Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not a black and white issue

The question of race is again at the forefront as the Supreme Court finds for the white New Haven firefighters. It’s obviously not a straightforward case, but I seem to be allied with the plaintiffs in this case.

In 2003 New Haven subjected its firefighters to an exam that was intended to determine promotion. No blacks and only two Hispanics passed the exam and it was therefore subsequently thrown out. A group of white firefighters subsequently alleged discrimination and they have finally been vindicated by the Supreme Court decision.

My lawyer son pointed out that there are questions as to whether the test in any way addressed a firefighter’s ability to do his job. My response to that was that this question should have been raised BEFORE the test was given and not after the results were in.

This historic decision sets a precedent for hiring and promotion practices across the country, where reverse race discrimination is currently being claimed. It may also potentially affect the confirmation of Sotomayor. The liberal justices on the Supreme Count came out strongly against the decision, claiming that it completely deflates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It would seem the important impact of this case should be to affirm that the CORRECT screening is being done for hiring and promotion. Perhaps changes need to be made to achieve that and to more fairly consider those in the running.

I would love to think there will be a day in this country when the race card will not be played one way or the other. But we still struggle with when to notice and when not.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Out damn spot (reprise)

Why is it we always want to find someone to blame for every bad thing that happens? Mysterious black ink is the latest unwanted addition to my house.

I noticed it this morning on the door frame to the bathroom. Then I noticed it in the grout of the bathroom floor. It seemed like indelible black ink as I tried unsuccessfully to remove it.

The cleaning people were here again. My son had been using a black pen. My husband forgets to put the top on pens. Jake occasionally eats pens lying around on the floor.

Who was the culprit? Did I dare ask for a show of hands (to look for black evidence)?

No one seemed to have any knowledge of how the black ink made its way into the downstairs bathroom, all claiming total ignorance. Jake continued to sleep peacefully.

So I scrubbed and stewed, as much at the inexplicability as at the ink spots themselves.

I’m sure there are people who for a fee will replace your old worn-out discolored grout. For a price anything can be fixed. But it hardly seems worth it to replace the grout just because of two black stains.

It’s just one of those mysteries I will probably never solve. And like the tiny flecks of scarlet dye that still adorn the upstairs carpeting, I will probably get used to the black ink on the bathroom floor. It’s just a matter of time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Personalizing Disaster

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to distance yourself from a tragedy when you don’t know anyone involved? A tsunami halfway around the world. An earthquake in China. A car bomb in Iraq. A plane flying into the Pentagon. A train wreck in Silver Spring.

It’s almost a relief to say, “But I didn’t know anyone.” And that’s usually true.

But tonight at our book club meeting, we learned that our neighbors’ daughter had been in the train that recently crashed in Silver Spring. She was coming home from her summer internship on the Red Line. She was in the 3rd car. Her parents were in Spain.

She was slammed into the seat, but she wasn’t hurt other than being left in a state of shock. The people in her car knew others had died because they had phones and iPhones and Blackberries and any manner of other devices that connected them electronically to what the world was saying about they disaster they found themselves in.

The response efforts to those affected but not injured was not at all adequate. They told them they could leave. But where could they go and how? It was two hours later that they sent buses to pick them up.

Meanwhile this young woman whose birth we well remember had called her parents in Spain to let them know she was one of the survivors.

I suddenly felt a new connection to a disaster I had almost brushed aside because I didn’t know anyone involved. Why should that be?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A movie to watch AFTER dinner

Wow -- what a powerful movie! Food Inc. is the sad truth about our national food industry.

It featured some familiar faces, people like Michael Pollen and Joel Salatin whom I have met through reading over the past year as I devoured The Omnivore’s Dilemma and visited Polyface Farm. In addition, there was Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm and so many others with a story to tell.

I winced as I saw cruelty to animals beyond belief at places like the Smithfield packing house in Tar Heel, North Carolina; when I saw commercially grown chickens being fattened so fast they couldn’t stand up; when I saw cows standing in shit halfway up their legs.

My heart repeatedly went out to the little guy who is getting squeezed by the large conglomerates. This would include the illegal aliens recruited to work in the meat packing plants and then forceably deported. It would include the farmers who are being prosecuted for saving their seed instead of having to buy genetically engineered seed from Monsanto each year. It would include the mother of 2-year-old Kevin, who was killed by e-coli, as she struggles to get legislation passed to add control to the food industry.

