Thursday, September 30, 2010
I just read this article sent to me by someone near and dear and shuddered at what we’ve come to in this country. It almost feels like we’re living out some Margaret Atwood novel, and you know they never have happy endings.
What the article clearly depicts is a bunch of whiners making up the Tea Party Movement -- people who know how to bellyache about the status quo, but who offer no real solutions to fixing the problems they are complaining about. As this other article sent to me by the same person indicates, they are simply letting off steam.
But then what after all the steam is gone? The second article rightly asserts that we need the return of statesmen to government -- people who are not shackled by party membership, but rather feel free to vote for what they think is right. In a recent vote, there were two brave souls who chose to part ranks with the Republican Party, and they were both finishing up their terms this year and not seeking re-election.
I read an interview with Walter Mondale, in which he likened the state of the Obama administration to the hopeless situation in which Carter found himself (with Mondale as VP). He offered Obama some advice, but it may be too late to save this ship.
I hate to think of what this country would be like if the Tea Party really prevails. Canada or Mexico might look good.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
A student in my son’s high school class who came from an affluent white family wrote his college essay as though he came from a black family in the ghetto. He got into most of the schools to which he applied. Was that dishonesty or clever writing?
It strikes me that the Blogosphere offers us the same chance to reinvent ourselves, to become something we might want to be but we are not.
For many of us, it would simply be far too much work to try to remember the characteristics of an invented personality. So we just slog through post after post as the sometimes boring, flawed person we are. If I attempted reinvention, I would probably be a constantly evolving personality because I would never be able to decide what I wanted to be.
Thinking over the Bloggers I know, most of them match perfectly the person in their Blog. A few do not. The split personality approach can work well as long as you can stay hidden in cyberspace.
There’s no judgment here, just observation.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
My wonderful PT person Jennifer Gamboa was interviewed for an article in today's The Wall Street Journal. I feel like I know a celebrity! But she was just as down-to-earth as ever in my hour session with her at noon.
Re-learning to walk is not an easy process it turns out. As are many things learned at an older age, it is much more mental and complicated than what a toddler goes through.
I went into this latest round of PT without a lot of expectations. But I am actually pleasantly surprised at the results.
My latest investment for my “home program” was a $6 floor-length mirror from Target which I propped up in the basement, so I can now have a ramp to observe my gait.
Perhaps the turning point for me was a couple of weeks ago when Jen had me balance on the curved side of a Bosu ball in an effort to wipe out or reset my natural instincts about balance and weight distribution. Although I was allowed to hold onto her as was necessary, it was a rather terrifying experience, especially when she had me close my eyes. Given that we own a Bosu ball, 5 minutes of balancing a day was added to my homework.
The next time I saw her, I was able to dance on the Bosu ball. It felt like a liberation from some bad habits.
Sometimes I think I have learned much more about the intricacies of walking than I could ever put in practice. I now understand about rotation and weight shift and heel strike and even the need to have level shoulders. I have learned some ways to check for my usual mistakes and how to fix them.
But I am still at the point where I have to make a conscious effort to walk correctly. Hopefully with strengthening and with time and with 10,000 repetitions (as Jen reminded me today), this new way of walking will not require so much concentration. I’m not sure which one of us is more excited about my progress.
Read the WSJ article and get just a small sample of this person who is making such a difference for me.
Monday, September 27, 2010
A Colorful Case
If you are wondering what’s in the quilted bag on our dining room table, unbutton the large yellow button and take a look. Craigslist has answered my keyboard search with a 61-key Casio electronic piano.
A trusted friend steered me away from my first choice yesterday because it didn’t have a “piano touch” feature, meaning it might be a fun toy but it would not double as a practice piano. So I sent off an email to someone offering a used version for $100 of the item I was about to buy new on Amazon for $139.
We exchanged a couple of messages in which she told me she had upgraded to a more serious piano for her own use. She said she had paid $259 for the keyboard and stand 6 months ago. She wasn’t selling the stand. But when she heard why I needed it, she dropped the price to $75. I found a $19 stand on Amazon with free shipping and considered $94 a good deal.
