Monday, November 30, 2009

Crossing to the Other Side

Last night we had some hope that my husband’s 101-year-old Aunt Zelda had not had a stroke after all.  His cousin, who is a doctor living in Chicago, went to see her and reported perfect symmetry in her body, unlike what one would expect in a stroke victim.  But she remained unconscious. 

Today they removed the ventilator and she continued to breathe.  But the neurologist who saw her confirmed that she had indeed suffered a massive stroke.  He said she has a herniated brain, as a result of the stroke, usually a fatal condition.

She currently hovers between life and death, which may come in 2 hours or 4 days.

After recently reading about the Belgian man who had been in a coma for 23 years and had been able to hear everything going on around him for all that time, I wonder just what is going on in Zelda’s herniated brain, which was sharp as a tack as recently as 3 days ago. 

She’s always hated the medical profession.  So if she could speak, I’m sure she would have a few choice words for those caring for her.

But in many ways, it’s the best way for her to go.  She never wanted to be totally incapacitated or dependent on others.  This brief period of transition will not last long.

I so wish I could know what this in-betweenness is like.  I wonder if you actually spend time in both worlds as death gradually approaches.

The question of the day is what Zelda’s Hebrew name is.  She has no immediate family since she never married.  She managed to outlive anyone who might know.  I suppose the rabbi who conducts her funeral will simply give her a name to take away if that question remains unanswered. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mea Culpa

Today it would seem everywhere I look I find things to feel guilty about.  First and foremost is the plight of Aunt Zelda.

On Thanksgiving day, just as I was up to my elbows in the dressing that was an abysmal failure, my husband decided to call his 101-year-old aunt so we could wish her a happy Thanksgiving.  I wanted to ask if we could wait until the next day when the cooking frenzy was over, but I didn’t. 

Everyone but me talked to her, with the conversations going on for at least a half hour.  She sounded great.  She was lucid.  She recognized everyone.  She listened to what was going on in our children’s lives.  But I kept cooking.  The thought that this could be the last time I ever talked to her flitted across my mind, but I kept cooking.

Just yesterday afternoon right about the time I threw away the rest of the failed dressing, we learned that she had been found unconscious in her room and was taken to a Chicago hospital.  Today it has become clear that she may have suffered a stroke from which she will never wake up.  Her life may end when the breathing machine is turned off.

I have once again been reminded that there are some things worth taking a break for, whatever the cost.  I probably missed my chance forever, just because I wanted to stay on schedule for Thanksgiving dinner. 

I won’t even bother to share my other guilt, saying only that it is also family related. 

Even a yoga class didn’t seem to make me feel better.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


We’re  invited to an old friend’s house for a post-Thanksgiving dinner, where everyone brings their leftovers to share.  It’s a chance to clean out your bulging refrigerator and socialize at the same time.

So the question of the day is whether to take our “best” leftovers or the ones that are the most plentiful.  Do we take the things that might give us a label of “outstanding cook” or anonymously contribute to mediocrity?

I’m for getting rid of as much of those miscellaneous containers in the refrigerator as possible, but I am sensing a determination on the part of another family member to hold onto his outrageously delicious garlicky mashed potatoes.   We can’t take the dark meat that was still running red juice after it was carved.

I’m sure we’ll come up with enough to legitimize our invitation.  These are people we have known for over 20 years who have children exactly our children’s ages, so it will be fun to get everyone together again.  The food is actually a secondary consideration.

How are you dealing with all the leftovers?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sharing with Passion

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I’m gearing up for teaching 2 classes this week.

On Wednesday night I will meet with the moms of the kids we read to at the homeless shelter.  The idea will be to tell them what we are doing with their children and why, encouraging them to read to their children in between our weekly visits. 

Many of the moms are searching for work or have exhausting jobs that send them home with little energy to do anything besides feed their children and put them to bed.  I’m thinking of suggesting they combine forces with another family or two, taking turns reading at night. 

Research has shown that kids who are read aloud to become better readers than those who haven’t had that experience.  I hope I can be convincing, while at the same time being sympathetic to their life demands.   Each of the moms will take home 4 books on the theme of "Feelings."

Then on Saturday the dog food class is finally scheduled to happen.  I have been doing lots of  research on nutrition for dogs, since I come at this from the standpoint of a dog lover, not someone educated in canine food science.  I’m still working out the details with the chef who is in charge of all the classes at Hill’s Kitchen.  I’m encouraged that people are actually signing up for the class.  I’m curious to see who they are.

I’m planning to do a dry run with my daughter Rachel as my audience and critic on Sunday.  It will give me an idea of just how long it takes to demonstrate making dog food and dog biscuits.

I’m hoping to make both of these experiences fun.  They are not a source of income to me, but they can enrich my life in other ways I hope!

Of Ticks and Turkeys

Our guests have come, eaten, and gone.  We are now trying to figure out where to put all the leftovers.  The hot water just ran out, so we’re taking a break.

