Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shopping anyone?

Today I rediscovered the joy of shopping.  After months of ordering the few things I needed over the Internet, I spent the morning in a real dressing room trying on clothes -- lots of them -- and being pampered by saleswomen who brought me things and cared whether I liked them or not.

Maybe it was the occasion of New Year’s Eve and two parties to go to on New Year’s Day and nothing with much pizazz in my aging wardrobe that inspired me to go shopping.  But whatever, I enlisted the help of my two best shopping partners and we headed off to Bethesda this morning to shop at Wear It Well, a tiny boutique on Bethesda Avenue. 

I realized that over the years, the things people have commented on most often, the things that I didn’t recycle after a couple of seasons, had all come from this little shop.  I hoped to find at least one new top or at least something I liked there today.

I knew we were off to a good start when my friend LR spotted a parking place opening up right in front of the store.  We fed the meter and got started.

I tried on several things that might have been nice for just the right occasion, but those kind of occasions are so infrequent in my life that I put them aside.

This was one of the few days when at least half of the things I tried on looked good on me and, even better, they fit together with each other.

So I ended up with a dressy black top, a more casual print top with a very cool belt, a long sweat-shirty material jacket, a belted faux fur vest, and two pairs of stretchy pants in black and gray. 

I love the way they wrap everything up in tissue paper sealed with a logo sticker.

I didn’t so much love writing the check, but it was the least I could do for myself after not shopping for well over a year.

I’m glad my shopping gene has come back to life because a new piece of clothing is often such a big ego boost!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pros and Cons of Buying Big

I never relish a trip to Costco because I just haven’t bought into the warehouse experience.  If there were 12 people in my family, it would be a no-brainer, but we are but two and a dog.

For me Costco represents conflicting goals.  I would like to save money, but not at the expense of giving up the space I have recently vacated.  Or of buying a lot more of something than I will ever in a lifetime need.

There is no more diverse population than those who frequent Costco, many of whom speak little if any English.  Today soon after I entered and flashed my Costco card, I was nearly run down by a young Chinese woman who plowed full force into me as I slowly pushed my big cart down the wide aisle.  She knew she had done something wrong, but instead of offering an apology she took off with me yelling at her to watch the speed limit.  I nursed my bruised ankle as I completed the 1/4 mile to get to the produce section in the back of the store.

Would I be able to use 6 multi-colored peppers before they spoiled?  I tossed them in the basket.

My husband asked me to buy disposable gloves for his use in applying a medication to his feet.  The only choice was 300 for $14.99.  I decided against such a large quantity, figuring I could save money in the long run by buying them at CVS. 

There is never anyone to help you find anything in this mega-store.  I went up and down the aisles looking for Balsamic vinegar.  The Kirkland brand always leaks (no matter what) on my shelf, but it is the best vinegar I have found for the money.  And a bottle lasts more than 6 months.  Finally I spotted a Costco employee who said “Aisle 25” and he was right.

Checking out requires patience.  Especially if those in front of you represent 12-person families or those who believe buying more is saving money.  Amazingly the woman in front of me spent $20; even the clerk said she had never seen such an insignificant sale.  My 9 items totaled $93.  I bought:  paper towels, garbage bags, quart-size Ziplock bags, Kleenex, avocados, cherries, blueberries, peppers, and Balsamic vinegar.  Did I save money over buying the same items in a conventional grocery store?  Definitely.  Will I use all the fruit before it rots?  Unlikely. 

As for those disposable gloves, a box of 50 at CVS cost $8.69.  That’s almost 3 times the price of the Costco gloves.  The only consolation is the box takes up a lot less space.  Oh well...

I always tell myself to take a list in when I shop and promise not to get sucked into buying the myriad of other things that seem like such bargains.  I did better than usual today, probably because I wasn’t hungry and they weren’t giving out many samples.

I can now breathe a sigh of relief and take comfort in the fact that I don’t have to go to Costco again for at least 6 weeks, or whenever we run out of paper towels, whichever comes first.

How do you feel about shopping at Costco?  Is it worth the $50 yearly membership to you to “save” money while spending it?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's in a name?

My husband is forever asking how I got on a particular subject, wondering if my brain has some random function.  But there always is a path, however obscure.

So here’s how I came to today’s topic.  As I was standing in the shower, I found myself thinking about people’s names.  I came to my new Internet friend Rayna and wondered if her parents were expecting a boy when they named her or if it was a family name.  I had known two other Jewish women with similar names -- a Reia and a Reya, similar but not the same.  Perhaps Rayna can explain how her name came to be.

Then I thought about my own name.  If you know any Barbara’s, I would wager they are 60 or so in age.  It seems were were all named for a popular Miss America, or at least that was the story my mother told me.  But I had never bothered to find out anything more about my namesake.  So today I Googled:  Miss America Barbara 1948 1949 and came up with Barbara Jo Walker, 1947, whose real historical mark was the fact that she was the last Miss America to be crowned in a swimsuit.  She was clear that the only contract she was interested in was a marriage contract.  She made good on that soon after being crowned.

