Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gearing Up for Rosh Hashanah

The Christians have their parable of the loaves and the fishes which fed a multitude.  Today I translated that into red and white wine for a multitude of young Jews.
Temple Micah is the site of a new endeavor to attract young Jewish adults back to their religion.  There will be FREE high holiday services led by our Rabbi Esther for 20’s and 30’s with a heavy dose of rock music. 
I was there as the sound system was being set up for Michelle Citrin, who will be the cantorial soloist for these unique alternative services.  Hers is the kind of music young people identify with.
Prior to my arrival this morning, other volunteers had cut up 50 pounds of apples and poured bowls of honey for the hundreds of young people expected to come tonight.  Rosh Hashanah is the season for apples and honey.  And even though no tickets are required for their service, they will be appropriately fed in true Jewish style.
My job was to pour red and white wine into enough dixie cups to give as many as 300 people a taste.  With 12 bottles of what looked to be excellent wine, I figured I had to eke out 25 little cups worth from each bottle.  It looked like a sea of tiny cups by the time I had finished.
So while we are singing the traditional melodies in a rather sedate service at the huge Methodist Church near AU, Temple Micah will be the scene of a much livelier worship service.  
L’shana tovah to all!  May you have a sweet new year!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Out of This World

I’m sitting here marveling at what my body underwent just yesterday and feeling so glad I was unaware of any of it.  There is a lot to be said for being knocked out when you don’t want to remember what happened.
In contrast I refused to take any drugs when in labor.  It was somewhat a matter of principle, but also I just wanted to know exactly what was going on as my two children came into the world.
I have come to love the rush that accompanies that transition from full consciousness to nothingness.  I could feel myself getting agitated as they struggled to get the EKG machine working properly before my procedure yesterday.  They cleaned the leads, cleaned my skin, and finally brought in a new monitor.
It was at that point the anesthesiologist told me that within a minute I would be asleep.  He asked me to breathe deeply a few times and by the second breath I was out.  What a rush as I gave up my consciousness to the people who would keep me vital as they explored the far reaches of my colon.  Apparently my colon is long and twisted with a lot of sharp turns.  But I never felt a thing as the scope with a camera looked around.
Upon waking up I felt groggy but not otherwise uncomfortable. It was as if awaking from a long deep sleep.  So deep there were no dreams, no memories.  Just the way I wanted it to be.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's Time

This morning as I ate a delightful brunch in Hoboken, I remembered it was the equivalent of my “last supper.”  Guess what I’m doing tomorrow morning?
Yes, it’s time for my 5-year colonoscopy.  So I got to come home this afternoon and mix up a gallon of the most God-awful tasting stuff imaginable.  I ate clear chicken broth for dinner.  Then I started with 2 little Ducolax pills.  Now I’m drinking an 8-ounce glass of the yucky solution (flavored lemon-lime as if that would help) every 15 minutes for 2 hours.  The intent is to totally clean out my colon so it will be pink and beautiful tomorrow for the procedure.  Staying near a bathroom seems like a good idea.
I am planning not to remember a thing that happens during the event itself.  I learned the hard way on my first colonoscopy that twilight sleep doesn’t work for me (I ended up screaming through the entire procedure), so I will be totally knocked out with MAC anesthesia tomorrow.
Hopefully by noon I will be pronounced polyp-free and given a 5-year time frame for a repeat performance.  One way or the other, my liquid diet will be over and I can eat what I want once again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So many bikes

It was not a good day for looking at bicycles because for much of the day NYC was under a flood watch. That doesn't make for great conditions to take a bike out for a spin.

We started out by getting lost in Queens on our way to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We finally arrived at Nycewheels, expecting a huge store since they sell more electric bikes than most anyone else in the US. Instead we found a place about 12 feet wide. It did hold quite a few bikes with motors and batteries, intended to offer the option of assistance on hills. Brands like Kettler and Gepida and Reptila, not your run of the mill road bikes. I opted for a toasted onion bagel and coffee while my husband asked all his questions.