One of the scariest things I learned was that our food industry is dominated by just a handful of extremely powerful companies, who control everything and have infiltrated government at the highest levels.

It’s a movie that fires you up and makes you want to bring about change. The movie makes the point that consumers are responsible for the removal of milk containing human growth hormone from the shelves of Walmart, proving that people do have a voice. Check out the simple things that we can do to make a difference, starting with “Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages.”

I’m not big on the missionary approach to anything, but with the future of our planet and our species ultimately at stake, I’m ready to try to win some hearts and minds to this cause.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I feel just about as creatively shriveled up as one of the 25 pounds of raisins I bagged tonight. I’m really stretching hard to find anything to say here. It’s not that there’s nothing going on in my life. It’s more that I can’t really write about what is squashing my creativity.

When I was sent home from the CSA with 2 big boxes of raisins, a box of plastic bags, labels, and a scale, I would never have imagined how long it would take to create 50 one-pound bags.

In fact I only did half the raisins tonight, saving the other half for another day.

It’s not really difficult. It’s just that they are so sticky and tightly packed into the box. And getting the bag to come out to exactly one pound wasn’t so easy. Sealing the bags wasn’t easy either.

But I must have done it right because after the 25th bag, there were exactly 10 raisins left. I decided to make it seem like I came out even, so I promptly ate the evidence. I couldn’t really tell they were biodynamic raisins, but they were a very nice late-night snack.

I hope I’m feeling more like at least a big round grape tomorrow. Feeling shriveled is not so good.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Double Standard

I’m trying to understand why some affairs seem so right and others seem absolutely wrong. Why should there be any difference?

I recently finished Loving Frank, the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick. He left his wife and 6 children to be with this woman who left her husband and 2 children. But instead of casting stones, I found myself begging his wife Catherine to give him a divorce, begging society to give them a break at a time when this sort of behavior was unconscionable. Their love simply seemed so profound that it trumped their behavior to their families. Furthermore, they never tried to hide their true feelings from anyone.

When I read about South Carolina’s governor Mark Sanford’s affair, for which he recently used taxpayer money to travel to Argentina for 5 days, I was not so tolerant. Maybe it was because he was a Bible-quoting conservative who had tried to impeach Bill Clinton for his sexual promiscuity. Maybe it was because he made a botched attempt at keeping his affair a secret, ultimately appearing like a deer in the headlights in the Atlanta airport. I could find sympathy only for his wife and children.

Why is it that one version of an affair seems so romantic and the other seems so underhanded? In both cases, I’m sure time will prove out that the participants all paid a huge price for their indiscretions. But I’m still trying to understand why I see these alliances so differently.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fresh Peas

I hated peas growing up. I associated them with the little cans of Le Sueur peas that were a sickly shade of green. And they were always mushy. Even recently I decided against ordering Risotto at Restaurant Eve because it contained peas!

But today issued in a new era in my relationship to peas. We got a pound of peas in our weekly CSA delivery. They were still in their shells and looked like they had just come out of the garden.

Each little pod contained roughly 6 bright green peas. It took a while to shell the pound of peas.

Instead of hiding the peas in a more complicated recipe, I wanted something simple so I could really taste the difference that fresh makes.

I sauteed them in a little olive oil, adding some shredded lettuce, lemon juice, and seasoning.

Fresh peas have now joined the growing group of vegetables that I would never have chosen to eat, but have come to love!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tossing and Turning

I haven’t been sleeping well for a long time – probably since about January 20 when I broke my hip. I toss and turn many times during the night trying to get comfortable. It’s finally catching up to me and I feel tired a lot of the time. I’m trying to figure out how to reclaim a good night’s sleep.

I’m what the sleep industry refers to as a “side sleeper.” I would probably not have the sleep problem if I were a back sleeper or a stomach sleeper. But as a side sleeper, there is a lot of pressure on my shoulders and my hips, and so I have a hard time ever feeling comfortable on my right side.

Yesterday I woke up with the idea of buying one of those eggcrate foam things they use in the hospital. But the more I looked at the possibilities, the more confused I became. There’s eggcrate, foam, latex, 3", 4", etc. All sorts of possibilities. If you get the really cheap ones, they tend to collapse. If you get the synthetic ones, they can smell bad for a long time.

