Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cutting Up on Halloween

While others were putting the final touches on their Halloween costumes, I was trying desperately to master Knife Skills 101 at Hill’s Kitchen.  I thought I knew how to cut up just about anything with my little Henkel paring knife.  Little did I know that a paring knife is used for occasional peeling, and that’s about it.

After a crash course in First Aid, should anyone cut a finger instead of a carrot, we were each handed what seemed like a humongous knife, one of 3 different models.  We learned the cutting motion of the knife.  We learned how to hold the food to be cut with cat fingers, guiding the knife with the lowest knuckle on our middle finger.  We were handed a piece of celery and told to mimic what had looked so easy in the demonstration.

We then moved on to potatoes and were introduced to some fancy names for French cuts:

batonnet (1/4")
alumette (1/8")
julienne (1/16")

We practiced achieving these on our potatoes, not nearly with the ease or speed that they had been demonstrated.  Then we turned our various size sticks into diced pieces – little cubes, or supposedly cubes that is.

By this time the knife was starting to feel more like an extension of my hand. It was at that point that we got to switch knives and I fell in love with the above Mac knife.  I didn’t dare ask how much it cost.

We moved on to carrots, definitely more challenging to cut than potatoes.  I started to fear for my fingers when I forgot to turn them into cat claws.  But I did produce some finely diced carrots that would have passed muster with most chefs, albeit at a much slower production rate.

The final lesson was how to cut an onion.  It turns out I had already been doing most of the pieces of this correctly.  The one thing I learned was to slice the onion in half (root to top) before attempting to peel it.  It was incredibly easier to peel that way.  We were old pros at chopping by the time we turned out minced onion and wiped the tears from our eyes.

A quick lesson in honing and sharpening knives completed the class.  I learned that the electric sharpener we have been using for years has probably ruined all my knives forever.  Instead they should be hand sharpened by someone who knows what he is doing once a year and honed with a long rod every time they are used.  They should never be allowed to slosh around in a drawer the way my knives do. 

I have a lot of work ahead just to get ready to practice what I learned today in Knife Skills, but I can guarantee the result will be more precise cutting and much improved speed.  I really thought I could have passed this course going in, but quickly learned I was by no means the best in the class.  What a humbling experience. 

Fortunately the dog food class I am teaching on December 5 does not involve hand chopping anything, so if I’m not up to chef speed by then, no one will ever need to know.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trying to Decide

I’m vacillating on whether to get flu shots once again.  For many people it’s a no-brainer, but I’m never too sure if I really want to be vaccinated against something I never seem to get.

I had the flu once, when I was 10 years old, and it was really terrible.  I remember being almost delirious with fever.  I remember getting to stay home from school for 2 weeks.  But that was the last time my body succumbed to one of the many flu viruses.

My doctor, of course, is urging me to take the shots.  My husband gets them religiously.  But I think I’ve only take one flu shot in my life.

Maybe it’s because I hated shots so much as a kid.  On a day when I had to go to the pediatrician’s office to get a shot of any kind, I remember asking my mother to tell me how much it was going to hurt ahead of time and even sticking my arm with a pin to see how bad the pain would be.  Sheesh!  What a baby!

Or maybe it’s because I have a jaded view of most medicine, thinking our bodies may just prefer to deal with some things on their own.  That’s not to say I fool around with things like polio or typhoid or tetanus.  But flu shots -- do we really need them?

I have a little longer to contemplate this decision since my doctor’s office is still just giving the swine flu vaccine to pregnant women and really old people. 

What about you?  Are you lining up for flu shots?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


As we contemplate a trip to Chicago this weekend to celebrate my husband’s Aunt Zelda’s 101st birthday, I wondered how many people in the US are over 100 years old.  I made a guess of 1,000 that turned out to be way off.  I was basing this on the fact that I don’t think I have ever even met anyone over 100.  I guess all those numbers I once held in my head when I worked at the Census Bureau have slipped away.

This source says there are now over 96,000 centenarians in the US.  And the number continues to grow as people live longer.

I’m looking at my own body and thinking I would have to live another 40 years in it to reach that age.  I’m afraid I might need a few more bionic parts to make it.

I’m not even sure I would want to live that long.  Especially not if the people I care most about don’t make it with me.

So we’ll see how Zelda is faring as she continues to exist in the Self-Help Home in Chicago.  As much as she complained about leaving her efficiency apartment a few years ago, being around all those other people has been really good for her.  She now has an audience for her home-spun psychology, which she has been dishing out for years.

She is as cantankerous as ever.  Her first response when we said we were coming was “Why would you want to spend all that money?”  Some things never change, even after 100.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere

This week’s yoga class focused on water, opening with the following reading:

Tao #78

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
     He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people
          is fit to rule them.
     He who takes upon himself the country's disasters deserves
          to be king of the universe.
The truth often seems paradoxical.

The teacher talked about the power of water to transform the earth by wearing away rock, as mentioned in the first few lines above. She asked us to focus on the water within each of us as we went through our yoga practice.

My body had always seemed so solid to me -- being made up of skin and bones and flesh. But as we did twist after twist, I could almost feel the water coursing through my being.

It’s interesting too that Esther’s class on Sunday focused on a prayer from the morning Shabbat service that is actually meant to be said every time we go to the bathroom. It thanks God for all the “tunnels” of the body, like veins and capillaries and our urinary system, and for the fact that they continue to carry liquid through our bodies, getting rid of what we don’t need.

I was curious just how much of our body is made up of water. I found this on a USGS site:

Water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90 percent of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60 percent of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70 percent water, and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water. About 83 percent of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature. Each day humans must replace 2.4 liters of water, some through drinking and the rest taken by the body from the foods eaten.

Lessons in the importance of water seem to be coming from all directions!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Choosing What to Wear

I’ve always been under the impression you could do whatever you pleased inside the privacy of your own home. You could wear whatever you wanted to wear or nothing at all -- your choice. But apparently not in Virginia.

