Sunday, May 29, 2011


The roar will be deafening as thousands of motorcycles parade into DC today as part of Rolling Thunder. The older veterans of Vietnam are now joined by newer veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever they fought, they have earned a place in this parade.

I often wonder if I am totally unpatriotic when I feel absolutely no connection to this band of ex-soldiers who continue to move in formation. I’m almost afraid to admit it in this metropolis where the military has its headquarters.

I wonder why I am not emotionally stirred by so many men and boys and even women on bikes. Then I remember that the last US war I supported was the one my father served in soon after my birth. He went to Korea in 1951 on a secret Naval mindsweeping effort. I was too little to understand why he was gone or that he might not come back. He must have made a positive contribution because his name appeared in a book titled The Sea War in Korea.

The wars of my lifetime -- Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan -- were all battles I didn’t choose or choose to support. In the end history will probably conclude that no one won in any of these conflicts, but that countless people lost their lives, their limbs, and/or their minds.

My circle of friends and family doesn’t include even one person who has served in the latter two wars, with the exception of a journalist who went to Iraq. My children and my friends’ children chose not to enlist in the all-volunteer military.

This is not to say my heart doesn’t ache when another bomb goes off or a helicopter goes down, inflicting pain, suffering, and death on those involved. But these are strangers who briefly make the news and then fade from my radar screen only to be replaced by the next victims.

Part of me is sorry not to want to wave flags along the parade route. But I can’t deny that Rolling Thunder simply does not give me red, white, and blue thoughts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hospitality on the Decline?

This week I met with our rabbi Danny to talk about Shabbat Shalom Around Town, the yearly event I organize, whereby people in the Temple Micah congregation get together in each other’s homes for a Shabbat dinner. He made an interesting observation along the lines of the book Bowling Alone that people just aren’t entertaining in their homes as much as they used to.

If this is true, and I think it might be, I wonder if it is partially because social networking through things like email and Facebook is taking the place of face-to-face meetups to allow people to catch up with one other. We follow each other so easily and on our own schedules through electronic media that there is not the impetus to ask our friends and neighbors over. And it really minimizes the need to plan menus and go to the grocery store. There are no dishes to clean up and put away.

We threw around ideas about how to engage more of the congregation in this one night of dinner parties. We need to convince people that it can be fun to entertain strangers, who are potentially new friends; that hosting a dinner doesn’t have to be such a big deal if you keep it simple or make it potluck; that you can’t always be the guest. We need to convince new members to sign up even if they don’t know anyone yet. It is always a challenge.

What do you think? Are we withdrawing into the electronic world and giving less face time to friends and colleagues?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Black-eyed legumes

A large bag of black-eyed peas showed up in our CSA share this week. We are not so good at using dried peas and beans, but I decided to look for a recipe we might like. I settled on the equivalent of a black-eyed pea salad.

I soaked the peas overnight, guessing at what a pound of peas might be since they came in an unmarked plastic bag. The recipe was actually quite simple, requiring me to simmer the peas until tender and then toss with some other ingredients.

As we sat down to dinner, my husband questioned whether these legumes were actually peas or beans. I voted for peas, but resolved to query Google after dinner as I once did to find out how lentils grow. (Interestingly not a day goes by that I don’t get a hit on my post from someone wondering how lentils grow.)

It turns out black-eyed peas are a member of the cowpea family, commonly grown around the world. They have long been a staple of West African cooking and are associated with the south in this country. They grow on a low bush, much as lentils do. The peas form in long skinny pods.

The salad was delicious and will probably be even better tomorrow when the flavors are more pronounced. Here is the recipe in case you ever find yourself with a bag of black-eyed peas:

Black-Eyed Peas

yield: Serves 8

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, picked over
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat (Use olive oil if this grosses you out!)
1 small onion, peeled

Pickled black-eyed peas
1 recipe black-eyed peas, or three 16-ounce cans, rinsed and drained
1/2 small green bell pepper, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 small red bell pepper, minced (about 1/2 cup)
4 scallions including green parts, sliced thin
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced seeded habanero or other fresh hot chili, or to taste

In a bowl combine black-eyed peas with water to cover and let stand overnight.

