Saturday, December 24, 2011 Needs Your Vote

In addition to keeping Rabbi David Saperstein organized, on track and moving in the right direction each and every day, my friend Daphne Price is the food editor of, which recently was nominated as a “Best Kosher Food Blog.” 

Nominations and voting end on January 11, 2012 and in a shameless appeal to garner votes for Daphne’s blog, I urge you to:

  1. Visit
  2. Scroll down to Price (it’s the 11th entry on the list)
  3. Click on the vote button
  4. Pass the word (it’s one vote per IP address, so encourage your friends to visit and vote, too!)
Winners will be announced on February 1 and I, for one, am rooting for  Go, Daphne!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Biennial: It’s a Family Thing

A few weeks before the URJ’s recent Biennial convention, I received an email from a young rabbi and CCAR staff member who amicably inquired about whether his family’s hotel room (for himself, his rabbi wife, and their young daughter) could be near that of his mother (also a rabbi), his grandmother (who’s been attending Biennials for roughly 50 years), and his in-laws (one of whom is a cantor).

I responded with this:
Hi Dan,

I am, indeed, the right person for your request.

Currently, your room is slated to be adjacent to your mother's room.  I certainly can submit your other requests regarding her mom and your in-laws to the hotel, but cannot guarantee that they'll be able to get everyone close together.

Look forward to meeting you there,
~ Jane.

P.S.  On a personal note, I was very touched by your email and the "family affair" that Biennial is for all of you.  My mom, who died last year, loved Biennial and had been attending for longer than I've been working at the Union.  This will be my first Biennial without my parents in attendance...
Dan then graciously wrote again:
Hi Jane,

Thanks for taking care of this and submitting the extra requests!  This will really mean a lot to my family.

I'm sorry to hear about your mother.  It's pretty amazing that her love of Biennial predated your working at the Union.  If you'd like to have some family time, my family would be happy to adopt you!

Looking forward to meeting you in person, as well.
Thanks again!
Although I regret that I didn’t have a chance to meet Dan or his family, I did, ironically enough, meet some family of my own! 

It was Friday morning and as I left the room where I’d just finished co-leading a 20-minute learning session with the dcc on congregational blogging, a woman approached me:

“Are you Jane?”


“I’m your cousin, Rena Riback.”

And indeed she is!  Her father, z.l., and my father were first cousins…her grandmother and my grandfather, brother and sister.

And so it was that thanks to Rena, I--like Dan--was able to have some family time at the Biennial, too. 

And how did she know I’d be there in the first place?  From the Facebook page of another Riback cousin, of course!

Friday, December 16, 2011

No, I Haven't Forgotten About You

Dear Blog,

No, I haven't forgotten about you...I've just been Biennial busy.  In fact, I hope your ears were ringing yesterday when Ima (who was off the bima at the time) and I presented a 20-minute learning session about congregational blogging for beginners.  Take a look at the presentation here.  If your ears were ringing, get ready for them to ring again tomorrow when the dcc and I will do a similar presentation for advanced users (in Chesapeake J at 9:45 a.m).

Here are a few other things keeping me on the go:
  • Arranging housing, making adjustments and ironing out challenges for staff members, musicians, speakers and VIPs
  • Catching up with Frume Sarah and meeting ZaydeGiraffe and Syl, both from her world
  • Counting Shabbat lunches 
  • Hugging my mom's friends and reminiscing with them about how much she loved Biennial (and all things URJ).  We all concur that she's here in spirit and is, we know, smiling down on what she sees. 
  • Caffeine, caffeine and more caffeine
That last dose is wearing off, though, and so it's time for me to say lailah tov.  I'll be in more regular touch again when I get back home to New York, but in the meantime, I miss you and hope you're taking good care.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, The Mums

Dear The Mums,

I hope that you had a happy birthday this week up there in the Yeshivah shel Mal'ah (Yeshiva on High).  We, of course, missed you terribly—as we do every day—talked about you often, and thought about you even more.

Last Wednesday night, erev your birthday and despite the Biennial planning maelstrom, I left the office on the dot of five and headed to St. Andrews Restaurant near Times Square where I met The Bridge Ladies (yes, all of them!) for dinner:  Mrs. Davidson, Mrs. Gallagher, Mrs. Coopersmith, Mrs. Eisenberg (who had to leave early and isn’t in the photo), Mrs. Phelan, and even Mrs. Salzman, who’d traveled from Richmond, VA, for the reunion!
The Bridge Ladies (and me)
Of course there were hugs and kisses all around, endless laughter, kvelling over children and grandchildren (yes, I showed everyone Ian’s picture), talk about the current political and economic mess in our country, and lots and lots of reminiscences about the old days:  school board elections, game strategies, Mrs. Skoultchi’s sweeping hand gesture when she opted to “pass” in the bidding process, and so much more. 