My middle name, Todd, came to me through my mother’s stepmother’s family, who were directly related to Mary Todd Lincoln.  I guess my parents figured if Miss America could have Jo as a middle name, I could have Todd.  I can now appreciate the significance of my given middle name, but growing up I found it tedious to explain why I had a boy’s name.

What about your name?  Does it have a family history or some other significance?  Or was it just a name your parents liked?  Have you ever thought of changing your name?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Rediscovering the Luster

Most people who know me would be shocked to know that I actually own some real silver.  Dinner parties at my house have always been Dansk stoneware and flatware, while the silver sat in the china cabinet, usually without much sparkle.

I could no longer stand to walk past that china cabinet and see the blackened pieces visible on its shelves, so I determined to take away their tarnish today.

As I gathered things together last night for today’s polishing frenzy, I remembered a box of silver flatware given to my husband by Lil, one of Zelda’s sisters, at least 25 years ago.  Why she didn’t give it to her own family is beyond me, but she always did love David because he told her she was the best cook in the world, much to his mother’s chagrin.  I literally turned this house upside down looking for Lil’s silver, not because it had ever graced my table, but because I knew it was somewhere and probably needed to be polished.  I cursed the fact that my memory is no longer reliable.  But finally it all came back to me and I found it in a large plastic storage container near the bicycles.  (Note to self: Make room in the china cabinet.)

At first I opted to try a “natural” approach to cleaning silver that sounded all too easy.  I lined a Pyrex pan with aluminum foil and added salty warm water.  I was supposed to drop in whatever needed to be cleaned and pull it out in 3 minutes, shining with the tarnish completely removed.  Either mine was too far gone or this method doesn’t work because my husband’s blackened baby fork and spoon just sat there looking quite dark and ugly.

So I made a quick trip to the hardware store, where I bought two containers of dipping solution.  It smelled like rotten eggs, but seemed to do the trick on even the most stubborn pieces.  There was no warning about toxicity, so I’m hoping it was just a healthy bad smell.

It was so much fun to see all the pieces start to sparkle once again.  As for Lil’s silver, it was mostly not in a bad state, so I did just a few pieces to see how it would shine up.  And it did just that.

I’m now determined to give a dinner party, probably small because I have only a setting for 4 in my Norwegian porcelain.  I’ll pull out the polished silver and perhaps we’ll even drink our wine from silver goblets. 

I don’t feel bad for not using all this silver over the years.  I do feel bad for neglecting it and letting it get to such a sorry state before cleaning it up.

This whole exercise in restoring luster to something so tarnished just by immersing it in a solution made me wish there was a similar process I could periodically subject myself to, whereby my dark spots would be restored to a nice shine. 

That aside, it’s nice to tackle a project that can be done in a day, which so effectively shows the fruits of one’s labors!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Name that tune (if you can find it)

The CD clean-up is turning out to be a bigger job than I had ever imagined.  It’s not done, but I have already had some small successes.

My first step was to pull all the CD’s I could find out of hiding.  They were piled everywhere -- in, on, inside our entertainment center and the CD player.  There were loose CD’s, cases with nothing inside, and a lot of dust.

The dust was the easiest thing to take care of.  But then I had to do something with all those piles.

My first realization was that I knew nothing about 90% of the CD’s.  So I had to coerce my husband to go through them with me.  We’ve now made an initial pass, dividing them into categories like classical, jazz, broadway, Jewish, mix, inherited from our children, get-rid-of, etc.  I fear the get-rid-of pile isn’t nearly large enough.

I have further organized the classical piles -- some by composer, some by performer, some as “mix”.  I’m not sure what happens next, other than the fact that we have to figure out some way to store them so we can find what we’re looking for.

But then it suddenly dawned on me that we seldom play music from CD’s any longer, instead using music that comes from iTunes and other sources.  So what’s to become of the hundreds of CD’s we’ve amassed?

The other realization is we no longer need the carrying cases for cassette tapes and CD’s.

We haven’t even begun to deal with the movies on VHS, the cassettes, the vinyl records.  I will be happy if we just get the CD’s organized.

The first great find of the morning was this disc from my friend KC’s set of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories that was still in the CD player from when I was recuperating from my hip surgery.  It can finally be returned.

The other great find of the morning was my favorite Arthur Rubenstein CD, which had been missing from its case for almost a decade.  I kept telling myself it would eventually turn up and so it has.

The gym is looking inviting after dealing with this chaos!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pantry Pride

I spent the better part of today cleaning out the pantry, something that seems to happen only when there is an infestation or I get sufficiently shamed into doing something about the chaos that lies behind that closed door. It had gotten to the point where you could barely walk in and getting something our might send something else crashing to the floor. In this cleaning spree, I learned several things about myself.