I’m guessing this is like bathing suits and underwear – non-returnable. But even that looks variable, depending on which of the many Internet vendors you choose.

I just want the feeling I have when I’m in shavasana in water yoga. It’s a feeling of floating with no resistance anywhere. I think I could easily fall asleep and rest peacefully, but sleeping in a pool isn’t terribly practical.

So if you have any ideas please let me know. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about a Ventilated Memory Foam 3" Mattress Topper. The woman in the picture above seems to be having sweet dreams.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No way out

I can’t imagine anything worse than being held behind bars with no possibility of proving my innocence. Unfortunately people continue to find themselves in this dilemma.

The situation with Guantanamo is unconscionable, with so many people being held for years with no trial and now no clear way to bring this disgrace to closure. I’m sure some of those incarcerated are guilty of crimes. I’m sure they are all guilty of hating the US. But I suspect many are innocent of wrongdoing. In the best of possibilities, they may be offered a chance to be free and move to a place like Palau, where they can live out the rest of their lives separated from their families continuing to hate the bastards who imprisoned them.

My son Dan pointed out a story in last Friday’s Washington Post that sent a similar chill down my spine. Apparently the Supreme Court recently ruled that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction, even though the technology provides an “unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty.”

The case prompting this ruling comes from Alaska, one of three states without a law allowing post-conviction access to biological evidence. William G. Osborne was convicted of the brutal rape and assault of a prostitute in the Anchorage International Airport in 1993. He wanted to pay for a more discerning test of semen found in a condom at the crime scene, hoping to prove his innocence. But prosecutors refused to allow it. Osborne appealed to the federal courts and the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco recognized a right to such testing under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. (Since I wrote this, my lawyer son pointed out that is really the Fourteenth Amendment, not the Fifth, that prohibits states from depriving people of due process.)

But a divided Supreme Court overruled, leaving the decision on such matters to the individual states. The states vary significantly on this matter. For example, Kentucky only permits post-conviction DNA testing for those on death row, not for those serving a life sentence. And states like Alaska don’t permit it at all.

For people wrongly accused, the bitter reality is the justice system has simply failed them. There is no justice in any of this.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nice try, but

It has become increasingly hard to buy things for my husband, the object of Father’s Day today. I thought I might have succeeded when I bought him a repackaged Kindle, allegedly from our children, Jake, and me.

He opened the box and said the right things, but didn’t take the shrink wrap off. When pressed, he said if he got a Kindle, he would rather have the Kindle 2, which of course is so new that it’s not available as a repackaged item yet.

So once again, a gift will be returned and he can then go buy what he really wants (at a somewhat higher cost).

When my daughter called, I told her what had happened and she laughed, knowing full well what a techie her father is and how he likes to be on the cutting edge of technology.

We both know that next year when Apple comes out with their version of the Kindle, one of us will inherit the Kindle 2. I’ll bet neither she nor I could tell the difference between the original Kindle and the Kindle 2.

I have to keep reminding myself that it was the thought that really counted. And perhaps the homemade card.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This is a recipe not to share with your friends so you can be the one to repeatedly bring it and be told it is the best ever! I learned how to make it at my recent class on “Small Bites” and it has never failed to please in the 3 batches I have made.

Tarragon Chicken Pate

8 oz chicken, cooked and chopped into 1” cubes
4 oz neufchatel cheese
1 shallot, diced fine
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, finely diced
1 T butter
3 T brandy
2 T chopped tarragon
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the shallot and apple together until well cooked and starting to brown. Add the brandy and ignite to burn off the alcohol (I love this step!)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend. Serve chilled on crackers.

We’re going to a pig roast tonight. I’m bringing this and another equally easy appetizer consisting mainly of avocado, broccoli, and lemon juice. But the pate is what people will rave about.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Boy and Dog

A good relationship always picks up where it left off. And so Dan and Jake are rediscovering each other.

I had been trying to tell Jake his boy was coming home today. But Jake just never got the hang of Skype and could not conceive that his old friend was halfway around the world.

He rode with us to the airport to pick Dan up today. I don’t think his tail quit wagging the whole way home.

He hasn’t let Dan out of his sight since they walked in the door.

After dinner Jake insisted they go out back with his Kong. He fetched and fetched and fetched some more. He’s still panting hard as he lies at Dan’s feet.

