July 30, 2008

In memory of Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor whose "last lecture" drew so great a response from people around the world, died last Friday of pancreatic cancer at age 47. Pausch gave a powerful message about how to live life to the fullest when he received the opportunity to address a Carnegie Mellon crowd of friends, mentors, students, and the general public.

I have seen the last lecture on YouTube, read excerpts of the book published this past spring, and last night watched an ABC "Primetime" special with Diane Sawyer featuring interviews with Randy, his wife, and his best friend. (Look for the video on the upper right hand of the page and click on "Remembering Randy Pausch.")

Why am I so fascinated with Randy? He had a personal philosophy -- how to live a joyful, meaningful life. Up until his cancer was discovered, he was probably a normal guy, working, dating, marrying, raising a family. Then he got cancer -- pancreatic cancer is BAD cancer -- and his life changed radically.

Sounds like me, doesn't it? (Except for the parenting part.)

And then Randy had the opportunity to talk to the world, through his connection with Carnegie Mellon University. It's complete serendipity that the YouTube clip gathered such support.

Maybe my blog will reach my small corner of the world with the same philosophy Randy Pausch expressed so eloquently, and which I learned by reading science fiction. As Robert Heinlein wrote in Glory Road, "While we live, let us live!"

May Randy's memory be a blessing to all who knew him and to all who knew of him.

July 27, 2008

New MS drug

When I went to get my zometa last week, one of my infusion nurses told me the Ambulatory Infusion Center at Swedish Medical Center's Cherry Hill Campus has picked up more than 100 multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who are receiving a new drug called TYSABRI under the supervision of Dr. Lily Jung. In this nurse's humble opinion, the drug is nothing short of a miracle, allowing patients who have been in wheelchairs due to their disease to walk again.

A special dessert

I stretched my personal baking limits to produce this French fruit tart. The recipe was from The Joy of Cooking 1997 version (French fruit pastry cream tart page 880, shortbread crust page 868, pastry cream page 997). The peaches came from our local farmers' market, the blueberries were a gift from a neighbor who went to eastern Washington, and the raspberries grew in our backyard. It made a spectacular birthday treat for our friend N!

July 22, 2008

Survey of Hebrew and Yiddish

I just completed a survey on the influence of Hebrew and Yiddish among American Jews and non-Jews. One of the surveyors was a university professor mine and so I knew this was legitimate when a friend forwarded it to me. I heartily recommend taking the survey to anyone who uses Yiddish and Hebrew words in ordinary conversation.

"You are invited to participate in an interesting and entertaining survey about language. Essentially, we're asking about the spread of Yiddish (and some Hebrew) among English speakers in North America. We're turning to both Jews and non-Jews to answer questions like these: Who uses Yiddish words like "shmooze" and "daven" and phrases like "Money, shmoney"? Why do some people say "temple" while others say "shul"? Who prefers biblical names for their babies? Your responses will help us answer these and other questions, and you might learn something about yourself in the process. Please set aside 15-20 minutes, and click on this link to participate."

July 21, 2008

Mema's (Mary Neuer Cohen’s) Onion Cookies

My father sat down with his mother one day as she baked these and took notes while she worked. Mema followed her mother Pauline’s recipe. Now five generations of Cohens have enjoyed onion cookies to break the fast after Yom Kippur.

5 cups flour (or more, as needed)
small box of poppy seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3 large onions, finely chopped

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix 4 cups flour and all dry ingredients with onions and poppy seeds.

In a separate bowl, beat oil and eggs together with a fork.

Make a well in the center of the flour/onion mixture and stir in beaten eggs.

Pour in water and knead, adding one additional cup of flour if wet.

Working in batches, roll dough out 1/4 inch thick on a floured board.

Cut cookies with a small round cookie cutter (or use the traditional juice glass dipped in flour). You can re-roll scraps into the next batch.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Pierce each cookie with a fork.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool cookies on racks and store in a sealed container with a piece of bread to take up any moisture. (Cookies tend to soften overnight.)

Spread with butter or cream cheese and enjoy!

Makes more than 50 cookies, recipe can be halved.

El Maleh Rahamim/God, filled with compassion

El Maleh Rahamim:
God, filled with Motherly Compassion,
grant a full and perfect rest
under the wings of Your sheltering Sh'khinah/ Presence
-- among the lofty, holy and pure,
radiant as the shining firmament --
to the souls of all those of all Your peoples
who have been killed in and around the lands where
Abraham our Forebear walked --
Make them welcome to their eternal home.
May they rest in Your Edenic Garden of Delight.

Please, Master of Mercy,
envelop them
in Your comforting, protecting wings forever;
Bind up their souls in the Bond of Life.
For You are their Portion, their Inheritance.
May they rest securely in Peace,
and we say:

Translation by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, 1996, as modified by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 2005.