The last two days have been a cooking marathon.  But today just before we got serious about roasting the turkey, we had a Jake crisis.  Dan found what appeared to be a rather large tick on Jake’s side. 

Everyone stopped what they were doing and came to assist in the removal of said tick.  Jake was a good patient, welcoming all the attention and undoubtedly glad to get rid of the blood-sucking thing.  Rachel sterilized the tweezers and David managed to get it out with the head in tact.  Dan kept Jake calm.  And I took pictures.  Coming from the South, I was used to dogs getting ticks, but this was the first one Jake had had in 11 years.

After the tick had been flushed, we all returned to our labors and Jake pouted out on the deck because no one would throw his Kong.

As all our guests descended on us at once, I sort of panicked.  But after a couple of glasses of wine, I got into the rhythm of entertaining and let people do things to help out. 

It seemed like we ate literally for hours.  It was so interesting to realize that all the children who used to be running around together on Thanksgiving are now young adults.  They are all good kids.

All in all there were more successes than failures in the food arena.  The turkey was the best ever,  The gravy was the worst.  They loved the soup and the kale and both kinds of potatoes.  The winter squash, so-so.

Ironically they ate more of my pie than the perfect pie.  Go figure.  Maybe people are attracted to irregularity.  The crust was good tasting and it definitely did not look store-bought.

Tomorrow Rachel and I will get up and go to the gym and it will be just another Friday.  We’ll meet Deborah and her husband for lunch and she and I will play some music. 

We probably won’t have 19 people for dinner for a long time.  But it was actually a lot of fun despite the hard work.

Hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

(Note:  If  you click on the top photo, you will see a plate made by Dan in kindergarten.  I found it today as I was looking for 19 place settings.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crust Challenged

I woke up today knowing I had to make the dreaded pie crust.  I can cook many things well, but pastry has never been among them.

I followed the directions for an “All Butter Crust” so carefully, determined that this time might be different.  But once again it was a struggle.  According to the instructions for pumpkin pie from my Thanksgiving class, I pre-cooked the crust.  (Note: That is parchment paper and weights in the pie shell!) I think it will actually taste good, but it is not a pretty crust.

I also made one of my signature leaves, in the hope that it will distract people from the rest of the crust.  Tomorrow morning I’ll make the filling and bake the pie.

A little while later my daughter breezed in, threw together the most perfect crust with no hesitation whatsoever.  She then made a delicious sweet potato custard filling.  The pie-baking skills, for which her grandmother was so famous, must have skipped a generation.

It was great to have her company as we cooked together today.  Now that we are just about done, my son has decided to make yet another soup for tomorrow’s meal, so he is peeling and chopping and working diligently in the kitchen.

We are all enjoying each other’s company with absolutely no stress.  Of course my daughter smiled as she reminded me that it hadn’t even been 24 hours yet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bivalve Revenge Averted

I was a little worried last that my good luck with eating oysters had finally caught up with me.  They are scavengers after all, eating garbage off the bottom of the ocean floor.

I seriously thought I had food poisoning after my fourth trip to the bathroom in the space of an hour.  It would not be a good time to be incapacitated.  There were so many things to do even today leading up to Thursday’s feast.

I found myself saying, “Please God, spare me!”  I went to bed not knowing how the night would go, whether I would be coherent enough to make it to the bathroom.  But I slept soundly and woke up hungry and not in the least sick.  Whew!

So today I’m feeling rather lucky not to be running to the bathroom or sneezing or coughing or doing any of the other undesirable things that this season often brings.

The big bird is resting in a water bath flavored by salt, herbs, smashed garlic cloves, lemon peel, and brown sugar.  I have made my last trip to the grocery store.  I’ve cut up the rye bread for the fennel-wild mushroom stuffing. 

I’m on my way into the city to pick up Dan, who will be here to help pick up his sister Rachel, who arrives from San Francisco in the middle of the night.  Jake is resting up in preparation for greeting some of his very favorite humans.

I feel so fortunate to be healthy as I look forward to a family reunion and a mountain of food shared with family and friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lunchtime Decadence

I decided to go for a leisurely, decadent lunch with my friend Betty before the demands of the week of cooking set in.  Our lunch at Black Salt surpassed my desires!

We are dedicated, serious oyster eaters.  So we each ordered a dozen oysters from 4 different places in the US.  They came on a tray of ice with lots of lemon, mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, and thin crispy crackers.  We also like a nice glass of good wine to wash down the bivalves.  She had Prosecco; I had a delightful Sauvignon blanc.

Lunch with Betty wouldn’t be complete without dessert and cappuccino.  The Chocolate Peanut Brittle Crunch Cake with Caramelized Bananas and Peanut Brittle (and 2 forks) was to die for!

On my way out, at the fish market I bought Asian tuna burgers with a ginger dipping sauce to make for dinner.  That way when the Visa bill comes in, I can remind my husband about that wonderful dinner I made for him because I had gone out to eat oysters. 

