Friday, December 31, 2010

No Chair for a Queen

In a Facebook message yesterday, one of my friends, in trying to arrange a time to visit said, “You're the queen, and you can decide when to hold court!”  Although that may be true at the moment, this is no chair in which a queen should hold court:

On the best of days, it’s not the easiest from which to rise.  And now?  Fuggedaboutit!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

Since I’m going to be spending so much time in my home, sweet home during the next few weeks, I thought I’d invite you in to have a look around--especially since I cleaned and vacuumed yesterday and the place is as shiny as the top of the Chrysler Building.

Here's the "nickel tour."

For starters, this is the mezuzah that greets you at the door.

Of course you’ve already seen it since it also greets you at the door of this blog.

Once inside, you’re in the dining area.  I’ve shared lots of good times in this space with family and friends and am looking forward to many more in the coming year.

Just past the dining area on to the left is the galley-style (but good size, by New York standards) kitchen. (If anyone knows how to display these two pictures side-by-side, I'd love to hear from you!)

Further on is the living room.

The television is my least favorite part of the room...although there are times when I do like to lazy about on the couch and watch.

Far more interesting than the TV, I think, is the Stromberg-Carlson radio that belonged to my grandparents.  It's a radio (from the pre-FM days) and a phonograph player.  Tucked into one of the musty storage sections are some old (are there any other kind?!) Enrico Caruso recordings. My mother always used to say that she remembered the radio from when she was a very little girl.  I wouldn't be surprised if they all used to gather 'round it to listen to Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats.

By far, my favorite part of the living room is what I always refer to as my reading nook.  Here's where I'd like to spend much of my time in the next few weeks.

The bedroom and the bathroom round out my home, sweet home.

Welcome…hope to see you soon!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Boatload of Brisket

If you read my last post, you know I’ve got a freezer and fridge nearly full of food in anticipation of hunkering down to recuperate for a few weeks.

Let me tell you in particular about the brisket…

The Fresh Direct order I received on Friday was to have included cubed beef for stew.  I thought the meat in the package would look like this: 

Photo:  Fresh Direct

Instead, when I opened the box with the meat in it, it looked like this:
Photo:  Fresh Direct
No joke, it must have weighed 10 pounds and I had no idea what to do with it.

A quick call to my sister helped me determine that it was a huge piece of brisket and that I should do the following:
  1. Use the biggest, sharpest knife I own to cut the slab into three approximately even size pieces.
  2. Wrap each one separately in clear plastic and a freezer bag.  Place two of them in the freezer.
  3. The third, she said, should be cooked in the crock pot. 
I completed steps one and two above on the spot and, earlier today, battled snow and wind to get to the supermarket to buy a jar of chili sauce, a six-pack of Coke (not diet Coke), and a box of onion soup mix.  (Had I know the brisket was coming I would have, of course, ordered these from Fresh Direct, too.)

When I got home, the meat, one can of Coke, one envelope of onion soup mix and the jar of chili sauce went into the crock pot, and I turned it on to “low.”  In about eight hours, voila:  I’ll have brisket and gravy to add to the stash of food in the freezer.

Thanks, Amy, and thanks, Fresh Direct!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nesting Nellie

Last night I started to nest.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the definition of nesting is “to build or occupy a nest, to settle in or as if in a nest.” 

And, although I’m certainly not pregnant, the description of nesting from Mama’s Health seems especially apt:  “Nesting is the term used to refer to an expectant mother’s instinct which gives her a surge of energy which prompts her to clean and do various chores around her home. Nesting usually arises as the mother nears her due date.”

It all started with the Fresh Direct delivery that arrived a little bit before 7 p.m.  Totaling nearly $200 (which is more than double the cost of most of my orders), it included, among other things, eight rolls of paper towels, a dozen rolls of toilet paper, a box of powdered laundry detergent, two dozen bottles of Gatorade, Jell-O, chocolate pudding, peanut butter, a box of Clementine oranges, olive oil, mint chocolate chip ice cream, bagels, apple juice, diet Coke, ginger ale, yogurt, salsa and chips, hummus, potatoes, onions, pasta, rice, beans, corn, diced tomatoes, and enough meat for more than one crock pot brisket.

Opening the freezer to put the frozen foods away, I found a jumble of unidentifiable packages and containers that were, as my mother always used to say, “from the year gimel.” Although they had never bothered me before, all of a sudden, they had to go.  And they had to go now.  So I started tossing:  ice-encrusted turkey bacon, a foil wrapped, plastic-bagged something or other, leftover lentil chili from last January, a started bag of frozen pineapple from Trader Joe’s (I don’t remember the last time I was in Trader Joe’s), hot dog buns that I may have moved here from my last apartment (I’ve been in this one for two and a half years), and a box of frozen veggies that were most likely picked when the Green Giant was still a little sprout.  With all that "stuff" out of there, there was plenty of room to neatly stack the new groceries among the freshly made containers of homemade soup, veggie lasagna and baked goodies that friends have thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for me in the last several weeks.

The same thing happened in the pantry cabinet.  Out went stale nuts, a box of Parmalat milk with a 2008 pull date, a box of matzo that the Israelites probably baked, a partially used bag of rock-hard dried cranberries, and a few potatoes with very big eyes.  After that round of tossing, I rearranged the canned goods, grouping them together by type, aligned the various boxes of rice, mac and cheese, cereal and pasta based on box size, and repackaged some opened bags of dried beans and pearl couscous in uniform, stackable plastic containers.  Martha Stewart would be proud.

