Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Avoided Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson represented everything I didn’t want in my life. He sang about people lying about him - Billie Jean. He did things people copied – Moon Walk. He gathered crowds to watch him perform, like a two-year-old. I’m uncomfortable around the whole concept of celebrity.
I never watched his performances until this week, when they were unavoidable on my favorite websites. I can see that he was talented, creative, and hard-working. But the attitude – that people need to pay attention to him to have a full life makes no sense to me. It was more than that – they seemed to feel that they had to act like his back-up singers and dancers in order to be successful in their own lives, their own social circles. Their point – which I find most upsetting -- is that they believed knowing what was going on with Michael Jackson was important.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe he just got up and performed and it’s not his fault that other people watched and copied. But the fact that other people did watch and did copy is the reason I avoided him. I have better things to do with my time than learn the latest dance step. Or worry about who is getting plastic surgery. It freaks me out to watch crowds swoon when a performer comes on stage or scream when s/he moves a certain way. Maybe I’m not wired normally, but that’s not how I appreciate art.

What really galls me is the crowd mentality. If everybody likes something, talks about it, obsesses over it – I don’t care if it’s a pet rock, a celebrity, or the weather – I want to free my mind from contact with it. Hearing about the latest antics of a celebrity feels like someone is pouring thick goo into the machinery of my mind.

I’m aware that this feeling makes no sense. I am a creative artist. And I often find myself inspired by other artists. So why not Michael Jackson? Why was his hype such a turn-off that I denied myself contact?

I guess because when people talked about him, it was never about his ideas. When he sang about Billie Jean, nobody started a conversation about the importance of honest relationships and why false accusations are harmful. They sang his words, copied his moves, and if they were at all insightful, they wondered if he had a love-child with Billie Jean. They asked who was the real Billie Jean? Not that it mattered. Not that they wanted to go babysit for her child. The fascination was only the sheer gossip of it.
Try as I would, I couldn’t totally avoid him. I heard the conversations on buses and in elevators about his surgeries to look like Diana Ross. I saw headlines about his short marriages, and the accusations of child abuse, his frivolities with money. Yes, I know the media likes to attack famous people. I didn’t care if any of this stuff was true. I didn’t want to be part of the machinery that fed this hype that I was trying to avoid.

No magazine ads for Michael Jackson said, “You can save this child, or you can turn the page.” When I saw his headlines, I turned the page.

It’s not his fault. But in my mind, he became a symbol for what’s wrong with our culture. And since I couldn’t do anything about it, I stayed away from his videos, and I changed the subject when people tried to talk to me about him. And now that he’s dead, it’s safe for me to watch the videos and hear the songs knowing that there is no crowd of screaming fans, and there will be no more gossip.

All of which, probably makes me a hypocrite, because I want the fame without the infamy. I want to be a popular talent, too. But I don’t want headlines about how I dress or my problems in yoga poses, and I certainly don’t want people copying my hairstyle. I just want to entertain with the things I want to make public. I wonder if Michael wanted that, or if he liked his active fan base, who pushed me away.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Have You Made This Planet a Better Place Today?

After yoga today, one of the students asked me, “Have You Made the Planet a Better Place Today?” I could hear the capital letters on those words. Once upon a time, that seemed such an easy request. I could plant a garden for healthy food. I could raise children who would grow up to be good people. I could campaign for honest politicians who would do good things. I could fix up my home to be more ecological and reduce my carbon footprint. But when all of that is done, can I honestly say that the world is a better place? And today? Did I do anything today to make the world a better place? I rode my bike to work. But I could have stayed home. My children are good people, but I could have had no children. I have helped elect an honest politician. Is the world really a better place? And what have I done today? Today I left my computer on when I went out of the house. Today, I took my clothes down from the line still damp, and finished drying them in the dryer because a rainstorm came up. Today, I did nothing special. Can I hold myself to a standard of doing one good thing every day? I don’t think so.
When I think of as making the planet a better place – it’s all about changing things I think are wrong. This makes the question even more complex. Is there a way to make the planet a better place without worrying about what is wrong? Does better imply that the current state is wrong? Is the simple act of discussing a what makes a better planet, a good deed? And for that matter, how will we really know when the planet is a better place? I think the only answer I can honestly give is, “I don’t know.” Whenever I said that in class, my teachers said, “Then go find out.” I consider myself to be an avid student, but I don’t know how to do that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Trying to Exercise on a Cruise Ship

I recently went on a cruise with 100 other science teachers and magicians. Since the ship advertised that it had 3 swimming pools and a gymnasium, I was sure I'd be able to keep up my exercise routine.

The pools were long enough to swim 2 strokes end-to-end and they were full of non-swimming people. I swim half-a-mile at a time. Not possible in those pools.

The gym did not have any of my yoga props: bricks, blankets, bolsters, straps.

There were 2 balance balls: a 65 cm and a 55 cm. I use the 55. And there were dumbells. And an exercise mat. Plus some machines.

The entire ship was designed to be wheelchair accessible, but the gym was not appropriate for somebody in rehab.

Still, I managed about 90 minutes of work each day on the balance balls, with and without the dumbells, some yoga on the mat (downward dog, upward dog, plough, forward bends, warrior variations, cat, puppy dog) and I tried out the eliptical -- something I'd seen but never used. No surprise -- the eliptical, which mimics cross-country skiing, uses muscles that nothing else I do makes use of. After about 10 minutes, I was both bored and tired. I was interested to watch my heart rate go up as I used it. The machine looks so easy when I watched somebody else use it. It is actually work. More work than bicycling.

When I got back to my yoga class, I was stiff. A whole week without yoga is not a good thing.

