Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fourth Option

One of my gym teachers decided to riff as we were putting away the mats and chairs.  “Have you ever thought that Fight and Flight are not the only two options?”  He paused.  “There’s also hiding.”  

“Some people don’t need to hide,” I said.

“Camouflage is a choice,” he replied.

That wasn’t what I meant.  But at the time I couldn’t think of the words.

I didn’t think of them until later when my daughter decided to tell me how angry she is with me – basically for being me.

Then  I knew the word I meant was Compassion.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pegleg Pirate Bends a Knee

Until this morning, when I got out of bed, or out of a chair, I walked like a pegleg pirate, my left hip and knee held stiff, for the first 20 steps or so.

So, I went to the web.  I found a certified Feldenkrais teacher downtown and sent him an email listing my body problems.  I figured I may as well do my best to scare him off in the beginning.

He wrote back – he thinks he can help me.

The first exercise he gave me didn’t have a name.  I’ll call it the rectangle wobble.

Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart.  Draw a rectangle from between your big toe and the 2nd toe on your left foot down to the center of the heel on your left foot, then across to the center of the heel on your right foot, up to the point between your big toe and 2nd toe on your right foot, and back again to the starting point on your left foot.

Now, stand vertically. Do not move your hips side to side. Do not bend your spine. Wobble side to side inside this rectangle. Start at the back of the heels and work forwards. Side to side, a little bit forwards, side to side, a little bit forwards, and so on. Work your way all the way to the front of the rectangle and back again several times.  It takes less than a minute.  And – ta-da – I can walk, almost as easily as before my injuries.

I just wanted to share this exercise with anybody who might be able to use it.  I feel like I’m exaggerating to call it an exercise. It’s a gentle wobble. It works!  Hurray!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Assorted Random Quotes of the Week

Action figures are boy dolls


A client 20 years older than I am wants to know where I get the courage to use a cane. She’s afraid of being seen as a weak old lady.


I asked a 9-year-old boy what he’s learning is school.


Do you mean Latin?”

“Roman numerals.”


Strike F1 to retry boot

That message appeared on a computer screen, instead of Welcome or Starting Windows.  What is the native language of the programmer?  Who says Strike in reference to a computer keyboard? Yes, the computer struck-out when attempting to boot. And pressing F1 did not successfully boot the computer. Striking the key on today’s modern fragile keyboards could easily break them. The computer already has a problem. Why break the keyboard and add to the trouble?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Learning Experience

I always thought that people who claimed unpleasant events were “learning experiences” were trying to put a nice face on pain.

But I’m experiencing that the slipped disc I got two weeks ago is indeed a “learning experience.”

My chiropractor has taught me some exercises that are helping me to walk with better balance. I’m learning that I have walked mostly on my right leg since getting hit by a car on while riding my bike.  The physical therapist told me that my right leg is stronger than my left leg, but he didn’t have any guesses why. I wasn’t complaining about my walking.  Now I feel like I’m learning to walk all over again.

I used to climb my stairs two-at-a-time.  I haven’t got the strength in either leg to do that right now. I’m healing.  But the thing is that when I walk, I feel like I’m leaning to the left.  But when I look in the mirror, I’m straight.  So, for the past 18 months, I’ve been leaning to the right when I walk, and not feeling off balance, when I was off balance.  It’s surprising I didn’t fall over before now.  

I don’t walk more than a few miles at a time. I usually ride my bike. But I walk to the grocery store. I live in a house with stairs. I need two strong legs.

It’s possible that my right leg did most of the work on my bike. I’m only pedaling the stationery bike at the gym since I got the slipped disc.  My chiropractor says that hitting a pothole would be painful and I want to avoid pain – there’s no way to avoid potholes in Philadelphia.

Once I learn to walk in balance again, I should be stronger than before the slipped disc.  That is a worthwhile learning experience.  Yes a slipped disc hurts.  I’m not putting a nice face on pain. I’m putting a nice face on learning how to avoid pain in the future. Better balance means less pain.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Wants a Happy Childhood?

I was flummoxed to read an advertisement in a home schooling magazine that said, “You can expect exceptional writing from happy students!”

Huh? Nobody in my experience had a happy childhood, and I know quite a few exceptional writers. Happy children would not have the memories necessary to create the conflicts that drive the plots of good fiction.  Happy children would only be able to write “nice things happen to nice people” stories that have no plots and that bore everybody.

I’ll go one further, having tried my best to encourage my children to have my idea of happy childhoods, and one of them is still in teenage rebellion mode, I don’t think it is possible to have a happy childhood. And that’s a good thing!

Happy children have no reason to develop compassion, or curiosity. They have no reason to explore the world and find out how other people think and live. If everything is completely satisfactory all the time, life would be boring.

I’m not an advocate of home schooling.  Based on what I read in this magazine, one of the goals of home schooling is parents’ ideas of creating  happy childhoods. The advertiser can’t be faulted for trying to reach these parents.  But their claim makes no sense.  Assuming it was possible to provide happy childhoods, what would  these blissful children write about?

“I had a good time today. My siblings and I played happily on our manicured lawn, listened to healthy birds warbling cheerfully to their mates, and ate delicious nutritious food. We mastered multiplication in base 2, and learned to make lanyards. My favorite colors are blue and turquoise and we had plenty of lanyard cord in both colors, so my lanyard is beautiful. I even got to use a pen with turquoise ink to write my times tables.”

This might make a nice letter home to parents from summer camp, but it does not qualify as literature. The more I think about the downsides to a happy childhood, the more I’m glad such a thing is impossible. The mix of good and bad experiences, happiness and unhappiness, is what leads to exceptional writing.  A good writing program would help children learn to create plots from their problems, develop characters who deal with danger and adversity, who fail sometimes and who have flaws.

But that’s not a sound bite. And it’s not likely to sell many products. “You can expect exceptional writing from frustrated children, who want a better world.”


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wall is my Friend

In this blog, I write about my exercise program, most of which is successfully helping me recover my strength and balance after being hit by a car while biking.  It’s only fair that I report a set-back, too.

I usually do yoga standing poses against a wall. I’ve felt steady, and wobble-free for over a month now. So, I decided to try practicing standing poses in the middle of my living room. I rolled out my sticky mat. I got out my book and looked at the pictures and read the directions. I didn’t want any mistakes.  

I felt strong and coordinated.  Mountain was easy. So was standing with hands clasped, inverted, over head. So, was standing forward bend.  Then I decided to try triangle. I was careful to keep both sides of my trunk the same length as I leaned to the side. I pushed down on the four corners of both feet. I lost my balance.

It’s a short fall to the floor. My mat softened the fall. Nevertheless, I was in pain. A look in the mirror showed my hips markedly skewed to the right. And my cane was upstairs.

