Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bridge Mystery

Every time I drive over Memorial Bridge on my way into DC from Virginia, I remark about the strange new structures that now inhabit the pedestrian walkways.

A few months ago they appeared -- two giant ramps on each side of the roadway. I thought perhaps they were temporary and that they would be removed after their purpose was served. But apparently not.

They are like giant protracted speed bumps that fill the entire width of the walkway.

The only possible purpose I can see for them is to slow the bicycle traffic that crosses the bridge, although I can't imagine it was ever such a problem.

I consulted Google, my source of all knowledge, to no avail.

Can anyone out there tell me what function these ugly additions to Memorial Bridge serve?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Grass Roots

Time and time again we see governments fail to negotiate and make compromises in order to solve disagreements. Look at the current fiscal situation in the US, where both political sides have dug in their heels and seem unwilling to find a middle ground and thereby avoid default on our national debt in just a few days. I am somewhat incredulous that an element of these politicians actually want to see the country take this dangerous plunge.

Then there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that once seemed on the road to peace, but now seems forever derailed. Just this week I read a story in the NYT that warmed my heart and gave me new insight as to how the peace process might be approached. A group of Israeli women organized a trip to the beach to include Palestinian women, who in many cases had never before even seen the sea.

The Palestinian women were smuggled into Israel, where they spent the day in Jaffa playing in the waves, followed by a rooftop dinner and dancing to Palestinian melodies. They returned home with an entirely different image of Jews and of Israel. Although the Israeli women have been brought in for questioning, no one has yet been charged with facilitating this illegal border crossing. It seems this has spawned what may be more and more trips to the beach with everyone on the same playing field.

This story made me angry at the governments that seem so inept at doing the best thing for everyone concerned because it doesn’t necessarily coincide with the political agenda. It made me wonder if grass roots efforts like the beach trips are not the better way to get things done.

I applaud these brave Israeli women who are sick and tired of the occupation and ready to peacefully coexist with their neighbors. I equally applaud the Palestinian women who took the hands that reached out to them.

And now I ask whether there is a place for a common citizen like me to help bring about the financial reforms that can once again put our country back on a solid path and not leave our children and our grandchildren with a mess to clean up just because those in power forgot how to talk to each other.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oops and then?

Virtually every cleaning person has broken at least one thing in our house. There was a little clay bird from Chile. A glass menorah from Israel. A vinegar jar from Italy. And now a spoon rest from Italy. Just to name a few. And then there was the red dye spilled on the off-white carpet.

I can’t really blame them. I would occasionally break something too if I handled those things all the time.

But I wouldn’t be talking on my cell phone while cleaning. I would at least have two hands on whatever it was.

I don’t know what happened with the spoon rest yesterday. I just know I came home and saw the two pieces and Roxanna said “Sorry” and kept on cleaning. I should have asked her how it happened. Instead I ran to the basement thinking I might be able to glue it back together. Then it would look like a matching piece for the vinegar jar with its patched up handle. But the glue didn’t hold and it remains in two pieces.

It wasn’t an expensive piece of pottery, but one I liked and used every day. I’ll probably ask my friend who is going to Italy this fall to buy me a replacement.

But the question remains as to how I should handle this with Roxanna. Should I ask her not to clean while she is in perpetual conversation with friends and family? I’m sure talking to them makes a boring job a little less boring. I would be quite content for her to take periodic breaks to talk to people, but that would inevitably prolong her cleaning time. Or maybe not if she was able to clean faster with her entire attention and two hands devoted to the job.

I have this fear that the next accident might be something I really like that is also irreplaceable. So do I put away all things of beauty that are one of a kind? That seems like a bad decision. Or have her NOT clean them? That also seems like a bad decision.

I remind myself they are only things and she is human. Maybe I just have to hope for the best.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Even in Norway

We think of Norway as the idyllic home of Grieg, not as the breeding ground for terrorists like Anders Behring Breivik, who went on a shooting rampage last week. My Norwegian ancestors could not have been farther from the mindset of this deranged man. Not that Norwegians are without political opinions, but rather that they are basically a peace-loving society that disdains acts of violence.

I read an interesting article today about the reaction of right-wing US bloggers to this terrorist act, committed by a man who is a flagrantly anti-Muslim extremist. It was sobering for them to be reminded he’s on their side, even citing them by name, and not a representative of al Qaeda as the world first supposed.

Other news about the shooter revealed his strong support of Israel. This is just the kind of friend Israel doesn’t need, even if he is sympathetic to its struggle with the Palestinians.

Norway is a relatively small country, one in which I have countless relatives. My genealogical work has revealed cousins living all over, including the current Queen of Norway. I cringe at the thought that the shooter could be related to me. But even more likely that one of his many victims might also be related to me.