But wait, there’s more…

My to-do list on Sunday includes:
  1. Paying all bills through January 15
  2. Making a batch of chili and freezing it in portion size containers
  3. Cooking a brisket in the crock pot
  4. Packing and shipping the stack of textbooks on the dining room table that are being “bought back” by (using the one box from Fresh Direct that wasn’t flattened and put out for recycling)
My tasks on Monday include:
  1. Washing:  clothes, sheets, towels, blankets, and mattress pad
  2. Dusting:  the heavy duty kind, where you actually lift up the tsotchkes instead of just dusting around them
  3. Vacuuming:  including the couch cushions and the POÄNG chair from Ikea
  4. Scrubbing the bathroom until it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building:  tub, sink and toilet, as well as sweeping the hairballs out of the corners and swabbing down the floor
After that, Tuesday should be a breeze.  Fueled only by the calories consumed in clear liquids, I’ll run down to the library at Baruch (it’s closed until then) to print something out, returning home (to a sparkling clean apartment!) in time to await two separate phone calls from the hospital—one to review the events of the next day and one to let me know what time to arrive.  A Hibiclens shower—and hopefully some sleep—will round out the day.

Whew…after all that, I’ll really need those six weeks of R&R that are coming my way!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Train Training

Dear Fellow New Yorkers:

I know this is a terrific city and that you’re a great bunch of folks, but your behavior in the subway (actually it’s just in the subway station) sometimes leaves a bit to be desired.  Although you’d never know it to look at me, I don’t have a whole lot of depth perception and as a result, walking down a flight of stairs (or even two or three of them) without holding on to the banister is tough for me. 

Therefore, I’d be extremely grateful if you would please refrain from:
  • Standing on the steps to text your friends.
  • Using the stairs to elevate you foot so you can tie your shoelace.
  • Stopping in the middle of the steps to have a conversation with a long lost buddy.
If you need to do any of those things, please wait until you’re at the bottom of the stairs and then step out of the flow of traffic.  We’ll all thank you.

For those of you waiting in Penn Station for a train to the ‘burbs, I know there’s not a whole lot of seating there, but the steps aren’t chairs either.  Please don’t use them to rest your tush while you eat a bagel, drink your coffee, use your iPad or just stare off into space while you wait.  When you do these things, you create an unnecessary hazard for both of us since—unlike most people—I can’t just let go of the banister to go around you.  And, besides, you’re going to be sitting on the train in a few minutes anyway, so what’s a little standing around until your track is posted?!

Thanks, everybody…much appreciated.

Enjoy your ride,

P.S.  One more thing:  For those of you who take the bus, might it be possible for you to dig out your MetroCard while you wait for the bus instead of when you're standing in front of the fare box holding up the rest of the line?  Thanks!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Whose Blood is It Anyway?

Photo:  University of Utah, Health Sciences Library
This morning on my way into the office, I stopped in at a Quest Diagnostics Lab to have blood drawn.  (Next week it’s back on the medical merry-go-round for me.)  Thankfully, the place was empty and even without an appointment I was in and out in about three minutes. 

It occurred to me on the walk to work, though, that aside from printing my name on the clipboard at the front window, verifying my address, and signing and printing my name on a form where the phlebotomist pointed, he had no way of knowing that I was truly the person I claimed to be. 

Although I would not ever consider doing it, the whole episode did make me wonder what (aside from the moral imperative to do the right thing) would prevent me from sending a marathon-running, 20-something who is genetically predisposed to low cholesterol to provide “my” blood? 

I’m just sayin’…

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Blessings of Wind and Rain

Photo:  New York Times
Earlier this week, I wrote about my kaddish community.  You can read that post here.

Since then, the worst wildfires in Israel’s history have wreaked havoc on land and communities in the north, and have taken more than 40 lives.  No doubt when my kaddish community gathers together tomorrow morning in the Morse Chapel at Temple Shaaray Tefila, these words from the G’vurotMashiv haruach umorid hagashem (You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall)—will resound especially loudly.

This Shabbat, may God bring rain to Israel’s parched, fire-ravaged land and healing to her people.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mah Jong Time

Photo:  Craig Rumpel
A few of my sister’s friends, ensconced in communities bereft of mah jong players, often play online.  Although I don’t personally participate to this type of game, last night I came close…on Facebook.

It all started when my friend Scott, still home in Houston following Thanksgiving, posted this as his status update:  coming soon:  (Don't try to click on this faux link...Scott made it up!)

In Facebook comments among Scott and his friends, the following conversation ensued:

JanetheWriter:  Hmmm...should I be afraid?!?

Scott:  I am upstairs at my parents’ doing work and it's mah jong night downstairs!

JanetheWriter:  Three bam!

Mike (Does he really play or just listen from upstairs?!):  Four crack. Two dot. FLOWER!

JanetheWriter:  Mahj!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Modim Anachnu Lach*

On erev Thanksgiving, perhaps more than on any other night during the year, we take stock of our many blessings.  And, despite the sadness and loss my family’s experienced this year, we, too, have much for which to be thankful: 

We—my father, my sister, Ian and I—have each other and our precious memories.  Modim anachnu lach.

We have an ever-expanding network of family and friends—near and far, old and new—who call, keep in touch, check in with us, hold our hands, prop us up and propel us forward as we stumble through this year of mourning.  Modim anachnu lach.

We have comfort in knowing that we always abided by my mother’s wishes and that in her last days she was surrounded by loved ones, music, dignity, and peace.  Modim anachnu lach.