After that we slowly made our way down to the southern part of Manhattan to visit Bicycle Habitat and Adeline Adeline, two other fairly small stores selling regular people-powered bikes.

I came away liking the way many bicycles look, but realizing I hadn't seen anything I liked more than the bike I already have. If only I could remove the upper bar that makes it somewhat difficult to get on and off.

I later started reading about various bikes on the Internet and realized there are an awful lot of people who take this very seriously, defending their bicycle choice almost as though it were a religion. They even have forums where they discuss the merits of various kinds of bike lights. Sheesh!

We may make another trip up to Nycewheels tomorrow if the sun comes out. My husband would really like to see what it's like to ride with power.

As for me, I may just stick with my old Specialized.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Thursday, September 22, 2011


For the past couple of years I have been feeling afraid of riding my bicycle. It was mostly a fear of falling off, something I never did before breaking my hip.

Earlier this week I decided to put away that fear. I had to take my Sequoia Specialized to the bike shop to pump up the tires that were flat as pancakes. Upon bringing it home I tentatively got on and everything felt wobbly. Was it me or the bike?

Back to the bike store where the tech rode it and determined the handlebars were loose. Finally yesterday I tried again and remembered why I loved my bike so much.

My husband has recently decided to look at electric bikes -- bikes that give you an assist when you need it. The best store he found is in NYC, so guess where we are headed right now.

I started wondering if I should also think of getting another bike, perhaps not a speedy road bike like the one I have, but rather a comfort bike. I would certainly welcome a step-through frame, but do I really want 10 or more extra pounds? The Sequoia weighs in at just under 20 pounds.

Then I remembered my other most favorite bike, a Peugeot with a mixte frame. I can't remember where this bike went, but I'm sure I was lured into thinking a hybrid was a more versatile bike.

I decided to Google "Peugeot mixte for sale" and much to my surprise I realized there is a booming market for vintage bikes like my old Peugeot. While we are in NYC I will look at the yellow Peugeot below being sold by Peter in Brooklyn.

Peter, who seems quite well versed in bikes old and new, told me about a current day bike with a mixte frame made by Linus, a company in California. I should say "made FOR Linus" since virtually every bike is made in China these days.

So while in the city, we will stop into Bicycle Habitat, which promises to have just about every new bike for sale today.

The only bad news here is it's supposed to rain the entire time we are in New York AGAIN!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Then and Now -- Communication

The last than-and-now topic I am going to address is communication, the way we talk to each other and to the world in general.  The Internet has totally revolutionized both the method and the speed of communication.
My mother looked forward to the mail coming every afternoon, because most days a handwritten letter arrived from someone and she posted one or more outgoing letters.  A single exchange cost 6 cents in postage (3 each way) and the price of the stationery.  But it usually took a couple of weeks.
We called our relatives only when there was some sort of big news to convey and my father’s mental 3-minute timer always sprang into action.  Long-distance phone calls did cost money. 
When my father was in the Pacific for 3 months to work on testing the atom bomb, we could speak to him only via a ham radio operator.  The connection crackled and he was barely audible. 
When I went away to college I wrote a letter home each week and called on Sunday from the phone booth located on my dorm hall.
Any sort of travel arrangements were made by writing letters well in advance of the trip and hoping for a timely response.
Flash forward to today.  Our daughter’s favorite way of communicating is by texting.  Short, sweet sound bites which are usually real-time.  She seldom bothers with email.  We often talk to our son with Skype, paying nothing for the call.
I have gradually come to use my cell phone for things like calling home to get a grocery list or to talk about what to cook for dinner.  I try to avoid using my phone in the car, but sometimes the temptation is too great.
Virtually all forms of travel planning involve the use of the Internet.  We find our vacations; read reviews; locate lodging, cruises, travel guides, rental cars, etc. online in the comfort of our homes or offices.
Letter writing has gone by the wayside.  Everything is much more immediate.  How were we ever so patient?
All of this speed with so many possibilities comes with an associated cost.  We now pay for cell phones and phone plans and data plans for smart phones.  But most of that is done automatically so we fail to really miss the money as our phone buzzes to alert us to a new text just in.
We are not alone in this obsession with phones and immediacy.  Even in the poorest of countries, people now have cell phones.  Globalization has indeed leveled the playing field allowing us easily to talk to each other or to people halfway around the world.
I’m not finding the book as intriguing as my own personal thought on this subject.  Maybe I will be impressed with the promised remarks on how we can restore out country to its former place of glory.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Then and Now -- Identity