It took two days before I felt sturdy enough to walk to my chiropractor’s.  He said a disc between two of my vertebrae had slipped sideways.  He showed me exercises to help it slip back into place.  He also said a short fall like that only caused damage because my spine landed while twisted. He expects me to heal up quickly, since he knows I’ll do the exercises.

I’m getting there. And I don’t care how balanced I feel in the future. The wall is my friend. Or as my yoga teacher says, the wall is my guru. 

I’m also convinced that I need to spend more time doing Feldenkrais movements to strengthen and coordinate my muscles.  If I learn to coordinate the small movements, I should be able to detect when I’m losing my balance – long before I lose enough to fall over. And I shouldn’t forget to lean on my friend.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Family Science Projects

For family get-togethers, I’ve become the maven of low-cost entertainment.  This year, the big hit at Thanksgiving was the plastic spoon catapult.

All you need are some wood scraps (easily available from my neighborhood carpenter’s trashcan) push pins, rubber bands, and plastic spoons, plus marshmalllows for catapulting and a waste basket to serve as the target.

This year my grand children and their cousins all wanted to play.  That’s two 7-year-old girls and two 5-year-old boys.  I had brought a long list of activity ideas, most of which involved origami or beginning juggling lessons, and of course a short magic show.  The catapult kept them busy. I don’t think I needed to bring anything else.

But when I offered origami storytelling which involved making hats and boats, I did get an audience. I hadn’t brought waxed paper, so the boats weren’t seaworthy, but they were enough to impress the children.  

I’m not sure what the friendly term is for other grandmother.  If her son is my son-in-law, is she my cousin-in-law?  Anyway, she helped with the magic show and remembered to embellish the ending of my Rapunzel, the 2nd story with “And she lived happily ever after.”  She also helped make paper helicopters that really fly.

And I got them started on geometry by taping two plastic mirrors together on one side so they hinge like book.  I gave the children paper protractors so they could measure the angles and encouraged them to see how many reflections of a marshmallow they could make by placing the mirrors at different angles. The highest count I heard was seven.

Bottom line, the kids like science and I don’t think they can tell the difference between science and magic. That’s fun.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Strap Around My Hips in Yoga

My Sunday yoga teacher looks out for me.  It bothers her that I often leave class in pain.  No matter that I often arrive in pain – she says yoga should help me feel better.  My Sunday yoga teacher referred me to her yoga teacher, who has a beginning class on Tuesdays.  I already have two yoga teachers that I often go to on Tuesdays, but meeting my yoga teacher’s teacher had promise.

Sunday yoga teacher wrote to her teacher telling her to expect me.  

When I introduced myself, she responded, “broken collar bone.”  

“Yes, and ouchy hip.”

This got me a quizzical look.  

“Hit by a car, and arthritis.”

Next thing I knew, she was lowering loops of yoga straps over my head. These are the straps we use to hold our feet when we do stretches and aren’t flexible to reach our toes with our hands.

She cinched the loops around my hips at the height where the femur heads sit in the hip sockets.

“Do you mind if I ask what these do?”

Several of the other students laughed.

Most of the yoga was standing poses.  Standing poses are what send me home sore from yoga.

This time, when I took off the straps, I was barely sore at all.  Amazing.

The teacher said to wear a strap for 2 hours a day, daily and in a week, I’ll notice that I’m in less pain in general.  She also said to do standing poses every day, and to do the ones where the feet point in different directions with my legs on a diagonal.  The diagonal feet allow my pelvis to face forward instead of twisting.

Today I wore my yoga strap around my hips to Pilates class. I wore it when I walked to the grocery store.  I’ve been wearing it for over 2 hours.  The only trouble I’ve had is getting it up off my hips to use the toilet, and then getting it back in place. I’ll be sitting to do my work for the rest of the day, so there’s no point in wearing the strap now.  

I’ll put it on again to do standing yoga asanas this evening. This is a great invention.  Who knew?  A yoga strap as a garment to make hip arthritis more comfortable.  I already emailed my Sunday yoga teacher. Now she wants me to enroll in a class with her yoga teacher.  Seems like a good idea.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ideas for Teaching World History

While walking, the morning after our Thanksgiving feast, my younger daughter’s husband came up with an idea for teaching world history.   Americans are taught US history year after year after year in school, but only one year, during high school, is devoted to studying world history. That academic course focuses on a few names and dates, mostly having to do with wars and who won them.

My son-in-law’s idea was that world history should be taught at least 3 full years.  Each year should be a different theme: commerce and inventions, philosophy and art, and war. Of course there would be overlaps.  Wars are waged because of commerce and philosophy. Inventions change the way war is waged. Art influences how people feel about war and commerce.  Still, the different emphases allow for greater depth of study. And repetition allows for greater learning.

People in every country want to study the history of their own country.  Local history is more interesting in the context of world history.  For example, the US lost the war of 1812, but England did not take the US back as a colony because they were too busy at war with France. In fact, one of the reasons France helped the US revolution was as a tactic to attack England. They had no idea they were sowing seeds of their own revolution. The world is full of complex events like this, and given the international nature of commerce, it would be helpful if we knew more about the world.

I’m reminded of a high school friend who passed the advanced placement test in English History because she loved reading British historical novels.  Stories are much easier to understand and remember than a dry assortment of names and dates.  Historical novels from around the world could be part of literature classes as well as history classes.

These are just ideas – a starting point for hoped-for change. Comments are welcome. Ideas are welcome.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watching MacBeth in Modern Dress

Shakespeare’s play, MacBeth, is not historically accurate:,_King_of_Scotland

MacBeth was a good king who ruled long and well.

That’s not relevant to watching the play – it’s just the sort of detail that adds to my enjoyment of the creativity that went into writing the drama.

Modern dress was not an interpretation that I expected.  Lady MacBeth’s speeches always seemed unnecessarily vague to me.  The portion she reads of her husband’s letter is wide open to interpretation.  Did he really say he had sworn to kill Duncan?  She clearly reads it that way, but the words aren’t there. Only later does she tell her husband that he had sworn to kill Duncan. I think in old-time dress I found such a statement credible because I didn’t see Lady MacBeth as a career woman. Rather I saw her as a traditional old-fashioned, if upper class wife.

I have lived through the assassination of President Kennedy, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, and even the assassinations of popular singers.  These crimes did not directly give the crowns to the assassins. MacBeth’s fictional stabbing Duncan seems more vicious than these very real murders. There’s something odd when we know more about fictional characters than we do about our leaders and entertainers.

This same director leant credibility to the witches by putting them on support wires so they could walk on walls and fly down from the 2nd story of the stage to magically appear in the MacBeth home.  Their agenda is never clear – what do they get out of their political maneuvering?

