Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Misheberach is a Jewish prayer for healing. [Here's an audio clip of my favorite version by Debbie Friedman.] In my religious tradition, we believe not only should people, who are ill, pray for themselves, but also that the community should pray for them, too. Prayer is a great opportunity to connect with spiritual energy, and I have a few people who could use a cosmic boost right about now. I would appreciate you sending a few healing thoughts into the universe for these people.

One of the August Moms, Annapolis Mom, just reported abnormal findings on her mammogram, and her radiologist wasn't optimistic. She had a needle biopsy yesterday and is anxiously awaiting the results. We are all so worried for her, her husband and their young children. When you have a free moment today, would you please add the Annapolis Mom to your prayers?

I should add that there are two August Moms in the Annapolis area. The other mom is the World Traveler; her husband recently suffered an exacerbation of a chronic illness. Her family would appreciate your prayers, too.

The Family Blender's famlies are going through some serious emotional crises right now and could use a spiritual boost.

Finally -- and sounding like a broken record -- my father is in the hospital again with complications from the reversal of his colostomy. The connection site developed a hole, a fistula, that was not healing. Dad's doctors ordered IV feedings and medications through a PICC line. As of last weekend, he was doing better, and the hole was healing. The challenge will be for the connection site to hold tight when he starts eating solid food. Otherwise, he's headed for another surgery, one to revise the connection. Oh, and he has a huge abdominal hernia that probably won't be addressed because of the surgical damage to the abdominal wall. Please send one up for my parents, too.

I'm going to New Orleans and drown myself in a vat of boiled crawfish for a few days. I'll be back after JazzFest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Mac is Back

I took my 20" iMac into our new Apple store yesterday. They replaced the logic board and power supply and ran a bunch of diagnostics. Everything is running perfectly well, now.

Big kudos to the Apple Store at the Waterside Shops. They repaired my computer in 1 day. Their geniuses are great, and their creative team is very nice. I keep thinking, "Wouldn't it be fun to work there?" Somebody slap me.

Time to clean my desk and pack for New Orleans. We leave for JazzFest tomorrow, and there's still laundry to finish. I have to pack myself, Wizard, Wild Thing, Moose, and the sleeping bags. They are responsible for packing their own backpacks. WineGuy will probably pack himself at the last minute.

Unless I find access to a computer while we're away, I will not post here for about another 6-7 days. No, I don't own a laptop, but WineGuy does. Not sure if he'll take it with him, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Catch A Quick Breath

The last series of concerts went very well. I was so proud to sing a choral piece in Hebrew for the first time in my life. Several friends in the community said they saw the concert and loved it.

This week I must re-audition for my chorale. It shouldn't be a big deal, although I'm a bit concerned about the sight-singing. The conductor told us we would have to sing a bit from the big MGM Musicals pops concert repetoire the group performed in March. I learned the entire score, although not as thoroughly as I would have liked. (Remember that I could not sing those concerts because I was still sick.) I'm hoping as long as I can read the score and remember my part that I'll be OK. The other sight-reading will come from Bernstein's Chichester Psalms which we just performed. Thankfully, there is no written test this year.

I am meeting with my book club co-director to discuss books for next month's meeting. We are thinking about The Secret of Lost Things, by Sheridan Hay; Acceptance, by Susan Coll; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; and Suite Française, by Irene Nemirovsky. I picked up Lost Things at the bookstore last week and read a few pages. Looks like it will be a captivating story. Several friends read Gilbert's book and loved it, although our group just read a non-fiction book 2 months ago. I'm anxious to read Nemirovsky's book, too. We read The Space Between Us (by Thrity Umrigar) last month, but no one could make the meeting to discuss the book. Needless to say, we're going to add a few new members to the group to enliven the discussion.

WineGuy's car goes into the shop tomorrow. That should read: I am taking his car in to be serviced; I am picking up the loaner; and, then I am driving the boys to school. WineGuy just needs to remember to take my car in the morning. I'm also supposed to take my iMac to the new Apple Store for a check-up. It's been having kernel panic attacks and crashing, which is very un-Maclike. I ran a couple of diagnostics today and backed up my entire system. I haven't had any more crashes or panics today, so I might just postpone my appointment until 2 weeks from now.