I travel with everything I need for a trip in my school backpack. It doesn't have room for my yoga props. Carrying more stuff would mean checking luggage. The whole point of doing all these exercises is to preserve my freedom, and keep my active lifestyle.

This is sort of a non-sequitur. When I was at the airport, I was pleased to see a stack of free tampons in the women's room. That's a symbol as well as a practical thing to do in support of women.

Cruise ships and hotels that bother to have gymnasiums could support the rehab population by providing yoga props. It wouldn't cost them much, and it would mean a lot to the people who need to use them. They already stock wheelchairs for passengers who need them. How about something to keep the rehab population out of wheelchairs? It might even save them money.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Invitations to Science Inquiry Now Free

Remember how excited you were when you saw your first helium balloon? Until then, everything fell DOWN. But here was something surprising. Helium balloons fall UP.

Science teachers have the wonderful task of rousing their students frequently with what are known in the trade as "discrepant events." Anything that behaves in an unexpected manner, but follows scientific principles, is a discrepant event.

One of the most expensive books I bought when I began teaching chemistry was Tik Liem's book Invitations to Science Inquiry. Did you know that a full balloon weighs more than an empty one? You can make an invisible flame extinguisher with baking soda and vinegar? You can pierce a potato with a straw? And for chemists, the book provides a variety of color changing formulas that look like magic.

There are hundreds of such events, demonstrations and experiments. This book is great for home schoolers as well as teachers. And it's now available free.

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1e/27/27.pdf

Friday, June 26, 2009

Open Letter to My Future Doctor

I believe that Informed Consent goes both ways. Here is a list of my expectations when I seek medical help. Please let me know if you are comfortable with these expectations.

1) Believe me. I am taking time out of my busy schedule and money out of my budget to seek medical help. I have no motive to lie and my memory is excellent.

2) Inform me.
A) Tell me about treatment options. Even if I specifically ask for one treatment I have heard of, you may know of an alterative I would prefer.
B) Tell me any information about my dis-ease that might be useful in living with less pain or recognizing problems..
C) If you want to do a test or a procedure, don't just do it. Tell me what you want to do and why. Tell me the risks and possible benefits. Tell me the expected pain level. And if I choose to allow the test or procedure, tell me what you found out.

3) Ask my Permission. Do not do anything to me without my permission. If I give permission for a test, procedure, or examination, I continue to retain the right to stop it at any time. If any clothing, such as shoes or socks must be removed, allow me to remove them. I find it demeaning to be undressed like a child.

4) Help me Keep my Body a Drug-Free Zone. I would much rather do exercises and stretches than take pills or allow injections. If you feel the desire to offer drugs, please do so only once. If I reject a treatment, please consider the topic closed. If I change my mind, I will bring it up.

5) Respect me. I am a strong, active, healthy person. I exercise daily. I eat a healthy diet. I am not litigious. I only seek your help in order to be more comfortable. It is my time, my money, my body and my choice.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wobble Pillow Freaks Out TSA

I seem to have a knack for upsetting the TSA.
About a year ago when going through the Los Angeles Airport screening, the weather was cool, so I wore a loose sweatshirt instead of a t-shirt. Note: I do not always wear a bra. The TSA examiner ordered me to take off my sweatshirt. I asked for a private room and he refused. At that point I wished I had not worn a bra that day. I wished I had drawn anti-Bush slogans on my back and breasts with marking pen. And I wished that I lived in a sane country again. But I took off my sweatshirt in public (something I dearly wanted to do when I was going through hot spells) and put the sweatshirt through the scanner as ordered by the TSA while others in line gawked at me.
This time my offense was packing my wobble pillow in my carry-on. The wobble pillow is really a stability disk like you've probably seen at the gym or in sporting goods stores. I sit on it because it makes my arthritic hips comfortable. I sit on it at home at my desk and on my seat on airplanes and buses. I took it with me to jury duty. At jury duty, the x-ray machine operator asked what it was and why I had it with me. When I explained she wanted to know where to get one. She has a ripped tendon in her hip and she has to sit all day.
At the airport, my carry on and I were summarily ushered into a side room where I had to sit in a chair while a blue-gloved woman removed every item from my carefully packed carry-on. I explained what it was. She said, "It looks worse than what it is." Huh? What does an inflated pillow look like to a TSA scanner? She took out my neti pot, which I use to wash dust and pollen out of my nose. At this point I was not feeling cooperative, so I said, "That's a neti pot." She didn't ask what it was for. In retrospect, it might have been fun to give her the gory details of how it works so she'd know she was handling a snot washer. She took out my clothing and small exercise balls. She looked at my baggie of hand lotion, tooth paste and anti-itch goo. Finally, she offered to repack my bag. I refused her generous offer.
I wish I lived in a sane country on a sane planet where my government was not afraid of inflated pillows, stainless steel pots, and tubes of toothpaste.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raspberries in the Garden

Where ever I have lived, I have left a raspberry patch. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed, but raspberries produce the first or second year after I plant them. Trees make you wait. In Iowa and Colorado, the raspberry patches spread, bigger and more fruitful every year. The yellow raspberries were especially hardy. In Florida the plants died, red ones, yellow ones black ones, zone 9, zone 10, it didn’t matter. They died year after year. Now, in Pennsylvania, the yellow ones die after a year or two, but the red ones send up shoots and renew themselves.

I’m only listing the places I’ve owned a home. I never planted raspberries where I rented.

