Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A sad chapter in our history

I have been utterly ashamed of my country’s use of the Guantanamo Bay Prison for the last decade to hold men’s lives in limbo with no due process to bring their cases to closure.

On Monday yet another story surfaced in the Washington Post that pulled at my heartstrings. It involved two Uighur brothers who simply had ended up in Afghanistan at the wrong time and have as a result spent the last 8 years languishing in Guantanamo.

The Uighurs are an ethnic sect living mainly in Western China. They are relegated to menial jobs and have difficulty surviving economically.

In 2001 one such Uighur Bahtiyar went off to seek his fortune in Afghanistan. He managed to call home to tell his mother he had exhausted the small amount of money he had taken. Upon hearing this, she sent his older brother Arkin, 45, to look for him.

It was about that time that we were dropping leaflets like snow over Afghanistan, offering rewards for turning in terrorists. Both Bahtiyar and Arkin were offered up by Afghan bounty hunters and soon found themselves in Cuba. What a way to be reunited!

The Uighurs held in Guantanamo cannot return to China because they are classified as terrorists by the Beijing government. However, I can’t for the life of me figure out why we have waited so long to determine the fate of the Uighur prisoners, who are hardly enemy combattants of the US.

At this point, some have been sent to Albania and some to Bermuda, as the US and other prominent world countries refuse to take them so as not to anger China. Of the remaining 13 Uighurs, Palau offered to take all but Arkin, who has mental problems due to two years in solitary confinement.

His brother Bahtiyar has given up his chance for resettlement in Palau so as to remain with his older brother.

I find this all so incredibly sad. I’m sad because our country has behaved so incredibly badly throughout this whole ordeal. I’m sad because we can’t offer these people a home, now that we have wasted almost a decade of their lives. I’m sad that we brought such mental illness to an innocent man, probably one of many. I’m sad that these brothers, although they may be able to stay together, may never again see the rest of their family.

This is indeed a chapter of US history from which we should learn a great number of lessons. But instead I’ll bet we will repeat these mistakes again and again and again in the name of keeping America safe.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The final chapter of the big bad black truck incident

After leaving Yom Kippur services yesterday, I turned on my iPhone to find out I had a return report on the big bad black truck license plate. So after having recently cast aside obsessing forever, I opened the message to learn about the driver’s identity.

The most amazing thing was that we had obviously gotten the make of the truck right, thanks to the eagle eye of my husband passenger. We are both now quite well schooled in the variations of 4 x 4 trucks.

The driver and his wife live within 2 miles of our house in an apartment. I was actually quite relieved to see their name was not at all ethnic, but rather a “vanilla” American name that anyone could have.

I know more than I ever wanted to know about the history of their 2001 Dodge truck.

So now what? I’m not about to go looking for them to leave them an anonymous note or slash their tires.

My friend M, who is pretty smart about many things and who didn’t label me as CRAZY the way some people near and dear to me did, suggested that I look for a site where one can report road rage. This appears to be just such a site. I don’t plan to reveal their identity, but merely to report what I personally observed last week.

So later today I’ll log on and purge my brain of this incident so I can move on and hopefully fill it with more pleasant, positive thoughts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur Wisdom

Today’s marathon Yom Kippur services left me in sensory overload as I try to process all I heard, saw, felt, and even tasted at the end. Here are just a couple of quotes from our Rabbi Esther’s sermon that made me think:

Forgiveness means giving up our hopes for a better past.

A grandmother was overheard telling her young grandchild: You have to make mistakes. It’s how we learn compassion for others.

Welcoming Yom Kippur

Our rabbi Esther introduced today's Yom Kippur service at Temple Micah with the following poem. Read it out loud just as she did and enjoy all those beautiful pictures the poet paints. I especially like the last line; it captures a lot of the sentiment of this holiday.

The Art of Blessing the Day
By Marge Piercy

This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your plashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.

This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.

This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun.

This is the blessing for the first garden tomato:
Those green boxes of tasteless acid the store
sells in January, those red things with the savor
of wet chalk, they mock your fragrant name.
How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savor of summer in a thin red skin.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let's not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends'
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can't bless it, get ready to make it new.

Liberating the Soul

On Yom Kippur we Jews confront our sins of the past year. Our new rabbi Esther gave us a mantra to use as we consider each of them and then let it go:

I don’t want to waste my soul on this any more.

For the grudges I hold against those who have knowingly or unknowingly slighted me...
I don’t want to waste my soul on this any more.

For the obsessive thoughts I have allowed my mind to replay like a loop tape...
I don’t want to waste my soul on this any more.

For the jealousies I feel toward those who have achieved things I have not...
I don’t want to waste my soul on this any more.

I’m sure this list will grow as I study, pray, and reflect today on this holiest of holy days.