Drain peas and in a 4-quart saucepan, combine with water to cover by 2 inches. Add bacon fat and onion. Simmer mixture, covered, 30 to 40 minutes, or until peas are tender, and drain well, discarding onion.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Chill mixture, covered, for at least 5 hours and up to 2 days.

Serve black-eyed peas chilled or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Left Behind

Imagine what it must feel like to be in 6th grade and read at a kindergarten level. That would describe one of the newest kids at the shelter where I read. He has special needs, but he has been shoved through the system because no child is to be left behind.

We have a real dilemma in terms of our reading efforts. A couple of weeks ago they sent him to the younger kids’ reading group, where we read very elementary books to the children. He pouted about not being able to be with kids his own age.

Tonight he really wanted to join the older kids’ book club, but there was no way he could have read the book. He was almost in tears.

I would love to be able to teach him how to read, to be on grade level for the first time in his life. But that is an unrealistic desire.

For now the only thing I can think of to do is to go back another evening this week and read the book the older kids read to him and another new girl, who is also a slow reader. I’ll take a snack to make them feel special.

The system has totally failed this young boy. He hasn’t been left behind on paper, but he was left behind a long time ago in actuality. He’s a sweet kid who shouldn’t have to feel so bad about what he isn’t able to do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Myth and Religion

I was recently reminded that there is absolutely no evidence that the Exodus took place or for that matter that the Jews were ever in Egypt in large numbers. And Egypt is a place where history is fairly well preserved because of the climate.

So what does this say about the religion I signed onto some 35 years ago? What if one of the main story lines in this religion is just that, a myth that never happened in actuality? How can I in good conscience go on attending a seder each year where we say things like, “We were once slaves in the land of Egypt and now we are free” or “Next year in Jerusalem”?

From the first time I had been shocked by the no evidence claim, I opted to hold onto the fact that there is no DEFINITIVE evidence and just maybe it did happen.

This got me started thinking about religious beliefs in general. Every religion has stories that make it unique, most of which cannot be substantiated. For Christians, it’s the virgin birth and Jesus story culminating in his crucifixion. For Moslems, it’s the story of Mohammad on a winged horse being taken up to heaven. For Mormons, it’s Joseph Smith discovering a buried set of golden plates that became the Book of Mormon.

The question I am struggling with is whether one can in good faith practice a religion without believing the myths that define it. In fact, being a Jew doesn’t really require much in the way of beliefs. The majority of Jews are simply born into the religion and never choose it at all. But what about someone like me who converts? Is it enough for me to say I think I believe in God, but not necessarily the angry God of the Torah who goes around smiting people indiscriminately? But that I have serious doubts about the creation story and much of the Bible in general.

Which brings me back to the question of why all these stories are necessary. I picture a bunch of ancient Jews sitting around one day discussing which of the current most popular stories to choose as their own, to tell to their children and their children’s children, to eventually write down for posterity. Why did they settle on being slaves in Egypt and then being lead to freedom by their God, who would continue to call them “chosen”? Oh to have been a fly on that wall and witnessed this process. Or maybe they tried out some stories which didn’t work and then turned to others. We will never know.

One thing that is clear is how uncomplicated this is for someone like my son who is a confirmed atheist. He never has to struggle with what to believe because he has rejected it all.

The line between myth and history is sometimes blurry. Maybe there is no harm in simply acknowledging that and continuing to tell the stories.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public Communication

For a long time it was only crazy people who talked to themselves in public. But now there are others who on first glance might appear to be crazy, but are simply talking on their not-so-obvious phones.

As I came back down to the lobby of 2141 K Street, a large complex of doctors’ offices, on Friday, a woman was sitting there and talking in full voice, replete with hand gestures. I immediately looked to see who she was talking to and saw a blank wall. She was obviously conversing with a friend and was totally oblivious to the world around her or the the fact that her friend couldn’t see her hand gestures.

Then I emerged from that building to find yet another phone conversation. This time it was a guy who was holding his phone and having a rather heated discussion with someone on the other end. He too was not at all concerned about passersby who might not want to overhear his call.

I guess these people missed the lecture we recently received on our Bolt bus in which the driver asked those using their phones on the ride back from NYC to use their “bus voices” and not disturb those around them.

While it is true that the right to free speech makes these exposed phone conversations completely legal, I still find them annoying. Just like I find the tell-tale ring of a cell phone in my yoga class or during Shabbat services equally disruptive.

