Thursday, December 30, 2010

Glee Deprivation

We managed to miss episode 11 of Glee when it aired on Tuesday night.  I figured within 24 hours it would be available on Hulu or on Fox.  But not yet.  I can’t figure out why they don’t post it immediately with all the money they are getting from people like the Kit-Kat candy makers.  My plan for today’s workout has been hijacked by the absence of this show I wanted to watch.
I found it on Pinoytutorial Lifebytes for FREE.  But my husband is dead set against using this video source because you have to give a third party your identifying information and he claims what they are doing is illegal.  I’m not nearly so worried, but I suppose waiting a few more days for a show is better than getting arrested.
I spent the last few days reading Steve Martin’s new book An Object of Beauty while I pedaled away on the Cybex.  I never thought I could keep up any sort of pace while reading, but the book was quite compelling and I worked up a sweat.  
The sky’s the limit in terms of what I can watch/read on my iPad, but today I really just wanted to see the latest episode of Glee.  Did I ever think I would be begging for TV?  Or riding an exercise bike miles every day?  Not in my wildest dreams. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Man in a Blizzard

This is what we missed when the recent storm passed us by with a dusting of snow and headed north. Jamie Stuart created a piece of art as he captured it all on film. As Roger Ebert pointed out, Stuart is obviously not an amateur. Don't you just love the dog that is stuck in the snow at the end?

(Courtesy of my husband who follows every word Roger Ebert writes on Twitter)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let Me Go!

Have you ever tried to get out of a multi-year gym membership? They don’t make it easy.

We rejoined (Skyline) Sport & Health Club a year ago because I wanted to work with a trainer and it was so convenient. I thought nothing of signing a 3-year contract for $69 a month that allowed my husband and me access to the gym, the pool, and all sorts of classes.

I did some good work with my trainer Emily for about 6 months. And then I returned to physical therapy at another facility, where I am currently working with an excellent trainer. I now have everything I need for my workouts in the comfort of my own home. I no longer need a gym membership.

I dashed off my little email to explaining all this and expecting they might charge us a penalty, but that they would let us out of the 3-year contract.

But no, I got a very emphatic response from Jessica at S&H saying we had no choice but to pay for the remaining 2 years at the full rate. A phone call to her indicated that a doctor’s note or a military transfer were the only two escape routes. I can’t in good conscience ask a doctor to say I am unable to use the S&H facility and a military transfer is out of the question. Upon further questioning, she said that a private citizen relocating to another city would indeed have to pay. She sent us a copy of what was supposed to be our contract and it was someone else’s (unsigned) contract. That gives you an idea of what we are dealing with at corporate.

I say that policy really sucks! Especially considering we were previously members of that same club for at least 25 years, during many of which we paid and never darkened the door.

You might wonder how I could be so stupid to sign up again, given our past track record. I think it was the lure of $69, which in today’s economy does sound like a bargain. But it’s only a bargain if you cash in and get something for your money.

I would welcome any advice you might have about how to get out of this situation, which will currently not resolve itself until the end of 2012. I would rather not lie to these people, but I think it is in their best interest not to let me stew for the next 2 years. (And it is in my best interest to get it resolved because my husband’s blood pressure is rising!)

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I’ve been in denial for some time, but I’ve finally come to admit that I have a problem… with salt.  It turns out salt is just one of the many things we can get hooked on.  Consuming salt causes the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter in our brains associated with pleasure, making salty foods just as addictive as alcohol or nicotine.  
My husband recently pointed out an article in the latest Prevention Magazine that focuses on NaCl, pointing out that it can contribute not only to high blood pressure, but also to obesity and even osteoporosis.  My first reaction was to ask him to keep it to himself since it is his blood pressure, not mine, that tends to be on the high side.
But since then I’ve noticed just how much I like salt.  I love the dregs at the bottom of a bag of chips, where the salt tends to concentrate.  At the movie theater tonight, I watched the freshly popped popcorn cascade over the edge of the popper and imagined dipping into a tub of salty buttery popcorn.
Now that I recognize this craving, I’m determined to cut back on my salt intake.  The recommended daily salt allowance is 2/3 teaspoon or less.  Since we eat very little processed food, most of my salt intake is under my control.  I’m not ready to quit salting my food altogether, but I can certainly cut way back on things I make.  According to the Prevention article, our bodies get used to the reduction and no longer ask for as much.
How do you feel about salt?  Are you hooked?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Shabbat