Still, they are magical creatures – maybe we aren’t supposed to understand them.  They seem to be tempters who like Captain Hook in the movie “Hook” said, “Lie? Me? Ha, ha, ha, ha… Never, the truth is far too much fun.”

But Lady MacBeth is supposed to be a human woman dealing with the stress of being married to a rising political star, in an era where being the king’s favorite can mean wealth and social advantage.

In old-time dress, I did not doubt her veracity.  I believed that she truly thought she was helping her husband, doing what he had asked, but balking at committing murder with her own hands. She was willing to take advantage of any benefits such a murder might accrue to her family, but that was the depth of her villainy.

This director put her in a slinky party dress, and suddenly she seemed powerful in her own right. The killings became her idea. MacBeth killed his benefactor and king just to please his wife. She didn’t go mad at the end – she was mad to begin with.

There are madder interpretations.  I absolutely love Thurber’s version:

But each director is entitled to retell the story. And each audience member is entitled to interpret that retelling.  So, I have to ask myself – Is it feminist to give the treacherous credit to Lady MacBeth?  Or is it anti-feminist? Or maybe we’ve gone beyond gender when Lady MacBeth says, “Unsex me here.”

The use of modern dress is a valid and valuable interpretation. Still, I find myself wondering why I did not mind seeing the men in suits, carrying brief cases, or seeing the soldiers in military fatigues. But that slinky purple party dress conveyed pure evil.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Smell Like my Grandmother

My grandmother smelled like wintergreen. She was the only person I knew who smelled like that.

I liked her, so I didn’t mind the smell. I asked her why she smelled like that. She showed me a roll of wintergreen lifesavers, and gave me one.  It tasted awful.  I ran to the kitchen and spit it out into the garbage.

If you had to eat that horrid candy to smell like wintergreen, I wasn’t going to do it!

I tried wintergreen toothpaste.  Same thing. I spat it out. I threw away the tube.  

I like mint in general. Peppermint, chocolate mint, bergamot mint, lemon mint.  But NOT wintergreen. There is no way I’m going to put that stuff in my mouth – ever again!

Now that I’m my grandmother’s age, I have arthritis, like she had.  I read up on the web, looking for ways to treat it that don’t involve taking drugs.  The topical solution (something you can rub on from the outside) that interested me was wintergreen cream.

I bought a tube.  It works. It reduces the pain.  And, finally, I get to smell like my grandmother.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Computer Blues

There was nothing wrong with my client’s computer. If she only wanted it for writing and book keeping, she would have been fine. But it was a 5 year old computer with only 514 meg of RAM, and a small hard drive. And she wanted to do email and browse the web. Her computer could do that without problems. So why did she call me?

Her computer had been updating antivirus definitions for days. And while it downloaded and installed these updates, the speed crawled. It took about 25 minutes for her web browser to load up on her screen. Her email took over 15 minutes to download, and it was just a few messages from friends – no graphics or fancy text.

In other words, thanks to the hackers of the world, her perfectly good computer needed more memory. The memory was busy installing antivirus updates and wasn’t available to do what she has a computer to do. Since the memory was limited, the computer was writing the needed files to disk. And since the hard drive was small, a process that should have taken a few minutes was taking days.

I called her computer’s manufacturer. They would sell us 2 gigabytes of RAM for her computer for $120. The salesrep admitted this was expensive, but he said it’s hard to get RAM for older computers. He offered to try to get us free shipping. I asked the price of a new computer. He said we could get a new computer with 2 gigabytes of RAM and a larger hard drive for $300. Her monitor was fine, so she didn’t need to buy another.

I know that 5 years is a typical lifetime for a hard drive. My client was going to need a new hard drive soon. That would cost her another $80. It didn’t make sense to me to have her pay $200 for parts to fix up a 5-year-old computer when she could buy a new, faster machine for $300. I would get my $60 labor fee either way, and she’s have a better computer.

We decided to get the new computer. The sales representative said we could get a cable to transfer the data from her old computer to the new one for an additional $24. That sounded reasonable. He said it could even copy her old email to the new computer. My client is not a fan of copying files to her flashdrive and then re-copying them to another computer. I charge extra if I have to do that. So, she bought the cable. That was where our troubles started.

The new computer arrived. I set it up and it worked beautifully. During set-up, it asked how we wanted to use the easy transfer program. I chose cable, since we had the cable. I tried to install the software on the disk that came with the cable on the old computer. The first thing I had to do was hook the monitor to the old computer, which meant crawling under the desk, which wasn’t easy because my client’s chair can’t be pushed back because her study floor is covered with piles of books and papers. Then I discovered that her computer could not read the program disk.

Not to worry. The new computer (monitor hooked up to it again) offered to write the easy transfer program to the flash drive. My client was worried that I’d have to erase her important files from the flash drive to make room, but the program fit just fine. Then I crawled under the desk again and rehooked the monitor to the old computer. I installed the software on the flash drive on the old computer. I told the old computer I was going to use a cable to transfer the data. The software said it was ready. It said to hook up the cable to both computers. I did so, Both computer popped up with messages that they detected new hardware. An easy transfer cable. The easy transfer software said it was searching for the cable. We waited. We waited. We waited. Then the easy transfer software said it could not find a serial cable. Well, of course not. We bought a USB cable. New computers don’t have serial ports. What was Microsoft thinking when they wrote Windows 7? Why would Window 7 software, which is written for a computer that has no serial port, be programmed to look for a serial cable?

I called the computer vendor. They wanted us to pay to talk to their 3rd party tech support department. To support a new product that came with a bad disk? That didn’t make sense. I asked if we could have a return merchandise authorization and if they would pay the return postage. They agreed to both, and sent an email with a postage paid label we printed out and stuck to the envelope that the cable and CD had come in.

One of the other options was transfer over a network. I told my client I’d bring the router and patch cables from my house and use them at her house the next day to transfer her data. “What’s data?” I’ll transfer your documents, spread sheets and emails from your old computer to your new computer tomorrow – with some tools I’ll bring from home.”

I set up her email account, installed a couple of browsers and the entire Open Office suite from At least I left her with a working computer. I even enlarged the typeface to 150% to make it easier for her to read, and downloaded the Windows 7 driver for her printer and installed that.

The next day I arrived with my router and 1 cable. I biked home, got the other cable, biked back again. I hooked everything up. I tried to run the easy transfer software that was already installed. But it was still looking for that serial cable. I crawled under the desk, rehooked the monitor to the old computer, reinstalled the software on the flash drive, got a secret code number so that the program would now work over the home network I had installed, rehooked the monitor to the new computer – it was still looking for that serial cable. I restarted the software several times and finally it agreed to look at the network. It asked for the secret code number. It found 4.1 gigabytes of files that it wanted to transfer. I didn’t trust it, so I stayed there during the entire transfer.