It is quite clear whose room he is sleeping in tonight. I knew I was just a stand-in...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back to the womb

I finally know the joy of floating freely in water without fear and it is a wonderful feeling. If you’ve never had a fear of water, you may have a hard time understanding this liberation.

During my first water yoga class I was introduced to “baby pose”, where you simply hold your knees and float face down in the water. I immediately felt panicky after just a few seconds, failing to ever settle into the pose. I took a cue from someone else who had brought a mask that covered her nose.

Since then I have been a baby pose devotee and star. There is something so reassuring about embracing oneself and just hanging suspended in and buoyed by the water. The mask keeps the water out of my nose and I feel completely calm.

Today I ventured to the next step of gliding through the water and continuously rolling over, another very calming motion.

Both of these are reminiscent of what it must have been like to float in utero, where the need for air had not yet been learned. I think even after 60 years our bodies have a memory of that time.

During the “free swim” period of class, I opted for the wheel pose, which involves placing the back of your neck over a noodle and reaching back to grab both ankles, thereby forming your body into the shape of a wheel. There is no way I could ever achieve this range of motion on dry land, but the water somehow makes it possible.

I’m thinking this class may well be the key to releasing my anxieties about water. That 90 minutes I spend stretching and moving and relaxing in the water is perhaps the highlight of my week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Better than a nap any day

I have always loved this song by The Starland Vocal Band. The band is long defunct. Bill and Taffy Danoff have been divorced for decades. But the concept is alive and well!

Afternoon Delight
The Starland Vocal Band

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight
My motto's always been 'when it's right, it's right'
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?
When everything's a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be there any way

Thinkin' of you's workin' up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ingite
And the thought of lovin' you is getting so exciting
Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who wouldn't bite
But you've got some bait a waitin' and I think I might try nibbling
A little afternoon delight
Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Please be waiting for me, baby, when I come around
We could make a lot of lovin' 'for the sun goes down

Thinkin' of you's workin' up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ingite
And the thought of lovin' you is getting so exciting
Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Afternoon delight!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Straying from the facts

In the style of Lacochran, I’m going to throw out a situation and ask how you would handle it:

At an informal dinner party last weekend, my husband and I were chatting with a guy who really liked to talk. He was going on and on about his experience living in Heidelberg, Germany, some 20 years ago. He mentioned visiting a church that had been built in 60 A.D. and added that it had replaced the original church from 200 years previous.

I caught my husband’s eye and read “This guy is full of shit.” But neither of us said anything.

We were both mentally going over the fact that it was Paul, born around 70 A.D., who had started “the church” as we know it. Furthermore we both recalled that it was a bunch of Hans or Huns or Goths or some manner of wild pagans that lived in what is now Germany back then, or so we thought. So maybe a few hundred years later, but definitely not 70 A.D. This site would concur.

So how would you react if you were reasonably sure someone had grossly misstated something? Certainly if it was someone you knew well, you would probably engage in a discussion, suggesting why it just couldn’t be. But what if it was someone you had just met? Would you politely say “Uh-huh” and change the subject? Or better yet, find someone else to talk to?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Guilt

On Saturday my friend Deborah and I were reminiscing about the difficulties of folding children into a career and the inevitable guilt we took on as we did it. Fortunately our children seem to have survived just fine, but we both have memories of being stretched beyond belief sometimes.

First of all, there never seemed to be just the right time to start a family as I was climbing the professional ladder in my job that required me to travel internationally multiple times a year. I knew embracing motherhood was tantamount to putting my career track on hold.

I was able to work part time for 5 years, but there was still the need to travel from time to time. I would have to invite my mother to come up from Florida to take care of my family during those work trips.

When I finally bit the bullet and applied for a job that would be a promotion and would also be full-time, I got it. But the first week of my new job, my husband had a mandatory class and my daughter had chicken pox. So guess who stayed home!

It seemed that taking care of sick children was the thing we had the greatest disagreements about back then. I recall once hiring an 85-year-old woman to come to the house, only to later learn that my 4-year-old daughter had had to make her own lunch in the microwave. Talk about guilt!

I can also remember getting that call from the school nurse’s office that my child had a fever and needed to be picked up. Inevitably it was just as I was going into an important meeting.