As I was growing up in my little WASPish cocoon in northwest Florida, I could never have imagined chanting Hebrew prayers on Christmas.  But that’s exactly what I spent the morning doing today.  I attended the Torah study session followed by the regular Shabbat service at Temple Micah.
Interestingly the Torah portion was about the birth of another Jewish baby who was also destined for big things.  Instead of lying in a manger, Moses was floating in a little wicker basket among the reeds of the Nile.  He would grow up to lead his people to the promised land where Jesus would be born more than a thousand years later.
One of the beauties of having Shabbat and Christmas coincide as they did today was the total absence of traffic.  There was literally no one on the roads this morning.
As I got out of my car, my ear picked up the bells of the National Cathedral playing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” something we would never hear on a regular Shabbat.
There were but 30 or so brave souls who came out to the lay-led service.  I found it somewhat curious that our rabbis were given the day off on Christmas, while our African-American custodian, a deacon in his church, was at work.  His red sweater was his observance of Christmas.
We will enjoy a beautiful Christmas dinner with friends later today, deciding to put off our traditional dim-sum and a movie for a day less crowded by the Jews and Asians of the metropolitan area.
I’m wishing everyone a day of peace and contentment, regardless of your tradition!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Death and After

We went to our first Temple Micah funeral today.   The sanctuary was packed with people who had known Richard in some capacity over the years.  His wife of 53 years was there with their children and grandchildren.  Although Esther hadn't known them well, she had pieced together enough information to give everyone a realistic characterization of the deceased man.  She read things written by his various family members.  She included this fitting poem from John Updike, specifically because Richard was a witty guy who liked to make people laugh:

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market --
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories
packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

We've just come from the first Shiva service, where friends and family join to mourn their common loss. It's like a warm-up to grieving, the process that will officially last a year, but which may in fact last a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Do you sometimes feel like your life is a very bizarre movie playing out? It happened to me on Monday morning as I was attempting to deliver a purple orchid to someone in Old Town.

A little background: On Sunday we had been invited for lunch by a very elegant French woman (somewhat older than we are) whom we met through Temple Micah. Her husband has been in a nursing home for several years with deteriorating Parkinson’s disease. Everything about the meal was absolutely perfect, down to the professionally baked apple tart. We hadn’t thought to bring a hostess gift, so the orchid was our attempt to say thank you the next day.

As I got out of the car, the freezing wind was threatening to strip the fragile plant of its purple blossoms. I was worried about getting into the building which requires guests to be buzzed in. I was hoping to leave the plant and card on her doorstep without having to bother her.

I heard someone walking at a fast pace down the sidewalk and I quickly inquired whether she was going into the building where our friend lives. She politely said no and walked on. It was only when she was out of earshot that I realized it was a girl my daughter had also by chance shared a house with in San Francisco, only to find out she had been a close friend of my friend Deborah’s daughter in childhood. But by the time I had this revelation, Virginia was out of sight. Virginia’s parents live in another part of the city so it was logical that she would be home from grad school, but what a coincidence that our paths would cross in Old Town.

So I tried valiantly to get into the building, clutching the purple-flowered plant. I was about to give up after finding my friend’s number constantly busy. Then I decided to randomly call someone else in the building to see if I could be granted entrance. The first person I called answered the phone and agreed to deliver the plant for me, not wanting to simply buzz me in. When she came to the door, it turned out to be the woman who had ridden up on the elevator with us the day before and had said “Stay warm!”

A little unnerved by these chance encounters, I drove home. It was the next day when I learned that at just about the time I was making my delivery, our friend’s husband had passed away. Hopefully the purple orchid can provide some comfort to her as she grieves the loss of her husband.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be Happy

