Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Cooking

Cooking heaps of delicious food has gotta be one of my favorite things about having my children come home. I love to cook for them. These days, Ron and I are on such a careful and restricted diet that we eat most contentedly at home. I have figured out how to adapt many recipes. I have now perfected the gluten-free pie crust so that we had an apple pie that Sudi declared one of the best I have ever made (with no wheat in the crust). Whoa. I think I have arrived. I also managed to figure out how to make the Whiskey Cake without flour and it was a hit at Thanksgiving in Oakland. Christmas Eve was enchiladas and guacamole. Christmas Day was Ron’s fried chicken, biscuits, latkes (with apple sauce and sour cream), green beans, and leftover mac ‘n cheese. Tonight? Lasagna Casserole (gluten-free). We are still working our way through the gluten-free chocolate cake and apple pie. I’m going to make a pumpkin pie this evening. Getting hungry yet? Visit my recipe blog (Amy’s Recipe Project). I started the recipe blog one year ago on January 1. I’m still working it. One day I’ll turn the recipes into an e-book. In the meantime, check out some of the treats I’ve already posted. This week I put up my mom’s Tutti Frutti Pie, at Dad’s request. It’s not gluten-free, but not everyone is avoiding gluten. And if you can’t eat gluten, there are plenty of other goodies on the blog for you. Search “Bernice’s Whiskey Cake” – I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jewish Christmas Eve

It has recently come to my attention that many Jews, particularly of the New York City variety, have a tradition of eating out Chinese food and then going to a movie on Christmas Eve. Crazy. Where I grew up, in Upstate New York, there was no such thing as Jewish Christmas Eve. My family did nothing on Christmas Eve, unless it was one of the nights of Hannukah, and then we lit the menorah. The first Christmas that Ron and I lived together, he went out and bought a little Christmas Tree for $5 on sale on Christmas Eve. Then we called his mom and opened our presents together while on the phone with her. We had no ornaments for the tree. Before we had children, Ron started a tradition of making me cheese blintzes every year for Christmas Dinner. What else do you make for a Jewish wife on Christmas?

Once we had children, Christmas became more magical every year while they were growing up until we had many traditions: choosing and cutting a tree on our property at the Ranch, decorating the tree with all the ornaments the children made over the years (or that were gifted to us—a Jewish wife does not bring Christmas tree ornaments to a marriage), baking holiday cookies, leaving milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve (and lettuce for the reindeer), going to the Christmas sing-along at Hopland School, gleeful secrets, hiding gifts, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, Ron making fried chicken and biscuits for Christmas Dinner, Sudi getting up at 4AM to see what he got (I always had to leave one gift out for him to open and play with until the rest of us woke up), eggnog, the living room floor completely covered with wrapping paper (Golda and Ella, the cats, playing in the paper), friends coming to visit and sharing Christmas Dinner with us, watching movies, playing board games, setting up the train set and adding all the new pieces that were in the stockings, eating too many Reese’s peanut butter cups, listening for hours and hours to Ron’s huge collection of Christmas music, and on and on. We have been so blessed. With our children in college, we have scaled back on gifts in recent years. Our children now say that all they really want for Christmas is Dad’s chicken and biscuits. As a Jew, looking back on 30 years of Christmases with a Christian partner, I am grateful that Christmas entered my life. I wouldn’t trade our Christmas Eve for Chinese takeout and a movie. Embracing Ron’s cherished holiday has enriched my life. Christmas is so much bigger than its Christian roots. It’s the celebration of gratitude, sharing, caring, and love. It can be embraced and appreciated by anyone, no matter what their religious or spiritual beliefs. So yes, come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant. Come ye to the celebration of the best that we can be for each other, the celebration of the intrinsic value of every human spirit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kitchen Table Politics

In this huge runaway world, it is rare that one small person feels like she can make a difference. This past week I sat at my kitchen table, surrounded by friends, and we did just that. Dec. 10 was Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Day. I have been an AI Freedom Writer for over 30 years. One of my favorite AI stories, which occurs rarely yet consistently every once in a long while, is that story of an abused and tortured prisoner of conscience, locked away in a dark place filled with despair, who is miraculously released and subsequently relates that one year at Christmas a guard opened the cell door and dumped bags and bags and bags and bags of cards on the floor of the cell. The cards read “Do not lose hope, you are not forgotten.” And they came from all over the world. From the kitchen tables of people like me.

It has been a year and a half now since my friend Liz started our “Code Pink Book Group,” made up of a handful of women like myself who have written, marched, been arrested, spoken out, and in some small way tried to protest injustice and violence. At first we read books by and about people in countries the U.S. was bombing the shit out of. But then we wandered off into other territory, reading both fiction and nonfiction (mostly nonfiction) about all sorts of politically charged issues. We meet once a month, have a potluck dinner, some of us now bring our spouses, and we have a lively discussion about the state of the world as well as whatever book we have read together. It took me a long time to find the right book group for me. But this one is it. And this past week I printed out the letters for the AI Write-a-Thon and my book group signed and addressed 65 letters at my kitchen table. From our hands to the desks of powerful officials. From our hands a tiny drop in the ocean, to be met by other drips and drops, to grow into a wave, that will perhaps save the life of a good man or woman on the other side of the world.

This is how lives are saved and how the world is changed. At the kitchen table.

Afterthought:
A big shout out to the Nobel Committee for awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo (imprisoned outspoken literary critic). Last year I shook my head in bafflement when they gave the award to Obama, a sitting U.S. president who was waging a war against the Afghani people. What has he done to promote peace? I wondered if the Nobel Committee was on crack or something. They have restored my faith in their judgment and the real purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize. Shame on China for squandering its best and brightest. (Go to the Amnesty International website to sign a petition for Xiaobo's release.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tolstoy

I meant to post about Tolstoy a couple of weeks ago and the time got away from me. November 20th was the 100th anniversary of the death of Leo Tolstoy. I may well be the only person I know who has read War and Peace three times. There is nothing that compares to climbing into an epic Russian novel. It’s sort of an out-of-body experience. And Tolstoy was the master. If you saw the recent film The Last Station then you know some of the drama that surrounded Tolstoy’s death. His wife was very nearly prevented from being with him on his deathbed because of his overzealous, overprotective followers. No one wrote on a more vast canvas than Tolstoy. He tried to make sense of the larger truths and yet he was able to describe the small moment immaculately.

It was Tolstoy who originated the concept of satyagraha, or truth-force, as Ghandi would later call it. We owe the evolution of nonviolent protest and peaceful conflict resolution to Tolstoy, who ignited the spark fanned to flame by Ghandi and Dr. King.

Tolstoy taught us to embrace simplicity and to fall in love over and over again with the exquisitely beautiful everyday occurrence. He insisted that we not overlook or take for granted a delicious bowl of soup or a breathtaking spray of lilies. He wrote: “The aim of the artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” No shortcuts. No excuses. Be present. Savor it. Suffer it. Put yourself in up to your neck and experience the miracle. Bravo, Tolstoy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home of Creativity

All families have their own set of internal values. Being honest. Helping others. Giving back to the community. Getting an education. Being smart. Being funny. Working hard. Being a good friend. Etc. And families certainly value more than one thing. It’s not about either/or choices. Like all families, ours has a variety of values. This holiday weekend, I was again reminded of how much we value creativity. The life of the imagination is so dear to us, so important, like food (of which we also had an over-abundance the past few days). Yesterday Akili and I spent several hours doing a photo shoot of still-lifes that could be potential cover art for my 2011 forthcoming book. Ron spent several hours doing a photo shoot with our daughter so that she could have some decent head shots to use to get work as an extra in movies in L.A. It’s amazing that us photography teams could hear each other over Sudi playing improvised piano (which he recorded using two enormous high-tech microphones he checked out of the equipment library at college for the weekend). We did get some quiet when Sudi went back to his room to work under headphones on another music project. Then the house got too quiet, so Ron filled in by DJing us with R&B and Soul Christmas music (he has a Christmas music library about as large as the planet Venus). Before dinner, I took a few minutes to post a new recipe to my recipe blog. I remember once, when I had just published The Call to Shakabaz, and I felt like I was using a much higher percentage of my brain than I had ever used in my life, and I mentioned a creative idea banging around in my head to Sudi and he replied, “Mom, you need to stop having so many epiphanies.” His words have often come back to haunt me. Today, my three most outstanding epiphanies returned to their own lives. At least until Christmas. There’s a lot our family can dream up before then.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week of Thanksgiving

I’m looking forward to having my children home for the holiday. I’ll be cooking all day Wednesday and loving every minute of it. This morning Ron and I will be over with Kol Ha’Emek Synagogue making bag lunches for the homeless as we do when it is our synagogue’s turn. The irony of hunger in the midst of such abundance never ceases to give me pause. I am feeling even more thankful than ever this year as my dad recently came through a surgery in good shape, I am rising in my fantasy football league (go Vick), and, best of all, my publisher promised to send me a contract sometime this week. That will be a major milestone in my life. I self-published my first book. Since I don’t have the money to do that again, I was forced to find a publisher. I am most pleased with my luck in that department. This book is one I started writing in 1994. It’s a good thing someone is publishing it or I would spend my whole life writing it. Still pondering the title, but of one thing am certain, it will be taken from a quote by Milan Kundera that goes as follows: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about this new adventure in my life.