Tee-shirts courtesy of Mrs. Salzman
I’d brought along the picture from the fridge of all of you standing with the cardboard presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.  To a person, everyone said, “Look how young we were!”  Actually, I thought everyone looked pretty much the same…which is what they all said about me. 

Needless to say, the time flew and before long, we were paying the bill and saying our good-byes. 

The next day, I received this email from Mrs. Davidson:
It was a great night and we were so happy you were with us.  You helped fill up the space your mom left in our group.  I do miss her.

I hope we can do this again.

You look great and I hope the convention will go smoothly.

Indeed, a reprise reunion is in the works for late spring or early summer and I’m planning to be there.  As you were on Wednesday night, I know you’ll be there with us, too.

Happy birthday, The Mums….xoxo,
~ Boo!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Drop Off

I’ve never noticed the father-daughter trio get on the bus.  They must board at an earlier stop, the girls decked out in pink—sneakers, hair ribbons and backpacks—and Dad looking as though he’d welcome a cup of coffee.  For each of the last three Saturday mornings, though, I’ve noticed them get off the bus.  Theirs is the 68th Street stop, where Mom’s already waiting, sitting patiently on a wooden bench in front of Memorial Sloan-Kettering.  Alighting from the bus, one daughter runs to her; the other hangs back with Dad, approaching more slowly.  Before the scene ends, the bus pulls away from the curb.  When it’s over, I hope Dad goes to get that cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Nearly a year ago, my friend, Frume Sarah, wrote this post about the two of us.

Tomorrow’s the day we’re finally going to meet up again and I, for one, am so excited.  (Queue the Pointer Sisters...)

Stay tuned here (and perhaps here, too) for updates (and maybe even a photo or two) of our reunion!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Bras

Disclaimer:  The content of this blog post may be unsuitable for all readers.  Reader discretion is advised.

Back in June, I received a package in the mail from a friend.  It contained two stretch bras (one black, one beige) and this note:
Jane –
At some point after the surgery, these will come in handy and comfy.
I called her to thank her.  In early July we exchanged emails on a different topic.  My last reply to her in that exchange was this:
Thanks!  And thanks again for the bras.  I cannot wait to fit into them!
~ Jane.
In mid-August, at about four weeks post-op, I wrote to her again:

I've thought about you a thousand times in the last few weeks and just this morning switched from one of my uber-support sports bras into one of the wonderful soft ones you sent me.  With the swelling I've got going on on one side, it is PERFECT...thank you!

The 12-hour surgery went exactly as planned and my recovery is on track, but as you know, it is a long, slow process.  I'm making progress but dealing with scabbing and swelling on one side that will take six to eight weeks to heal.  Still sleeping a lot, easily exhausted and fairly uncomfortable, but thrilled to be on this side of the surgery!

Hope all's well with you,
~ Jane.
Here’s her reply:
These bras have been around the country—New York, Los Altos Hills, Seattle, and back to New York. Glad to help. Let me know when you are up for a short visit. I hope you are moving around and aiding the healing.
Last week, I saw N. at a social event:
“If I’d known you were going to be here,” I said, “I’d have brought the bras.”

“Are you sure you’re finished with them?” she asked.

Rethinking my willingness to relinquish them, I replied, “I’ll try to find them online and order a few.”
Although she urged me to keep one, that night I located them and ordered two (one black, one beige) from a vendor on  I expect delivery this week at which point the traveling bras will go back to N, along with my wishes for a speedy, smooth, and complete recovery to the next woman in the sisterhood who wears them. 

*     *     *

It’s still October—Breast Cancer Awareness Month, just in case you didn’t know ;-)—and  even though I’m off the hook for a mammogram, if you’re a woman over 40 and haven’t had one in the last 12 months, run, do not walk, to the phone to make an appointment.  If you want a chuckle before you go, check out this post from 2009.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Army of Women Needs You!

I want you! 

