Sunday, January 31, 2010

Single or Double

I had a little run-in today at Whole Foods over bags.  I simply couldn’t convince the check-out clerk that the customer was right.

I’m usually pretty good about bringing in my reusable bags, but in a hurry today I left them in the car.

As we stood in line to check out, I thought about running back out to the car but decided just to let the clerk pack my groceries in paper bags.

As he started to load them into a doubled paper bag, I politely requested single bags.  But instead of heeding my requests, he proceeded to give me the lecture about how double bags are stronger.

Then he went on to say that if he were to use a single bag, he would simply pack it lighter, necessitating more bags.  To which I responded, “Not if I was packing the bags!”

He then went on to add that I could bring the paper bags back the next time I came to shop.  To which I said, “Next time I will definitely bring my reusable bags.”

I’ve had this exchange quite a few times with check-out clerks, but never have they refused to do as I asked. 

My son, who was along, was probably mortified that I seemed so recalcitrant about something like paper bags.  His opinion was definitely that the clerk ought to be able to give me whatever he wanted to.  And here I thought the customer was always right in situations like this.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Weather Wins

Sometimes the weather decides one’s plans. Like tonight for example as the snow that wasn’t supposed to amount to much continues to fall.

As we sang our way through services today at Temple Micah, we could see the snow falling and falling and falling.  By the time we were driving home, the roads were in bad shape.  At one point we hit an icy patch and spun into the curb.  What a helpless feeling.  After that I literally crept home and felt relieved to turn off the engine.

Tonight I should just be finishing up an elegant dinner at my friend Deborah’s house before going to a black-tie gala on Capitol Hill, where we would have had exquisite desserts and entertainment.

But instead I’m throwing on an extra sweater and contemplating making an omelet for dinner.  It was not even an option to venture out into the snowy night that is also bitterly cold.  As much as I would enjoy socializing with people I know and love, I will have to content myself with a large dog and a husband, whom I love even more.

I bow to the weather gods.  They had other ideas about how I should spend my evening.

It was a brisket omelet, made by the greatest omelet chef ever. I guess we're hardly vegetarians yet...

Friday, January 29, 2010

The check's not in the mail

I’ve always hated asking people for money they owe me.  I hate even more asking for a second time.  But I find myself in a deja vu situation.

We are renting a vacation home this summer with two other couples.  It actually belongs to a friend of mine, so I made the arrangements and paid the deposit.  Then I sent the following message to the two couples:

Dear #1, #2 -- I just signed the lease and sent a deposit of $1250.  Please send/give me a check for 1/3 of that amount.  I'm looking to a great reunion of our group next summer in our favorite house!

Friendly enough.  No pressure.  The next day #1 handed me a check for $416.67.  I have yet to hear from #2.  That was December 4.

I would chalk this up to the Christmas holidays or preoccupation with something else in life.  But the exact same thing happened the last time I was the person in charge.  I didn’t get paid until May when we had to cough up the rest of the rental amount.

This is not a couple who have to worry about money, so I’m searching for an explanation.  I’m wondering if their lack of attention to paying me is conscious or unconscious.  I’m wondering if they stretch out all debts as far as they possibly can before settling up.  I’m feeling slightly annoyed that I may need to send a second message if I want to get paid before May this year.

What’s your take on debt collection from people you know?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Smoking comes with a price

As I delve into more and more family history, I decided yesterday to call my aunt (my mother’s stepsister) and her husband, who live in West Virginia.  I was somewhat afraid the number would be disconnected or that at least one of them would be deceased.

This aunt of mine was the darling child of my grandfather’s second marriage.  My mother had been 4 when his first wife died of TB.  They sent her older brother off to a relative’s to live, but she stayed home, where she soon enough got to help take care of her new baby sister.  I don’t think my mother had a very happy childhood, but she always spoke kindly of her sister.

My earliest memories of that side of the family were that everyone smoked.  (Some drank as well, with my mother’s brother dying of alcoholism.)  I probably saw them only a handful of times since we visited every other year and I can recall them coming to see us in Florida only once.

After I got married I begged my aunt and uncle to come visit us, but they always declined because we had a smoke-free house.  Even my father had to learn to step outside to smoke and was willing to do it.

Yesterday’s call revealed that my aunt is now confined to bed because her lungs are so bad.  It’s hard for me to imagine such an energetic person being so debilitated.  I’m hoping she quit smoking along the way, but didn’t dare ask.

My uncle’s comment on life, “We’re getting by.”  I wondered how they were living, since he was always self-employed in the construction business and they never seemed like the kind of people who would save for a rainy day. 

