Friday, November 26, 2010

Post Turkey

The best part of having Thanksgiving dinner at your house is eating the leftovers for the next week or for however long they last.  This year we were just family with my daughter’s boyfriend.
My contribution to the cooking was minimal since everyone likes to cook.  I did the grocery shopping, making sure we had enough of the essentials -- things like turkey, eggs, butter, onions, pumpkin.  Here was the menu:
Ginger-carrot soup -- Dan
Turkey -- David
Dressing (homemade challah with and without pork sausage) -- Barbara
Sauteed Brussel sprouts -- Rachel & Scott
Peppery sweet potatoes -- David
Garlicky mashed potatoes -- Rachel & Scott
Two types of cranberry relish -- Barbara
Pumpkin flan -- Dan
Pumpkin pie -- Rachel & Scott
There were lots of fireworks in the days leading up to this feast day.  But by the time we sat down to eat, everyone was getting along.  It was one of those times to enjoy the present moment, looking neither forward or back.
After filling our bellies to beyond capacity, we watched “The Kids are Alright,” a poignant movie about coming of age in a lesbian family, as the two children find their biological father.  
Today is a quiet day.  Dan has departed for SF once again.  Rachel and Scott are off enjoying the free museums of DC.  Jake is in mourning for the departure of his best friend Dan.
I’m feeling a little drained after the emotional roller coaster of the past week or so.  I am convinced my family members love one another, but sometimes we struggle to hold onto that love.
Here’s the recipe for my latest cranberry relish, courtesy of NPR’s Susan Stamberg:
Garlicky Cranberry Chutney
1-inch piece fresh ginger
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-pound can cranberry sauce with berries
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
Cut ginger into paper-thin slices, stack them together, and cut into really thin slivers.
Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and cayenne in a small pot.  Bring to a simmer, simmer on medium flame about 15 minutes or until there are about 4 tablespoons of liquid left.
Add can of cranberry sauce, salt, and pepper.  Mix and bring to a simmer.  Lumps are OK.  Simmer on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.
Cool, store, and refrigerate.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cooking with old friends

My kitchen is taking me back a few decades as The Beatles remind me of all those songs I sang over and over in the presence of people I remember like it was yesterday. It's as though they could walk right of that iPad screen.

Just this week my favorite music became available digitally. I was just reacquainted with the nasty boy Maxwell with his silver hammer. I'm now swimming in the octopus's garden and wondering where the tell-tale smell has gone.

I realize how happy it makes me to sing along as I roll out the crust for a big apple pie. It seems $12 is a small price to pay for such excellent entertainment that doubles as a double shot of happiness.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make!

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Location:Dawes Ave,Alexandria,United States

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In the name of security

The full-body scan that everyone else is up in arms about has proved to be my salvation. It understands my titanium hip with no alarms and no questions. It's just (my) hands overhead, as being demonstrated by this TSA employee, and then I am on my way.

It's far better than the groin-groping alternative in which no part is private. In the past 10 days I have experienced this version of protection multiple times after hearing that tell-tale alarm and the shout for "female assistant". It is time-consuming and aggravating for me and the embarrassed assistant, who always seems somewhat apologetic for having to use the back of her hand in all those sensitive places.

So bring on full-body imaging. Plaster my picture all over TSA-land, but keep your hands to yourself, OK?

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Discovering Napa

Yesterday we got a Zipcar and drove north on a perfect Fall day. We had a 10 am appointment to tour Hendry Ranch in the heart of Napa Valley and taste the high-end wine they produce.

For the next 3 hours my son and I learned more than we ever thought possible about growing grapes, making wine, and drinking it from George Hendry, a second generation vintner now in his 70's. He talked about his successes and failures as we walked though his vineyard, where 11 different varieties of grapes now grow. We learned all about the cork-screw top controversy, becoming convinced of the merit of sealing wines like a Pinot griggio with a 17-cent screw top as opposed to a much more expensive cork.

This is a relatively small vineyard, with 12 employees doing virtually all of the work. Since harvesting and bottling this year's wine is done, they were working on removing and replacing diseased plants. Speaking of which, George claims you can't make a good-tasting organic wine.

We toured the facility where the wine is made -- start to finish -- where finish sees it bottled by an Italian machine that cost almost half a million dollars.