I’m sure Betty and I will show up again at Black Salt before oyster season is over (months with “R” are the ones).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting Ready for a Feast

Today I started planning in earnest for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner with 19 in attendance.  As an only child, it’s always a little bit daunting to take on cooking for so many people.

I tend to go somewhat overboard, adding more dishes to the menu instead of just making bigger quantities of a few standard ones.  Fortunately I have the help of my long-time friend and neighbor, who is never intimidated by anything in the kitchen.  And my daughter will be home to help cook.  And I had all our knives sharpened. 

Here’s our combined menu so far:

Roasted nuts
Herb-roasted olives
Puffed pastry with grape tomatoes and ricotta

Lentil-collard soup with lemon

Green salad with shaved fennel and beets
Wild rice salad

Braised kale
Brussel sprouts with pancetta
Mashed sweet potatoes with Chipotle pepper
Mashed garlicky Yukon gold potatoes
Butternut squash with goat cheese
Cranberry sauce

Fennel-wild mushroom dressing
Traditional bread stuffing

Pumpkin pie
Sweet potato pie
Apple pie
Birthday cake

Thanksgiving is always a reminder of a similar dinner with our neighbors, after which my friend went into labor and gave birth, while my husband David spent the night with her two older children.  That baby is now 22 years old, a multi-talented college senior.

The guest list will also include a part of our family whom we haven’t seen in some time.  I hope it will be a happy and otherwise uneventful reunion.

I did the majority of the shopping today, not wanting to be a part of the panic that always ensues when certain items become scarce and everyone wants them.  I will get the 5 remaining items on Tuesday and after that just choose to leave anything still missing out of the recipe.

Yesterday I took a most exciting 3-hour course at Hill’s Kitchen, entitled “Thanksgiving Basics:  A Plan for the Mayhem.”  Many of the dishes on our menu are a result of that class.  When I teasingly questioned the vast amounts of butter and cream in the dishes we made, the chef/instructor passed along Julia Child’s advice:  take smaller portions!  And so I shall.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Mystery of Memory

I have lately been intrigued by the process of memory -- both physical and mental memory.  The combination of active and passive stretching seems to have a positive effect on memory in general.

Just the other day my trainer Emily used a technique to stretch my hamstrings that I had originally encountered in physical therapy.  PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) works by stretching and then releasing.  With each repetition, the affected muscle changes its memory of limitation to stretch a little further.  It’s so interesting that only by releasing is it possible to stretch further the next time.

Yesterday I had a massage by a very skilled therapist.  I had only encountered someone with this level of ability once before.  Interestingly, they were trained at about the same time 10 years ago.  My body quickly identified and remembered the techniques they both used that work so well and that I hadn’t experienced in over a year.  How can something like this be imprinted on our brains?

Last night I attended a concert at the French Embassy, courtesy of my piano teacher who knows the concert artist.  He has memorized ALL of Beethoven’s sonatas.  That’s hundreds of pages of music.  I asked him after the concert how he had possibly done such a feat.  He laughingly replied, “Sometimes I deviate from Beethoven, but I always come back.”  There were no obvious mistakes as far as I could tell.

Sitting in front of me was a friend of my teacher, who was married to a Congressman (and still is although he is no longer in Congress) and lived next door to our rental house in Wesley Heights in the early 70’s.  During the concert I found my mind trying to remember the names of our other neighbors of 37 years ago.  I would picture the house and then perhaps remember the first letter of the last name and then let it go.  When I came to that house again in my mind, I seemed to find the next letter of the name and eventually to complete it.  It was just like my hamstring stretch.  Only in releasing was I able to remember.

I must not be the only one fixated on memory.  Just today my Blogger friend Steve wrote about the process of remembering dreams.

Do you ever think about memory, the thing that adds the dimension of time to our thoughts and actions?

(I have no pictures to offer of memory, so instead you get to see the tiny curried egg salad sandwiches.)

Friday, November 20, 2009


Would you look at those eggs?!  They are a far cry from last week's mutilated eggs.

I volunteered to make curried egg salad again this week.  Unfortunately it’s for a sadder event --  the luncheon after a memorial service for a neighbor who spent the last year dying from a horrible form of cancer.

I listened to what you all had to say last week and took it to heart.  I mainly credit my success to immersing the eggs in ice water after cooking and peeling them under cold running water.

The shells just slipped right off with no hesitation.  Not even one little piece tried to stay behind.  What took a good hour last week took about 15 minutes today.

In the morning the curried egg salad will go on thin slices of olive bread, adorned with a slice of pimentoed olive.  Hopefully they will go well with all the other finger foods.

Thanks for restoring my egg-peeling confidence!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

China's Warriors Come to Life

I had long heard about the Terra Cotta Warriors of China.  But today I got to see first-hand pieces from this magnificent collection at the National Geographic Museum.  I was one of probably 1,000 people who made their way through the exhibit on opening day.