But eventually they grew up and were self-sufficient, rarely sick, and certainly not in need of daycare. Those early days have become blurry, but I can still conjure up the feelings of guilt as someone needed me at home and I thought I was needed at work. It’s a feeling that just stays with you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Elderly encounters

Two experiences this week gave me an insight into various scenarios for getting older. They prove that age has very little to do with a person’s path toward “seniority”.

A call went out from Temple Micah to visit a congregant who was in a nursing home not far from where we live. I recognized the name as someone who used to be a bar mitzvah tutor at our previous congregation. She was known as the “old lady” even back when our kids were in religious school there.

We went to visit Shirley, who is in her early 80’s and suffers from many things, including mild dementia. She couldn’t remember the name of the street her house of 30 years sits on. She couldn’t quite recollect where her 4 children were these days. She thanked us for flowers we didn’t bring.

But she was grateful for our visit. She seemed genuinely happy to spend a half hour or so with us. My guess is she will not recognize us when we next pay her a visit.

Today we were invited by a friend’s mother to brunch in her senior living facility in Arlington. In her 90’s Gayle still teaches piano and devours the paper every day. Her eyesight is not as good as it once was, but she hears and is mentally quite keen. She dyes her hair a lovely strawberry blond color and takes great pride in what she wears.

We had a delightful meal in a beautiful dining room. She jokingly chastised her son-in-law for “stealing” her computer and leaving her with a typewriter to record her memoirs. She said her great-grandchildren don’t like to play the piano for her because she is too tough on them. She’s quite a character.

As I head into the “end game” of life, I’m paying attention to how others are faring. I hope I can keep my mind as Gayle has. I hope my body holds out. I hope I will always have loving friends and family around me. But there are no guarantees about how any one of us will age. To a degree it’s just the luck of the draw.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

To everything there is a season

This morning we learned that the crazed 88-year-old whtie supremecist had been seen lurking around Temple Micah earlier in the week. An ANC member had approached him and quickly concluded he was not quite right.

We mentally processed this information and collectively wondered what would have happened if he had not opened fire the guard at the Holocaust Museum on Wednesday, but instead had saved his hate crime for the Shabbat service at Temple Micah, coming in to blast into the sanctuary full of worshippers.

We prayed for the dead guard and his family and thanked God we had been spared. We looked gratefully to the young guard stationed at our front door and felt sad that it was necessary for him to be there.

Our special song came from verses in Ecclesiastes:

Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

A time to love, a time to hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time of peace: I swear it’s not too late.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Multiple paths to a caring doc

I’ve recently come to see some radically different approaches to health care. I’m happy to stay with my traditional doctor, supplementing with alternative medicine on my own as needed.

My friend and doctor Deborah has a traditional practice that doesn’t include acupuncture or homeopathy or any of the other alternatives to health. But most of her patients know that she spends an inordinate amount of time keeping track of their history, reminding them when it’s time to have preventative tests done, consulting with their other doctors, and staying current with medical literature. Although she is not available by e-mail, she is available, or at least someone in her practice is always available.

And for me an added benefit is the fact that her practice is a part of Medstar Health and as such is in network for me. Furthermore, I can use Quest Diagnostics for which my health insurance provider pays 100%. As a result, I pay very little for the services of an attentive doctor and for anyone else in the huge Medstar network.

I recently ventured out of network to consult with my husband’s doctor, who was featured in the Washington Post health section this week as one of a growing number of practitioners of integrative medicine, conventional medical care that incorporates strategies such as acupuncture, reiki, and herbal remedies.

I enjoyed the fact that I had e-mail access to this doctor through a patient portal at caringdoc.com. But the charges and specifically the portion for which I was responsible were astronomical compared to what I had been paying. All lab work had to be done through the practice, eliminating my total coverage option. As far as follow-up, Deborah’s practice came out ahead.

At a dinner with my neighbor last week, I learned of another approach that goes under the name of “concierge medicine”, whereby he pays $1500 a year to have a doctor basically on call all the time. Such doctors have agreed to limit their practice to the point where they can be available to their patients. This fee guarantees that his doctor will know his history, will be available by cell phone, and will help him manage his health care issues. But the fee in no way pays for doctor visits or lab work.