I learned how much I forget once something goes on the shelf. I found a total of 4 unopened bottles of apple cider vinegar, obviously the result of running out in my kitchen cabinet and just buying a new one without checking the pantry. Ditto on baking soda, baking powder, BBQ sauce, and a number of other things that were languishing on the shelves.

I was reminded just how much stuff to do with cooking and eating I possess. I have the dishes, “hardware”, and snail shells to serve a lot of escargot. I have artichoke plates. I have not one but two pressure cookers. (When was the last time I used either?) I have an old-fashioned meat grinder my uncle found at the junk yard for me when I was first learning to make gefillte fish. I have an apple machine that peels, cores, and slices them.

I remembered how hard (but necessary) it is to part with enough things to return the pantry to some semblance of order and cleanliness. Today my ancient 5-cup yogurt maker, the Salton sandwich maker, an iced tea maker (bought on a whim at Costco), a Tupperware microwave rice maker, and several other gems moved out, hopefully to find new homes. They are all the kind of thing that brings about $3 at a yard sale.

I realized how much my husband (the pack rat) really appreciates my occasional efforts to clean out and restore order to our house. He grimaced when I suggested that otherwise our entire house would reflect his penchant for making piles and keeping things just in case.

As a reward for all this decision-making and hard labor, I treated myself to a massage by my new therapist whose hands so skillfully work out all the kinks. It was an hour+ of pure nirvana.

It felt good to know I actually accomplished something today besides exercising, practicing the piano, and reading my current book.

Tomorrow I’m moving on to CD’s. This will be the perfect job for me since I do like to categorize and organize. I would like to eventually come up with some sort of data base that reflects the various pieces on all those CD’s and transfer all our old vinyl to CD and... Well, that’s getting a little too ambitious.

These are baby steps in cleaning up a lifetime of things. I cringe at the task that may ultimately be necessary if we ever move into a smaller space. But for now, at least the pantry is clean once again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

And the Greatest Gift of All

Is friendship.  It is one of the few things that is free to give, but worth its weight in gold.

I’m reminded of this as we head out to have Christmas dinner with my good friend Deborah and her family.  We will add oyster dressing and a pumpkin pie to her menu.  We will enjoy the after-dinner games that have become a tradition in her household.  We will give Deborah mulling spices and her husband a container of apple cider.

Just as I seem to be losing my enthusiasm for Blogging, I made two new friends in the Blogosphere this week.  Rayna (sounds an awful lot like the name of another friend I once had) came by way of exceptionally talented Terry, who saw the above photo which looked just like one I had posted.  She and I have been e-mailing all week long, continuing to discover things we have in common.  Thanks to Rayna, who is a published author in the field of fiber arts, I have the names of several artists in this area who give classes that I might enjoy.

My second new Blog friend is Mary Tabor, another published author, who has taken an apartment in Paris, my favorite city in the whole world.  When she said, “I would love to meet you,” my mind quickly flitted with a trip to Paris.

And of course there are my neighborhood friends who are always there when I need them, my Blog friends who continue to visit periodically and leave wise comments no matter what I write, and my family who are the most permanent of friends.

So today I am putting a big red bow on friendship and feeling lucky to have all these people in my life.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Running on Empty

I seem to be totally missing the spirit of the season.  Usually Hanukkah and Christmas overlap somewhat, but this year there’s a big space in between. 

I didn’t even do much in the way of Hanukkah celebration.  We lit the candles.  I made latkes on the first night.  And that was about it.  We long since abandoned the gift every day practice.

It’s not that I am in the least bothered by Christmas.  I find myself either singing along with the constant stream of carols or at some point reaching my saturation point and turning the radio off in the car.  I mainly avoid the malls and crowded stores that might arouse my ire.

I bought exactly 5 Christmas presents, all in the under $10 range.  They were things I liked for people I love.

I made exactly 2 cards and 2 gift tags.  So the card supplies barely came out of hiding.

I’m afraid my lack of enthusiasm may well represent an overall sag in emotions.  I need to figure out why this is happening.  Could it be my wanderlust which has been kept at home too long?  Could it be that I need something new and exciting to do in my life? 

I’m hoping the new year will answer these questions and give me a renewed sense of purpose and the energy to accomplish all that I set out to do.

For now I must be grateful for good health and friends and family that continue to come around in person and electronically, not paying much attention to the fact that sometimes I’m just not a lot of fun.

Happy holidays to those of you who have the spirit and equally to those of you who don’t!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Times Past and Present

As we drove back from Charlottesville today, where we had picked up my husband’s  new custom-made molded shoes, I realized we were in the heart of Civil War country.  Signs for Grant’s headquarters and the place where Jackson was wounded bespoke what a crossroads the area along the “Constitution Highway” was. 

The only reminder of the Civil War in the small town of Wilderness was the word “Battlefield” as a prefix to many business names. 

As I looked out at all those snow-covered fields, I couldn’t help but imagine them running red with the blood of both Blues and Grays.  What a sorry sad time that was in the history of this country.

Today the modest homes and the preponderance of mobile homes reflect an area that probably thinks a lot more about where the next meal is coming from than the fact that battles for freedom took place here a century and a half ago.