But their family is considerably larger than mine, with 10 great-grandchildren, so maybe they are rallying around to help my aunt and uncle in their old age.

I’m trying to learn more about the photo of my mother’s grandfather’s farm, which I successfully had restored.  I hoped maybe my uncle could shed some light on where the farm was since he grew up in that area, but his mind seemed to be too occupied with just getting by to remember anything about a Miller farm of times long ago.

I wondered if my aunt would have chosen to quit long ago if she could have looked into the future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Value of Flaws

I’ve had an awakening to the value of flaws today.  After my inquiry yesterday, my neighbor who is a renowned fiber artist suggested, “Maybe you can just see the beauty in the aging of the linens, not worry about the holes and just hope they hold together for the next 25 or so years.”

I went ahead and took the linens to Beverly Cleaners in Old Town, where I spoke to the owner, Susan Kim, who has undoubtedly seen a lot of damaged material over the years.

She studied the number and size of the holes and with certainty recommended against the expensive reweaving in favor of patching the holes with material from one of the damaged napkins using a sewing machine.  The cost for patching a hole will be $6.  Reweaving would have cost $35.  So I left it all with her and told her to patch it up.  I probably could have done this myself, but I figure she has had a lot more experience than I have and the price is definitely right.

What I realized was that if I made those holes completely disappear, that part of the history of the linens would be lost, as though it never happened.  As much as I don’t like to admit to having mice in my house, the story of the hungry mouse adds a richness to this cloth which has been around for probably about 80 years.  Patched and stored more securely, I’m sure it’s good for another 80 years.  I’ll now have to write up the story of the patches and include that in the box.

It’s actually true of many things and even our own bodies that the flaws are what distinguish us from one another, the things that tell our personal history.  Just scanning my body,
-- I feel my titanium hip on the right side,
-- My tongue touches the back of my fake tooth which replaced the one I broke in a fall in Norway,
-- I see the faint scar on my leg where I landed on a nail when trying to jump hurdles in the 6th grade,
-- I see the tooth marks from an angry dog on my face from when I was just a toddler,
and so on.

I’ll bet each of you can name at least as many distinguishing features on yourself.  So why shouldn’t the tablecloth retain the flaws left by the mouse, all the while still being beautiful and quite functional?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Looking for a Needle in a Haystack

I’m starting to think fabric reweaving is becoming a lost art.  I haven’t given up on repairing the damaged Irish linen tablecloth, but I’m having a tough time getting started.

I started by Googling “reweaving DC” and kept coming up with Fabric Reweaving Company on 14th Street in DC, only to find the number had been disconnected.

So I broadened the search and moved on to French American Reweaving in New York, having to search for its current address and phone number.  Unfortunately the man I talked to didn’t really seem to want my job.  He kept saying he would take a job only if he thought it would turn out perfect and he wasn’t so sure about mine.  I offered to send photos of the damage and he said he didn’t have an e-mail address.  That didn’t bode well.

So I moved on to The French Re-Weavers in San Jose, where I talked to a nice woman who seemed interested.  I sent her the photos and am waiting to hear from her.

Meanwhile I found this article which mentioned a Beverly Cleaners right near me in Alexandria.  The woman I spoke to was clearly Korean and seemed only able to communicate the address of the establishment.  So tomorrow I’ll take my tablecloth and napkins to Susan Kim and see what she says.

I keep thinking there might be a process similar to plugging a hole in a windshield, where I can use a piece from a napkin and something like Stitch-Witchery to repair the damage from the hungry mouse.

If you fabric arts people have any suggestions, bring them on.  I want to repair these linens in a way that I will be proud to pass them down to future generations and if that means I need professional help, I will try to find it.  But it would certainly be less expensive if there is some way I can do it myself.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sitting Comfortably

My recent trip to Chicago, where I tried out all sorts of chairs in the art museum, got me thinking about sitting comfortably.  I resolved to do something about it when I got home.

The black faux-leather couches in our family room might be comfortable for Jake, but they make my back hurt.  My husband long ago started sitting in a straight-back chair to watch TV.  Since we spend a lot of our time in that room, it seems like the right place to introduce comfortable seating for both of us.

He mentioned the possibility of a rocking chair, after recently sitting in one in a friend’s house.  So we started combing the Internet for possibilities. 

It turns out you can spend a lot of money on custom-made wooden rocking chairs by Robert Erickson.  You can spend less money on custom-made chairs by Klein Design.  Or at the other extreme, you can buy a one-size-fits-all chair from Ikea or Target.