I plant the raspberries because I move so often. I need something that means home.
In May, bees came to the flowers. Now, it’s June. In my 2 feet by 10 feet raspberry patch, berries are turning red. I picked some for a guest this afternoon. That gesture – a bowlful of sun-warmed fresh-picked raspberries to share Earth’s bounty – from the gardening catalog, to the Earth, to me, to my guest -- means all is well. We are home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Abraham Kills Isaac at a Bat Mitzvah

My husband’s high school friend’s daughter invited us to attend her bat mitzvah. Her Torah portion was the section in which Abraham raises his knife to sacrifice his son Isaac to his God. After reading the story in Hebrew, the young woman took the opportunity to give a sermon on what a terrible parent Abraham was. To her it didn’t matter that an angel called out “Halt!” Abraham was willing to kill his son, and that was enough to win him the Bad Dad of the Bible title. Never mind that Abraham had already sent one son and his mother out into the desert where they could easily die. This time it was personal. This time he raised his own hand. With a knife. This time he would know for sure. Sarah left him after that. What kind of religion honors a man who would do such a thing? Maybe he didn’t actually do it. But he was willing to do it. In his heart, he planned the murder. He lied to his son about why they were going to the mountain, and what they were going to sacrifice. Whether he stopped when the angel told him to is a mere technicality.

Abraham’s real crime, in my opinion, was that he did not do what this young woman did. He did NOT argue with his God. This woman understands the core of religion far more than the Patriarch who supposedly founded it.

I understand what this young woman was feeling. A father killing a child is horrific. She probably pictured herself helpless bound to a sacrificial pyre by her bigger and stronger father. A God who would ask such a sacrifice is beyond terrible, and not worthy of worship. But I also understand what Abraham felt. I doubt there lives the parent of a teenager who has not wished that child dead, if only for a moment.

These are the stories. These are the conversations that keep religion, and the spirit of argument, alive.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Breathed Dead People

I couldn’t resist the title for this blog. Besides, it’s true. Last December I went to Varanasi, India, where people burn their dead in public. People bring their dead from miles around to burn them on the hills and steps that line the Ganges river. High caste corpses are burned at the tops of the hills. Low caste corpses are burned near the shore. Everybody breathes the ashes. The entire city is in a haze and the gritty air is painful to inhale.

Only men are allowed to participate in the body burning, because women might cry, and crying might hinder the soul’s journey to its next life. Corpses wear different colored cloths depending on how they died. A gold cloth celebrates death in old age.

Here is a website with photos of cremation in Varanasi: (not mine) http://www.terragalleria.com/asia/india/varanasi/varanasi.6.html

I also saw extreme poverty. Children who prostrated themselves in the dirt before me while adults guided them. I saw roadways crowded with chickens, cows, pigs, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, all beeping their horns constantly like a modern orchestra trying to imitate the sounds of a traffic jam. But it wasn’t a traffic jam. Everything was in motion. And pedestrians who seemed able to negotiate their way across these crowded lanes without traffic lights. The vehicles just swerved around them. I suppose one might be able to learn to trust the gods if one can trust these wild honking drivers.

In Varanasi, I developed a cough that I didn’t shake until I’d been home for over a month. I cannot shake the memories. I refuse to reincarnate if it means going back to India.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Flexigirl at Yoga Class

Most of my fellow students at Tuesday morning yoga are gray-haired women. Sometimes men show up. There’s even one young man who shows up because he loves the yoga music. Last Tuesday, Flexigirl joined us. She said she was a beginner. Didn’t know much about yoga. She looked no older than 20.

I look forward to days when new people show up because then the teacher reviews the basics. When to breathe in. When to breathe out. Which muscles to tighten and which to relax. Our class has a mirror so we can watch ourselves and correct our alignment. We also watch each other. We can see when someone else improves and congratulate them. I watched Flexigirl with curiosity. She could do every pose at least as well as the teacher.

The teacher always spends extra time with the new students. But her advice is usually applicable to the rest of us. For Flexigirl, the teacher showed her how to grab her own right foot behind her head with both hands (while standing on her left foot). Flexigirl made us laugh by asking, “Is that your hand?”

I love watching the kinds of special attention different students get in yoga class. Usually I’m watching modifications to help people get the appropriate stretch even if they can’t get into the official pose, due to injury, pregnancy, or just plain stiffness. The classroom is equipped with bolsters and pillows to hold up recalcitrant hips. There are straps for arms that aren’t long enough (okay hips or back aren’t flexible enough) to reach the feet. There are walls and saw-horses to lean on. Ropes hanging from the wall to grab if you need support, or to hold your hips up in downward dog. This was the first time I’d seen special attention for someone who could do more than the rest of us.

I wonder if she’ll come back. I remember being 20. I was more flexible, and I took my body for granted. I took yoga for a while because it was fun to see what my body could do. But eventually, I stopped because gym yoga was not a challenge. This is not gym yoga. This is Iyengar yoga, which continues to challenge our gumby-limbed teacher.