As health care costs continue to escalate, I suddenly realize that I have the best of all worlds at an affordable price. I have a doctor who knows my name and cares deeply about my health and that of all of her patients, for which we pay very little beyond a co-pay. I can see anyone of my choosing for acupuncture, reiki, massage, or any other remedy I deem useful. Sometimes it takes looking around at the alternatives to appreciate what you already have.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Waiting Game

I was on time for my 3:00 appointment, despite the fact that I-395 was closed because of the Holocaust Memorial shooting. At 3:05 I entered the lovely room where I would wait and wait and wait some more for the doctor who would hopefully pronounce me melanoma-free.

It’s a teaching hospital, so I’m always first seen by a resident. I figure 4 eyes are better than 2. He must have come in a little after 3:45. But then he left me lying there on an uncomfortable examining table with my little open-in-the-back gown waiting for the senior doctor.

A couple of times nurses popped their heads in to either say the doctor was coming or in one case ask my name. I worried aloud to one of them that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for parking, so she took pity and found a “free parking” coupon for me, which oddly enough reminded me of a “get out of jail free” card.

At some point, everyone seemed to lose interest in me. I could hear people leaving for the day. I panicked that they were just leaving me in that room and going home for the night.

I usually look forward to my conversation with this doctor, but by the time he came in at 4:45 I was too angry to be much more than civil. I wanted him to say that he had just had emergency surgery to remove a giant melanoma from some other patient, but instead he offered no excuses for keeping me waiting for almost 2 hours. He looked me over and pronounced me cancer-free (always a comforting adjective to hear). The resident froze a seborrheic keratosis on my leg that looked like a wart. And then I was free to go.

As I walked out after 5:00, I heard a nurse announce, “That’s the last one.” I’m going for the first appointment of the day on my next 6-month visit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Slacker Citizen

I give myself credit for showing up to vote yesterday, but confess to arriving at the polls totally unprepared. We had been besieged with recorded phone messages, none of which I listened to because I hate robots talking to me.

What I had forgotten was that it was a Democratic primary. I was no longer voting against the other guys, but I had to pick one of my guys and I hadn’t done my homework.

Picture me sitting outside the polling place Googling on my iPhone to get help that would allow me to do more than vote for the one with the prettiest signs or even worse flip a coin.

As it turns out, I probably voted for the wrong guy. Reading about Deeds, the guy who won, today suggests that he would have been a better choice. Fortunately a lot of other people had already figured that out.

R. Creigh Deeds currently represents a rural area of Virginia in the state senate. His record shows that time and time again he has not necessarily voted for the popular thing in his district, but rather for the RIGHT thing to do for the state as a whole. He is determined to improve the state’s transportation system, having supported an unpopular hike in the state’s gas tax. He strongly supports green issues. He makes education a priority. And furthermore, he’s a nice guy.

I should probably have paid more attention to the fact that the Washington Post had endorsed Mr. Deeds.

I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t do a very good job of exercising my civic rights yesterday, all too casually casting my vote. Next time I promise to be better prepared.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All in the course of a day

You may never have wondered just how much you pee in a 24-hour period. I never did, but now I know thanks to a calcium test that required me to “collect” for a full day (and night). It’s a lot more than you might think.

At Quest Diagnostics I was issued the large orange container with explicit instructions about what and when. I found a day when I would be close to home because the instructions said to refrigerate the container.

I started to panic after 5 hours of collection when the container was a third full. I jokingly asked Deborah, who had come to play music with me, what I would do if I exceeded the capacity of the orange container. Without a second thought, she said to sterilize a jar.

When I got up in the morning, with my mind was still on the funny movie I had watched the night before, I thought about the Chevy Chase style movie script that could be written around the new OJ container in the refrigerator. Don’t even go there...

By the end of the 24th hour, I had topped off the bottle and was done with the gross job of collecting. I would like to think this is the last time I will ever have to go through this particular test, which pales in comparison to a colonoscopy, but certainly lasts a lot longer.

I guess the size of the container was no accident. But it surely seemed like more than I could possibly have drunk in a 24-hour period.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Mystery food

Several years ago when I was on a whirlwind trip to Paris with my good friend L in the middle of the winter, we spent a lot of time and money enjoying French food. We also enjoyed the displays of food that greeted us everywhere we went. In particular, we were curious about something we saw among the sidewalk shellfish called “pousse-pieds.” We may also have beens served this delicacy, but indeed the image of it has lingered on and we have wondered if it would ever surface again.

My friend L is currently on a trip to Spain, where she once again sighted this unusual food. She immediately sent me the above photo and asked me to see if I could unravel the mystery.

