Friday, April 30, 2010

Burgers, Fries, ...and Grease

When I want a good burger I go to Palena and I am never disappointed.  Tonight we invited our son to go to dinner with us to celebrate the fact that he is done with law school -- again -- having just completed an LLM at GWU.

We waited for an outside table, so that we could be among the dozen or so diners who got to enjoy the beautiful DC evening.   Despite the sound of the fire engines going out from across the street to save the city, it was a good choice.

The thing I find most unique at Palena is the French fries that come with breaded onion rings, fried lemon slices, little potato puffs, and homemade spicy mayonnaise.   I ate far too many of those tonight, leaving me with a slight case of indigestion.  I’m not sure if it was the amount of food or the grease of all the fried food or both.  But I must say the taste outweighed the resulting temporary discomfort.

It was a busy day of making homemade challah and dog food, meeting one of my favorite ex-employees for coffee with his 3-year-old daughter, and continuing the process of putting the house back together.

This weekend we will continue the search for comfortable chairs and make our master list of items to be dealt with on Monday, hopefully the final day of the painting project.

I am mentally and physically exhausted, after not having an 8-hour night of sleep in a while.  I think I will turn in early and try to reverse that trend.

Maybe next week life will return to normal, giving me time once again to play the piano and to read the Blogs I have sadly been neglecting lately.  Thanks to those of you who have continued to come around anyway.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Significant Loss

I’m always surprised when I see someone I know in the obits -- especially someone not that much older than I am.  It was actually my husband who pointed out the 4-column article in the Post today about the death of Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist who had helped us immensely a long time ago.  I will always remember him for coining the term “bitch voice” to describe the hostile voice I sometimes had when I was unhappy with my children. 

Dr. Greenspan was probably best known for the “floor time” method, whereby he recommended that parents engage in intensive child-led play for 30 minutes each day.  It makes so much sense for children who have obvious problems as well as for those who do not.  But in reality it is difficult for busy families who tend to use the television as a pacifier instead of offering that personal interaction.

His own learning difficulties as a child taught him methods of coping and perhaps gave him an insight into the struggles of some of his young patients.  Despite those problems he graduated from Harvard and then from Yale medical school.

His work spanned a period of 40 years, resulting in numerous books and a lot of very grateful parents.  He made significant strides in dealing with autistic children.

He died at the age of 68 following what must have been a massive stroke.  The world will sorely miss this pioneer in the field of child psychiatry. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Searching for "Just Right"

We learned the hard way that you don’t order chairs you haven’t been able to sit in.  The rockers we ordered online from Massachusetts went back yesterday because they just didn’t work for our backs and necks.  It was a lot of money to pay for uncomfortable chairs.  It was also a lot of money to ship them back, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. 

So today I went to Hardwood Artisans in search of comfortable chairs, chairs I could sit in and try out.  The beautiful wood in all the hand-crafted furniture they carry greets you as you walk in the door.

I felt like Goldilocks going from chair to chair until I found just the right one.  Even though the chair felt too good to get out of, I was somewhat put off when the sales woman told me it was the choice of all the senior citizens.  (I must have really been looking old today.  Even though I qualify as a senior at the movie theater these days, I don’t yet like to think of myself in that age bracket.)  She also asked if we were downsizing -- going into assisted living perhaps? -- and I just said “No” and left it at that.

The Bungalow Rocker and its companion Parlor Chair are my seats of choice.  They are both made of gorgeous wood of several possible choices with cushions in even more choices.

As I write this my husband is on his way to sit in the chairs.  Before actually purchasing this time we may want to sit for a half hour or so just to make sure our necks and backs fare better this time around.  The good news is the chairs are made locally so we will at least save on shipping cost if we choose these.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sleepless in Perfectionism

I admit to being too much of a perfectionist.  It’s not a good thing when you are dealing with a painting project.  At this point instead of focusing on the beautifully painted walls, I find myself instead seeing every imperfection.  Paint on a door latchplate.  Paint on the tub.  Paint on the carpet as it hits the baseboard.  Not much in any case.  But enough to catch my eye.

I never intended to nickel and dime the painters, but I seem to be mixing into their work more and more, which probably just makes them nervous. 

Yesterday I somewhat casually mentioned my pet peeve of unpainted door hardware to the head guy.   He assured me that all the hardware would be left exactly as they found it.  When we renovated the house 10 years ago, we put in all new hardware -- knobs, hinges, latchplates -- so I know exactly how they found them.

As we were doing a quick inventory upstairs while they were on their lunch break, I happened to look into my green bathroom to see a brush lying on the rug of my bathroom.  That would be the rug they got paint on yesterday.  They are painting the baseboards in there today, but why in the world didn’t they take the rug out first?  And why were they using cardboard instead of drop cloths?

