8 years

8 years ago I started writing a holiday card that tries to capture our family at a moment in time.  Here they are all in one place.  I’m putting them together partly because I’ve always wanted to see them in one place.  And partly because I’m starting to write this year’s card and wanted a little historic inspiration.  This year there’s so much change in our little big world….looking backward is sweet and also just a tiny bit sad.  Looking forward is exciting with a dose of ‘oh my god how did this happen?’.


You walked through the red door expecting perhaps a welcoming kiss on the cheek.  The huge dog’s exuberance nearly knocked you over before the smallest member of the household, the blonde six and three-quarter year old boy, sent him to his bed with a single word spoken with complete authority: “rug”.  The ten-year-old green-eyed girl twirled noisily into the room and graced you with a look that told you she was really happy you were here.  The boy had disappeared.  The click of legos in the distance placed him and you heard a distracted “come play with me…” from a room down the hall.  The girl took your hand and gave you the kiss on the cheek you just realized you hadn’t yet gotten.  She held your hand and pulled you further into the house, through the living room, past the music-covered piano, into the dining room.  You smelled something cooking in the kitchen but couldn’t quite place the aroma.   As she kissed you hello, the wife told you she’d just gotten a box of vegetables from the farm in the valley and she was trying a new recipe.  Her husband didn’t look too worried.  He shook your hand heartily, offering you a chair at the table and a drink.  You thanked them all for their warm greeting then turned to the girl who waited impatiently for your full attention.  The boy was finally drawn into the fray with the promise of goat cheese and hot chocolate.  He brought his legos to the table. Happy holidays from the six and three-quarter year old boy, the green-eyed girl, the wife who’s always trying something new and the generous and kind husband. And the very large dog.


You hesitate just a moment before the red door.  When you finally knock, the piano music stops and you hear the scuffle of many feet headed your way.  The eleven year old green eyed girl throws open the door and pulls you in, standing on tiptoe to kiss your cheek.  The six and three quarter year old blue eyed boy stands just behind her with the hint of a grin that he’s trying to hide.  The smell of roasting turkey rushes toward the open door and you smile knowing that the wife is going to treat you to her most famous meal.  In the background you hear the ringing of a doorbell.  The children each take a hand and pull you into the living room.  The blonde boy wants you to play with him and you remember last year’s legos, the girl is clearly just happy you are here.  When the husband walks in to rescue you and take your coat, they introduce him as their bionic daddy.  You know he’s had some recent heart problems, but his handshake is as strong as ever so you relax and follow him into the dining room to greet the wife and accept the glass of wine she’s offering.  You promise the children your full attention as soon as you’ve said hello.  The wife hugs you and moves her yoga mat off the table to make room, then turns to the back door to tell the big dog, who’s outside ringing the doorbell, that she’ll let him in shortly.  The children both sit with you at the table explaining that after dinner you’ll all go outside and sit by the fire to share the chocolate chip cookies that they’ve made just for you.  Happy holidays from the eleven year old girl, the blue eyed boy, the bionic husband and his limber wife.  And the bell ringing dog. 


“Let’s go… come on!”  The twelve year old green-eyed girl is pulling one of your hands, and the shaggy blonde haired blue eyed boy has a grip on the other.  You’re surprised by his strength…his hands seem big for an eight year old.  You’ve just walked through the red door and they’re pulling you past the music covered piano into the dining room where you get a quick kiss from the wife.  They propel you through the kitchen and out the back door.  The husband looks up from loading the car and waves hello as you dance with the dog for precedence down the back steps.  You notice that the dog no longer has a tail and make a note to ask about that later.  The wife follows the chaos out the door and down the steps as the husband puts the dog in the car and you settle into the front seat.  All five seat belts click and the blue eyed boy taps you on the shoulder…”they have the biggest dunes anywhere and we can run and jump and slide”.  “And you can climb up the cypress trees and sit on top of the canopy and see the whole world”, says the green eyed girl.  The wife is clearly happy that they’ve found a place they all love.  The husband says he’s glad it’s only an hour’s drive.  And the dog is plainly ready to play.  With a big sigh, as if on cue, all four of them say, “we’re so happy you’re here”.   You smile and settle into an hour of catching up and a day of California sunshine and sea breezes with people who care for you very much.  Happy New Year from the girl who can see the whole world, the boy who jumps the tallest dunes, and the husband and wife who are happy to be together.  And the tail challenged dog.