A Springfield man was arrested last week for indecent exposure as he made breakfast inside his house. The wife of a policeman and her 7-year-old son who were walking by the man’s house claim to have seen him in the side door and through a window.

So the first question is what should she have done? Nothing? Told her son to look the other way? Written a neighborly note and put it through the mail slot? Or called the cops?

She chose the last option. Within a short time the police had arrived and were standing over the man (who was then napping) with a Taser gun. One cop called him a pervert. Another went through his things. They eventually hauled him off to the office of the magistrate, where he was subsequently charged and released.

It turns out the Virginia law says you can be so charged only if you intend for someone to see you. So it boils down to whether or not he was actually trying to attract the attention of the mother and son or of anyone else. His case will go to trial on November 6.

Although I can’t imagine sitting around drinking coffee in the buff, I am sympathetic to the man’s right to individual liberties within his own home. I hope he is acquitted.

What do you think? To what degree (if any) is he guilty? Would this have happened in NYC or some other large metropolitan area?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thinking About Time

Sometimes I wonder how was able to juggle so many things when I was working full time, raising children, heading up the neighborhood swim team, dealing with a myriad of pets, and sometimes even taking piano lessons.

Some answers are I was a lot younger, I had a lot more energy, I slept less, and I drank more coffee.

But perhaps another important answer is I wasn’t sitting at my computer other than to do real work I got paid for (and furthermore when I was sitting at my work computer, it was always to do the work I was being paid for.)

It’s not that I sit at my home computer all day long, but I tend to check for e-mail, comments, look at stats, and read Blogs several times a day. And then there is usually a few minutes devoted to posting something.

Many of the people who were Blogging when I first started have quit or are posting very infrequently. And I don’t seem to be looking for people to take their places on my link list. Occasionally when someone finds my Blog and we realize we have common interests, I add that person -- like Terry and Mary Tabor. But I’m no longer out there beating the bushes for new Blogs to read.

I have enough trouble getting around to my old favorites on a regular basis, sometimes arriving to find I have missed 3 posts!

I am beginning to think the majority of my readers are either non-Bloggers or at least non-commenting Bloggers. I’m always a little surprised when someone says “I read about that on your Blog” and I remember this is a sometimes reader.

I start to wonder if what I’m writing is losing its pizazz (if it ever had such a thing) as my comment numbers decline. Maybe that says something about the quality of my current life -- that it is sometimes bordering on BORING.

I will probably continue to write just because it’s a good daily exercise, it puts my favorite recipes in easy reach, and I enjoy the interaction with friends in the Blogosphere. But there are times when I ponder what I would do with my reclaimed hours if I put my home computer in hibernation.

Do such thoughts ever cross your mind?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Road Closures

If I was currently an avid biker, I would have loved a chance to participate in Bike DC last week, even in the pouring rain. If I were a runner, there would be no greater thrill than running in today’s Marine Marathon. But as a driver, I have been frustrated the past two weekends by both of these events.

Last weekend we thought we had avoided the bike route by taking Rock Creek Parkway to Shabbat services. But at some point we were forced off and found ourselves like rats in a maze of closed roads, where we would repeatedly encounter a police car blocking the road and simply have to turn around. We tried asking one of these police persons how to get out of our bind, but to no avail. She had no knowledge other than the fact that she wasn’t supposed to let anyone through. We finally made it 20 minutes late, as most others from any distance away were also.

Today we remembered our problem last week and because of the Marathon decided to take Chain Bridge, the only bridge open into DC from Virginia. We left extra early. But a whole lot of other people had the same idea, so we were 20 minutes late to Esther’s class today as thousands of people ran through the streets on a most beautiful Fall day.

We were dropping off leftover pea soup and fruit that needed to be eaten right away with our son after class. It turns out many roads, including parts of Rock Creek Parkway, were still closed. The ones that were open were totally clogged, mostly from people with out of state license plates who didn’t seem to know where they were going.

Now that we’re once again home, the frustrations of driving are receding in my memory. But I do hope there are no important walks or runs or bike events that play havoc with the DC streets and bridges next weekend.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading to Moms -- part 2

Today I completed my training on how to motivate parents to read to their children. I ended up learning a lot about how to make reading more exciting and fun.

When I do a workshop with the mothers at the shelter where I read, I’m supposed to pick a topic that is important to them and give them some ideas about books and how to read those books to their kids in a way that makes the whole experience fun. Fun may well be something most of these families are lacking as they ponder homelessness and worries about the future. At the conclusion of the workshop, the mothers will each take home a stack of books to add to their children’s “library.”

I kept getting images of a particular 4-year-old girl as she balled up her fists and held her breath before launching into a fit. She has severe anger management problems.

So with this little girl in mind, I determined that my first workshop would center on “emotions”, something I could use a little work on myself. Among the many books we looked at in my training sessions, I particularly liked “Today I Feel Silly” by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. It helps the child learn to identify the various moods of the day, including feeling silly, sad, cranky, etc. It includes a “mood wheel” at the end with a spinner that can be used to identify the mood du jour or play a game about all the various moods.

Another book which will work well with this topic is "How Are You Peeling?" It has the most adorable pictures of vegetables with faces that clearly depict the various moods.

Someone raised the question about how to deal with a mother who can’t read. It turns out even those mothers can have a very positive impact on their children. Today I learned about Benjamin Carson, an extremely successful pediatric neurosurgeon in Baltimore. When it looked like he might be going down a slippery slope as a young child, his mother pulled the plug on the TV and gathered an endless supply of library books. She required him to complete his homework, read one of those books, and tell her about it before he could go out and play. She chided him if his homework wasn’t neat and reminded him to check it over. Many years later he discovered she was illiterate.