When I emailed my children to let them know that it’s really happening and the contract is on its way this week, I told them that with three such wonderful children, having a publisher publish one of my books at long last is really just icing on the cake. Funny how it all changed. There was a time when my sole purpose in life was to publish a book. It’s still high up there on my list and I won’t lie, I have longed for this like a thirsty woman longing for water in the desert, but if it never happened and my children thrived in life then I would have been pretty satisfied.

I know that many native people suffer through Thanksgiving; but for me the holiday has transcended its history and has become a time for pausing to feel grateful for family and friends and the bounty with which I have been blessed. It’s about giving thanks. My intentions have transformed the holiday from a historic event to a family celebration. And it has become so for our family and the friends with whom we share every year. Wishing you much to be thankful for this week and throughout the year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking for Lettuce in Chicago

Now that I have been home for a couple of weeks, I can look back on my vacation with a little perspective. One of the vacation stories that we have found ourselves recounting most often to our friends in Cali is the day we went in search of lettuce. I have a habit of eating a giant bowl of lettuce for lunch every day. Usually it’s organic baby lettuces with a bit of crumbled feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. After having gone for a couple of days without my salad, I was having salad withdrawal. Ron took me in search of lettuce. We were in a good neighborhood of Chicago when we spotted a grocery store and pulled into the parking lot. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there was no lettuce in this grocery store. Vegetables yes. Green beans. Sorry limp broccoli. Bags of grated cabbage with a brown tinge. No lettuce. In the whole store. If memory serves, we tried the next store we passed also and again had no luck.

My ingenious husband then searched Whole Foods (better known to us at home in Cali as “Whole Paycheck,” which is why we usually never shop there) in our GPS device. We found a Whole Foods not far from where we were and headed there directly. I confess that I was ready to check in for the rest of my stay in the Midwest. I didn’t want to leave. It smelled like home in that store. Fresh produce. Good herbs and spices. There were heaps of gluten-free food and we even found gluten-free bagels (Udi’s) for the first time ever. We bought steamy cups of fresh organic coffee. Cheese. Apples. Grapes (from Mendocino County). My lettuce of course. And more. I even found my favorite lip gloss (Alba’s coconut) – yum. Since our return we have had many conversations with fellow Californians about how lucky we are out here to have such fine food. When you hear about compromised food sources in the ghetto in big cities and unjust food access issues, it’s not a lot of baloney. It’s true. We couldn’t find lettuce in a good neighborhood in Chicago, let alone in the ghetto. Many of my in-laws live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and you can’t find decent produce (sometimes ANY produce) at all in these places. If you seek out quality produce by leaving the neighborhood, you discover that it’s too expensive to afford on a low income. How can people stay healthy under these conditions? Answer: They can’t.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I invite you to visit my recipe blog for some vegetarian, gluten-free, and/or vegan recipes to use at the holidays. I'm posting recipes specifically for Thanksgiving in the weeks leading up to the day. Click here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Michael Vick Back Again

I believe that people can change. Bigger than that, I believe that there is a pattern to the sequence of events in life, a pattern beyond our comprehension, but that we can change the pattern by our actions. On an everyday working level, I believe people have choices and that they can learn from their mistakes or from consciously opening up to a different or larger perspective. That is one reason why I love Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback for all you football neophytes). Here is how I see it. Vick grew up in a Southern culture in which many men in his family and many men who were his role models engaged in dogfighting, so he never questioned it, until he was arrested for it. There is no doubt that he is guilty of cruelty to animals and breaking the laws against dogfighting. So he served his time in prison. He was forced to confront the ugly underside of the culture he grew up in. He was publicly humiliated. He was exiled. And he grew and changed and learned. And he became a good man as a result.

He has said that he understands that some people will never forgive him for what he did. He has said that he is ashamed of it and truly sorry. I believe him. He has donated large sums of money to animal rights causes. He speaks out against dogfighting and cruelty to animals. He speaks to schoolchildren regularly about his experience, about dogfighting, and about the fact that people can change if they put their mind to it. He is a very different quarterback these days. He is not as cocky, although he clearly has the physical athletic skills he needs to perform at a remarkable level. He makes no assumptions. He has said that his work ethic is entirely different. And it shows. He takes nothing for granted. He works hard both on and off the field. Today, he’s back out there, having been given the clearance by the doctors to play after an injury he suffered several weeks ago. It’s the new Michael Vick. Stepping out on the field again. I have heard him say, with deep emotion, that he once thought he would never play pro ball again and that he’s deeply grateful for this second chance. I love him. Bring it on.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ready to Go Home

When I was young, I loved to travel. I thrived on adventure and change. In my early 20s, I moved to a new place every year (or more frequently sometimes than that). I used to joke that I never cleaned the stove in an apartment; that when the stove got too dirty I moved to another city. That was about the size of it. Upstate NY, to London, to Massachusetts, to Michigan, to Vermont, to Santa Maria in California, to the East Bay (SF area), to Denver, back to the East Bay. I traveled back and forth to Europe frequently. Once I dropped everything and went on a road trip to Seattle because I had never been there and I had a friend I could stay with. Ron and I traveled in Europe for several weeks back in the early 80s. So how did I become the reclusive personality I am today?

I confess that I no longer enjoy traveling. It broke my heart to move off my beloved land on McNab Ranch. I am doing better these days now that I am used to my new home. I putter in my yard and have become attached to my little half acre. Why leave home when home is so lovely? I am most happy hiding in my study, plunking away on my computer. Making up imaginary worlds.

After 10 days on the road, first attending a wedding in the Berkshires, and then visiting friends and family in Chicago and St. Louis, I am so ready to be back in my hideaway. Cup of decaf. Cat in my lap. Cool breeze bringing the scent of sage and mint from my front garden. Tap, tap, tapping the keys. I’m winging home today. Take me there.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wedding in the Berkshires

My darling husband and I spent the weekend in the lovely autumnal Berkshires attending the wedding of two of our dearest friends, Jim and Sara. Ron did more than attending, he actually performed the ceremony (after becoming a qualified minister online through the Universal Life Church), which seems to be the latest and greatest knee-slapper among his family in Chicago. His sisters are calling him the Rev (and they will have the opportunity to do so in person shortly as we are on our way to see them next).

When two people wait all their lives to meet the right person, and then, in their fifties, find the love they have hoped for, held out for, believed would come to them if they were patient, well, it makes for a six-hanky wedding for all concerned. This is the first wedding for both of them and you would have to travel far to find two souls better matched than these two. It is always a delight to witness a wedding when you can see, when everyone can see, that the bride and groom have a terrific relationship and will be happy together. The delight turns to wonder when it took a long time for the bride and groom to find each other, and here they are in their 50s making a marriage. The wonder turns to miracle when the couple are people as special as Jim and Sara. What a bright and shining moment to participate in this event. It reminds me that every marriage built on authentic love is a miracle.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Job Offer Scams

This is too much. My children, both college grads, are looking hard every day for work without much luck in this economy. Recently my son got a job offer that was a total scam. Some purported prospective employer picked up his resume on a bona fide mainstream electronic job board and emailed him with an offer written in those whacky bad grammar sentences you find in the Nigerian internet scams. I don’t know why these people think that if the grammar is horrendous you will believe that the person is from some foreign country and doesn’t speak English very well. This scam artists claims to be from Malaysia. He writes: ”I am a costruction engineer who is dependently employed so i travel a lot on business trips and thats why i need an honest person to always assist while i am away.”

He offered my son a job buying supplies for an orphanage he supposedly runs. He writes: “I have been checking my files and what i would want you to do for me this week is to run some errands out to some of the orphanage home, I do that every month. A payment inform of a Cashier Check will be sent over to you from one of my clients and i have some lists to email you once you received the funds, You will make some arrangements by buying some stuff for the kids in the Orphanage at any nearest store around you so you can mail them out.” Yah. Right. An orphanage? Puleez. My son just deleted it and ignored it. But other young people will be duped. Next the scam artist will ask for the victim’s bank account information for the transfer of funds. Or do you think this scam artist wants the social security number and other personal information so he can steal the victim’s identity? My son has experienced quite a few of these, including purported employers who want his information so they can run a “credit check” before they employ him. Argh.

Doesn’t this make you furious? Preying on young people desperate to find work and get their independent lives started, this scam artist will make them miserable and cost them money they don’t have straightening out whatever mess this criminal predator has in store for them. And of course everything must happen quickly. He needs all the information from the victim quickly. He is eager to get started working with the victim. I’ll bet. Well we’re going to report this one to the job board from whence he came and hope they can axe him. This stuff makes me wonder if there’s any hope for human salvation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plant Energy

It’s autumn (finally) in the garden. I went on my Facebook diet just at the right time. Less time on the computer and more time in the yard makes me happier. Concentrating on edible plants these days, saves money in the long run. I picked all the rest of the green tomatoes last week and put them in a giant bowl to ripen inside, took out the tomato vines, and will soon plant kale when I have those beds ready. Kale, collards, and cilantro in the winter garden. Also the time of year to put in asparagus beds for next year’s crop. And a few tulip bulbs just for fun. While at the cash register at the nursery waiting to buy my asparagus, I picked up a fact sheet and read that research studies show that workers in offices with live plants get sick less often and are more productive than people who work in offices with no plants. Children in classes with plants get better grades, are better behaved, and get sick less often. I didn’t write down the exact stats or the sources for them, but these statistics make perfect sense. Plant energy keeps us well, keeps us positive, keeps us connected with the mysterious spiritual energy active in the universe.