The end of sheloshim

Today is the last day of the sheloshim (30 days) period of mourning for my father. Rik and I attended morning minyan today and I asked to receive an aliyah. I had a teary moment hearing my father's name as I was called to the Torah. It's also the custom at our synagogue to mark such an occasion by chanting El Maleh Rachamim (God full of compassion), mentioning the departed by name, while the mourner holds a Torah scroll and afterwards says a few words about their loved one.

This is the memory I shared:

I was at Camp Tel Yehudah the summer when I was 13 or 14 and was offered an aliyah but didn't know my full Hebrew name. So I went to the pay phone and called my parents (collect), hoping they were home. (Remember the days of calling collect from pay phones?) I asked my dad to tell me my full Hebrew name, which he did. I distinctly remember standing in the summer sun on the porch of the staff house and office to make this call. And I never forgot my full Hebrew name -- Yachna Maryam bat Shimon Shir haKohen uMasha Leah. My dad was very proud of being a Kohen and wanted to be sure the camp gave me the proper aliyah -- the first one, that is always reserved for Kohanim.

Dad loved to cook and bake and so we brought goodies to share with the morning regulars and the good friends who came to support me: bagels, cream cheese and butter, herring in cream sauce, coffee and orange juice, and the special Cohen family onion cookies, which my grandmother taught to my father and he taught to me.

Bonus recipe -- to make herring in cream sauce, rinse and drain a jar of pickled herring in a colander. Slice an onion. Combine onion and herring in a bowl with some sour cream. Chill a few hours and enjoy!

July 19, 2008

A Shabbes nap

There is hardly anything more relaxing that giving oneself permission to take a cap.

Our usual Saturday afternoon involves nothing more strenuous than eating lunch, reading a book and taking a nap. For the past few days I have been napping in the hammock. Rik set it up on its stand between the two apple trees, which cast dappled sunlight and shade over all. The hammock's gentle swaying eases me into the ultimate nap experience. Perhaps I've been reading a book. At some point I am not actually reading any more; the book slips to my chest, I take off my glasses, and soon nothing but gentle snores permeate the yard. An hour can easily go by without my realizing it.

Now that's Shabbes!

July 14, 2008

Another prayer

Just after the prayer for healing comes the following:

"Adonai our God, make this a blessed year. May its varied produce bring us happiness.

(from Pesach to December 4) Grant blessing OR
(from December 5 to Pesach) Grant dew and rain for blessing

upon the earth, and satisfy us with its abundance, and bless our year as the best of years. Praised are You Adonai, who blesses the years."

Prayer for healing

Since I have been going to morning minyan every day, I have begun to look more carefully at the prayer service (when I am not racing to keep up). This prayer always particularly strikes me. You fill in the blank with the Hebrew name of someone who you are praying for healing. For this purpose, a person is known as So-and-so, the daughter or son of their mother. For instance, my Hebrew name for a prayer for healing is Yachna Maryam bat Masha Leah.

"Heal us, Adonai, and we shall be healed. Help us and save us, for You are our glory. Grant perfect healing for all our afflictions, and may it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to send complete healing, of body and soul, to ____________, along with all others who are stricken, and strengthen those who tend to them, for You are the faithful and merciful God of healing. Praised are You Adonai, Healer of His people Israel."

How wonderful that the daily prayer service includes thoughts on the "complete healing of body and soul." For me, someone living with chronic cancer, this daily reminder of the possibility of complete healing resonates strongly.

July 11, 2008

Neti Pot

Those of you who know me well know that I ALWAYS have kleenex or tissues with me -- in the pockets of every coat and jacket, in my purse, in the car, in just about every room of the house. I have had a constantly runny nose since childhood. As a matter of fact, my mother used to despair that I would ever learn to blow my nose properly. She'd tease that when I got married, she'd have to walk down the aisle with me to help me blow my nose. This nasal problem even persuaded me to have a deviated septum corrected when I was about 25, a surgical procedure which I remember all too clearly. Still, nothing has ever worked to dry me up.

Earlier this week I saw the pulmonologist about the results of the PET/CT scan of the 4 mm lung lesion. I persuaded him to examine me as well, because I had been complaining of an occasional inspiratory wheeze (which led me to get the scans to begin with). He couldn't find anything wrong (yay!) but recommended I use a nasal saline spray. I said, "Or a neti pot?" And he agreed that would be fine.

So I went over to my favorite natural health store, Rainbow Natural Health on 15th Avenue East, and bought a neti pot. It looks like Aladdin's lamp. You fill it with warm salt water, lean over the sink, tilt your head so one nostril is up and the other down, and insert the tip of the neti pot into the upper nostril. Gently pour some water salted water in and it will run out the other side.

