September 29, 2008

Special new year foods

We Jews like to wish for a sweet new year, and we embody our wishes by eating sweet foods during the holiday. We make special round challot, sweetened with honey and studded with raisins, that look like crowns. We dip apples in honey. Jews from all over the world have special new year's dishes they cook up to bring in the new year. Here is one of my favorites -- Sephardic travados, pastries filled with ground walnuts and boiled in a honey-sugar syrup, which I learned from a Sephardic friend from Hadassah. They're a lot of work, but if you like to bake and can handle finicky details, you'll enjoy making travados.


(Yields about 100 small pastries)

3 cups walnuts
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a food processor, finely grind walnuts and sugar. Add eggs and cinnamon and process to combine. Remove to another bowl and set aside.

1 1/2 cups oil
3/4 cup white wine
3/4 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
6 cups flour (can be a mix of white and whole wheat)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Process all ingredients in a food processor to mix ingredients well. Dough should be soft to handle.

On a lightly floured board, flatten a small piece of dough into a round 2 inches in diameter. Place a heaping half-teaspoon of filling in the center and fold over one side to make a half-moon shape. Crimp edges carefully to seal in filling. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups honey
1 1/2 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
Sesame seeds

In a deep pot, heat all ingredients until sugar dissolves. Working in batches, drop cooled travados in pot a few at a time, depending on the size of the pot. Allow syrup to boil over them for 2 minutes. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set on a baking tray that you have lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat with next batches.

Store in a covered bowl or cookie tin. Yes, I know the recipe yields about 100 pastries, but they are so good and keep for so long that you will find reasons to serve them to your family and friends.

Rik says “These are the best ever!”

A sweet new year to all

Tonight begins the new Jewish year of 5769. For centuries Jews have enjoyed playing games with letters and numbers. Rosh Hashanah literally means the "head of the year." When you rearrange the Hebrew letters, they form the words Aleph b'Tishrei -- the first of the month of Tishrei, and the start of a new year.

This is the first holiday we will celebrate without my father, who died in June. I have had most holidays out here on my own and with Rik for many years, and have not been able to join in family celebrations, so it's not perhaps as strange for me as it will be for my mother and sister. I did miss Dad a lot when I learned that there were no kosher chicken livers in the grocery stores and so I couldn't make his chopped liver recipe. My sister told me that she said she would take my mother to the cemetery between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, an old Jewish tradition that I wish I could participate in too. Instead I continue to attend daily minyan as often as possible in order to say kaddish.

In this coming new year, may we all be written in the book of life for health and happiness, peace and tranquility. A shana tova, a sweet new year, to all.

September 26, 2008

Lymphedema update

I went back to the physical therapist today after bandaging for about two weeks. During this visit she measured both my arms' circumferences before giving me the manual lymphatic drainage. The difference between my right arm and left arm (the affected one) is about 1 centimeter. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that I am left-handed and my dominant arm and hand would normally be larger than the other. But it's likely that about 0.5 cm or more is due to edema.

My sleeve continues to feel uncomfortably tight by around 9 PM every night. I am still going to bandage at night and for some of this weekend. However, the swelling in my hand has gone down and I am again able to wear my wedding ring in it's usual place on the fourth finger of my left hand.

I have four more PT appointments over the next two weeks and hopefully by mid-October things will be down to normal so that I can order my winter sleeves. (I usually get two sleeves twice a year, as covered by my health insurance provider. Over the years I've found what works best: New sleeves in October to wear starting in November and throughout the winter, and again in May to wear during the warmer summer months when I am likely to have more edema due to the heat.)

September 22, 2008

A weekend bandaged

Well, I have survived my weekend of bandaging but I can't say yet how much it has helped. On Saturday I wrapped my arm at 2 PM and stayed wrapped until the next morning. On Sunday we worked on a house project, so I wrapped my arm at 4 PM and stayed wrapped until 8 AM today.

I see the therapist again at the end of the week, so I will probably continue to bandage my arm at night and wear the compression sleeve during the day so I can live my life. You know, type on the computer, use a pen, iron, cook, feed myself -- all the little things that seem unbelievably complicated when the use of one hand is limited.

What is lymphedema?

My friend Claire posted a comment and it makes sense to reply to it here.

"Dumb question--would holding your arm up in the air help in the same way the compression sleeve does? Obviously you can't do that all the time, but maybe when you're sitting down & reading or whatever the arm could be propped up, then it would at least be unwrapped & available for use every so often.

(I really don't know how this drainage system works.)"

I just have to say that there are no dumb comments or questions, and I'm glad Claire asked.

Unfortunately, holding my arm up in the air wouldn't make any difference. Lymphedema is blockage of the lymphatic flow, resulting in swelling (edema) of the affected area. The lymph system parallels the blood vessels but has not been as well studied, so everyday people don't know as much about it (neither do the doctors or I wouldn't be stuck with it).