It’s been a long time since I have had trouble sleeping.  But last night I lay awake obsessing about every imperfection I had discovered, knowing full well that at least 95% of them were fixable.  I hate the thought of having to point out the flaws in anyone’s work. 

At this point it’s unclear as to which will win out -- my perfectionist tendencies or the realization that “perfect” and “painting” are not a realistic combination.  I probably need to take a nap instead of dwelling on this work in progress.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Storing Stuff

Painting continues.  I’m having to become more innovative in finding places to put the things I unload off of shelves.

Today Luis and crew showed up and announced they would be painting among other things the laundry room and the shelving near our side door, all full to the brim with “stuff”. 

So I went to work to quickly pack up the contents so the shelves could be painted, this time with enamel so they will be more durable.  The old ’85 Volvo wagon seemed like as good a space as any for much of this.  The rest went into boxes and containers to be temporarily stored on old towels on the newly done family room floor.

These things need to stay off the enamel shelves for a couple of days. And meanwhile the pantry and David’s office have to be unloaded tonight. So we may well fill the family room, leaving a tiny space for us to watch ’24’ of course.

I have been pretty good about the chaos and uncertainty as the painting-floor project has played out. But I am starting to be ready for order to be restored and workmen to be gone.

I must say that Luis and his entire crew have been nothing short of incredibly polite. I have had some interesting conversations in Spanish with his workers. They scurry to make room for me to pass every time I go through work in progress. They clean up completely before they leave every day around 4:30. At that point one of us jumps in the car to go reclaim Jake from his doggy daycare home.

I’m glad I have a yoga class to look forward to before I have to roll up my sleeves and start packing up more stuff tonight. Perhaps it will lend calm and serenity to what is otherwise a thankless task!

These things need to stay off the enamel shelves for a couple of days.  And meanwhile the pantry and David’s office have to be unloaded tonight.  So we may well fill the family room, leaving a tiny space for us to watch ’24’ of course.

I have been pretty good about the chaos and uncertainty as the painting-floor project has played out.  But I am starting to be ready for order to be restored and workmen to be gone. 

I must say that Luis and his entire crew have been nothing short of incredibly polite.  I have had some interesting conversations in Spanish with his workers.  They scurry to make room for me to pass every time I go through work in progress.

I’m glad I have a yoga class to look forward to before I have to roll up my sleeves and start packing up more stuff tonight.  Perhaps it will lend calm and serenity to what is otherwise a thankless task!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ask the experts

I had never liked the way my one-and-only quilt was hung on our bedroom wall.  The hanger showed.  The edges flopped down.  It was entirely unprofessional.

Given the walls now look so nice, I decided to consult the experts in everything to do with quilts.  But instead of just Googling “quilt hanging”, I sent e-mail messages to Rayna and Terry, people who have made many an award-winning quilt.  Within hours I had the answer -- pretty much the same from both of them:

“I  sew a sleeve to the back of my quilt, finished length about 1/2" shorter on each end than the size of the actual quilt.  Most venues ask for a 4" sleeve, which means cutting your fabric 9" and folding it in half to do the seam.  I hand-sew it to the quilt just below the facing on the back.  Then,  I go to Home Depot or wherever and buy a flat piece of wood (furring strip?)cut it to the length of the sleeve, put a screw eye into each end, put two nails in the wall at each end and hang it from the screw eyes.

Other people drill holes at each end of the wood strip; others use Lucite or aluminum strips instead of wood.  Terry may give you a different answer, but that's how I do it.  Whatever you do, don't hang it on a round rod that bulges. FLAT strip through that sleeve.”

After services today I went to Home Depot, where I actually found a somewhat knowledgeable English-speaking guy to help me.  He cut me a 5-foot piece of thin flat wood and then proceeded to give me his opinion about how I should hang my quilt.  I just politely said thank you and headed home with my piece of wood.

Tonight I followed the directions (as much as I ever follow directions) -- made the sleeve on the back of the quilt, got out my coping saw, power drill, and some nails.  I winced as I pounded nails into the freshly painted wall.

But when I popped the quilt (with wooden piece inserted) onto the nails, it made all the difference in the world.  Such an easy fix to something that had bothered me every time I looked at it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

His, Hers, and Ours

We’ve had some interesting discussions about color this week.  Bathroom color opinions were clearly divided along male-female lines.

After Luis finished my husband’s bathroom in Nonchalant White, he was raving about the color.  And it did indeed look cool and refreshing.  It was a nice transition from our bedroom color of Ancient Marble, the next color down on the paint chip.  The light through the bedroom window enhanced both colors.

After the initial paint went up in my bathroom, I asked Luis what he thought of the color and he said, “It’s very green.”  My husband took a look and suggested I adopt his much cooler color.