I laughed so hard while I was doing this that I sprayed salt water all over the kitchen sink. It felt a little like swimming underwater and getting water up your nose. But even Oprah's Dr. Oz recommends it and I have decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks to see if my nose clears up. If it does, my lifelong runny nose problem may have ended!

You can watch a video of this mildly disgusting but pretty helpful process.

July 08, 2008

Halfway through sheloshim

Yesterday was day 15 of the 30 day sheloshim period while I mourn my father. What have I learned so far?

Language skills come back. Reading the morning service has become much easier with daily practice. I'm still slower than most, but I am becoming more familiar with the Hebrew. Somewhat to my surprise, I also understand much of what I am reading. I suppose that contributes to my (lack of) speed. I want to comprehend, not repeat by rote.

Mornings come early. But it was easier for me to be on time for the 7 AM weekday start than the 9 AM holiday (Independence Day) or 9:30 AM Sunday. Go figure.

This morning I overheard one man ask another if he had time to get a coffee. He had to decline, and I said "Going to minyan is like having a 'morning coffee' with God."

I enjoy singing. Now, those who know me already knew this, but singing every day (at 7 AM!) has been a most pleasant way to start the day.

I remember bits and pieces about my dad at odd moments. Last week I caught myself looking at the nails on my left hand and was reminded of my father. He used to do this all the time. Random events can trigger memories and I get the urge to share them with others.

July 07, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain

I have just finished reading the most marvelous book: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Set in Seattle, it tells one family's story through narration by the dog. It was poignant and beautifully written.

Here is one paragraph that particularly appealed to me:

"To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am, I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I will live my life."

My all-time favorite author, Robert Heinlein, once quoted the ancient Romans in a similar vein. Dum vivmus, vivamus -- While we live, let us live!

(All dog lovers should read this book!)

July 06, 2008

In the garden

We have been picking strawberries for a week and now the raspberries are just starting to ripen. Rik took this early morning photo (note the cotton yukata I brought back from Japan) when we had just picked a fresh haul.

We celebrated Independence Day at dinner with friends and ate all the strawberries and raspberries for dessert. Yum!

July 03, 2008

Scan results - a mixed bag

I got my PET/CT scan results today. The 4 mm lung lesion had a very low uptake value, so for now my oncologist is keeping me on tamoxifen. He's looking into a combined therapy of two anti-estrogens to see if that would be more effective. We will re-scan in 6 weeks. I see the pulmonologist on Monday and he will weigh in on the situation.

(Temporary) reprieve!

July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day!

Since I married a Canadian, we get to celebrate Canada Day every July 1st. For all you Canadians out there, here is a cute quiz on all things Canadian. If only they'd had poutine on the menu at Cafe Presse.... Enjoy, eh!

Morning minyan

I have been to morning minyan several days in a row to say kaddish for my father. The service clips along at a brisk pace, and although my Hebrew is pretty good, I'm not familiar with the prayers and can't keep up. So it's not been a particularly moving experience emotionally as I struggle to familiarize myself with the service, when to stand up and sit down, try to learn the words. I took home a copy of the prayer book and made a promise to start reviewing a little bit of the shacharit service every day.

The early morning start time (7 AM!) hasn't helped either. I'm only used to getting up that early for doctors and airplanes. I've hit a wall of fatigue each afternoon and have had to take a nap, which is not really like me. On the other hand, I bought a coffee punch card at my local coffee shop Cafe Javasti so I can treat myself to a mocha on the way home occasionally.

We'll see how the rest of the month progresses....

PET/CT scan

Today I had another PET/CT scan to look at the 4 mm lung lesion and see if it behaves like cancer. I get the results on Thursday and will see my oncologist. If this lesion behaves like cancer, then possibly he will recommend a change in treatment. I don't know whether that will be chemo or another anti-estrogenic drug. The slippery slope may be starting to slide under me....

Because the PET/CT is done fasting, after we finished Rik and I went out to breakfast for me (lunch for him) at Cafe Presse. What a meal we had! Fresh baguette with butter and barely cooked strawberries with coffee to take the edge off my hunger, followed by omelette aux champignons (mushrooms) for me and steak frites for Rik. Truly excellent Belgian-style fries, I could barely resist eating most of his portion. Then I had to wind up with pain aux chocolate, which at this restaurant is more of that fresh baguette with melted chocolate spread over it. Delicieux!

Why the carb fest? I wasn't allowed to eat any carbohydrates, caffeine or alcohol for 24 hours before the PET/CT scan, because they both interfere with dye uptake, and we want an accurate measure of what might be active cancer. So yesterday I ate a high fat/high protein diet: salade nicoise for lunch (lettuce, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, olives) and hamburger (without bun) and sauteed peppers and onions.

No wonder I missed my carbohydrates!