It did transfer all the documents and spread sheets. But none of the email. I hand transferred the contact list. I ran the easy transfer again, and specifically showed it which files I wanted – they are hiding under identities within a folder that has a weird long name of letters and numbers. Inbox.eml and its friends. The program agreed that I had found them. It let me checkmark them. We ran easy transfer again. The files I wanted did not transfer. I could easily copy them to the flash drive, but that would mean crawling under that desk again and I wasn’t up for it.

I’d already done my 40 minutes of Egoscue exercises, my 90 minute yoga class, and biked there twice and back once. I told my client I’d be back. I biked home.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Woman's Place is On Top -- Annapurna

Breaking Trail, A Climbing Life by Arlene Blum, isn’t just the story of a woman who led teams of women climbing the highest mountains in the world. It is the story of a woman who broke many trails, as a chemist, an environmental activist, and as a single woman, single mother.

Told in chapters that alternate her growing up in Chicago with her own single mom, and her grandparents, with chapters about learning to climb mountains and leading groups of women, this book also serves as a journey into Arlene Blum’s mind – whom does she love? And what does she love about them? As well as what she loves about climbing mountains.

Arlene Blum is a risk taker – she risked her life on expeditions where others died. She risked her loves and her security over and over in both her choice of lovers, and her choice of educational endeavors.

She also took a chance as a child learning the Hebrew prayers that only boys were allowed to say. The boys in her Hebrew class didn’t know them and her teacher refused to call on her. Then she came to Berkeley, she was thrilled to find a synagogue where women were allowed to say the prayers, too.

She takes responsibility for every choice and makes the best of the consequences, be it allowing the other women to vote on trekking decisions that she wanted to make differently, or changing careers when as a mom, she felt she could no longer risk her life in the mountains she loves.

She has a knack for organizing events she believes in. She raised the money for the first woman’s climb of Annapurna by selling t-shirts that read “A Woman’s Place is On Top – Annapurna.” She created an annual Himalayan culture day in Berkeley because she wanted to share the foods and culture she enjoyed during her treks there. She formed a tour agency to help other people see parts of the world that she enjoys, with her guidance. And she does the necessary political work to remove poisonous fire retardant from furniture manufacture and have them replaced with safer alternatives. She’s a chemist. She tests the chemicals to see which ones cause mutations.

She’s one of the rare people who can have a strong opinion and then when she finds evidence to the contrary, she’ll change her mind and publicly talk about her new views, and her reasons for them.

The book is a valuable insight into an exciting life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rapunzel, The Second

I’m slowly learning that when I do magic for my grandchildren, the props must be indestructible. Plus they must not have any tricky switches or secret compartments that will let my grandchildren figure out how the trick is done. Also, there must not be any slight of hand because they like to poke their hands into my pockets, hoping to discover how I did the magic.  This truly limits what I can do to science combined with story telling.   Here is my latest that I’ll be doing with them on Thanksgiving:

Rapunzel, the Second

You all know the story of the First Rapunzel.  How she got locked in a tower to keep her away from the world, and only her mother could visit her.  Her mother loved her, but she protected her way too much!

Most people who learn the story of the First Rapunzel feel sorry for her when she is locked in the tower. And they are happy when the prince rescues her.

But one little girl, named Maribel, wished she had been raised in a tower and rescued by a prince.  And when she had a little girl, she loved that baby very much, and wanted her to have the best life possible.  She thought that meant raising her daughter in a tower, keeping her away from the world, and when she was old enough, being rescued by a prince.  She named her baby daughter Rapunzel, the Second.

Maribel knew that the first Rapunzel escaped her tower by cutting off her long hair and climbing down from the window.  She didn’t want her daughter to read that story and escape too soon.  After all, she gave her daughter everything and that meant complete access to all the famous old books, that can be read for free on the Internet, and that included the original Rapunzel story.  So, Maribel cut her Rapunzel’s hair every month, and kept it very short and curly, which she thought looked cute.  And Maribel knew about stories in which people escape out windows by tying handkerchiefs together to make a long rope.  So, she read magic books at her library and learned how to make every knot Rapunzel, the 2nd tied come undone.

Demo Slydini Silks – handkerchiefs that won’t stay knotted.

She also knew about lockpicking websites, so she used more magic to create a door on the tower that would only unlock with a key held in the hand of someone who loved her.  If that person loved her, as much as her mother, then and only then, the key would turn in the lover’s hand, and the door would unlock.  Maribel kept her special key in a safe place, where only she knew where to find it.

What she didn’t think of was that the book, where she learned how to make the magic key was still in the library.  In fact, it was available free online, since it was a very old book and it was out of copyright.  Rapunzel knew about her mother’s magic key. And Rapunzel found the book with the magic spell.  She bookmarked it in her browser.  Then she tried to join chat groups, but her mother had activated parental controls on her computer.

Rapunzel, the Second, was never going to meet her handsome prince. Nobody was going to rescue her.  She looked out her window – nobody ever came to visit her but her mother, and sometimes the mail carrier who brought her new clothes, and materials for her science lessons. Then she had an idea – she could buy an old key from Ebay – she could work the magic spell. She could open the door to her tower from the inside.  She could free herself.  And she did!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money for Breast Cancer Research - Watch a YouTube Video

I just got this email.  It looks legit.  The video is good, too.

From: joaniboomer

  A  few weeks ago, 135 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders representing five decades  got together for a weekend to do a dance routine to benefit Susan G. Komen for  the Cure. We practiced for a month to do this and the video is finally  ready.
We had such a wonderful time  getting together and working at this. I haven't seen some of these women in 26  years! A few women from my squad and our choreographer all are breast cancer  survivors.

We need to reach a goal of 1  million views of this video and United Healthcare will donate $100,000 to  Susan G. Komen for the Cure, so please click often and spread the  link.   _____________

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's All Arbitrary

After the accident, which included a concussion, my husband and best friend were relieved that I had not had a personality change.  I was puzzled by their concern.  These are people who like me – wouldn’t they like me if my personality changed?

All my life, I’ve met people who want me to have a different personality.  It used to bother me. I didn’t have many friends, and if I could have popped personalities in and out like memory chips in a camera, I’d have done so.

As I got older, and made good friends, whom I liked for who they are and they liked me for who I am, I got used to the camaraderie.  And I forgot how unhappy I’d been as a child.