I would like to think my soul could be put to better use in the coming year.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A short-lived vigilante

In thinking back over my 24 hours of feeling like a vigilante, my greatest frustration was not being able to find anyone official to turn the problem driver over to. It wasn’t that I really wanted to personally enforce the law.

This raises the issue of whether citizens should or should not be involved in keeping the law. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of crazy drivers where you say to yourself, “That’s an accident waiting to happen.” There never seems to be a policemen in the vicinity when you need one. What if you had an easy way of reporting such a vehicle?

Is this something I’d want to subject myself to? I can tell you right now that if I knew people were watching me, it would have the same effect as the presence of those candid cameras I keep encountering. I would definitely become a better driver.

There’s the certainty that some people would use this as a means of ratting out their enemies. That means there would be some false reporting.

But the bigger issue is what law enforcement could possibly do with this information, most probably legitimate. Is there any way it could legally be used to prevent accidents? Or is this just another case of not being able to act until a crime is committed?

I’m always reminded of my orientation training at the FBI (the job in which I spent the first 3 months of my working life), where they actually encouraged us to report on each other, which I found repulsive. So I suppose I’ve just answered my own question. This is not a case where anyone could be immune. So now I’ll just go back to minding my own business on the road.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Obsessed with a big bad black truck

Yesterday I was the victim or road rage (or was it road insanity?) and I reacted accordingly. You can easily see how these things happen.

My husband and I were driving the old Volvo wagon up I-395, going into the city to haul off our son’s old mattress. As I took the exit at the Pentagon toward Memorial Bridge at 55 mph, a hulkin’ black truck appeared on my tail and began HONKING his horn. There was absolutely no reason for this because the exit quickly becomes 2 lanes. As this most obnoxious truck shot around us, I couldn’t see into the cab because it was darkly tinted, but I could see a gun rack and a ‘4 x 4’ insignia. The ensuing dialog between us went something like:

Me: Shoot him a bird.
H: You really don’t want to do that to an NRA nutcase.
Me: Then write down his license plate: Va XRT8244.
H: On my iPhone.
Me: I’m going to follow him.
H: Don’t get us killed!

So we headed into DC at a much faster clip than usual. I could hear the truck’s driver honking madly every time he came up behind another vehicle. I gave up the chase when we turned right onto F St. from 23rd and the truck from hell headed on toward Washington Circle.

On the way home with a twin mattress stuffed into the back of the car, I determined to try to learn more about the driver of that black truck. I wanted in the worst way to report him to some higher authority.

Back home I spent 16 minutes waiting to talk to someone at the DMV, to ultimately learn they are only interested in licensing drivers, not making sure people don’t abuse their driving privileges.

I called the Virginia State Police using the number listed on their website only to find out it didn’t work. Neither did the one they offered as a means to provide “tips on terrorists.” I guess we’re no longer on high alert here in the Old Dominion.

I called the Arlington Police, since the incident began in Arlington County, and got a recorded message.

At that point, I decided to give up on official means and I Googled “reverse license plate lookup.” Sure enough up popped several possibilities. Like most unwary consumers, I took the one I saw most frequently, which happened to be Net Detective. If I had read this first, I would have known it was a scam. As it turned out, I ultimately got my money refunded when I got them to admit they could not provide this service.

Then I signed up for the one recommended in the above link. Within 5 minutes of paying my $39 and hitting enter, I had a phone call from a man who was ready to submit my search after I told him the MAKE of the vehicle, which is for whatever reason required by the state of Virginia. I had to concede I knew only that it was a big black 4 x 4 truck, but they come in many makes and models. He immediately refunded my money.

I then learned more than I ever wanted to know about trucks, finally settling on the picture I posted yesterday as the perp. My friend Steve’s brother said it was a Chevy Silverado 1500 and he was quite correct.

But then this morning, my husband insisted that ‘4 x 4’ was on the back of the truck, not the side, the way it is on Chevy trucks.

He even called me outside later this morning to look at a truck parked across the street where a guy is doing some lawn work. It’s a similar looking Ford, but no ‘4 x 4’ on the back.

After calling a few truck dealers and talking to some really slimy salesmen, I concluded the bad black truck was a Dodge.

I’ve just resubmitted my search to and already received “ORDER CONFIRMATION - Requestor # 09 0926003.”

The reality of my obsession with this truck has just begin to hit me. Exactly what will I do if I actually learn the identity of the owner? Do some racial profiling if his name gives clues? Figure out where he lives and drive by looking for the truck? And then what? This is a guy with a gun for God’s sake.

Sometimes it would seem it’s the hunt that’s important, not the conquest.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Truck from Hell

Does anybody out there know the MAKE of this truck? I have a story to tell once I complete some investigative work. Thanks for any help you can give me!