The goal of the massage (MLD or manual lymphatic drainage) is to move the cached lymph fluid from the affected area and to encourage the other lymph nodes to pick it up and recirculate it. First you stimulate the other parts of the body, to raise the bar, so to speak, of the rest of the lymph nodes. That means gentle massage around the neck, at the hip, under the arms, THEN across the chest and back and down the affected side, LAST up the affected arm.

Hope this helps!

September 21, 2008

Time to make the hooch!

Today is the first day of fall. Summer is officially over, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where it got so cold last week we have already turned the heat on!

We normally get a nice crop of Italian prune plums from the tree in our year, but some years it just doesn't produce, and this was one. Friends offered us plums from their tree so that we could make some of our homemade hooch. Although it's illegal to distill at home in Washington, you can make wine. Our "Pumpkin Plum" is basically plum wine. Here's the recipe --

First the Canadian "iceback" labor (Rik) picks 25 pounds of fruit.

Then I wash, halve and pit the plums, and place them in a mesh bag with a drawstring closure. The bag goes in a five gallon, food safe plastic bucket, which I picked up at Bob's HomeBrew Supply on NE 55th Street in Seattle.

Next we add ten pounds of sugar and close the drawstring, cover loosely with the lid, drag into the basement and wait three months.

After a three month fermenting period, we squeeze the juices from the plums, strain, correct the taste with a neutral alcohol such as vodka (if needed), and bottle.

Voila! The Pumpkin Plum!

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

September 19 was International Talk Like A Pirate Day. I thought of some pirate geography jokes for Rik to tell his students. To get the joke, you have to remember that the pirate's favorite letter of the alphabet is R (pronounced AAARRRR!).

What state was the pirate born in? ARkansas

Where does the pirate like to go when he's in South America? ARgentina

Africa? ZanzibAR

Europe? DenmARk and BulgARia (Thanks to Dina for pointing out that ARmenia is actually in Asia...)

Asia? QatAR

Where does the pirate visit the penguins? AntARctica

Where does the pirate see the polar bears? The ARctic

And this is what Rik sent back to me --
If Pirate + Yiddish = Pirish, then the Jewish pirate says: "Sit shivah me timbers!"

You can find many more of these silly jokes here. Avast ye, mateys!

After the wrapping

I just woke up after being bandaged since 2 PM Saturday. Could hardly wait to tear off the wrappings! My skin is kind of pebbly from the compression (typical) and this will disappear in a few minutes as my arm comes back to normal. It feels so good to be able to scratch an itch, type on the keyboard, hold a pen, prepare and eat breakfast and basically use my left hand as much as I want to.

I have a home improvement project today so will need both hands but I promised to bandage as much as possible while Rik was home so after we are through, I will wrap again. Oy!

September 19, 2008

First round of MLD

I had my first physical therapy appointment to treat this current lymphedema flare-up. Manual lymphatic drainage is the most gentle massage imaginable -- if I was even remotely ticklish, it might be unbearable. The idea behind it is that since the lymphatic vessels are so close to the surface of the skin, anything more than the most delicate touch would blow right past them into underlying muscle and defeat the purpose of moving the blocked flow of lymph fluid.

My new therapist is about half my age. She really listened to me when I told her that I had been avoiding bandaging for 23 hours since it interfered so much with my ability to write, type, drive, cook, and generally do anything more than sit on the couch reading or watching TV. However, she also reminded me that bandaging for that long is the most effective treatment. So we agreed that I would increase my self-massage to twice a day and bandage over the weekend when RIk is around to be hands for me. I'll see her two or three times a week for several weeks.

I plan to start wrapping Saturday afternoon and be wrapped all of Sunday until Monday morning (with a short break for a shower on Sunday). If I'm cranky, you'll know why!

September 17, 2008

Still struggling with lymphedema

It's been a week and I still have more edema than usual, am still bandaging at night and trying to get by during the day. It's been a challenge, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and call to see a physical therapist specializing in manual lymphatic drainage. I am happy to report that although all the PTs in the Swedish system are so busy that the first available appointment is for the second week in October, there was a cancellation for tomorrow morning at 8 AM. I am taking it and will start a round of PT that will hopefully address this flare-up quickly. I am SO TIRED of sleeping bandaged!

I have said for several years now that the only time I get up early in the morning is to take an airplane and see a doctor (and not necessarily in that order!).

September 15, 2008

Lymphedema alert

We're having a typically beautiful Northwest September. They days start off chilly, warm up to between 70 and 80 degrees, then cool down to 55 or so at night. And somehow my lymphedema doesn't like this.

It started last Wednesday night when I noticed a red discoloration at the inside of my left elbow after I took off my compression sleeve. I removed the sleeve earlier than usual because it felt so tight. Normally I wear it from early morning to about 11 PM without trouble. This time it bothered me at around 9:30 PM. So I grabbed my trusty bandaging supplies and wrapped my arm, took a "happy" pill so I could fall asleep.