The Terra Cotta Warriors are a form of funerary art dating back to around 210 BC.  It is estimated that there are as many as 8,000 statues, as well as horses and chariots and all the regalia that an army might need.  Their purpose was to help the departed emperor Shi Huang Di rule another empire in the afterlife.  They are remarkably lifelike.  It’s difficult to imagine a society so evolved at such an early time in history.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I viewed the exhibit.

First of all I was struck with how it is often the poorest of society who make the greatest discoveries.  In the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was a Bedhouin boy who while looking for a goat wandered into the caves above Qumran in Israel in 1947 only to find the scrolls perfectly preserved.  In the case of the warriors, it was farmers in the Xi’an Province of China who were drilling a well in 1974 when they encountered the first clay figures.  In both cases, it took a while for anyone to appreciate the enormity of their find.

Something that surprised me about the Terra Cotta Warriors was their great size.  Even today we think of many Chinese people as being somewhat slight of build.  But these figures from over 2,000 years ago were from 6’ to 6’5”, depending on their role, with the tallest being the generals.  I especially loved the part of the exhibit that depicted how one of the warriors would have been made, with the final statue weighing as much as 350 pounds.

Although the exhibit gives an extraordinary view into adult males of the time, women and children are quite neglected.  I found myself wanting to know what the other members of the family looked like.

The pieces in this exhibit are exquisite in terms of their workmanship and the insight they give into the life and customs of the times.  But they only whet one’s appetite to see the army in its entirety, which can only happen when the excavations are complete.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All the World's a Stage

Have you ever sat down on a plane only to wonder whether you were on the right flight?  Then you tell yourself you couldn’t possibly have gotten on the plane with the wrong boarding pass.  That would apply to the theater too, right?  Maybe not.

Yesterday I was offered two $20 tickets to As You Like It performed by The Shakespeare Company.  My husband begged off because of the problem with his feet.  So I invited a neighbor friend to join me.

We zipped downtown at 6:45 to find a parking space right in front of the theater on 7th Street.  How convenient!

The usher had difficulty scanning my ticket, but hers made the required beep and we easily found our seats.

But as I looked at the stage I recognized the set from The Alchemist, which we had seen just last week.  I thought to myself how clever it was that they had somehow figured out how to incorporate it in As You Like It.

Then I looked down at my ticket and actually read the words on it to find out we were in THE WRONG THEATER!   How could that be?

It was a good thing we were early, because we still had time to walk the few blocks to the Sidney Harman Hall, the other theater where The Shakespeare Company performs.

O-5 and O-7 were equally good seats.  I mused about what might have happened if we had waited for the play to begin to figure out our mistake.  Or what might have happened if the rightful owners of our seats had showed up.

As for the play, it was a bizarre melding of As You Like It and The Time Traveler’s Wife, since their rendition spanned centuries, with Rosalind pulling everyone along across all that time.  It was entertaining and all the famous lines were there.  But it verged on being just a little too far out.

Perhaps seeing The Alchemist again might not have been such a bad idea after all.  I wonder if we could have pulled it off?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

King of the Kong

It’s a good thing our dog Jake was born with a good sense of smell because it’s serving him well in his old age.  I am convinced that it’s only by scent that he’s able to find his Kong these days.

Jake’s Kong is like his pacifier.  It’s always been that way.  There was never a need to fill it with peanut butter.  He just wanted to hang one off his right canine tooth, the one that has been worn down by holding the Kong in his mouth.

In his youth, he could catch the Kong on the bounce.  We could do 10 throws in just a couple of minutes.

But now it takes him a lot longer.  His cloudy eyes don’t see the trajectory any longer.  He no longer hears the resounding thud as it hits the ground.

So instead he makes large circles until he somehow manages to pick up the latest scent and locate it, which he inevitably does unless by some cruel fate it goes over the fence. All the while his tail is wagging like crazy.

There are times when he would rather lie there and chew on it or eat grass instead of bringing it back.

But when I start to go inside, he’s always there begging for just one more throw.

Sometimes I get a souvenir of our Kong-throwing.  It was interesting to see the rice and carrots that are in his home-made food.  I could detect no dog-poop odor.  But then maybe my sense of smell is diminishing.

Not everything lasts for a lifetime.  But I can guarantee Jake will be attached to his Kong until his dying day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gym Update

Thought you might like an update on my gym project.  Not surprisingly, it’s not easy and sometimes my body complains.

My trainer Emily’s motto is the level of difficulty is just about right if you are sore for only two days after a training session.  Her other motto is “Let’s add a little more weight.”

She is pushing me to my limit in a very supportive and understanding way.  We’re working on areas that have been tight (or loose) for decades.  That would be chest (from hunching over a variety of computers), abs, hamstrings, quads, lower back.  I think we’ve covered most body parts by now.

I have 4 more sessions with Emily.  Then I will have to decide whether I know enough to do this on my own or whether I need the supervision and incentive provided by a personal trainer.  I’m thinking the latter just for a while.