My husband’s iPod played “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” as we left the Civil War battlefields to fight our way up I-95 on our way home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jake as Vegetarian?

My husband, who knows how much I have been struggling with meat issues lately, sent me this article, which was a wake-up call of another kind.

I never dreamed that the dogs, who have become like family members for many of us, were having such a detrimental effect on the environment.  The carbon footprint of meat is the main problem.  This article claims that a medium size dog eats 360 pounds of meat and 200 pounds of cereal each year.  It takes 2 acres to raise that much food (not sure how they came to this conclusion.)

I’m already feeling somewhat better because in Jake’s case I know that I use only 2 pounds of meat in a week’s food.  But I do use significantly more rice (cereal).

In addition to the carbon footprint problem, dog feces are a significant source of pollution in rivers and streams.  Jake only poops in our back yard and there is no stream below us, so he’s off the hook on that count.

The article correctly emphasizes the positive emotional effect of owning a dog, a natural anti-depressant.  Most pet owners simply couldn’t envision a life without animals.  And for many of us, the advise to get a hen (which lays eggs) or a rabbit is not an acceptable solution.  I love the statement from an expert, “Rabbits are good, provided you eat them.”  I can’t imagine ever eating a family pet of any sort!

There are things we can do to at least mitigate this problem.  The first is to cut down on the meat intake of our dogs.  I can imagine that if people can get protein from other sources, so can animals.  We could possibly become a vegetarian household.

Those who walk their dogs in the woods can take care to scoop the poop instead of letting it become a pollutant.

At some point, humans may be forced to make difficult decisions about things like owning a pet as our environmental issues become more obvious.  I never realized how far-reaching this current passion of mine would turn out to be!

Monday, December 21, 2009

O Come All Ye Meatless

Before converting to Judaism and leaving behind my Presbyterian roots, I lay awake at night worrying about giving up my Christmas tree.  I was not destined to maintain my tradition through a Hanukkah bush. 

It turned out not to be be a big deal at all.  I’ve never once missed searching for the perfect tree, decorating it, or sweeping up dropped needles.  I mildly sympathized with my daughter’s desire to be like all the Christian families in our neighborhood, but a Christmas tree just didn’t fit in our house.

As I plunge further into “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, I wonder if it would be equally easy to leave meat behind.  Would I carefully plan my last meaty meal?  Would I fondly remember the smell?  The taste?

99 out of 100 Americans will never read about the atrocities of the factory farm.  Ignorance is what allows them to continue to buy Tysons pork and Purdue chicken and farmed salmon without the slightest tinge of guilt.  I’m on page 199 of the book and my stomach is definitely squeamish over what I have been reading.

This week we will pay a visit to Polyface Farm when we make a trip to Charlottesville to pick up my husband’s new custom-made shoes.  I still consider Joel Salatin’s  farming practices to be a far cry from factory farming.  But there is no way I can say his animals never suffer.  For one thing, he is forced to send his cows and pigs to a slaughterhouse, where he doesn’t have complete control. 

We’ll probably buy some chickens, perhaps even a turkey, as I continue to ponder what it might be like to go cold-turkey (or NO-turkey) on meat.

I can already picture my husband laying awake at night worrying about meat-deprivation.  He hasn’t yet read this book.

I think back to all the teasing one of my vegan employees got from my old office, particularly every time there was a pot-luck lunch.  It would be things like, “What sort of tofu delight did you bring this time, John?”  I am suddenly far more sympathetic and in awe of this guy who was willing to go against the mainstream of America.

I never want to be one of those people who claims to be a vegetarian and then goes and eats a burger in the closet.  If I actually embrace vegetarianism, it will be a complete change.  Much like the Christmas tree.

I wonder if I would really miss eating meat?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Liquid Gold

As I sit  here reading “Eating Animals”, the house smells deliciously of roasted goose.  I haven’t quite lost my appetite for meat yet, but the book is working on my carnivore tendencies.

By the time the goose comes out of the oven, it will be just a shadow of its former self, having shed all that fat that geese are so famous for.

Goose schmaltz is a prized possession and I now have about 4 cups of it (from just one goose) to use (in small quantities) to flavor mashed potatoes and other foods.  Much of the fat comes out in the first stage of cooking, where the goose, having been sufficiently pricked, is steamed on the top of the stove in a pan with a tight-fitting lid.  But I never imagined there would be so much fat!

My husband (who now loves to chop after taking “Knife Skills”) and I prepped this morning for the rest of the meal, so the afternoon has been rather leisurely.  We will soon be throwing together braised kale, boiled root vegetables, and oyster dressing.  A pumpkin pie sits ready and waiting on the counter.  My crust confidence is building.

We’ll share dinner with our son and good neighborhood friends.  Meanwhile, there’s still lots of snow everywhere I look outside.  The official snow measurer and his trusty companion ventured out onto the deck this morning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Who said it never snows in DC?