Probably some kind of cosmic energy surge today: 10-10-10.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tea Party 101

The Tea Party is not a grassroots movement opposed to government interference, as depicted in the media. It’s actually a corporate puppet. The Tea Party was created by the Koch brothers (pronounced “coke”), who have heavily financed the movement. It is a strategy developed by the Kochs (and other wealthies in the corporate world) to tear down the government so that they can conduct their business activities without regulation, governmental constraint, or consideration for the environment, public interest, or the health of everyday citizens.

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reports (Aug. 2010) that David and Charles Koch operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, controlling about 4,000 miles of pipeline. They are the third wealthiest people in the country (behind Bill and Melissa Gates and Warren Buffett), with a combined wealth of $35 billion. They clearly have the financial resources to market their agenda to the public and to form public opinion. They have the resources to influence public policy. As Mayer explains: “By giving money to ‘educate’, fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, the Kochs have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement.” Their promotion of their private agenda is not new, they have been up to this trick for over 20 years, investing $200 million in their self-serving activities, including a massive propaganda campaign (which continues in support of Tea Party activities).

It is infuriating that the Kochs have duped so many everyday people with old-fashioned traditional values, who work hard to make a decent life for themselves, into believing that the Tea Party represents their interests. It does not. It is the opposite. It is owned and operated by the Kochs and their corporate buddies. And if the Tea Party is successful in stripping the government of regulatory power over big business, then the oil companies, financial institutions, and health insurance companies will have free reign to plunder and pillage, destroying the planet and the future of our children.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What the Broccoli Says

The cover story in Time mag this week is about how the life of a baby in utero impacts that baby’s life. The article goes beyond conventional approaches to prenatal care. For instance, an Israeli study shows that the children of women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy during the Six-Day War in June of 1967 grew up to be significantly more prone to schizophrenia than the norm. Babies born to women who were under a lot of stress when pregnant have difficulty dealing with stress and are more prone to depression and mental illness. Maternal starvation (caused by famine or extreme poverty) during pregnancy is directly linked to heart disease in the babies they carried. The belief is that with limited nutritional resources, these deprived fetuses directed resources to brain development rather than heart development because the brain is a more important organ (although we clearly need both). Environmental pollutants, nutrition/food, the mother’s mental state, and, in fact, the state of the world, all have documented impacts on the unborn child. This goes beyond playing nice music to the baby in utero. This is about the state of the world the baby is coming into and the baby’s anxiety level in relation to entering that world. They have also drawn connections between low birthweight babies and heart disease, obesity in pregnant mothers and obesity in their offspring, and diabetic mothers disrupting the metabolism of the unborn child and predisposing the child to diabetes. The article explains why this research goes beyond genetics (since we all know that diabetes is genetic). I’m not going to go into detail about that here. I was excited to hear that research shows that babies born to women who ate a lot of broccoli when they were pregnant are significantly more resistant to cancer. I built my children out of broccoli and the broccoli says they should be healthy. But the whole article gave me pause about how much unborn children already know or sense about the horrifying state of the world which they are about to enter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yom Kippur Reflection

If there is a design to life, to the sequence of events that occurs in the known world, and it is a design orchestrated by a deity or omniscient spiritual entity, then that deity or entity must be both infinitely good and wretchedly evil at the same time. That would be the only way to characterize our experience since the same entity that produced the giant majestic Redwoods also produced the Holocaust. And if there is a design, then our actions are meaningless since they have been pre-ordained. That is why I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or god. Perhaps it is comforting to assume that everything happens for a reason and that there is a greater meaning to all things, a meaning that we humans just don’t understand. I find that too simplistic.

Alternatively, if there is no method to the madness, no plan, and no design, then what we experience is random chaos. The sequence of events is a cause and effect progression with no significance and we are at the whim of chance. Once again, this renders our actions as meaningless. If our existence was set in motion by a higher entity, which then withdrew, then we are basically a failed science experiment, which I suppose is possible (anything is, really), but not likely. In any case, our actions are still meaningless. In a random universe, we can only celebrate with and console each other as we pass through the delights and tragedies of life. If events occur randomly then we have good cause to rise to anger at some of the pointless tragedies of the world. But I don’t believe the world functions in utter chaos and that we have no impact on it. I find that too easy.

It is certainly possible that both a divine design and random chaos co-exist in a tension or balance that is beyond the comprehension of my feeble human mind. That lets me off the hook. I can press the autopilot button and go on faith, not a bad option.

What if there is a design of sorts, but it is changeable? What if there is a way to influence the course of events? If fate does not exist, if all things are not necessarily “meant to be,” if the progression of events is mutable, then despite the tendency toward random occurrence or loose adherence to some mysterious design, we have a way to change the course of events and steer things to a different course from the one originally set in motion. How do we do that? I believe that everything, seen and unseen, here now and here in the past, living in this world and present at another level, has spirit and spiritual energy can never be destroyed. It can be changed and moved. It can never be uncreated. The universe is laced with spiritual energy, which interpenetrates our lives as spiritual beings, throughout the course of events. We can make an impact by the inter-penetration of spiritual energy. We have the opportunity and the potential to change the course of events with the energy we create, channel, invite, elicit, emanate, and conjure. So then our actions do have meaning. In which case, at Yom Kippur I pause to contemplate the fact that I am an imperfect being and to set for myself the improvements I wish to make in the coming year so that my impact is more positive and so that I can do a better job of connecting with spirit.

I will end with a true story. During the last summer of her life, when she knew she was dying, my friend Nan called me up on the night before our family left for our annual vacation at Manresa Beach in Watsonville. She said to me, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I promised I would. Sitting on Manresa Beach, I remembered her words and laughed about it since I had never seen a dolphin at Manresa in ten years of family vacations there. But I went to the ocean’s edge and called out, “Hello Dolphins. Nan says hello!” Later that day, you guessed it, a school of dolphins swam past the beach, jumping high out of the water so that they were clearly visible. Astonished, I called to them, “Nan says hello!” And from that time to this, I have seen dolphins at Manresa on every single visit I have made to that beach. Although Nan is no longer living, I always send the dolphins her regards.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tal

My friend Tal fell off his roof yesterday morning and died. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that. Today was the first morning since his birth that he did not wake to see. I saw him Friday night at synagogue. We sat next to one another, close enough that I could hear him singing some of the tunes with his lovely voice. We ate dinner together later. He was in his early 60s and left behind his wife and their two grown children. He and his wife have been together forever. I can’t imagine how she will cope with such a sudden loss. No illness or preparation. No time to get used to the idea, just having the finish arrive. Her husband is abruptly gone. Tal worked in construction his whole life and would likely be one of the most sure-footed people on a roof. I don’t know the details of what happened, but must still wonder that one misstep, one off moment, one blip, sent a good man beyond the reach of those who love him. Ironically, he and his wife had just moved her mother, who is in her 90s, here to be near them. So how does one person live into their 90s while another falls off a roof in his early 60s? My new meditation on death comes from watching all of LOST: Love, Remember, Let Go. Loving is easy, what we do every day. Remembering will happen on its own, whether invited or not, and will often break our hearts. But the letting go is the most difficult one.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

LOST

I confess. I have turned into a LOST junkie. I never watch TV (except for football). Really. Never. I read about LOST in a magazine in May when the six-season sci-fi adventure series ended and it sounded intriguing. So we watched the first show of season one on Netflix instant play and we were hooked. That was the beginning of the end. The end was three months later, this past Friday night. Since June, we have spent the entire summer watching old LOST episodes every night. One weekend in July, we spent the entire day on a Saturday glued to the TV. But now we’re done and we know everything that happened. I could quarrel with some of the choices the writers and producers made, and I could fault them for getting themselves in a corner with plots that had to be abandoned or were not fully developed, and I could complain that character motivation was off in places, but the bottom line is that they had me and I couldn’t let go so they did a lot of things right.

This epic adventure was so brilliantly well-written that I shouted with glee sometimes at the genius of it. LOST works on several levels (including a mythic level), has many plots going at once, and travels marvelously through time and space. The characters have real depth; and there are lots of them. Several years ago I paid a professional book editor to read one of my novels and critique it. She said it was “overpopulated” – too many characters. One of the things I loved about LOST was that it had so many characters that it felt like a real world. Filled with people. Kind of like Harry Potter. The reader/viewer gets to go to another place and meet all these people and, through imagination, participate in their lives and their struggles. The viewer is far from passive in LOST. Unless you engage, and work, it makes no sense.

At the end of the final episode of LOST, Jack’s father tells him that he and his friends from Oceanic Flight 815 made a community together and that he has finally arrived at a place they created where they can come together “to remember and to let go.” Many questions are left unanswered, but the big unanswered questions are basically the big questions about life that have a habit of remaining unanswered. The best that we can do is remember those who have passed over and then let go of them. As we will be remembered and then cut adrift by those we leave behind when we pass over. The most powerful human moments in the final episode are the points where characters exchange their love for one another. So that in that final episode, the most moving images are those of the people who loved one another embracing. And that is what remains, what we remember, what must be let go. It was a good ending for six years of drama and adventure (although for us it was completed in three months). And even though Christian Shepherd assures his son Jack that “it was all real,” I was left wondering if perhaps no one ever survived that plane crash to begin with. Of course, by the end, it didn’t matter if they had survived the crash or not.