I suppose there are madmen in all societies. No place is immune to fanaticism. But every time something like this happens, it challenges our assumptions and makes us ask how someone could go to such disastrous lengths in support of a cause.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Passing Death By

A good friend was recently diagnosed with melanoma -- a lesion on his arm. I know how that feels.

Your first reaction is one of disbelief and fear. You want it removed completely and immediately. And you wonder how many more could be lurking on your body.

This encounter with melanoma is like rubbing shoulders with death as he passes by. You know if left untreated even the smallest malignant dark spot will eventually kill you.

My friend had surgery on Thursday -- the one carving out a huge piece of skin that had been surrounding the offending lesion. I’m staring at my own inner knee right now, where a tiny dark mole smaller than a pencil eraser resulted in a 2-inch incision.

After 4 such encounters, I have changed from being fearful to being vigilant. I share my own watchfulness with two doctors who are among the best in the country in spotting and removing such skin cancers.

I haven’t had one of these for at least 5 years now. My doctor at the National Melanoma Center says they often come in a wave and then never appear again. I hope that is the case.

I hope in my friend’s case that this will be a lone occurrence. One brush with death is quite enough.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Salvaging a Hot Afternoon

It is hotter than I ever remember it being this time of the year. The heat index hovers around 115 as we move through one dangerously hot day after another.

The perfect escape from the heat seemed like a movie. My family unanimously decided on the final Harry Potter movie. We had a Groupon for Regal Cinema. It seemed like the perfect afternoon after a wonderful Indian lunch at Rasika in DC.

But when we got to the theater at Ballston, we were greeted with a sign announcing the lack of air conditioning. When would it be repaired? No one seemed to know. How long had it been broken? Since Monday.

Were they kidding us? How could a major theater have been without A/C for 4 days? How could we have bought tickets on Fandango yesterday with no notice about the problem?

We asked for a refund. Not to be had since we purchased our tickets with a Groupon. The best they could do was to give us tickets to use for another day. They were powerless to pay for our parking charge. Argh!

My husband consulted his iPhone to find out where else the movie was playing in 3D. We ended up driving to Georgetown, where we were greeted by cool air and 3D glasses in the Loew’s Theatre.

Not exactly the place or the schedule or the parking fee we had planned, but a great movie indeed. By the time we walked out at 7:00, the outside actual temperature was down to 98 but the air still felt heavy and sickly.

I’m feeling somewhat sorry for the poor employees at the Ballston Regal Cinema who have had to work in such disgusting conditions for the last 4 days, dealing with irate moviegoers like us who arrived only to be disappointed. I am eternally grateful the A/C in our cars and our house is going strong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


My friend Betty, who is my oyster-eating partner, had a massive stroke 3 weeks ago. Although she turned 79 on Bastille Day, she was in terrific condition, exercising daily and eating right. She was a perfect size 6 and totally in touch with the world.

I didn’t find out until my return from Kauai because her family didn’t have my correct email address. Yesterday I went to see her in the rehab section of Sibley Hospital, not knowing exactly what to expect. I was encouraged by her mental acuity, but discouraged by the paralysis of her left side.

I was able to go with her to PT, where I watched her struggle to get in touch with the nerves and muscles that serve her left arm, hand, and leg. There were clear signs that she is making progress, but she has a long way to go. It made me wonder just how all this works. It wasn’t as though she had had the surgery I experienced which cut the muscle in my hip. In her case, a whole section of highway had simply been closed. As the PT practitioner explained it, they are looking for new routes to get to the same place.

She is determined and willing to put in the effort that it will take to reclaim her damaged body. I am sure it helps that her mental faculties are still so in tact.

Once again I am reminded of how quickly our status can change. In my case, missing one stair left me in a heap at the bottom and resulted in a hip replacement. In hers, a brain hiccup left her with half of her body unresponsive.

I will continue to visit her as she struggles to come back from this devastating blow. Next time I will come armed with books of poetry to read to her. She loves the modern poets like Billy Collins, David Budbill, and Szymborska.

I promised to take her out to get oysters when the “R” months return once again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A new take on Breadmaking

Have you ever wondered how they make that wonderful artisan bread served in upscale restaurants -- you know the one that’s crusty on the outside but full of air holes on the inside? I think the secret may be something called bread dough enhancer.

I am on a new kick to make bread starting with whole grains, now that I have a Vitamix blender that supposedly can grind them into flour. This morning I started looking for recipes and found a new ingredient I had never heard of in many of them -- bread dough enhancer.

Disdaining all chemical additives and artificial ingredients, I Googled to learn more about this stuff that might “enhance” my whole grain bread, making it not seem like such a healthy rock. I found this recipe and started calling around to find out where I might purchase things like ascorbic acid crystals. It turns out health food stores carry most of what I would need if I choose to enhance my bread.