The TP Debate

How timely that an article on toilet paper appeared in the Washington Post yesterday following my 24-hours of diarrhea. It seems the green people are up in arms about America’s penchant for plush wipes.

One could raise a lot of questions about toilet paper. Like how much and how thick. I never thought much about the number of squares until a young neighbor friend of my son announced that he was only allowed to use 3 at a time. I remember realizing that we had failed to impart any limit as I once heard my daughter reel off a fistful of paper.

As for the thickness question, I have always felt Cottonelle (or its equivalent) was more luxury than I needed or could afford. Instead I choose to buy the 1000-square rolls of Scott that come in a package of 24 at Costco. They seem to last forever and still get the job done.

Traveling around the world, I have seen quite a variety of toilet paper, ranging from the quality of Sears catalog to something short of Cottonelle. I can never remember seeing anything like that abroad in any country. In some cases, I have been quite grateful to find any paper at all.

The current debate in this country is between toilet paper made from recycled paper versus the super soft stuff that apparently demands wood from very old trees. To me that’s a nobrainer, but not everyone sees it that way.

Earlier in the year, Fox News’ Bill Hemmer did a blind test and actually chose the recycled paper as the preferred wipe, much to the chagrin of the makers of the thick stuff.

This is just one more case where many Americans come out as spoiled and rich. I suggest we save those old trees and put that extra money to better use. I'm now persuaded to switch to something made from recycled paper. Or maybe buy a bidet instead and give up toilet paper altogether. Now there’s a thought...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sick as a Dog

Yesterday I was sick as a dog with some sort of debilitating flu. Part of me wondered about the origin of that phrase that so aptly described my condition.

It had started in the middle of the night with countless trips to the bathroom. I’m sure by afternoon my colon was cleaned out sufficiently for a colonoscopy. A couple of degrees of fever rendered me incapable of leaving my bed for very long.

My constant companion was Jake the dog who is once again sporting an E-collar to keep him from chewing on the 4 stitches in his back leg. The growth removed was benign fortunately. And he has but two more days before the stitches come out and the dreaded cone can go to the basement again.

He has done remarkably well at dealing with the unwieldy collar. I actually watched him back out of a tight space last night.

Despite his collar, Jake is not sick in the least and rarely ever is. So what is the origin of that phrase? According to World Wide Words, the phrase first appeared in 1705 and was used to describe physical unhappiness. The poor dog seems to have been linked not only to this phrase, but to other negative expressions like “dog tired” and “going to the dogs.” Perhaps the phrase originated because dogs are known for getting into garbage or spoiled food only to come inside and vomit up the contents of their stomachs. So there you have it.

My husband sent out an alarm by Googling my symptoms and concluding I might have Swine Flu. A telephone conversation with Deborah dispelled that diagnosis, and left me with just a garden-variety flu that might not last too long.

It’s funny how being this sick simply cancels everything on one’s calendar until health returns. And miraculously it does!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Missing person found

This was the last time I saw the gentle young woman A from Guatemala who cleaned our house. When she had left that day, we did our usual exchange of “Nos vemos en dos semanas.” But then she just disappeared with no trace soon after her daughter had napped in our laundry room.

A had been with us for quite a few years, often bringing her older daughter, who sat and colored or quietly took care of herself while her mother worked. They even came with gifts to the baby shower (photo above) I had arranged for Glenda, another younger woman from Guatemala.

This total lack of communication was not at all like A, who would always call if she wanted to change the appointed time to clean our house. And we were always fine with being flexible. But two weeks, three weeks, four weeks came and went and no phone call.

I had tried to call her cell phone, only to find out that it was no longer in service. I knew something very bad had happened to A.

That was two months ago. Since then, we’ve found someone else – this time a mother-daughter team from El Salvador – to clean our house.

Then just yesterday my husband answered the phone and heard the very weak voice of A on the other end. The Spanish always sends him looking for me. But the voice was so weak, I couldn’t begin to understand what A was trying to tell me, other than something catastrophic had happened to her body and she was in a hospital in Bethesda.

I asked if her husband was there with her and sure enough he was. He told me that she had been in the hospital for 7 weeks with a severe case of lupus. Apparently she had the disease before becoming pregnant with her now year-old baby. During the pregnancy she didn’t take her medication for fear of harming the baby.

But soon after the baby’s birth, the disease returned and became progressively worse. We had noticed a definite change in her health and in her ability to do her work, but knew nothing of the fact that she had lupus.

Her husband said she will be coming home soon, but in what condition? I have so many unanswered questions about A and her future. I’ve never known if she and her husband are in the country legally. I don’t know if they have health insurance, but imagine not.

Although most people no longer die from lupus, it is an auto-immune disease that often results in chronic fatigue. So how will A ever work again to pay her way in the group house, where everyone shares responsibility for the mortgage?