We are considering the Klein chairs because they look like they would be quite comfortable.  Unfortunately the only place that sells them is the factory in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  I ordered a “custom design kit,” containing a sample of all fabrics and woods, so we can decide what we like.  It ends up costing nothing as long as we return it.

The chairs take 6-8 weeks to make.  So with any luck we can be rocking side by side as we watch “24” in a couple of months.  Does that sound romantic, or what?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Turning Two

Last night we celebrated baby Angeli’s second birthday.  It seems like just yesterday that we were driving a very pregnant Glenda to the hospital so she could give birth to a perfect baby girl.

Glenda is now 21.  She is still in high school, determined to graduate.  She continues to work 6 days a week to help her family pay the rent on their 3-bedroom apartment.  I hesitate to think how many people are living in that space.

But they are all doing amazingly well.  Glenda now speaks English with quite a bit of confidence.  Angeli’s father is definitely still in the picture.  She and her family haven’t had to move again.  The children are all growing and becoming more and more Americanized.  Currently everyone seems to be employed.

It’s always an eye-opener to realize that Angeli’s grandmother is 36 years old while in our 60’s we have no grandchildren and none on the horizon.

Glenda’s mother had cooked a delicious meal and there were a lot of guests to celebrate.  The TV continued to entertain in Spanish when the salsa music took a break. 

Angeli seemed to love the presents we brought.  I wonder if anyone will read Peter Rabbit to her.  I wonder if they have ever even heard that tale. 

As Angeli batted balloons around, it became apparent how coordinated she was.  She delighted in the other present we gave her -- a maze with 4 colored balls and a hammer.  She very quickly figured out how to make the balls go down the chute.  She worried about the red ball that another little girl carried around.

Seeing how well Angeli is turning out and how every much her family loves her made me determined to stay involved in their lives and to help that little girl realize the American dream. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thoughts on Driving

The overly cautious drivers can be as dangerous on the road as those who are stretching the limits.  You know the ones who are going 40 mph in a 55-mph zone.  The ones who never dare to turn right on red, even when it is legal to do so.  The ones who not only stop at a stop sign, but wait for a while to start up again.

Many of them are undoubtedly new drivers, who are still getting used to being behind the wheel.  But more often than not, they seem to be immigrants (from my observation).  These are the people who don’t want to tangle with police under any circumstance.  They don’t want tickets or points and they definitely don’t want to be hauled into jail or worse yet, deported.  So they exercise extreme caution and often pose a hazard in doing so.  I see them every day.

On another driving topic, I think I must be one of the few people on the face of the earth who really hates using a GPS.  I do confess that it has saved us from many arguments when we are driving in unfamiliar and poorly marked cities like Boston.  It has taken the pressure off the navigator altogether, because we are deferring to the judgment of the female voice, who will simply recalculate if we fail to follow her directions.

I think most of my resentment has to do with the idea of being told what to do turn my turn by turn instead of having the “picture” in my head before I ever start driving and having a say in the route we take.  On quite a few occasions, I have observed the female voice not taking the most direct route or one that makes sense at rush hour.  If I thoroughly understand the route, I will also know alternative routes to take if we encounter traffic or an accident.  In my mind, there is still no substitute for a paper map that shows you what you are up against -- all of it at once!

Maybe I will change my mind in a few years, the way I slowly embraced the cell phone and other current technology.  But for now my first action upon getting into the Prius is to turn off the navigation system and simply use my intuition to navigate the city in which I live.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years and learned valuable lessons from them.  Weird, yes?

Friday, January 22, 2010


Yesterday it was a headache.  Today added a very sore throat.  It must be a virus.  Whatever it is, I am grounded at least for the morning.

It seems like a day to stay in my pajamas and drink tea while the rain continues to slowly fall outside.

Most illnesses like this require patience, not pills.  So I will tell myself that when it’s ready, this virus will move on and my body will resume its healthy existence.

Meanwhile I will sit around and ponder things like how to hang the vision board I made on my trip to Chicago.  I’m convinced that the year will bring clarity to many of the words I included on that board.

I love jasmine tea.  It doesn’t even need milk or honey to make it delicious and soothing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A New Season of an Old Favorite

The new season of the only TV show I watch has officially started.  This year “24” is in New York City and it is better than ever.

We watched the first of 4 marathon hours while in Chicago.  We were unsure how our gracious hosts could possibly turn the TV off and go to bed, but not wanting to appear to be 24 addicts we too quit after the first hour.