The labs of the DC metro area are in ecstasy today as the snow falls.  Jake couldn’t be happier to go out and play.  

He even managed to find his Kong buried under a foot of snow.  Instead of peanut butter, it’s filled with melting snow.

My husband mentioned what a disaster it would have been if Zelda had died just one week later.  Perhaps neither of us would have made it to the funeral.

It’s so nice to sit inside with the fireplace on and watch the snow continue to come down and pile up.  I hope the electricity holds out.

I’m feeling better.  Maybe it was the excellent pea soup my kind-hearted neighbor brought over yesterday before it started snowing. She also brought me "The Art of Racing in the Rain," right in line with today's dog theme.

I’m making lots of dog food today, while I read my wonderful new gift book “Eating Animals” by the talented Jonathan Safran Foer.  I’m not sure I’m even going to want to be giving Jake meat in his diet after this book.

Tomorrow I’ll cook a goose and hope it didn’t suffer as it was killed.  Oysters will go in the dressing I’m making.  I wonder if it hurts when their shells are popped open.

All food for thought as the snow continues to fall and still has that pristine, undisturbed look to it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Airplane's Revenge

I seem to be like a magnet for germs when I fly.  Sure to form, breathing that recirculated germy air on our quick trip to Detroit left me with something undesirable.

Yesterday I woke up with one of those killer headaches, the kind that make your eyeballs hurt, the kind that Aleve doesn’t phase.  I managed to drag myself in to my old office’s holiday party, and then managed to socialize with an old work friend afterwards for a few hours.  But despite the fact that I didn’t even have one sip of alcohol, I was in bed with no supper, a pounding head, and chills by 8 PM.

Today I woke up with just the remnants of the headache and the sort of fatigue that is characteristic of mononucleosis.  It was not a choice to cancel my plans for the day.  It was a necessity.

So today I will sit around in my PJ’s, sipping hot tea and thinking about cooking the goose I bought yesterday sometime over the weekend.  I’m not sure I can recreate the Dickensian atmosphere from last weekend’s cooking class, but I can surely try.

It’s these brief bouts of illness that make me feel grateful for my usual good health.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


A while back I learned of a doctor, a physiatrist, who might be able to help me understand why my hip doesn’t exactly work the way everyone else’s does, not even before it was broken and replaced.  The earliest appointment was two months off.  I looked forward to that day with curious anticipation.

Then Zelda died and instead of going to see the new doctor I got to go to her funeral and start the appointment clock ticking all over again for another two months.

I’ve been invited back to the holiday party at my old office this year.  I had made an appointment to get my hair touched up so as to look not quite so old and retired for the party.

Then Zelda died and I had to reschedule for next week when I don’t have a party to go to.  They will just have to see me with my natural state of gray.

We are constantly faced with difficult choices and sometimes disappointments.  As sorry as I am to have missed those two appointments, I’m glad I made the choice I did to be there in Detroit.  The two months are but a fraction of the lifetime I’ve had my quirky hip and strange gait.  My hair really is quite insignificant in the scheme of things.

But while in Detroit, I did choose to buy a very cool gift to contribute to the round robin gift exchange at the holiday party today.  It’s a little pouch that contains a shopping bag, something we always need.  I gave one as a birthday gift to another 60-something, telling her it would serve to collect her marbles if she ever started to lose them.  (If only that were the case...)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kol Haneshama

We gathered to say goodbye to Zelda yesterday.  Her body had been flown from Chicago to Detroit the previous night, accompanied by a “shomer” because the body is supposed to be watched from the time of death through the burial.

Zelda seemed beautiful and peaceful.  Her skin looked like the skin of a person half her age.  Someone joked that it was because she hadn’t spent a fortune on it over the years.

Three relatives spoke, including my husband, all portraying the strength, determination, and love of learning that so characterized Zelda.  The rabbi then made some very appropriate remarks.

No one mentioned the fact that Zelda had pretty much adopted Estelle, a resident of the Self-Help Home who could no longer speak.  I’m sure Estelle, who may live on for a decade or so, must miss her terribly.

Even though everyone spoke of her love of music, there had been no music at her funeral.  So as we drove from the funeral home to the cemetery, I came up with the idea of singing part of Psalm 150 as her body was lowered into the grave.

As we gathered at the gravesite, snow began to fall in earnest.  The rabbi read the prescribed prayers.  We lead the group in singing the final two lines of the final psalm, which translate as “Let everything that hath breath (Kol Haneshema) praise the Lord!  Praise ye the Lord!”  It seemed fitting as a final song dedicated to Zelda.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Song Without End

So you ask, did Zelda sing at our wedding?  The answer is yes and no.

She didn’t actually sing at the wedding ceremony, but no one else did either.  The only music was organ music provided by Herman Berlinski, an old man at the time, who gave us one of his albums as a wedding present.

But she held forth at the party after the wedding, commanding quite an audience as she launched into “Sunrise, Sunset” and other Fiddler songs.  I was glad we let her have this moment of glory.