I’m anxious to meet the mothers at my shelter. It will be so interesting to know more about the families the children come from. If I encounter a mother who has literacy problems, I will find help for her so she can more fully enjoy reading to her children.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Happy Occasion

I thought I had nothing to say today, then I went to Shabbat services. It was a packed crowd gathered together to officially recognize Esther as our new rabbi.

The featured speaker was her favorite professor at the Hebrew Union College and one of the foremost rabbis and authors in the Reform movement today, Rabbi Larry Hoffman. He was also our senior rabbi Danny’s professor and mentor and he has been a huge supporter of Temple Micah over the years.

So it’s no surprise that he was the matchmaker between Esther and Temple Micah. He described the choice of Esther as “besheret”, a Hebrew word meaning “meant to be, destiny, soulmate...”

When Esther addressed her new congregation, she actually had everyone stand while she offered a blessing, beautiful English words that formed a heartfelt prayer to God over our recent union.

She also read portions of the following poem, which seemed totally appropriate to the occasion:

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

As proof of Esther’s point that Temple Micah promotes laughter and levity, the gift from the congregation was a book entitled “Baseball for Dummies”, to try to bring this Canadian up to speed with the passion for baseball that has been a hallmark of the congregation since Danny became our rabbi 25 years ago.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reading Magic

This book is my homework for a short course I’m taking to prepare me to teach mothers in the homeless shelter how to read to their children. It’s made me think a lot about my introduction to books as a child.

I grew up in a literate family that didn’t read more than the newspaper, didn’t go to the library, and didn’t talk about books. I remember having some Little Golden Books and a volume called “A Child’s Garden of Verse.” But that’s where the memory of my childhood “library” stops.

I distinctly remember coloring an entire page in one of those books black as I waited (to be read to?) for my mother to get off the phone.

The only story I can remember enjoying was the story of Little Black Sambo. That’s not true. I remember The Little Engine That Could also.

It’s no small wonder that I couldn’t read at all when I went to first grade. I don’t recall any difficulty in learning, but I was certainly not above grade level when I entered school.

By 3rd grade I was reading quite advanced books and soon thereafter demanded to be taken to the public library. Of course my parallel memory of the public library was of the warnings my mother gave me about the adjacent public bathrooms where you could catch almost any disease known to man from the toilet seats.

So back to the book I’m now reading. Mem Fox suggests there are three elements to reading: recognizing the printed letters and the words they form, having language skills to understand the meaning of the words, and having the knowledge to make sense of the ideas the words suggest. Who would have ever thought it was so complicated?

She makes the point that reading to young children should not be equated with teaching. But rather it should be a time to laugh with them, be silly, and have fun. I certainly don’t remember doing any of that with my parents. I read to my children, but was I ever silly? I imagine not.

But somehow my children are serious readers. They might also have trouble being silly with my (some day) grandchildren.

I wish I had read this book along with Dr. Spock and Barry White and the other authors of parenting books. It puts an entirely new spin on something that has been around as long as man has recorded his thoughts.

I hope I will be able to convey these ideas to the mothers at the shelter. I hope I can read a book to them and demonstrate being just a little silly. It gives me new ideas for how to do a better job as I volunteer to read to their children.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Change of Heart

The Catholic Church stands to gain some new members from the fallout over the ordination of the Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, which cut a deep schism in the Anglican Church.

When the Robinson case emerged, I remember being happy not to be part of a group that had to debate who was eligible to hold the highest offices of the church. There was a very vocal element who came out against homosexuals (like Robinson) and women.

Six years later, the Catholic Church has decided to invite those discouraged Anglicans into their fold. The real kicker here is they are grandfathering in the married priests. This ruling has not been tested by Catholic priests wanting to marry or single Anglican priests wanting to do the same. But nonetheless it is significant.

I can only imagine God up there laughing at the lengths his people will go to in order to make a point. I hope the Catholic Church is happy with its new homophobic members!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Up, up, and away!

I have learned quite a lot about getting around Costa Rica this past week as I figure out how to get from one place to the next on our January trip. The pieces are gradually falling into place.

I originally was insisting on taking public buses everywhere so as to both save money and see more of the country. But I’ve come to see the wisdom of the person who said crossing the country would take 2 days by bus. So we will be doing the first leg of that trip on a tiny Nature Air plane like the colorful one in the picture above. From Nosara to San Jose takes 45 minutes by plane and 5-1/2 hours by bus. It will be the best spent $89 (each) of the trip.

Small planes like these often have serious weight restrictions. It turns out we can check one 30-pound bag and bring aboard a 10-pound carryon. Given my Samsonite that has wheels which move in all directions is also quite heavy, we went luggage shopping online and found this Delsey duffel which weights just a little over 8 pounds.

We still must hook up with a bus to the Caribbean coast in San Jose. And the word is that buses sell out, especially on the weekend (when we will be traveling). So through a friend, I managed to find a guy in San Jose who (for a reasonable fee) will purchase our bus tickets in advance, meet us at the airport, and deliver us to the Gran Caribe bus terminal to catch the Mepe bus to Puerto Viejo, only a 4-1/2 hour ride. But at least that way we get there in one day if all goes well.

I’ve been having a lot of fun reading travel forums and just learning from the experience of others. It’s sort of nice to go to places off the beaten path where you have to work a little to make it happen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

The blankness of my calendar for today initiated a cleaning frenzy. Every time I do this I realize just how much is left. It’s something of a curse having a lot of storage space.

This round started with my bathroom. I filled a huge bag with shampoos and other beauty products that had been languishing on the shelves and in the drawers. The homeless shelter near our house is always receptive to things like these.

Then I moved on to the linen closet. I got rid of wash cloths that looked more like rags, towels that hadn’t been used for ages, and orphaned pillow cases. It looked so refurbished with all the remaining linens neatly folded and not crammed in.

The real objective of today’s cleaning was the closets in my room. I put together a bag of sweaters that were not worn out in the least but not being worn.