I admit to not being on the top of the world lately.  But I’m working on turning this around  from a couple of directions.  
Part of my exercise plan now is to ride the stationary bike 30 minutes a day, which would have sounded like an eternity to me -- that is, before my daughter introduced me to “Glee”.  
Picture ME signing up for Hulu Plus so I can get unlimited access to all the Glee episodes and the world of TV that makes the miles fly by.  I still have a hard time just sitting down to watch TV, but re-runs on my computer while I bike are a whole different story. 
Not only do I love the music, but I love the concept of the show, where stereotypes are exaggerated and basically everything goes.  Yesterday I watched Britney/Brittany with all its dental gas-induced fantasies of dancing with Brittany Spears.  Something must have stuck because I found myself dancing all night long and I was really good.
So that is HAPPINESS part one.
This morning’s yoga class featured a lengthy yoga nidre (yogic sleep) session at the end.  We were asked to form an intention and to state it affirmatively (to ourselves).  So what the hell?  Why not I AM HAPPY?  The next 20 minutes were a glorious guided meditation with my intention occasionally surfacing.
I walked out of that yoga class like a new person.  I made plans to get together with two people in my yoga class.  I started noticing cute children being carried or walking with their parents along Pennsylvania Avenue toward Eastern Market.  I stopped at the fish market and bought a special treat for dinner.
But perhaps most importantly I came away with the information to order a CD so I can do yoga nidre at home with my husband as a way to relax together.  
Hopefully HAPPINESS part two will not be the last stop on this journey of mine to banish sadness at this solstice time, instead letting happiness grow as steadily as the increasing light. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010


And yet another winter begins as noted by this poem read by our rabbi Esther to open today's Shabbat service:

First Snow by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fileds
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain - not a single
answer has been found -
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

It was a gentle beginning, white and cold and beautiful, but not really such a big deal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Readers' Poll

My son Dan is living in San Francisco and working as a sole practitioner, specializing in copyright and trademark law.  As part of his marketing strategy, he has developed a website and a blog.  He recently sent me the following email message:
“One thing I've been thinking about that it might be nice to hear some readers' views on is the choice between a 1st person and 3rd person narrative for a sole practitioner. Unlike some other sole practitioners, I decided not to use ‘us,’ and I've basically decided to use the 1st person narrative because it seems more personal. Although some people claim that the 3rd person sounds more professional. It would be interesting to know what your readers think on this [as it pertains to my website].”
So here’s your chance to voice your opinion.  I’m sure he will appreciate any feedback you can give!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Freedom of Choice

I can’t remember when or where I learned the trick of using the single-occupant men’s room when the similar women’s room was occupied with a line.  Some people tend to look askance when I do so, wondering what could possess me to break the rules.
Today I faced such a dilemma as I rolled into Washington Hospital Center for a 10 AM appointment with an urgent need to unload my bladder first.  The women’s restroom was locked and the cleaning girl out front reminded me the other one was for men only as I went for the door handle.  Instead of trying to explain I simply crossed my legs and waited for the woman in a wheelchair to emerge.
Even my favorite new restaurant -- Sushi & Kushi -- has had a change of heart.  Originally the restrooms were marked for MEN and WOMEN.  Now they are UNISEX, with the one painted blue still sporting a urinal with a somewhat risque poster in front of it.  I suppose they figure men using the red bathroom (sans urinal) can do whatever they do to pee in the comfort of their own home.
Let’s face it:  Men are simply quicker in the bathroom.  It makes perfect sense to remove the single-sex signs and let everyone have free access.  As for the venereal disease from the toilet seat my mother used to warn me about, I think that’s been pretty much proven to be a myth.
How about you?  Do you care what the sign says?  Do you care if people roll their eyes in disgust?

Friday, December 10, 2010


I couldn’t dance the tango if my life depended on it, but I have fallen in love with the music.  I have thrown myself into the hotly emotional world of Granados, Piazzolla, Albeniz.
These lushly romantic pieces seemed the natural extension from the Gershwin preludes I was playing a few weeks ago.  My teacher seems to have a bottomless treasure trove of old music.
It’s tricky to play for many reasons.  The most obvious is the rhythm that is counter-intuitive to my ears and my heartbeat.  The natural accompaniment to the tango is a guitar; so the piano must mimic the guitar strings.
As I look at Piazzolla’s “Adios Nonino”, I see a note on the first page “con honda tristeza” -- with great sorrow, in fact a wave of sadness.  It’s music that is simply exuding love.
Sitting down to practice is a chance to experience the tango as my feet never will.  I think the effect is the same.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Life's Loves

Have you ever thought about what your life might be like now if you had ended up with the first person you ever loved?  If you had never experienced the pain of breaking up?  If your sexual experiences all involved the same person?
I know people who married their first love, some of whom have been married for decades.  They seem to have fared just fine without looking for greener grass or even a different pasture.
I didn’t marry until I was 27 and there were other loves in my life.  I’m sad to say that at least one of my boyfriends is no longer living.  Although there was no one that I would rather be with today, I learned a lot from those earlier relationships.  And I certainly grew and changed in that decade.
Any thoughts?  Is life’s collective experience worth the complication it brings?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cooking All Night