She became an instant friend of my gay friend Eric, the piano player.  Upon learning what bar he was playing at in the evening, she enticed one of my old boyfriends to go with her to hear Eric play and apparently ended up singing in the bar as well.  That was Zelda.

Her usual audience back in Chicago was the old soldiers at the Disabled American Veterans home.  She was a regular on their volunteer entertainment list.

To the very end, she remembered the words to all those songs better than she remembered her family members.  I think they were her constant companions throughout her long life, unencumbered by a spouse or children.

It’s too bad we didn’t arrange for someone to sing some of her favorite songs at her funeral today, which will be somewhat brief and solemn I’m sure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My First Intro to Zelda

I was recently thinking about the first time I met my husband’s Aunt Zelda.  She must have been around 65, just a little older than I am now.  It was my first introduction to “the family” and she took the train from Chicago to Detroit to see if she approved of her favorite nephew’s intended.

I hadn’t yet converted to Judaism, residing somewhere in limbo between religions.  For some reason Jews assume that if you are not Jewish, you must be Catholic.  They seemed somewhat relieved to know that was not the case with me, probably because Catholics are often more attached to their religion and less willing to convert.

My parents-in-law lived in a 2-bedroom apartment at that time.  As I recall Zelda and I shared the second bedroom, sleeping on the ancient twin beds once used by my husband and his brother.  My husband slept somewhere else -- living room couch, his parents’ floor, I don’t know.

At that point in her life, Zelda was still quite attractive.  Long upswept blond (bottle I’m sure by then), stylish clothes, heels, and a sharp tongue.  She didn’t miss a trick.

She was still working.  She was an executive secretary for Heineken, living in an efficiency apartment, eating tuna fish, and squirreling away all her earnings.  Or I should probably say investing them with my her brother’s (my father-n-law’s) advice.

So as we’re sitting around the living room getting used to each other, Zelda announces that she wants to sing at our wedding.  She loved to sing, knew a lot of songs, but didn’t have exactly the kind of voice I had envisioned at our wedding. 

I suddenly panicked that this new family of mine was taking over my wedding.  I ended up in tears in my shared bedroom, with my husband consoling me and telling me we could still do whatever we wanted.

I was treated like some sort of alien for most of the weekend.  But we must have parted on decent terms because they all came to the wedding.  By then I was Jewish, one step closer to belonging.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

What a surprise as I came out of my yoga class this morning to find an invitation to a cooking class at Hill’s Kitchen.  It was one of the more elaborate and expensive classes, one I had wanted to sign up for but hadn’t gotten around to it.  The class entitled “And God Bless Us Everyone:  A Dickensian Feast” was all about Christmas food of a time long past.  It was mine free of charge in payment for my teaching the dog food class.

I looked at my watch to find 10:45 with the class starting at 11:00.  Fortunately I was a block away.  So instead of hanging out at my friend Deborah’s house, I hurried off to class.

What an unexpected treat!  In the span of 2 hours (some things started ahead of time), we learned how to make a steam-roasted goose, gravy, oyster stuffing, boiled root vegetables with butter, Christmas pudding, and was’sail (mulled wine).  We got to sip the was’sail as we watched the feast materialize.

Ten minutes before the end of the class, we served our plates and sighed with the satisfaction that good food always brings.

Maybe I would have put a little more into all those lunges in my yoga class if I had known how many calories awaited me afterwards. 

I even managed to walk away with a piece of Christmas pudding for Deborah!

As a very encouraging side note, one of my dog food class students reported that after a week on the new food her dog has stopped scratching and shown just as dramatic a change as Jake did.  We’re thinking of doing it again in the spring.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

RIP Aunt Zelda

The call finally came yesterday, letting us know that Aunt Zelda had breathed her final breath.  As with everything else in her life, she had not listened to the authorities about when she was supposed to die, preferring instead to choose her own time.  I wished I had been able to play her out with some beautiful piece of music, but it was not meant to be.

I had of late begun to feel like a pregnant woman two weeks beyond her due date.  I couldn’t schedule anything without adding the caveat about Zelda’s impending death.  It was a limbo in which I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, given there was absolutely no hope of a miraculous recovery.

But today the finality is upon me.  We’re struggling with details like getting her death certificate signed so her body can be transported from Chicago to Detroit for burial.  Nothing is particularly easy.

I’ll write more about Zelda as I prepare myself for her funeral, which will be on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the speed of bureaucracy.

Our rabbi Esther offered another poignant Mary Oliver poem today, which resonated with me as I think about Zelda’s passing:

When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Price of Free Parking

It turns out you really have to work for free parking these days.   I ventured out to Pentagon City the other day on a rare shopping trip and remembered why I generally avoid malls.

The first problem came as I tried to get my ticket on the way into the parking garage.  If you remember, since someone bashed my door the driver side window on my old Volvo wagon no longer goes up and down without complaining.  But by pulling ahead and opening my door to get the ticket, the machine refused to spit one out.  I’m sure the people behind me were glad when my combination of backing up and persistence paid off.