At the end of the last Harry Potter book, Harry asks Dumbledore: “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” And Dumbledore answers: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Day at the Ocean (Or Writing Myself into Obsolescence)

Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. Ron got a friend of his from work to loan him their studio apartment in Fort Bragg for a night. Here we are. There’s nothing like a day at the ocean, with no internet connectivity or microwave, to put life into perspective. And, ironically, I’m blogging about it, eh? Looking out at the Pacific, I remember when my life was simpler and I miss that simplicity. I want to get back to the basics, to the values with which I started out in life and the goals I set way back in the day, because they (mostly) still apply. I am always complaining about not having enough money, but lately I believe that if having money was my highest priority then I would have it by now. I received other things; things that were always more important to me.

I suddenly have this wave (get it, “wave”?) of revulsion at the thought of owning a home, which I have done since 1984. But I am starting to wonder what the point of home ownership is, in fact. So your landlord can’t make you move at the drop of a hat? That would be an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. To plant things in the yard? There will always be places to plant things. The purpose of having a house, to maintain, to insure, to pay taxes on, to clean, at this juncture in my life, is mainly as collateral to generate the funds to put my children through college. And after that is accomplished, why not sell the damn behemoth and rent a cottage by the ocean? That’s the ticket. Let someone else worry about the plumbing and the painting and the price of paying interest on a loan. Blech!

And I suddenly have a wave (that pun is probably getting old by now in this blog, puns have as short cyber shelf life) of regret for all the hours wasted doodling around on line, on Facebook, on Netflix, on Amazon, on Google looking up information that I actually could have lived and died without knowing. I would get a lot more written if I wasn’t so busy reading so much mundane blah blah blah (like the stuff I write on Facebook about the weather and the most recent scrap of fluff that has floated through my brain). Like this blog, I guess. I’m going on an internet diet. Less time reading useless passing infobites. Have I written myself into obsolescence?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mango Lemonade

Just for fun. A silly story. Yesterday at the grocery store the bagger put too many glass bottles into one of my canvas shopping bags. She loaded the bags into my cart, I paid for the groceries, and then I discovered that sticky orange liquid was pouring from my cart and making a huge puddle on the floor, splattering everywhere. Baggers and checkers descended on my cart as if it were the invasion of Normandy. They took the remaining bottles (balsamic vinegar, wine, and juice) and divided them into two plastic bags (since they were covered in icky sticky juice). They hurried the leaking canvas bag to the trash can where they dumped out the last of the juice, the broken bottle, and the small piece of glass that had been knocked out of the bottom of the juice bottle and caused the spill. Someone went to get me a replacement bottle of juice.

In the meantime, the lady behind me in line commented, “That smells so yummy. What was in that jar?” And I told her “Mango Lemonade.” In an instant, the words started to spread down the line like a blessing whispered down from the Temple Mount. “What did she say?” “That smells heavenly, what is that stuff?” “I have to get some of that.” “Mango lemonade from the health food juice section.” As if it was the answer to the question of why humans exist on the planet, the words “Mango Lemonade” were murmured reverently from one person to the next. And soon checkers and customers were heading over to the health food section and coming back with their own jars of Mango Lemonade. A run on Mango Lemonade. It really did smell yummy. All the way home. My shopping bags were drenched in it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Luck Has to Do with It

I subscribe to several different writer’s e-zines, including the weekly email notice from Writer’s Market. This week Senior Content Editor Robert Lee Brewer wrote a short piece slamming writers who “are convinced that finding success is like winning the lottery,” writers who think their struggles as writers are at the whim of good or bad luck. He basically says these writers have not met with success because they are lazy, have not invested the time and energy necessary on revision of a manuscript or that they didn’t work to “build a platform.” He claims that “Most success stories come from writers making their own luck through working at their craft, networking , and persevering.”

Give me a break, Brewer! It most certainly is like winning the lottery. It has everything to do with luck. I spent years marketing my self-pubbed book The Call to Shakabaz and I have still not sold out the first printing, despite the fact that it’s a damn good book that has won a heap of awards. But let’s face it, without money to invest in marketing, there’s only so much a person can do. Marketing is a bottomless pit. Building a platform? Working hard? I built my hands raw. I have blogged, social networked, produced an e-zine, written for online media outlets, followed leads, posted articles, pulled content out of thin air to draw traffic to my website. I have mailed promotional copies of that book all over the universe, followed every lead, gone the extra nine yards a million times and I have not won the lottery with that very excellent book. So don’t talk to me about making my own luck.

Mr. Brewer, I got up at 5:30 AM every morning Monday to Friday for six years to work on writing a novel before waking my children and getting them ready for school and going off to my 9-to-5 job. I have now spent over 15 years working on that novel. I have revised that manuscript more times than the Raiders have bungled a football game. I could wallpaper a house with my rejection notices from agents and publishers for that book. Finally, last year, I placed the book with a publisher and it is now in production to be published in 2012. Trust me on this one, Mr. Brewer, it has everything to do with luck. The market is so saturated with good writers jumping up and down and screaming and yelling and shooting off flares while trying to get someone to look in their direction that it takes way more than talent and perseverance to get noticed. Do I feel lucky that one of my books was finally discovered by a publisher? Hell yes. It is like winning the lottery.

Don’t tell me Mr. Brewer that you really believe that people who work hard and persevere will get published. How can you be that naïve? That’s the American Dream myth. And you know what George Carlin says about that: to believe it you have to be asleep. It just doesn’t happen for everyone. It doesn’t happen for a lot of everyones. So quit telling people that luck has nothing to do with it. You’re telling a lot of people who have worked really hard that they bungled it and deserve to fail anyway.

Mr. Brewer will never read these words because no matter how much energy I have put out to the universe to “build a platform,” I’m lucky if even a handful of people read my damn blog each week. And none of you are Mr. Brewer. (I couldn’t even find contact information at Writer’s Market to send a link to my blog. Well-insulated.) I can testify that sometimes people take a leap of faith, shoot the moon, put their heart and soul into it, and they don’t meet with success. Just working hard doesn’t necessarily land the prize. Doing all the right things doesn’t necessarily make it happen. A lot of people have mortgaged the house to market their book and then lost their house. And I would be terribly bitter about that if not for the fact that I learned long ago to appreciate the wonder of the journey itself and to stop placing so much emphasis on “success,” which is all relative anyway. Even so, I still have my moments when I pray for that elusive miracle lurking around the corner. So count yourself lucky, Mr. Brewer, and don’t tell me I have not reached my goal for lack of effort.

You handful of people who read all of this blog, I love you. Thanks for listening. You are my wonderful journey.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Remembering Elena -- August 9

I just got back from the Bay Area where we went to the annual picnic to remember our friend Elena Castañeda who was killed three years ago (Aug. 9) when she was hit by a truck while riding her bike to work in Oakland. I want to write a little bit about her to remember her on this anniversary.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Elena traveled around the world for two years before settling in Berkeley and eventually attending college. She received her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language in 1999. Elena did not grow up speaking Spanish, but she studied Spanish as an adult and became fluent in the language. Seeking to learn more about her cultural roots, she traveled in many Spanish-speaking countries, including her family’s country of origin, Mexico.

During her more than 30 years as a Berkeley resident, Elena worked at the organic urban farm in Berkeley, as a member of a collective that refinished wood floors, and as a college English teacher (teaching ESL students). She counseled high-schoolers while working at Job Corps and considered this her most rewarding job. She loved making a difference in the lives of the young people she touched with her work.

She lived in a housing cooperative and was a master at group process. She was a true political activist (who walked the talk) and was committed to social justice. For instance, she traveled to a remote region of Nicaragua to build houses for single mothers and their children. She was an environmentalist, who chose to ride her bike as often as possible in order to help prevent climate change. She lived lightly on the earth. She did not hesitate to speak up, even at the risk of endangering herself, when she witnessed a wrongful action.

She was greatly loved and is remembered by all who knew her for her generosity, her sense of humor, her commitment to peace and justice, her creativity, her green thumb, and her wisdom. She was Sudi’s godmother and she adored him. I sometimes think that she was such a fully evolved individual, that she had no more work to do on this plain and therefore it was time for her to leave, despite the grief she left in her wake. I set in motion the work to establish a scholarship fund in her name. We call it the Elena Fund. Last year we raised nearly $10,000, which was awarded to 5 hard-working Spanish-speaking young people in Berkeley to assist them with their college education. Our beautiful Elena, you are not forgotten, your work continues.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Music Power

Music stories have been following me around lately. Here is an old Hasidic story I recently read.

The great Hasidic rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, was traveling with a group of his followers. They stopped for a drink at a tavern. While they were drinking, a group of local rabblerousers entered the tavern, looking for trouble, maybe some Jews to bully and rough up. The Baal Shem Tov sat a young boy from among his followers on the bar and ordered him, “Sing Boy.” The boy chanted a “nigun” (a wordless melody). The Baal Shem Tov and his followers clapped along and soon began chanting as well. In no time flat, the local rabblerousers clapped along too, then joined in with the singing, then danced, until the two groups, brought together inside the music, had a jolly time.

The young boy grew up and became a merchant. One day he was traveling with a large wagon full of goods when he was ambushed on the road by a band of thieves armed with guns. The leader of the thieves was frightening, clearly vicious, and obviously dangerous. He had his gun trained on the merchant, and then he recognized him. “Sing Boy,” he commanded the merchant. The merchant sang the same wordless nigun that he had sung all those years ago as a young boy in the tavern.