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  You might not know, though, that this past Thursday, October 13, was Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.  In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know it either until I saw it on the Facebook page of the Army of Women.   According to its website, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's Love/Avon Army of Women has two key goals:
  • To recruit one million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to partner with breast cancer researchers and directly participate in the research that will eradicate breast cancer once and for all.
  • To challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women.
In an effort to build a strong voice among researchers and those affected by breast cancer, the Army of Women has launched the The “It Takes an Army” Project, a collection of videos and stories of being touched by breast cancer from its cadre of volunteers. Specifically, the Project asks participants to reflect on these two “distinct moments of realization: When was the moment you knew breast cancer had changed your life? And when was the moment you knew your life could change breast cancer?”

Here’s my submission…

May 9, 2010 was Mother's Day.  As I filled the vase with water from the sink in my mother's hospital room for the flowers we'd brought for her, I knew--I mean I really knew--it was the last Mother's Day we'd spend together.  Her oncologist wanted us to believe otherwise, but what he said didn't synch with the lightning-speed decline we'd been watching everyday for the last five weeks.  My mom had triple negative metastatic breast cancer and 10 days later, she was in hospice.  On May 30, she died, changing my life forever.

November 2, 2010 was Election Day.  A friend accompanied me to my appointment to meet with the Chief of the Clinical Genetics Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and one of the genetic counselors on his staff.  Several weeks earlier, my sister and I had tested for the BRCA gene mutations and, although she had tested negative, I had learned that I'm positive (as we surmise my mother was) for a BRCA2 mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.  As much as I already knew my options, I needed to hear them—I mean really hear them—from people who knew what they were talking about.  At the end of the appointment, at the counselor’s request, I signed paperwork and gave blood to participate in one of many long-term studies underway at Sloan-Kettering.  (I’ve since signed on to several others.)  If there’s even a remote possibility that my mutated genes can provide a teeny-tiny clue to doctors seeking a cure for breast cancer, I say, “go for it!” I am proud and honored to play a role in this work.

*     *     *

Although I’m off the hook for a mammogram (I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in July), if you’re a woman over 40 and haven’t had one in the last 12 months, run, do not walk, to the phone to make an appointment.  It could save your life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Bookstores: Our Yom Kippur Minhag

Last Saturday at the conclusion of the morning service, my father and I headed to Barnes and Noble for our annual Yom Kippur browse.  (We do our share of browsing together all year long, but we always browse together on Yom Kippur.)

Once in the store, though, we found ourselves distracted, inattentive and dismayed at how much of the merchandise we weren’t interested in browsing—calendars, bookmarks, stationery, teen fiction, Halloween books, games, puzzles and magazines.  Despite the coffee aroma wafting from the café, we did briefly peruse the classics, and I thumbed through The Emperor of All Maladies:  A Biography of Cancer.  When I indicated an interest in reading it, my father, who rarely discourages non-fiction, said, “No…you don’t want to read that.”  Still hitting a little too close to home, I guess.  A short while later, still distracted and unfocused, we headed back to temple, where we sat outdoors—enjoying sunshine and warmth—until the afternoon service.

The next day, Sunday, it was too beautiful to stay inside so we headed to Princeton, a great place to wander on a sunny, bright day.  We both knew we’d end up in Labyrinth Books, and a parking spot on Nassau Street directly across from the independent bookstore clinched it.  We didn’t spend much more time there than we had in Barnes and Noble the day before (I had to get back to the city), but oh how much more satisfying was the browsing!  I read a bit more of The Emperor of Maladies, as well as the first few pages of Anne Enright’s The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize.  My father offered to buy it for me, but with so many unread and partially read books at home, I returned it to the shelf.  It’ll be there when I’m ready.

And now, a rainy chag gives me some welcome time to visit in Cairo with Loulou and her father in The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit:  My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World

What’s your current read? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don’t Stop (Doing What You’re Doing): The Last in the 5771 #BlogElul Series

Graphic courtesy of Ima on (and off) the Bima
 This past weekend, I saw this Lowe’s commercial several times:

Besides loving the catchy music, I think it sums up the message of the High Holy Days—in a pop culture sort of way:  Keep doing the good things you do, make the most of the life you have, and never stop improving!

Shana tova umetukah!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pushing God Around

Thanks, as always, Phyllis
A few days ago, I received this Facebook message from a friend:
Wishing you the sweetest, most joyous, healthiest and most undramatic of years to come....  I would offer a prayer that you be inscribed for a good year but I think you've already pushed God out of the way and written it in yourself! (It's okay; I have it on good authority that God likes being pushed around by the likes of you.)
Yes, I suppose that in an effort to change the course of the rest of my life, I did push God around a bit during this last year.  (For any new readers out there, here’s the backstory:  Diagnosed in August of 2010 with a BRCA2 genetic mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer, I underwent two major and potentially life-saving surgeries in 5771:  a total hysterectomy in December and a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in July.)