Having an appointment certainly makes me get out of bed and get over to the gym instead of finding an excuse not to go.

Today I had another incentive.  My friend KC was cooperative enough to time her workout to end when mine did and then we took ourselves over to Caribou Coffee to catch up on each other’s life.  Although she is the fittest 60-year-old I have ever known, we could be gym partners in spirit!

As a result of even a few trips to the gym, I notice I’m not nearly so stiff when I wake up in the morning and I definitely sleep better at night.

Despite the mild soreness that actually feels healthy, I’m sure my body is grateful for this intervention before it’s too late.

I’m off to yoga now to add some gentle stretches to a busy day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Next Generation of Bloggers

Today’s Blogger meet-up was not the loud bar scene.  But rather it was a much quieter brunch at the Beacon Bar & Grill, punctuated occasionally by an overzealous toddler.

The moms had been super-star Bloggers in their heyday, with comments in the double digits every day.  But 4 years later they are no longer worried about what to write or how many comments they are getting.


Of the seven of us attending, only two of us are still Blogging regularly.  That would be me and one other person who writes Sweet Baby Jack.

Another person was 8 months pregnant and looked like she could give birth on the way home.  She had escaped bed-rest to join us for brunch.

The conversation had shifted dramatically from 4 years ago, now featuring pregnancy, labor, delivery, breast-feeding, and daycare.  I had to smile at how these girls had matured in the last few years.

Those babies may grow up, but they are never out of our thoughts and concerns.  My 28-year-old had called last night complaining of a backache brought on by being too macho with a heavy box.  So out of concern I stopped by (his apartment in Foggy Bottom) to deliver some carryout pad Thai on my way home.  He looked the picture of health today, but gratefully accepted dinner (or maybe it’s actually breakfast or lunch).

It was definitely fun to seem some familiar faces and to meet some new people.  And seeing their babies reaffirmed how much I would like to have grandchildren someday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just Another Saturday

I haven’t much to say today.  Just a quote used by our rabbi Danny to open the Shabbat morning service at Temple Micah.

From Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple”:

“Tell the truth, have you ever found God in a church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”

This is so true for people attending most any gathering in the name of religion.  We did a lot of musical sharing today, which is about the closest I ever get to finding God.  Our other rabbi Esther addressed the bat mitzvah girl’s question about how God can sanction our killing of animals for food.  I learned a lot, but I’m not ready to become a vegetarian, not just yet.

A 20-something mentioned having found my Blog.  I always want to say that I’ve never been hiding it.  I always find myself going over all the most recent posts hoping I haven’t said anything offensive or inappropriate.  It’s somewhat strange to think of writing to an audience that is forever changing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reluctant Eggs

Have you met a hard-boiled egg that just didn’t want to come out of its shell in one piece?  Faced with the daunting task of peeling 24 eggs, I learned a lot about how to do it and how not to do it. 

I was assigned to make 2 recipes of curried egg salad for a Micah Cooks event tomorrow.  (I’m glad I limited it to 2!)  This morning I carefully placed the 2 dozen eggs in a big pot of water and boiled away on low temperature while I ate breakfast. 

I have encountered eggs where a piece stuck to the shell here or there, but never anything like these cage-free Trader Joe’s extra large brown eggs.  It took me at least 4 minutes to peel each egg for the first dozen.  I told myself to be thankful for two things:  they were not intended to be deviled eggs and they had at least started out as extra large.

After I added all the other ingredients and blended them in the food processor, no one would ever know the sorry state of affairs after peeling.

But then I had an idea for the second dozen, not wanting to spend the better part of another hour.  I decided to slice them in half with a large knife and scoop the egg out with a spoon.  Worked like a charm and took less than a minute per egg.  Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention.

Perhaps you know the secret to a perfect egg every time.  I obviously haven’t learned it yet.  So do share any tips!

But meanwhile, here’s the easy recipe:

Curried Egg Salad

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 scallions, cut into small pieces
2-1/2 teaspoons curry
2 tablespoons dried tarragon
Salt and white pepper to taste

Enjoy on tea sandwiches as we will tomorrow or on a nice piece of multi-grain toast or straight out of the food processor on a spoon.  Yum!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pick a Road

When we set out for Charlottesville today, there seemed to be choice between a route (I-66 + US29) with fewer miles but (what seemed like) dozens of traffic lights and another route (I-64 + I-95) that was made for cruise control but was 35 miles longer.  I was the driver since my husband’s aching feet were the purpose of our visit (so he could start the process of getting molded shoes). 

He suggested that we take the shorter route with all the traffic signals since the shoe guy had recommended it.  I found it incredibly frustrating to get up to a reasonable speed and then have to stop every few minutes.  The rain didn’t help either.  It ended up taking almost 2-1/2 hours.  Not bad for 115 miles.

He left an impression of his feet (literally), we ate the picnic lunch I had packed, and then we headed back up the road.