The leader of the thieves had been in that tavern on that night when the Baal Shem Tov’s followers and the rabblerousers had danced and sang. The leader of the thieves ordered his much-surprised gang to let the merchant pass in peace and safety.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deaf Musician

What a kick. The story of Sean Forbes’s rise to success as a rapper reminds me that there is much to still love in this deteriorating world. People like Sean make it worth getting out of bed in the morning. Sean lost almost all of his hearing when he was a baby. That has never prevented him from feeling the rhythm in music. Rap music is particularly well-suited to his sensibility because he can distinguish the low percussive tones of the bass and the drum so prominent in rap. As a teenager, he taught himself (with help from family and friends) to learn the words to songs and, with the beat guiding him, started to sing along. More than that, he eventually learned to play the bass and the drums, began writing lyrics, and was soon on his way as a musician in his own right. Now 28 years old, he is a rising star in the rap music world. His album entitled “I’m Deaf” was released in May 2010. In 2006, he founded D-PAN, the Deaf Performing Artists Network, to showcase the talents of deaf actors, writers, performing artists, directors, and producers and to create performance works particularly suited to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. After the release of his album, he performed in his hometown of Detroit to a packed house. Because he couldn’t hear the applause from his audience, he asked them to sway back and forth so he could see the impact of his music. Just google his name to find out more about this dynamic young musician. You go, Sean!
Listen to Sean sing here.
Sean Forbes

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Song Communication

I’m so proud of my friend Nancy, who is a speech, language, and swallowing therapist. She has been selected to present at the national American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) conference in the fall of 2010. She will speak about her techniques for helping stroke victims regain their ability to speak through singing together with others. I am particularly pleased about this because she hired me to edit her proposal to ASHA so I was personally invested in her success. While I worked with her, Nancy taught me a little bit about what she does; and it’s fascinating. The cutting edge research about language loss and reclamation demonstrates that people who have lost the ability to speak because of a stroke can often communicate through song. Apparently the part of the brain that processes language is a different part of the brain from the part that processes music. So some people can learn to speak again through singing therapy. Go figure. The brain is a mysterious instrument. Imagine if you could only communicate in song? That would be a challenge for me, I’m sure; however, my husband knows so many tunes that he probably would be able to say whatever he cared to say by singing a line from a song.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gardening in the Suburbs

My garden is perhaps a metaphor for my life in the suburbs since we moved off the Ranch. My neighbors are nice to me, and they are lovely neighbors. But I get the impression that much of the time they are humoring me. Behind my back I suspect that some of them call me eccentric, nutty, and (horrors) liberal. I recently discovered that one of my neighbors has taken it upon himself to lobby my other neighbors to help him change my mind about my landscaping program. He is unhappy that I am killing my lawn. He is chagrined that I have failed to rake the leaves up under my oak tree. Oak trees drop leaves, that’s what they do for a living. That’s what the underneath of an oak tree looks like in the wild. Leaves. I do not have the time to fight that tree by raking leaves every two weeks. I can’t afford a gardener, like all my neighbors. I am the gardener. The tree is happy. I am happy. The neighbor can stay in his own yard, which, by-the-way, is two-thirds rocks and one-third grass. His rocks are gray and so nondescript that I can’t tell one from another. I guess he likes rocks. I know he dislikes birds because I’ve seen him out there shooting them.

What is it with a lawn? It is as boring as, well, grass. It is almost as boring as nondescript gray rocks. It lays there and does nothing. It drinks gallons of water. This is Cali, with drought and water conservation. My lawn is not the boss of me. I have evicted my lawn. Bye-bye. The oak leaves do a good job of killing off the lawn and the leaves are free. My tree makes them in quantities and charges me nothing to place them strategically on the ex-lawn. I have two sections of front yard, one under the oak tree and one in blazing sunlight. The section under the oak tree will have to wait until next year for a makeover. I’m working on the other section this year. I have a budget.

If I had the bucks, I’d hire a landscaping company to whoosh in, rip out this godawful sod, and replant (both sections). Within a year, I’d have a drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, heat-loving, magnificent, flowering, scented, and brilliant garden in front of my house. Alas, it is necessary for me to build slowly, buying plants at a discount over time, waging war against the sod inch by inch. Starting out with small plants and waiting for them to grow. I’m patient. I can wait. My neighbors need to chill. Growing a garden is like raising children, it’s a long-term process. And I’m enjoying the journey despite the ornery neighbors.

I like the way my yard looks and don’t particularly get off on my neighbor’s rocks. He gets off on his rocks and lawn and pristine yard. I like a less-than-pristine yard. I am not in it to tame nature. He is in it to beat nature into submission. But he is entitled to his preferences (and I am entitled to mine). I don’t tell him what to do in his yard. He shouldn’t tell me what to do in mine. And more than that, neither one of us has any basis on which to assume that our preference is the right way of doing things. That’s the lesson. I feel much better now, thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Applliance Virus

I had fair warning, I suppose, but I didn’t read the signs. My water pik stopped working three weeks ago. Just ffffttt fizzled and came to a halt. Had to call the company and ask for a replacement. It’s still under the one-year warranty. They will put one in the mail. That was the beginning. Next, last week my fridge stopped working. Flat. Fortunately I have a little deep-freeze in the garage, so I moved the frozen stuff out there. I knew I was in trouble when the repairman informed me that he had to “take the unit into the shop.” I should have said my farewells then. I’ll never see that fridge again. It turns out it has a fatal error. Some type of birth defect. It’s been declared irreparable. It was a Maytag Whirlpool, by the way. Top rated.

But I didn’t get too bent out of shape. I have an extended warranty. I’ve only had it two years. You would think the warranty would cover replacement. My last fridge is over 15 years old and still chugging away up at the Ranch. Well, it turns out that the extended warranty only covers part of the replacement cost because they depreciate the fridge, now deemed worth less than half the purchase price. I’m blazing furious. The local appliance company and Maytag are a hair’s breadth away from losing my business for the rest of my life. To be continued on Tuesday, I’m going out kicking and screaming on this one. I don’t think I should pay a penny for a new fridge.

Meanwhile, two days after the fridge checked out and moved on to green pastures, the electronic control panel on the two-year-old stove quit. We can knock on the door but no one answers, press any button, nothing happens. The appliance store doesn’t have a replacement electronic panel in stock so they have to order it. Tuesday, since Monday is a holiday. It takes a week to come in. Meanwhile, we can turn the burners on but no exhaust fan so no frying. And the oven is not functioning whatsoever. I’m pining for my ancient Wedgewood from Milivia Street in the old Berkeley days.

Today is our annual Soul Food Dinner (4th of July), with friends from the Bay Area converging for the potluck feast. Forget the fish fry, we’re BBQing. And Amy will learn how to bake mac ‘n cheese in a convection oven. Shrug. Life’s speed bumps.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Synchronicity

When my dad was visiting me a few weeks ago, he fell in love with my orange tabby, Golda. Golda is a rare cat because she’s a female. Most orange tabbies are males. Golda is a sweet girl and quite beautiful. She spent a lot of time curled up in Dad’s lap during his visit, purring. Dad has a friend whose cat died a few weeks ago and he was of the opinion that this friend should get a new cat, specifically a female orange tabby like Golda. So he googled “female orange tabby” and printed out information about this kind of cat and the other night he put the printout in his pocket and took it with him to his dance group where he would see his friend. He approached his friend and said, “I think you should get a new cat.” His friend said, “I just got a new cat!” So dad asked what kind of cat it is. The friend answered, “It ‘s a rare kind of cat, she’s a female orange tabby.” Astounded, Dad produced the printout from his pocket to prove to the friend that he was just about to suggest this kind of cat. Synchronicity.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend S. and she told me that some close friends of hers had just discovered (within the previous few days) that their two-year-old niece has a brain tumor. The family was in shock. S. wished she could do something, anything, to help. But what can one do? A few days after that conversation, my friend G. came to visit for a couple of days. She lives in the Bay Area and I don’t see her very often. I forgot what she did for a living. In the course of conversation she reminded me that she works in the neurology department at Stanford, and that her boss is a neurologist who is a national expert in treating brain tumors in toddlers. His office is plastered with photographs of children whose lives he has saved. I hooked S. up with G. and they figured out how to link the family of the ailing toddler to this national expert for health care. Synchronicity.

I suspect there are more synchronicities that occur in life than we realize. Perhaps I should start keeping track of them. I remember a story a friend told me once. He was having a conversation while standing on the subway platform in New York. My friend was saying that people have a misperception that a large portion of the population of New York is Jewish when in fact there are proportionately very few Jews in New York. Just as my friend was saying this, a subway pulled into the station, the doors opened, and a mob of Lubavitcher Ultra-Orthodox Jews with the side-curls, beards, black suits, and black hats stepped off. Synchronicity.

Why does this stuff happen? There’s got to be more to it than we can fathom.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Daddy Stories

My husband Ron is sitting with the portable phone next to his oatmeal bowl as he reads the Sunday paper. He’s waiting. He says he’ll see who’s paying attention. He deserves a few calls today.