As relieved as I was to hear from A yesterday, my heart goes out to her as she tries to make sense of this most recent blow life has dealt her. I will be there to help her as much as I can, but she is probably destined to struggle, often with extreme pain, for the rest of her life. That seems like a severe sentence for someone barely older than my daughter.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Searching for money

As my friend M and I sat drinking coffee outside Peregrine today, a man approached us and asked for money, claiming he was homeless and hadn’t eaten in two days. He didn’t look malnourished. He had on very nice clothes. When M offered to go inside and buy him a banana and a muffin, he kept insisting he needed money to go to MacDonald’s and then to take a bus. He gave up on us and approached other people walking down the sidewalk. We both concluded he was probably abusing some substance, but he hardly looked the part.

This encounter led to a discussion of the mired health care reform. M had a very novel solution to raising the necessary funding without necessarily affecting those of us who are quite content with our healthcare. What if there were to be a tax on processed foods, including most if not all restaurant food, but especially fast food?

We wondered if this might have the effect of causing people to make healthier choices in their diets, thereby lowering their need for health care intervention, but definitely resulting in a huge sum of money to support universal health coverage. Would people buying a soda even consider that a penny or two of the price would go to this fund?

Apparently the whole tax on soda idea has already been trounced in Congress, but I think there is a lot of merit in this approach that gives people choices in how they choose to spend their money. It would definitely imply a huge change in the mindset of this country to pull this off.

Maybe I’m biased because I don’t drink soda. Hmmmm...

Any thoughts?

Monday, September 21, 2009

An(other) impossible war?

As McChrystal puts out the call for more troops, does anyone other than me have this deja vu feeling about the war in Afghanistan? I can’t see that we’ve accomplished a whole lot in the years of fighting, in which we’ve lost a lot of American soldiers and a significant number of innocent Afghan civilians. It is starting to have the feeling of a war decades ago from which we finally just walked away.

Unfortunately Obama’s campaign claimed we must win the war in Afghanistan to keep Al Queda at bay. But even he is now talking about a redefinition of what winning the war means.

My understanding is the Taliban is just as strong as ever, having totally rebounded in most of the areas where we supposedly had wiped them out. I can imagine much of the country is in shambles after non-stop war for decades. The liberation promised the Afghan people was short-lived as the Taliban once again resume their conservative stranglehold on the country.

I keep remembering Greg Mortenson’s approach to dealing with the problems in this part of the world. It did not require guns or bombs or combat troops. But rather it involved building schools and educating children, primarily the girls who were otherwise denied an education. In this way the pervasive ignorance could be wiped out without the incredible destruction that traditional war leaves in its wake.

So when I hear that more troops are needed, I want to shout NO NO NO, and instead figure out how to bring those fighting in Afghanistan home. I’m increasingly convinced that this is yet another war we cannot win. I’m not even sure we really know whom we are fighting any longer.

It’s not that I support an isolationist attitude of letting them take care of their own problems. It’s rather that I would much prefer a more humanitarian approach that to at least some degree goes about repairing the vast amount of damage from our attempt to date at winning the war in Afghanistan.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A famous grandmother

Not often does our book club read a book about someone one of us knows personally. But this month’s book was about my friend Deborah’s grandmother, a prominent woman conservationist of the last century.

The biography of Rosalie Edge represents almost 2 decades of research by the author, Dyana Furmansky. She wove together a most amazing story of this woman’s life.

Rosalie Barrow came from a family of privilege, being directly related to both Charles Dickens and James Whistler. Despite her social standing, Rosalie always loved championing a cause, getting caught up in the suffrage movement.

After she and her husband Charles Edge parted ways, she became an avid conservationist, often going up against the government, special interest groups (like hunters), and anyone who got in her way to save the animals and trees of the world from destruction and even extinction.

Her legacy to the world is Hawk Mountain, a privately owned refuge in Eastern Pennsylvania which she established to stop the wanton killing of migrating raptors. During the Great Depression, she managed to come up with the $3,000 needed to purchase the land where the annual slaughter of birds had been taking place. Along the way she also played key roles in the establishment of Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks and the expansion of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

It’s interesting that Rachel Carson is given so much credit for her role in conservation, when in fact Rosalie Edge had noted the effects of DDT on the hawk population 14 years before Carson published her famed Silent Spring.

Today her beloved Hawk Mountain is a well endowed organization that continues to protect the big birds by an active local education and an intern program that each year brings 10 young professionals from around the world to its facility to study for 6 months.

As far as a piece of literature, the book could probably use a little more editing. But the story is far more important than the way in which it is told. In fact, we unanimously agreed that it would make a great movie, perhaps starring Meryl Streep as Rosalie. I highly recommend it as proof that anything is possible!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


As we welcome year 5770 on the Jewish calendar, we sing this tune (recorded on someone's iPhone) over and over again with many sets of words. It's like the theme song of the High Holy Days. I will be humming and whistling it incessantly for the next 2 weeks.