My husband had recorded every thrilling minute, so this afternoon my friend KC and I sat down to watch hours 2, 3, and 4 -- back to back.  During that time we saw 3 people get killed and one person get his hand sawed off with a power saw.  And we saw Jack almost get beat to death my one of NYPD’s finest.

But we also saw the bad guys get foiled in their attempt to assassinate the leader of what seems like an Iran-like country.  Along the way we learned that he was having an affair with a blond American reporter. 

We cheered as Jack’s old heartthrob Renee rejoined the show.  Although she seems to have been through a lot, including a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt.  She now seems to be willing to throw caution to the wind as she does things like sawing off the Russian mobster’s hand.

By the end of hour 4, we both felt like we had ridden a roller coaster for about 2 hours without taking a break.  You know that feeling of standing up and being a little wobbly?  That’s what 3 hours  of “24” will do for you.

I can never understand why a show this popular chooses to complete its season in just 16 weeks.  On the other hand, the premise of covering the 24 hours of a very exciting day doesn’t lend itself to more than 24 episodes.

I have rededicated myself to Jack Bauer and I trust that he will keep the world safe once again in 2010, as he personally has multiple near-death experiences, all in the space of 24 hours.

“24” makes Homeland Security seem like a lame attempt to deal with terrorism!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Something from Nothing

I recently admired the blue necklace worn by a woman at Temple Micah.  She said she had gotten it at a crafts show in Texas. 

The next time I saw her, she handed me a plastic bag with the necklace and a red bandanna in it, saying “I’ll bet you can figure out how to make one!”

I cut a strip corner to corner diagonally from the red bandanna and made a tube out of it.  I bought some small cotton balls and a big container of multi-colored beads at Michaels.  I found a long wooden knitting needle and packed all of these things in a bag to take on my trip.

After about 30 minutes of work as we headed toward Chicago, the red necklace emerged.  I just noticed it is considerably shorter than the model necklace, but just right for my neck. 

This shows how easy it is to make something from nothing.  Thanks to Elka for inspiring me!

Coming Home

I just got in from a 12-hour trip from Chicago in which I literally ate my way home.  Eating has always been my favorite pastime while traveling by car.

Within minutes of leaving metro Chicago, I found myself rummaging in the food bag to find cheese and crackers, trail mix, dark chocolate, an apple, you name it. 

When I got tired of something or it was gone, I moved on to something else, never feeling full.

I reconfirmed just how far it is across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Despite the spirited conversation with my traveling companions, the miles seemed to pass most quickly when I was chewing on something. 

I had the back seat to myself when I wasn’t driving.  That’s where all the food was.  I kept trying to offer food to those up front, but they were much more sensible.

Tomorrow it’s back to business as usual and perhaps a trip to the gym.  The eating frenzy is over until the next road trip.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chi-town on a cloudy day

Despite the overcast skies, we played tourist in Chicago today.  We took in the Chicago Institute of Art, Millennium Park, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.  It was a day of a lot of walking, so the cool cane came along and was a big help.

I’m never good for more than a couple of hours in any museum, although I must confess the Chicago Institute of Art was so nicely laid out that it was not tiresome.  By far my favorite exhibit was modern furniture designed by the German Konstantin Grcic.  The cool thing is that we could actually try out the chairs and these were particularly comfortable.

We walked over to the Millennium Grill for a lunch overlooking the crowd of ice skaters, who were taking advantage of the fact that it was MLK’s birthday.  Then we wandered through a portion of the park, finding some interesting Chinese artwork on a grand scale.

Since our previous visit to Chicago two years ago, the three of us had all read “Loving Frank,” so it was only natural that we would want to explore more of his genius.  We found his Robie House, which is in the process of being restored, but still allows tours. 

There are so many things about the Prairie School which I find appealing.  The horizontal lines, the use of rich wood, the adornment of stain glass windows, and the general good sense of the architect all combine to produce livable art. 

By late afternoon as the last glimmer of light was leaving the cold winter sky, we opted for tea back “home” as opposed to more tourist stops.  Tonight we will take our hosts out for food at a fun Italian restaurant, and then after one of our group has an appointment in the morning we will head back to DC, hoping to beat the winter storm that is brewing.

It’s been a great getaway, even if a short one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I learned an awful lot about myself this afternoon as I attended a visioning workshop at the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago.  It was a challenge to each of the participants to set goals for 2010.

At first it seemed a little hokie.  First we thought (to ourselves) about questions like:

What is the highest vision of my life this year?  Walking with confidence, understanding, and acceptance.