I never had thought of myself as a shoe horse, but my closet might have said otherwise. It was past time to get rid of the shoes that won’t work with my orthotics, the ones that don’t offer enough support, and the ones that are just decades out of style.

I had 6 pairs of Life Stride “Shelas”. You know they are old when the price was 25% off $38 at Woodward & Lothrop. My favorite was the bright red pair that always made me feel like something out of the Wizard of Oz.

The Purple Heart truck is visiting our neighborhood next week. They will think they have hit the mother lode when they get to our house.

I have been unable to elicit any enthusiasm from my husband in cleaning out. It doesn’t concern him in the least that his closets are filled with comparable clothes and shoes that are no longer worn. His comment, “I guess if we moved to a 2-bedroom place we would have to get serious about purging.”

Although someone walking in my front door wouldn’t have a clue as to my day’s work, I feel better that at least 3 areas have been tackled.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Talking to God

There’s an old adage “Get two Jews in a room and you have three opinions.” That certainly seems to be true of the class we are currently attending with our new rabbi Esther. She’s leading a 4-part series in understanding prayer, including the morning and evening Shabbat services. That’s a lot of ground to cover in just 4 weeks.

Whereas in the Christian church there are not so many prescribed prayers, in Judaism what once might have been spontaneous has been written down and serves as the words we say for just about any occasion, but specifically each week during the Shabbat services. In fact, most Jews would feel quite put on the spot if asked to offer a spoken prayer outside the context of a prescribed service.

The majority of prayers that we say or sing in services are in Hebrew, throwing up all sorts of issues for discussion. Like whether the prayer has meaning if you don’t know the meaning of the Hebrew words. I now know how to sing/say most of the prayers, even reading the Hebrew. I occasionally catch a word like “shalom” and know what it means. But it turns out each of those prayer pieces has come to represent sort of a feeling for me as it marks a particular part of the service. I’m sometimes shocked when I read the English translation and realize it has nothing to do with the feeling I have created around the prayer.

As for the challenges of offering personal prayer, my husband suggested that perhaps someone should give a class in how to pray. That idea struck me as totally wrong. I think personal prayer should be individualistic with no need to conform to any format or style or length. I cringed at the thought of someone defining how I should speak to my God, who may be quite different from the next person’s God.

I do offer my own prayers to God, but mostly outside the context of a religious service. I have come to see they are often more like prayer “tweets”, less than 140 characters, in which I comment on a gorgeous day (not today), ask for understanding to deal with a personal crisis, or express thanks for the good food I am fortunate to eat.

Do you have anything to say about personal prayer or is it just too personal to talk about in a public forum?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wake-up Call

All day long yesterday I had felt agitated, probably a state brought on by a hefty dose of morning caffeine. I’m starting to think coffee is not a good thing for my system.

Then as we were getting ready to go to services, I couldn’t find my favorite sweater anywhere. I checked to see if it had fallen off a hanger. I couldn’t remember having seen it since my trip to SF. I had a mini-meltdown over a sweater for God’s sake.

The Friday night music at TM sort of nudged me back into a state of contentment and pushed my unhappiness over the lost sweater to the background.

Last night we celebrated 20 years of Micah House, a home for 4 women recovering from addiction at a time. Over 30 women had called it their home during those years. Last night one of them spoke about how that house had been all that had kept her from homelessness, how she had emerged to then buy a home of her own, where she has lived for the past 14 years.

Our rabbi Danny reminded us how fortunate we are to be able to share what we have with those who don’t have as much. Our cantor Meryl sang this song, which pretty well summed up the feelings of the evening:

Grateful by John Bucchino

I've got a roof over my head
I've got a warm place to sleep
Some nights I lie awake counting gifts
Instead of counting sheep

I've got a heart that can hold love
I've got a mind that can think
There may be times when I lose the light
And let my spirits sink
But I can't stay depressed
When I remeber how I'm blessed

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

In a city of strangers
I've got a family of friends
No matter what rocks and brambles fill the way
I know that they will stay in the end

I feel a hand holding my hand
It's not a hand you can see
But on the road to the promised land
This hand will shepherd me
Through delight and despair
Holding tight and always there

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

It's not that I don't want a lot
Or hope for more, or dream of more
But giving thanks for what I've got
Makes me so much happier than keeping score

In a world that can bring pain
I will still take each chance
For I believe that whatever the terrain
Our feet can learn to dance
Whatever stone life may sling
We can moan or we can sing

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

My husband got up and gave a wonderful tribute to his father, a practice extended to any member celebrating the yahrzeit of a loved one. It brought tears to my eyes as I remembered a man I had grown to love over the years.

I went home and found my sweater hiding in my closet. The evening had reminded me of so many things so much more important than misplacing my favorite sweater, my several-years-old Calvin Klein from Filenes. It really didn’t matter so much in the scheme of things.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Elusive Notes

I have always been terrified at the thought of having to play a piece of music from memory. Obviously I don’t play by ear, but rather I rely on looking at the music for everything I play. I never get to the point where I could just sit down and play something I’ve been working on, possibly for months.

At last Sunday’s piano group, an older guy named Hal attempted to play a Chopin waltz from memory. It was just a short one and he started over many times trying valiantly to coax his brain to cooperate. But ultimately he gave up and hauled out the music.

I would never even be brave enough to try to play something from memory. But when I woke up last night, I remembered that I had seen the music for the Chopin ballade I’m currently playing in a dream and it was the real thing. It was so easy to pull up a measure, play it, and then put it aside to move on to the next measure.

So the music must be up there somewhere in my brain, just not accessible to me when I am awake. I’m wondering if there is some sort of brain therapy I could do to let me see what’s up there.

The brain is such a complex thing, sometimes throwing up barriers to things it holds. Does anyone out there understands how this works?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Third World Travel

I’m being reminded that going from Point A to Point B in a third world country is not always a straight shot. We’re finding out just how difficult it is as we attempt to arrange transportation for our January trip to Costa Rica.