But I had picked a warm green that was in clear contrast to the pinkish tiles.  I had admired this green in a friend’s house and I knew I would love it so I said, “Nope, I’m sticking with my green.  Paint away.”  And he did.

In the end everyone admitted that my bathroom made a clear color statement whereas my husband’s would continue to feel like a cool mint, not all bad.

We talked about how color preference may have something to do with whether you are a man or a woman.  (I did remember that both male decorators we had consulted chose somewhat similar greens for my bathroom.)  But maybe it is too harsh for the average man.

Fortunately we are in total agreement about the teal wrap-around and the two shades of neutral in the family room.  This bold teal is a departure for us after all those years of off-white throughout the house.  I just wish we had added color sooner.

(Believe it or not, that is the same teal wall on the left.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who Dunnit?

I’m somewhat exhausted from an evening of MYSTERIES with the children at the homeless shelter.  All in all the evening was a success, although best-laid plans sometimes don’t come to fruition when it comes to dealing with these kids.

I was always under the impression that mystery books started with Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  But in fact there are some excellent mysteries for young children.  Like “The Trial of Cardigan Jones,” the story of a moose falsely accused of stealing a pie.  We also read “What Really Happened to Humpty?” a fractured fairy tale which begins
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Humpty Dumpty was pushed.
It is told in the voice of Joe Dumpty, Humpty’s younger brother who weaves a story around the fairy tale legends and adds in humor for the adults reading the book.  Who could ask for anything more?

The first activity involved each child taking a turn pulling an object out of a grab bag, not showing it to anyone, and then taking questions and perhaps even acting it out until someone guessed what it was.  There were a few tears over taking turns, but everyone got into the spirit of the game.

The second activity featured mystery boxes -- some for smelling, some for shaking, some for feeling.  By this time, attention spans were running out and everyone wanted snacks, so they seemed to have more fun opening all the mystery boxes.

Each child took home a miniature magnifying glass and a set of hidden object pictures, in addition to the giveaway book they get to choose each week.

It was a fairly raucous evening, but they mostly are like that.  There were a few thank you’s and one little girl told me I looked old through her magnifying glass.  But they all know my name now and I do like that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sharing Food Mindfully

Despite the chaos at home and the fact that to get to my pantry I still have to walk outside and come in another door, I decided to make Indian curry for the potluck at meditation tonight. It was a lot of work, as most international food is, but it was worth the effort.

Several times a year we have an abbreviated sit followed by dinner, where everyone brings whatever they want with little coordination. It always works out just fine. Tonight was no exception.

We sit on our meditation cushions around a low Korean folding table that is always just the right size it seems. Tonight there were 6 adults and an adorable 18-month-old little girl whom we have “known” since she was conceived. She happens to be the best adjusted baby I have ever met. The smile never left her face even when she fell down.

It was difficult not to think about dinner as I sat there trying to still my racing mind. I felt like there was a ping-pong match going on between painting details and the food we were going to eat. But the half hour sit officially ended with the bell. We had a short reading, adding the 6th awareness out of the 8 we will eventually explore. These are things like Having few desires, Quietude, Diligence. At this point I can’t recall all 6, but hopefully by the end of these readings, they will stick in my head.

Then we prepared to eat. The beautiful little table was loaded down with my curry and rice and a myriad of vegetarian salads and even crusty wholesome bread.

We determined to eat mindfully for the first 5 minutes, savoring every bite and putting our forks down in between bites. The only sound was the babbling of the baby, who hadn’t signed on for silent eating. It was amazing how heightened my sense of taste and smell were during that period of quiet eating.

At the 5-minute gong, we could then resume the conversation which is normally at a minimum since we meditate in silence. After seconds and thirds and continuous picking at the fruit salad, we finally cleaned up just as mindfully, making sure the space was left just as we had found it. We noted the absence of crackers, brownies, and cookies had left very few crumbs to sweep up.

There’s just enough curry and salad left for lunch tomorrow. I wonder if I will remember to eat mindfully.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Deck, Some Floors, and Unnecessary Itching

A quick update on our home improvement project:

After 2 days the deck which had mistakenly been painted with redwood colored paint 8 years ago is back to its original lovely wood.  It will be stained after it dries completely, never to be painted again I hope!  (The dark patches are just water from the hours of power-washing.)

The family room floor is gleaming as the sun falls on it.  The black spot from hidden dog urine has been sanded out.  It may be too pretty to walk on when it is done.  But for now it’s still off limits.  I managed to sneak my camera in an opening of the taped plastic.

It took Jake exactly 1-1/2 days to find 2 escape routes.  He surprised my husband in his office earlier this afternoon.  So as of tomorrow he will be doing doggie daycare with our neighbor Sam, who is like a Pied Piper for all 4-legged creatures. 