What must I release?  The idea that there is a solution.  Self-consciousness.

What must I embrace?  The idea that I am unique.

What else do I need to know?  The medical possibilities and limits.

Next we worked on a vision board, finding words, phrases, and pictures in magazines that appealed to us.  I have always like projects that involved cutting and pasting, so this part was fun.

I paid little attention to how I arranged my clippings on my poster board.  Was it just chance that “a break” ended up in the middle?  Most everything else evolved around appreciating life, working on fitness, growing old with grace, travel, and even a good glass of wine.

I searched in vain for the word “acceptance”, but never found it.  I could only conclude that maybe I’m supposed to move beyond acceptance to something greater.

After each creating our own “board”, we broke into small groups and did something called a “future pull” in which we imagined the successful completion of our vision with the support of the others in the group.

It was a very positive experience.  It really served to make my goals more concrete.  I hope by this time next year to be able to say at least part of my vision was fulfilled.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Road Trip!

The dynamic trio is hitting the road again.  Two of my good neighborhood friends and I are heading out mid-day today to drive to Chicago for a 4-day mini-vacation.  One person has real business.  The other two of us are just along for the ride.

Tomorrow we will attend a visioning workshop guided by the daughter of the person with business, a young woman who is a reflexologist, a life coach, and generally someone who knows something about everything. 

The trip is totally unplanned otherwise.  So we may drift down the Chicago River, visit The Spice House, try on clothes we can’t afford, drink decadent cappuccinos, visit Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and hit the gym at least once. 

I love adventures like this, especially with friends I cherish!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Quick Repair

I’ve always loved the soothing sound of a wind chime blowing in the breeze.  I especially liked the one my daughter gave me 6 years ago as I recovered from the removal of the first half of my thyroid with its malignant nodule.

The first time the chimes fell apart, I quickly put them back together with invisible thread.  But being outdoors finally took its toll and the cord used to string the beads and the ringers simply rotted.  Several beads disappeared when they crashed to the deck.

I found the name of the manufacturer printed on the underside of the wood at the top.  So I called Woodstock Chimes in New York’s Hudson Valley to see if they could repair my wind chime -- the “Serenity” model.  The woman I spoke to said they hadn’t made that model in years, but she offered to send me some cord so I could try my hand at restringing it.

I found some beads I liked at Bedazzled in Dupont, probably paying more than I should have for them, but I liked the color.

It was a relatively quick project to put it all back together again.  And I like the look of the brighter colored beads.

My renovated wind chime now hangs under the eaves and over the deck once again, ready to play its music for anyone sitting nearby or for no one at all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ordinary People

Today I was reminded that the musicians of the NSO are really people just like the rest of us.  A friend and I went to an NSO rehearsal this morning.

It seemed so odd to see the performers in jeans and sneakers instead of their black-tie attire.  If they weren’t playing in a particular piece or movement, they felt free to leave the stage.  They had their pencils handy to mark their scores.  It was a working session.

The three pieces on the program were by Barber, Beethoven, and Sibelius (ranging from 1798 to 1936 in terms of their composition).  The real treat was hearing Emanual Ax play the piano in the Beethoven concerto.

I was surprised that for the most part they played a piece in its entirety and then went back to fine-tune a few spots.  But the musicians generally seemed to come well prepared with little need to make corrections.

We decided that most of the people on that stage really must love what they were doing.  I know that the politics of running an orchestra do get in the way of the enjoyment of the music sometimes, but while they are playing I’m sure that thoughts of other than the music get set aside.

I slipped out a little early to enjoy yet another birthday lunch with my friend Betty before heading off for a piano lesson.  I think music gets my endorphins going just as exercise does.  Between all that music and a cappuccino after lunch, I was on top of the world much of the day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Family Things (continued)

My husband's Aunt Zelda was such a minimalist.  It’s not at all surprising that her lifetime of possessions (not including her clothes) fit into two small boxes that arrived in the mail today.

There are a few photos, mostly unlabeled.  The above picture is of a much younger Zelda.  She was quite a knock-out.  The one below is of her mother.

There are a few pieces of jewelry, which my husband as executor will distribute to people who knew and loved her.  There are some records, including her past taxes, a signed copy of her will, and some other official papers.

She lived all her life in an efficiency apartment, which probably meant she was constantly deciding what was important and what was not.

I’m wondering if by the time I die I will be able to distill the important things in my life down to two cubic feet.  I seriously doubt it, but it’s a worthy goal.