It turns out that if you are in any hurry, you are better off flying. And you can fly in a tiny plane to just about any place you might want to go. But the cost is prohibitive.

If you don’t fly, the choices include driving a rental car, taxi, shuttle, and bus. We’re not even considering renting a car or hiring a driver. So we are left to try to find a group of people to share a shuttle with or use the public buses, by far the cheapest solution.

It sounds like one of the big problems is the quality of the roads. Interbus, the pre-eminent shuttle company, doesn’t even drive to Nosara, where the Omega Institute’s one-week program will be held. One Blogger says “Nosara, for better or for worse, is off the beaten path. This is a big part of what makes it special. It takes some effort to get both there and away, but there are options depending on your time and economic situation.” It must be way off the path if a shuttle company won’t even go there!

I have an e-mail message in to Vino Transportation, which claims to provide service between the Liberia airport (where we arrive) and Nosara. You would think Omega Institute might provide FREE transportation to and from the airport if they want many people to show up.

We have decided to go all the way to the Caribbean coast after our week at Omega. It’s only 275 km. from Nosara to Puerto Viejo. That’s less than 180 miles. One person said it might take 2 days to go by land and therefore recommended that we fly. But I want to see what lies between and not just from the air.

I have another inquiry in to a travel agent a friend used to try to unlock the secrets of getting around the country affordably.

From Puerto Viejo, we’re planning to go to Bocas del Toro, which is just over the border into Panama. It looks so close on a map, but apparently takes 4 hours, including walking across a railroad bridge crossing a ravine at the border.

After we spend a few days relaxing at Casa Cayuco, on a small island off of Bocas, we will then need to figure out how to get back to San Jose for our return trip home the next day.

I’m sure we will know so much more about travel around Costa Rica by the time we get home. But now there’s still a lot to learn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Choices about How to Get to the Top

It’s sad to say, but if given a choice between climbing flights of stairs or taking an elevator or escalator, I will usually take the easier route.

But sometimes there is no choice. Like today when I went for a bargain massage offered during Spa Week in downtown DC. The treatment space was on the fourth floor of a very old building and the elevator had long been out of service. Not exactly how I wanted to enter into 45 minutes of nirvana, but I had actually been forewarned when I made the appointment.

I now understand why they weren’t particularly busy. And after 45 minutes of cranial-sacral work, my body kept asking when the real massage was going to start. Hey, I got exactly what I paid for, and it was a bargain, and those stairs were a lot easier going down.

No sooner had I gotten to my car when I received a wonderful message from my friend LR, in which she was passing on this video about enticing people to use the stairs.

It is so true that just a little incentive will often influence someone’s choice. I’m sure if I saw the means to play the piano as I walked upstairs, I too would forsake the escalator.

But then I tried to imagine such a thing in this country. It would be so fraught with legal issues that it would never happen. Can’t you imagine someone filing a suit over breaking an ankle while trying to play a particular tune? Only in Sweden could they get away with this novel approach to enticing people to get some exercise.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Playlist

I’m trying to figure out what it is that makes me love a piece of music. I keep hearing things on the radio and wanting to play them and often they are by a group of composers that would fit on one hand.

It usually happens that I hear part of a piece as I’m driving somewhere, but since I didn’t hear the beginning or the end of it, I note the time and later consult the WETA playlist to find out what it was. Then I call a music store to see if they have it, sometimes asking “How difficult is it?”

Over the past few months, these radio-inspired pieces have included:

Bach’s Itialian Concerto
Vanhal’s Concerto in D for Double Bass and Piano
Chopin’s Ballade in G

I’ve long loved the Dvorak Piano Quintet, but after purchasing it realized it may well be beyond my ability.

Today I heard Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and lamented the fact that I didn’t have an orchestra to play it with! But I came home and called just to find out if there might be an arrangement that didn’t require so many instruments. And, in fact, there is one for 2 pianos, 4 hands. So now all I need is another piano and another set of hands. I’m hoping my teacher may offer her 2 pianos and her hands to make it possible to play this beautiful piece.

So back to what makes me love a piece of music. It usually has a piano part. It definitely has to be melodic. That doesn’t mean it can’t be in a minor key. It needs to have a tune I can hum when I’m not playing it. It needs to sound acceptable even at a slower tempo than indicated.

Fortunately there is an endless supply of pieces that fit all these criteria. I will never run out of good things to play, either by myself or with someone else.

Monday, October 12, 2009

From Russia with Love

We had a heart-warming visit this morning with our friend T and her 2-year-old son Nate. They just met a couple of months ago when T went to Russia to adopt him as a single mother. It was a match made in heaven; his name in Hebrew actually means “gift from God.” She confessed it was in a Hebrew class she was teaching us, when she was going over all the many words that end in -el (meaning God) – think about it: Ezekiel, Daniel, Nathaniel, etc. – that she came up with his name.

But she kept the whole thing a closely guarded secret, probably for fear that something would go wrong, until she arrived back home with Nate. It was a day when her life forever changed, as is always the case upon the arrival of a first child.

But this one couldn’t be contained in an infant seat. In fact he was instantly scaling the furniture, trying to figure out how things worked, learning words and spitting them back as quickly as T could teach them to him. He remembers everyone’s name, knows all his body parts, deftly handles a cup, and creates a hat out of most any container.

The only story T knows about young Nate: He was left on the door of the orphanage the day he was born. One can only imagine the circumstances that would compel a new mother to abandon such a beautiful, perfect baby. And there he lived waiting for the day when T would walk through the door and take him home halfway around the world.

She actually made 2 trips to Russia. The first to meet an older child who it turns out had already been adopted. So instead she met Nate, who was then called Igor. She left a book with pictures, including hers. Upon her return a couple of months later, the minute he saw her he ran into her arms. And the rest is history.