We made our transaction after my lunch in DC today. When she brought it out wrapped in a dry cleaning plastic bag to protect it from the drizzle, I realized I needed to come up with a storage bag of some sort.
My stash of quilted fabric came in handy as I eked out just enough to cover the keyboard. Two prints because that’s all there was. I thought it was a rather happy combination which would appeal to a 9-year-old. The large yellow button will keep it from sliding out the end.
I’m happy with the keyboard. It seems to work just fine. The keys have a nice action to them and the sound is quite good. I think it’s a bargain that should meet Margalen’s needs. I’m just hoping the stand has a very low position because she is quite short with all her Mayan genes!
One of you may recognize the fabric...
Sunday, September 26, 2010
In Awe of Piano Teachers
I have new-found respect for ALL piano teachers, especially for those who teach young children. I just completed my first lesson with young Margalen today.
She arrived promptly at 3 PM in what must be her very best dress and silver shoes. She was ready to learn and had a smile on her face. That was a good sign.
It turns out the process of learning how to play the piano is a very complicated thing indeed with so many competing bits of information that must stand in line and wait until the right time.
We began by looking inside the piano as notes were played to see the hammers strike the “strings” of piano wire. Then we talked about white keys and black keys. She learned where middle C was and quickly learned to find all the C’s on the piano. She learned about low notes and high notes.
We clapped the rhythm of quarter notes and half notes. She learned how to number her fingers from 1 to 5 and was reminded which was her right hand and her left hand.
She combined the rhythm with the finger numbers to be able to play “March Along” on the 3 black keys with her right hand and then her left hand. I played the accompanying part and we had a duet.
That was plenty of learning for the first lesson. We had a little discussion of what it might be like to learn to play the piano and how it would be necessary to practice every day. That brought us to the fact that they have no piano at home for her to use.
So after I said goodbye to young Margalen, who was still smiling, I started looking for a used keyboard for her. After a consultation with my esteemed choir director, who is a musical genius, I have settled on a 61-key Casio CTK-3000, which I can get new on Amazon with all sorts of extra stuff for $139.
I’m rationalizing spending money on things like this and the books for my shelter older kids book club by remembering that I seldom eat out any more. My power lunches are a thing of the past.
After tomorrow, that is. I’m meeting an old friend and colleague for lunch at Kushi & Sushi.
I suppose I will have to make a lesson plan for my next encounter with Margalen. Hopefully I can send her home with something to practice on by then!
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thief or Benefactor?
This kid, Mark Zuckerberg, who is the same age as my daughter, looks like just any other 20-something. But he’s worth a fortune, over 6 BILLION dollars. And this week he’s making lots of news.
The Facebook movie, which chronicles the development and success of this social networking phenomenon, recently debuted. It casts significant doubt on who really owned the idea that resulted in the product that he claims as his own.
I read an article in the September 20th New Yorker about Zuckerberg, which depicts him as a somewhat shy, nerdy guy who has always been thinking in the fast lane when it came to new technology. I am in great awe of people who can think outside the box like this kid (yes, he is really just a kid) does.
I love the fact that even with all his money, he rents a house, owns a run-of-the-mill Acura, and consistently refuses to sell his company, even for a billion dollars. He is just not a very materialistic person.
I sent the article link to my son, the intellectual property lawyer, who concluded that he probably did use someone else’s idea, but he noted that Zuckerberg had paid them 65 million dollars for the idea. And that’s a lot of money for an idea.
Is it pure coincidence that just as the movie debuts, Zuckerberg is making one of the largest gifts in history to the Newark School System? A gift of 100 million dollars, noting that he always had the luxury of going to good schools and he would like to see the kids of New Jersey have the chance for a better education.
He claims to have tried to make his bequest anonymously, but was convinced to go public. So the question is will history prefer to remember Mark Zuckerberg as the kid who made his mark by stealing someone else’s intellectual property or as the benefactor who kicked the Newark schools up a notch? I suppose time will tell and he will eventually become an adult who hardly misses the 100 million he parted with.