I came back to yoga when I became stiff. Now I’m back in yoga without the flexible body, and since it’s a challenge, I have to keep trying. I’m hooked. I wish I’d stayed with the practice when it was easy – I might not be so stiff today. I hope Flexigirl comes back to class, so I can learn what more advanced poses look like.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Arranging a Book Signing

This is an anonymous blog, so the details will be spared. Another Blogger and I recently sold short stories to anthologies printed by the same publisher. This publisher emailed the database of all authors for the current season to each author in the published collections, and promised us $50 each if we could arrange to autograph books at a local bookstore. Since this anthology pays no royalties beyond the initial acceptance fee, pay-to-autograph is the only way an author can get more money, aside from buying books at author's discount and reselling them.
Greedy publicity fiend that I am, I contacted several authors who live near me. One tried to recruit me for her Christian writing group. Several ignored me. The other Blogger gave her enthusiastic assent, provided I could find a willing bookstore.
How hard can that be? I wondered. I see autograph sessions at bookstores all the time. When I called the chain bookstores, the first person to answer the phone had a wrote speech -- No, they don't want signings for books that are not best sellers. And chains stores don't arrange their own signings. I called the Indies. No, they didn't want a book signing for our anthologies. No, they couldn't recommend anybody who could help. Finally, I called the used book store that sells library cast-offs, where I sometimes shoot science videos.
Yes, they would host a reading and autograph session IFF my fellow author and I would provide the books. We get author's discounts. That seemed fair. My fellow author and I also agreed to do the publicity and provide the food. As authors, we get half off on the books. If we sold a few, that would cover our costs, and we'd still get that $50, each. I wrote the bookstore and offered them 20% of any sales, as a thank you for letting us use their space. I printed up hundreds of fliers and distributed them to veterinarians, pet supply stores, pet grooming salons, chiropractors, dentists, barber shops, hair salons, my yoga center, my gym, and the library. My co-author also distributed fliers, and arranged to drive people to the bookstore. (That was the most brilliant idea of the day.)
A few days before the reading, the used bookstore manager emailed me that he needed 40% of the retail price. I tried to explain to him that even if he bought the books from the wholesaler, at the regular 40% discount, he'd have to pay shipping to get the books, and shipping again to return unsold copies, so his real take would be 30%. I reminded him of the expenses my co-author and I were putting out to publicize and cater this event. He didn't care. He wanted 40%. It was his store. And at this point, we were committed.
So, my co-author and I signed the contracts giving him his blood money.
We had a good time. Our audience (mostly people my co-author drove to the store) laughed in the right places, even became choked up at the right place in my co-author's story, and ate our food. They didn't buy many books. We both still have plenty of copies of our respective anthologies. And we have a new friendship brought about by an emailed database from an anthology publisher with an odd marketing plan.
My co-author may mention this on her blog. If so, please buy our books from her. These books really do have good stories. They're all short, and positive, and you already know we can write and entertain.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Installing a new Cable Modem

For two weeks now, my internet connection has been on the fritz. A rep from the Comcast cable company came over and ran several tests. He assured me that the problem is not in my house. The company did some repairs on the lines outside and my internet connection came back, only to disappear again in a few days. They did another repair. It came back. But yesterday morning it was out again. I called the cable company. They couldn't find anything wrong other than my modem using an incorrect IP address. I do computer repairs and support for a living, so I keep spare modems around. I decided to try putting in a new modem on my home network. The new modem connected to Comcast, but all I could see was a website that asks "Are you a customer or a technician?" The Customer side of the screen had a picture of a caucasian woman and a little caucasian girl smiling at a monitor. The Technician side had a picture of a caucasian young man holding a laptop. I told the Comcast rep on the phone, "I'm offended. It looks like all your customers are women and girls, and your staff is all men." I asked him to pass the word along to his supervisors. He said, "They already know. These calls are recorded. You're not the first to complain."

"You could replace these photos with icons. Maybe a keyboard for the customer and a screwdriver for the technician."

"You'd be surprised how many people complain," the technician continued. I tried to picture him with a screwdriver handle for a head.
I gave him my new modem's serial number and hfc mac codes. And my internet service was up and running.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not Your Mother's Cat's Cradle

The school down the street had just let out. A cluster of elementary aged children gathered in a cluster, white strings wrapped intricately about their fingers. I wonder -- are they actually doing cat's cradle? For those of you who don't know, cat's cradle is a string game in which one player weaves a loop of string into a precise web on his or her fingers, and the second player must pick it up and make additional weaves. The web is passed back and forth until somebody misses, or the players become bored. This game can go on for hours.

I walked closer to look, maybe give them some tips.

They were just de-tangling the cords on their ipods.

As for my recurring theme -- skills are disappearing -- if you know something fun, teach someone -- cat's cradle lessons are now on the web:

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Noisy Bar Down the Block

One day in the early1950s my younger sister came home from nursery school singing, "Davy, Davy Crockett. King of the Wild Frontier. Davy, Davy Crockett. Killed in a bar when he was only three." The record had a different version. "Killed him a b'ar, when he was only three." But I think my sister's version applies to my neighborhood bar.

When we bought our home in Philadelphia, this was a typical neighborhood. Our house was situated only doors away from a quiet old-man bar, a family grocery, a church, and a barber shop. Now, 17 years later, the church has been torn down and condos built. The family grocery store is closed. The barber shop now caters to women as well as men. And the bar has become a noisy gathering place that erupts in fights and shouting that we hear at night because they leave their windows open, and whose patrons leave loudly at 2 in the morning, bottles and cans in hand, to litter our neighborhood. The bar does not allow smoking inside, so patrons litter the sidewalk near the bar with their butts, despite the fact that the bar has put out one butt receptacle.

About 5 years ago, the bar hired a DJ and blasted the neighborhood with a microphone while they applied for an entertainment license. The owner was arrested for selling 80 lbs of methamphetamine. And we called the police regularly to stop the fights. The neighborhood managed to prevent that entertainment license from being issued, and the noise dropped down to its current level. Try to imagine your neighbors having a raucous party every night. I live in a 16 foot wide row-house, 4 doors down from the bar. And in the mornings, I find little plastic baggies with a trace of powder lying along the sidewalk near discarded beer bottles and broken glass.