My few readers may be wondering if and when this series is ever going to end.  Just humor me for a few more posts and then I will either take another break or move on.
Today I am pondering who we are and what control we have over our identities.  The answer to that has definitely changed over the past 50 years.
When I was a child, who ever heard of identity theft?  Occasionally you might hear of someone pretending to be someone else who had died, but stealing someone’s VISA number didn’t occur because no one had a VISA card.  Many people didn’t have a Social Security number so that couldn’t be easily stolen either.  For a lot of us our birth certificates or driver’s licenses were our only proof of identity.
Fast forward to today where we have multiple charge cards and we exist in countless databases because of our employment, memberships, purchases, activities, etc.  There are many more ways to pretend to be someone else.
Not to mention our Internet presence.  In fact it has become very difficult for a person to hide with things like Facebook and the various people-finders out there.  What has become a genealogist’s dream has become a personal nightmare for people who don’t want to be found.
Other than making us much more vulnerable to identity theft and becoming a time sink for social networking, this change has probably been a positive one.  George Orwell’s 1984 has in effect come to be without necessarily all the negative consequences.
I did hear just yesterday that a running Camcorder was discovered in the bathroom of the Starbucks I often frequent on Capitol Hill.  That’s just a little too up close and personal for me...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Then and Now -- Manufacturing

One thing that has definitely changed in the past 50 years is where our manufactured goods are made.  It used to be that everything from steel to textiles to shoes to cars was made right here at home, but that has all changed.
Fifty years ago, anything not made here was relegated to the category of flimsy toys made in Japan or overpriced European goods.  We were basically self-sufficient.
But over the years as the cost of labor skyrocketed, manufacturers found cheaper labor next door in Mexico and then in India and finally in the various countries of Asia, where most every piece of clothing we wear today is made.  We simply can’t compete with women who are willing to sew for a few dollars a day.
The same thing has happened with the auto industry, even with American brands like Ford.  In fact, it is hard to find a car today made exclusively either in this country or outside its borders.  Ford has assembly plants in Mexico and Honda assembles some of its cars here in the US.  The bottom line is how to make things for the least cost and sell them for the biggest profit.
The labor unions today that were once founded to protect the American worker have had to sit by and watch more and more of the work taken elsewhere. They are like cumbersome giants bound for the old folks’ home.
It’s not necessarily the American economy that is suffering the most from this move to manufacturing overseas, but rather the blue collar worker whose job has now been outsourced to someone who works for much less money.  It’s that worker who is now unemployed or must be retrained to do another job here at home or must be willing to take a huge salary cut, something probably not acceptable to the particular union.
It’s a dilemma that only gets worse as developing countries take on more and more of the work previously done here.  As the gap in labor cost widens, the dilemma only gets worse.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Then and Now -- Security

When I was a child, we were undoubtedly the most powerful country in the world.  Our borders were safe.  The iron curtain existed, but posed no real threat.
It was not until I was 12 and the Cuban missiles were pointed at us that I first learned to be afraid.  That was the era of the fallout shelter.  A few people even in my little town in Florida dug them in their back yard in preparation for a nuclear attack.  But we prevailed against the Cubans and finally the iron curtain came down and we no longer felt threatened by the Soviets.
It was really not until the attacks of 9/11 that we realized we weren’t safe after all.  The events of that day ushered in a paranoia that continues to permeate American society.
I am convinced that we could repay the national debt if we had all the money that has subsequently gone into homeland security.  We have a new cabinet level agency for that purpose.  Our airports have taken on the air of a maximum security prison.  Our public buildings have all been fortified.  We have initiated profiling at every juncture (although we can’t call it that).  Our days are now color-coded to indicate the threat level.  All of this is supposed to assure the American public of their safety.
Meanwhile we wait for the next big attack and wonder where it will occur.  We hope the wiretaps will flush out the terrorists before they can unleash their latest weapons.  Or that some observant policeman will spot a smoking car before the bomb goes off.
And those of us who can remember wish we could return to a time when we weren’t so afraid of the world to come.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Then and Now -- Debt