By this time the dregs of Hurricane Ida had intensified the rain.  I opted for the cruise control route, knowing it was 35 miles longer, but wanting to avoid all that starting and stopping.  It was a miserable drive because of the relentless rain, but otherwise no big deal.  It took almost the exact same number of minutes.  My leg felt better for having rested most of the way home.

So which route would you have chosen if you were making this trip?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Accidents Will Happen

After seeing Ben Johnson’s “The Alchemist” at The Shakespeare Theater with friends this afternoon, we went out for tapas at a nearby restaurant. 

We were starving by 3:00, so maybe that’s why the accident happened.  Or maybe it was because we were splitting all the little dishes and I am left-handed.  God only knows why I dealt a resounding blow to my water glass which shattered and spilled. 

Amazingly the water didn’t land in anyone’s lap -- not at our table or the next table.  But it was a bit of a spectacle as they sent a waiter over with a broom and dustpan to clean up our area.

As I somewhat shyly asked for a new glass of water, the man at the next table somewhat jokingly suggested that maybe they shouldn’t give me any, or that they should give me a plastic cup.  Sheesh, I started to wish I had wet those khaki pants of his and that it had been red wine instead of water.

My table was very good about it.  Our conversation continued as if nothing had happened.  I didn’t even really care that I had broken one of their cheap water glasses.  But I did find the comments of a stranger to be annoying. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spending Money to Save Money

I have a new favorite place to shop for everything from shoes to tea.  Marshalls has great bargains every day.  I could waste a lot of time going through the sale tables, which slash the already greatly reduced prices.

I went into Marshalls the other day in search of a particular kind of tea I had gotten there.  The one thing you simply must accept is that you may never see the same thing again.  And sure enough the French mint green tea was no longer, but there were many other teas from which to choose.  Having paid as much as $10 for a can of tea at Whole Foods, prices like $2 look great.

My hair has simply been dissatisfied with the expensive Bumble & Bumble shampoo at Axis and the pricey organic shampoo at Whole Foods.  For $8 at Marshalls I got shampoo and conditioner that made my hair feel great when I shampooed it today.  I’ve never heard of the brand and will probably have a hard time finding it again anywhere, but until it runs out, I will enjoy the results.

I confess to being addicted to lavender soap.  I used to pay $15 at Whole Foods for a bar of French soap that would last most of a year, but it has been discontinued (probably because no one else was buying it).  For a mere $4 I got a comparable bar at Marshalls.

I’ve had a terrible time finding comfortable shoes that would accommodate my orthotic inserts and didn’t look like they should be on 85-year-old feet.  But at Marshalls I found the same Merrell’s I had recently seen at an upscale shoe store in Chevy Chase for half the price.

Unfortunately I didn’t stop with the bargain tea, and instead bought all these other things.  But the total price at the checkout of $75 made that shopping trip totally worthwhile.

Check out Marshalls and enjoy the savings! 

Monday, November 09, 2009

Committing to Fitness

I have never been very dedicated when it comes to using a gym.  But I have lately come to realize just how important weight-bearing exercise is.  So I made a call to the local Sport & Health and bought a 3-year membership plus some grossly discounted personal training sessions.

We had been members of Skyline (as the S & H used to be called) for many years.  It was almost as though we thought having all those yearly membership stickers on our car rear window was accomplishing what could only be achieved by hours of sweat and hard work.

About 5 years ago I came up with the bright idea of dropping our membership and putting a home gym in our basement.  We hired a trainer to help us pick out the equipment and to get us started.

But there has never been much appeal to going downstairs amid the boxes of a lifetime, turning on the boombox, and working out.  I have been fairly good about using the elliptical machine, but the stationary bike and the Hoist gym haven’t been overused.

I actually negotiated a price for my husband and myself that is below what we used to pay.  I guess gyms are as hungry as any other facility for new members.

I just found out that my personal trainer will be Emily, who comes highly recommended by the fitness coordinator.  I warned him that I was old and slightly broken down and in pretty lousy shape.  So Emily has been forewarned. 

My goal is to ultimately learn a method of weight training called SuperSlow.  It was designed for people with osteopenia or osteoporosis.  Hopefully it will build up my strength and even my bone mass.

The real question remains as to whether I will make good on my portion of the monthly $60 gym membership fee.  I sincerely hope to do more than just sport a decal on my window this time.  I need someone to crack the whip so I don’t wimp out.  Maybe fitness will become a habit.  Who knows?             

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Power of Women

I was urged by an elderly member of Temple Micah to attend an “afternoon tea and discussion” hosted by Women of Faith, an interfaith group that has been in existence in the DC area for over 30 years.  I went somewhat out of a feeling of obligation, but came away with my eyes opened.

I happened to be seated across the table from Maudine Cooper (pictured above), the afternoon’s speaker and also the President of the Greater Washington Urban League.  She gave us a historical perspective of her organization and charged us to do something to make a difference in the world.  She suggested that it might be something as insignificant as saying hello to people we meet on the street, in the Metro, and in the grocery store.