Friday, September 24, 2010
A Continuing Celebration of the Ordinary
Remember how I recently wrote about the Buddhist idea of finding peace in being ordinary instead of always striving to be special? It turns out there is a celebration of the ordinary in Judaism as well.
At tonight’s Shabbat services, our rabbi Esther contrasted the holiday of Passover with that of Sukkot (the one happening right now). She commented that while Passover commemorates the one-time miracle of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, Sukkot celebrates the miracles of ordinary, everyday life.
Sukkot recognizes the 40 years the Jews lived in “temporary housing” as they crossed the desert and made their way to the Holy Land. Observant Jews build a sukkah similar to the one in the picture above to celebrate Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Booths. Many take their meals in the temporary structure and some even sleep in it. I can imagine it would be a lot of fun for children, although I confess to never having erected one in my back yard.
I find it so interesting that this recognition of the ordinary keeps popping up for me.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
More Beautiful Wood
For years we have complained about our dining table when we tried to entertain more than 6 people. It was a beautiful oval red oak table with two expansion leaves, but it just didn’t accommodate much of a crowd. It also had a single pedestal that did not provide the necessary stability when it was expanded.
After buying the new furniture for our family room, I asked whether they could possibly match the design of the dining room furniture and make us a bigger, more stable table. The craftsmen at Hardwood Artisans were willing to take on this task, down to the butterflies which were part of the design.
That was three months ago. Today our newly crafted table arrived. The delivery team had a challenge to get the table from the truck into our dining room because it is incredibly heavy.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they unwrapped the new table and I saw how extremely well it matched the other pieces of furniture.
The new table has a single expansion leaf that cleverly stores in the interior of the table.
Here’s a picture of one of the little butterflies on the new table and compared to the same design on the sideboard.
Now we have to decide whether to part with our original table, which I’m sure we could sell on Craig’s List for a couple hundred dollars. There is a lot of sentiment attached to this piece of furniture that has been with us since we got married, probably the first thing we bought together.
It will be fun to test out our new table by having a dinner for 10. No more excuses!
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Where is Lia today?
I’ve spent some time today trying to answer the question “What happened to Lia Lee?” without a lot of success. I’m not sure why I feel it is so important to find out the ultimate fate of a young Hmong girl who became brain-dead in 1986.
Earlier this summer my daughter suggested that our book club read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman. It was required reading for her as she entered a 3-year nurse practitioner program at Columbia.
The book chronicles the clash of two cultures with the focus on an epileptic Hmong child Lia living in Merced, California. The author skillfully avoids taking sides in what was a 5-year nightmare between Lia’s family and the medical community in their town.
At just 3 months Lia has her first seizure and is carried by her parents to the hospital just 3 blocks from their house. Their inability to speak English results in not getting a proper diagnosis of epilepsy until the third such incident.
The family is convinced Lia’s condition was been brought on by her sister Yer slamming the door and scaring Lia’s soul out of her body. Furthermore, Lia’s diagnosis in their mind gives her a “special” place in Hmong society, wherein epileptics often become shamans.
During the first few years of her life, Lia’s medications are changed 23 times and her parents seem unable or unwilling to administer them properly, resulting in her placement in foster care for a year.
Lia’s doctors continue to struggle with her condition and to the best of their ability give her the proper treatment. Their efforts are often hindered by a lack of communication or their lack of understanding of the traditional Hmong approach to healing, where the soul must be healed before the body can be.
At the age of 5 Lia suffers the ultimate seizure and while in the hospital contracts a septic infection that the doctors are convinced will result in Lia’s death. They allow her parents to take her home to die, but she doesn’t die. Instead, her temperature returns to normal, she learns to swallow once again, and she quits having seizures. Without the aid of western medicine, her parents feed and care for her in their home. It was two years after this point in time that the author came on the scene and wrote the book.
So we are left not knowing what happens to Lia. I consulted Google, to find a statement from one of her sisters in 1997 indicating that she was still alive. She would have been 16 years old at that point. Today she would be 29.