My sole reason for going to Macy’s was to purchase a tiny container of Christian Dior Creme Apricot ($23), which a friend swears will cure dry cuticles.  When I finally got someone to wait on me, she proceeded to tell me she was dead on her feet after getting to bed at 5 am.  I didn’t even bother to ask why as she handed me the little bag.

Pentagon City has a 2-ticket parking system.  You get one on the way in, as I finally did.  And you can pay up at a little machine on your way out of the mall, giving you a second ticket.  Or at certain stores, like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s, you can get a free second ticket after making a purchase. 

But wouldn’t you know, in Macy’s they put Customer Service at the most remote place in the store.  So I trekked up to the third floor corner to get my free parking ticket.  Along with a line of other people, who were equally annoyed at the inconvenience.

As I fed my 2 tickets into the machine on the way out, I was relieved as the bar came up and freed me and my old car from the parking garage. 

I seriously doubt I will have reason to visit any mall again before the holiday onslaught is over.  Maybe by spring my Creme Apricot will need to be replaced.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Family Business

I had always thought there was some unwritten rule about how to speak to friends and family in public spaces.  As the above trio got on the elevator this morning, I quickly realized they had never heard that rule and intuition told me they were going to the same doctor’s office I was.

I was at Washington Hospital Center for my annual eye exam.  It’s always an ordeal because my kindly ophthalmologist is perpetually way behind in seeing his patients.

I was feeling slightly guilty for being 5 minutes late, but then the woman laughed as she  got on the elevator about the fact that she was 20 minutes late.  She spoke in full voice as if they were the only ones in that small space.

As we all assumed our places in the waiting room, I noted once again the numerous signs prohibiting the use of cell phones.  Then this family proceeded to share their family business with all the patients waiting for their turn to see the doctor.

It was a man, his wife, and her father, who seemed newly arrived.  The elderly man took a key and went out to the bathroom, announcing as he returned “Everything came out just fine.”  His daughter then began to compile a grocery list, putting bran cereal right up there on top.  We even learned how frequently each of them went to the dentist. 

I kept wishing to trade these conversations for even two cell phone calls, knowing at least I would only have to hear one side of the conversation in those cases.

After a while I tuned them out and dozed off, my eyes full of drops by then.  I woke up to hear another person ranting about how chocolate was now often laced with lead.  Where in the world did that come from?

Finally (after waiting for well over an hour), it was my turn and I could escape from the waiting room conversations.  Fortunately my eyes are old, but no worse than they were a year ago.  A tiny cataract in my right eye remains just that.

So how do you feel about these people who don’t have the good sense to keep their family business among family?  Is the solution ear plugs?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Rogue's Gallery or Vicarious Travel?

My latest trip to Marshall’s netted some very cheap small picture frames.  I finally framed the photos that had been lying in the kitchen drawer waiting.

They now reside on the empty desk shelves of what used to be my son Dan’s room.  Besides filling up the emptiness and adding a little color to that room, they remind me of a time when we traveled to faraway places.  We look quite content as we give our best smile to the camera, as we polish off platters of Mediterranean seafood in a small Italian restaurant with good friends.

Given our Costa Rica trip had to be canceled because of my husband’s persistent foot problems, I find myself looking longingly at these photos and hoping there will be a day when we will be smiling into the camera in some distant spot and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a foreign place once again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Smooth Legs and Hidden Underwear

As I started to shave my legs in the shower this morning, I asked myself why today?  Was it because I had an appointment with Emily, my personal trainer?  Was it because I had my yearly exam with my gyn, who at just about my age has a pony tail and wears clogs?  Or was it coincidentally because I hadn’t shaved in 3 weeks?  (I can always get by with this errant behavior because my hair is somewhere between blond and gray.)

So I will throw out a couple of questions to you in the style of LACochran, who has an endless stream of thought-provoking questions for her readers, whom she refers to as her “Cheeky Monkeys”:

Does a visit to someone who will have reason to see your legs prompt you to get out the razor?  Do you shave for a massage but not for the gym?  Do you for a minute think your gyn (or any doctor) even looks at your legs?

At a doctor’s visit where you have to disrobe and put on one of those grossly fitting gowns that never have ties in the right place, do you carefully hang your underwear underneath your other clothes, even though it’s the last to come off?  When in fact this doctor is seeing every bit of the layer beneath the underwear.

I would like to think I’m beyond the place where vanity enters into decisions like these.  But I’m not so sure.

How about you?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Going Glass

I seem to have perfected the art of wasting time and spending money with the click of a mouse.  This morning my husband read an article in the NY Times that scared me into replacing our ancient plastic food storage containers with glass.

Nicholas Kristof wrote about the dangers of microwaving food in plastic containers or running those same containers through the dishwasher.  I haven’t done the former for a long time, nor have I heated food covered in plastic wrap in the microwave.  But I have continued to throw the dirty containers in the dishwasher.