Until my friend pointed it out, though, I never thought of my decision as a tussle with God.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  As I responded to him: 
As much as I may have pushed God out of the way to inscribe myself, She's been here with me throughout this entire ordeal.  Wishing you an equally terrific, happy, healthy and undramatic year.
And a shana tova u'metukah (a good and sweet year) to you, too, loyal readers.  See you in 5772…or maybe sooner!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where's JanetheWriter?

Thanks, Rabbi Phyllis, for this graphic!
I'm exactly where I should be, and so is my #blogelul post.  Today, it's over here.  Check it out...and let me know what you think.  Thanks!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The People on the Bus Go Up and Down...

Photo:  MTA
Disclaimer:  The content of this blog post may not be suitable for all readers.  Reader discretion is advised.

Tonight I took a very bumpy bus ride home from a BRCA support group meeting at Mt. Sinai.  For the first time in my life, I was going up and down, but my, um, body parts weren’t.  The silver lining for sure…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Miss You. We Love You.

Dear The Mums,

As I write this letter, I’m also listening to the reading of names that is part of the 10th anniversary September 11th memorial service.  If you were here, I know you’d be watching and reliving your own harrowing September 11th adventure in your beloved city.

I’m not quite sure how you landed in the Big Apple without your cell phone on that day, but as I understand it, a too-small Kate Spade knock-off purse was the culprit.  As a result, not a September 11th goes by that I don’t think about Jean Abarbanel forking over all her loose change so you could call Daddy on a pay phone to keep him posted about your whereabouts.  Each year on this date, too, I think of you leaving 633 – you’d come in for the Union’s Executive Committee meeting -- and making your way clear across town to Amy’s apartment on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th avenues.  When your attempts to catch a cab were thwarted by others unwilling to share a ride, you began the long trek west – which was no small feat for you, even 10 years ago.  After a brief rest in Bryant Park, you continued on to The Armory, where you spent the night, Cooper constantly at your side.  When you finally made it home on Wednesday, you were, you said, glued to the television for days, not unlike that dark week in November of 1963.

On this solemn, milestone anniversary, our country – individually and collectively – remains stunned by the magnitude of evil expressed on that day and overwhelmed by the loss of innocent life even as we’re strengthened by the community, good works and hope it continues to engender.  You would like that.

The Mums, next Sunday we’ll honor and remember you as we unveil your gravestone.  But, what has been said hundreds and hundreds of times this morning about so many loved ones is equally true about you:  We miss you.  We love you.  You are ever on our minds and in our hearts.

~ Boo!  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Light in Our Lives: One In an Occasional #BlogElul Series

Thanks to Ima from Ima on (and off) the Bima
for this Blog Elul badge.
In today’s Jewel of Elul, Rabbi Jack Riemer, founding chair of the National Rabbinic Network writes:
Let us appreciate the light in our lives and thank God for it every day, especially at the beginning of every year, for that is when the sun and the moon finish their yearly cycles and start all over again.

And when we do, too.
Earlier today (at nearly seven weeks post-op), I saw the plastic surgeon for what felt like the umpteenth time, and tonight I am especially appreciative of these glimmers of light in my life:
  1. I'm going back to work (for at least part of the day) on Monday.
  2. Tonight, for the first time in seven weeks, I'm going to sleep on my stomach.
  3. I'll be doing so sans bra, although I will be wearing a gauzy, tube top thingy (that's the technical term) to hold a wound dressing in place. (Sorry if this is TMI for some of you, but after many weeks spent in spandex 24/7, this is something for which I am truly grateful!)
  4. Even the wound is healing--oh-so slowly.  It's a bit smaller than it was two weeks ago, and more and more granulation is visible almost daily.
  5. I don't need to see the plastic surgeon again until early October. I hope neither of us suffers from withdrawal in the interim!  ;-)
I’m feeling grateful for this progress, thankful for the tremendous care, concern and support I’ve received along the way, and more ready than ever to turn the page and continue this journey in 5772.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mixing It Up For 5772

Thanks to Ima on (and off) the Bima for
this pretty "Blog Elul" badge
We’ve been worshipping at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, New Jersey, since children’s services during the High Holy Days in 5733.  That was way back in 1972, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, the Vietnam War raged and we watched it nightly on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was #1 on Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 chart.

This year, we’re mixing it up just a little bit.