I got into one of my determined moods today and started digging. I found that the author now lives in a small town in western Massachusetts and could not come up with a current phone number for her. I tried to consult someone in the Hmong community in Merced, but the person I called didn’t speak English. My latest call was to someone in the Merced Public Library, who knew of the book but hadn’t read it. Ironically Lia’s primary pediatrician had been her child’s doctor as well. She seemed interested to try to get an answer for me, but I’m still awaiting her call.
This book should be required reading for anyone in the medical profession. It’s also a good read for anyone who lives in a culturally diverse area with a lot of immigrants. Besides learning about the long and somewhat sad history of the Hmong people, I learned how a family’s love is sometimes the only medicine that works.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
A Morning in the Kitchen
I find myself making more and more of those things I used to purchase ready-made and oh-so-convenient. It’s a conscious choice, not one dictated by saving money, that’s for sure.
Today happens to be a heavy-duty cooking day as I make dog food, bread-and-butter pickles, and roasted vegetables.
Here’s the list of what I now make that I used to buy:
Dog food and dog treats
Although I haven’t actually tasted the dog food, I think every one of the other items tastes much better in its homemade form. And good taste is worth the investment of my time, at least right now. I also like the fact that I know exactly what I'm eating -- there are no additional ingredients to promote taste or increase shelf-life.
In case you find yourself craving some delicious pickles, here’s my recipe:
Bread and Butter Pickles
15 cups sliced pickling cucumbers
3 onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarse salt
4 cups cracked ice
2-1/2 cups cider vinegar
2-1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- Combine cucumbers, onions, salt, and ice in a large bowl.
- Mix well.
- Put a weight on an allow to stand 3 hours. (A plate or an inverted lid with something heavy on top works well.)
- Drain thoroughly.
- Combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, and mustard seed in a large pot.
- Add drained cucumbers.
- Place pot on medium low heat.
- Bring almost to a boil, but DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.
- Remove from heat.
- Seal in sterilized jars and cook 10 minutes in a water bath.
The pickles are delightful with tuna fish or with anything that needs that sweet and sour taste.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I was invited to tour DC on a Segway today, but opted for the lunch-only part of the retirement celebration.
As it turned out, every one of the 10 people who participated was roughly my age and they all had a ball. One person commented that it was easier than riding a bike. Another said that if I did yoga, riding a Seqway should be easy (although I’m not sure why).
The truth is a Segway might be my best bet for increasing my speed of getting around and keeping up with everyone else. It’s not likely that I’ll be invited to another Segway outing, but I would be more likely to accept if I were.
We lunched at Clyde’s at Gallery Place afterwards. I loved reminiscing with this Cuban guy I once hired, who went on to fill a job I vacated, and then become a superstar bureaucrat. When we first worked together we were in an office of 20-somethings. He reminded me that his first trip out of the country to give technical assistance was with me. We joked about the pitchers of pisco sours handed out at the office in Chile where we were working.
Now that work is a thing of the past for him, he has immersed himself in cooking. Rumor has it he has perfected the art of paella-making and I asked for a lesson. I love the idea of lives that stay loosely connected for decades.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
An end and a beginning
As the Jewish High Holy Days end, another year begins. After today's marathon Yom Kippur services that literally occupied us until 7 PM tonight, I feel like I have fully experienced the rehearsal for death offered by this day of intensive prayer. But I have come away with a renewed appreciation of life and all its possibilities. It's that squeaky clean feeling of a new slate that is so intriguing.
I could talk about so many experiences today -- both as the member of a larger community and on an individual level -- but instead I will simply leave you with Mary Oliver's poem, which our rabbi Esther read at the beginning of today's service:
When Death Comes
Friday, September 17, 2010
King of All Wild Things
Doesn’t every one of us have a monster who sometimes terrifies us? That may be especially true for children who live in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. We spent last night’s read-aloud talking about monsters and strategies for taming them.