So far we’ve had two excellent sermons. I’ve stayed engaged and not fallen asleep during either one the way I often do.

(Temple Micah’s senior rabbi) Danny’s message last night was entitled “Beyond Madoff.” It focused on the greed that seems endemic in today’s society, in its extreme form reflected in the Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff. He talked about how so many people are trying to game the system, to avoid the rules and regulations. This takes all forms, including sneaking diet soda into movie theaters that don’t sell it. Then he cited Susan Boyle as the antidote to Bernie Madoff and we actually listened to the song that won the hearts of the world.

Today our new rabbi Esther opened her sermon by proclaiming her love of all things Harry Potter, especially his invisibility cloak. As much as she is intrigued with the idea of being invisible, she is more curious about how people choose to relate to one another these days. She postulated that it’s the loss of community that has forced people to turn to Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging. She thinks these media offer us a chance to reclaim our individuality on our own terms, putting ourselves out there for the world to see.

She sees electronic media as a poor substitute for personal relationships. It is true that people can choose to hide behind a Blogging image or to remain in anonymity for a variety or reasons, but having just met three wonderful people in person after communicating with them in the Blogging world, I might beg to differ with Esther on this point.

The Twitter King (of my household) had to offer her his 2 cents after the service. I think she managed to sew the seeds of a much longer discussion that will undoubtedly take place at Temple Micah.

For openers

Our rabbi Esther opened today’s Rosh Hashanah service with this wonderful poem by Mary Oliver:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The seaon of apples

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, Fall, and the new apple crop, I give you a recipe for apple sauce that will please just about anyone. It may make you not want to buy the stuff in the jars any longer.

Homemade Applesauce

3 to 4 pounds of peeled, cored, and quartered apples. (Suggested varieties include Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Jonathan, Mcintosh, and Gravenstein.)
4 strips of lemon peel
Juice of one lemon
3 inches of stick cinnamon
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
Up to 1/4 cup of white sugar (I left this out and it was plenty sweet.)
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Remove cinnamon sticks and lemon peels. Mash with a potato masher.

Ready to serve, either hot or cold. Delicious with vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt.

Enjoy the bounty of Fall!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Priestly Dog

Jake has pristinely clean teeth, probably for the only time in his life. He is also sporting a green bandage on his rear paw where he had a growth removed.

We found a wonderful old-fashioned vet after our vet bills continued to skyrocket at the animal clinic where we had always taken him. Melanie Smith was actually the White House vet, caring for those Brittany spaniels and the cat Socks during the reign of the Bushes. I’m hoping that did not imply she is a loyal Republican, but rather an Army vet who was assigned to care for the First Animals. She’s now in private practice in an office reminiscent of the 70’s, where she spends as much time as she needs to with every patient.

Whatever her politics, our visit yesterday was probably half the cost it would have been at the old place. Jake went in at 8 am. She cleaned 11 years of tartar off his teeth and removed a small growth on his left rear paw.

He came home quite groggy with instructions to wear his Elizabethan collar if he started chewing on his green paw. For now, he’s being good and does not need to support the collar he detests wearing. When he does have it on, my husband has nicknamed him "Cohen head", which could loosely be translated as "priestly dog."

In 10 days the stitches will come out and hopefully we will hear that it was simply a benign lump on his paw.

In addition to performing these procedures, Dr. Smith took the time to review Jake’s homemade dog food recipe and pronounced it “complete and balanced.” This paves the way for me to share it with others, possibly in a class at Hill’s Kitchen later in the fall. Woo-hoo!

Meanwhile Jake is accepting all offers of sympathy and would like to receive a life-time supply of dog biscuits from his admirers. Just kidding...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Days are like scrolls

After eating fabulous food at a party given by one of my favorite Bloggers on Saturday, I partook of some soul food (that is, food for the soul) at Temple Micah’s Selichot service. This prayer service is sort of a warm-up for the high holy days, which are fast approaching.

When the congregation split up into small discussion groups, we joined our new young rabbi Esther, who opened with a quote from an 11th century scholar: “Days are like scrolls; write on them what you wish remembered.” As we reflected over the past year, we thought about who we were. As we looked ahead to the future, we contemplated who we would like to become.

Unfortunately there are no erasers for past days. Instead we must content ourselves with words of apology sincerely offered.

The future is truly a blank slate, unspoiled by words or actions. It may actually provide a chance to right the wrongs of the past.

I sometimes wonder how my epitaph will read. But I hadn’t thought about the fact that I’m writing it little by little as I exist in the land of the living. I hope this time next year I will be happy to look back at what I have written on the days in between.