We have the work of our hands—that not only challenges our intellect and buoys our spirits, but also betters our world.  Modim anachnu lach.

We have our health. Modim anachnu lach.

We have key information that gives me a shot at life that my mom didn’t have.  To honor her memory, I am compelled to make the most of this gift.  Modim anachnu lach.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

* We give thanks to You.

Friday, November 19, 2010

BRCA SCHMACA: This is Serious Business

Image:  US National Library of Medicine
Dear Blog,

Before you were “born,” I had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (doc-speak for surgical removal of the gallbladder) and after it was all over, I sent this note to my terrific surgeon:
Dear Dr. Z--,

Before my life returns to the pace it was before my recent surgery, I want to thank you again for the outstanding medical care you provided and for the many kindnesses you demonstrated to me and my family throughout this entire unanticipated adventure.  I will be ever grateful to you for all that you did and, although I hope not to need a surgeon again anytime soon, you will always be at the top of my list!

With gratitude and thanks,
As it turns out, “anytime soon” is now…

A few weeks after my mom died this spring from breast cancer, my sister and I, given our family history, opted to pursue genetic counseling and testing for the BRCA (BReast CAncer) gene mutations, which are common among Ashkenazi Jews (too much inbreeding in the shtetl).  Although my sister's test results were negative, mine were positive for 6174delT, a BRCA2 gene mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. 

In September, I consulted with a scalpel-happy surgeon at Mt. Sinai referred to me by my gynecologist.  Sadly, if the guy had had a scalpel handy, I’m fairly certain that I’d already be without a lot of body parts.  The fact that I told him right from the get-go that I was just doing my homework and not prepared to make any decisions at the moment didn’t seem to register with him.  Neither did the fact that I’ve never been pregnant ("nulligravida" in doc-speak).  He asked me about it three times (yes, three times!) in 10 minutes.  By the third time, I wanted to say, “No, I’ve never been pregnant, just like I told you the last time you asked, and the time before that, too.”  Of course I didn’t say any of that…

Six weeks later, after submitting reams of paperwork, including my positive genetic test results, I met with a genetic counselor and the chief of the clinical genetics service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  Back in 1995, he headed up the team that discovered the 6174delT mutation so he knows a thing or two about all that inbreeding in the shtetl ("genetic drift" in doc-speak).  Nearly three hours later, I left there with a handful of referrals (all their “favorite people,” they told me) and deep confidence that I'd finally found a team of competent, caring professionals who will make sure that whatever decisions I make—now and in the future—will be the right ones for me.

Now, I visit doctors like an octogenarian.  Last week it was the surgeon who’s going to do a laparoscopic, robotic TLH-BSO (how’s that for doc-speak?!) on December 29.  Although it’s generally a same-day procedure, and I expect to be up and around sooner, the anticipated recovery time is four to six weeks.  Yes, four to six weeks…yikes! 

From my perspective, though, the oophorectomy (the “O” in the BSO above) is a “no brainer” because ovarian cancer is nearly impossible to detect in its early stages.  Same with the hysterectomy (the “H” in the TLH above) not only because I certainly don’t need that particular equipment at this stage in my life, but also because Tamoxifen, a chemotherapy drug that’s effective in preventing breast cancer and may be an option for me, carries an increased risk of uterine cancer.  Talk about a Catch-22…

As for the rest, next week I’ll see the medical oncologist who focuses on high surveillance and frequent testing of people with hereditary cancer risk but no disease.  I hope this guy and I can become BFFs (with heavy emphasis on the second F), but I’m well aware that should my circumstances change, it may become necessary to take other, more proactive steps and, for the time being, I’m comfortable with this plan.

To be continued…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kaddish d’Rabbanan: A Modern Interpretation

Since July, I’ve been going to Torah study weekly.  Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot of Torah, from both the other participants in the group and from the rabbis and cantors who lead the minyan and teach our class.  You can read a bit about each of these folks here and here, here, here and here.

I’ve learned a lot of other useful things from rabbis too:

From this one, I learned a multitude of things:  the proper way to don a tallit, the hows and whys of cleaning under your fingernails before immersing in the waters of the mikvah, and the best toys for a brand new aunt to buy her nephew. 

From this rabbi, I learned how to play mah jongg. 

From this one—who serves as my own personal “Ask the Rabbi” in the office—I’ve learned too many things to list.  The one that sticks with me most, though, and has been reinforced repeatedly in recent weeks is the unbearable anguish and pain that go along with being a gay teen

This one introduced me to the wonders of the iPhone, and from this one I learned that my father’s not the only person who thinks that peanut butter and Swiss cheese makes a good sandwich combo. 

This rabbi taught me the value of pondering a question from multiple angles before penning a reply, and this one reminded me, yet again, just how small is our Jewish world.  In light of this fact, she followed up with this oh-so wise gem:   Never, ever talk about someone while in a public restroom.  As she says, “you just never know how people are connected!”

Three summers ago when I found myself in Prague without any luggage, this rabbi taught me the secret of rolling wet clothes in a hotel towel and twisting it tightly to get most of the water out quickly.  More recently, he shared a trick he learned during his congregational days to get wax out of carpet:  cover it with a damp towel (but not the same one you used to dry your clothes!), run a warm iron over the spot and, voila, up comes the wax and the carpet’s as good as new (or at least as good as it was before the wax mishap).  Most endearing of all, he taught a mutual friend (who then taught me) to peel a banana from the bottom—the way it’s done in the jungle—instead of from the top, providing a convenient handle for the snack.  Needless to say, I’ll never eat a banana the same way again.  Whenever I start to peel one, I’ll think most fondly of this teacher and so many others from whom I've learned so much!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Rainbow Ride

Jewish tradition teaches that we should try to say 100 blessings every day. 