As we broke into small group discussions, I noted that my table was a mixture of Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.  It couldn’t get much more diverse.

We focused a lot on the idea that what we teach our children can make all the difference in the world.  If they are taught respect and tolerance for everyone around them, if they are taught to love instead of to hate, so much of the divisiveness in the world will simply disappear.  One person mentioned that many of us need to teach our parents and our elders the same lessons.

We remarked at how similar we really are, despite our different races and religions.  As each table got up to report on their discussion, it was obvious that many of the same discussions had taken place.

To close the afternoon of thoughtful reflection, we stood in a big circle holding hands and offered a communal prayer with various women offering up spontaneous thoughts and the group responding with AMEN in between.  I clasped the hand of a soft-spoken African-American in my left hand and an outspoken Jew in my right hand.  But as far as the circle went, they were both just women of faith.

As the result of the afternoon’s discussions, I plan to get to know my neighbors better, inviting them over for an afternoon tea.  I suddenly realized that some of them have lived in my neighborhood for quite a few years and I still don’t know their names.  It was the suggestion of 89-year-old Dorothy that planted the seed for this idea.

I also plan to pursue a joint choir project with the music director of the Shiloh Baptist Church, hoping to blend some Jewish melodies with some Gospel sounds. 

Even my shelter kids may benefit from the afternoon.  The Urban League speaker offered to donate Scholastic books that have been given to their organization for just such a purpose.

I look forward to the next meeting of this group, which will undoubtedly be in a mosque or church.  This obligation turned into a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


He (not the boy above) was just a little boy, this 13-year-old who gave us lessons in optimism and activism today.  He started off his bar mitzvah weekend by reading a poem about love of family at last night’s service.  Today he was called to read the Torah.

Gideon lamented the fact that his birthday falls on September 11, forever a date that will strike fear in our hearts.  He has come to peace with this by determining to make the world a better place in his lifetime.  He challenged us to not only be optimists, but activists as well.

For his bar mitzvah project, he is collecting bicycles which will be sent overseas as part of the Bikes for the World project.  You can read more about how to participate in Gideon’s project here

What actually brought the most tears to our eyes this morning was Gideon’s 98-year-old grandfather who had traveled from New Rochelle, NY, to be a part of his grandson’s special day.  He came up to the bimah using a walker.  After doing his aliyah with other family members, he took some mike time to tell Gideon how much he loved him and what a great job he was doing.  He said he had prepared all week for this trip and thanked everyone in the audience for coming to celebrate his grandson’s bar mitzvah.  This was indeed family at its best.

Gideon had one of the most challenging portions of the Torah – the one where God tells Abraham to take Isaac, his son, up on Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.  It’s hard for people of all ages to comprehend.  Gideon’s question to our rabbi Danny was just how closely we should follow what God tells us to do.  Danny summarized his remarks by saying, “In every act there should rest a grain of doubt.”

So much food for thought.  But meanwhile, if you have an old bike lying around, please consider giving it a new life abroad.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Seasonal Soup

As the weather gets cooler, my thoughts always turn to soup. The week’s CSA offerings were my inspiration for this soup that both looks and tastes good.

Red Lentil-Collard Soup with Lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1 leek, chopped (white part only)
1/2 pound collard greens, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of one lemon

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion, garlic, jalapeño pepper, and leek and saute about 4 minutes.

Stir in collard greens, tomato paste, cumin, salt, and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes.

Add broth, water, red lentils, and carrot. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down to low. Simmer 30 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Optionally blend the resulting soup, leaving some chunkiness.

Add lemon juice and serve.

You will LOVE this soup!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Making It Up

When I was recently complaining about not having any great inspiration for something to write about, Bulletholes suggested that I just make it up.  He's a master at blending fact and fiction, making it impossible to tell them apart.  But I guess he didn’t realize who he was talking to.

From my earliest years, I had difficulty with make-believe.  I had a hard time pretending.  As a result, at the age of 10 a (boy)friend and I built a dollhouse that took up half of my room.  We make bunk beds and upholstered living room furniture and even a drop-leaf table.  Our dolls had their own car.  Granted the dolls weren’t real, but everything else was!

A friend once suggested that I write a novel, but the thought of having to invent an entire story that took up hundreds of pages seemed just too daunting.

But my husband seems to have a different view of writing fiction.  Ever since he took a course in “Flash Fiction” at Chautauqua, he’s been anxious to write.  So it’s no great surprise that he’s jumped on the bandwagon of National Novel Writing Month, with the intention of writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  That would be this month. 

When asked what he was going to write about, he finally revealed that his novel is based on this escapade we had last year on the Amalfi Coast.  As scary as it was, it apparently has provided inspiration for his book.

That’s a lot of words to write in a month.  I figure it’s at least 125 pages.  I think he’s at about 2,500 words right now, so we’ll see what happens.  I never thought about being married to a writer, but he may be on his way to defining a new career!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Five Paces Behind

My almost-80-year-old friend Betty keeps me supplied with nuggets from the Internet.  Many of them are things that make you smile, like cute animals or scenes from around the world.  This one is a little more serious:

Barbara Walters, of 20/20, did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan, several years before the Afghan conflict.