No wine tour would be complete without a tasting. We tried 11 wines, ranging in price from $13 to $55 a bottle. George, who also doubles as a gourmet cook, made the connection between wine and food as no one ever has for me before. It was finally time for us to leave, after our private tour and tasting. We bought a few bottles, found some delicious fish tacos down the road, and headed on to the next adventure.

My son was convinced that I was going to hike to the summit of a hill with a view in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. I had my walking stick along, but I didn't have hiking shoes. I enjoyed the first part of the hike, as we gently ascended through a rolling meadow.

But when the going started to get tougher, I opted to take a nap on a bench while he pressed on to the summit. It all seemed rather idyllic until the sun started to dip and I realized just how alone I was. He finally showed up with evidence that he had reached the top.

I was very happy to have his company as we hiked back down Bald Mountain. The moon was our only source of light by the time we reached the car.

Dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley (where we were somewhat underdressed) capped off a perfect day. We both slept quite soundly.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Heat wave in November

Before my trip To SF I checked the long-range weather forecast and packed for the ideal 68-72-degree weather. As it turns out the high today will be 82. People are sun-bathing in Lafayette Park across from my son's apartment. And I am lamenting my choice of long-sleeve clothes and jackets.

That's OK. Today after enjoying a superb latte at Caffe Trieste in North Beach with a good friend, I bought a very cool black tee shirt with the insignia of this renowned coffee place. The coffee was eclipsed only by the conversation with this friend I rarely get to see.

We bought Italian deli and walked down to Washington Square, where we sat outside in the shadow of an enormous old church to continue our conversation and take in the local scene of the diverse population that inhabit North Beach.

I hated to part with my friend who had to go back to making a living. But now I get to consult with my son on tomorrow's adventure into Napa Valley, where we intend to visit a winery, take in some scenic places, and eat oysters in Tomales Bay.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Juicy Socialite

Just couldn't resist this photo of a young mother traveling by herself with 4 children under the age of 5. Her shirt indeed said "Juicy Socialite" in gold on the back. How in the world did she have time to be that? She had the healthy, happy glow of so many women from Utah.

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Location:W 764 N,Salt Lake City,United States

Leaving on a jet plane

My one little bag is packed and stowed overhead and I'm on my way solo to SF to see my son. He has graciously offered me a bed on his floor. We have plans to explore his wonderful city and head up to Napa for a day. The weather forecast couldn't be better.

Last night before I left I was interviewed by Susan Stamberg of NPR. We spent 15 minutes talking about Blogging and the other things that occupy my retirement days. Seriously, we did attend a TM fundraising dinner at which she was the featured guest. It was an elegant affair, the chef (a friend of the hosts) coming all the way from Mexico. After eating beef tenderloin and Chilean sea bass and Mexican tiramisu and so much more decadent food and drinking way too much wine, we ended up chatting with Susan, as though she had been a lifelong friend. In her current self-defined role at NPR she pursues stories and interviews of her choosing. In fact she is headed to SF on Tuesday to do an onstage interview of Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker writer, at the Herbst Theater. She asked if I wrote every day and I talked about my recent shift. She asked about my readers. I was excited to tell her all about you, you know who you are!

Then it was time to go home since my husband and Jake were taking me to Dulles at 5:30 am. It was a short night. But here I am somewhere up I the sky cruising toward salt lake City, where I hope to make my 45-minute connection which will take me on to SF.

Did I mention I attended an all-day workshop yesterday on the friendship of women? It was fascinating, reaffirming my abiding love for the female friends in my life.

It's now time to break out the hard-boiled egg and crackers I packed for breakfast since the food is pretty much nonexistent on flights these days. More from sunny SF!

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Location:Terminal Dr,Salt Lake City,United States

Friday, November 12, 2010

Checking In

You might be wondering what I'm doing with all my new-found time since I am no longer hovering over my computer every day.  I'm busy with a lot of activities I love, like meeting friends for lunch and dinner, and some which are not so exciting like making dog biscuits for sale.

I recently saw small bags of dog biscuits at Northside Coffee and Wine for $3 each.  I figured mine were just as doggy-delicious, so that's how I priced them for the Temple Micah Hanukkah Fair this Sunday.  I hope dog-lovers buy them up, netting the temple around $80.

Jake has decided he wants to be with me constantly,  even on routine errands.  Yesterday he managed to get into the front seat of the old Volvo instead of the back and had a hard time getting turned around.