Sadly, today my work day started with this one:
Baruch ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, dyan ha-emet.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of time and space, the true Judge.
Thankfully, it ended with this one:
Baruch ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, zocher ha'brit v'ne'eman bivrito v'kayam b'ma'amaro.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who remembers, is faithful to, and fulfills Your covenant with and promise to creation.
What a rollercoaster day…sort of like riding the arc of a rainbow!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It’s That Time of Year Again

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three weeks, you’re probably aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  By coincidence, it’s also the month in which my own mammogram appointment always falls.  Shortly after last year’s test, I wrote this short piece about my experience.

This year’s appointment is set for tomorrow morning, and, needless to say, things are a bit different for me now.  In addition to the usual mammogram, I’m also scheduled for a sonogram and an ultrasound.  Of course, I’m thankful for the technology that makes these tests possible, but I'm certainly no Pollyanna when it comes to this disease, even when a mammogram detects it early.

Nonetheless, if you’re between 35 and 40 and have never had a mammogram, schedule one today.  If you’re over 40 and it’s been more than a year since your last one, do the same thing.  Do not delay, do not pass go, and do not collect $200.  You owe it to yourself and the people you love.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I know you probably think I’ve abandoned you, but, of course, that’s not the case.  And, I know, too, that it’s no excuse that life is, once again, getting in the way of my keeping in touch with you, but truly, that’s the story.

The semester’s back in full swing and I’ve been busy reading an over-the-top amount of material for class each week and, for the last few days, researching and writing the first paper, which is due in about 10 days.  (Thankfully, I picked an extremely timely topic related to the gubernatorial election and there's plenty of useful, easily accessible material available right from my laptop.  Citing the sources, however, is still as time consuming as ever.)  Factor in that a colleague’s been on vacation for the last two weeks, and that I’m trying to sort through a bunch of medical “stuff” related to recently having tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation (increasing my lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer) and you’ll understand—I hope—why I’ve been somewhat out of touch. 

Although it’s fairly mundane, I can tell you that yesterday morning I used the MTA’s new Select Bus Service on the M15 for the first time.  Much to my amazement, I went from 34th and First all the way up to 79th and First in a matter of 15 minutes.  On Third Avenue, that same trip can take double or even triple the time, even on a Saturday morning, so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to duck into Starbucks for a tall iced green tea before the Shabbat minyan at Shaaray Tefila.  The sense of community during the service seemed especially evident yesterday, and the discussion of Lech L’cha that followed the service could have gone on for hours.  This parasha—Ma’s favorite—is so jam packed with material relevant to our own time, it could take weeks to unpack it fully.  Next week, though, we'll move on to Vayeira.

In any event, except for class on Tuesday night and the twice-yearly memorial service at Haven Hospice on Thursday night, this week promises to be a bit calmer than the last few.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to be in touch again soon so we can catch up.  In the meantime, please know that I think of you often and miss you lots.  Take care of yourself and I'll see you soon!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Little Things Have Changed…

Perusing the weekly Shabbat handout before the start of yesterday’s minyan at my congregation, I noticed the list of people whose memorial lamps had been lit in the sanctuary the night before.  As a still fairly new member in a synagogue of almost 1600 families, I was not familiar with most of the names.  I was, however, familiar with this one:  Leon Klinghoffer.

You remember him, too, I’m sure.  Wheelchair-bound following a series of strokes, he and his wife Marilyn cruised on the ill-fated Achille Lauro in 1985 to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.  While in the Mediterranean, the ship was hijacked by four members of the Palestine Liberation Front, and Klinghoffer was shot and his body thrown overboard.  Last year, Youssef Magied Al-Molqui, the terrorist convicted in the hijacking and shooting of Klinghoffer was released early from a Sicilian prison, having served 23 years of a 30-year sentence.

Ironically, this news item appears in today’s online edition of the New York Times. How little, it seems, things have changed in 25 years…

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yom Kippur + Barnes and Noble = Minhag

For the last four years, my father and I have taken a break from Yom Kippur davening by browsing together in the Barnes and Noble bookstore near my parents’ synagogue.  This year was no different, but like everything else we’ve done in the last few months, it was oh-so different.  You can read about our experience here.  Our previous years’ browsing adventures are detailed here and here.

Thankfully, that long, solemn day is now behind us and we’re on to SukkotChag sameach!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Big Pink Thank You!

I didn’t even think about it.  Back in June, having barely finished sitting shiva for my mother, I signed up.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

And almost immediately, the donations started.  In just a few days time I’d hit the $250 mark.  A few days later, $300.  And so it went throughout the summer.  This past Friday, I topped $2500.  The credit, though, goes to you, my family and friends, some of whom I’ve known a lifetime, others I’ve never actually met.  No matter, though; each and every one of you has graciously and generously supported a cause that has importance and meaning to me and my family, and I am extremely grateful. 

As important as the financial support, however, is the emotional support you showered upon me in the days leading up to the Race…and most especially today.  Countless phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages sent me on my way and assured me that even as I strode alone among the throngs on Central Park West at the start of the Race and tearily watched the parade of survivors at the end, I wasn’t really alone.  Like the two angels who hang with us on Shabbat, so, too, were each of you—and my mom—striding along right beside me.