Esther ended the discussion by singing the following song written by Phil Ochs:

When I'm Gone

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone
And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone
And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't feel the flowing of the time when I'm gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I'm gone
My pen won't pour a lyric line when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't breathe the bracing air when I'm gone
And I can't even worry 'bout my cares when I'm gone
Won't be asked to do my share when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't be running from the rain when I'm gone
And I can't even suffer from the pain when I'm gone
Can't say who's to praise and who's to blame when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

Won't see the golden of the sun when I'm gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I'm gone
Can't be singing louder than the guns when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

All my days won't be dances of delight when I'm gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I'm gone
Can't add my name into the fight while I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone
And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone
And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone while I'm here
So I guess I'll have to do it
I guess I'll have to do it
Guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sleeping like a baby

I would guess most of us established a sleep position preference long ago. I can never remember sleeping any other way than on my side in the fetus position.

But I like to give both sides a chance. Since I broke my hip, I find myself mentally planning out my night before putting my head on the pillow, so as to minimize the time on my right side, where the slice through my muscle still causes me some discomfort.

It actually becomes a fine science, much like the recipe for grilling salmon. Whenever I wake up, I roll over and sleep on the other side.

Nuts? Well, probably. But it does seem to contribute to a necessary balance in my life.

So tell me, how do you sleep? Do you ever think about it or does nature just take its course?

Monday, September 14, 2009

A dinosaur

Having a lot of storage space and living in the same house for 32 years are both a blessing and a curse. You tend to save way too much and forget what you saved.

I tackled a couple of kitchen cabinets today in an effort to get rid of things we don’t need and came up with a few surprises.

Like this fire extinguisher that has to date back to the 70’s. I know this because if you notice it says “Amway” and that’s when my mother had been sucked into that pyramid scheme. She was forever buying things for us so she could inflate her sales. I have wondered whether she actually turned a profit or not since I don’t think she ever recruited people to sell under her.

Anyway I have this old fire extinguisher that thank God has never been used. But I would not want to count on it if my kitchen suddenly went up in flames. So what do I do with it? Recharge it? Pitch it in the trash (or are you not allowed to do that?)

There were many other questionable things. Like the three packages of No. 4 coffee filters, of which we use maybe 12 a year. I’m going to attempt to return an unopened package to Whole Foods since there is no pull date on coffee filters. Of course the barcode may no longer be in their system.

Then there were containers of soap, lots of them, in smelly fragrances that would make my husband sneeze. They all went into a bag to hand off to the starving law student, who probably can’t afford to buy soap. Along with a selection of handmade pot holders he probably contributed to at about age 6.

The kitchen looks a lot better. I even cleaned off a counter top, putting my husband’s beloved vanilla nut Teeccino (gross chickory-flavored fake coffee) in a cabinet where he has to open the door to get to it. He’s already complaining bitterly, but meanwhile the clean countertop is much improved.

If I just kept this up for the next year or so, I would have cleaned out the entire house. But it’s unlikely to happen. Instead I’ll content myself with small steps in the right direction.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tailgating to the music of a chainsaw

We were shocked this week when our next door neighbor’s father-in-law knocked on the door during a rather gentle rain storm to report that a huge oak tree on their property had just toppled over, falling all the way to the street and doing minimal damage to our yard other than our poor forsythia bush which still lies underneath it.

A little background: The boy living there now is my daughter’s age. He was born when his family lived in that house. Our yappy dachshund pointed out the fact that the baby was profoundly deaf because he never even stirred as she barked incessantly just under his nursery window.

The little boy received help from the earliest age to help him deal with his hearing deficiency. He did the things other kids did, always loving things with engines that went fast. He was operating a lawn mover from the time he could barely walk. He even swam on the neighborhood swim team, necessitating a starter who could give hand signals.

He’s now married and has a child and they live in his family’s original house. Although I haven’t met his wife, I wonder if she can hear. I wonder about their baby. I wonder who heard the tree come down or was it a vibration that everyone felt?

Today I had planned to work out of the back of my car to bag up 125 pounds of couscous for our CSA. It was supposed to be a quiet fall day with just a little breeze. Instead the morning was punctuated by the sound of a chain saw as the boy took on the daunting task of cutting up the fallen tree.

It was interesting that his morning had the look and feel of my envisioned morning because he couldn’t hear the chain saw that he so deftly wielded.

It was still a nice day to bag the couscous despite the demolition next door.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


My son called to ask if I knew anything about Venetian blinds. It seems he had gotten both sets of blinds stuck at the top, rendering his efficiency apartment a fishbowl and making it difficult to sleep at night.

I happened to look in his old room at home and BINGO! the blinds were also stuck at the top. I guess this is actually not a new problem.