As a follow-up to my tales of woe about historical family items a few days ago, both things seem to have had a much happier ending. 

During my Monday night yoga class, I had an epiphany of a thought to go home and dig the mouse-spoiled linens out of the trash.  On closer inspection, only 3 of the 12 napkins were damaged and there was a hole in the middle of the tablecloth.  A tag on the tablecloth said “Made in Ireland for Kaufmann’s Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh.”  Does anyone know if Irish linen can be rewoven or otherwise repaired?  Maybe a serving dish strategically placed would cover it up.  Anyway, I washed all the linens in sudsy, Clorox-y hot water.  They are beautifully white once again.  And they are packed away in a plastic box labeled “From Lena Small, grandmother of David.”

The biggest surprise came today when I visited Andy at the MotoPhoto on Capitol Hill, bringing my sadly damaged large photos.  He must have seen some really bad ones, because he didn’t even grimace as he looked at those and said he could make them both look like new.  He commented that it was good the missing chunk in the photo of the two brothers was mostly in the background section and not one of their heads.  Next week I will get to see the results of Andy’s efforts.  The price is actually quite reasonable given memories like these are priceless.

One of my goals for 2010 is to collect photos of key people in our family’s history and make them more accessible to those who will one day inherit them, instead of leaving them in so many albums or worse yet loose in boxes in the basement.  We can scan them and create a digital record of our family for future generations. 

I felt good about the piles of garbage that got carted away today as a result of this week’s clean-up efforts.  I will feel good when Purple Heart comes next week to pick up the remaining piles of useable items.  By getting rid of all those things, perhaps there will now be room to better organize what is left.

It’s interesting to muse about the comings and goings of possessions.  I’m never sure just how important the things of life should be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What do you know about rolfing?

The saga of my life-long issues with walking continues.  Today I saw a new doctor, a physiatrist who added some new information, although she never suggested any silver bullets.

I knew there was something different about my right hip when I was a child and other children would tease me about the way I ran, sort of kicking out my right leg.  I knew it again when I was 17 and in the Jr. Miss pageant.  As we practiced walking down the ramp, the “coaches” kept telling me not to swing my hips, as though I was doing that to attract attention.  It was just the way I walked and they had to live with it.  I still managed to be the second runner-up despite the sway in my walk.

I’ve seen more specialists that I can count over the years, who have suggested everything from a leg length discrepancy to polio to CP in utero.  But no one has ever been able to say anything definitively or give me a solution.

The closest I came to an understanding was when my long-time PT and friend suggested that it was just the uniqueness of ME and I might have to live with it.

Today’s doctor was quick to take up the challenge after hearing how many others had walked away shaking their heads.  She did a thorough exam and then watched me walk up and down the hall a few times. 

She quickly concluded that my right hip was hung in its socket at the wrong angle and probably had been that way since my birth.  This angle problem causes my femur to rotate inward to the point where when I lie on my back, my right knee isn’t pointing straight up at the ceiling.

She said my breach birth could have been at least partially responsible for this problem.  Or it could have even been hip displasia at birth, noting that back then the doctors didn’t check newborns for such things.

The good news is that I wasn’t in her office today with the extreme pain that most of the patients who go to her practice experience.  I was there simply because I have balance and gait issues when I walk.  I am grateful for my relative lack of pain (because I live with someone who is in a lot of pain and it is definitely not good.)

We talked about what could be done to fix or at least help my problem.  Ironically she said the only possible solution would be a hip replacement in which the femur was positioned differently in the socket.  Perhaps if my hip replacement had not been under emergency conditions, I could have discussed this with my surgeon ahead of time.

Since I’m not ready to go through that again, she suggested some things my personal trainer Emily and I could work on.  She also wants me to see a rolfer, someone who does deep tissue work and who might be able to loosen up my hip flexors, which are unbelievably tight.  The picture above is of a rolfer.

So that’s the story for now.  Meanwhile I find myself often wanting a hand of any gender to hold onto when I have lots of walking to do.  I am beginning to understand why it is such hard work for me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Trying to Hang Onto History

While cleaning out the basement, I stumbled across a few things long forgotten.  Some were pleasant surprises which could continue to reside on a shelf now that they had been found.

A few however were sadly in need of attention or beyond repair.  It made me sad that I  had not taken the right steps to safeguard these things that were irreplaceable.