For the first time ever, my father will come into the city on erev Rosh Hashana, we’ll all have dinner together at my sister’s house and then he and I will head uptown to services at Temple Shaaray Tefila, my Jewish community in New York.  A new adventure for us all…

Ten days later, though, we’ll be back to our usual minhag for Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur and, most especially, our annual early afternoon foray to Barnes and NobleHere’s how that tradition got started and here and here are recaps of our browsing adventures in subsequent years.

What are you planning to do to mix up the High Holy Days this year?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blogging Elul

Today is the first of Elul, the beginning of the month that precedes the High Holy Days.  Traditionally it is a time of introspection, reflection, preparation, and, for some, a prompt to blog daily or nearly so.

You can check out some of these daily blogs here and here.   And, don’t forget The Jewels of Elul, which isn’t a blog, but does provide lots of food for thought during this special time of year.

Me?  No, I’ve got quite enough on my plate at the moment, thanks.  If I were to blog Elul, though, I’d definitely rerun this post from 2008 whose lesson is as timely today as it was back then.

Good luck to the Elul bloggers out there and happy reading to the rest of us!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Winning Combination: People, Blessings and Pleasures

Three years ago today, three friends and I spent the day at Coney Island.  I remember the exact date because while we waited in line to order Nathan’s famous hot dogs, we sang “Happy Birthday” to David Berkman over the phone.

Although a lot has changed for me (and for Berkman) in the years since that Coney Island adventure, many things—the important things—remain the same.  I still try to acknowledge and appreciate the many people, blessings and pleasures in my life.  Today these include:
Angela, the visiting nurse who’s already been and gone this morning, leaving me with a well cleaned and dressed wound, as well as reassurance that with time it will heal.

Maryellen, one of the many terrific nurses in the plastic surgeon’s office, who tells me the same thing, answers my endless questions, and wonders why I don’t just move in to the office there at 53rd and Third.

Aunt Claire, who’s headed into New York City for an impromptu visit this afternoon.

My many Facebook friends who, with comments and messages continue to boost my spirits, make me laugh and help my healing.

Countless others who have sent food, flowers and treats, and who continue to accompany me to doctors’ appointments, call, check in, and stop by to visit.

The Dunkin’ Donuts on the southwest corner of 33rd and Second, where many of my recent outings have ended with a medium iced coconut coffee with a lot of milk.  Of course it’s not chicken soup, but it too cures what ails you.
With this incredible team in my corner, I look forward to additional healing in the weeks ahead and to enjoying continued blessings and simple pleasures together with the people in my life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Facebook: Promoting Connections One Friend at a Time

Rabbi Michael Melchior
I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but this post isn’t about genetic mutations, surgery, recovery, or, indeed, anything medical.  No, it’s about one of my other favorite topics:  Facebook…and the way it promotes connection and community.  Here’s the latest…

Back in early July, distracted and looking for an easy escape from everything on my plate at the moment, I absently began scrolling through my “People You May Know” list on Facebook.  In fact, through my work I was familiar with many of the names and faces, but because I’m a “ghostwriter,” most of these folks don’t know me from Adam, and so I just kept on scrolling.

Until I got to Michael Melchior.  I clicked on “Add Friend” and quickly added this note:
Although we have never met personally, I've heard you speak on several occasions. Most impressive.  Shavua tov
In fact, here's what I wrote in my travel journal after hearing Rabbi Melchior speak in Jerusalem during my first visit there in January of 2004:
A quick check-in at the David Citadel Hotel, a change of clothes, a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant and we were off again to hear from MK Michael Melchior.  A Reform Jew trapped in the body of an Orthodox man, he is progressive, passionate and quite the visionary.  Politics aside, he champions the cause of organ donation, explaining that if God can resurrect the dead, surely God can replace an eye or a kidney then. 
Almost immediately, Rabbi Melchior accepted my friend request and just yesterday, sent this follow-up message:
Dear Jane,

Thank you for writing to me, and I'm glad that you have enjoyed some of my talks. Please stay in touch, it's best to reach me at the following email address:

Best regards,
Rabbi Michael Melchior
Thanks, Rabbi Melchior, for your visionary leadership and your accessibility.  And thanks again, Facebook, for making these connections possible.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If I'm So Swiss, Where's the Chocolate?!

Last week over dinner with a friend, she said, “You’re more Swiss than I am.”  She actually is Swiss, but I knew exactly what she meant.

I’ve been using lists to keep organized for decades.  When I was in elementary school, my mother found a list on my desk that said:  “Things not to worry about.”  By high school, I was keeping a list of the outfit I wore to school each day so as not to repeat one too soon.  Before my last surgery back in December, I wrote this blog post about all the to-do's necessary to prepare for four to six weeks of recuperation. 