So I went to work on the blinds at home, using the Philips screwdriver on my Swiss army knife. It was reassuring to feel the locking mechanism release, freeing up the pull cords. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had done, but I knew enough at that point to attempt to fix the monster blinds in his apartment.

So with step stool in hand, I paid him a visit. At first I doubted that I would be successful because nothing was budging. My husband tried and threw up his hands. But he had managed to shine a light on the stuck locking mechanism.

I started probing again with a screwdriver and little by little the blind came down, slowly sucking up the pull cord. I did the same with the second one. But the ancient locking mechanisms were tight and undependable.

It seemed like a perfect WD-40 job. So we left the blinds in the down position and he promised not to take them to that extreme again. Meanwhile I got a cute little tube of WD-40 at Home Depot, along with a few other things he needed.

My father, who understood how just about everything worked, would have been proud of me for solving the Venetian blind problem. I think a few drops of oil will allow the locks to grip and release at least for the remaining 10 months of his lease. Then they will be someone else’s problem.

Free for All

We saw free Shakespeare tonight, but we had to earn our free tickets. It’s amazing how many people had the same idea.

Our son had proposed going to see “The Taming of the Shrew” as part of the Free for All program at the Sidney Harman Hall. The online suggestion was that we get there at 4 hours before the 8:00 performance by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. When we arrived at 4:11, the line was already over half a block long and although we were fairly assured of getting tickets, we were still in row T by the time all was said and done.

We later learned that people had started lining up at 2 pm. Only in Washington are people this crazy! As the tickets were not to be given out until 6 pm, we waited in line, meeting those in front and behind us as though they were old neighbors. Some were more comfortable than others.

At one point it started raining and the umbrellas came out.

Within 20 minutes of our arrival, we were in the middle of a much longer line that would now include many disappointed persons.

When we realized we could each get 2 tickets, we called friends to join us. Meanwhile we had tapas at Jaleo while we waited for show time.

If I had ever read The Taming of the Shrew, it was many years ago. It was so typical of many of Shakespeare’s plays in the intricate characterization, with people pretending to be other people, a clown, and multiple romantic pursuits.

But by the end of this play, I had a knot in my stomach as I watched the feisty Kate being turned into a Stepford wife. I cringed as she dutifully kissed her demanding husband. I was reminded that that was the way it used to be for women as they cowtailed to their husbands’ whims. I much preferred the Kate with an opinion, the one who was her own person. Maybe it was the modern staging with the antiquated theme of male dominance that seemed so ill-fitting.

As women continue to struggle for equality in relationships and in the workplace, I can only be thankful that our lot is better than it once was. Thank God!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Beaded Evening

As I put together bowls of beads for the activity at the homeless shelter where I read, I began to think I was crazy to attempt jewelry-making with young children who can hardly sit still. But the night proved me wrong.

Last time I volunteered, an adorable little girl who was just a little sad said she liked my necklace. It was one I had made from a single large wooden bead, purchased at a bead shop on a trip to Takoma Park with my friend Reya. I promised that little girl that the next time I came to volunteer we would explore the world of jewelry.

I came with an armful of books that featured stories about jewelry from around the world. The children stayed about as focused as we can ever hope for, but I could tell they really wanted to know what was in the bag intended for the activity.

I counted them. Yikes! There was one more than I had planned for. It was a good thing I had brought extra supplies.

By the time their interest in reading had fallen off, I had set out the materials for them to use in making a necklace. I gave each one a paper plate, hoping they would arrange their beads before beginning to string them. I also gave each one a piece of elasticized plastic that had a masking tape stopper on one end and was painted with red nail polish on the other so they could easily see it to string their beads.

As the 9 children descended on the bowls of beads, I panicked for fear they would throw them instead of string them, for fear that one would instantly become the bead of choice and there wouldn’t be 9 of them.

But I had two cool-headed volunteers working with me who found solutions to every problem. Ugly words were set aside as the children got into making their jewelry.

Only one little girl, the one who had originally noticed my necklace, planned her necklace. She also made a bracelet that was equally well planned.

We had a particular challenge in making sure the knots in the finished necklaces didn’t come untied. Super Glue to the rescue.

We left with very few beads on the floor and with everyone adorned with their creations. It was a great evening!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beyond tired

I don’t know what’s worse -- a hangover or the day after taking a redeye flight. Both seem to have that dull headache and brain fog that makes thoughts go in slow motion.

My daughter had persuaded me to take the Super Shuttle to the airport instead of struggling with public transportation. I got there in plenty of time and was feeling ready for bed when we boarded the plane at 11:45 pm.

I do sleep on planes, but it is definitely not the same quality sleep that a bed provides. It seemed like I had just put on my eyeshades that we were landing at Minneapolis three hours later.