Today I'm off to a music lesson with Anadel, a shared lunch of shrimp salad which I'm bringing, and then an afternoon at the National Gallery looking at the vegetable-faces of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Saturday I'm excited about a workshop on Zen Farm which focuses on the special bonds between women.  There will be breakfast, yoga, breathing exercises, and friendship meditations.  Hopefully this will give me a better way to relate to my women friends.

Sunday I am off to San Francisco, mostly to hang out with my son, but also to drink in the beauty of that city and see a very good friend.  Life is good and I'm enjoying every minute of it!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book Club Beginning

I always loved comic books. I love graphic novels. So did the older kids at the homeless shelter, when they read our first book club book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

My husband is my partner in this endeavor, after having gotten up the nerve to venture into Anacostia. I think he was pleasantly surprised at the quiet residential street with the police station on the corner and no sign of trouble.

The kids arrived promptly at 6:30, each bringing the used copy of the book I had dropped off a couple of weeks before. There were five girls and one boy. There was no eye-rolling, no snarky comments, no typical teenage behavior. They were simpy there to settle in from a busy day at school and to share some laughs over this funny but poignant book.

I had put out lots of healthy snacks to stave off their hunger pangs since they hadn't eaten dinner yet -- hummus and pita, clementines and grapes.

Wimpy Kid is about 7th grade Greg, a skinny boy who figures he is around 52nd in popularity. He continues to try unsuccessfully to raise his standing. He is the middle child in his family, with an older brother who torments him and a younger brother he torments. His best friend for most of the book is Rowley, a boy even less popular than he is. His greatest strength seems to be in drawing hilarious cartoons, with recurring lines like "Zoo-eey mama!"

Greg faces several moral dilemmas, all of which these middle school kids can relate to. They have dilemmas of their own, like that of the older girl who after school had watched her friend get jumped and carried off to the hospital. I am fairly sure all of the shelter kids had experienced much worse things than the Wimpy Kid, but they still felt his pain as he got into a bind.

We asked them to imagine what Greg would be like at age 35. They imagined he would be a successful illustrator, actually not far from the job of Jeff Kinney, the author. This led to their guessing our ages -- maybe 30's or 40's! I love these kids.

We finally turned to a discussion of how our book club would work -- how often we would meet, how we would choose the books, how we could communicate between meetings. They suggested some good books and so did we.

I came home and ordered 8 copies of each of 4 books, enough to keep us busy for the next few months.

The kids' book club had been successfully launched. It felt so good!

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Location:Lucas Dr,Detroit,United States

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Space between the Notes

I come away from most Shabbat services at Temple Micah with something to think about.  Our rabbi Esther opened yesterday's service with this:

A great pianist was once asked by an ardent admirer: “How do you
handle the notes as well as you do?”  The artist answered: “The notes
I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses between the
notes—ah! That is where the art resides.”

In great living, as in great music, the art may be in the pauses.
Surely one of the enduring contributions which Judaism made to the art
of living was the Shabbat, “the pause between the notes.” And it is
to the Shabbat that we must look if we are to restore to our lives the
sense of serenity and sanctity which Shabbat offers in such joyous

—Likrat Shabbat (Gates of Shabbat)

That great pianist happened to be Debussy. I'm playing his Deux Arabesques and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair right now. The latter piece relies on those pauses, making you feel like you will wait forever to hear how he chooses to resolve a chord or hear where a melody is going.

Last night we ended Shabbat with a Thai cooking extravaganza.  There were 8 of us (all Temple Micah friends) who rolled up our sleeves and got out our woks. The house smelled heavenly.  Each dish was quite special and for David and me reminded us of our recent Thai cooking classes.

But perhaps the best of the evening was the post-dinner entertainment when our friend Danny got out his guitar and took requests. He played songs from The Beatles, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and so many more. The value of having an autistic savant as one of our other guests was HE KNEW ALL THE WORDS; if he had ever heard the song before, he could sing it with the right accent, never missing a beat or a word.  There was not a lot of space between the notes last night, but we felt a great warmth in the harmonies and tunes that ushered out yet another Shabbat.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chance and Choice

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about the serendipity of chance encounters and the decisions I’ve made along the way that have gotten me to this point in time.  They are so intricately connected.  I wonder where I would be today if even one of them had happened differently.