Recently, I had a time-warp conversation.  On the recommendation of my massage therapist, I went to her homeopath for help with healing my hip.  Homeopaths don’t heal hips. They don’t want to know the name of your injury or disease. The are only interested in the quality of the pain – is it burning or cutting or aching? They want to know your favorite activities, the accidents you’ve been in, favorite foods, dislikes, upsets – the kinds of things that friends learn about you over time – they want it all at once.

This homeopath told me I was a “pulsatilla.”  She asked me to look at the materia medica on the web about Pulsatilla, which is a wind flower.  I looked at several websites about pulsatilla females. They are blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, soft, plump, weepy, sociable, and like to sleep with lots of pillows.  I am none of the above.  They do like to be outside, which I also like. They also like to move, which I enjoy.  But my thought was that being outside and liking to move might be traits of other remedy plants, in addition to pulsatilla.

The homeopath was furious with me for questioning her choice of remedies.  She insisted I was looking for things that are different instead of things that are the same.  She does not like to be questioned. 

When I was younger, I’d have questioned whether questioning a health practitioner was a good idea – they are trained in a field about which I know little or nothing.  But that’s my personality – I question.  I agreed to take the pulsatilla  remedy.  The homeopath warned me that I might have a discharge and I was to call her immediately if I did.  She wasn’t going to tell me what kind of discharge. I asked if she wanted to know if I sweat a lot at the gym.  Yes, she did.  She warned me not to schedule anything important for the weekend because I might feel sick.

Over the next two days, I felt like I was getting a pimple, and I hunted for it, so I could pop it, but I couldn’t find it.  And I have not had those little grains in the corners of my eyes when I wake up, so I figured I was  making more tear fluid in my eyes, which is a kind of a discharge.  I called her. These didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I reminded her that I did not see myself as a match for pulsatilla.  She responded that I wouldn’t see myself as a match for anything.  I told her that I found Myers - Briggs test pretty accurate. She said she’d never heard of that and was not interested. She was also angry that I’d called at 7 in the morning.  She said to call immediately.  And to me 7 AM is not early. She wasn’t answering her phone, so I left a message. I don’t know why the hour matters if it’s just a message.

Homeopathy treats the whole person, not just an ailment. She needed to know my “whole person” in words she understands, and I need to report my sensations in her preferred vernacular. I agreed to this. She did not agree to communicate with me in words I understand.  I didn’t know I needed to ask for that. I have a huge vocabulary and I understand most of what I read or hear (or at least I think I do.)  Standardized tests rank me very high on reading comprehension.  

I looked up what she told me to research. She was refusing to look up something I recommended.  She demanded to know why I was still harping on my not thinking pulsatilla was right a match for me.  Because nothing happened. Because I’m not better. Because the more I read, the more traits I see that do not describe me.  Because my friend the massage therapist said that this woman’s remedy choice for her got rid of headaches that had plagued her for 3 years, but I’m still in pain. 

The more I explained, the angrier she got.  And I did not wish for a changeable personality module. Instead I saw clearly how arbitrary it all is – do I like pillows? Do I like outdoors? Do I ask questions?

The homeopath told me that the remedy I took will work in my system for 6 to 8 months.  Then she said she thought I should quit because she was angry.  I asked her how I can quit if the drug is going to work in my system for 6 to8 months.  She became furious that I called her remedy a drug. Homeopathic remedies are not “drugs.”

Okay, she’s got her own jargon.  I tried paraphrasing what I’d heard and every time I tried she only became angrier. I asked her to paraphrase and she refused.

My personality became the issue. She does not like my personality.  My husband and best friend do like it. And it’s totally arbitrary.  No wonder they were worried my personality might change. They might not like me if my personality were different.  We like to question, and play with words, and explore jargon, and do things outdoors together.

I wrote the homeopath releasing her from any obligation to care for me. Part of my personality is avoiding doing things that anger others. And my very presence angers her. 

I now  have a deeper and more profound appreciation for the friendships I enjoy and the arbitrariness of our personalities and preferences that make our friendships possible.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Squirrel-Proof Screen

I live in the kind of neighborhood where break-ins are usually at gun-point, and the intruders / thieves force their way in through the front door.

A few weeks ago, I came home to my peaceful quiet living room, took off my shoes.  Then I entered my kitchen, which was a shambles. It looked as if there had been a minor earthquake. Dishes and boxes had been knocked off the counter and the fridge top and scattered on the floor. Then I noticed that a plum had been nibbled and bits of peel scattered about.  My first thought was a bird.  But could a bird really be strong enough to cause this much damage?  

A 3-inch long slit in the screen was the only trace of my intruder.  I’d left top half of my window open.  I supposed a bird could have flown in by accident and then escaped by the same route.  I closed the window, thinking about patching the screen over the upcoming weekend.

The next day there was a 1-foot diameter hole in my screen.  No plum-hungry bird could have done that!  It had to be a squirrel – a squirrel with a taste for plums.

I called several hardware stores.  Nobody had heard of squirrel-proof screens.  And if I found one online, they refused to install them – except for one store, where the screen installer said he’d do it on his own time – the store would have nothing to do with it.

I found squirrel proof screen on line.  I got it installed.  The hardware store was kind about the whole thing and let me bring my damaged screen with frame and my new squirrel proof screen material to the store and they let their repair person do the job on his break.

Now that the screen is in place, and I can open my window again. I’ve learned that the squirrels aren’t partial to plums.  Any aromatic fruit will do. My grapes have come into season and the squirrels are eating more than half the crop. The finks take them just as they start to turn purple. At least they don’t let the flies in when they steal my harvest. And there's no risk of bullets.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spelling Out the Magic

This is Magic Week.  Members of The Society of American Magicians do free shows at hospitals around the country. Sometimes we all meet in a room and magicians take turns presenting to a group. At other hospitals, we go room to room.

At Children’s Hospital we had some wonderful skeptics in the audience.  I like to use optical illusions and science-based magic, so my part of the show has them flummoxed. One of the other magicians decided to try mentalism.  Mentalism is the branch of magic in which the magician attempts to read the mind of an audience member who is helping with the magic.

The children ranged in age from toddler through teenager.  The helper looked about 7 years old.  First the magician asked the helper to pick a card, any card.  She did. She showed it to the audience. It was a 2 of Clubs.  Then the magician asked the helper to look at some alphabet cards, supposedly to test her eye sight.  She read the cards aloud.

Tee, double-you, oh, oh, eff,

“What does that spell?” asked the magician.

“Tee, Woof,” responded the girl.

Gotta love it!

The next letters were see, el, you, bee, and ess.  She didn’t know that word at all.