As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again…and I’ve got a list!

Earlier today, my father and my aunt (my mother’s sister, the one who’s going to stay with me when I first come home from the hospital) drove into to the city laden with shopping bags full of “stuff” to help ease my recovery once I'm home:  homemade chicken soup and noodle kugel (each frozen in portion size containers), several packages of Jell-O (not the pre-made kind, but the powdered version that you make at home with boiling water and sliced bananas), marinara sauce, disposable plates, bowls and cups (so we won’t have to wash dishes),  noodles (for noodles and cheese), and miscellaneous other items including bouillon cubes, cereal, canned fruit, pasta and, of course, tuna.  Aunt Claire also brought her suitcase and her shower bench, which she suspects I’ll be glad to use as well.  The last shopping bag was filled with button down oxford shirts and blouses (the wardrobe item of choice following this type of surgery) from my mother’s closet—and, no, we still haven’t finished cleaning it out.  They still smell of her perfume and, in an ironic twist, it will be a comfort to wear them as I heal.

A short while after my father and aunt left, Hiram, the building’s handyman, installed the handheld shower head I bought a few weeks ago, and I crossed that item off my master list as well.

So, here’s what’s left to do – organized by day:

  1. Doctor’s appointment
  2. Clean (I mean really clean) my apartment:  dust, vacuum, scrub the tub and toilet, swab the floors, change the linens, do the laundry, and tackle all those other lovely chores I won’t be able to do for a while. Click here to see how it’ll look when I’m finished.
  1. Another doctor’s appointment
  2. Pay tuition for the fall semester at Baruch College
  3. Get underarms waxed (sorry if this is TMI, but thank goodness someone who’s been down this road told me to do it)  Won’t be able to shave for a while.
  4. Photocopy short-term disability paperwork from surgeon’s office and send it back to HR at the Union
  5. Lunch with a friend
  6. Await FreshDirect, which is scheduled to deliver between 2 and 4 p.m.  (The order contains few perishables and no produce since it's just going to sit for a week or so.)
  7. Pack a few things (toothbrush, toothpaste, ChapStick, iPod, etc.) for my sister to bring to the hospital on Friday.  They don't let you bring anything with you on the day of surgery.
  8. BRCA support group at Mt. Sinai…what wonderful timing!

  1. The penultimate doctor’s appointment (How’s that usage Josh Strom?! ;-)))
  2. And then the last one
  3. Water plants
  4. Backup the laptop’s hard drive
  5. Open the fold-out couch for Aunt Claire
  6. Move the microwave from the top of the fridge to the kitchen counter
  7. Await two calls from the hospital:  one from a nurse and one from admissions
  8. The last supper
  9. Shower with Hibiclens
  10. Lailah tov   (Hahaha!)

  1. Shower with Hibiclens
  2. Arrive at the hospital at no o’clock in the morning
  3. Tie on the bungee cord and take a huge leap of faith
See you on the other side.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Lucky We Are: A Redux

Here's what I wrote two years ago on July 4th.  It bears repeating today.

Hope everyone's enjoying their grillin' and chillin' (with thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, Elisa Krantweiss Heisman, from Kvell Corner.  I "lifted" that great phrase from her Facebook status...Thanks, Elisa!)

Happy Fourth!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fair Weather Friend?

Dear The Red Dress Club,

Please accept my apologies for being a fair weather friend.  We’ve barely gotten to know one another and I’m sure it seems from your perspective that I’ve dropped you like a hot potato.  That’s not actually what happened, but I can understand why you’d feel that way.  Rather, there’s some big stuff going on in my life at the moment and I just don’t have the focus or concentration necessary to write about it – or much of anything else for that matter.

If you want some background about the “big stuff,” you can check out some of my posts from the last year.  They’re here, here, here, and here.  If you're not inclined to read them, here's the executive summary:  Last spring, in a matter of weeks, my mother died from extremely aggressive, metastatic triple negative breast cancer.  Because her sister (my aunt) also had had breast cancer (but thankfully is a survivor), my sister and I opted to pursue genetic counseling and testing last August.  Based on the age of onset for my mother and my aunt, however, neither of our gynecologists thought we would test positive for any of the BRCA gene mutations common among Ashkenazi Jews.  (Approximately 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier of a BRCA mutation as compared with rates within the general population of between 1 in 500 and 1 in 800 for BRCA1 and even lower for BRCA2.)  In fact, my sister did test negative, but surprise, surprise...I'm a carrier of one of the BRCA2 "founder mutations"--6174delT to be exact--that suppresses my body's ability to fight certain types of tumors and puts my lifetime risk of developing breast cancer at about 85% (it's 12% in the general population) and my lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer at about 27% (it's 1-2% in the general population).  It is extremely likely that I received this genetic legacy from my mother, but in some families, it is passed from the father down to the next generation--and can be carried by both sons and daughters. You can read more about these specific gene mutations here and here.