Why two weeks? Because we are leaving for a five-day trip to New Orleans on April 25th. It's our family's annual pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. JazzFest is the ultimate musical excursion! Every year, during the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May, stars of the musical world descend on The Big Easy to ply their trade. There is non-stop music from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. daily at the Fairgrounds Racetrack in Mid-City. There is traditional Dixieland Jazz, modern jazz, gospel, zydeco, rock & roll, rap, you name it. We are particularly psyched to hear Bonnie Raitt this year. Last year, in the aftermath of Katrina, JazzFest rose again like the proverbial phoenix. Jimmy Buffett buoyed the crowd and gave everyone hope for the entire Gulf Coast. Oh, and we will eat crawfish, oysters, softshell crabs, sweet tea, snowballs, and everything else under the sun.

After we get back from New Orleans, I have exactly 3 days to wash clothes and get everyone packed for a weekend trip to St. Louis. WineGuy's niece will be Bat Mitzvahed the first weekend of May. The following weekend WineGuy's step-niece will be Bat Mitzvahed in Fort Lauderdale; that's a quick evening trip. The following week I go to Orlando to audition for Jeopardy, and then WineGuy is supposed to attend a convention in DC in late May.

In the midst of all that chaos, I need to plan Wild Thing's 8th birthday party. It will probably be a movie party with his best friend, like we did last year. WT and friend would like to see "Shrek The Third". And, that's not all: we have a Bar Mitzvah to attend locally over Memorial Day Weekend. My niece will be Bat Mitzvahed in DC in June.

A quick breath is about all I have time for. So, what's new with you?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Campus (In)Security

Sacred halls became scared halls. Hallowed walls became hollow walls.

The massacre at Virginia Tech highlights the problem of how schools keep students safe on campuses across the nation. Virginia Tech appeared to do everything right: they have a campus police force, they have crisis intervention programs, their professors and students file complaints about other students as necessary. Campus police records showed there were two complaints filed against the Seung Cho in late 2005. The police first characterized Cho's behavior as "annoying" but not harassing. Cho then sent apparently harassing instant messages to a second student, who subsequently filed a complaint. That complaint led to Cho being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital under a suicide watch. Still, this kid didn't come up on the university's radar. Cho's erratic behavior and violence-themed schoolwork alarmed two professors enough to report him to school administration. University counseling knew about this disturbed student, but neither they nor campus police did anything to remove him from campus, stating that they were helpless until Cho actually threatened or hurt someone. Cho also sent alarming photographs, video and writings to NBC News, but no one was able to stop him. Unbelievable.

Here was a kid who exhibited every single classic warning sign of potential violent behavior, whose actions were documented in some fashion by university administration, by campus police and by the local mental health community, and no one stopped him. This was not like Columbine, where the students' violent proclivities were virtually unknown. Cho bought not one but two handguns in the month prior to the shootings, yet this did not raise any kind of red flag with state or federal enforcement agencies. His firearms applications had to show that he lived on-campus at a state university. Law enforcement should have notified the university that a student had recently purchased firearms.

Virginia Tech was feckless in its management of the student, his problems, and the imminent crisis. The school's ombudsman should have seen the complaints from the professors and students, the reports from university counseling, and the notice of involuntary commitment from the mental hospital; then, Virginia Tech should have removed Cho from campus. The university should have notified Cho's parents that their son was a danger to himself and to his community, and the parents should have had the son committed. The parents and their community should have pressured Cho to voluntarily commit himself and get the help he desperately needed.

By the way, where were his parents in all of this? Why didn't they pull their kid out of school or pressure him into a treatment program? The parents must have known their son was having problems at school; the university should have notified them early on. If one of your children was causing a problem at school, wouldn't you want to know about it? Wouldn't you do something about it? I certainly would.

Mark my words: the victims' families will file a flurry of lawsuits against the university for negligent supervision, failure to provide adequate security, and wrongful death. The university is liable. This is going to cost Virginia Tech millions, not to mention the damage to its reputation.

Finally, back to the issue I first raised. How do we keep kids safe at school? Should schools build walls around their campuses and security-screen everyone who passes through the gate? That might work on urban and suburban campuses, but it seems out-of-place on rural campuses. The answer is far more subtle: schools -- primary, secondary and university -- should have people watching all the time, using security cameras, using clothed security officers, using civilian task forces. Schools should have ombudsmen who collect campus and community reports about problem students, and the ombudsmen should dismiss them from campus. Law enforcement agencies should report to universities firearms purchases by their students -- why does a college student need a handgun? two handguns? I despise most civilian and recreational use of weapons, so gun control laws should be more restrictive. Psychiatric commitments should last longer than 72 hours, and patients should be released into treatment facilities instead of back into the community. Parents need to know what's going on in their children's lives; they need to stay in touch regularly with their college students and be advised when there is a problem.