When I volunteered at a somewhat late hour to sub for my friend Kristin, we realized we needed a theme and an activity for this week’s read-aloud. I just happened to have some really great crowns in a large envelope sent to me last year from my Blogger friend Gary, who is perhaps the world’s best kindergarten teacher, or at least the best in NYC. My team members enthusiastically accepted my idea of “Monsters”.
Our last book of the evening was Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” the story of young Max who has been banished to his room with no dinner because he has misbehaved. His room magically turns into a year-long journey as Max tames the Wild Things of the world and becomes their King. But then he gets hungry and comes home to find his dinner waiting for him. I always loved reading this book to my own children and still love the way every child learns to love Max and his monsters. It makes punishment seem not so bad after all.
When I pulled out the crowns and said, “Let’s all become Max,” the children were immediately on board with decorating them. I had bought a large container of foam stickers in various colors and shapes. It was a new experience for them to use as many pieces as they wanted, sort of like being offered the entire birthday cake. Some children made patterns. Others put pieces together to make fancier flowers. But they all loved wearing their finished crowns which were different enough that they could easily identify their own.
The last activity was “pin the tail on the monster,” with the wonderful monster poster being created by another volunteer’s 20-year-old daughter. I had a hard time convincing them that it was the most fun not to cheat and to let the tail end up in odd places, like in the monster’s eye or on the top of its head.
I saw signs of good behavior that aren’t always there. I even saw cooperation when a 5-year-old twin helped another 5-year-old decorate her crown. All of our wild things had a great evening and proudly wore their crowns home to show their mothers.
(I'm sorry I couldn't show you the children's eyes, which immediately conveyed how much fun they were having!)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Finding Peace in the Ordinary
How many of us have spent our entire lives trying to be something we are not -- bigger, smaller, richer, faster, smarter, more successful? We teach our children to reach for the stars, knowing they are never really in our grasp.
Last night’s meditation reading in “Ending the Pursuit of Happiness” by Barry Magid forcused on the acceptance of being ordinary. What a novel idea to be happy with average instead of always trying for something better.
I think I let out an audible sigh when the reader spoke those words. So many struggles would end if we could just learn to live with ourselves as we are instead of always longing for something that isn’t and may never be.
My mental exercise today is to play with the words SPECIAL and ORDINARY, hopefully finding them interchangeable at some point.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
And the tortoise wins!
I continue to learn about walking. This week I made some great strides, so to speak, as I managed to achieve walking outdoors with no cane, no pain.
After these last weeks in physical therapy, I have a whole new respect for the act of walking. I’m starting to understand the intricacies of all the motor activity that must happen for us to propel ourselves forward standing up.
For me it’s always been about coping, but not about understanding. I have figured out ways to compensate for my unbalanced, unusual gait.
One of my coping mechanisms was to try to make my back do the work my hips and legs needed to do. This ultimately has the effect of causing my back to hurt and making my lower torso feel like it is as heavy and stiff as cement. Not exactly conducive to a smooth gait.
Another was to give my right glut a free ride, causing my knee to fall in and ultimately become very painful.
Earlier this week I tried a new approach to taking a longer than usual walk. First I rode the exercise bike at a high speed for a mile or two and did some other stretching exercises to get my hip joints working well. Then I set out with the idea that when I felt my lower back start to tighten up or my knee started to prolapse, I would simply stop and take a break, observing whatever was around me at that point. After a minute or so, when my back muscles had eased up and my glut and knee had had a rest, I would be off again. It worked like a charm.
The only problem with this approach is I may have a hard time finding walking partners. Not everyone is willing to walk at a snail’s pace or take frequent resting breaks. But even walking alone is really not so bad because it causes me to be observant of what is going on around me.
Now it’s time to hit the downstairs gym and go to work!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
That would definitely not be me! But last week’s physical showed my cholesterol level to be “mildly high”, adding to my list of old-age woes.
First my body let my bone density decrease and now it’s allowed my cholesterol to go up! In my case I don’t think the culprit is diet because we don’t eat much that isn’t good for us. Things like fries and burgers are just not part of our daily fare.
