RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dylan’s Cafe

Dylan’s Cafe

 

It was too cold to go to Washington, D.C. this year to visit my great aunt. We’ve gone the past two winters, in January, but this year the visit was scheduled for late in February, when Washington, D.C. was basically shut down from the snow. So we stayed home, and huddled indoors with the dogs because each time we went outside I felt like someone was carving my ears off with a spoon.

Butterfly made a snow heart with her feet.

Butterfly made a snow heart with her feet.

I missed getting to see my great aunt, and her daughter, and her granddog Zoe, but Butterfly, at least, was grateful to miss the long car ride, and Cricket sniffed every inch of the snow to make up for not getting to sniff Zoe. And in my mind, I did end up travelling to D.C., remembering my first visit to the city, way back before my great aunt moved there to dote on her grandson and granddog.

Sweet Zoe

Sweet Zoe.

All three girls on a previous visit.

All three girls on a previous visit.

I was barely seventeen and my cousin Sarah wanted to go to D.C. the day before Thanksgiving, to take pictures of the white house at night. I had just dropped out of college two weeks earlier, and Sarah thought I needed an escape.

We stopped at a candy store before the trip, and loaded up on gummy worms and jelly beans to balance out the bag of potato chips and the diet soda, and then we drove down to D.C., singing along to Bonnie Raitt and the Black Crows. I don’t know what my cousin and I talked about for five hours in the car, but we had a great time. She is ten years older than me, and was therefore a font of worldly wisdom. She was one of the only people who took my dropping out of college in stride. She never blamed me, or made light of it. She just cared about me and wanted me to feel better.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags and went out to the movies. We saw Bette Midler in For the Boys on a huge curved screen with a red velvet curtain in front of it. It was the kind of theatre that felt magical, instead of like a box with seats in it.

Me and Bette Midler

Me and Bette Midler. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

It was dark out when the movie ended but we were too keyed up to go back to the hotel. We joined the crowds walking around Georgetown, window shopping and people watching. When I saw a sign that said “Dylan’s Café” I stopped. For background, you need to know that Beverly Hills, 90210 had just come on TV the summer before, and I was in love with it in a way I cannot explain, or even understand, today. And the cool guy character on the show was named, of course, Dylan.

My cousin said we had to go in. The café was up a set of stairs and when we found out there was live music – two guys with guitars – we had to stay. And, according to my cousin, I had to have a drink. I don’t even remember what kind of music they played; whatever it was originally, it was played on two acoustic guitars so it didn’t end up sounding like heavy metal.

The guitar guys

The guitar guys. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

There weren’t many people at the tables, so Sarah went over to chat with the lead singer and his sister between sets, and requested a James Taylor song for me. The guitar guys sang Fire and Rain, which, with lines like, “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,” felt like it had been chosen just for me.

Important lessons learned at Dylan’s cafe: wine coolers make for the worst headaches; and a cute guy with a guitar trumps even the worst headache.

That trip brought me back to life. For one long day and night in D.C., I didn’t have to argue with anyone; I didn’t have to be lonely, or work at things that seemed meaningless; and I didn’t have to give in to authority figures who had none of my best interests at heart. I thought, maybe, life could be fun and interesting, and filled with music and cute boys. Maybe I could transfer to Georgetown and study Political science. Maybe I could learn to play guitar and sing in a band. Anything seemed possible.

The White house, in the morning. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

The White house, in the morning.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Democracy. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Democracy.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

We almost missed Thanksgiving dinner, because we wanted to do some sight-seeing on Thursday morning. Sarah hadn’t gone to sleep at all, because of the late night taking-pictures-of-the-white-house thing, so we turned the music up and kept the windows open to keep her awake as she drove across chilly New Jersey in the dark. We made it home before all of the food was gone, and Dina, my black lab mix, gave me a greeting as if I’d been gone for years instead of just a day.