The magician wound up trying to teach a reading lesson, and the helper didn’t understand what happened to the magic.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Conjoined Gingerbread Men

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is where medical science in the United States started. These early doctors were not fascinated with normal.  They concentrated their early studies on what made them curious. Conjoined twins, shrunken heads, deformities and severe injuries.  Many of their specimens are still preserved today.   They have a woman whose corpse turned to soap. And they have a gift shop where you can buy soap shaped like that corpse.  

The museum also has visiting exhibits.  They have had herbs collected by Lewis and Clark.  Right now they have bones preserved from the autopsies of Lincoln and Booth.  Of course the gift shop has items from this as well.  The gift shop has a t-shirt that says “Think Outside the Jar” featuring a drawing of a brain outside a specimen jar.  And they have cookie cutters for a conjoined gingerbread man.  That I could not resist. I made mine with whole wheat flour.

Gingerbread Roll-Out Cookies

1 cup butter ( 2 sticks)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup powdered milk
1 egg
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
2 TBSP ginger
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup molasses
2 TBSP hot water

Mix together. Roll out to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies. Bake at 350oF for about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

X-Ray the Thinking

Over the past year, I’ve been to 3 physical therapists and 3 chiropractors, one rehab doc and a massage therapist. I go to yoga and Pilates and Feldenkrais classes every week. I do Egoscue exercises every morning. I’m the most active person I know. I have a little more mobility than I had a year ago – no where near what I hoped for with all this work. And the pain level is about the same.

I decided to try one more chiropractor – the guy who helps the bicycle couriers who get hit in traffic.  He insisted on doing an x-ray. He said that my insurance would not pay for the x-ray, so I’d have to pay him $85.  Silly me – I believed him.  I paid him for the x-ray.  When I got home, I called my insurance company. They do pay for x-rays, but not at chiropractors’ offices.  The chiropractor must write a prescription for the x-ray to be done at a hospital.

I decided that if this is how the man takes care of my finances, I don’t trust him with my health. I called up and cancelled my follow-up appointment at which he was supposed to explain the x-ray to me, picked up my disk, and asked for a detailed receipt so I could try to get some sort of reimbursement from my insurance company.  The chiropractor refunded my $85, which still amazes me. And told me that I have “a lot of arthritis.” 

According to the x-ray taken about a year ago, right after the accident, I have “mild arthritis.”  I took the new x-ray to my regular chiropractor.  He said that the accident x-ray was taken while I was unconscious and lying down. The new one was taken while I was standing up. It looks different. It doesn’t mean that my arthritis has gotten worse during the year.  The fact that I have greater mobility now than right after the accident would indicate that it hasn’t gotten worse.  He also said that arthritis rarely gets better.

Basically, he thinks I should be happy that I have as much mobility as I do. And I should be happy that I don’t have lung cancer, like he does.  He’s taking 3 weeks off to go for treatment for his lung cancer.  He’s younger than I am, so I expect him to be around to help me keep my body working.  I hope his cancer treatment is a success.

The thing is though – when he thought the damage was just from the accident, he was optimistic about helping me have less pain and more mobility.  Now that he thinks my problems are from the accident plus arthritis, he’s no longer optimistic. Now he thinks I will have to live with pain and limited mobility for the rest of my life – all because of an x-ray. He even said if it gets any worse, I should consider hip replacement.  

An x-ray doesn’t change anything except how people think about things. It is a diagnostic tool, not a treatment. I’d rather x-ray my thinking and find the strength to keep on finding ways to get through my days and get my body to do what I want. In my view, the body heals itself. It has always done so before.  I just need to keep trying.

In Pilates this morning, the teacher had us do some exercises with our eyes closed and picture what our vertebrae were doing.  That made the exercise more comfortable and more effective.  Maybe if I picture my femur moving in my hip socket moving as I do hip movements, I’ll get progress there, too.  All I can do is keep trying!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Playing Games

I have not played board games for decades.  I never liked Monopoly.  I figured the name was because the game monopolized the players’ time. Checkers, Chinese Checkers, and Clue intrigued me. Especially Clue because in a sense, it was always my turn. Either I was hunting for clues or hiding clues. I kept great notes about which card I’d shown to whom and if they asked me for the same suspect or weapon twice, I showed them the same card. I hid room cards because those were the most trouble to learn. I enjoyed figuring out the strategies.

Then my life became interesting and games lost their appeal.

My older daughter recommended Settlers of Catan, so I bought it, hoping she might want to play it when she visits with her children.  It hasn’t happened. The game was still in its celophane wrapper when houseguests began arriving.

“You’ve got Settlers of Catan. Let’s play.”

“I don’t know how. The game is still in its wrapper. I haven’t even read the instructions.”

“Oh. It’s a complicated game with lots of strategy. It’s best to play it the first time with somebody who knows all the rules.”

So we unwrapped the box, and unwrapped the cards and punch out the playing pieces.  This game has lots of parts. Even the board is made of parts so it can be different each time you play.
Like Clue, it is always my turn. Whether I throw the dice, or somebody else does, something can happen to my playing pieces. I might get a resource card or lose one, or get blocked by the robber. I have to build roads and cities and plot my defenses.

But the game didn’t matter. The point was that my husband and our houseguest and I sat around a table for about an hour and talked – about anything and everything, and the game was incidental.   

With that as a given, games take on a whole new level.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She's Been Dead Over 20 Years, and I'm Still Afraid of Her

At first, I liked my mother-in-law.  That was before I married her son. She was on good behavior. She was civil to me, at first, after our marriage – until I refused to name our first daughter Laura.  She always wanted a daughter to name Laura.  I don’t like the name Laura.  I came up with a compromise middle name of Lorraine.  I was on her enemies list forever.

I try to practice compromise. I try to practice compassion. I try not to carry grudges. I wish I had known her better. But when I think of her, my chest tenses, my arms get ready to push, I take a deep breath, storing up energy so I can survive.

I’m not sure it will help to list the ways she frustrated my life, but I’m going to list some anyway.

She smoked. I do not allow anyone to smoke in my house – not nobody, no-how. My husband quit smoking. I do not demand that people quit. But they may NOT smoke in my house!  I explained that I particularly did not want her smoke near my children, her grandchildren.

She would invite my children onto the porch with her and then light up her cigarettes and blow smoke at them. She was following the letter of my rule, but not the intent. She loved telling me she was doing what I had asked even though it was unreasonable and unfair. My girls loved her. She could be fascinating when she wanted to be. I was the baddie when I told them to come in and get away from Grandma’s smoke.