Now, the bar is applying for a license to serve liquor at tables on the sidewalk around their corner location. They do not currently have tables on the sidewalk. But they have recently repaired the old crumbling cement around their location. I do not enjoy the current level of noise coming from that bar, when I lie down to go to sleep at 9 PM. I do not like being awakened frequently at 2 AM with fighting and shouting underneath my window. I do not consider a round of profanity to be equivalent to "All's Well." And I'm the neighborhood meany who rallies the neighbors whenever a new orange warning sign goes up in the window of the bar.

We defeated them last time. I hope we can do it again. I just want what I paid for -- a nice quiet home, in a nice quiet neighborhood. Not the wild frontier. I wouldn't mind an epitaph that reads,"Killed her a Bar, when she was __3."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Update on No-Knead Bread

After writing in a previous blog about how home-made bread is disappearing, a reader, Stellaa, asked me if I'd tried no-knead bread. I hadn't. So, I googled it, and found: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html

I made a few minor changes -- I used my 3 quart dutch oven, rather than the 6 - 8 quart model recommended in the article. I sprayed my pan with no-stick stuff, which I'm not sure is necessary, but it's a precaution that usually makes clean-up easier. I used my silicone rolling mat and a dish towel to cover it, rather than a couple of floured rolling mats as suggested. Silicone rolling mats are super fast to clean up, unlike the cloth ones that have to go in the laundry after I shake them out in the yard. And I didn't flour my dish cloth that I used to cover the rising dough.

I'm pleased. This bread is delicious. It requires no experience -- my first loaf was light and well-shaped as well as tasty. It only used 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, which is great because yeast has more than doubled in price in the past few years. It requires no honey. And despite the fact that it takes 20 hours to make, it requires very little time and attention. All you need to do is let the very wet dough rise for 12 to 18 hours in a bowl, covered with an old plastic bag. Dump the very wet and bubbly dough onto a floured rolling cloth. Flap it around a bit until the dough is coated with flour. Cover the goopy dough again with the old plastic bag. Let it sit 15 minutes. Shape it into a ball -- basically quickly flap it around a bit more. Cover with the dish cloth for 2 hours. At about 1.5 hours, put the dutch oven with its lid in the real oven, and set the oven to 450 Farenheit. At the 2 hour point, remove the dutch oven from the real oven, lift off the lid, dump the very wet and bubbly dough which is now about double in size, off the rolling cloth into the dutch oven. If the dough lumps up toward one side, or is otherwise not even, shake the dutch oven (with hot pads or mits on your hands). The wet dough will settle quickly. Put the lid back on the dutch oven. Put the dutch oven back into the real oven. After 30 minutes open the oven door and remove the lid from the dutch oven. Let the bread bake another 15 to 30 minutes until nicely browned on top. That's it.
Nothing in this recipe seems to be an absolute requirement. I never measure accurately. I have a 1/2 cup measuring cup in my flour cannister. I scoop with it. When the rising time is 12 to 18 hours, you know you don't have to be precise. This bread works, and there's really nothing to learan. Just read and approximately follow the directions. I recommend starting it late enough at night the day before you want to eat it, that it's ready for the final 2 hours when you get home from work the next day. Or do it on a weekend. Enjoy. Thank you Stellaa.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saving Money on the Web

Most folks who write about saving money treat it as if they're teaching a new skill. Hah! My parents grew up during the depression. They raised me to save and find bargains. One of my mother's extravagances was giving each of us children a penny when she took us to the grocery store. The penny was for the candy machines. It kept us busy deciding which candy we wanted while she shopped. But I didn't want the candy. I wanted the orange soda in the big machine next to the round glass candy machines on sticks. But I knew the drill. I went with my brother and sister to the candy machines and stayed out of my mom's way while she shopped. But, I saved my pennies for 10 weeks and swapped the pennies with a cashier for the dime to put in the soda machine.

Then I learned about bottle refunds. I scoured under bushes on the way too and from school to find those bottles that I could trade for 3 cents.

Eventually I learned about discount stores. My grandfather worried that the off-brand items might not be as good as the expensive brands. He was surprised to learn that discount stores carry the same brands as more expensive shops. I also learned about store label products, as an additional way to save money.

But none of this compares to shopping the web. With www.pricegrabber.com for electronics and other high end items, and www.fetchbook.info for used books and eBay for selling my old stuff as well as buying other people's cast-offs, saving money has become easier than ever. Netflix lets me see movies for far less than going to the theater. It even lets me see the shows I miss by not having cable TV. If you buy the $8.99 a month plan of one-movie-at-a-time, you also get all the instant play shows you can watch. I just finished Utawarerumono, a charming Japanese Anime series dubbed in English. Now I'm watching a BritDram called Wives and Daughters.

Add this to SparkPeople.com which is a free website with recipes and exercise videos and all the other free recipe websites, and the web pays for itself as a money saving tool.