Dina. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Dina.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

I might have forgotten my night in D.C. once I got home and back into the reality of my life, but Sarah made a photo album of the trip for me, to remind me that I could be happy, and that wonderful things could happen at any moment. And I realized that, even if I was not going to have the smooth path forward in life that I’d expected, the bumpy road might hold a few good surprises along the way.

Advertisements

Sugar

I love sugar. Well, not straight sugar. I was never a big fan of Pixie Stix, or rock candy, or sugar cubes. But I love chocolate frosting and Nutella and Twizzlers and marzipan. I like candy in every color and shape and size. When I first watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was pretty sure it was a vision of heaven. I don’t like bitter or sour very much, savory is good, salty is okay, but sweet is my thing. Sushi was a wonderful discovery, because it looked and tasted like candy but had actual food value.

One winter, Mom and I took a series of cake decorating classes. They were inexpensive, and once a week, at the local Michael’s craft store, and once we finished level one, we went on for levels two and three, and would have done level four if it had been offered. I loved making cakes, and frosting, and doing crumb coats, and lattice work. I learned how to make royal icing flowers, and animal characters out of fondant and marzipan, and experimented with Nutella cream cheese frosting. I made chess pieces and roses out of molded chocolate, and white chocolate molded flour pots with chocolate frosted dirt. I tried to make petit fours and failed miserably.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

The trouble with petit fours is, even after you find the right recipe for the cake, so that it’s moist but not delicate, you need a sure hand for the cutting and placing of layers, and then you need to be willing to waste a lot of icing by pouring it over the cakes on a wire rack so that the excess pools underneath. This is where Cricket came in, waiting for the overflow to overflow.

"You can start pouring, Mommy."

“You can start pouring, Mommy.”

Cricket was an only dog during the cake decorating winter, and she made full use of her prominent place next to the table, standing by the edge as the icing dripped onto her head, or jumping as high as she could to reach the counter to inspect whatever was going on up there. She cried and scratched at Grandma’s leg to get access to the mixer as it rumbled and tumbled and created glossy white frosting. She’s not especially dexterous with her paws, so she couldn’t participate in molding marzipan figurines, but she loved to help with clean up whenever something fell on the floor. We all had a great time that winter.

Cricket, after icing removal.

Cricket, after icing removal.

But, my father developed adult onset diabetes by the time he was the same age as I am now. In fact, his brother and father also developed diabetes, and then diabetic neuropathy and strokes, and a whole host of other problems, so it is definitely in my genes. I focus on moderation, and go to doctors regularly, and eat my vegetables, and take the medications I’m required to take. I use a lot of vegetables in my cooking, because I like my food to be colorful: red and yellow and orange peppers, tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, red onions, and French green beans, and perfect heads of broccoli cut into individual trees. But I worry.

I am always being told to cut sugar out of my diet completely, that it will solve all of my health, mood, intellectual, spiritual and whatever other problems I may have, immediately, and I will have the energy of a cheetah.

This, of course, is never true. I try it, I suffer, I keep trying, and then I stop. And whether I’ve tried the diet for two weeks or two months or two years, someone is always certain that if I just tried a little bit longer it would all work out and I would be perfect. I’ve tried sugar free, and dairy free, gluten free, and wheat free, and it’s all terrible and squeezes my brain until there is not even one drop of serotonin left and life is not worth living. Mom tells me that too much sugar makes her feel sick and tired, but I’ve never felt that way myself. I might refuse to notice such a thing.

My father went on a high protein diet, eventually, to try and manage his diabetes and ate mostly chicken and spinach. This would not work for me at all, but it would be Butterfly’s ideal, without the spinach. Butterfly, my ten year old Lhasa Apso, has diabetes too, but her diabetes is more like type one, or juvenile onset diabetes in humans, and is controlled by twice daily insulin shots. She also has a special diabetic-friendly kibble and eats a lot of chicken, though not as much as she’d like.

"Yummies?!"

“Yummies?!”