Because if it were my kid, I would want to know. And, I would want to help him before he hurt himself or someone else.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Be Back Soon

I have some new readers whom I met at a writer's conference at our local public radio station last week. In the midst of another parental health crisis, another slate of chorale concerts, and the looming tax deadline, I have had no time (and little motivation) to post. I apologize. Let me get my taxes signed and mailed, and I'll post an update.

Rambling Mom, I don't know how you do taxes for a living. You deserve a medal for your heroic efforts at this time of year ... and for everything else you handle. [grin] I agree with Robert Cray, "I hate taxes."

Update: I was up until 2:30A this morning reviewing our return. After having copying everything, I had coffee with Calvin. She reminded me to redo part of the return and take another, thankfully large, deduction for something. I redid everything, transferred money from one bank to another to cover the taxes, went to the post office for a stamp for my envelope -- love those automated postal machines, went to WineGuy's office to have him sign (again), made copies of everything (again), drove through the main post office and dropped my large envelope (and large check) in the mailbox. It should have been picked up first thing this afternoon. Afterwards, I engaged in a little retail therapy at the makeup counter (mascara and a lip pencil, which shows great restraint) and at the bookstore.

Back in the swing of things on the morrow.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday's Meme 4/9/07

Since most of the August96 Moms have used this recently, I figured I'd swipe it, too. Here's a glimpse into my mundane life.

1. Explain what ended your last relationship.

It hasn't ended. WineGuy and I have been married for nearly 15 years.

2.When was the last time you shaved?

Last Wednesday evening.

3. What were you doing this morning at 8 am?

Dozing and watching the morning news.

4. What were you doing 15 minutes ago?

Checking email instead of doing laundry.

5. Are you any good at math?


6. Your prom night, what do you remember about it?

I remember everything! I was the Prom Chairman. My date was Sean B. My dress was yellow chiffon with purple and pink painted flowers; it came from Garfinkels. We had dinner at L'Escargot, and the dance was at the Shoreham. The theme was "Always and Forever", and the favors were miniature brandy snifters.

7. Do you have any famous ancestors?

No, but WineGuy does.

8. Have you had to take a loan out for school?

Yes, I took student loans out for college and eventually paid them back. I took a loan out for a law school summer course and took my sweet time paying it back.

9. Last thing received in the mail?

A copy of the Chorale's recent announcements.

10. How many different beverages have you had today?

None, I haven't eaten yet.

11. Who did you lose your CONCERT virginity to?

Chuck Mangione.

12. Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?


13. What’s the most painful dental procedure you’ve had done?

Root scaling and planing , done several times by the periodontist.

14. What is out your back door?

Depends on which door ... most likely the garbage cans.

15. What did you do last night?

Watched "The Amazing Race" and worked the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle with WineGuy.

16. Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?

I don't really care.

17. Have you ever received one of those big tins with 3 different kinds of popcorn?

Yes, I love popcorn, esp. cheese popcorn.

18. Have you ever been to a planetarium?

Yes, in Boston and in Philadelphia last summer.

19. Do you re-use towels after you shower?


20. Something you are excited about?

My Jeopardy audition in May 2007.

21. What is your favorite flavor of jell-o?

I truly despise Jell-o, except for when I'm a patient in the hospital. Then, and only then, I will eat green (lime) Jell-o.

22. Describe your key chain..

It is a leather strap with a brass ring and a brass clip, made by Coach.

23. Where do you keep your change?

In the zippered change purse in my wallet.

24. When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group of people?

Either at WineGuy's surprise party last month or in front of the Chorale sometime last month, too.

25. What kind of winter coat do you own?

Winter coat? What's that? Haha, I have two: a black down parka and a red wool dress coat.

26.. Do you sleep with the door to your room open or closed?

Closed, to keep the cats out.

27. Do you love someone right now?

Yes, I do!

28. Have you ever cheated on someone?

No, I couldn't live with myself.

29. Do you have a crush on someone right now?


30.How many pairs of shoes do you own?

Last time I counted, it was about 35-40 pairs. I know, I sound like Imelda, but for me that's a relatively small number. When I was younger, single, thinner, and before kids, I had dozens of pairs of shoes.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Budding Politician

The seders are done. The guests have gone home. The china and crystal are put away, and the dining room table has shrunk back to its daily size. This morning, I asked the boys to pick up their rooms because the housekeeper was supposed to come today. Some 5 hours later, Wild Thing and Moose come downstairs announcing their rooms are clean. These two are bad influences on each other and will play instead of clean.