With the advent of hands-free communication, the crazies and those on their phones are just one big continuum, perhaps with some overlap.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


As we grow up, even in our most rebellious stages, each of us secretly wants the approval of our parents. There is something reassuring about knowing that those authority figures are proud or at least not ashamed of us.

At some point as our children become adults, I now realize the roles sometimes reverse. I want my children’s approval just as much as I may have at a younger age wanted my parents’ approval.

I am somewhat taken aback when they are critical, justifiably or not. It shakes my confidence in myself.

Maybe this is a sign of low self-esteem, the fact that I need the approval of others of any age and cannot simply believe in myself. Or maybe it’s just human nature. Who is really to say?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shabbat Wisdom

Yesterday our rabbi Esther opened the service with this poem from Marge Piercy. I love the idea of the Torah reading filling our minds with light.

Meditation before reading Torah

We are the people of the word
and the breath of the word fills our minds with light.
We are the people of the word
and the breath of life sings through us
playing on the pipes of our bones
and the strings of our sinews
an ancient song carved in the Laurentian granite
and new as a spring azure butterfly just drying her wings
in a moment’s splash of sun.
We must live the word and make it real.

We are the people of the book
and the letters march busy as ants
carrying the work of the ages through our minds.

We are the people of the book.
Through fire and mud and dust we have borne
our scrolls tenderly as a baby swaddled in a blanket,
traveling with our words sewn in our clothes
and carried on our backs.

Let us take up the scrolls of Torah
and dance with it and touch it
and read it out loud, for the mind
touches the word and makes it light.
So does light enter us, and we shine.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Haircut and Some Big Blooms

I raced from services at Temple Micah to get to a 12:30 appointment at Axis for a haircut with Richard. For 15 minutes I drove around the Dupont area looking for any sort of a legal parking place. The best I could do was a 30-minute space a block away. Knowing my haircut would definitely take longer than 30 minutes, I wondered just how vigilant the traffic police were on a Saturday.

I had never seen Axis in such pandemonium. Richard was downstairs instead of up. He immediately apologized for not even having a chair immediately available. I told him my parking woes.

Halfway through my haircut, Richard offered to have someone go feed my meter. Absolutely unheard of! But why not? I gave an enthusiastic young woman my 3 quarters and described the old Volvo, knowing she would come back with a smile on her face after seeing it, which she did. She reported I had 23 more minutes, plenty of time.

I settled back and enjoyed the rest of my haircut as people came and went all around me and someone reminded Richard his next client had arrived.

Note to self: Never schedule a hair appointment on Saturday. Any weekday is definitely calmer and there is always a legal parking place somewhere around there.

On another note, my beautiful amaryllis of 2-1/2 years ago when I broke my hip suddenly shot up a volley of luscious coral-colored blooms. It’s a shame they come but once a year and last such a short time. But well worth waiting for!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

History through Stories

I was always a good student of history who remembered none of it after the exam. I had a photographic memory that captured all the necessary details, but they were never significant enough to really teach me history.

I have started to realize that my best hope of learning about a place and its past is through stories of its people. I think that was the reason my recent trip to Poland seemed to fill my head with words from people about what they did or experienced, letting the staggering numbers slip away.

Last night was a continuation of that experience as we attended the US premiere of a documentary “Three Stories of Galicia.” The filmmakers are two energetic young women -- one from Ukraine, the other from Lebanon. For the past five years they have worked to produce this excellent film that portrays the complexity of this area that knows no current political boundaries.

Quoting from the front of the handout we received: Three Stories of Galicia is a feature-length documentary that offers a unique glimpse into the events that took place during and after World War II in the Eastern European region of Galicia. It pays tribute to the unknown heroes of that war, the regular people who rose above fear and prejudice to do what was right instead of what was easy: a Jewish family that chose to save its worst enemy; a Ukrainian woman who endured the theft of her children to save her country; and a Polish priest who risked everything to end the sectarian hatred that tore at his parish.

These are the bits of history that will stick in my mind forever. All of life is really just a narrative, isn’t it?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

My Day

Mother's Day is a great opportunity to go out to brunch, which we did at Belga Cafe on Capitol Hill. It was the perfect day to sit outdoors and have a leisurely meal.

After eating poached eggs with savory sides, we succumbed to a chocolate sampler that was beyond decadent.