I am sick today with a virus that makes my throat hurt.  It’s not incapacitating, but it has slowed me down to a crawl.
Yesterday at precisely 10 AM I felt it take up residence in my body.  One minute I was fine; the next minute gunk was running down my throat.  I went through the day trying to blame it on leaf mold and hoping it would pass.
But as I slept last night I knew I was sick.  So what did I do?  I made chicken soup all night in my sleep, hoping just the thought of it would start the healing process.  Every time I woke up and swallowed, I started the pot all over again, using the big container of homemade chicken stock in the refrig as the starting point.  With each iteration, I added a new ingredient.
I had no choice when I woke up but to make the soup that had been simmering all night in my head.  So I gargled with warm salt water and then started cooking.  Here’s what went into my mostly vegetarian chicken soup:
Stock made from chicken feet
Yellow onion
Green onion
Fresh turmeric
Snippets of fresh dill
Pepper corns
Sprinkling of salt
I sauteed the vegetables in a little olive oil, then added the stock and the seasoning and let it simmer while I ate breakfast.
For lunch I’m discovering how my dream soup turned out.  It’s warm and spicy with the wonderful bite of vegetables that were not cooked to death.  Not your traditional Jewish penicillin, but just what my body ordered.  I hope it kicks in soon and the virus leaves as suddenly as it arrived.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ho Hum Hanukkah

It feels way too early for Hanukkah.  Wasn’t Thanksgiving just last week?  And isn’t Christmas still over 3 weeks away?
That’s my excuse for why it’s day #3 of Hanukkah and we haven’t lit one candle yet in our home.  The first night we forgot.  The second night we did a group candle lighting at Temple Micah before choir rehearsal.  And tonight we went to a friend’s house for latkes.
When our children were younger, we made a big deal of decorating our house, lighting candles every night, and giving 8 days of (mostly little) gifts.  It was best when when Christmas fell sometime within the 8-day span of Hanukkah.  But sometimes it didn’t -- like this year when Hanukkah will be history by the time Christmas rolls around.
We no longer give each other gifts.  We gave our non-observant children a single Hanukkah gift each.  
I undoubtedly will get inspired to make latkes sometime before the holiday ends.  And we will probably get out our menorah and candles tomorrow.  
Our choir went to a nursing home to sing Hanukkah songs for an elderly congregant with Parkinson’s disease today.  With the exception of PPM’s “Light One Candle” and “Una Candelika” made popular locally by Flory Jagoda, the music is singularly uninteresting and doesn’t stand up well to things like Handel’s “Messiah.”  Our presence probably counted for as much as our singing for most of the residents who knew not one word of Hebrew.
As for the significance of the holiday, it is curious that it not biblically based in the least.  Instead it commemorates the first battle for religious freedom -- occurring in 165 BCE when the small band of Maccabees defeated the powerful Syrian-Greek army.  Children learn the mythical story of the small amount of temple oil lasting for 8 days -- hence the length of the holiday.
I have a hard time getting psyched for this minor holiday that has been elevated to a Christmas competitor.  I suppose you can say “Bah, humbug” in any religion.  Maybe I’ll feel differently next week when it’s all over for another year.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Finding my Tutoring Hat

I’m slipping back into my role as a math tutor and loving it.  I found my box of books and “toys” in the attic and sorted out what might be most useful in helping young Margalen.
I am somewhat appalled at the cookbook approach the school system uses to teach math.  There is a sequence of steps for writing a decimal number, for rounding.  If the student deviates in the least she is hopelessly lost.  And she seems to have no way of doing a reality check on the answer.
So my goal is to teach her to understand numbers.  When she says “60” in response to “4 x 4”, I want her to understand just how different that is from “16”.
We’re going to have fun along the way.  Monday we played store with that pile of coins.  She was purchasing make-believe items.  Her job was to come up with multiple ways to pay for them and to also be able to check whether the clerk (me) had given her the correct change.  These are lessons for life!
We also played a guessing game with the hundred sheet.  One person would pick a number between 1 and 100.  The other person’s job was to figure out the number with the fewest guesses.  She learned there is a better way that starting with “Is it 1?  Is it 2?…”
Next week we’ll tackle toothpick puzzles with problems like this.  

We will play with Tangoes and other fun things that make math more than just facts.
I love picking Margalen up from school on Mondays, giving her an after school snack, and then sitting down to work on piano and math.  I’m happy to be getting to know her better and hopefully to be giving her some things to make her world just a little more interesting.