Gene (my dad) came to my rescue during the winter of my freshman year in college, when I got the flu or a cold (maybe a sinus infection) of some sort. After a couple of miserable days, I went to the student health service. The doctor gave me a prescription for an antibiotic called Erythromycin, which sometimes has the side effect of causing nausea. Here is Amy’s law: Any side effect that can occur from a drug will occur if taken by Amy. I shared an apartment with a friend who had gone out of town for a few days so I was alone. Lying in bed with a cooking pot to wretch into because I was too dizzy to make it to the bathroom, I called home. Dad left work and immediately drove 120 miles in one of the most wicked snow blizzards of the Upstate New York winter to look after me. By the time he returned home on Monday morning, I was well on the way to recovery (after seeing a doctor in private practice).

Ron didn’t receive much fathering from his own dad, who left when Ron was very young. So he vowed that he would do all the father things with his own children. Mort and Brian came to stay with us during the summer every year while they were growing up. One year we took them to Disneyland. Once we went to Yosemite. And one time their Daddy insisted on taking them fishing so they would be able to say they went with their dad. They caught nary a fish but they had a good time. He took Akili to a baseball game when Akili was two years old, bought him a souvenir cap, and took a heap of photos of his boy in the stands. Akili was actually too little to appreciate the game, but he had a lovely time out with Dad (and great hot dog). I think all five of Ron’s children would agree that one of the most valuable things their Dad has passed down to them is the love of music (and significant knowledge about music as well). For Sudi, the inheritance includes a talent for creating and playing music. What a fine thing for a father to pass down to his children.

Happy Father’s Day Gene and Ron.


Our Gang in Tahoe (1994)



Our Gang in Santa Cruz (2008)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Remembrance

I had a completely different blog in mind today, but then I woke up and remembered it’s my mother’s yahrzeit today. Although the solar calendar anniversary of her passing is not until early next month, the Jewish lunar calendar anniversary is today so this is when I light a candle. I don’t need to light a candle to remember. When I checked in at Facebook this morning, my friend Adilah had posted that she watched a rehearsal for a performance in which a dance team of young people performed Michael’s moves to a T for “Beat It” and “Man in the Mirror.” Her reflection was that Michael is still very much alive. Shakespeare had it all wrong, the good that men do is not interred with their bones. It’s the good that lives after them, Willie. Everybody wants to be remembered. That’s what the mad scramble is all about. Yet when the galaxies turn and the climate changes and humans follow the dinosaurs into the tar pits, no physical trace will be left and the things we left behind to show that we were here will vanish. I want to live in the good moment and contribute to the positive spirit. If anything remains, anything at all, it will be that positive spirit. Count me in.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lake Merritt Walk with Sara

After helping Sudi move into his summer sublet in Berkeley, I went to spend the night with friends Jim and Sara in Oakland. Saturday morning found me on a brisk walk around Lake Merritt with Sara, who talked about her latest project, which is related to raising awareness about disability rights. With a partner who uses a wheelchair to get around, she has extensive firsthand experience with the prejudices and injustices that confront a disabled person on a daily basis. She described an evening dinner at a restaurant with Jim (who uses the wheelchair) and her mother, who is in her 80s and completely mentally competent. The waiter came to the table and made eye contact with Sara only, asking something like “Do you know what these folks want to order.” I don’t remember exactly what it was the waiter said or exactly how it went down, but, as Sara described it, the way it was phrased, it was obvious that the waiter assumed that the guy in the wheelchair and the old lady lacked the mental capacity to decide or communicate what they wanted to eat!

I told Sara that it reminded me of the previous week when we were at Akili’s graduation and our family went out to eat along with Akili’s girlfriend Tina and her parents. It was our son who had graduated and we were treating everyone. But when the waiter brought the bill, he handed it directly to Tina’s father (who is white). I took it from him and passed it over to Ron, my Black husband, who was paying for the meal. I confess the significance of the scenario did not dawn on me until later when Ron mentioned that the waiter’s assumption made him angry (even though he didn’t say anything to the waiter). Neither one of these waiters set out to insult or devalue anyone. It’s just a case of unlearning prejudicial assumptions. An ongoing process for all of us. The conversation reminded me to remain vigilant to my own assumptions and to continue to ask and learn, remaining open to the fact that my worldview is not the right one but one of many and that we are still learning from each other every day how to be more human.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Family of Hand-Held Devices

So I spent time tootling around San Diego with the family last week. All of us visiting, none living in San Diego. So we needed travel aids to find our way around. That is how I happened to find myself shoe-horned into the back seat of a rental car, between my oldest and my youngest children, with my stepson driving and Ron attempting to exercise paternal prerogative by navigating, but failing to establish authority in this regard. Everyone in the car had a hand-held device except for me. Ron was on his beloved Tom-Tom (we have Tom-Tom v. Mapquest wars, he and I—him with his visual though somewhat impishly unreliable Tom-Tom and I with my trusty though word-based Mapquest). I think they should make a Tom-Tom voice for Black folks that says things like “Dang, you done turned the wrong way, fool.” Or maybe a Jewish voice like “Go ahead, turn that way, don’t listen to your mother, you’ll see what happens.” But I digress.

Ron had his Tom-Tom. My stepson had his cell phone (not sure what kind) tuned in to Google Maps. My daughter had her Blackberry navigation system turned on. And my youngest was getting directions off his iPhone via internet. Ron’s Tom-Tom would squawk and he’d pronounce a direction. My son would call out a street name. My daughter would read from the Blackberry. And my stepson, being as stubborn as he is, would turn in the opposite direction of every command as he followed his Google Map. It’s a wonder we ever made it to Cox Arena for the graduation at all. And yes, my stepson was driving and reading Google Maps off his phone at the same time, while being bombarded with conflicting commands by everyone else in the car.

I felt so out of the loop because I did not have a hand-held device. (Well, I had one, but it was turned off.) I was more concerned about my hair, which was rapidly turning into a seagull’s nest because all the windows were rolled down. I begged Sudi to close his window. “I don’t want my hair to look like I did it with an eggbeater by the time we get to the graduation,” I explained. “Your hair always looks like you did it with an eggbeater,” he reassured me as he rolled the window up and continued to shout out street names, only to be ignored yet again by his big brother.

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Graduation

Here are some pictures of the graduate and his proud family. We are going to L.A. tomorrow for my cousin's wedding so I won't be able to post my usual Sunday blog until we return Monday night or Tuesday. In the meantime, enjoy seeing us overjoyed at our son's graduation!

The Graduate Walking to the Stage


The Graduate and Proud Parents


The Graduate with Family


The Graduate with Girlfriend Tina

Monday, May 24, 2010

Akili's College Graduation

I just returned from Akili's graduation from San Diego State (which was on Saturday). I have had children in college for 10 years, with 3 more years to go for Sudi to finish up at California College of the Arts (if he can complete in 4 years, which seems likely because of the nature of a small fine arts college). I read in the paper that only one-third of students who graduate from California State schools are able to graduate in 6 years or less, and only 56% of those who enter ever finish their degree at all. My oldest took six years and the next one took five, which is apparently better than the norm. (Back in the 1980s, it took Ron 10 years to graduate from San Francisco State.) I think the low completion rates and extra years have a lot to do with the cost of college. Not just the tuition, but the years and years of low-income living, scraping by on part-time jobs, eating beans. Lately many students at the Cali State schools can’t get the classes they need (because of budget cuts) and that prolongs the process. It is a magnificent accomplishment to complete college. But what does that investment secure for a young person?

I have to confess that I have not needed to have my college degree to land a single one of the significant jobs I have had during my more than 30 years in the world of work. For the past 10 years, I have worked as a freelance writer and made more money at that than at any of the 9-to-5 jobs I had prior (none of which required a college degree). Yet I treasure my degrees (I have a bachelor’s in English and Drama and a master’s in English Language and Literature). My years in college were happy years. I didn’t need to work (I had scholarships, fellowships, and family help) while in college. I had the rare opportunity to dedicate my time to the study of literature, theater, art, the humanities, politics, philosophy, etc. I had the luxury of time dedicated to creative reverie. I adored writing papers, as well as a great deal of sophomoric poetry. I adored reading and discussing. I adored thinking so hard about life and all that. I think every person deserves a few years learning and pondering before embarking on the great adventure of living. In the words of Flaubert, I had “A Sentimental Education.”

I know my children did not savor every moment of college in the same way that I did. I am more of an academic than they. But they enjoyed much of the experience and I am gratified that I have managed to find a way to give them those years of discovery and learning, whether they need them to land a job and launch a career in the real world or not. There are many types of education and a college education is one that I cherish and wanted to pass on to my children. Having a college degree does not make you smarter or better than anyone else, it certainly doesn’t make you morally good. It makes you proud of a significant achievement. It demonstrates a level of perseverance, the ability to face a challenge and conquer it. It makes you accomplished in your chosen field of study. It makes you think. It makes you feel lucky to have had the experience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ron's Speech at the Day of Action to Save Our Schools

Today was a Day of Action across the State of California to save education. Here is Ron's speech from our local rally this evening here in Ukiah.