Suffice it to say that after much pondering, research and other information gathering, as well as involvement with two different BRCA support groups and a scare after a baseline MRI back in April (that turned out to be nothing), I decided to be proactive, to control what I can control, and to try to do so with some degree of grace, dignity, faith, compassion, courage and humor, while also raising awareness about these mutations and their prevalence (but not exclusivity) within the Jewish community.  Six months ago (in fact it was exactly six months ago today), I had a robotic assisted laparoscopic prophylactic hysterectomy (how's that for a mouthful?!) and three weeks from tomorrow, I'm going to do the rest--a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (PBM) with immediate reconstruction using a micro-surgical tissue transfer from my abdomen (yes, a tummy tuck).  In BRCA-ville and among plastic surgeons this procedure is known as a DIEP, which is an acronym for the abdominal vessels that are used to provide blood flow to the transplanted tissue. I’m confident in my surgeons’ (yes, there are two of them--this one and this one) skills, abilities, and experience (they do hundreds of these each year) and hopeful that when I come out on the other side of the 10-12 hour surgery that’s scheduled for July 21, all will be well.

I look forward to reconnecting with you then, Red Dress Club—although it likely will take me a few weeks to emerge enough from the anesthesia haze to focus, concentrate and write.  In the meantime, though, I will read the posts of other TRDC-ers and will, I'm sure, be inspired by their stories and memories.  Thanks for hanging in here with me.  See you soon.

Your friend,
~ JanetheWriter.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Gutte Neshuma is a Beautiful Thing

This week's writing prompt:

Physical beauty.

It can open doors - and can also shut them.

Write a scene in which a physically beautiful character is somehow impacted by that trait.

Physical beauty?  As with my earlier posts about sloth and gluttony, I’d like to quote my grandmother on this one:  “Nu?  Who knows from this?”  Of course I know physical beauty (or at least what looks beautiful to me) when I see it, but, like the seven deadly sins, physical beauty—seeking it, possessing it and/or being impacted by it—never took a front-row seat in my life nor in the lives of my closest friends.

Sure, my grandfather always told me I was a shayna madel—a pretty girl—but beyond that, beauty and all its trappings wasn't really on my radar.  As a teen, I seldom primped at a vanity, rarely experimented with make-up, and didn’t even shave my legs for the first time until I was living in a college dorm.  My growing up years were all about working hard in school, burying my nose in a book (and who needs eye shadow or lip gloss to do that?!) and striving to be a gutte neshuma—a good soul—whose actions reflect and promote beauty and goodness in our world.

Today, not much has changed.  Although I now have a repertoire that includes the basics--moisturizer, blush and lipstick (on most days!)—I remain devoted to my work and my studies, spend as much time as possible with my nose buried in a book (or the newest mah jongg card!), and still aim, like so many others I know, to be a gutte neshuma, whose actions release small kernels of beauty and goodness, as well as sacred sparks into our crazy, complicated and convoluted universe.

Red Writing Hood is the writing meme of The Red Dress Club.  The finished piece should be no more than 600 words of either fiction or non-fiction.  Thanks for reading...and feel free to offer thoughts, ideas and/or constructive criticism.  I appreciate hearing what you have to say.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Celebrations All Around?

This is a busy week for celebrations. 

Yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day, which Adam Goodheart, in an essay about the holiday, calls “the runty stepchild among American national holidays.”  Perhaps for some, but definitely not for my family.  As has been his longtime custom, my father called me during the morning to offer "Flag Day greetings" and to recite the first and last stanzas of Henry Holcomb Bennett’s 1919 poem, The Flag Goes By:
Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A flash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off! The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State:
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;
March of a strong land’s swift increase;
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong
To ward her people from foreign wrong:
Pride and glory and honor,—all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off! Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off! The flag is passing by!

This Friday evening, Temple Emanu-El will celebrate Pride Shabbat.  Because this year’s observance falls just a few days before Father’s Day, I commend to you two different, but related articles:  the first from this week’s New York Times, and the second, a blog post written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Victor Appell, who celebrates both Pride Shabbat and Father’s Day together with his family.