We took them a bag of our favorite children’s books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar with a little stuffed caterpillar, The Giving Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are. Actually Nate reminds me very much of Max in the last book.

Young Nate was happy to take the bag of books out of my hand. But then he spent the rest of our visit currying David’s favor, perhaps being intrigued by his beard. In between bringing David things, he would run back to the bathroom and try to make something else disappear down the toilet – his current fascination.

I was absolutely exhausted after watching him in perpetual motion for 45 minutes. At one point he was jumping from one chair into his mother’s lap as she sat in a nearby chair. He seems to be unscathed for all his daring behavior.

It was obvious that T had found true happiness with the emergence of Nate in her life. She seems to have the patience of Job as she goes from a lifetime of independent living to carrying for a very active toddler.

As we left I offered to be an emergency babysitter, but wondered if I was seriously up to the task. In our next encounter, we will introduce Nate to Jake. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some Weighty Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about want vs. need after an exchange yesterday with a good friend whose relationship with her partner is evolving. It would seem ideal to balance the two as we attempt to create a lasting relationship.

When we first meet a potential partner, want usually predominates and gets complicated by things like lust and jealousy and commitment as we struggle through those early days that so often can make or break a relationship. Want is that attraction that helps a relationship solidify, that reciprocal emotion that validates us.

But as time takes over, need can come to the forefront as mental and physical health issues sometimes become important. Even practical matters like who walks the dog or who does the grocery shopping translate into need. The trick is in balancing being needed and neediness. I can’t imagine a long-lasting relationship that doesn’t include a heavy dose of need.

After as many years as I have been with my spouse the two concepts of want and need have become inextricably linked. I know for a fact that I need him in so many ways to do and be the things that he does and is, and I believe he needs me in similar but different ways. This need is underscored when one of us goes out of town without the other.

Fortunately want has not disappeared totally from the picture. We still share a bed and enjoy each other’s company. The fire that once burned is sort of like a pilot light now, but it has not been extinguished.

A relationship where need and want were diminishing would be a cause for concern. Passing like ships in the night after sharing intimacy and significant life experiences would indeed evoke great sadness.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mind your head

It’s duck and cover as you walk out our side door these days. The acorns are falling at a fast and furious rate making it difficult to avoid being hit in the head.

Last year there was an acorn famine. This year they are annoyingly abundant. As I crunch along the driveway, I wonder what it is that tells the oak trees when to unload on us and when to save their seeds.

Anyone out there have an explanation?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

I have been cooking non-stop today in preparation for a Shabbat dinner with Micah friends tonight, including our new rabbi Esther. It’s a challenge because we’re going to services first, so the meal has to be completely prepared ahead of time and ready to roll out the minute 10 hungry people come in the door.

This all came about last week at services when I spoke to a young visitor (her third time) and realized how much she could learn from other members about her age...and about the age of our new young rabbi. So all week I have been putting together a group of 20’s and 30’s who will join us 60’s for dinner.

My first challenge was the fact that we don’t keep kosher. I somewhat shyly asked Esther if we should plan to eat on paper plates and stick to a vegetarian menu. But it turns out she is not so strictly observant to require that.

As I thought about entertaining a rabbi for the first time, my mind went back to the times when my mother entertained a visiting evangelist. She cleaned for days. She made mounds of tiny carefully deveined boiled shrimp. She hired our African-American cleaning lady, called a maid in the south, to dress up in a frilly white uniform and serve the meal. It was quite a production.

I’m certainly not going to those extremes for this mostly cold meal. I spent the morning making a variety of salads and making some oven-roasted potatoes. I did find I was paying attention to cut out the blemishes in the fruit and the avocados, but I would have probably done that anyway. I cleaned all the spatters off the stove top, but I would probably have done that too for just about any dinner party.

The house is by no means immaculate, having been cleaned almost 2 weeks ago. But fortunately Jake doesn’t shed much any longer since he is on the new diet, so there’s not much obvious dirt. A quick once-over will have to do.

Oh, and did I say our son Dan is joining us for dinner? I assured him no one would need to know his feelings about God or Judaism or religion in general. I’m delighted that he will get to meet some people from Temple Micah who are around his age.

My work is done. This afternoon I will get to savor the smells of salmon on the grill, tended by my husband, who seems to have mastered the art of grilling.

I’ve put Jake on notice that he needs to behave himself. No over-zealous biting of clothes and no ferocious barking, as he usually does to compensate for the fact that he is a little afraid of new people.

Should be a fun evening. A good way to unwind after the unwinding of the Torah as we celebrate Simcha Torah and prepare to start at the very beginning once again.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Back to the Garden (or maybe not)

In trying to figure out how to spend a few more days in the Caribbean in January, we discovered a beachy area called Bocas del Toro (mouths of the bull?) in Panama just over the border from Costa Rica. It seems to have all the elements we’re looking for: gorgeous beaches, eco-friendly attitude, snorkeling, rain forest, etc. AND lots of rain. It also has some interesting options for accommodation.

About that rain. I clearly remember spending a solid rainy week on Kiawah Island with smallish children. We even tacked on extra days to our rental thinking the sun had to finally come out. But no, it was not to happen. So the idea of going to a place where it rains a lot, especially in December, but not in January (the beginning of the dry season?) makes me a little nervous. All I can think is there won’t be little kids dragging me out for a walk in the rain. And I will have several good books to read. And I will be so mellow, having just spent a week meditating and doing yoga at the Omega Institute.

As for accommodations, my husband came across what seemed to be the perfect place today: the Garden of Eden. It was advertised as an “adults only” private island for the vacation of your dreams. So what does that mean? No screaming kids? Well, no. It would appear this is the Garden of Eden before Eve met the serpent. My husband was clued in by a shot in the photo gallery showing a very naked woman lounging in the pool. The Garden of Eden seems to be highly rated among clothing-optional resorts in the Caribbean.