For years I had been looking for some linen napkins and a tablecloth that had been given to me by my mother-in-law.  They had originally belonged to her mother.  I found the bag hidden on the back of a shelf.  It had become the home to a family of rodents who had left the linens in shreds and had left other souvenirs.  Instead of being passed on to future generations, that bag went into the trash.  Note to self:  NEVER store anything edible in a paper bag!

I also found an oval shaped package with my mother’s handwriting on it.  I’m convinced that after her diagnosis of terminal cancer, she went around labeling things.  Not a bad idea.  But her attempt to package up these priceless photos was not adequate.  I don’t know what shape they were when she encountered them.  I’m guessing the chunk in the picture of the boys had already disappeared.

The photo of the young boys evokes bittersweet memories.  The older boy Rex at the age of 8 (in Minneapolis) was run over on a bridge by a team of runaway horses while he was riding his bicycle.  The bicycle hung in the garage for as long as my father could remember after that accident and his mother was never the same.  Young Rex could sing and dance in a day when Vaudeville was the rage.  His death was a blow to the entire family.  As a result of his death, the other boys were never allowed to ride a bike.  In the photo my father, who was actually quite thin, looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

I also found a smaller black-and-white version of the boys.  Today I’m planning to take both photos to an expert in photo restoration on Capitol Hill.  Perhaps he can help me figure out how to salvage this piece of my family history.  I’m even wondering if a good artist could do a painting from the photographs.

The small photo of the boys was inside a folder containing my father's (probably) high school graduation picture. There is an uncanny resemblance to my son in the photo.

(I just realized the two photos of the boys are not the same, but were obviously taken during the same sitting.)

There are still things all over this house that need to be labeled and preserved in a better way.  I’m wondering if my children care enough about these things for me to make the effort to do so.  On the other hand, it seems a shame for those who came before me to languish unidentified in random photo albums or worse yet in a box of loose photos.  Maybe I need to at least take the approach of my mother in labeling things.  I think I’ll start before I get a terminal diagnosis and while I still remember who many of the people are.

Meanwhile, wish me luck in saving the photo of the boys.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hearty Soup

Winter is soup season.  Today it was a variation on pea soup that provided a warm escape from the frigid weather outside.

I started early in the day to boil what I think was a big bone from a cow’s leg.  Polyface marketed it as osso buco, but it was certainly not the traditional cut I was used to.

By early afternoon I was ready to add chopped onions, chopped carrots, split peas, French lentils, red lentils, dried corn, black pepper corns, and salt.  First I removed the big bone and set it aside to cool.

After another couple of hours, the split peas and lentils were soft and thoroughly cooked.  I added back the beef removed from the big bone and cut into bite-size pieces.

This was one of those stick-to-your-rib soups that fills your belly for hours.

Isn’t it amazing how many varieties of carrots there are? Yep, those are all carrots in the first picture.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Shabbat Wisdom

One of the joys of Shabbat services at Temple Micah is discovering beautiful new poems.  Here’s another from Mary Oliver:

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches --
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead --
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging --

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted --

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Today’s bat mitzvah student was a girl who had been adopted from a Chinese orphanage as a toddler.  She related her own plight as an unwanted female in a one-child-male-dominated society to that of Moses, when there was a mandate to throw all boy babies into the Nile.  I was in tears before she ever got around to chanting the story of young Moses from the Torah.  She is still very much in touch with the orphanage that was her initial home, sending them money she has earned through bake sales.  Although she is a Jewish American in her current life, she will always carry her Chinese heritage as well.  She wore a lovely tallit made from Chinese silk by her adoptive mother and we ate delicious Chinese food at the luncheon following the service.

(Not a photo of today's bat mitzvah student, but probably similar to one in her parent's photo album.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

How to

There is nothing like having to document something to show you how complex it actually is.  I signed on to write procedures for the admin processes at Temple Micah and it could be a big job.

Temple Micah is an extremely successful enterprise that runs on a shoestring budget when it comes to administration.  It has always been blessed with having a small band of dedicated, competent staff to do things that might seem mundane, but are necessary to keep things running smoothly.

Right now the entire set of admin activities is being coordinated by a brilliant 22-year-old who might go back to either graduate school or rabbinical school in the fall.  It occurred to the Board that it might be a good idea to document what the office staff does before the departure of key people.

So I will probably be working in a volunteer capacity a half day every week until the documentation is complete.  It’s actually sort of fun to go behind the scene and learn how things work.

Today I took lots of notes on how to create the weekly service sheets for Friday and Saturday services and how to produce the weekly e-mail sent to the entire congregation.  These were both things I had given little thought too, noticing only the occasional typo that appeared.