Actually the Internet is much better for this type of thing than it was in 2003, when we first saw these little barnacle-like shellfish in France. From this site, I learned that they are also served in Spain as “percebes” and in English they have the unromantic name of “goose-neck barnacles”. They are indeed a luxury food, costing more than even lobster or crab.

One Internet site hinted that you can now get them in Oregon, but I somewhat doubt I will ever see them on the east coast. So the next time I get a craving for pousse-pieds, I will simply have to go to France or Spain to get them!

Have you ever encountered this unusual product of the sea? If so, can you describe the taste?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gentle Music

My first memory of balalaika music was from the movie “Dr. Zhivago.” It was romantic and captivating, while quite foreign from anything I had ever heard.

Imagine a whole stage filled with balalaikas and their Russian cousins domras, with a couple of guslis, a few accordians, some flutes, and a small percussion section. That would describe the Washington Balalaika Society, as they performed on the stage of the Schlesinger Center last night.

All of the stringed instruments were from Russia, with the exception of one giant contrabass balalaika, which was made by the musician who played it. Most of the balalaikas have 3 strings, 2 of which are tuned to the same note. They don’t make a lot of sound, but enough of them sound like an army of beating wings of little birds.

We were treated to the all-time favorites of Russia, many of which we had heard throughout the years. There was Strangers in Paradise from Borodin’s Prince Igor, Moscow Nights, and of course Those Were the Days, which found the audience accelerating their clapping to a riotous finish.

What amazed me most was when the announcer asked how many of the performers had joined the group after hearing a performance and at least half of them stood up! Although there are clearly native Russians among them, it’s a rather diverse group who come together to celebrate this beautiful music from the old country.

Only in Washington, DC, would you find the largest balalaika troupe in North America!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Sometimes you just get lucky

When I went into Borders yesterday with an 11-year-old gift certificate, I fully expected them to tell me it had expired and wouldn’t have even complained much if they had.

I got up to the counter to pay and the clerk said, “I’ve never seen one like this. It may not scan.” He called over another more senior sales clerk who had actually been around in 1998 and vaguely remembered seeing these. He was willing to give it a try.

We were incredulous when the clerk scanned the barcode and it was recognized!

So instead of having to whip out my Visa card, I was actually issued a modern-day gift card loaded with my balance of $12.42.

Borders may be not be thriving these days, but they have done something right in the area of automation. Bravo to them for making good on an ancient piece of paper!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Who knew there were other verses?

I confess to being secretly partial to a precocious 5-year-old girl at the homeless shelter where I read. Last time I was there, she wasn’t allowed to attend the reading hour because she had mouthed off to someone on the staff. But last night she was back.

She has the need to be in control. But as she used the pictures to create the story of “Madeline and the Bad Hat Boy”, I finally had to ask her to let an adult read so everyone wouldn’t miss out on another great Madeline escapade.

As we sat making hats for our activity, this particular child launched into “If you’re happy and you know it” in a beautiful sweet voice and we all joined in clapping our hands. But the next verse was “If you’re sad and you know it, cry some tears.” Followed by “If you’re angry and you know it, make a face.” And then “If you’re bored and you know it, give a sigh.” I think she could have gone on in this negative vein for some time, probably venting her emotions of the day. But instead we all begged her to let us be happy again and she reluctantly obliged.

When it was time to leave, she gave us all big hugs and asked when we were coming back. I hope until we do she has more reasons to sing the happy verse.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Cool Jazz

One of the things I really love about my friend Deborah is her enthusiasm about many types of music. She suggested that we go to Blues Alley in Georgetown last night to hear Chaise Lounge, a jazz group in which one of her fellow bass players from the McLean Orchestra plays.

In all the years I have lived here, I had never been to this funky little hole-in-the-wall place. We arrived a little later than planned after driving from Capitol Hill through an hour of severe thunderstorms, replete with fallen trees.

While we were enjoying dinner, Chaise Lounge came on stage to start their set. For the most part they were of our generation -- except for the cute young vocalist who could have been our daughter. But the biggest transformation was Pete, the bass player who is always sedate in his black suit when he plays with the orchestra. Last night he was sporting a pink tie and a cute little hat and he played a blond bass. He was unbelievably animated as he provided the low notes that formed the foundation of many of their pieces.