She knew that I don’t let people read my rough drafts when I’m writing.  We talked about art. She liked to paint.  She also didn’t like to show people her unfinished works.  I would leave a story I was working on in my typewriter.  When she visited, a story disappeared. Not just the page in the platen, but all the typed pages stacked beside the typewriter, too.  I asked everyone in the house – had they seen it? Had they borrowed my typewriter? My mother-in-law lectured me about what a suspicious person I was and how I must have misplaced my manuscript.  I found the pages later in the sheets of her bed, when I stripped the bed to do the wash.  She denied having taken it, and insulted me for suspecting her. And the story wasn’t good, anyway.

She moved things around in my kitchen and claimed I had simply forgotten where I put them. I guess she was a fan of “Gaslight.” When she wasn’t visiting, she would call me up at odd hours and tell me she was going out with a motorcycle gang, or she was buying a wig for her pubic hair. She sent me a photo of herself excreting in public in a park.  

Once when I had no idea she was cooking anything, she put some dough in my oven in a plastic bowl. Since I was cooking, I turned the oven on to warm up.  The plastic bowl (my bowl, not hers) melted and her dough was ruined.  Years later she was still angry with me.  “Is that how your mother raised you? To ruin other people’s things?”

She told me lies about other people, hoping to start arguments.  At first, I would question people about what she’d told me, and some arguments did start.  Then I caught on.  She started telling friends and relatives lies about me.  When somebody would say, Lillian told me you... I’d just say, “I don’t want to hear it.”

So, why am I writing this now? She’s been dead over 20 years. As she requested, her ashes and those of her sister and brother-in-law, are scattered beneath my rose bush. A plaque in their honor hangs at the local funeral consumers alliance office. But mostly I don’t think about her.

I’m writing this because the last time I saw a friend who has recently gotten in touch was when I was cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house after her death, giving away her things to anybody who might enjoy them. My friend told me I really shouldn’t have been so mean to my mother-in-law.  And even more than 20 years later, I have to ask myself – was I mean to her? (Not the lies I’m sure she told, but in actual fact.)  In my thoughts, in my heart, yes I was mean. I did not like her. I did not welcome her into my home. I limited her visits to 3 days at a time. When I was in labor with my 2nd daughter, I didn’t want her in the room, so I sent her out to get a camera. (I figured that was better than asking her to boil water.)

I also was not curious about her. I wanted more than anything to avoid her, except when her requests were reasonable, which most of the time, they were not.  I was angry with her for risking my children’s health.  I did not show her compassion for being a tobacco addict. After she died, I got her FBI records.  She did some things interesting enough to get the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. 

She painted a picture of Nixon naked and glued on a jelly bean for a penis. She invented a tactile alphabet to teach kinesthetic learners how to read. She had a houseguest who sent lists of the books on her shelves to the FBI. She was a member of the Communist Party for 4 years.  If I hadn’t married her son, we might have liked each other.

I do wish I could have liked her, or at least gotten along with her better. I was afraid of her, rather than curious about her, even in my 40's. In fact, when my newly reacquainted friend mentioned her, all the fear responses kicked in again – the tight chest, the quick inhale as if I’m about to be pushed under water. Disliking her had become a habit that I didn’t question.  In retrospect, that was my biggest mistake. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sharing my Grand Daughters

I’m a long-distance grandma – about 3000 miles distant. I get out to CA to see my grand twins once or twice a year.  I was about to give up on corrupting them.

My mother gets along great with my daughters – they agree that I’m a hopeless hippie.  I was hoping for something similar with my grand daughters.  Maybe we could agree that my older daughter is – no need to name it.  With 3000 miles between us, I’m just an eccentric visitor who does magic tricks and exercises in the living room and sends books and emails.

But a few days ago, my daughter received an email from a woman I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.  “I'm looking for your parents.  Please tell them I'd like to contact them. (I also knew you, well enough to change your diapers - and feed you, too)”   

I like to think that I’m more web savvy than my daughter, and easier to find – but I guess that’s not true.  This email was from a former neighbor from married student housing in Berkeley.  We belonged to a babysitting co-op.  When you joined the club, you got a stack of cards good for 10 hours of sitting. When you called another member to sit, you paid in cards.  When you sat, you were paid in cards.  That was over 40 years ago.  We did see each other by random happenstance about 10 years later – when we were both visiting Santa Cruz, and saw each other on the sidewalk.  

I think about her about once a year – at Passover – because she inspired me to write my own haggadah and to make my own matzos.  Her haggadah mentioned that matzos used to be round until the matzo making machine was invented and matzos became square.   I figured I could make round ones – and I’ve made them every year since then.

I remember the day she spent lying in bed having sex fantasies and how thrilled her husband was when he came home.  And I remember the day we were grocery shopping and my older daughter slipped in front of the dairy case.  My daughter looked at me for permission to cry.  I picked her up, hugged her, and told her she was alright.  Then I put her down.  She didn’t cry.  Instead she reached into the cheese bin and picked out the cheese she wanted for her sandwiches.  She always picked by smell.  When I was pregnant with her, I developed an acute sense of smell – particularly for cheese.  I would buy a flavor of cheese I’d never had before and eat the whole block on the way home and have to go back to the store for more.

My former neighbor congratulated me on having such a sensible daughter.

But I made no effort to find her and thought she’d forgotten about me.  She has a grandson about the same age as my grand twins. She wishes she had grand daughters.  She now lives in the same city as my daughter. (She did not know that when she sent her email.)  I asked my daughter if she’d like to have a volunteer surrogate grandma for her twins.  She said she would, and that it was nice of me to share.  I hope my former neighbor still shares my values.  I’m not going to pay her in babysitting cards.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Mom Wins Because Her Horse Wins

First the acknowledgment – I got free tickets from BlogHer to see the movie Secretariat. I’m sure they gave out the free tickets because they hoped people would blog about the movie before it is released.

Second, the caveat – I don’t see the point of watching horses, dogs, cars, or humans run around track.  I can see the people who love doing this sort of thing enjoying the fun of racing or moving quickly.  I can see that people enjoy competing.  But I do not enjoy gambling – okay I gamble on my own talents all the time, but risking money on which horse will win a race, or who will get the best dice throw is not my idea of fun.

Still, there’s something about race horses that attracts interesting people – people who are in financial straits – people who have complex lives.  The movie SeaBiscuit was about a small overlooked horse managed by 3 troubled men.

This movie, Secretariat, is about a big well-bred horse owned by a woman whose father died leaving her his horses, and a $6 million debt in federal taxes.  This horse is trained by a man who wants to retire, and ridden by a jockey who perhaps works horses to death.  I knew in advance that Secretariat was a horse that won races.  That’s not enough of a reason to make a movie, let alone a Disney movie.

For me, the fascinating part of this movie is the way Disney handles the feminism of the mid 70's.  The highpoints of the movie are the relationship between the optimistic, persistent horse owner and her daughters.