Next day, same thing, except my arm started bothering me by 6 PM. It's continued every night since, although I am hopeful that it's beginning to tape off. I've used every trick in my box of lymphedema tools -- bandaging, extra massage, more lotion to keep my skin soft. I can't find an insect bite or infected cut on my left arm or hand, so the only trigger I can think of is the warm daytime temperatures we've been experiencing.

Today I think I will make some oxymel. A friend taught me this ancient remedy that's generally good for what ails you. Mix 4 ounces of honey with hot water and vinegar in equal parts. Add 1 ounce rosemary. Steep in coffee maker for several hours. Drink daily diluted with water or seltzer. I have all the ingredients on hand, including rosemary from the garden. Oh, the joys of a well-stocked pantry!

Let's hope this helps. My last option is to request a referral from my doctor for manual lymphatic drainage massage. It can be hard to get in to see a therapist (not many therapists have this specialized training), and of course every visit costs a co-pay. It usually takes 5-7 treatments for success. So I always begin by trying to manage on my own.

September 11, 2008

Swedish Women's Wellness Luncheon

For three years I served on the steering committee for Swedish Medical Center's Women's Wellness Luncheon. In the past, the luncheon raised funds for breast cancer screening and awareness, funding the creation of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at (then) Providence campus, where I received my original treatment. Proceeds from the event more recently helped the center purchase two state-of-the-art vehicles that take digital mammography to women all over Western Washington, especially to those living in small towns or on native land where access to mammography has been limited.

I am pleased to again host a table at this event, which takes place on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at The Westin Seattle. Tickets cost $125 and proceeds from this year's event will fund the Cancer Institute's Patient Assistance Program.

Funds from the Cancer Patient Assistance Program help people when their cancer treatment gets in the way of paying bills. If a woman doesn't have enough sick leave, if she needs child care, or help in paying the rent or mortgage, can't afford to buy gas to get to chemo, or pay the electric or heat bills, the Cancer Patient Assistance Program is there to help.

The Cancer patient Assistance Program is funded entirely through philanthropic gifts. In 2007, 393 people received $186,000 in individual assistance, in grants ranging in size from $20 to $2000 per person, based on need.

If you would like to join me at my table, please be in touch. And for those of you who live far from Seattle, if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, you can mail a check payable to SMC Foundation, 747 Broadway, Seattle WA 98122-4307.

September 10, 2008

From the morning service

This piece from tachanun (personal prayers and supplications) in the morning service (shacharit) really speaks to me each time I read it --

Psalm 6

"Be merciful to me, for I am weak. Heal me, Adonai, for my very bones tremble -- my entire being trembles. Adonai, how long? Turn to me, Adonai; save my life. Help me because of Your love. In death there is no remembering You. In the grave who can praise You? I am weary with sighing and weeping; nightly my pillow is soaked with tears. Grief has dimmed my eyes, worn down by my many foes. Away with you, doers of evil! Adonai has heard my cry, my suplication. Adonai accepts my prayer."

September 09, 2008

I had a dream

I had a dream about my parents the other night. I was trying to call my father on a cell phone and I couldn't get the number to go through. I wanted to tell him that I was having trouble finding my mother. My frustration and anxiety about not being to make this call built until I woke up in the middle of the night.

The meaning behind this dream seems clear. I miss my father, z"l. Not being able to call him but feeling that somehow I ought to be able to reach him probably indicates my ongoing grief at his death and maybe an unconscious unwillingness to take it in. And not knowing where my mother is? My fears and worries about losing her too.

Although my dad had been progressively more sick for several years and in his last few weeks had very poor quality of life, I was still unprepared to hear about his death via the call that woke Rik and I from a sound sleep. And the fact that Dad lived a full and long life, dying one week short of his 81st birthday, didn't make losing him any less painful, as my dream indicates.

It's not a tragedy for someone to die at the end of a long life. That's the way it's supposed to be. But I guess one can never prepare to lose a parent.

September 04, 2008


My friend C gave me a card for my mets-iversary that featured a quote from Joseph Campbell:

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

I certainly have had to toss out my hopes and plans for the life I thought I'd lead. Health -- bye bye. Career -- over. Parenthood -- not a chance.

In their place, in the life that was waiting for me, I've discovered some positives and some negatives: Time to do things I love. A "Velcro" dog who sticks to me like, well, Velcro. Pain. And more knowledge and experience of the world of medicine than I ever wanted.

Do they balance out? Not really. But this is the life I ended up with, and I aim to live it to the fullest each day.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was a prolific American author, editor, philosopher and teacher. You can read more about him at the Joseph Campbell Foundation's website.

September 03, 2008

Elul begins

Now that Rik is back to the normal school schedule, I have resumed going to morning minyan. Imagine my surprise when on Monday morning we blew the shofar! Yes, the month of Elul has begun and that means a real wake-up call every day as we get ready for Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is loud, it's piercing, and it gives new meaning to the term "call to worship."

One thing I am learning about morning minyan -- the cycle of the year is brought home on a daily or regular basis. Summer has definitely ended, Jewishly speaking, and we are in the throes of preparing for a new year.