A huge change in the last 50 years is our individual and national attitude toward debt.  It has come to be status quo instead of something we fear and avoid at all cost.
My parents had survived the Depression, but it left its mark on them.  My father, in particular, saved his money with a vengeance.  He didn’t buy anything he couldn’t pay for other than a house (for $8,000) in 1952.  He paid cash for his cars.  He never used his Mastercard, the one charge card he possessed.  And he instilled a fear of debt so deep in me that I could never imagine being there.
Today’s generation of young people, for the most part, have a very different attitude toward debt.  Many of them are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt when they graduate from school, often carrying multiple school loans.  They max out their credit cards.  Some finally declare bankruptcy.  But many simply accept their debt, not really letting it cause them too much angst.
Our country has evolved much the same attitude.  When Bill Clinton left office, we were in great fiscal shape, actually showing a surplus.  But those days are long gone as we dig ourselves out of multiple wars and economic woes.  In reaction to our 3 trillion dollar deficit, we simply print more money and hope the world believes in the almighty dollar.  
Instead of collective angst, we as a nation seem to be in collective denial about the fact that we are in a bad way and we sorely need to generate income, most obviously by taxing those with the most money who have been enjoying a relatively free ride for sometime now.
I don’t know how much longer this complacent attitude can go on before it really catches up with us.  But I do know it eventually will if we don’t put our politics aside and figure out how to return to solvency.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Then and Now -- Government

Another aspect of American life that is in a sad state of affairs is our government.  What once seemed like a well conceived system of checks and balances seems now to be perpetually churning but accomplishing little.
Was it my naivete as a child, or are those we elect to office these days very different from the leaders of 50 years ago?  We revered those elected officials as statesmen, who would do what was best for those who had elected them without the pressure to conform to the party’s platform.  We counted on them to come up with legislation that would keep our country strong and productive and on a fiscally prudent course.
But today the two sides of the aisle grow increasingly far apart and our lawmakers spend more time fighting with each other than enacting legislation.  There is not much they agree on.  And meanwhile as the economy tanks, we get the idea that those on Capitol Hill are incapable of turning things around.
As I read Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged a few years ago, I reminded myself how lucky we were not to have to endure such ineptness in government.  My feelings on a reread today might be somewhat different.
Does the current state of government indicate our form of democracy has run its course?  I keep wondering what could possibly restore us to a place where we once again had confidence in our elected officials and where the common goal was the good of the country, not satisfying the special interests of a party or industry or those in a particular economic stratum.  
I can only imagine the rest of the world is sitting by and shaking their heads as our internal conflicts make progress virtually impossible.  A benevolent dictator is starting to have a certain appeal...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Then and Now -- Education