And there’s a great scene in which the woman, Penny Tweedy, takes one of her sons to watch the birth of Secretariat (really known as Big Red). Penny explains that the mother horse has done this 13 times before.  The son says, “You’ve done it four times.”

No spoilers.  I just wonder how the relationship would have gone if Secretariat had lost the races.

The acting is believable. And the movie has cameos by the real Penny Tweedy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why Does a Boy Want a Woman's Bicycle?

Philadelphia has distinct neighborhoods.  I live in a primarily Polish, Italian, Lithuanian neighborhood with an influx of educated out-of-towners. Yesterday I rode my bike through a middle class African American to a less-well-off neighborhood with a well-stocked hardware store.  To get to the hardware store, it is necessary to go through several blocks of poverty.  My own house is two blocks from poverty, as well.

I locked my bike to a parking hours sign pole.  The hardware store had the upholstery twist pins I was seeking for a client who wanted my help putting a slipcover on her couch. I was the only white person in the store.  The staff, who were mostly less than half my age called me “Miss.” The salesman who helped me remembered twist pins from his youth, “They have little pig tails.” I paid for my purchase, and returned to my bike just as a school bus stopped at the light.  A voice from the bus called out, “Give me that bike!”

I looked up.  The shouting child was a boy.  Prepuberty voices of both genders tend to sound about the same to me, so I had to check.  I bent down to unlock my bike.  The boy kept shouting, “Give me that bike!”  All I could think was “why would a boy want a woman’s bike?”  My bike clearly has a step through, which was invented for women’s skirts and I find it useful because of the arthritis in my hips.  I thought aggressive boys wanted very much to be like men. Riding a woman’s bike would not fit that image. He shouted again, “Give me that bike!”

I had a momentary flash of fear – was he going to get off that bus and attack me to get the bike? If he did, I’d have to walk home through unfriendly neighborhoods. I am no match for a healthy 9-year-old boy. I don’t know how to fight. But the boy stayed at the window on the bus, continuing to shout.  Even if I wanted to give him my bike, it would not fit through the bus window.  What was he thinking?  Does he have classmates who can be impressed that he has a loud voice? That he demands weird things?

What would have happened if I shouted back, “Why would a boy want a woman’s bike?”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Take My Word, If You Can Do an Experiment

Don’t take my word for anything, if you can do an experiment.  

That was my rule when I taught chemistry.  And that’s the rule in my kitchen.

I was showing my niece how to make RoRo’s Schnecken, a treasured family treat that RoRo said is unrecognizable from my kitchen, but every body else loves. These cinnamon laced rolls have something magical in them.  My friend the yogi says they require so much attention that they can’t help bring out the love in the baker. 

RoRo insisted that the dough only rises properly if it is beaten by hand.  I let my electric mixer do the job.  She insists it is only delicious if made with white flour.  I use whole wheat flour.  RoRo measured everything after sifting and she leveled each cup with a knife.  I approximate.  I do use measuring cups, but I don’t sift and I don’t level. I just scoop and pour.  RoRo insisted on raisins.  I didn’t have raisins, so I used dried cranberries.  RoRo always used pecans. I’ve been known to use walnuts. I don’t scald the milk – I figure that requirement is leftover from the days prior to pasteurized milk.  I just warm the milk in the microwave oven – 15 seconds is plenty.  I always use about 2/3 of the sugar called for in any recipe. Nobody ever complains that my schnecken aren’t sweet enough.

But one thing I do that RoRo insisted on – I freeze the schnecken before I eat them.  I tried eating them fresh and hot out of the oven.  They are good – but not great! There’s something subtle that’s just not right.  Her schnecken only taste fully delicious after they have been frozen and reheated.  

She insisted they had to be frozen in aluminum wrap.  They’re just fine if they get frozen in plastic freezer boxes, or freezer baggies.

But when I told my niece we had to freeze the schnecken, she insisted on eating one fresh and hot out of the oven.  I loved watching her do the experiment – never take my word for anything if you can do an experiment instead.   I have yet to tell her that schnecken is German for snail.

RoRo’s Schnecken  – makes 2 dozen

1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 tsp salt
½ tsp honey
1 cup warm milk (or go ahead and scald and cool it you want to follow the original recipe exactly)
– let the yeast grow until the milk is bubbly

Your choice – in a separate bowl, or in the same bowl (If you’re my kind of cook) combine:
1/4 lb room temperature butter (1 stick) or ½ cup oil plus ½ tsp salt
½ cup honey
2 eggs
3 ½ cups flour (your choice white or whole wheat)
½ tsp salt

Beat together until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. You can do this with a wooden spoon (which takes about 15 minutes and very strong arms) or with your electric mixer (if it is strong enough.)

If you are tired now, you can put the dough in the refrigerator over night.  Be sure to let it warm up to room temperature before you work with it again.  

Or you can let it rise right now, until it is doubled in bulk.

Note: I like to use silicone muffin tins – I used to use cast iron muffin tins, but they take a long time to clean up afterwards.

Prepare the muffin tins.
Melt ½ lb (2 sticks) butter and put about 1 TBSP into each muffin cup
(note: this is not all of the butter – you’ll the rest of it later)
24 pecan halves  – put one in each muffin cup
1 ½ cups brown sugar plus 2 TBSP water (soften the sugar with the water – warm over low heat in a pan if necessary) – put 1 TBSP in each muffin cup

Roll out 1/3 of the dough (to about 1/4" thick) on a floured rolling cloth or silicone sheet.  You are aiming for a rectangle here - about 18" x 8"

Brush the dough with melted butter
Sprinkle with cinnamon
Sprinkle with brown sugar
Shake ground pecans over the dough
Sprinkle with raisins or dried cranberries or currants

Roll the dough from the long side, like a newspaper.  
Cut the dough into 8 pieces (approx 1 ½ inches each)

Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Place one rolled piece of dough into each muffin cup

Allow to rise until doubled in bulk.  If you have trouble getting dough to rise, do NOT preheat your oven.  Place them into the oven and then turn it on.  Set the desired temperature to 375 F.
If you preheat the oven, the schnecken will take about 15 minutes to cook. If you don’t preheat, they take at least 20 minutes.  The dough will bounce back when you touch it. It will appear slightly browned, but that’s hard to tell because of the cinnamon.

As soon as you remove the schnecken from the oven, invert the pans.  This will allow the butter and brown sugar to drizzle over the outsides.  My grandmother always inverted her schnecken pans over waxed paper to minimize the clean-up.  You can invert them over any surface you are willing to clean.

Go ahead – eat one fresh out of the oven.  Freeze the rest.  Remember what the fresh hot schnecken tasted like.  Reheat the frozen schnecken.  Compare the taste.  Decide which you prefer.