Where I live, stores don't give money for returned bottles. But they do give 5 cents when I bring my own bags. Eventually those saddle bags I bought for my bike may pay for themselves.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis

In September 1962, the beginning of the school year was the end of my feeling that I would lead a normal life. I turned on the radio and learned that there were missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy was willing to go to war, nuclear war, war that could mean the end of life on this planet, to get rid of them. I did not know what that meant. I'd be dead of course. But I didn't know what that meant either. And my inner responsibility freak wanted to do something. The only thing one person, (who isn't Kennedy or Kruschev) can do is change how s/he thinks about the world, about life, about mortality. Because even though within a month, the missiles were gone, the power to destroy the world has never gone away.
My mind has continued to play with these ideas ever since. And I continue to live a normal life. Every person must come to terms with the facts that the world is not safe and never has been. Contemplating the end of life on this planet is no different than contemplating the end of life in one's city in case of natural disaster. The cause does not change the results. Mortality is the same. The Cuban Missile Crisis was just a new name for the same questions that Arjuna asked Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. When Arjuna did not want to go to war "I don't want to go to war. I don't want to kill my cousins," Krishna answered, "What? You think if you don't kill them today, they'll live forever? You are a warrior. Is there something wrong with your profession?"
My volunteer big sister says she thinks reincarnation is likely because nature recycles everything else. That is one answer to the question. But I think the real answer is that we don't know and my true task is to be content with that. I don't know how anything I attempt will come out. So why should continued life on this planet be any different? There is nothing wrong with being a warrior.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Bread from Scratch

When I learned to make bread about 40 years ago, it was already an arcane art. I had to read about it in a cookbook. My mother and grandmothers didn't make their own bread. None of my neighbors knew how. And my first loaf wasn't really a loaf. I didn't have a loaf pan, so I used a coffee can. I thought there was something magical about bread, and I put in raisins for good luck. I didn't understand instructions like "develop the gluten." But back in the dark ages of the 1960's and 1970's, white bread was everywhere and whole wheat bread was expensive if you could find it. So, I persevered. That first loaf was heavy and overly salty. I played around with proportions and rising times. With practice (or maybe magic) my bread became light and just the right amount of sweet and salt.

I tried a bread making machine when they came out. My first machine was wonderful. Throw in the ingredients. Turn it on. Walk away. Come back in four hours to a house that smells like fresh-baked bread and enjoy. But after that machine broke, my replacement machine couldn't even make a loaf as good as my first efforts. So, I went back to baking from scratch without a robotic genie to help.

My children had no interest in learning to make bread. Recently, one of my computer repair clients came over to make bread with me. She'd never made bread dough before. She didn't know the texture (like an earlobe) or how it should stretch. She'd never even read of the shortcuts I've developed. I roll my dough out with a rolling pin, rather than knead it. My heavy marble rolling pin gives me a mechanical advantage, and if I decide to make butterhorn rolls, the rolling pin has already flattened the dough out into a circle, ready to cut.

Today, I can buy a perfectly good loaf of whole wheat bread in almost any grocery store. And sometimes I do. But it doesn't taste like the recipe I've developed over 40 years of baking. And it doesn't come in braids, or butterhorn rolls, or other shapes I like to play with.

I've made matzo with my grandchildren, but not bread. I think making bread from scratch is a worthwhile skill. When I mentioned this to a friend, her vote for old-time skills that shouldn't be lost went to playing jacks. I remember spending hours mastering the art of scooping up just the right number of jacks with one hand while bouncing the ball with the other.

My motto for the day -- try to teach something you value to somebody who is younger than you are. Keep fun alive.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Princess and the Pea in Yoga

At the beginning of Iyengar Yoga classes, we do what one of my fellow students calls Princess and the Pea. We stack up folded Mexican blankets as high as we need to stack them in order to sit cross-legged with our thighs parallel to the floor. We use Mexican blankets because they are dense and don't squish down like regular bed blankets. They are made of the same material as serapes. I usually need at least 4 blankets folded over 4 times. My hip joints are stiff. That's quite a mountain of blankets. Hence the name. I doubt I could feel a pea if it were buried underneath.
My friend's son's 1st grade class had a discussion -- is it a good thing to be able to feel a pea under a stack of mattresses? Is this an important ability for choosing somebody you might want to marry? My friend's son reports that it is a good ability. He thinks it means you're not fat. I don't know if there are any studies comparing sensitivity to peas under blankets or mattresses based on BMI. Anyway, my BMI is in the normal range, and I think if you can detect a pea under even one blanket, it means you're too sensitive. I'm glad my husband can take a few lumps under the mattress and not complain.
Back to the yoga class. Thursday night we spent most of the night on variations of warrior I. The goal is to turn the pelvis towards the front foot. I don't think I've worked so hard with those muscles EVER! I used to be able to do the splits and full lotus. Today I can't even get into half-lotus.
I was still sore from Thursday night's efforts when I went to Saturday morning yoga. I stacked up my 4 blankets. My thighs sagged towards the floor! I tried sitting crosslegged on the floor. My thighs weren't on the floor, but they weren't in pain. Even 3 blankets were more than I needed.
Saturday morning's yoga class worked with the upper back and shoulder region. As I type this, my hips are sore, my shoulders are sore, and I wouldn't trade this for anything. I know that if I do the work, my muscles will learn these new skills that were once natural and easy. I bet I would notice a pea if it were directly under me on the floor.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Innovative Scientists Denied Tenure and Grants