I must say the Minneapolis airport is well designed for people with disabilities. But as I sat in the waiting area for a ride, I saw cart after cart go by with no empty seats, so I decided to tough it out and walk to the gate for my next flight. It was a very long 15 minutes.

The plane home was not full and I probably could have snagged three empty seats and really crashed, but I didn’t have the energy at that point to move out of my seat. I had a glass of OJ and a cup of coffee, the sole sustenance provided by Delta on my trip home. But the caffeine seemed to have no effect and I walked off the plane a zombie.

I managed to flag down a shuttle to Long Term A and then drove the hour home, actually arriving at the CSA site to help assemble bags.

By this time I was running on empty and not being terribly nice to family members. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will make up for the sleep deprivation I am dealing with right now.

I’m not sure I left my heart in SF, but I really did have a good time. Now it’s time to get back to reality.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Winding down

Today I am on my own since it’s a work day for everyone else. It’s been a day of getting ready to go home.

I was extremely lucky to have my own room during my say in SF, since one of my daughter’s housemates had gone home to DC for a few days. This morning I went to the neighborhood laundromat (with my rolling suitcase) to wash bed linens, towels, and dish towels. The machines take a lot more quarters than they used to when I occasionally used a laundromat. This place was rather bizarre because it cautioned you not to leave your clothes unattended and yet there was no place to sit down!

After putting the sheets back on the bed and doing as much as I could to pack my little suitcase, I hopped on the bus to go explore Fillmore Street. One of my favorite stores from our last visit is Bittersweet, where you can find some very interesting chocolate and coffee selections. I bought a tin of mixed chocolates for my gracious hosts.

I passed a cute little cafe where people were eating out on the sidewalk. I just couldn’t resist the wild mushroom mac & cheese with truffle oil. It came with a hunk of crusty whole wheat bread.

A single bus fare lets you get on and off buses for 2 hours here. So I took the same two buses in the reverse direction and am now back “home”. The picture at the top is a view across the street from my home away from home.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Taking in the view

We simply couldn’t keep up the pace of the previous days of playing tourist in SF, so today we took a more leisurely pace. However, we determined to make the most of the last day of our little rental KIA.

After a breakfast of leftovers from yesterday’s trip, we headed off to Twin Peaks, the highest point of the city. The day was uncharacteristically clear and sunny so we had a good view in all directions.

Rachel spotted the most gorgeous hawk not far from the windy road. He seemed willing to pose for a picture.

I had to look twice when I realized there was no baby in this stroller, but rather 5 small dogs dressed in clothes. I couldn’t even begin to guess why the owner had bothered to bring them up to the top of this hill.

We spent the next several hours with one of us shopping for clothes in practical places like Old Navy and Loehmann’s and the other sitting in a coffee shop reading Atlas Shrugged.

Then a late lunch in a local taqueria, of which there are plenty to choose. And a trip to Mike’s Monkey, a small used furniture store, where my daughter acquired a chest of drawers to replace the Ikea particle board one that was falling apart. A little extra money and they even delivered it to her house up the two long flights of stairs.

Then the car went back to Hertz and we took the bus home and walked the 8 blocks to her house. Tonight we’ll stir up some vegetables and stay close to home so she can do some reading for her microbiology class and I can think about leaving tomorrow night.

Just north of SF

Today’s SF adventures took my daughter and me north of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge. This was one of those trips that helped me understand why Californians never want to leave.

We started off in the farmers’ market in Sebastopol just as it was opening. It seemed to be a weekend celebrating heirloom tomatoes in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

Whoever heard of chocolate at a farmers’ market? We chose the rosemary goat cheese variety.

We couldn’t pass up a suckling pig tamale that came with a wonderful salad with spicy onions and rice.

From the market we went to visit the Armstrong Woods Redwoods, where we saw trees as old as 1300 years. It’s a little mind-boggling when you think about it.

We continued westward along the Russian River toward the coast. We couldn’t resist smoked salmon from a little roadside stand.

The first views of the Pacific Ocean are absolutely breathtaking. We sat on some driftwood on Goat Rock Beach and ate our lunch, which included little yellow tomatoes, sage goat milk cheddar, and our smoked salmon, with a white peach for dessert. Rachel walked down the beach to look at some seals while I stayed behind to be entertained by a seagull.

We continued on down the coast on a very windy road in search of oysters at Tomales Bay. We bought 18 beautiful big oysters and I taught Rachel how to shuck them. With a little hot sauce and lemon, they were simply delicious.

We stopped for a drink out on the porch of the Starfish Cafe in Stinson Beach before heading home.

We were constantly noticing the many shades of greens and browns that made up the various landscapes of our trip, as well as the blues and greens of the water. It was those variations as well as the 20-degree temperature shift that reminded us just how diverse California can be even in a small geographic area.

Although we never made it to a winery today, we had a day full of beautiful sights, sounds, and smells.