It almost sounds like cheating to add an ingredient to make the bread rise higher. I suppose “bread dough enhancers” should not necessarily be equated with “performance enhancers.”

Tomorrow I will make a trip to Mom’s Organic Market or Yes! to buy the whole grains and dough enhancer ingredients. Then the grinding, mixing, kneading, rising, and baking can begin.

Making bread has always seemed like such an earthy thing to do. It will be interesting to see if my blender on steroids and my enhanced dough will take my bread-making up a notch!

Have you ever heard of bread dough enhancer? Or used one in your bread-making? If so, did it make a difference?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blender on Steroids

Since we got home from Kauai, we have been amusing ourselves with the Vitamix 5200, which had barely gotten out of the box before we left. I hoped we wouldn’t decide we had been taken in by all the hype.

My first realization was that it was too tall to fit on the counter under the cabinets. It takes a big base to store a 2-HP engine. It took a little rearranging to make space on the countertop.

I almost grimaced when I remembered the salesgirl’s advice when I bought it at Whole Foods. She told me to watch the DVD it comes with -- repeating it 3 times. So we sat down to watch and it was more hype. But when the actual food part began, it started to look as good as it had in the store. After about 10 minutes, we were ready to try it out.

Our first creation was a vegetable drink -- sort of like V-8 juice but with our own choice of ingredients. We threw in a tomato cut in half, a hunk of cucumber with the peel still on, a carrot (also unpeeled), some spinach leaves, half an apple, a small piece of onion, some Worcestershire sauce, and some ice cubes.

We made sure the lid was secure, not wanting to decorate the kitchen with all those vegetables. Then we gradually increased the speed to 10 and let her rip. It sounds sort of like a speeding Porsche. But after about a minute of so, we had creamy, cold juice with not a sign of a seed, a peel, or a lump of any kind. Although the color was not so appetizing, the taste was amazing. The best part was the fact that we could drink all that fiber instead of throwing it out like you do with an extractor.

We have moved on to smoothies, where anything goes as to what goes in. We take out big seeds, but everything else goes in and gets ground up.

My next big thing to explore is making bread starting from whole grains, like wheat berries and rye seeds. The Vitamix supposedly can grind the grains and mix and knead the dough in a matter of minutes. As much as I like the feel of bread dough, there is a certain appeal to letting a machine do the work.

I am now thinking this new appliance could not only replace our $39 blender, but also the Cuisinart, the coffee grinder, the bread machine, and probably something else I haven’t thought of yet.

And did I mention how easy it is to clean? None of the mess I used to deal with when I used the juice extractor. So far the Vitamix is earning its place on the countertop.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Beginning of Old

Do you move through your kitchen without thinking much about which switch to flip or where things are? Many things are just habitual and we don’t have to give them much thought.

Like the switch for the garbage disposal -- the one on the left side of the sink. Yesterday I found myself flipping the one on the right side of the sink because that’s where it had been in our condo on Kauai. It took me a few seconds to realize my error and then I declared the beginnings of senility.

Today my husband asked me where the Brita pitcher was. I knew immediately he was looking for it where it had been in our condo and not on the door of the refrigerator where we keep it at home. I declared a partner in my new quest for senility.

Later my husband took Jake out to throw his kong in the back yard. He seems to have forgotten how to fetch and instead proceeded to bury it under a bush. In his case, it probably is senility since in human years he would be about 91.

As the day wore on, I found myself re-acclimating to my current world once again. It’s just a matter of reloading a few brain cells that had gotten stuck elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Leaving Paradise

Yesterday morning we had the company of a Brazilian cardinal for breakfast. He was a bold and determined little bird who had no fear.

Today we began our re-entry into the real world. Time takes on an unreal quality as you cross 6 time zones. We are sitting at the airport in San Francisco waiting for our delayed flight to board.

I was intrigued by the couple below who seemed far too sophisticated for the crowd waiting to board the United flight out of Lihue this morning.

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Location:San Francisco

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Imagine our disappointment at getting to the end of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and not having the very last piece. My friend Kris and I had worked too hard on Kauai Moonrise to have this happen. We felt cheated. We searched high and low to no avail. Then as she was getting ready to do laundry, Kris saw it on the floor of her closet, probably having gotten stuck to a piece of clothing. The hardest of puzzles was finally done.

Yesterday took us south to Poipu to escape the rain in the north and to see another part of the island. We spent the morning on a beautiful beach with waves far too big for me, but not for the surfers who were catching wave after wave.

By the afternoon a giant sea turtle had taken up residence on the beach. Within minutes, there was a around the large turtle so no one would disturb it.