My name is Ron Reed. I’m a computer support technician for the Ukiah Unified School District. I was born in a big town; you may have heard of it: Chicago. I live here in Ukiah now. There were several stops along the way, but for 20 years, this has been home. I have been in some interesting places; some were rough, challenging. But, I wanted to succeed in raising a family. My wife and I wanted to raise our children in a relatively safe environment; we needed options. We chose Ukiah. We had 2.5 children when we got here. The .5 part evened us out to 3 whole children. Our address put our children in the Hopland Elementary School, which seemed to be the ideal school setting; small campus with a huge play area. The children weren’t lost in a swarm of anonymity; it was a very intimate learning environment. All 3 attended Hopland, then Pomolita Middle School, and the high school. They all went to colleges in the state; one has graduated, the second one will be walking this weekend, I’m proud to say, and the .5 is entering his second year of college. All 3 are creative and pursued educational opportunities in the arts and humanities, such as writing, drawing, painting, media arts, and music, which are fields that are becoming harder to pursue at the elementary and secondary school levels as funding squeezes out programs that would nurture such interests.

The budget fiasco relay has me baffled. If you have limited funds, how do you choose to spend? What is important? Apparently, to the state, education is not. When I face drastic cuts and spending in my own household, I have to make changes. Carpool. Turn off the satellite T.V. for the summer. Be more economical buying groceries. The idea of telling our children, “we can’t afford to send you to college,” would not even be an option. I grew up in the projects in a large family with not much money and we valued an education even though very few of us were able to go to college. It took me 10 years to earn my own college degree. They say that education is the ticket out of poverty and I can testify that it worked for me. Education is also the pathway for people to fulfill their potential. All children deserve this opportunity.

We are a community, from this gathering here at Alex Thomas Plaza in Ukiah, to the global community. What we do matters. What we don’t do matters. We can let it roll over us and not respond, implying that it is okay to cut education funding. Or we can insist that it is wrong and do something about it.

Your children are my children. Our children will be productive citizens. They will become leaders of the school systems, cities, the state, and the country. They will heal us, feed us, transport us, compose music and play it for us, teach us; protect us from crime, fire, and foreign enemies; run thriving businesses, invent new technologies, solve global problems. But they cannot achieve any of those things if we don’t educate them. Now.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Monetizing

Everyone is out to make a buck. Jews call someone who is always working on a profitable business transaction “an operator.” An operator is someone who actually turns crap into money all the time, has connections and uses them, is always “on.” An operator is always working it, all the time a salesman, a negotiator, a businessman, a wananbe Horatio Alger. I just never had it in me to be that kind of person, who seems to be in people’s faces too much for my taste. That’s probably why “The Call to Shakabaz” hasn’t sold a million copies, why only about six people read my blog, why I have 2 blogs and a website and don’t make money off them. I get quite a bit of junk email now from people who want me to sell their products off my blogs. I’m not willing to bombard my six readers with that garbage.

Yesterday I discovered (in an e-zine that I get about writing awards and contests) a grant available to writers to “develop” a blog. Up to $30,000. Whoa. At first, I thought I should apply for money to free up time to do more with my recipe blog. But then, I realized that “developing” a blog means monetizing it and spending hours and hours on the internet at other blogs and sites talking to people I don’t know and don’t care about just because they can send business to my blog. Not interested. We watched a grade B sci-fi movie the other night called “Surrogates” about a world in which people stayed at home and sent surrogate robotic versions of themselves out into the world. The main character pines away for a real experience like kissing his wife again in the flesh. Internet Land is kind of like that. Not the real thing. As for me, I still like the feel of newsprint on my fingers, still want to prop a book up on my lap in bed (could never read off a Kindle or iPad, too much like reading a computer screen, get too much of that at work), still look forward to a Shabbat dinner with friends. Can’t monetize that, but sure can enjoy it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mom as Fail Safe

My mom modeled the Mom as Fail Safe and even though I have far fewer resources than she, I continue the tradition the best I can. When in panic attack, call Mom. My mother could usually make it better because she was a Class A problem solver and she had the means to help. When I lost my one and only corporate job because I was a muckraker, Mom bought food for our family for more than a year until I could get back on my feet. (After that awful experience, I stuck with the nonprofit sector.) When our dog got old and started to have expensive health problems, Mom took the dog to live with her (and Dad of course, whom that dog loved). If we wanted to attend a family wedding but didn’t have the money, Mom bought the airplane tickets and the fancy clothing. If we were struggling through a particularly cold winter, Mom bought space heaters for the bedrooms. If our couch was falling apart, Mom paid to have it reupholstered. Napkins too wrinkly for a fancy dinner? She would iron each and every one. She provided sound advice, particularly about finances, and a helping hand when most needed (babysitting, cooking, cleaning). After Akili was born at home, Mom managed to launder all the blood out of the sheet that was underneath me during the birth. No matter what went wrong, Mom was there to pick up the pieces.

Sudi had his wisdom teeth out last week and, as Ron put it, I went into “mother mode.” Something like mother lode only not as lucrative. I became the queen of purée. I could purée an entire goat if my son needed to eat it. When my daughter was laid off her job, she came home for a few months to regroup. I feel fortunate that I have a room for her to live in for a bit and could offer her that safety net. Akili called three weeks ago in a panic because his water pump sprung a leak and spilled anti-freeze all over his timing belt, destroying it. I talked to the mechanic (and talked him down on the price), and $450 later the car was fine. Oddly enough, Sudi’s car was due for a new timing belt (because of the mileage on it) and I had to have his replaced last week. With timing belts on my mind (if a timing belt goes in a Honda then the car is gone), I checked on my daughter's Honda’s mileage only to discover that it was due for a new timing belt 15,000 miles ago! So I had hers replaced too. I think there’s something about when siblings are close they all get into the same rhythm and need new timing belts all at once. (Maybe something to do with the moon and tides.) Ouch. My credit card runneth over. The point is that when the timing belts go, it’s time to call Mom. Fail Safe. It’s good to know that no matter what befalls, Mom is there to pick you up. I miss you Natalie.

Mom and Me in Schenectady

Sunday, May 2, 2010

More Adventures of the Starving Parents Moving Company

The CCA student housing (apartments) closed Saturday and all students needed to be moved out by noon, having completed a walk-through with the Residence Advisor for their floor. Totally crazy. What are these CCA administrators thinking? Students have classes right through to the end of the day on Friday (day before noon check-out) and these are art students so they are not just taking final exams but trying to complete projects. Films. Paintings. Furniture. Ceramics. Textiles. Prints. Sculptures. The students are fried and then they have to pack up all their possessions, not just in a dorm room, but in an entire apartment (kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom) in less than 24 hours and be OUT. Sheesh. Something is wrong with this picture.

One of Sudi’s roommates arrived from Hawaii in August with little more than a suitcase and a computer. Then he sort of went squirrelly a couple months ago and moved out of the apartment. Sudi hasn’t seen him since. The other roommate is a gem and became one of Sudi’s best friends. He arrived in August from Japan with one suitcase, a pillow, a computer, and a gigantic yellow bag of white rice (I mean gigantic). Sudi brought all the kitchenware (plates, bowls, cups, utensils, pots, pans, blender, toaster, etc.), cleaning supplies and equipment, towels, first aid kit, tools; in short, everything needed to run a basic household (because he has a Jewish mom). Yesterday the roommate from Japan packed his suitcase, threw out the rice he hadn’t managed to finish (in a year—I mean gigantic bag), shook Sudi’s hand, and left to catch a flight. Sudi packed up the rest of the apartment, mopped the floors, cleaned out the refrigerator, emptied the cupboards, and on and on.

When I arrived at his apartment at nine, I helped pack and clean, took one carload over to the storage facility (he’s moving back to Berkeley in a month) with one of his friends who helped me unload, then returned to get him and the things he was bringing home for the month: basically a computer, a bike, a skateboard, and a heap of dirty laundry (I took all the musical instruments last weekend). I think he was the very last student to check out of the building at ten past noon. We stopped at the mall on the way home to buy him a pair of shoes because every pair he has is falling apart. I fell asleep in the car while he went in to get the shoes. His greatest regret of the day was that I couldn’t fit a couch that was up for grabs into my Honda Fit and take it to the storage facility (“but Mom, it’s such a comfy couch, it’s perfect:”).

In one month, I get to help him move into his sublet in Berkeley. Starving Parents Moving Company is still in business.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Starving Parents Moving Company

Forget the Starving Students Movers, they would have charged $1200 minimum to move my daughter from San Jose to Ukiah. Ron and I drove down to San Jose, rented a U-Haul truck, bought lunch for a few of my daughter’s friends to thank them for helping out, and with their help we had that puppy loaded up and ready to roll in an hour with all her earthly possessions. Then Ron drove it to Storage in Oakland, I picked Sudi up and took him down to the Storage so he could help us unload the furniture that Sudi is inheriting from his sister for his summer sublet that begins in June (and later his own place with friends in the fall), and then we took Sudi and his girlfriend out to dinner. The plan for Sunday is to drive the U-Haul truck to Ukiah, where we will unload at the house, then return the truck (one-way rental). The one-way truck rental plus the storage unit (together) cost less than one month’s rent for my daughter's former apartment in San Jose. Ron dubbed us the Starving Parents Moving Company. Truthfully, we have never starved, but we were plenty hungry by the time we had shifted all that furniture and done all that driving; and we have been plenty damn frugal in order to put these children through college. We are still trying to figure out how to break the news to our daughter that we can’t afford to pay for the propane gas to heat our house and pay Sudi’s tuition (it’s either/or), so she will have the privilege of joining the Starving and Freezing Parents Moving Company as an honorary member. We’re smiling all the way to the poorhouse. Those beautiful children are worth all the trials and tribulations. And the warmer weather is just around the corner, so we’ll be forgoing the air conditioning instead of forgoing the heat any minute.