Thanks so much…it was good to have you along for the ride!  (For more photos from the Race, click here.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Letter to My Double Helix

Dear Double Helix,

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing to you now, after 30-some years.  Yes, that’s how long it’s been since I sat in Miss Ganim’s 10th grade biology class studying your components—adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine—your “founders,” Watson and Crick, and the guy on whose shoulders they stood, Gregor Mendel.  Remember him?  He’s that Austrian monk who tinkered with those garden peas, eventually earning himself the title of “Father of Modern Genetics.”

Indeed, thanks to the monk’s toying with those plants, it’s clear just how I ended up with brown eyes, curly auburn-ish hair, and a gait that from behind (my mother always said) is exactly the same as my father’s.  Factor in some additional family history, the work of the human genome project (completed in 2003), and the availability of genetic testing, and it’s relatively clear (relatively being the operative word here) how I also ended up with a BRCA2 gene mutation--6174delT to be precise—that increases my lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  Needless to say, Double Helix, I’ve been thinking about you quite a bit in recent days.

I’ve also been doing and not doing lots of other things.  Here’s a short list:
  1. I’ve been sharing this news with people I care about and who, I know, care about me.
  2. I’ve been making doctor’s appointments right and left, starting with my own gynecologist.  Next week:  a few specialists to whom she's referred me.
  3. With just a few exceptions (this one suggested by the geneticist and this one by a friend), I’m not visiting websites or even thinking about typing "6174delT" into that ubiquitous Google search bar.  At the moment, I want to hear only from my own docs about what this mutation means for me.  I don’t really need to know right now about anyone else’s jaunt, sprint or saunter down this path.
  4. Most of all, I’m trying not to panic, flip out or totally lose it.  Instead, I’m praying for grace, strength and courage, and doing my best to follow the imperative on the sign in the storefront I see each morning on my way to work:  “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Having said that, I’m off to the Baruch bookstore to get this semester’s books.  With any luck, I'll have enough of a head to pay attention and read them... 

Later, Double Helix,

Monday, August 30, 2010

Books for All

Every so often, I surf over to Ima on (and off) the Bima to see what’s new with Phyllis Sommer and her family.  When I last checked in, it was the first-day-of school for her kids, and she was offering a chance to win a $10 giving card to Donors Choose to anyone who left a comment about his or her favorite back-to-school tradition.  And so I wrote:
Yup, I'm with Jendeis [the previous commenter]'s all about the notebooks. I just bought a new one last week for my grad school class -- Race, Politics and the Media -- that starts next Tuesday.
As someone who rarely wins anything, imagine my surprise when I received an email a few days later from that said:   
Great news! Phyllis Sommer made a donation to -- and would like YOU to choose how to apply the funds.
And so, with Phyllis’ generosity, I just selected a classroom in Florida to be the recipient of books at all different reading levels so that every child in Ms. H’s class – no matter what his or her reading ability – can discover the joy and magic of reading!

Thanks, Phyllis!  And thanks, too, Ms. H!  With your guidance and instruction, may your students discover and nurture a love of reading that lasts a lifetime!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tante Mina Redux

Earlier today, I received the following email from my Aunt Claire:
Dear Jane,
Brian and Carolyn are here for a few days. I was showing Carolyn some old family pictures and came across this one of Tante Mina, which I scanned and am sending to you as an attachment. In the picture, which is dated 1959, Tante Mina (at age 80) received some kind of honor at the Home of the Daughters of Jacob. She is standing with Abe Ribicoff (at the mike), who was the governor of Connecticut at that time, and later became Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, in President Kennedy's Cabinet.
Since we just spoke about her a few days ago, I thought that you might like this picture.
I am not sure of my scanning ability, so let me know whether you receive the attachment intact.
Shabbat shalom and love,
Aunt Claire
In fact, the first version of the photo she sent did not come through, but as you can see, the second one most certainly did.

Not only am I pleased to see this photo of Tante Mina, but I am most impressed with the technology skills and persistence of my aunt!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Summer of Remembering

With my mother’s death earlier this summer, I’ve become my family’s “Keeper of the Yahrzeit List.”  So, while some of my friends may be having a summer to remember, I seem to be having a summer of remembering.

First it was Grandma, my mother’s mother, whose yahrzeit falls on July 25th.  She’s in my heart always, and in my writing frequently.  You can read some of my reminiscences and reflections about her here and here and here.

Next was Uncle Irv’s yahrzeit on August 7th.  He too has been the subject of my musings.

Tonight is Tante Mina’s yahrzeit.  My sister Amy is named for her—Leah Meryl—but I didn’t know anything more, so I asked Aunt Claire, my mother’s sister.  Here’s what she had to say:
Tante Mina was a cousin. I don't know how she was related. She was a very short lady and we always used to measure our height against hers. At a very young age we found ourselves taller than her. To know her was to love her because she was so sweet and kind. She was widowed at an early age.  I never knew her husband.  She was rather poor, and as she got older she arranged to go to a Jewish home for the aged. She was very happy there; she loved the arts and crafts classes and also volunteered to feed those people in the home who were unable to feed themselves. She was a "gutte neshumah," a good soul.  We try to remember her because there is no one else to do so.
And so it is that earlier tonight I lit a yahrzeit candle (that’s it up there on the left) for Tante Mina.  As I think about her on her yahrzeit, may her memory--like those of so many others--be a blessing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Elul Musings

Two years ago at this season, I wrote this: “with each Elul, each Simchat Torah "Bereshit" and each seder-concluding "L'shana ha-ba-ah b'Yerushalayim," our tradition graciously offers us an opportunity to seize a new beginning, a fresh start, a reason to look forward.” You can read the entire post here

This year, it is difficult for me to seize the opportunity offered by Elul and more than a bit challenging to set my mind to the spiritual housekeeping and moral accounting that go along with the late summer season. As I peer into the first year of our family’s life without my mother, it doesn’t look fresh, promising or hopeful. Instead, I know (even without seeing the specifics) that at each holiday, each celebration, each family event, it will be harder than ever to “shake it off and step up.” And so I’m especially interested in what others have to say during this annual ritual of spiritual preparation.