One of our biggest failings as a country today is in the field of education.  There is a widely held misconception that we have fallen from a position of leadership, when in fact we have never been there.  Many in this country have continued to be shocked since national comparisons began decades ago and the US has never performed to a degree commensurate with its global standing in other fields.
I recently read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.  It was all about how little Iceland is now outscoring every other country in the world in things like reading, math, and science.  It turns out Iceland takes a very different approach toward educating its children.  They don’t start school until they are 7.  They have very few standardized tests.  Their school days are punctuated with a lot of outdoor play time.  But perhaps most significantly, their teachers are drawn from the top 10% of college graduates.  A very different model from the the approach taken in the US where we push kids to learn early, we test them weekly, we limit non-academic time, and our top grads become doctors and lawyers.  And while you might think Iceland has a homogeneous population, it is now the home to many immigrants who must first learn a new language and then a new culture.
Another recent article told of a failed attempt in Arizona to cure the education woes with an influx of technology.  The idea that the latest and greatest electronics can somehow bridge the gap.  I sometimes think the root of our current math woes was the introduction of the calculator, which made it no longer necessary for children to know basic math facts.  Although technology can be a powerful extender, it can never be a substitute for basic instruction.
Just yesterday an article in the Washington Post reported the lowest scores EVER on the SAT test.  This is since 1972 when reporting began.  The cause is attributed to the increased diversity in the population.  The question then becomes whether we are failing this diverse segment of the population or whether we need a new test.  In any case, this news basically reaffirms that “No child left behind” was a colossal failure and we need a new approach.
If we are to reclaim our former position of preeminence in the world, we are going to have to figure out how to better educate those who will do it.  And it must include those who don’t have the means to afford private education.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Then and Now -- Road Work

I grew up in the ‘50s, in the days when America was unquestionably #1 in the world and when we still believed that the Horatio T. Alger story was possible.  So did the authors of  this new book (That Used to be Us:  How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented...), which I started today.  After just reading the introduction, I was suddenly filled with things I wanted to write about THEN and NOW.  Instead of dumping all of these ideas into one post, I decided to deal with one thing a day until my list is exhausted.
The book opens with Tom Friedman comparing a construction project in China to one in his neighborhood.  He notes that in a rather remote area of China, a huge civic center sort of complex with a lot of bells and whistles was constructed start to finish in a mere 5 months.  Whereas at his Bethesda Metro stop, the repair of the two escalators exceeded 6 months.  He was most disturbed by the fact that instead of complaining about the inconvenience and unreasonable period of time, the Metro riders complacently accepted this as the new norm.
I have noticed a similar trend with road work.  The project to repave the small stretch of road around the Lincoln Memorial took many months with nightly road closures.  As has the work on Rock Creek Parkway that continues, often with no workers in evidence but lanes closed off.  Granted a few workers get paid longer this way, but what about the thousands of people who commute on these roads daily?  Like the Metro riders, I too have become conditioned to these ridiculously long repair schedules and simply sit in traffic complaining about it.
I wonder if it’s additional bureaucracy that stretches these jobs out so long.  Or if workers are not being totally productive.  Or what it is that makes us look so incredibly slow when stacked up against the Chinese, who probably don’t have access to much of the technology we take for granted.  
This is just one of many symptoms of our fall from grandeur.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Far from Good

That would be me when it comes to atrocities like the Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, 9/11, and war in general.  It’s not that I am in denial, but rather the emotions these things bring up are almost too much for me to handle.
And so it was with fear and trepidation that I started “The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel, our current book club book.  Finkel was an embedded journalist in an Army battalion in Iraq for 8 of the bloodiest months of the war.  Although there was levity in his telling of the story, for the most part it was grim and disheartening.  It completely reaffirmed my belief that we should never have been at war in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I’m not sure if it was more difficult to read about those killed (mostly by roadside bombs) or those left maimed for the rest of their lives.  Contrary to their leader, whose motto was “It’s all good” and who lived by every word President Bush uttered, it was far from good and more often horrific.
This and all the other hateful things I usually refuse to think about make me question the roots of the hatred.  Specifically in Iraq, we sent thousands of troops in to rid the country of one of the worst dictators in history (although the charges on which we acted were later shown to be false).  Why then did a significant faction of those liberated people continue to try to kill us?  Why were the few who showed friendship called traitors and punished by the others?  And most importantly why did we stay for so many years?
I fear the result of this decade of war will be yet another generation of (mostly) men with  serious mental disorders and serious physical disabilities that will see them out on the street corners begging for an existence.
I finished the book last night and will look for something a little more uplifting to read next.  But for the past week I pulled my head out of the sand long enough to feel an abiding sadness that so many lives were affected so badly by this war.  It was almost symbolic that 9/11 passed just as I neared the end of the story based entirely on fact.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spending Time