Starving Parents Moving Company

Forget the Starving Students Movers, they would have charged $1200 minimum to move our daughter from San Jose to Ukiah. Ron and I drove down to San Jose, rented a U-Haul truck, bought lunch for a few of her friends to thank them for helping out, and with their help we had that puppy loaded up and ready to roll in an hour with all her earthly possessions. Then Ron drove it to Storage in Oakland, I picked Sudi up and took him down to the Storage so he could help us unload the furniture that Sudi is inheriting from his sister for his summer sublet that begins in June (and later his own place with friends in the fall), and then we took Sudi and his girlfriend out to dinner. The plan for Sunday is to drive the U-Haul truck to Ukiah, where we will unload at the house, then return the truck (one-way rental). The one-way truck rental plus the storage unit (together) cost less than one month’s rent in my daughter’s former apartment in San Jose. Ron dubbed us the Starving Parents Moving Company. Truthfully, we have never starved, but we were plenty hungry by the time we had shifted all that furniture and done all that driving; and we have been plenty damn frugal in order to put these children through college. We are still trying to figure out how to break the news to our daughter that we can’t afford to pay for the propane gas to heat our house and pay Sudi’s tuition (it’s either/or), so she will have the privilege of joining the Starving and Freezing Parents Moving Company as an honorary member. We’re smiling all the way to the poorhouse. Those beautiful children are worth all the trials and tribulations. And the warmer weather is just around the corner, so we’ll be forgoing the air conditioning instead of forgoing the heat any minute.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home Alone

This weekend I have the house to myself, a rarity. (Ron went to a union rep training in San Jose.) I am making the most of this solitary weekend since the hordes will descend starting Friday. My daughter will come to stay for a couple of months on Friday. The following Friday Sudi’s college housing closes and I’ll be driving down to Oakland to pick him up and move him back home for one month until he returns beginning of June to go to summer school. Ron said, “uh-oh, look out, soon all the children will be moving back in.” I replied not to worry, Akili says he would rather live under a bridge than move back in with us. Which reminds me, we are all driving down to San Diego for Akili’s graduation in May and shortly after our return my dad and brother will be coming for a week-long visit. (My brother has been gluten-free for years and I’m hoping to get a gourmet gluten-free vegetarian meal out of him while he’s here.) It will be mid-June before things settle down again.

My home alone weekend has been tame and terrific. Writing, gardening (preparing veggie garden beds for planting), reading late at night with the cats in my bed (Ron refuses to sleep with animals), a glass of wine at twilight. Picked Lilies of the Valley and oregano from the garden. Pasta for dinner three nights in a row. My favorite. Heaven. Ah yes, I remember this life. Civilized. Quiet. Uncompromising. I wouldn’t give up my family for anything in the world of course, but every once in awhile, I admit, I love having a stolen moment of peaceful solitude.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paranoia

I’m blaming it on the Patriot Act. My accountant was recommending to me that I file an extension on my federal taxes and submit them in October since I’m self-employed and the conventional wisdom in accounting is to recommend October filing for folks who have a greater chance of being audited. I was resisting. Wanted my taxes done and out of my house, out of my brain, out of my life. I hate taxes, finances, accounting. Blech. My accountant is my therapist and he’s very good at it. So in the middle of this conversation, he suggests abruptly, “Can you come into the office and sit down with me for a chat about this face-to-face?” I assure him that I’m comfortable with our phone conversation. Later, after I hung up, it suddenly dawned on me that he didn’t want to discuss it further on the phone. Why? I wondered. Then it hit me. My phone might be tapped. I thought that maybe accountants were told not to discuss certain things over the phone as a precaution, to protect themselves and clients, just in case the phone is tapped. Not likely, but what if. Just a precaution. All the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I couldn’t call him and ask him if he was worried my phone was tapped because what if it was tapped? Why would my phone be tapped? I have no idea. Was the FBI following my politics in my online writing? I flatter myself. I’m not that important. I called my accountant back and said, “I could come to your office tomorrow afternoon.” He said not to worry, never mind, he was satisfied with the phone conversation. Long pause. I confessed that I thought he was being careful in case my phone was tapped. He laughed his head off, “Amy, you are so cute,” he said. Cute? Nah. Paranoid. I am getting old, lived through too much, seen too many scary things. It could happen. Remember those librarians who refused to hand over information about patrons? Patriot Act. Watergate. I’m not that important. But what if I were?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pesach at the White House

I was pleased to read in the paper about the White House Seder, a new tradition that Obama has started. Apparently when he was on the campaign trail in 2008, he got wind of a little seder that was being held by a trio of low-level Jewish folks working on the campaign who were stranded out on the campaign trail with him on the first night of Pesach. (One of them was a baggage handler.) As the trio sat down to their seder, Obama appeared and joined them. At the end of the seder, when they proclaimed “Next Year in Jerusalem,” they added “Next Year in the White House.” And so it was. Last year, during his first spring as President, Obama had a small private seder at the White House. He invited friends, not dignitaries or celebrity rabbis. His Jewish friends who attended gave family recipes for traditional foods to the White House chefs. Apparently there was a bit of a ruckus when one friend turned up at the gate for the seder with macaroons brought from Chicago. No outside food is allowed into the White House, for fear of poisoning. Official policy. When Obama threatened to go to the gate and walk the macaroons in himself, an official was sent to bring them in. I presume someone tasted them first to make sure they weren’t poisoned. (We do that at our house too when we bring in treats.) When I first read the reference to the “macaroon controversy” in the newspaper, I thought there had been a debate about whether chocolate or plain were tastier. (Chocolate, all the way.) I love the White House seder. I confess that it means a lot to me that the President sits down to a seder. Pesach is my favorite holiday and the one that is most meaningful to me. Glad to see that it means something to the President and First Lady too.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Lessons

Spring seems too slow in coming this year. I have so many little tiny plants that I started over the past year and I am impatient to see what they will do and how they will look when they leaf out and bud and flower. I want to see how much they have grown. I want to see how big my Paulownia trees will get this year, how quickly they will grow. How many of the wildflower seeds that I flung will come up? I wish that the plants in my yard could speak to me in a language that I could better understand. They have their own social structure and I can only guess about most of it. I read recently that impatiens (a flower that I have grown every year since first moving to the Ranch in 1991) grow roots rapidly when planted alongside genetically unrelated plants. Yet when they are planted alongside plants from the same genetic family (relatives) then they devote much less energy to root production. Scientists interpret this phenomenon as meaning that impatiens are hard-wired to share resources with family members while pushing strangers away through competition. Interesting, huh?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

One-Upped By the Lawnmower Repairman

When I took my lawnmower to be repaired I noticed a big orange sign on the wall by the front counter at the lawnmower repair shop. It informed me that effective immediately the lawnmower repairman had raised his hourly rates. I was shocked to realize that this man, who is incapable of speaking a single grammatical sentence, incapable of spelling (“efective immediatly”), incapable of wearing a belt to keep his pants up, and incapable of tying his shoes is now earning more per hour than I, with my hoity-toity master’s degree and fifteen years of experience in my chosen field. Yet I am dependent on his mechanical wizardry, and he is thoroughly magic when it comes to repairing a lawnmower, which I need to mow the little bit of grass I have permitted to participate in my yard. He’s also a decent and friendly man, so shame on me for dissing him. But what is wrong with this picture? Why did I labor in college all those years; why do I work so hard, literally wracking my brains every week, to barely earn enough to pay my bills; when this man, who didn’t even finish high school, is earning more than I am for an hour’s work banging around with metal parts and oil? And I have had prospective clients pass on hiring me because they say they can’t afford my rates. Which are reasonable and match the market rate. Crazy. Too bad I have no interest in repairing lawnmowers. I bet those prospective clients who turn away from me are still getting their lawnmowers repaired.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How to Relax

I stumbled upon a way to relax, sleep better, and combat anxiety. Works for me. Maybe it will work for you too.

I have been having a hard time sleeping in the past couple of years. This is connected to hormone changes, and I know it, but I have had numerous conversations with my hormones, sometimes at 2AM, and they are uncompromising scum if you want to know the truth. Some nights I was sleeping better than others. I have used melatonin and Advil PM when necessary. My doctor assures me these things are not addictive, but I don’t like to make my body dependent on them. I have also suffered from panic attacks, usually precipitated by fears of financial ruin. These are real fears, but having a panic attack over them is not in any way useful or helpful and the stress will most certainly have negative health consequences down the road.

So what did I discover that has made a difference? Matt McKay’s Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. I got it out of the library because I was researching Dr. McKay, who is connected to a publisher I have been communicating with regarding publication of one of my books. If you ever wanted to learn to meditate, this is the how-to book for you. I have discovered that I can’t meditate because my brain is so full of ideas running around that if I finally manage to clear it of all thought, I instantly fall asleep. Handy. But in fact, the exercises from the book that I use to sleep and avoid panic attacks are not meditation. For sleep, I use a relaxation exercise and I am amazed. It works every time. For panic, I use some of the thought control exercises, including a visualization of putting all my worrisome thoughts into a big red box, tying it up with a bow, and sticking it on the top shelf in my closet. Sounds crazy, huh? But for me it works. Dr. McKay’s book has many, many, many more exercises to choose from and step by step details in how to train yourself to effectively use these exercises. Something for everyone.

If you are stressed or needing to learn how to relax or meditate or cope with unwanted thoughts, check out this book. A life saver.