A few minutes later, I hear WT yelling at Moose, "You owe me that money. Give it to me! I want that $20!" Huh?? Where did the little monster get $20 and what was his deal with WT? Wizard comes running into the room to explain everything, but I tell him to be quiet.

Me: Moose, did you clean your own room?
Moose: Yes.
WT: He did not!
Me: Who cleaned it?
WT: I did but ...
Me: Thank you for helping him.
WT: No, I cleaned his whole room. He offered to pay me $20 if I cleaned his room for him. He had the money in his hand.
Me (incredulous): He offered to pay you $20 to clean his room? Moose, where did you get that kind of money? [I'm thinking he swiped it out of my purse.]
Moose: Remember, Mom, the grocery store lady gave it to me on my birthday? [True.]
Me: So, pay WT.
Moose: I did pay him.
WT: No, he didn't!
Me: Where's the money?
Moose: I don't know. The last I saw it it was on the bathroom counter, near the toilet.
WT: He flushed the money down the toilet and never paid me! It's not fair! I cleaned his whole room and put all his laundry away.
Me (trying not to laugh): Well, now. WT, you can have your choice of extra TV or computer time for helping your brother so much today. Moose, you are not going swimming with your brothers later today.

Vote for Moose! He makes promises he can't keep. He pisses flushes money away. He hardly tells the truth about anything. And, he's cute.

Moose has all the makings of a fine politician.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Festival Meals

Jewish festival meals take a very long time to prepare. To illustrate, I was on my feet, in the kitchen cooking for 16 hours straight this past Sunday evening. It's my own fault, in part, because I should have been cooking and freezing throughout March so there wouldn't be a last-minute crush. However, the bronchitis and coughing took so much out of me, I didn't have the time or desire to cook other than preparing dinners here in The Zone.

What I cooked on Sunday sounds like the list from Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar:
  • two Spinach and Vegetable Kugels
  • two Apple Matzah Kugels
  • one Ashkenazi Charoset
  • one Sephardi Charoset
  • one Orange Cake
  • one extra batch of chicken stock (nearly 2 gallons)
  • 18 hard-boiled eggs
  • one batch of Fruit Compote in Red Wine
  • Tzimmes
Some explanations of what things are and why we eat them at Passover; the Passover Haggadah (story and prayerbook read at the Passover table) commands Jews to eat certain foods at this time of year. A kugel is a souffle- or pudding-like dish. It is often made with noodles or potatoes. At Passover time, kugels made with matzah farfel (bits) or matzah meal and fruits or vegetables are popular side dishes. Charoset is a mixture of fruits, nuts and wine and is required by the Haggadah. Traditional Ashkenazi Charoset calls for sweet apples, chopped walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine. I hate it. I made my version with Granny Smith apples, walnuts, cinnamon and dry red wine. Sephardi (Mediterranean and Asian) Charoset is a mixture of dried fruits, walnuts, cinnamon, honey and wine. My Sephardi Charoset was a big hit!

Jews do not use any leavening at Passover, so cakes are always made with lots of eggs and sugar plus ground walnuts or almonds and other flavors. Passover desserts are notoriously dry, so fruit compotes are also popular to add flavor and moisture. We eat hard-boiled eggs at Passover to symbolize re-birth and fertility, but we dip them in salt water to remind us of our ancestors' plight in Egypt. As the Haggadah says, "Once we were slaves. Now we are free."
Although not prescribed in the Haggadah, chicken soup is an essential part of the Seder meal for many Jews, especially those of Ashkenazi [Eastern European] heritage. --The New York Times Passover Cookbook (Linda Amster, ed.)
If it's Passover in my house, there is homemade chicken soup. I use big, fat chickens, fresh herbs and spices, fresh vegetables, and I cook it all day. I strain the soup and chill it, then I de-fat it so there are no greasy globules floating on the top. All that is left is goldene yoich, a rich golden broth. No matzah ball mix around here either; I make them all from scratch. I make them light and fluffy – the way I like them – not leaden and heavy like WineGuy likes them. And, finally a comment on tzimmes. As I learned shortly after my marriage, tzimmes means different things to Jews depending on their country of origin.