Why haven’t I written anything for over a week?  I’ve been crazy busy with working on the basement, playing music, but mostly cooking.  And those are all things that make me feel good.
The basement is close to finished.  An electrician is adding dimmers to the lights on Friday so I don’t have to look up from the floor or a machine into a glare.  After consultations with people who should know, I am leaving the ceiling alone with its beams and ducts and returning the 12 queen size blue sheets to Target.  
At yesterday’s piano group I played 3 pieces:  a Brahms 4-hand waltz with Lou, a movement of a Bach sonata with Deborah, and a tango of Albeniz by myself.  I practiced hard last week in preparation.
But cooking has become my real passion (and time-sink).  In addition to finding ways to use the CSA bounty each week, I make a lot of things from scratch that could be so conveniently purchased ready-made.   Like yogurt, pickles, dog food, hummus, and bread.  It’s my choice to spend my time doing things like soaking and cooking garbanzo beans and kneading dough and waiting for it to rise.  But I like the results and find many of those things somewhat therapeutic.
While recently searching through my recipe box, I came across a recipe from my mother for “Five Grain Health Bread,” written in the beautiful handwriting people of her generation had.  I don’t recall her ever making it when I lived at home, but with a few tweaks it has become my favorite bread recipe. 

Here’s my version of it:
Five Grain Health Bread
1 tablespoon yeast
2-3/4 cups warm water (around 110 degrees F.)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups rye flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup cornmeal
5 cups (white) bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup milk powder
1 egg mixed with a little water
Mixture of seeds/grains for topping:  oats, flax, sesame
In a very large bowl, soak yeast, honey, and oil in the lukewarm water for 10-15 minutes.  Then add the remaining ingredients except 3 cups of the white flour in order and stir 50 times.  Cover and let rise until doubled (about 2 hours).  (I put a heated skillet in my electric oven with the rising bread.  It gives off just enough warmth to grow the yeast.)  Sprinkle kneading surface with 1-1/2 cups of the remaining white flour.  Turn punched down dough onto it and knead flour in.  Knead in the rest of the flour until dough is pliable (about 250 times).  Divide dough into 3 parts.  Shape into loaves and put in greased bread pans.  Brush egg wash on tops of loaves.  Sprinkle liberally with seed/grain mixture.  Let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (take bread out of the oven while oven is heating).  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer.  Remove from oven and let cool on a rack until loaves can be easily removed from pan.  For convenience, slice and freeze in serving-size portions.
Beware:  If you make this even once, you may decide to give up commercial bread and spend time making your own!

How do you choose to spend your time?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Going Veg

In the late afternoon when there was no evidence of meat or fish in the refrigerator, my husband kindly said, “Should we just go out to eat tonight?” Little did he know I was contemplating a veggie dinner.

The CSA has been bountiful beyond belief this summer. It’s a challenge to even use all the food we get in our week’s share. This little hot pepper was the catalyst for tonight’s dinner. That and the red lentils and eggplant and green beans we had also gotten this week.

I ended up making a red lentil dal served over brown rice. The challenge was to feel the heat of the little orange pepper while not overwhelming my husband, who has a low tolerance of spiciness. I threw in 3 big chunks of pepper, staying clear of the seeds.

Meanwhile I marinated eggplant in a sauce of oil, balsamic, and fresh herbs. With 15 minutes left on the dal clock, the eggplant went on the grill and the beans were turned on to steam.

As the finishing touch for the dal, I sizzled the seeds and other spices in oil in a small All-Clad pan and then added them to the slightly mashed lentil mixture.

It turned out to be a delightful blend of sweet, hot, salty, and grilled. The bland but slightly crisp beans were countered by the stronger flavors of the other dishes. It was a healthy meal that filled me up with just enough room left for a small square of dark chocolate.

In case you are game to try, here are the two recipes:

Everyday Red Lentils
Grilled Eggplant

As you can see, there wasn't anything left for Jake on my plate!