the US).
-- I get to go to my Blogger friend Kristin’s ice-cream-for-100 party this weekend, followed by a Temple Micah progressive dinner on Capitol Hill.

Nothing is forever, so I know this surge of happiness isn’t permanent. But I’m really enjoying it while it lasts!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thai Cooking

I thought I knew what good Thai food should taste like. I had worked for a couple of weeks in Thailand. I had eaten at countless Thai restaurants in this country. I had even cooked Thai food from time to time. But until tonight I had never eaten Thai food that was as good as what we made at our Thai cooking class at Hill's Kitchen.

The menu was green curry, pad Thai, and sticky rice with mango. In each of the 3 dishes the flavors were subtle but each ingredient did its part to make the resulting dish close to perfect.

There was no rocket science about any of the recipes, just a lot of ingredients and a lot of prep. Given my proximity to a first-class Thai grocery store, I’m pretty sure I could duplicate any of these 3 recipes from central Thailand and get rave reviews.

So what were the lessons of this class?

-- Instead of using a knife to peel ginger, use the side of a spoon to scrape off the outer layer.
-- For NEW rice, the ratio of rice to water is 1 to 1-1/2; for OLD rice, it is 1 to 2. Unfortunately in this country it is difficult to know which kind of rice you have.
-- Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking.
-- For sticky rice, soak it for at least several hours prior to use. Do NOT rinse it.
-- Lemongrass is like the bay leaf of Thailand. You should use the portion from where it becomes hollow down to the base, split lengthwise.
-- For best results, soak the cubed tofu in salty hot water for 30 minutes prior to its use.
-- The secret of good pad Thai is having all the ingredients ready to be added in order. The entire cooking time is only a couple of minutes.

The class was taught by Brock Kuhlman, a chef who has the unique ability to be able to think and talk constantly while he is cooking. His background in food science, as well as a degree in culinary school and experience working in a top-notch local restaurant effectively eliminate his need to ever say “I don’t know.” His recent trip to Thailand, where he got rave reviews on his cooking from the locals, attests to the authenticity of his Thai food.

I had cooked good Thai food prior to taking this class, but I’m convinced I can make even better Thai food after this demonstration.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Vacation by Design

I’ve been a little down in the dumps over my first summer in as long as I can remember with no vacation. I feel jealous as I watch friend after friend go to exotic places.

There are a lot of complicating reasons why we have no plans. My husband has a problem with nerves in his feet that makes it difficult for him to stand for a long time or to walk very far. I’m still not 100%. And our son is in the process of moving back and resuming life as a student. So about the most we can muster is a trip to Detroit for a friend’s daughter’s wedding and believe me, that is no vacation.

My husband has been increasingly aware of my funk over being homebound. He suggested that we go to Chautauqua later in the summer. But for me Chautauqua is about playing chamber music with my friend Deborah and the others and that is next week. It’s also about sharing a house with friends and taking turns cooking. I don’t go there only to become an expert on World Peace (week 7) or Cuba (week 8), although those are great subjects to learn more about.

He then suggested that we go to Vieques, an island off of Puerto Rico, where we enjoyed several vacations with our children. But after having 4 melanomas removed, I am reluctant to sign on for a vacation in the sun.

So I started thinking about what my ideal vacation might be like and quickly realized it would be all about ME. My hypothetical vacation site would offer massage, yoga, swimming, even PT, and meditation during the day. It might be nice to be able to take easy walks in a beautiful place. At night there might be a choice between playing chamber music with other people and crafts as hokie as lanyard making. An opportunity to cook good nutritious food would be nice, but just eating such food without cooking it would be just fine. It would be great to include my spouse in this nirvana of a place, but that wouldn’t have to be a requirement.