What was so appealing about the music was how soft and sensuous it was, even though we were just 10 feet away from the performers. Many of the songs were written by Charlie Barnett, the obvious leader of the group. But there were old standards like “I Love Paris,” that reminded us of songs we once knew. The young vocalist sang all the words in a way that they just floated out to the audience.

The 5 performers played a variety of instruments, including sax, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, and piano. They seemed equally comfortable playing whatever the piece called for. (I tried to picture my electronic friend Anon F playing in such a group.)

About half the audience consisted of a group of Japanese tourists, who came to Blues Alley to find out about American music. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to resonate with many of them, who either listened with stone faces or closed eyes as their tour bus waited outside.

But the four of us were well entertained with the cool jazz of Chaise Lounge. By the end of the evening we were singing “Bubadubaduba” along with the band in between the words. Deborah bought there new CD, “Second Hand Smoke”, which will continue to remind us of our evening at Blues Alley with Chaise Lounge.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Reforming Squirrel

I’m trying to figure out why I have so many containers of tea covering two shelves of a cabinet. I drink maybe two of these on a regular basis. Only one was a gift, so that means I must have purchased the rest of these colorful boxes of tea.

The same thing is true of shampoo. I seem to keep acquiring a variety of hair products far faster than I am using them up.

So I have a new plan for things like this that seem to be multiplying. I’m determined to use them up -- every last teabag, every last drop of shampoo -- before buying more of either.

I could go a little nuts if I extended this to things like wrapping paper, where I have about 25 miscellaneous rolls of paper, some of which date back probably as many years.

But it will be interesting to see what happens if I just stick to tea and shampoo. I wonder if I’ll be tempted by an exotic tea or a new kind of shampoo?

Am I the only one stockpiling things, or is this just a symptom of American opulence, now turned to austerity?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The World of Coffee

Have you ever wondered about all those different kinds of coffee? What caught my eye on this sign was the coffee from Kenya, which reminded me of the fact that I got an award today from my Blogger friend Karen in Botswana, who enjoys reading Blogs with her morning coffee.

As with my one other award, I was somewhat dumbfounded to be recognized in this way. Lately I have felt like I was pulling at straws to find something to write about. A lot of my recent posts seems to be whiny and negative, when I actually much prefer to focus on the positive things in life.

Another revelation today: I am so energized by other people. This morning I shared a beautiful cup of cappuccino with a friend at Peregrine, the Capitol Hill coffee shop that replaced the defunct Murky Coffee. It’s brighter and cleaner inside than Murky Coffee ever was, and today the outdoor seats were an extra bonus because of the beautiful weather. This friend and I always get into philosophical discussions about things like time management and setting priorities in life. We actually see things quite differently but are very tolerant of each other’s position.

This afternoon I had another chance to hang out with friends, this time in the Virginia suburbs. We ended up at another coffee shop, where I opted for a delicious cup of Chai. We’re all of a similar generation, with children who continue to make our lives interesting and challenging. One has grandchildren. The other friend and I would like to think we will someday have another generation to entertain.

So back to the question of coffee – What do you think distinguishes the coffee grown in Colombia from that of Kenya from that of Indonesia? Is it the air, the altitude, the water, or the type of beans? And why do we never hear of coffee grown in China or India or even the US? I have a love/hate affair with coffee, periodically swearing it off, but always coming back to the smell and taste that I find so alluring.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Humor Me

It seemed like the main objective of a recent somewhat weirdo massage therapist I saw was to make me laugh. But try as he might, I refused, possibly because I didn’t find his draping technique amusing. (I’ll spare you the details on that.)

However, today as I was swimming at the local rec center, I suddenly had a revelation that I badly needed to inject some humor in my life. A water aerobics class was in progress in the neighboring lanes and all of a sudden, I found myself kicking in rhythm to “I got chills, they’re multiplying” and other music from Grease. I’m sure there was a smile on my face as I stuck my head out to breathe.

I also became aware of a very sunny section in the middle of the pool that felt so good to swim through as I made my way back and forth. The warm bright light was almost delicious.

I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I really laughed hard at anything. I think it’s been a long time. I had this thought of renting a bunch of funny movies on NetFlix and just laughing my head off. You know those big belly laughs that make your whole body shake? I think it would feel good.

I’m making a list. What funny movies can you suggest?