Come along with me and check out these Elul musings:

Ima on (and off) the Bima is blogging daily during Elul here.

Inspired by his colleague and friend, the Rhythm Guitar Rabbi also has committed to blog daily (starting on 2 Elul). You can find his musings here.

Sign up for Jewels of Elul and each day during the month you’ll receive a thought-provoking reflection from a different writer on this year's theme of "beginning again."   (Although I usually find these contemplations to be thoughtful and meaningful—I’ve been receiving them for a few years now—I must admit that today’s words from Lady Gaga didn’t do it for me. Perhaps I’m just too old or too out of touch with pop culture to appreciate what she had to say?…)

Know of other Elul musings? Come on, share them with the rest of us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Freelance Editor for Hire

I know that in this economy, I'm lucky to have a job.  And, I'm even luckier that it's one that includes medical and dental insurance, a retirement plan, and generous holiday and vacation time, as well as compassionate co-workers (most of them, anyway) in a comfortable and collegial work environment (on most days, thank goodness). 

To be perfectly honest, however, from my perspective, my job does not include financial compensation that allows me to contribute to my personal savings on a regular basis, to be as generous as I would like with my tzedakah or to splurge every once in a while on a Broadway show, a vacation (even a short one that's not too far away) or an "I'll-pick-up-this-one-just-because" dinner with a friend or two.  And, while my modest lifestyle and carefully watched pennies help ensure that I am able to meet my expenses each month (despite my very deliberate decision to live in outrageously-expensive Manhattan), the chasm between my take-home income and my monthly outgo grows wider and wider and wider with each passing year.

Therefore, I recently decided to go in search of some paid freelance editing opportunities.  I’ve been doing it (the unpaid variety) for years, informally and successfully editing friends’ resumes, business correspondence, including cover letters, web content, blog posts, funding proposals, training materials and the like.  Using existing material (and the Track Changes function in Microsoft Word), I gently and carefully smooth out the bumps, retaining the original voice and message, while making the prose cleaner, sharper, easier to read and more powerful.  Now, I’m hoping to parlay that expertise and experience into something a bit more formal (aka the paid variety).

By way of testimonials, I can offer you these:
From the blog roll on The DCC:  “JanetheWriter Writes -- She is Good, You Should Read This One Too”

From a friend whose document I edited last week:  “I LOVE how you edit!! I had torn that letter apart, but you were way better than me!! :)"

And lastly, this from me (I know, that’s not a credible testimonial, but this is a start-up business and it's the most I can offer at the moment):  When it comes to the edits themselves, I always urge my friends to “take ‘em or leave ‘em.”  More often than not, though, they “take ‘em.” 
Want to know more?  You can read lots of my other work elsewhere on this blog, as well as here and here.

And so, my loyal blog readers and Facebook friends, I turn to you.  Should you or someone you know need a freelance editor, I’d be extremely grateful if you’d play matchmaker and help make a shidduch.  Just drop me an email with all the relevant details, and I’ll take it from there.

Thanks, friends, for helping me set things "write."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Reading…and Summer Movies

For a variety of reasons, this hasn’t exactly turned out to be the summer I envisioned. No, there haven’t been a lot of lazy days suitable for plopping tired feet in cool grass and getting lost in a page-turner, no time for digging toes aimlessly in sand packed hard by endless laps of white-green, bubbly-soft ocean foam that occasionally sprays the pages of a book, not even an afternoon sipping green tea and flipping pages amidst the traffic and noise of a sidewalk café. No matter, though. I have managed to find two books that—if this was a different summer—would make cameo appearances in each of these scenes.

The first, lent to me by a friend, tells the story of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey during World War II. (Yes, I’m behind in my reading and just discovered this treasure that so many others enjoyed years ago, many in book groups.) Filled with colorful characters and a riveting story in a simpler time, when letter-writing was still an art (and a primary means of communication), the end of the page turning came all too quickly for me. If only there were more letters (and more time to read them) from Juliet, Sidney, Sophie, Amelia, Dawsey and the rest, I think I’d have kept turning pages indefinitely. Perhaps a movie will be forthcoming? I hope so…

I’ve written about the second book before (once here, and once here), but never actually read it. And, even though I’ve finished only 20-some of its 460+ pages (excluding the notes and the index), it, too, is already riveting, filled with colorful characters and, perhaps best of all, is a true-crime murder mystery. In this case, though, the mystery isn’t as much a whodunit as a how’d-they-solve-it, much of which remains to be revealed in the unread pages. And, although I find that the movie often isn’t nearly as good as the book, a fictionalized account of this story was made into a 1959 flick starring Orson Welles and E.G. Marshall. Hello, Netflix

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is this "Punny"...or Does it Suck?

Although I’m certainly not ready to pick up my tuba and go marching in The Schmuck Parade anytime soon, I recently was inspired (OK, maybe I was just seeking an escape from “sad”) by two friends’ Facebook exchange to draft this personal ad:
Are you dating in a vacuum?!