Here are just a few that impacted by life:

-- After 11th grade, went to “Math Camp” at FSU, where I discovered computer programming and confirmed that I would major in math.
-- Took Tennis to satisfy my PE requirement at FSU, where I met my first serious boyfriend.  He got an A. I got a C.  
-- Summer of 1971 in Athens, Greece, got a letter from my best childhood friend inviting me to live in her group house in DC.  Otherwise I might have stayed in the Florida panhandle forever in my WASPish cocoon.
-- Got two job offers in DC, but took the lower paying job because I thought it would be more interesting.  
-- Met a big shot in the Commerce Department on my bus as I rode to work at my despicable job at the FBI.  Within 2 weeks had 3 job offers.
-- Went for a job interview at the Census Bureau, where the first face I saw was that of the man who would become my husband almost 5 years later.
-- When we became serious, I looked for another job and ended up with a position in the international area of the Census Bureau, where I was paid to become fluent in French and Spanish and then get to travel around the world for 15 years.
-- When we were looking for our first house in 1977, found a house on the market for 3 months with what seemed like a ridiculously high price tag of $80K.  We have lived here ever since.
-- While babysitting in our neighborhood co-op, met a family whose children went to school on a farm.  Thus began years of private school so my children could watch animals be born and learn without the pressure of grades for many years.
-- At an employee’s suggestion, took my first yoga class at least 10 years ago.  
-- At my yoga teacher’s suggestion, got my first massage and met Reya.
-- From Reya learned about Blogging.
-- Met Bill through meditation, who introduced me to Deborah, who has been my musical partner ever since.
-- After 25 years of going through the motions, joined Temple Micah and started really practicing Judaism.
-- Through a choir member, found Anadel, my piano teacher.

There are many, many more.  It is so apparent to me that if any one of these things had happened differently, my life would not be the same.  That’s not to say it wouldn’t be as good, but just different.

Sometimes I try to invent stories around a different set of encounters and choices, much in the style of “Groundhog Day.”  I ask what would have happened if I had married the first boyfriend?  If I hadn't interviewed at the Census Bureau?  If I hadn't met Reya, although we are no longer friends? If I hadn't started writing?  If I  hadn't found Deborah and learned to love playing music with others?  But they remain just stories, because the reality is that we are who we are because of our life experiences, for better or for worse (but hopefully for better!).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Turning Red

The 2010 elections offered no great surprises.  A few tightly contested races went to the Democrats, but for the most part we live a in very red country right now.
The Republican party is being held hostage by the Tea Party, with those in office being put on record that they will be targeted if they don’t tow the line.  People like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are holding court, even though they are not in office.  If I were a reasonable, intelligent Republican right now, I might be feeling fairly isolated.
Instead I am a retired Democrat, breathing a sigh of relief that my job can no longer be abolished as the Republicans try to shrink the government.  I just hope they have no plans of targeting my pension as part of the reduction scheme.
I am rather discouraged about the state of our government.  The era of the real statesman seems to be bygone.  Instead we are left with elected officials who constantly put party ahead of doing the right thing.  Where climate change is still openly denied.  Where many would abolish the line between church and state.  
Past experience says things will once again swing the other way when the majority of voters realize the new guys don’t have the answers either.  This election was mostly about saying the status quo sucks, not about offering up a viable way to fix it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A slim crowd

This is all that remains from a budget Halloween.  It was actually a very quiet night.
Late yesterday I realized we had no Halloween candy.  We made a quick trip to CVS, but instead I decided to visit the dollar store.  For $1.49 I bought a bag of about 20 pieces of knock-off Hershey’s mini-bars, hoping by the trick-or-treater counts from the past few years that would be enough.
In the “old days”, when our children were canvassing the neighborhood with their old pillowcases full of candy, we would give out baskets of candy.  But times have changed.  The neighborhood has aged and the streets with sidewalks now get the most traffic.
A few unremarkable costumes appears on our front stoop, but it was just a handful over a couple of hours.  A neighbor down the street showed up carrying a baby whom he introduced as his grandchild (born to a girl who can’t be more than 18).  His youngest son (about 9) proudly added that he was now an uncle.  
When the last kid showed up in no costume and banged on the door, we decided to turn the front light off.  So by my count we gave out 18 pieces of candy to around 9 kids.  A fairly light evening I’d say.
The good news is we will not be tempted to eat bad candy for the next month.