So I’m wondering what would have happened if we had showed up to spend a few days and learned this information. Would we have had the nerve to participate in the spirit of community? Or would we have tried not to notice that we had on far more than some of the other guests?

Given that we found out before making a reservation, we have moved on to looking at some other fine places to stay where we will fit in a little better. Like Casa Cayuco. It seems to have everything we’re looking for and the guests appear to wear clothes. Now to see if they have any vacancies...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I haven’t said much about my new hip recently because my recovery seems to have hit a plateau. It’s certainly not like those first days and weeks after my accident when there was progress every day.

I must say I am delighted to be able to get out of bed easily and walk around the house every day. I’m delighted that for the most part I am free of pain. I’m delighted that I can once again do things like yoga, albeit with some modifications.

But I have discarded the hope that breaking my hip might actually fix a life-long gait problem I’ve had. I don’t have the same uneven gait, but rather a different one that still is obvious enough that people seem compelled to tell me that I am limping.

I have done my exercises religiously every day since this all happened in January, as faithfully as I wear my retainer each night. But I am slowly coming to the realization that my body might be as good as it ever gets.

Walking is still somewhat of a frustration, although I can do it with no external support. The problem is I continue to get discomfort in my new hip area and in the ligaments on the interior of my right knee, which tends to turn in. I noticed in SF that none of this happened when I used my cane and with the cane I could walk long distances.

So, in the interest of aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, I need to figure out whether there is a way to strengthen what’s weak or not working right through some form of therapy OR whether I must simply accept the fact that to take long walks I must bring along my cool cane.

I would love to get a professional opinion on this, but I’m never sure whom to ask.

I am eternally grateful this is not a life-threatening issue, but rather just an annoyance that I can easily live with if necessary.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dying (or Not)

Given the high cost of health care in the US, it is always a surprise to be reminded of how we stack up against other developed countries when it comes to results. Today’s Washington Post article underscored yet another area where we are losing ground, ranking the US dead last among 19 developed countries in terms of preventable deaths.

And we wonder just how can that be? It would be one thing to be paying a lot but continuing to be in first place, but 19th place?

The article made the point that the numbers would look very different if they were based on those with health insurance, who continue to get excellent care. But among the rest of the population (and that percentage is growing), people are dying from diseases like diabetes before they reach age 50. Which of course leads me to think about the increasing incidence of diabetes in the US among people of all ages, often linked to an increasingly poor diet.

And what if we went up against the tobacco lobby and had an effective campaign to significantly reduce smoking in this country? That would probably eliminate a whole lot of preventable deaths.

The chart above suggests that 100,000 lives could be saved each year in the US if our health care system performed as well as those in countries like France, Japan, and Australia.

It’s discouraging to read that much of the increased cost of health care in the US goes to higher physician salaries, larger administrative fees, and higher prices for most medical services -- things that do not necessarily translate into lowering the number of preventable deaths.

So the challenge that the US faces as we try to dig out of the health care hole is to expand coverage, control costs, and provide high-quality care. This is the conclusion of Sen. Kent Conrad, one of the key Senate health-care negotiators. If we don’t want to remain at the bottom of the heap on issues like preventable deaths, we need to look around the world, take note, and fix our broken system.

Did I hear you say, “I’m happy with my health care. I don’t want to pay for all these other people.”??? Did I recently hear my dermatologist say, "I don't want any reforms."??? Did I hear my hip surgeon say, "The saw I used to fix your hip cost $10,000."??? Therein lies much of the dilemma.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Questionnable Presidential Priorities

I haven’t questioned a thing President Obama has done since taking office until today when I read in the Washington Post about his treatment of the Dalai Lama. Shame on Obama for politicizing a meeting with this universally-recognized emissary of peace.

It would seem gaining favor with the Chinese is a higher priority for the current administration than continuing a long-standing tradition (even adhered to by Bush) of giving the Dalai Lama an audience when he comes to town.

Granted he isn’t being told he will never be invited to the White House. He’s just being told that several things have to be sorted out with China first, so as not to give the impression that Obama and company are soft on Tibet. Sheesh!

I’m also not pleased with the fact that we are suddenly downplaying human rights issues and financial policies in China in order to curry the favor of the Chinese. (Of course I continue to wonder how we can legitimately question anyone else’s human rights behavior when we have so many Guantanamo skeletons in our closet.)

It’s unclear as to whether the postponement of the Dalai Lama’s visit is in response to Chinese pressure or the brainchild of some Obama advisor who wants to impress the Chinese. But whatever the reason, I’m disappointed that politics are infringing on territory that should be free of such “strategic thinking.”

I hope we’re not losing our backbone when it comes to doing the RIGHT THING in the world.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Question of Regulation

In the week that I finished all 1,069 pages of Atlas Shrugged, how curious that we would sit next to a flaming Libertarian at a friend’s 60th birthday party last night. I thought he and my husband might break out into a fist fight at one point, as I sat back and listened to the modern interpretation of what I had just read.

Ayn Rand is revered by any Libertarian who knows his stuff. These people turn to her writing as if it were their Bible. The tome I just read depicted the end of society as we know it under increasing government intervention.

Last night I pretty much agreed with Mr. Libertarian that unions were the downfall of the US auto industry. My husband, however, recounted horror stories of his father working on the Ford assembly line in the days before the unions.

Mr. Libertarian claimed that sweat shops were not nearly as bad as they had been depicted and that most people only worked in such conditions for a short time (and so therefore they were OK???)

We moved on to discuss the meat industry. Whereas most Americans would credit Upton Sinclair for initiating government regulation, Mr. Libertarian was dead set against any form of government inspection.

Then today I read the story on the front page of the NYT about the 22-year-old woman who was paralyzed by an extreme encounter with E. coli, the result of a bad burger. And I say, “But I thought we had initiated inspections to catch this stuff before it ends up in people’s stomachs.”