Youthful 40-something DJF with a wide, varied and growing circle of family, friends and interests seeks S/DJM for a “meet and greet” that doesn't suck as much as a Bissell. If we’re lucky, intellectual, emotional and physical sparks (but no dust, dirt or dander) will fly and we’ll get swept up in a meaningful long-term relationship that's built slowly on trust, shared values, honesty and a gut reaction that "this is a good thing."

Desire quiet, upright, bagless (relatively little baggage) and age-appropriate Jewish guy (45-55) with attachments to family, friends and other things money can't buy. Bonus points if you know a bisel from a Hoover and retain ties to your religious upbringing that you'd be willing to share if, in fact, we find we're bashert.
To describe the exceedingly small number of replies as “dismal” would be an understatement…especially this one, which--perhaps inspired by this week’s celebration of Tu B’Av?--appears to be a particularly bad fit:
I saw your CL post. I am on my way to work. So I will be brief.
Here is my info:
divorced dad of 5 kids (2 are married and living far away) - at home - 19b 16b 15g - 24x7
orthodox - shabbos - minyan 3x/day (usually)
mostly right wing with some deviations into the left
live in Brooklyn
Am I eligible?
What, pray tell, on God's green earth makes this guy think he's "eligible?!?" I responded with this:
Thanks, but're not eligible. I'm a liberal Reform Jew and although I attend a Shabbat minyan, the chasm is just too wide.

Thanks for being in touch...good luck to you.
To which he responded:
Good Luck to You.
If you chance across an orthodox woman, mention me. Thanks.
Sure. Will do, buddy…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trekking Up the River: The Next Step

Photo by Naomi Abelson
In one of the papers I wrote last semester for my Public and Non-Profit Management course, a requirement in the MPA curriculum at Baruch, I was asked to answer this question:

What are your ultimate career goals?

Part of my make-it-up-as-you-go-along answer read as follows:
As a veteran of 20+ years of professional life in the non-profit sector (more than half of which has been spent in Jewish organizations), I am at the midpoint in my career. In the remaining years, it is my goal to transition from the administrative side of the non-profit world (with its focus on human resources, fund raising, finance, communications, lay and professional relations, and governance) to a position rooted in the pursuit of justice, an overriding mandate within Jewish tradition. Whether its focus is social, economic or environmental justice, it is my hope to find a meaningful and appropriate position at the intersection of religious life and public policy from where I will be able to devote my skills, talents, energy and experience to promoting and strengthening the presence of justice within institutions and among individuals for whom it currently is lacking.
Yesterday, I got a firsthand feel for what all those words really mean, and wrote about it here.

With refreshed awareness of the complex issues and challenges that poverty, homelessness and economic injustice present, I am more motivated than ever to move forward in my graduate studies. With parchment in hand, I hope to walk off the stage and keep trekking up the river.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello, Shabbat!

Last week at this time, a friend posted this message on Facebook:  "Hayom yom shishi!  Machar Shabbat!" which means:  "Today is Friday (the sixth day)!  Tomorrow is Shabbat!"

Indeed, tomorrow is Shabbat, and I am ready.

Shabbat shalom!

Friday, July 2, 2010

So I Guess I'll Have to Do It While I'm Here: Komen Race for the Cure

Among the most fundamental values in Jewish tradition are good deeds and acts of loving kindness.

Lyrics in Phil Ochs’ ballad, “When I’m Gone,” reflect this central concept well. He tells us:
Won't be asked to do my share when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here
And a few stanzas later, this:
Can't add my name into the fight while I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here
And so it is that I will be walking in this year’s New York City Komen Race for the Cure in Central Park on Sunday, September, 12.

In doing so, I will support Komen for the Cure, which funds national peer-reviewed breast cancer research, breast health screenings and treatment services, and educational programming for a disease that in 2008—the same year that my mom was diagnosed–took the lives of more than 40,000 individuals. I’m also doing this because I believe it is a most fitting way to honor my mother's memory and her exceedingly well lived life.

For these reasons and so many others, I’d be grateful for your support.

The easiest and fastest way to donate is online here.

If you’d prefer to donate by check:
  1. Make your check payable to: Komen Greater NYC
  2. Write my name in the memo line.
  3. Mail to: PO Box 9223, New York, NY 10087

Many thanks for helping me do this while I'm here!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Daughter of Diana...Daughter of Zelophehad

Inspired by my mother, I've written a new post that appears at If you haven't already seen it, check it out here.

Perhaps there will be additional d'vrei Torah in the weeks and months ahead? Don't know, but stay tuned to find out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Different Kind of Doctor...A Different Kind of Letter

Lest you think I only initiate letter writing when I’m angry, upset or frustrated, I want to share with you a letter that I wrote and sent to another of my mother’s doctors three weeks ago. Ironically, it was Dr. It’s-All-About-the-Tumors who requested Dr. A-Person-is-More-Than-a-Pair-of-Kidneys as a consultant. Go figure…

343 East Some-Street-in-Kips-Bay, Apt. 15P
Gotham, NY 10016

June 8, 2010

A-Person-is-More-Than-a-Pair-of-Kidneys, DO
A One-Doc Kidney and High Blood Pressure Practice
35 Nice-Wooded-Office-Park, Suite 105
Suburban, NJ 08873

Dear Dr. A-Person-is-More-Than-a-Pair-of-Kidneys,

On behalf of my family, I’m writing to tell you how much we all appreciated the competent, compassionate care you provided to my mother (and to the rest of us) during her hospitalization this spring.