I was amazed to read the WaPo Health section this morning, which reported on the 18-month diagnostic path of a woman who itched incessantly.  She went to 3 dermatologists.  She went to an MD, who told her the itching might be a symptom of cancer.  In the end she found another dermatologist who told her she had head lice. 

Something is wrong with our medical system when it takes all that time and money and itching to find out the problem is something with an over-the-counter instant cure.  I can’t believe the woman wasn’t combing them out of her hair during that long itchy period.  After the diagnosis she remembered having treated her son’s head lice right before she started itching.  Duhhh...

I remember so vividly when after treating my daughter’s lice for the second or third round, I combed a bug out of my hair one morning before work.  It looked like a flea but it didn’t hop.  I put it in a bag and took it to our pediatrician’s office who quickly confirmed that I had lice and shooed me out the door.

For years after that episode, every time my head itched I wondered.  But they have never come back thank God!

So day #2 is coming to an end.  The floors will be done tomorrow and painting will begin in earnest.

As a consequence of wearing earplugs, I think I have forced a piece of wax down into my ear canal.  So tomorrow morning I will go into Deborah’s office to have my ears irrigated, sort of a trippy experience as you hear the water swishing around in your head.  Maybe I will be able to hear my cell phone better after the wax is gone.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Off Limits

We made it through day #1.  Although we are very restricted in terms of what rooms of our house we can use, there appears to be a game plan.

The floor guys were no-nonsense sorts who spent hours just getting ready to refinish the white oak floors in the family room and the “pink room” upstairs.  They covered all sorts of things in plastic in the affected rooms and elsewhere.  This unfortunately makes it impossible for us to go from the kitchen to the rest of the house, including the family room, my husband’s office, the pantry, the bathroom, the side door.  A royal pain in the ass for us and particularly for Jake.  But after Wednesday the plastic comes down and those rooms can be painted and put back together.

We quickly learned that earplugs were a necessity if we were going to stay in the house while the floors were sanded.

Meanwhile I begged them to leave me a path to the piano in the living room, the site of much of the furniture from the rest of the house.

Jake spent much of the day being quite pissed off and barking incessantly.  He had not been confined to the lower section of our back yard since we retired several years ago.  He had gotten used to sleeping on the family room window seat or on a black leather love seat and occasionally scratching on the door to go out.

He was quite confused to find his food bowl in the kitchen and plastic draped over miscellaneous furniture everywhere.

In some ways it seems like the time of the 3-day power outage.  We’re sitting in the kitchen while ’24’ airs.  Going to bed is starting to sound like a good idea, even though the lights are still on.

We’re supposed to go to dinner and a celebration of Israeli Independence Day at Temple Micah tomorrow night.  I was agonizing over what to do with Jake, figuring we couldn’t just leave him out in the dark.  I called a neighbor to see if her daughter wanted to “babysit” and she graciously invited Jake to come to their house.  He will be so tired after another day outside that he will just curl up and sleep.  Now I’m looking ahead to Wednesday’s weather and wondering if he might like to spend the day in the car if it rains.

We quickly learned that earplugs were a necessity if we were going to stay home while the floors were sanded.

This sort of project is a lesson in flexibility and patience.  We tell ourselves it will all be over in 10 days or so, but life is definitely not easy meanwhile.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ready, Set, Go!

It feels like the lull before the storm.  Early tomorrow morning the floor refinishers and the painters will be descending on our house, hopefully starting in different places, to give it a facelift.

Today has been a day of clearing out certain rooms, only to fill up other rooms.  We boxed up breakable things like the glass in the china cabinet, the ceramics that normally  adorn our living room coffee tables.  The pictures have come down off the walls.

Tonight we made another dent on the piles of paper and overflowing files in my husband’s office.  I can easily throw out 50% of any file folder I pick up.  I was actually able to fill an entire garbage bag without any review of what I threw out.  Woo-hoo!

I’ve been telling Jake all day that he is going to be an outdoor dog this week.  If he stays inside, he will simply be underfoot as the floor people and the painters try to do their work.  It will be a true test of his Houdini gene, the one than allows him to escape from any enclosure.  Even if he gets out of the fence, my guess is he will hang around the front of our house because there is going to be so much of interest to him.

I picture tomorrow as being like an 8-hour MRI as the floor guys sand the two floors that are being refinished.  When they warn you that it will be loud, you can be assured it will be.  So I’m thinking of taking my laptop and escaping to Panera if things seem too grim around here.

Do you ever tell yourself “In x days, it will all be over”?  I’m hoping I can make that “x” a 10.  When I think of the months we spent living through the renovation of our house 10 years ago, 10 days is nothing.   I can’t imagine how we did it now, with two kids and two dogs at home and us both going off to work every day.  I hardly remember the inconvenience now.  But I do remember the myriad of decisions we had to make, from knobs to fixtures to appliances to countertops, and on and on and on.  At least paint color is about all we have to decide on this time around.