Deborah is not yet suggesting medication, but my husband went on Zocor several years ago with numbers lower than mine. So despite the fact that I hate taking medicine of any kind, I’m thinking of asking for something to change “mildly high” to “quite normal”. I certainly don’t want to be asked to give up the egg I eat every other day in an effort to do this with diet.
I suppose it’s only natural that our bodies change with age, that some numbers go up while others come down. I guess it should be reassuring to know we can fix things like this before “the big one” does us in.
How are your numbers?
Monday, September 13, 2010
It’s no secret -- I don’t much like the personal upkeep of things like shaving my legs, washing and blow drying my hair, or putting on makeup. I find dealing with all those lotions and creams a bother.
Last night as I realized my hair needed a shampoo, I wondered how often I would be doing these things if I lived all alone on a desert island. I quickly concluded probably not with any great frequency.
Although I’ve always maintained adequate standards of personal hygiene, I have gone through long stretches of not shaving and not wearing makeup. Most people probably never noticed.
So today I’ll lather up my head and do my usual bad job of blow drying my hair. I’ll probably even shave my legs. As for the makeup, it may end with a little tinted moisturizer and lipstick. Who really needs mascara and eyeliner to practice yoga? (my only outing du jour)
What about you? Would your priorities change if you were all by yourself?
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Driven by Kale
For me it’s often one ingredient that compels me to find a recipe. This week it’s the curly-leafed kale we got in our CSA share. I’ve made kale in a lot of ways that I liked and some I wasn’t quite so fond of, but I cast my lot with Google in my recipe search.
Many of the recipes seemed to pair kale with cannellini beans, those white beans that make one think of a warm, Italian kitchen. When I went to Whole Foods last night in search of the other ingredients for the recipe I had decided on, I could find only cans of cannellini beans. But then I spied a package of white kidney beans that looked quite similar and hoped they would work. (A Google search back home confirmed that cannellini beans are indeed also called white kidney beans.) For some reason I prefer to soak my beans overnight and cook them myself instead of opening a can.
Here’s the recipe I’ve chosen, already deciding to add to it a couple of chopped carrots, a few tiny red peppers (the hot ones), and the sausage and pepperoni from last night’s leftover pizza slices (realizing it can no longer be called vegetarian!):
Vegetarian Kale Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
- 8 cups water
- 6 cubes vegetable bouillon (such as Knorr)
- 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 6 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans (drained if desired)
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot; cook the onion and garlic until soft. Stir in the kale and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the water, vegetable bouillon, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, Italian seasoning, and parsley. Simmer soup on medium heat for 25 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
When I'm 84
As we took Jake in for his annual check-up, I wondered if I would hear something I didn’t want to hear that might confirm his geriatric position in life and cast doubts on his health. When a dog gets to be 12, you know his years are limited.
His weight was good -- holding steady at 69. Dr. Smith was extremely pleased to hear that his August allergies had not happened this summer, that all his fur and skin were still quite in tact.
But then she spent what seemed like forever listening to his heart. She finally said it was slow and steady -- like a strong athlete’s heart. There was no murmur. There was no arrhythmia. But his heartbeat was muffled.
She went on to look at his old dog eyes and pronounce them just that. His ears (even if a little deaf) and teeth were just fine. Even the many lumps and bumps, although noted, were of no concern.
We mentioned that he sometimes is slow in standing up, his back half that is. She suggested we start giving glucosamine, but said he was far ahead of his age if he was still able to jump on the bed, which he does regularly.
And then back to that soft, muffled heartbeat. We could do X-rays (at a considerable expense) to know if there is an enlargement or a tumor blocking his heart. But what would we do with that information if it was to be learned? Probably nothing.
So Dr. Smith drew some blood for a routine set of diagnostic blood tests, gave Jake a couple of dog treats, and sent us on our way.
When a dog gets to be 12, he deserves to live out his life without drastic measures, or so I think. I hope my caretakers will be of the same mind when I’m 84.