This year, as these holidays and celebrations converge in the same week, let us hope that someday soon, we will truly honor the promise of the Pledge of Allegiance with a guarantee of “liberty and justice for all.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

And She Lived Happily Ever After

This week's Red Writing Hood prompt from The Red Dress Club asked you to spread a little joy.

You were to write a piece where you or your character overcame a challenge and, even if it's just for a moment, has a happy ending.

Hoping the tank was on the right, she steered the tin can rental up alongside the pump, found the latch to unlock the cover, climbed out and filled it like a pro -- with neither dirt nor gas staining her hands.   (After all, she’d been born and raised in New Jersey where self-serve gas didn’t exist.  But, after nearly five years in LA and a few before that in New Hampshire, she’d learned a thing or two about pumping gas.  Too bad she hadn't also learned to listen to her gut...until now.) With the tank full, she set out again, following the signs to “Returns,” where she easily guided the car into an empty spot.  After returning the key, she made her way to the terminal, checked her bag--which could have doubled as a steamer trunk--and proceeded to the gate.

This was her second trip down the 405 to LAX this week.  A few days earlier, her neighbor, Carole, had followed her to the port where she’d dropped her car so it could make the trip back east on a car carrier. Carole then ferried her to the airport, where she’d picked up the rental she’d just now dropped off.  In the intervening days, she’d been busy -- packing and shipping to her parents’ house everything that wasn’t headed for storage.  Yesterday, the movers had come, removing the furniture and boxes--only those without a “Do Not Pack” sign affixed to them--headed for the self-storage locker her mother had rented just last weekend.  She’d tied up a few loose ends at the office and said her goodbyes (yes, even to him) before spending her last night in LA at another Carol’s, this one her friend and colleague, who, as luck would have it, lived near the airport.

With plenty of time to spare at the still empty gate, she watched through the huge glass wall as golf cart drivers swerved around each other, delivering wayward bags to jets at other gates.  At the closest one, workers atop a platform crane loaded meals and supplies onto a parked plane. Taking it all in, she was well aware of the absence of the elephant that recently had departed her being.  A newfound lightness filled her to the core.

An older woman, nodding and smiling, sat down next to her.

“Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” the woman inquired.

She hesitated a moment before answering, “Neither....  I’m leaving my husband.”  With the words hanging in the air, she was stunned.  Where were her filters?

“Is this a good thing for you?” the woman asked, unshaken.

“Oh yes,” she said, empowered by what she’d already accomplished and elated by the new freedoms she knew lay ahead.

Red Writing Hood is the writing meme of The Red Dress Club.  The finished piece should be no more than 600 words of either fiction or non-fiction.  Thanks for reading...and feel free to offer thoughts, ideas and/or constructive criticism.  I appreciate hearing what you have to say.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Job

This week’s RemembeRED prompt: As the school year is wrapping up and we're on the cusp of summer, we've decided to go easy on you.  

We want to know what, from your childhood, do you still know by heart?

It was spring of junior year and my high school classmates and I were deep into studying Shakespeare with Mr. Job (pronounced the same way as the biblical guy, not the place you go each day to earn a living). Young, cute and exceedingly devoted to his students, our teacher provided an engaging introduction to the Bard of Avon.  (I still can see the signature shake of his head that flicked a cowlick out of his eyes, the better to see his own southpaw chicken scratch on the blackboard.)

One of our assignments that semester was to select and memorize a passage from among the many we read in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. As a result, to this day I still can recite from memory this famous soliloquy from Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
In the three decades since I sat in that class, many other terrific memories have stayed with me.  The best, by far, is that of our celebration of the Bard’s birthday, which we marked in 1980 on Wednesday, April 23, the accepted date for his birth, which actually is unknown. Complete with hats--the pointy ones with under-the-chin rubber bands to hold them in place--our celebration also included a thickly frosted birthday cake adorned with sugary roses and inscribed “Happy Birthday, Will” and our choice of a red (grape juice) or white (milk) beverage.  We rounded out the festivities with a hearty toast to Will and individualized recitations of our memorized passage--each one a personal tribute to the guest of honor.

Nearly a decade after that 1980 birthday party, I mailed a postcard from Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon to Mr. Job back at the high school.  It was, I believe, my own personal tribute to the man who not only brought Shakespeare to life, but who also nurtured in me a love of literature that I carry with me to this day.

Remembe(RED) is the memoir meme of The Red Dress Club.  Thanks for reading...and feel free to offer thoughts, ideas and/or constructive criticism.  I appreciate hearing what you have to say.