I’ll be checking in this week as time permits.  I think we should get to bed early so we’re through with breakfast by the time the first crew arrives.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Food, Glorious Food!

Looking at our check-out sheet for the Temple Micah auction tonight, you would think the only thing we’re interested in is food!  Of all the many items to bid on, we are always most attracted to the member dinners.

The annual auction is the biggest fund-raiser of the year.  Members are encouraged to offer goods and services, but most importantly they are asked to dig deep to buy things they want and at the same time supplement the operating budget.

I offered the dog food class for 4 people at my house.  I also offered to make a 2-week supply of dog food and dog biscuits for some lucky canine.  David offered 4 hours of Mac consultation.  Together we made over $300.

But that’s nothing compared to the offer by David Gregory (a member) for 12 people to see a live Meet the Press taping and have brunch at his house afterward.  That single item came in at $6,500.  We will not be part of that group.

But instead we purchased A Taste of South East Asia (part of a gourmet dinner for 10), Pizza and Pasta, Dinner in Asia (another one), New Recipes for the New Year (High Holiday tasting), Small Plate Brunch (where each person takes home a plate and bowl made by the award-winning ceramicist).  With a couple of additional items, we definitely contributed our fair share.

In addition, we each came home with a new baseball cap, even though one of us isn’t a big baseball fan.  No raffle winnings tonight (unlike the auction where we won a Wii, which unfortunately has never come out of its shrink wrap.)

It was a fun evening of socializing with good food and good friends while we spent good money for a good cause.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Moving the Library

Instead of going to the gym this morning, my workout consisted of moving about 60 linear feet of books, photo albums, scrapbooks, and knick-knacks of a lifetime so work can begin on Monday.

One of the first rooms will be what has been known as “the pink room” since we moved in in 1977 and it was painted pink.  It will be pink no longer.  Nor will there be a mauve wall-to-wall carpet in the room because the white oak floor is being refinished. All of this stuff will reside across the hall while the pink room is de-pinked next week.

It took more trips than I could count, in each case stepping over Jake who positioned himself in the doorway as the guardian of the books.  I made piles corresponding to the various shelves, hoping for balance instead of a domino effect.

I found books on every subject imaginable.  There was “Enlightened Sex” with a CD, as of yet unopened.  (I hope it’s not to late.)  There was French grammar.  There was “Linear Algebra.”  (It is definitely too late.)  There were many books on training dogs, some read, others not so much.  There were books on health and growing avocados and travel.  Oh, the travel books.  They made my wanderlust kick in as I stacked Provence and Hawaii and Chile all in a high pile. 

This is just the beginning of what promises to give our house a much-needed facelift.  Hopefully we won’t kill each other in the process.  And hopefully we can figure out how to keep Jake out of the family room for 4 days next week while the floors are being refinished.  A new set of challenges!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Mystery of the Missing Magnifying Glasses

Next week’s reading theme is MYSTERIES.  I’ll pick up a stack of mystery books for young readers at the library later today.  I had also ordered some inexpensive magnifying glasses as “giveaways” so my shelter kids could be Sherlock Holmes on their own.

Much to my surprise when I opened the box from Indigo Instruments, I found not 12 magnifying glasses, but 200 surgical blades.  That would be the last thing in the world I would want to offer a precocious 5-year-old.

I looked closer at the packing invoice and discovered what must have happened.  The blades were intended for a “Barbara Dasch” at Kensington Stables in Brooklyn.  Were they to be used for operating on horses’ hooves?  I will probably never know.

I spoke to a very nice guy Chris at Indigo Instruments in Ontario today.  I offered to mail the package on to the Brooklyn horse woman, but he told me to just keep the blades.  And what am I going to do with $50 worth of small knives?

Meanwhile he will ship my tiny magnifying glasses today with the hope they will be here early next week.

I’m still working on an activity centered around mysteries.  I was considering putting together some mystery boxes with things inside that the children could guess by using sound and smell but this might be too hard.  I also thought about having them pull some common object (a comb, a key, etc.)  out of a bag and have the other kids guess what it is by asking questions.  Then I remembered those pictures I loved as a child where you had to find 6 cats hiding in the room in funny places.  I’m sure I’ll come up with something, but if you have ideas please let me know!  (The kids are 4-7 years old.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dealing with Paper

What home improvement project would be complete without at least one major disagreement?  We had ours yesterday.

My husband has always had a reputation for keeping a lot of paper.  It’s mostly in piles in his office and he knows where everything is.  But the painting project has forced the issue of cleaning up, of moving the piles.