In my family, tzimmes is a long-stewed mixture of carrots, raisins and brown sugar, a Polish tradition. In WineGuy's family, tzimmes is a mixture of short ribs, sweet potatoes and prunes cooked dead, a Lithuanian tradition. A funny tzimmes story: shortly after we were married the In-Laws came to visit us. MIL was so excited to bring her boy a big pot of homemade tzimmes. She walked in and announced, "I brought tzimmes!" I was so excited; I could already taste those carrots and raisins. When I opened the pot, I croaked, "What the hell is this crap? This isn't tzimmes. Where are the carrots? Where are the raisins?" WineGuy gently rebuked reminded me, "This is the we make tzimmes in my family." I smiled graciously and removed my foot from my mouth and vowed never to cook that gut-busting stuff in my kitchen. As an aside, MIL and FIL arrived here this weekend bearing tzimmes. It went right in the freezer; WineGuy can eat it sometime when I'm not around. He doesn't have the heart to tell his mother he doesn't really like it. Touché!

This is what I served for our first Passover seder of 2007 (reviews):

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Salt Water: the water was too salty
Gefilte Fish with Sliced Carrots, served on a bed of lettuce (prepared according to my family's recipe)
Matzah Ball Soup: homemade stock and matzah balls made with schmaltz, from scratch: needed more seasoning
Braised Brisket, trimmed and de-fatted, with jus: moist and delicious
Spinach Vegetable Kugel: not great and stricken from the recipe file
Roasted Asparagus: great
Orange Cake, dusted with confectioner's suger: a surprise hit
Fruit Compote in Red Wine: another winner

In addition to cooking all that food and setting the table and having to endure Florida BIL and his insipid common-law wife (another story completely) -- "We don't like your Passover wine, We want the [disgustingly sweet Manischewitz] wine we brought." And, "Why didn't you serve the sliced bananas and papaya we brought from our garden?" As well as her matzah farfel stuffing that was wrong in so many ways: greasy, swimming in butter (not appropriate with a meat meal), and cooked dead. I also washed all the dishes: fine china, crystal, silverware, pots, pans, everything. Why? Because it was also the night of the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Game, which WineGuy wanted to watch. After starting around 9:00 a.m. that day, I finally sat down around 10:30 p.m. in time to watch the second half of the game. I took two Advil as a nightcap.

The next morning I crawled out of bed and into the kitchen to make breakfast for everyone. I made 5 matzah brei (rhymes with "dry"). A matzah brei is a "pancake" made with scrambled eggs and softened, crumbled matzah. You eat it savory (salt, pepper, butter) or sweet (cinnamon, sugar, syrup, butter). SIL and BIL arrived over an hour later, and we finally sat down to breakfast. My FIL, the laziest Jewish man you've ever met, wandered in another hour later and headed straight to our pool. He would eat later. Thankyouverymuch for making me serve twice, clean up twice, and cater to your old ass. In the meantime, I was scrambling to baste my turkey and tend to dinner for the second seder.

Here is what I served for the second Passover seder of 2007:

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Salt Water: the water was only a little salty today
Gefilte Fish with Sliced Carrots, served on a bed of lettuce
Matzah Ball Soup
Roast Turkey: moist and delicious, including the white meat
Apple Matzah Kugel: delicious and popular all around
Roasted Balsamic Vegetables: great flavor, except for the endive, now struck from the recipe
Orange Cake
Passover Brownies: dried out nasty things sent by WineGuy's religious brother
Coconut Macaroons, by Manischewitz: boring and leaden, but traditional

I'd had enough cooking and didn't feel like baking for the second night. People hated those store-bought brownies and were looking for more of my Orange Cake. Yay! Afterwards, we all cleared the table, and WineGuy did the dishes. FIL actually offered to help: I gave him a dishtowel and a chair and said, "Howdja like to dry some dishes?" He did a very nice job. MIL helped, too, although she is forbidden to touch the crystal. She drops things. 'Nuff said.

This morning, I took my time getting into the kitchen because I knew I didn't have to cook much today. I made one fresh matzah brei for my in-laws and warmed up yesterday's for the kids. My in-laws left in the late morning, and I've been here with the boys. They helped me put away the good dishes and break down the dining room table. They wiped the kitchen table and vacuumed the floor, so I let them go on the computer. Now, they're watching TV, which allows me to catch up with my blog-faithful.

To my Jewish friends and readers: I wish you a Happy and Kosher Passover.
To my Christian friends and readers: I wish you a blessed Easter.
To all: May Spring come soon to your corner of the world and with it the promise of new beginnings.