For dinner we had reservations at at the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. The restaurant Tidepools was constructed around a series of freshwater and saltwater ponds. We had a very private table overlooking a large pond. They didn't even notice that we were full of salt and sand.

The ahi tuna was both beautiful and delicious.

Today we had the very unique experience of getting a massage outdoors. We went two at a time and had bodywork in this most unusual setting. We could hear the birds and feel the breeze and the warmth of the sun. It was the ultimate in relaxation overlooking the Wailua Valley.

It's hard to believe tomorrow is our last full day. We will probably go snorkeling one last time. We will have dinner with the parents of the bride. And then we will start home on Monday. These two weeks have gone entirely too fast.

I am really glad the last puzzle piece showed up.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011


Today we visited the Hindu monastery where my airplane seat mate Satya serves as a monk. It was well hidden off the beaten path near the town of Wailua.

We had a guided tour lasting around 90 minutes given by a member of the local Hindu community who is not a part of the monastic order. We saw just a fraction of the 400 acres that comprise the monastery. It was like walking through the Garden of Eden.

Our guide debunked many of the things we thought we knew about Hinduism. He portrayed it as a fun-loving religion which deeply respects all religions.

Just as we were finishing the tour we happened to see our friend Satya, who was hard at work on publications for the monastery.

We were then allowed to meditate in the temple, which is attended 24 hours a day by one of more of the monks.

In case you wonder what we have been eating here on Kauai, here is a wonderful fish taco we made last night for dinner shared with friends. We used Hawaiian Ono and the tacos were delicious. (a Brock recipe)

We continue to see beautiful flowers everywhere. Like this luscious hibiscus.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

For the birds

The people of the north shore of Kauai really love their 'trosses. I haven't seen any signs warning about children at play, but there are signs everywhere for wild bird crossing.

Tonight we will get an update from friends on young Andy the albatross's progress in taking to the air, where he will spend the next 3 years at sea. By that time he will instinctively know how to fish for squid and other albatross food.

The wild chickens are abundant on every beach. It looks like every hen recently hatched a half dozen or so. They are not in the least afraid of people. This morning we watched an entire family of chickens climb over the guy next to us as we sat on Ke'e Beach after some excellent snorkeling.

Yesterday my husband and I hiked down to Queen's Bath, an unusual formation of lava that forms a bluff overlooking the sea. Below us we could see numerous sea turtles surfacing in the swirling surf (lower right).

We just came back from the Hanalei farmers' market, featuring the finest in local produce -- pineapples, mangoes, papayas, bananas, and all sorts of green vegetables. We are making a Mexican dinner for friends. My wonderful housemate is chopping and chopping as she makes fish tacos (Brock's recipe) with Hawaiian ono.

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Nakanaka on Hanalei Bay

Never in my wildest dreams would I have pictured myself in a boat race on Hanalei Bay. But today our team "We the People" or "Nakanaka" in Hawaiian competed in the novice long-boat races sponsored by the Hanalei Canoe Club.

We had about 5 minutes of instruction from the guy at the back of the boat who served to steer our boat. We learned how to paddle, how to switch sides, and how important rhythm is.

Then we lined up at the starting line and paddled for all we were worth for the quarter mile that made up the race course. A couple of times we felt the thrill of pulling together as the boat surged ahead. We came in third out of the 3 in our heat, but we were certain the others had rowed before.

As it turns out, everyone got medals and had their pictures taken in the winners' circle. Nakanaka was an awesome team.

Here is a picture with our "coach", whose name we never got.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Flying high and a wedding in paradise

Yesterday we splurged and took a helicopter ride over Kauai -- my first such thrilling ride. The thrill was even greater because as you can see our helicopter had no doors.

As we soared over the rugged terrain of the island it quickly became apparent how little of the island is populated and how little is accessible by road.

After our helicopter touched back down, we drove up to Kapa'a where we feasted on Bubba burgers and onion rings. Then we headed out to try to find the Ho'opi'i Falls trail, always a challenge since none of the trails or beaches seem to be marked. We finally found a bunch of cars at the top of a red dirt path and decided to take it. Twenty minutes later we reached a beautiful waterfall with a family of jumpers.

Can you find us hiking along the trail through the green camouflage?

The real reason for our trip to Kauai was the wedding of the daughter of our long-time neighbors and good friends. Miraculously all the intermittent showers stopped and the clouds lifted for the ceremony that took place just before sunset on a bluff overlooking Hanalei.

Another shot after the ceremony.

After the wedding we all reconvened at the St. Regis Hotel for drinks to watch the sunset, followed by a delightful 5-course dinner.

A picture perfect day with a very happy ending and a new beginning.

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