Yesterday as he started to deal with all that paper, I walked in to find him loading up a box with the intent of taking it to the basement.  I remembered all my recent work to purge the basement of unnecessary things and all the shelf space I had freed up in doing so.  And without a civil word or even a question I started lambasting him about filling up all those shelves with the paper from his office.

After he had caught his breath and realized what had just happened, he got angry and said many of the same things he always says in these kinds of fights.  Meanwhile he told me his intention had been to put only 2 boxes in the basement (how did he come up with that number?) and I said that if he had told me that initially there wouldn’t have been a problem.  But it was far too late for this kind of logical thinking.  So we sparred silently for the rest of the day.

Neither of us wanted to go to bed mad about something we really needed to work on together, so we finally made up and came up with a plan around midnight.  He recognizes his own disdain for sorting and categorizing paper and my skill for doing just that.  We agreed that I would be more than just the one holding the open garbage bag and loading up the boxes.  In the meantime, he agreed to bring back the one box stashed in the basement so I could go through and weed out what was unnecessary.

So today I purged about 2/3 of the paper in those old tax folders and he got to review what I was throwing out, for the most part agreeing with it.  We bought 30 economy storage boxes at Office Depot.  We will slowly move ahead with this paperwork reduction effort so that the painters will be able to get into his office and slap paint on the walls.  For the most part we are a good team, but we sometimes come at things from different directions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Working at my edge

Working with a personal trainer teaches you a lot about yourself.  I have learned in particular that I never work as hard by myself as I do with Emily.

Today after I had done one set with a 6-pound medicine ball, I tried to say it was just too heavy for the second set, but she was not buying that at all.  And she proved she was right as I huffed and puffed my way through the second set.

As I was lying on my back on a bench and lifting an 8-pound weight in each hand overhead, for a moment I pictured dropping them on my head as I instead just graced the sides of my ears.  That possibility was enough to make me concentrate hard on doing it right.

I work hard for an hour, usually doing 3 sets of each exercise.  Hearing “You’re done!” is like the bell at the end of a school day.

But I continue to schedule in an hour with Emily each week, knowing full well that in my intervening trips to the gym I will never work as hard.  I will always exert myself for cerebral activity, but not so much for physical activity.

But at least once a week I am invited to work at my edge for an hour and it is amazingly good for me!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Toning It Down a Little

We came a long way today in making decisions about who will paint our house and the colors we will use.  We’re both feeling like we may have averted the end result of our house looking like a colorful Guatemalan “chicken” bus.

At the recommendation of one of our potential painters we met with yet another interior designer who had some very different ideas about color.  First of all, it took a lot of courage for mild-mannered Hispanic Luis to warn us about the colors we were planning to use.  Most Hispanics would not dare to question the judgment of a potential client.  But Luis went a step further and hooked us up with Tim, an experienced interior designer who spent well over an hour at our house (at what turned out to be no charge) helping us pick another set of colors that we could live with for a long time.

Tim pointed out that our house was originally built in a colonial style but is much more modern in terms of its decoration.  So, whereas the first recommendation had us painting the chair-railed dining room in 3 colors, Tim recommended one color to minimize the existence of the chair rail.  Instead of a Chinese red wall in the living room that would clash with the brickwork of the fireplace, we now have a more subtle teal color. 

We now have a set of 3 rather warm neutral colors that will be mixed and matched to cover much of the wall surface, with an accent wall here and there.

The screaming oranges are gone.  The harsh yellow ceilings are traded for off-white.  Instead we will be introducing most of the color through furnishings and accessories, things that can much more affordably be changed if we get tired of them.

We have 3 estimates so far.  The bald Marine is on the high end.  The guy who got somewhat mixed reviews on Angie’s list is on the low end.  Luis is in the middle.  But after talking to Tim about his long-standing relationship with Luis, we are both convinced he will do a superb job.  And thanks to him, we now have a new set of colors that is less flamboyant and much more in line with our personalities.

It’s funny how things like this seem to work out for the best.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Curries and Music

Today featured an Indian cooking class (which doubled as lunch) sandwiched between two very different musical experiences.

At 9:30, which seemed like the crack of dawn to me, I showed up at Deborah’s house to practice our Misek sonata.  We worked hard for an hour or so, with a few breaks so she could talk to patients, since she is on call this weekend.  We confirmed once again that morning practice is the most productive.  We each have homework to do, but the piece is making great progress.

Then we jumped into the car and both went to Hill’s Kitchen for a class on the foods of Northern India.  My son had been signed up for this class, but in the heat of finals bailed.  So Deborah took his place, in what turned out to be her first cooking class.