I learned just how many details there are in these two processes.  How many people’s input is necessary.  How many things vary from one week to the next.  How many people are involved in proofing.  I was actually exhausted after watching and taking notes for 3 hours.

At my husband’s suggestion we installed software that allows for screen shots that will more easily illustrate what needs to be done.

Tonight I will attempt to write up my notes.  After editing and insertion of the screen shots by the 22-year-old admin genius, we will find someone who has never done these tasks and turn them loose with the procedures to see just how complete they are.

There are around 30 more procedures to be written, so it may be a long time before this project is done.

I will have a much greater respect the next time I encounter the products of either of the procedures I documented today.  Hopefully they will result in a smooth transition as new staff replace those who might leave.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Talk

My husband is on many people’s mailing lists.  A recent message from about Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage sent him to the author’s website, where he followed a link to a TED talk with Liz on the creative process.

He was hooked despite having rolled his eyes as I (and many other females of all ages) had consumed Eat, Pray, Love as if it were sacred.  He and our other male companion went to the beach in Italy while my friend KC and I spent a day traveling to Naples to eat the revered pizza of the “Eat” section.

I knew Elizabeth Gilbert had written a new book, but I also learned from her website that she was going to be in DC today to talk about that book, which came out on my birthday.  For a mere $24 each, six of us received a copy of the book and a ticket to hear her speak at the 6th & I Synagogue tonight.

We showed up to a capacity crowd, in which 98% were females.  I was happy to be in a delegation that was 50-50.

She read us the opening chapter, in which the Brazilian man from the “Love” section and she were convinced of the need to get married by Tom of Homeland Security.  From what she read, the new book has that same story-telling quality with lots of humor and raw emotion that made her earlier book such a joy to read.

One of the questions was from a young aspiring writer, asking her advice on breaking into a tough field today.  Liz admitted that most of the magazines that used to publish fiction are now out of business.  But she did give the young author some advice that applies equally to anyone writing for public consumption.

She said it’s important to figure out exactly who you are writing for, who your audience is.  I started thinking about that in terms of how it applies to what I write here.  Because I do have a fairly good idea of my regular followers who read (even occasionally), I steer clear of some subjects, try not to say negative things about anyone who might be reading, and attempt to limit my use of 4-letter words. 

But in the world of Blogging, an audience is a moving target.  Only a small fraction of those who read on any day leave any record of their presence.  They are mostly strangers who will remain just that.

It made me wonder what those collective faces from just one day would look like.  Would they be 98% female?  Would they be my generation?  Would they like what they read?  Does it really matter?

For now I'll have to content myself with reading my newly autographed copy of Committed.  I told her we went all the way to Naples to eat pizza at her recommendation and she gave me a thumbs up.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More Things to Ponder

As I continue to deal with the things of a lifetime, this poem in the current New Yorker caught my eye:

The Things by Donald Hall

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging,
-- de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore --
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial:  a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy -- valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

(Artwork done by my daughter using the pointe shoes she once wore that now hang quite still from her bedroom ceiling.)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

They Say It's Your Birthday

It’s my birthday too!  I’m overwhelmed and out of breath at the thought of blowing out 61 candles. 

My birthday celebration is going to be stretched out this year.  It actually started yesterday with the arrival of a box containing this book.  The giver is a dear friend who knows how much I enjoyed walking around the Mission District looking at all the artwork everywhere on my last visit to San Francisco.  I couldn’t imagine a better present.

I got a hand-written card from my former secretary and long-time friend, who now keeps up with me through my Blog.

Today I woke up to find messages from Blogger friends Angela and Gewels, who surprised me by knowing it was my birthday.

I found a homemade card from my life partner.

Jake was exceptionally affectionate this morning as if he knew.

I just got a birthday wish from my friend Q, in which he offered me an Amish bread starter when it matures in 10 days.

I’ll treat myself to a haircut and partial highlights this afternoon.  I always look forward to seeing Richard at Axis.

Tonight my best boys and I will have dinner at Central after one of them gets out of class.

Thursday night we will go with friends to hear Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame talk about her latest book Committed, where she continues the saga of her marriage to the Brazilian in the Love section of her former book.

And I suspect there is more to come when a certain chef returns from Thailand.  The only birthday present I had asked for was a teaching dinner party with Brock (of Hill’s Kitchen.)

I’m sure there will be other pleasant surprises during the day today.  But all in all it’s already a great celebration, one worthy of a day off from cleaning and a trip to the gym to prepare for the onslaught of calories and to continue my abs project.