She noted that women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.

She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. Despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to, and are happy to, maintain the old custom.

Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, 'Why do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?'

The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, 'Land Mines.'

It’s somewhat bittersweet that what was once tradition has now taken on a greater significance.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Aging with Dignity

This past couple of days I’ve thought a lot about aging.  I’ve seen the gamut in terms of how people grow older.  But most of all I’ve come to realize how important to me it is to grow old with dignity.

My husband has been suffering for some time with a foot ailment that makes it difficult to walk.  So in the interest of being there for Zelda’s big day, he swallowed a lot of pride and ordered a wheelchair for transit in the airports because his feet simply wouldn’t have made it otherwise.  He asked me if I wanted one too since walking is still not my forte.  I initially said yes, but my son convinced me that I didn’t really need one, especially if I took my cool cane, and he was right. 

But I must say going through security with a person in a wheelchair is a breeze.  He got the chair and I got the benefits as well.  But I quickly realized that my cane and his chair put us in a whole different category as far as others in the airport perceived us.  It was a little unsettling to come to that realization.

In Chicago I did all the driving and we made sure to minimize the amount of walking he had to do.  It turned out just fine and no one there had to even know about his foot ailments.  After seeing a slew of specialists it will be nice if someone finally comes up with a good diagnosis and a treatment regimen, but until then he is definitely more disabled than I am.

Those thoughts about dignity hit home with me yesterday when I happened to go up to the 8th floor of the Self-Help Home in search of Zelda.  Stepping off the elevator I looked straight ahead into an open bathroom door where a male nurse was assisting an elderly man, who happened to be a rabbi, to clean up after going to the bathroom.  I could see the look of shame and discomfort as the rabbi saw me and kept asking the nurse to shut the door.  He eventually did, but not before I realized how awful the rabbi must have felt to be showcased to strangers in such a situation.  I felt angry at the nurse for stripping the rabbi of his dignity.

There were other situations where I realized the residents had surrendered their dignity and were were just going through the motions of existing.  There was Henry, who 2 years ago had seemed so alert and interesting, saying he was just there temporarily until his foot healed and he could go home.  Now he wheels himself around in a wheelchair and avoids eye contact, apparently accepting the fact that he will be in assisted living for the rest of his life.

I saw a woman last night who was sitting in a wheelchair at the nurses’ station.  She had fallen asleep with her head on the counter.  No one seemed to notice or care.  She was not demanding any attention.

Last night as I was going to sleep, I had nightmares about what would happen to me at the age of these people.  I so want to be like Zelda, feisty until the end, living independently until age 98 when her failing eyesight made it dangerous to do so.  I want to think my caregivers will be people who remember my dignity and allow me to retain as much of it as I wish. 

We’re home again and life is relatively back to normal.  I hope someone else is remembering to cut up Zelda’s food, which she no longer can see, in our absence.  I see a gray cloud off in the distance signifying my old age and hope I can hold it at bay for a few more decades.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Playing Tourist in Chitown

We sat with Zelda and Marge and Estelle at breakfast. Estelle no longer speaks and depends entirely on Zelda to read her mind and tell the staff what she needs. Marge is clearly demented and keeps saying things like “I don’t remember. Do you?” and “Forget the children,” which we interpreted to mean that her children had long ago forgotten her. We watched several angry outbursts on the part of the residents and I marveled at the PATIENCE of the staff to deal with their PATIENTS. I remarked on how COMMITTED they seemed to be to what might be a thankless job and wondered that they didn’t all have to be COMMITTED after doing their jobs for a few years.

On that morbid note, we decided to venture out into the world where a greater percentage of people still have their minds to play tourist for the day. We took an hour-long boat tour which focused on the city’s remarkable architecture. It was way too much information to process (even a second time for me since I did it last year), so I spent my time taking pictures of big buildings as we wound through the city on the Chicago River.

After getting off the boat, we strolled around the Navy Pier, where I rediscovered this bronze sculpture and my husband and his cousin visited with Bob Newhart.

We then went to The Spice House, a store that literally takes your breath away upon entry because they grind and package all the spices they sell. I came specifically to buy Silk Road Seasoning, a delightful mix of the spices that would have greeted Marco Polo all those years ago. Unfortunately not everyone had been equally charmed by this mixture and it had been discontinued. But one savvy salesperson found the “recipe” and helped me put together a collection of spices that I could mix together on my own. My suitcase is going to smell so good on the way home tomorrow.

We’ll have a farewell dinner with Zelda tonight at the Self-help home and get ready for a morning flight home tomorrow.

I once again concluded that Chicago is such a great city, serving as a gateway between east and west. I’m just sorry Zelda doesn’t have more family around as she lives out her final years in The Windy City.