In light of the fact that I don’t know where I would ever find such a place or be able to afford it, the next best and most realistic thing seems to reschedule my cancelled trip to San Francisco to see my daughter. I have a free round trip ticket good for a year. She originally offered me a place to stay. I have several Blogger friends there whom I’m still dying to meet. I’m simply waiting for my daughter’s invitation.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to having lunch with a local Blogger I’ve admired for many years. It may well be a summer about small local pleasures such as this one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Using Local Produce

When I showed up today for my class at Hill’s Kitchen on Farmers’ Market Cooking, I was initially somewhat disappointed to see that the two main dishes were ones that I considered pretty much staples at my house. I thought I was coming to find out what to do with the weird things like turnips and kohlrabi and dandelion greens.

But I had already come to appreciate the fact that if you carry away even one new technique from a class, it’s well worth the money. During the course of today’s class I learned that onions need to be cooked very slowly, that garlic should never be cooked over high heat, and that tomatoes and peaches peel easily if an “X” is cut in the bottom before they are dipped into boiling water.

The Israeli Couscous with Onions, Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Feta was quite an elaborate and time-consuming recipe as compared to my one-pan version that takes about 20 minutes start to finish. As skeptical as I was, I must admit that the recipe where all the ingredients were cooked separately and were then combined was far superior to mine.

The Swiss Chard with Almonds and Raisins had the nice touch of red pepper that gave it extra flavor. But otherwise it was not significantly different or better than my version. I actually tried using ginger last night in a similar recipe and it added good flavor.

The baked fruit was quick and easy and deliciously enhanced by a cinnamony Greek yogurt sauce.

This class confirmed for me that I am already a fairly good and adventurous cook. But I can’t quite picture myself standing up in front of a dozen or so people trying to be convincing about what I was doing. I haven’t been to culinary school. In fact I haven’t even taken a course on knife skills. But it turns out I do have good instincts when it comes to food.

Kudos to today’s chef who did a good job convincing everyone to buy local seasonal produce, especially now when it’s so bountiful!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


My son went back to Germany today for a few weeks before returning for good to get a masters in law at GWU. Among other things, he left behind this rather large pile of foreign coins, mostly of the EU variety. While cleaning up in the way mothers are used to doing, I pondered over these coins as I collected them from the far corners of his room.

I was first perplexed as to why someone would use up scarce weight in a single suitcase with so many coins that can’t even easily be spent in this country. Many are of the smallest denomination.

Then I reflected on the fact that so many men bring coins home only to unload their pockets and never spend them. Even today I spend my coins, this past week paying for a cappuccino in Peregrine with a baggy of coins. But men just don’t do that. Can anyone tell me why?

I wondered if there was any place here to redeem these coins, to turn them into dollars. I’m sure this pile represents many dollars, but who would want them enough to make the swap?

Should I wait until he comes back again in 3 weeks? He cannot possibly have amassed so many coins by then, but my guess is the pile will definitely be bigger.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sex and Grandchildren

One of my most memorable disagreements with my mother was over her policy that NO unmarried couples could sleep together in our house. I wasn’t even asking for myself, but rather for friends who had been living together for several years. At that point, I determined never to make an issue of this for friends or family when I was in a position to make rules of my own. In fact, I vowed to eliminate rules altogether to the degree possible.

This has not yet been an issue in our house. My unmarried adult daughter and I have agreed not to talk about sex at all at her request. But I found myself talking about this very issue with my unmarried adult son, offering that he could sleep with anyone of his choosing under our roof, no questions asked. My husband chimed in to relate the story of how we had cheated when we stayed with my parents before we were married.

I talked about this and lots of other things today with my good friend as we picnicked beside the river. As we feasted on the leftovers from our refrigerators and listened to the water lapping at the shore, we got around to the topic of grandchildren.

Neither of us has any and we are both very much looking forward to the day when we too can pull out our little albums of the latest photos or spoil our grandchildren like all grandparents do.

Her children never fail to remind her how her attitude toward grandchildren has changed. Apparently when her oldest daughter was in middle school one of her classmates turned up pregnant. The girl’s mother took her out for ice cream because she would now be adding income to their family. My friend’s admonishment to her 3 girls was “Don’t bring me any grandchildren to raise!”