From the minute you came out from behind the nurses’ desk on 4 North to give me a hug as I accompanied my mother from the emergency room late on that Saturday night in April, I knew that we were in good hands. Your concern for her well being as a complete person – not merely as a set of kidneys or a series of lab results – and your consistent, continual presence and willingness to speak often and openly with us about her condition all were greatly appreciated.

In the end, however, her disease and the pain it caused were too far gone to respond to treatment, and following 11 days in hospice, my mom passed away peacefully and pain-free at the end of May. Nonetheless, we always will remember most fondly your gentle, caring ways, and will be ever grateful that our paths crossed during this difficult time in the life of our family.

With deep gratitude and admiration,


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Letter is in the Mail

I'm pleased to report that earlier today, my sister placed the following signed letter in a mailbox near my parents' house and it will go out in tomorrow's mail. If we're lucky, it will force Dr. It's-All-About-the-Tumors to pause. If we're really lucky, he'll rethink some of his ways and maybe, just maybe, make some positive changes to ease the path of other families whose loved ones are under his care. (Earlier versions of this letter can be found here and here.)

Here's hoping...
Our Childhood Home
Suburban, New Jersey 08873

June 28, 2010

It’s-All-About-the-Tumors, M.D.
Whoop-de-Doo Oncology Practice
205 Main Drag through College Part of Town
Suburban, New Jersey 08901

Dear Dr. It’s-All-About-the-Tumors:

We are writing to inform you that DianatheWriter passed away peacefully and apparently in no pain over Memorial Day weekend after 11 days in hospice. As you may be aware, a number of years ago, when she heard you speak, she was so impressed by your commitment to quality of life for terminally ill patients and their families that when she came to have need of an oncologist herself, you were her first and only choice. And, although we cannot begin to comprehend the virulence of her disease or the speed with which it ravaged her body, the long weeks that led to this sad outcome did give us ample reminders of some of life’s most important lessons. We have chosen to share a few of these with you now in the hope that you will make a stronger commitment to provide compassionate care to family members of these very same terminally ill patients.

We are fortunate to be a strong and loving family whose members care deeply about each other, especially when one of us is ill. As such, we repeatedly sought out honest, realistic, forthright, and regularly forthcoming assessments about DianatheWriter’s illness, especially at critical junctures in the treatment process. Sadly, it was difficult to obtain such assessments from you, and even when we did, they were, with rare exceptions, conveyed by telephone only. Never were we afforded an opportunity to sit with you face-to-face to hear your thoughts and garner your insights.

We learned that nurses and social workers often are the best conduits of information from physicians, but only when these professionals can read doctors’ handwriting. Sadly, on numerous occasions, they were unable to read yours, leaving us without up-to-date information and—perhaps more important—opening the door to the very real possibility that patient treatment and care, DianatheWriter’s or others’, might be compromised.

Through the kind words and gestures of most of DianatheWriter’s physicians and caregivers, we were reminded about the value of dignity and respect for all people, but most especially for those whose lives are drawing to a close. We were reminded, too, about compassion and kindness and how crucial they are to those of us walking a path of loss. When you called to recommend hospice and inform us that your office would make all the necessary arrangements, how consoled we might have been had you offered us a few brief words of comfort, of sympathy, of support. Sadly, they were glaringly absent.

Henceforth, we will carry these lessons in our hearts as a lasting tribute to DianatheWriter and her well lived life. It is our hope that as you continue to deal with the families of terminally ill patients, you, too, will carry these lessons in your heart and, more important, will make them the work of your hands.


JanetheWriter's Father
JanetheWriter's Sister

Monday, June 21, 2010

People of the (Mourning) Book

Last week on Facebook, I pondered this question: JanetheWriter wonders when she'll regain enough patience and concentration to read again. Of course, I’d like to be able to dig into some of the many “to read” books that I wrote about here and here, but that doesn’t seem as though it will happen anytime soon.

In the months since some of those books joined the many others on my shelves, life has taken some unexpected twists and turns and a whole new collection of books is taking shape in my home, brought to me through the thoughtful generosity of friends, following my mother’s death.

The first two, Grief in Our Seasons and Mourning and Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing, came directly and promptly from a friend who also happens to be the founder of Jewish Lights Publishing. I’m making my way through the first, a pocket-sized companion, just as its author intended – weaving together text study and mourning one page each day – and expect to get to the second one in due time.

The third -- Leon Wieseltier’s Kaddish, which according to the dust jacket, is “a record of the inner life of one of America’s most brilliant intellectuals during a year of mourning” – was lent to me by a friend when we had lunch last week. Thumbing through its nearly 600 pages, I found small, dense print, limited white space, and seemingly endless paragraphs on which my eyes cannot yet focus. Perhaps I’ll pick it up in a few weeks…

In contrast, each page in Earl Grollman’s slim volume -- Living When a Loved One Has Died, recommended by another friend -- is mostly white and dotted with just a few printed words or a poignant black and white photograph. Some of his words, I am convinced, were written just for me at this very moment:
The Many Faces of Grief

Your grief is not only frightening
but erratic.

Even though each of us faces
a death in different ways,
we share some points of reference.

You may recognize these feelings:
physical illness

These emotions are your
variations on the theme of grief.

If you experience these reactions
You are not abnormal.

There is no detour around
And so it is that surrounded by beloved friends, by treasured books and by the wisdom of both, I will continue to walk the bereavement path that lies ahead.