My friend and teacher Brock is riding high on his big spread in the Washington Post this week.  Today he was in his element as he repeatedly created “the dawn of fragrance” by frying various combinations of Indian spices.  We learned to make:  Aloo Ghobi (a dry curry), Mali Kofta (another curry with potato dumplings and a very creamy sauce), Palak Paneer (a bright green dish featuring paneer cheese), and Chapatti (a quick bread cooked on the top of the stove).

As each dish was finished we got to try it and discover the distinctive flavor combination.  Contrary to most classes which are demonstration only, we students got to form the potato dumplings and to roll out and cook the chapatti.  He had prefaced this last piece by telling us that the secret to getting a good husband in India is a girl’s ability to make good chapatti.  I came away in awe and very glad I already had a good husband.

After class I had one more activity on the Hill before returning to suburbia.  A good friend had offered me a ticket to go to “A Musical Banquet,” music of 1610 performed by the Folger Consort on period instruments.  While not having the fragrance of the Indian cuisine, it was still a savory mix of instrumental and vocal pieces, many of which had the feel of a dance.  The combination of lutes, viol, guitar, recorder, violin, drum, and even bagpipes was absolutely perfect for this types of music.  The performers were veterans of this type of music, some playing together for as many as 40 years.

It was hard to leave all these sights, sounds, and tastes and head back across the bridge to Costco and Whole Foods to replenish my larder. 

Now all I can think about is recreating the Indian feast with Deborah.  There is nothing terribly daunting about Indian cooking.  You simply have to accept the fact that there are many ingredients and a lot of prep.  Well worth it in the end!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lest We Forget

Every year when we Jews celebrate Yom Hashoah to commemorate all those who perished during the holocaust, I am reminded that there are still those who want to deny that it ever existed.  And I wonder how this ignorance can persist decades later.

Tonight we heard a moving presentation by Michael, a member whose father was a survivor of Buchenwald.  In fact, his father Otto is on the left in the above photo, which depicts a hideous form of punishment in which prisoners were hung on trees by their arms tied behind their backs.  Amazingly all three of these victims survived their years at Buchenwald.

The son shared with us photos he and his family took on a trip in 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation.  They traveled to the bucolic town of Weimar, the home of Goethe.  Michael wondered how a place that had produced someone of the caliber of Goethe could have also lived in “ignorance” of what was going on just down the road from 1939 to 1945.  Michael and his family boarded a city bus with “Buchenwald” or “Beech Forest” as its destination.  By 1995, Otto had died, always proclaiming that he had been given a gift of 40 years.  But one of the other men in the photo was there and could personally tell them what life had been like for their father/grandfather.

For many of us, those 6 million are faceless victims whose lives were cut short under Hitler’s reign.  But tonight we were introduced to Otto, who lived to tell what had he had witnessed during his imprisonment. 

Six members went up to light candles for their parents or grandparents, all survivors -- the lucky ones.  We then said a special version of the kaddish, which interspersed the names of the various camps with the words we say at ever service in memory of the dead.

We were asked to depart in silence after once again being reminded of the atrocities that happened decades ago and quietly vowing never to let it happen again.

Friday, April 09, 2010

It's Back!

Look what has decided to bloom again! My beautiful amaryllis is coming back.

Last year as I recuperated from my hip replacement, a good friend gave me this plant, which at the time had multiple gorgeous blossoms. They lasted for a long time and then fell off. I cut it back to nothing and it continued to put forth long frondy leaves, but no blooms.

I bought special fertilizer in the hope that I could once again see even one of those big blossoms that remind me of coral-colored Easter lilies. But no bloom was forthcoming.

Until this week that is. All of a sudden the plant decided to put up this one spiky bud that has been growing at about an inch a day. I can’t wait until it actually opens up.

Not to be greedy, but I wonder if there will be more. I wonder just what sort of timetable my amaryllis is on. I’m so glad I didn’t follow my usual instincts with exotic plants like this one: when they initially stop blooming, throw them out. This one was worth keeping around it would seem.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Teaching Hands to Work Together

Sometimes as a pianist, it would be nice if the right side of my brain would control my right hand and the left side my left hand.  But I don’t think it works that way and as a result some rhythms are a challenge for me.

Playing one note or chord in each hand at the same time is easy.  Even playing two or more notes with one hand while the other hand holds a note or a chord is not hard.  But playing 2 against 3 or 3 against 4 or in this case 6 against 9 takes some practice.

The first time I encountered this was in a Franz Shubert Serenade probably at about age 12.  I remember the look on old Mr. Lightburn’s face when I told him I had figured out how to do it my using fractions, dividing the beat into 6.  From then on I kept my methods to myself.

There was something sort of cool about fitting that note between the other two and keeping everything in smooth rhythm, sort of like walking and rubbing your belly at the same time.