She doesn’t look or act sick, unless her sugar gets very low, and then she gets maple syrup on her gums and she bounces back. It’s a relief to know what’s wrong with her and how to fix it. For Butterfly, sugar is directly related to how she feels every day; no matter how much she craves things like pizza crusts and pancakes and bread, which were among her favorite things in the world before her diagnosis last year, she’s better off, and happier, without them.

The same isn’t true for me. There is no diet that will fix what’s wrong with me, at least that I know of. And while, theoretically, I’d be healthier overall without sugar, I would not be happier, or even happy at all, with a diet like that. I tend to think, and I know this is not the prevailing view, that a little bit more sugar in our diets might help us like each other a little bit more. Maybe I should try to make those petit fours again, and pass them out to my neighbors. I just have to make sure that the icing doesn’t drip to Butterfly’s level. She’d be licking the floor for days.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

The Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

 

My synagogue, periodically, runs an adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah class. Mostly women take the class, because it is mostly women who missed out on the chance to have their own Bat Mitzvah back when they were 12 or 13. The current class has about 13 people in it, ranging in age from early forties to early eighties. There’s one man and the rest are women.

The one man in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class is a non-Jew. He and his Jewish wife have a son in the Hebrew school and are very involved in the synagogue, and he started the classes as an opportunity to better understand the religion his wife loved and his son was learning in school. He took Hebrew language classes, and learned the prayers and history and philosophy, and gradually, through his own process, he decided that this was his community, that he would convert and become a Jew. But the fact is, he could have decided otherwise, and that would have been okay too, with the rabbis, with his wife and son, and with the community at large (for the most part).

The work he put into this, not knowing for sure how it would turn out, is what I respect so much, rather than the outcome. There’s something about having two years set aside, with teachers and fellow students and a set goal that everyone values, that I really want for myself. Graduate school was sort of like that, but more expensive. I’d love to have a two year program to learn how to deal with Cricket, with a group of peers going through all of the same difficulties. There’s a cocoon-like feeling to it, this group of people struggling towards the same goals and overcoming difficulties together, in a non-competitive environment. It’s the non-competitive-ness that appeals to me most, the idea that everyone is supposed to succeed, not just the cream of the crop. They don’t come out of this program with a degree, but I think it must be life changing, like my Bat Mitzvah was for me.

"My turn!"

“My turn!”

"I am so well trained!"

“I am so well trained!”

 

I loved my Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony itself, anyway. I didn’t love my party, or having my grandmother stay over in my room so that I had to sleep on the floor. I didn’t love my father spending months trying to convince me not to have a Bat Mitzvah at all, and the rabbis at my school complaining about the music and dancing planned for the after party on Saturday night. But I loved leading a whole Saturday morning service from beginning to end. I loved reading the Torah and chanting the Haftorah. I loved having my own congregation for a couple of hours.

My current congregation.

My current congregation.

There are four separate Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services being done, once a month throughout the winter, with three or four students running each, with the three clergy members there to preside and help. And their families come: grandchildren fly in from across the country; ninety-year-old mothers come from nursing homes to finally see their daughters Bat Mitzvahed; children and siblings and cousins and friends are all invited. And the rest of the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah students come to show their support, along with a few of us from the rest of the congregation, though not many. I went to the first of the four services, because one of the women asked specifically, and it was beautiful.

I didn’t grow up in a Reconstructionist synagogue. I didn’t even know what Reconstructionism might be. It sounded like a lot of work – like maybe we’d be building and tearing down houses every week. I’ve only been to this one Reconstructionist synagogue, so I can’t be sure if it is representative of the whole movement, but what I do know is that it is about being open minded, but rigorous. If you are going to adopt a ritual, or get rid of one, you should do your research, understand the history, understand your own reasons for your decision, and take the community into account before you proceed.