There's no point in naming names here. This applies to my husband and several of his friends and colleagues. At American colleges and universities, excellence, innovation, creativity, industriousness and imagination are not rewarded. In fact, the scientists who exhibit these traits are likely to be denied tenure. The schools will make up some excuse -- s/he is productive, but not productive enough. S/he doesn't yet have a world-class reputation. S/he hasn't yet proved the research plan is viable. What it really means is -- s/he has few friends in this department. Social skills rarely go along with genius.
I'm writing this because tenure is supposed to be a reward for excellence. It is supposed to protect a professor from being fired for criticising his or her school, speaking out politically, or even a period without grant support. My husband now has tenure. And it saved his job when he reported his school for illegal use of grant funds. The fact remains that my husband is the sort of person who demands excellence not only of himself and his students and colleagues, but also of his administration, and of the people who evaluate his grant proposals.
And I'm writing this because his latest young collaborator to be denied tenure is a talented scientist whose work I hope to report in this blog in a few years. His interests span the gamut from early disease detection to solar-power-collecting building materials.
The scientists who re-do their PhD. thesis for the rest of their lives get tenure, get friends, and have safe careers, and if they are lucky, they contribute to scientific knowledge. The more adventurous scientists must explore not only in their minds, but geographically as they must find new schools and new colleagues until they hit the right mix that appreciates them. And even then they must struggle to get grants from National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation where the committees are made up of the kinds of people who denied them tenure -- the kinds of scientists who don't understand innovation, creativity and imagination. The members of these committees often don't understand the ideas being proposed by the innovators. They reject original grant proposals with notes claiming that the science in these proposals is incorrect or impossible.
My husband has suggested that scientists who serve on grant evaluation committees be required to pass the advanced placement test in their field -- the test given to high school graduates who want to skip the introductory course in their field. So far, nobody has accepted his suggestion.
I can see where this blog entry can be read as self-serving promotion of people I care about. But it is more than that. The people I care about are the ones who can improve the future for all of us. We have to get beyond grade school evaluation of people as friends and supporters of the status quo which makes us comfortable. We are grownups now and we can look at the outsiders as good-guys instead of freaks to be avoided
Denying tenure or a grant because somebody lacks social skills is delaying progress in curing and preventing diseases, and improving technology. In grade school this kind of thinking meant your softball team might win a game because the nerd wasn't on your team. Now it's the opposite. We need the nerds on our team.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Death With Dignity

I just received a distressing email from Compassionate Choices about a man who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, whose doctor refused to give him the painkillers authorized by Michigan's Death with Dignity law. Like abortion, extreme pain killers are a choice that needs to be made both by the person requesting the service and the doctor. The doctor was not unusual. Mother Teresa refused extreme painkillers to the dying people she treated.
I do not claim to understand why any doctor would refuse to honor a dying person's request for painkillers. I remember my friend Laurel who feared becoming addicted to morphine during the final stages of her ovarian cancer. I told her, "If you can recover from this cancer, I'm sure you can shake this addiction. Right now the drugs are keeping you comfortable."
I totally support each person making what must be personal decisions. The email from Compassionate Choices ended a link to a sample letter you can discuss with or send to your doctor, so you can have a discussion of your wishes before you need to act on them. Here's the download link: http://www.compassionandchoices.org/documents/DoctorLetter.pdf

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One-legged Yoga Pre-Tree Pose

Yesterday in my Pilates I learned a new yoga exercise to prepare for tree pose.
Call it Pre-Tree if you want.

I was wobbling on one leg, and hopping around like a young Ent. This helps make my tree pose sturdy and stable.

The goal of the exercise is to transfer weight to one leg without the femur sinking into the hip socket. Phrased another way: transfer weight from both legs to one leg without becoming shorter. I had no idea I became shorter on one leg than on two, until I watched the process in the mirror.

1) Stand in front of a mirror.
2) Check to see that your hips are aligned the best you can make them. If they aren’t make the necessary adjustments
First you are going to transfer your weight to your right leg.
3) Lift the heel of the left foot.
If you notice that you have become shorter, or the hips have lost their alignment, engage the inner and outer thigh muscles until you have regained your original height, and alignment.
4) Check the right ankle. If it has tilted or if it is wobbling, level it and engage the inner and outer calf muscles.
5) When all is steady, then lift the toes of the left foot.
Watch in the mirror the entire time. If you become shorter at any time, re-engage the thigh muscles. Stop when achy or tired.

Repeat the process with the other leg.

Yes, yoga is for relaxation, but that’s how you feel AFTER you’ve worked hard. The work of yoga is in lengthening and strengthening all the joints and muscles of the body.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Thoughts on Great Geezer Sex

Geezer sex gets a lot of bad press. Problems with erections. Problems with lubrication. Problems even getting into position. And stories about couples for whom cuddling is enough. 

20 and 30-year-olds look at these stories and get the erroneous idea that geezer sex is inferior to what they currently enjoy. Trying to have babies or trying not to have babies. Trying to have sex between breastfeeding the baby and diapering the baby. Having the world’s fastest sex so you can get some sleep and get to work the next morning early to impress the boss.  So what if they can do it multiple times a night?

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to do that again, any more than I want to be a teenager again and have to deal with all those awkward hormones and rebellious parents and the uncontrollable desire to fix the world at every lapse in perfection.

Young couples have a parenting mantra that reduces their guilt about how their two-income lifestyle means their children are being raised by hired help. Quality time, not Quantity time.  This mantra applies even more to sex.

What nobody talks about is how great the sex is after the physical problems have been accommodated.

For erections, there are pills and herbs. For lubrication, there are pills, herbs, ky jelly, and saliva. For position, there are rolled up blankets, bolsters, pillows, even special sex support pillows. It’s all just details. We know we want to do it. We know we can have privacy. We know we have the time. 

Geezer couples figure out what works for them (and make changes as needed). Getting ready is no less difficult than teenagers finding a private location, or young parents finding a few minutes when their children aren’t demanding attention. Then again, if seniors are in a group living situation, or have their aging parents living with them, it’s still necessary to find a private location, and it’s still necessary to find time when the parents aren’t demanding attention. So maybe nothing changes except that geezers are grown up enough to state their needs without sneaking around or pretending to be doing something else.