I had a call from y daughter in NYC early this morning. I expect to hear from my son in San Francisco before the day is over. I continue to be grateful that neither of them has ever caused us to worry about drugs, alcohol, unwanted pregnancies, or any of the many other things that can bring anxiety to families. Instead they are good kids who are gradually finding their places in life.

Sitting next to us was a young Indian couple with an adorable 16-month-old son, who was completely content as long as he was eating. We struck up quite a conversation, with them even inviting us out to Ashburn for homemade masala dosa.

We have moved beyond cards and gifts for most occasions. But food will forever be a great way to celebrate!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Success at Long Last

If you have been reading this Blog for any length of time, you may recall my lifelong battle with pie crust. I did not inherit my mother's gene for pastry.

But I think I have finally found a crust recipe that works every time. At least it has worked for my last two pies, which just happened to be strawberry-rhubarb.

The recipe below rolls out without tearing or sticking. It transfers nicely to the pie plate without falling apart. It browns well and gets flaky instead of hard. Most importantly it tastes good.

I'm not sure what the difference is. Maybe the fact that I actually measured the ingredients fairly precisely. Maybe the ratio of shortening to butter to ice water. Maybe rolling it out on my granite countertop instead of a board or a cloth.

I'll probably never know, but I'm just happy to no longer dread being asked to bring a pie!

3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Giving Back

Tonight we celebrated the success of a neighborhood business. It was a good reminder that small businesses can still succeed.

A few weeks ago we received an invitation to a barbecue to mark the 10th anniversary of Skyline Automotive, the people who have kept my ’85 Volvo alive and well far beyond its life expectancy.

It’s a small enough business that they know us by name and we know the people who do the service. We know the managers. We know the guy who drives us home when we drop off a car.

Pleasing the customer seems to be first and foremost in their minds. They have been willing to install parts I procured from a Volvo junkyard in Kansas. The last time I was in for a burned out brake light, they didn’t even charge me.

Tonight Bob, the owner, gave back to the community. He provided grilled food with all the trimmings and beer, wine, or anything else you might want to drink. There was a live band who played in one of the garage bays.

And there were even door prizes. We walked away with a certificate for $100 of auto service and a $25 gift card for Bonefish Grill. Not bad for a free evening.

It’s reassuring to know that a little guy can make it at a time when everything is being supersized. I can guarantee that everyone who was out there eating wings and listening to music tonight will continue to be a faithful customer as long as Skyline Auto stays in business.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I find it interesting that in this historic week when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed, I completed Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada about another manhunt. This one, which took place in Nazi Germany during WW II, was told from the standpoint of the hunted.

The charge in the book was not for killing a single individual, but rather for distributing hundreds of postcards containing anti-government messages. The book is based on the actual case of a couple (Otto and Elise Hampel) who did just that in wartime Berlin, keeping the Gestapo and the SS at bay for three years. It’s an interesting insight into the mindset of those who are hunted. It portrays the criminal process in wartime Germany as a total sham. I won’t say what happens in the end in case my fellow book club members are reading, but I will say it was a story with twists and turns and more brutality than I can normally manage to stomach.

In both the story and the today’s reality there is a finality. But instead of emphasizing the banality of evil as Bin Laden’s story does, Fallada’s novel emphasizes the banality of good.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Finally Gone

One of the greatest manhunts in history is finally over. Osama Bin Laden’s death is just now being announced by our President. It’s the end of an era, where terrorism has come to be an everyday word with changing colors to describe the current threat.

Since 9/11/2001 the killing or capture of this one man, the leader of Al Qaeda, has been a necessary part of the grieving for the destruction he unleashed on the US.

I sit here wondering the ultimate cost to the US and the world for apprehending Bin Laden. We’ve gone to wars that have resulted in countless deaths of military and civilian personnel, not to mention the devastation and destruction. We've continued to arm and to fortify our cities, airports, and all our public places. We learned to be afraid and alert.

As one chapter of terrorism closes, I wonder what lies ahead. Will a new figure step up to the plate to take over the leadership of Al Qaeda? Will there be acts of retribution? Is world peace promoted by the death of Bin Laden?

In general I’m not supportive of anyone killing anyone else for any reason. But there is a certain feeling that justice has been served in eradicating Osama Bin Laden from the face of the earth.