The only thing wrong with the synagogue is the prejudice against dog participation. There are no Bark-Mitzvahs, no dog-naming ceremonies, no doggy choir for the high holidays. Clearly, this is the next necessary level of innovation for the Reconstructionist movement. I’d bet more people would come to the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services if dogs were invited to participate. I’m just saying, it’s something for the membership committee to think about.

Butterfly wants this outfit in pink.

Butterfly would look great in this outfit, in pink.

"Um, I'm not so sure about that, Mommy."

“Um, I’m not so sure about that, Mommy.”

 

Skating Lessons

 

The ground has been very icy lately. Even when the snow starts out powdery soft, we end up with ice rinks on the grass within a day, and the girls seem to enjoy it. I’ve always wanted to take them ice skating, but indoor rinks don’t seem to welcome dogs.

"This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy."

“This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy.”

Cricket would be a terrible figure skater. She would be gripping the ice with her toe nails and hopping like a bunny rabbit, but maybe Butterfly would like the glide, just flying for a few seconds, and glorying in the curve.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

I took skating lessons as a kid at the local rink. We were separated by levels – alpha, beta, gamma, delta – and given one rectangle of ice for our group lessons. We wore snowsuits and white skates and gloves and hats. We learned snowplow stops, two foot turns and bunny hops, falling and standing up. But the rink was so cold, and I was uninspired. I never saw skating as something I could get better at.

But that changed when I was seventeen. I had gone to college, and run home screaming, and needed something therapeutic to do while I went to therapy. One day, in desperation, Mom suggested going ice skating, and we went, and I never wanted to leave. I spent the whole two hour session, in terrible blue plastic rental skates, loving it.

I went three days a week, took group lessons and then individual lessons, got my own white skates, and started to improve. But really I loved just skating around the rink. I loved the whoosh of the air, and the speed, and I loved that feeling of attachment to the ice – like a trolley car must feel. With walking and running, your goal is to push off of the ground, to get away from it, but skating is all about the ice and the blade coming together. You fly best when you are attached to the ice (unless you’re a female pair’s skater, in which case, God help you).

No!!!!!!!!!

No!!!!!!!!!

Eventually I had to go back to school and be responsible, and I couldn’t figure out what place skating had in my life. But I was still obsessed with watching skating on TV. For a few years there, the televised skating world was filled with wonderful, creative, emotional performances. Torvill and Dean did a program called Encounter, or January Stars, and it was extraordinary. Everything they did was wonderful, but that one haunts me. Scott Hamilton makes me laugh, Kurt browning makes me want to skate or dance or just watch him on an endless loop. Katya Gordeeva, either back in her pair days with Sergei Grinkov or in the aftermath, is exquisite and soul deep. Michelle Kwan made me cry and made my heart beat in sync with hers. They all have this ability to be inside of the music, wearing it like clothes.

katya and sergei

Katya and Sergei, way back when.

Mostly now we get repetitive Olympic eligible competitions, and packaged professional shows that all look the same, but every once in a while something wonderful happens: Meryl Davis blossoms into a beautiful and evocative ice dancer, Kurt Browning skates with his sons, Jeremy Abbot creates whole new styles of movement on the ice. Even if there are only one or two minutes of blissful skating in a whole two hour program, I can’t risk missing those two minutes.

I wish my girls could take figure skating lessons. I can picture them, bundled up in pink snowsuits, wearing four skates each, learning to glide and stop and turn, and hopefully not pee on the ice. Cricket would love to be able to jump, but she’d also be at risk for severely hurting herself, and others. Butterfly would follow her teacher and then sniff after the Zamboni as it cleaned the ice.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

Ditto.

Ditto.

They’d probably have to have the ice to themselves, because putting up orange traffic cones wouldn’t really stop Cricket from busting out into the crowd and going in the wrong direction and kicking her blades around. Maybe she’d do better with hockey skates, because they don’t have a toe pick on the front. Figure skates are serious weapons.

Those toepicks are vicious!

Those toepicks are vicious!

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.