The Mayo Clinic and other self-serving medical sites see geezer sex as another income source. “See your doctor” they warn. There may be reasons to see a doctor at any age. There may be reasons to see a doctor about your sex life. But normal geezer sex isn’t one of them. I went to rehab because I was having trouble getting my legs apart. My rehab doc was clearly uncomfortable talking about it, and the first physical therapist he sent me to was so embarrassed, all she could say was “is the bedroom okay?” My 2nd physical therapist never mentioned the reason I was there. But he demonstrated exercises lying on his back across a large exercise ball, doing pelvic thrusts. He kept his face serious, and so did I. Sex is not a medical emergency. It is not an unusual senior activity. 

Doctors just want to get an extra office visit any way they can. All the exercise videos warn: “see your doctor before you begin this or any exercise program.”
“Gee, doc, you think I should exercise, maybe?” 
“That’ll be the cost of one office visit, and maybe you should have a follow up in a few months to see how you’re doing.” 
My rehab doc was out-of-shape and over weight. Hey, doc, have you consulted an exercise video lately? 

It’s true. The sex isn’t as easy as it once was. The plumbing and the hinges aren’t as quick to open up. But once everything is ready, geezers know what to do in ways that young couples never dream of.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

7 Reasons Geezers Have Great Sex

1) Familiarity breeds satisfaction. Geezer couples know each other’s bodies and know what the other person enjoys.
Geezer free-lovers know enough techniques to quickly figure out how to please the other. It’s not just about bed-post notching any more. They may not be looking for marriage, but a long-term friend-with-benefits could happen.

2) No worries about birth control. Geezer women aren’t fertile. There’s no need to get out a diaphragm or a condom. Geezer couple sex is all about enjoying each other’s bodies with no possible repercussions.  Free-love geezers still have to take precautions to avoid spreading STDs.


3) The brain always was the best sex organ. Now we can admit it. Okay, my husband still doesn’t get it when I tell him his thoughts are what attract me the most.  Yes, he’s good-looking and cuddly, but I wouldn’t want to be near him if his thoughts (the ones he speaks outloud) didn’t turn me on. It’s amazing how a great idea for designing a chemical reaction (my husband is a chemist, and I was a chemistry minor in college) can be sexy. I’m sure other professions and hobbies have similar brainstorms. And since I can’t speak for the male point-of-view, here’s an essay in praise of older women that I found online: http://www.suddenlysenior.com/praiseolderwomen.html

4) Forget talking about it. “We have to talk” might have worked for “our daughter is flunking gym.”  But it never worked in the bedroom. As Patricia Love says in How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, men respond to four things: touch, activity, sex, routine.

5) It’s not routine any more. When sex isn’t every day any more, it becomes a special occasion. The caressing that I have come to know and enjoy means more when I know that it requires planning and concentration. My husband has to put his worries away and concentrate on me. When he was younger, he could multi-task sex and thinking about his job or some other problem. I’m very texture oriented and I appreciate the textures that accompany total focus.

6) Sex can last longer. This isn’t just biology. It’s a choice. Geezers  know they can’t do it again in a few minutes, so they savor it. Sometimes due to the biology of aging plumbing, sex lasts too long for pleasure of both partners.  There are herbs and pills for both men and women. Herbs I’ve worked with for my husband: Damiana, Ginseng root and Maca. I take Hyland’s Menopause homeopathic pills to prevent vaginal dryness.

7) Sex is a Spiritual Experience. It’s not necessary to go in for tantra to know that the joining of two human beings in the ultimate intimate embrace is a spiritual experience. Aging gives one more perspective on the nature of intimacy. I’m really letting this man into my life, and he is entering into mine. Together, we are happier, stronger, more creative, plus something ineffable that is a product of enduring love. I’m not Christian, and I don’t know about three in one bed, but I think this quote is appropriate Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.”

Tomorrow, more of my thoughts on great geezer sex. Not a list.

Monday, June 1, 2009

If I Had a Gingerbread Hammer

I overdid it at yoga class on Saturday. It all looked so simple. Mountain Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Forward bends supported by the wall.  But, Oh the minor adjustments! On Sunday my legs ached. I biked to the gym. I swam half a mile. But I couldn't make myself go to the weight room or another yoga class afterward. I biked home in desperate need of comfort food. Gingerbread cookies.  I have an ever growing collection of cookie cutters. Recently I picked up some tool-shaped cutters. A hammer, pliers, and a socket wrench.  One of my oldest cutters is a crescent moon. Since I love the giddy song "We Like the Moon" at http://www.rathergood.com/moon_song I had to use the moon. Long ago, I adapted the recipe to whole wheat flour, blackstrap molasses, 2/3 of the recommended amount of sugar. These cookies are as healthy as you can get and still call it a cookie. One recipe makes 4 cookie sheetfuls. My oven holds 2 sheets. The drill is start a load of laundry, roll out the cookies. Hang up the laundry while cookies are in the oven. Multi-tasking is a sure way to get that sense of accomplishment, which is just as important as comfort foods when I'm feeling achy.
In fact, that combination -- a sense of accomplishment and comfort food is a high. When the cookies were finally cool enough to eat, I grabbed a hammer and bit off the tong end. "If I had a hammer, I'd bite it in the kitchen. I'd bite it on the stairway, all over this house. It's a hammer of ginger. It's a hammer of whole wheat. It's a hammer of silliness between my laundry and my oven. All all over this house."
I never did understand the original words to this song.  "I'd hammer out justice" sounds like I'd get rid of justice, or maybe I'd exact vengeance. Either way it doesn't sound like a good thing. It's a song from the 40's that got new life in the 60's along with a bunch of other strange songs like one condemning love as being like a lemon impossible to eat, and another praising gambling one's last dollar on a horse named stewball. This kind of free-association is the key to a writer's high. For all of you who ask, "Where do you get your ideas?" That's it.  Hurray for gingerbread hammers!