Currently my friend Deborah, who plays the double bass, and I are working on a sonata by Misek, a little-known Chech composer.  In the beautiful andante movement, he falls in love with 6 against 9.  I get a warm-up for this with 2 against 3 at the end of the first measure. 

Then a few measures later he does it.  You can see I’ve been practicing fractions again with my little penciled in annotations.  This time the count is 18.

I fall back into simple triplets, while Deborah gets to fit her 6 against my 9.  That was the point at which we stopped playing last night and we both decided we needed more personal practice.

Try it and you will see what I’m talking about.  While you tap 9 times with your left hand, tap 6 times with your right hand.  If you do it long enough, your brain finally gives in and accepts this weird rhythm.

I must confess to being considerably more challenged by 3 against 8 as is the case in one measure of the Chopin waltz I’m playing.  But even that is coming along with practice.

It’s these sorts of things that make it absolutely impossible to think about anything else while you are playing the piano.  At least that’s true for me.  I’m much better at putting the minutiae of the day aside while practicing than I am while sitting on the meditation cushion.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Preparing for Color

Our house painted almost entirely in “Natural Echo” (an off-white inoffensive color) is about to change.  We are finally going forward with the massive painting project that will give us a Chinese red wall in the living room and color in virtually every corner of this rather boring house.

We’re in the process of finding a painter we can afford, who will also do a quality job.  Angie’s List is our source for prospective painters.  The first guy came an hour early (when no one was home) and left a card with not one word on it.  He has yet to even return our call, so he is probably not under consideration.

The second guy came precisely when he said he would.  He was a burly guy with a very bald head (sort of like my friend Steve’s).  He just had this demeanor that made us feel confident that he would do a good job.  He knew a lot about paint options and didn’t refuse any part of the job we offered.  He seemed proud of his service as a Marine.  Even his handshake felt quite right.  And best of all, he loved Jake.  Who could ask for anything more?

A couple more guys will be coming by before the end of the week, but my money’s on the Marine.  I just hope we can afford him.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pie Day

Don’t you just a love a potluck dinner?  It’s such a great feeling to know you are in charge of just a small piece of the menu because others are bringing the rest.

We’re having good friends over tonight to watch the language movie -- the one we missed by arriving an hour late to the lecture.  But first the 6 of us will sit out on the deck enjoying the balmy spring weather and hopefully not inhaling too much pollen while we share food together.

The others made their offers -- a chicken-potato dish, an appetizer, asparagus, and white white.  Almost a complete dinner except for dessert, which would be my responsibility.

Knowing I’m not the greatest cook when it comes to baking, I could have copped out and
-- Bought a dessert
-- Made a fruit salad
-- Made a fruit crisp

But no, I would instead decide to make a pie -- an apple-blueberry pie to be exact.  I continue to try to make pies, even though long ago I realized I had not inherited my mother’s gene for perfect crusts.

I’m always good through the stage of making the pastry and chilling the dough in plastic wrap.  This time I tried a combination of butter and vegetable shortening, after reading that this marries the flavor of butter with the flakiness of shortening.

It’s the rolling out and getting it into the pie plate in one piece that continues to allude me.  This one was particularly stubborn, tearing from the onset and needing to be patched here and there after landing in several pieces.  But knowing the filling hides a multitude, I simply patted it back together again and set it aside.

Instead of a top crust with air vents, I decided I wanted a lattice crust.  I did learn upon rolling out the second ball of dough that a few minutes sitting outside the refrigerator improves its handling immensely.  (File that away for the next pie attempt.)

I decided to construct my lattice on a piece of parchment paper and then just flip it onto the top of the filled pie.  I took this picture just in case it didn’t land so well.

But it actually worked.

I like a pie that has that brown sheen on top, so I added an egg wash before popping it in the oven.  The pie is now in the cooking until the fruit is juicy and the crust is nicely browned.

Who knows how it will taste?  But I can't imagine how anything made with fresh fruit, butter, sugar, and cinnamon could be too bad!

Here’s the somewhat modified recipe in case you want to try it:

Apple Blueberry Pie

-- 2-3 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4” thick
-- 2 small containers of blueberries
-- A generous 1/2 cup of sugar
-- 3 T. flour
-- Juice from half a lemon
-- 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
--  Pinch of salt
-- 3 T. butter, cut into small bits
-- Pie dough for 2 9-inch crusts
-- 1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  In a bowl combine the apples, blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well.  (This picture is before I decided to add a second container of blueberries.)

Place fruit mixture in a pie dish lined with a bottom crust.  Dot with the butter.  Cover with the other pie crust or a lattice crust.  Mix the egg yolk with a small amount of water and brush over the top crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes.  Add vents if you opted for the non-lattice crust.  Continue cooking at 350 degrees until the fruit is tender and the crust is nicely browned.