So we went online and purchased 2 sets of glass containers: one by Pyrex and the other by Anchor Hocking.  They have BPA safe lids.  They are not cheap, but much cheaper than chemotherapy.

The question remains as to how much harm we have already inflicted on our poor bodies before these wake-up calls.  One never knows answers to questions like this.

And then there is the issue of Jake’s homemade dog food, which is conveniently packaged in serving size Ziplock bags.  Is he more likely to die of old dog age than cancer brought about from heating his food in a plastic bag for 50 seconds?  I’m sure no one has an answer to that question either.  But I have been shamed into dumping it out onto a plate since I can’t very well microwave it in a metal food bowl.  Maybe a glass food bowl would make a nice Hanukkah gift?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Retired without Being Called into Combat

As part of a day of just catching up on things, I finally disposed of the ancient fire extinguisher recently discovered lurking in a kitchen cabinet.  Not knowing what to do with it, I left it for the experts to figure out.

I just noted the tag that said I could get it recharged by returning it to Amway.  I wonder if they would have really made good on something over 30 years old?

There was no one in evidence at the local volunteer fire department.  So I just left it for the next person to go through the front door.

This way I don’t have to feel guilty about burying it in my trash can.  No one ever mentioned how to properly dispose of a fire extinguisher that had (fortunately) never been called into action but was well past its prime.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dog Food 101

The dog food class happened today, despite the rain and snow.  There were no major glitches, no missing ingredients, and they all clapped at the end.  Instead of feeling frazzled, I had so much fun for the hour and a half.

When I woke up to rain and then snow, I wondered who would actually show up for class today.  But most of the 8 students lived within walking distance of Hill’s Kitchen, so I was the one much more worried about the weather.

I had devoted a lot of time to doing research, to prepping, to practicing with my family (who it turns out were far tougher than my class).  I had handouts.  I had a timeline.  I had the ingredients mostly measured out and ready to go.

We started with introductions.  I of course showed them Jake’s picture and talked about the day he refused to eat kibble, launching my search for a good recipe for homemade dog food.  They then took turns talking about their 4-legged friends who had sent them to class.

I can’t say enough good things about my teaching partner today.  Brock, the head chef, became a sous-chef, making my stock the day before, carefully chopping whatever I threw his way, assembling doggy bags.  He fielded some of the tougher nutrition questions since he has a background in food science.  And last, but not least, he cleaned up after class.

In between assembling and cooking the dog food and the dog biscuits and making the supplement mixture, I gave them a brief overview of the history of dog food and talked a bit about canine nutrition.  We kept coming back to those three little words “Balanced and Complete” that most veterinary professionals claim are impossible to apply to a homemade dog food.  I was preaching to the converted when I lamented the fact that the dog food industry has brainwashed the vets and dog owners of America to believe that.

The dog food cooking on top of the stove finished a few minutes before the dog biscuits went in the oven.  Brock passed it around for people to see and smell. We all agreed it would do in a pinch if we were in need of a quick dinner. We finished up just a minute or two before class was supposed to be over.

It was a talkative group.  I can’t say I had answers to all their questions.  I didn’t know why avocados were bad for dogs, just that they were on a list of prohibited food, along with other things like chocolate.  I didn’t know how kelp aided the function of the canine thyroid gland, but simply that it does, along with offering many other benefits.  No one seemed to mind that I didn’t have all the answers.  There were experts in the group who had good ideas to share.  It was a cooperative discussion.

This dog food class was a great way to discover how much I like to teach something I know something about.  I’m hoping it may be offered again in the future.  Maybe by then I can learn a little more about a fascinating subject, especially for those of us who are dog lovers.

Meanwhile I can take two classes at Hill’s Kitchen at no charge in exchange for sharing my dog food experience.  I think it was a win-win!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Chicken, Rice, and More

It just seemed like a good day to make up a recipe for dinner.  I asked my husband what he would add to chicken and rice for a one-pot meal and we came up with this.

Chicken, Rice, and More

1 cup brown rice
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
Good olive oil (small amount)
4 chicken thighs (skins on) ($3.11 today at Whole Foods)
1 leek, white part only, chopped coarsely
1 stalk of celery, chopped coarsely
2 carrots, chopped coarsely
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Broccoli, chopped coarsely
5 large mushrooms
Tomato paste
French thyme (dried)
Turkish aleppo pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook rice in a mixture of chicken broth and water.  Brown chicken in a large pan in a small amount of olive oil on moderately high heat.  Remove chicken thighs and put in the bottom of a baking dish. 

Saute leek, celery, carrots, and onion in the pan. 

After about 4 minutes, add broccoli and mushrooms, stirring occasionally.  (Have a glass of wine for inspiration.) 

Add two squirts of tomato paste and mix well. (The tomato paste is the secret ingredient -- don’t tell!) 

 After about 3 minutes, add the cooked rice and mix well.  Add the seasoning.  Put the vegetable-rice mixture in the dish with the chicken.  Cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.