And they all heeded her words. But it is so funny how time changes such rules. We both acknowledged how much we look forward to those little people running around in our houses under just about any circumstance. It would seem that retirement is well suited to enjoying one’s grandchildren. We’re ready!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's a small world

I had completely forgotten about the Congressman next door who used to show up on the doorstep of our group house with a bottle of wine and his guitar when his wife went out of town. But today at my piano lesson I was reminded of my flirtatious neighbor.

I had brought a new piece -- William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag -- to my lesson. I had a question about syncopation. My teacher has a network of musician friends she calls when she doesn’t have the answer herself. She called her friend of 30+ years SS, who had played the rag and knew exactly how it was supposed to sound.

But I was more impressed that she knew SS than the fact that she had managed to answer my question. It seems that was the wife of the neighbor who went roaming when she left town. And they apparently are still together. My teacher and I shared stories that confirmed we were dealing with the same man.

I was reminded of him ordering take-out Chinese food and inviting all 5 of us over to dinner. I remember admiring the beautiful piano in the living room; he said his wife was a serious musician. One girl stayed behind after the rest of us left.

He regularly played tennis with another one of the girls at a prestigious NW DC tennis club. In fact, he gave her a tennis dress for her wedding present. He did invite us to a high-brow party around his backyard pool. His wife SS was always very cool to us, the 20-something girls in a neighborhood where most people owned their own homes.

He took each of us out to lunch at least once. I distinctly remember him asking me if I were a Seven Day Adventist or some religious zealot, perhaps because I seemed the most prudish of the lot. I had to laugh at what he didn’t know about me.

It turns out to be a very small town after all. I sent my greetings with my piano teacher to the man and his wife, reminding her to tell him the religious girl next door from 1973 said hello.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cooked cabbage my way

I had never made stuffed cabbage before, but a head of cabbage in our CSA share and a package of Polyface ground beef inspired me to try. A Google search for recipes suggested that just about every culture has its version of stuffed cabbage. This recipe is my own adaptation of the Jewish version, modified to use what we had on hand.

Stuffed Cabbage

green cabbage

1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup rice (uncooked)
2 scallions, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 small tomatoes, quartered
tomato paste
fresh basil, chopped
juice of one lemon
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper

To make the sauce, saute onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes, several squirts of concentrated tomato paste, and the remaining ingredients. Cover and let simmer while you prepare the cabbage.

Steam cabbage, peeling off leaves as they are cooked. Meanwhile combine all the filling ingredients, thoroughly mixing them together.

Put a few spoonfuls of filling in a cabbage leaf and roll it up. Place cabbage rolls in a large pan that has a cover. After the stuffing mixture has been exhausted, pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover and cook for 45 minutes under moderately low heat on the top of the stove.

We also had (unpeeled) carrots and kale which had been brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and cooked in a 400 degree oven, allowing 40 minutes for the carrots and 20 minutes for the kale. The carrots are juicy inside and the kale is crisp and paper thin. I credit my daughter for these the carrot-kale ideas.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

To each his own

I have come to realize that volunteering is an individual thing, where one size definitely does not fit all. I was reminded of this today as I talked about various possibilities with a friend over coffee.

She is someone who already generously gives her professional time to several pro bono cases each week, in addition to tithing her money to her church. But she was looking for another opportunity to get involved with the community.

For two years now I have been pushing The Reading Connection as a volunteer opportunity with friends and family. My neighborhood friends seemed concerned about the shelter location in Anacostia. My husband much prefers volunteer work that involves website construction. Another friend I managed to recruit quit saying reading at the shelter felt too much like babysitting. My friend today said she would not be inclined to get involved in anything that involved young children, especially children that were not well behaved. That would definitely leave out my shelter.

She talked about cooking in a soup kitchen one day a week, but I reminded her that she hates to cook. She said she doesn’t mind chopping.

I suggested that we find a family on Capitol Hill that needs ongoing assistance, much as the families I used to sponsor around where I worked in the near-Washington ghetto. She was worried about having to make a permanent commitment, something that could eat into her scarce time.

The bottom line is often time is more precious than money, especially for those who have enough money but not too much time. We must pick and choose those activities that satisfy our need for community service but don’t burden us with commitments. Sometimes it’s a fine line.