It would appear the inspections simply can’t deal with the enormity of the problem in today’s meat processing industry. I was revolted to read that:

-- Meat producers use a combination of sources to cut their costs by as much as 25%.
-- Fatty trimmings are treated with ammonia to kill bacteria.
-- Carcasses are washed with hot water and lactic acid before sending them to the cutting floor.
-- The low-grade ingredients come from parts of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli.
-- Many suppliers will sell their meat to a processor only if testing for E. coli is done on the FINAL product, so as to avoid being blamed if and when contamination occurs.

It made me suspicious of most commercially processed ground meat. It reinforced my commitment to buy meat from Polyface.

Meanwhile a beautiful young woman’s life is wrecked by a tainted hamburger. And as many as 940 have been sickened by this particular episode of E. coli. Cargill, the processor, is bracing for the inevitable law suits. But the odds are that another company will be the culprit in the near future.

Here’s a place where I definitely differ with the Libertarians, who would get rid of all forms of government regulation. I, on the other hand, would push for sweeping changes in the meat industry to significantly reduce if not altogether eliminate the chance for contamination and infection. I will support inspections every step of the way, but only if they work to eliminate the problem.

It would seem we have created a monster that even extreme measures are failing to bring under control.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Shrimp Heads and Dog Food

I thought I knew all there was to know about shrimp. I mean, after all, I grew up in the Florida panhandle where we bought shrimp right off the boat. But I learned something new today.

Today’s class at Hill’s Kitchen was about the cooking of Southern Thailand – curries and chicken sate with peanut sauce and hot and sour shrimp soup. The food was once again so much better than food I’ve eaten in good local Thai restaurants, and for the most part was quite doable.

But the gem of the day was the idea of creating rich fish stock from shrimp heads and shells. These are the parts that usually cause me to have to take out the garbage immediately after dinner. But instead I can simply throw them into a pot of water and get a flavorful broth. Such a broth could then be the basis for any number of great seafood soup recipes. And I’m sure the cooked shells could wait until the morning to be thrown out.

As we sat there savoring every bite of the resulting 4 dishes, I had the idea that to celebrate the first year of classes, Hill’s Kitchen should organize a pot luck, where we students could bring a dish we had learned how to make. What a meal that would be!

After class and a cursory clean-up, Chef Brock and I moved over to Starbucks to talk about dog food. My class is actually going to happen on December 5. With his help, I will teach a class of 12 how to make “Jake’s” dog food, homemade yogurt to top it, and dog biscuits to reward good canine behavior. We talked about how to divide the labor of the class and it sounds like it will work well.

I came home and started developing a time line so as to figure out how to fit all the instruction into a 90-minute class. It’s harder than it sounds! But I have at least a draft plan.

Each participant will take home a legitimate doggy bag so that Fido will be able to taste the fruits of our labor. It will be a great opportunity for me to see how I like teaching cooking.

Meanwhile I need to put out the word so people will sign up for the class. If it’s any incentive, I can tell them they will easily recoup the cost of the class in dog food savings over just a couple of months.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Vacation on the Horizon

We are finally going on a joint vacation after months of being at home due to health problems we’ve both had. But in January we will be headed to Costa Rica for a week at the Omega Institute’s new facility there and perhaps a few more days relaxing on a beautiful beach or taking a zip-wire above the rain forest.

Thanks to Blogger LA, we rediscovered the Omega Institute and found out about their Costa Rica site, where you can enjoy yoga, meditation, massage, and classes in a tropical paradise.

The week we’ll be there (including my birthday), the featured speaker is Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” He is a medical doctor from Boston, who promotes many alternate forms of healing.

Jake’s “boy” will come home to stay with him while we’re gone, so he’ll probably never even notice our absence.

It’s still 3 months off, but it feels so good to know we’re going somewhere, and to a beautiful place at that.

As for how we spend the extra days, if you have ever been to Costa Rica and have advice, please share it with me. We’re definitely not up for any strenuous hikes, but I’m assuming there are plenty of other ways to spend our time.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

For Love of an Oyster

Oysters are probably one of those foods you feel strongly about one way or the other. Most people either love or hate them.

Since I slurped down my first raw oyster slathered in cocktail sauce at the age of 6, I have had a love affair with oysters. Soon thereafter I learned how to shuck them and got a lot of practice since we lived just down the road from Apalachicola, Florida, and oysters cost 2 cents apiece 5 decades ago.

After moving to DC in the early 70’s, I once gave an oyster party, where we bought a bushel of oysters, shucked them, and cooked them 7 different ways. My favorite was probably wrapped in bacon and broiled. Talk about traif! But I hadn’t even thought of converting to Judaism at that point in my life.

Today, despite the fact that I am now Jewish, I still relish eating oysters with my 75-year-old Jewish friend Betty. We periodically go to Black Salt, a seafood restaurant on MacArthur Blvd. that offers at least 3 varieties with a wonderful mignonette sauce. Unfortunately the price of oysters has gone up even faster than the rate of inflation.

Just today I read an interesting article in the New Yorker about efforts to restore the oyster population of New York Harbor, where in the days of the early colonists oyster reefs covered three hundred and fifty square miles of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.

The oyster is an extremely interesting bi-valve. In addition to being able to change sex seemingly at random and to take a piece of grit and turn it into a pearl, oysters serve as a natural source of water purification. Earlier this summer, politicians, environmentalists, artists, and other mollusk enthusiasts came together at the Restoring the Urban Oyster conference, on Governors Island, to strategize a new beginning for the Eastern oyster. If they are successful, oysters will once again abound in this part of the country.

However, before you get out your shucking tools and ready the cocktail sauce, consider that if the baby oysters do their job removing the toxins from the water, they’ll be dangerous to eat. Hopefully there will always be oysters from safer waters to satisfy the cravings of people like me.