“Rug” you hear her command and smile at the thought of the big dog that you know will be on her heels as soon as she opens the door.  And he is, shaking and wagging and begging for some love.  She shrugs and sighs, kisses you hello and takes your coat, and leads you through the living room past a beautiful new table that wasn’t there last visit.  You make a note to ask about it later.  The thirteen year old green eyed girl jumps up from the yellow computer on the table when you enter, “Mom let me have a facebook page!” she laughs as she hugs you hello.  Her nose is barely shy of yours as she reaches a kiss up to your cheek.  The nine year old boy isn’t in sight and you open your mouth to ask about him as the husband hands you a beer and the wife goes to work washing lettuce but your words are lost.  The beat coming out of the basement is steady and even and definitely rock and the wife keeps pace with the salad spinner and you know where to find the nine year old boy.  “He’s taken up the drums” shouts the husband, smiling, “and his teacher says he’s really good”.  You sit, you drink, and you enjoy the rhythm of the family.  When the drumming subsides, the shaggy blonde haired boy bounds up the steps and stops for a brief hug.  “Are you going to the river tomorrow with us?  I’ll show you the creek.”  “And we can play ping pong,” says his sister. “Please?” they sing in unison.  You smile your agreement and they sigh together as they go about setting the table.  You can’t think of a better place to be.  Happy New Year from the well socialized girl, the boy who sets his own tempo, and the husband and wife who are so proud of them both.  And the dog who can’t get enough love.


“five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…how do you measure a year in the life…” You stand for a moment on the porch enjoying the power of the voice through the window.  When you ring the bell the familiar scuffle of feet and paws makes you smile.  The ten year old blue eyed boy opens the door and the big dog bounds out to be the first to welcome you.  The boy looks you in the eye as he greets you and you are surprised at how much he’s grown up.  As he leads you through the living room telling you all about the new game he is creating, the singing stops and his green eyed sister steps out of the hall to give you a kiss hello.  You realize that the singing you heard was hers.  The boy pulls you forward to show you his game…something about platforms and gravity he says. The husband and wife are in the kitchen sharing a bottle of wine and they hug you warmly and pour you a glass.  You’ve barely taken a sip when the boy and girl interrupt.  They both have so much to tell you. She’s in a play, he’s just returned from camp, high school is so much fun, elementary school is nearly over, there’s this cute boy, girls are still kind of icky.  You chuckle and turn to their parents knowing that this has been a difficult year, but it is clear they are doing well.  Everything is the same and it has all changed so much. We wish you happy holidays and a year measured in love.  From the melodious girl, the tech savvy boy, the resilient husband and wife, and the energizer dog.


The doorbell definitely rang, you heard it through the door, but there is no familiar bark or scuffle of feet.  You know that your visit is expected, so you walk back down the steps, across the grass and through the side gate.  As the gate latch clatters, the familiar bark and scuffle bounds around the corner of the house in greeting. Luckily, considering his size, your four legged greeter knows better than to jump up for a closer hello. You find the blue eyed boy under the rose trellis aiming his bright orange weapon at the back end of the giant dog. He grins a hello.  The green eyed girl, covered in mud, is standing in the grass wiping down a bicycle that she explains is her racing bike.  She leans up to give you a kiss hello.  The husband, even muddier than the girl, is smiling and directing the clean-up effort. He promises a hug once he’s done.  The wife, who you see across the yard, is picking lettuce for your salad.  She walks across the yard, avoiding the gun and her muddy family, and greets you with a kiss, then invites you upstairs to visit.  You’re reassured, once you’ve settled in, that this year was easier than last and that the only complications have been the usual chaos of music lessons and mountain bike races, homework and the social lives of the under 18 set.  One by one the family joins you in the dining room, all showered and ready to visit.  The green eyed girl, tall as her mother, is a hard working sophomore in high school this year and the blue eyed boy is enjoying the freedom and independence of his first year of middle school.  They’re both busy with their music, their friends, their growing lives.  The husband and wife are enjoying their last few fleeting years raising the babies they brought into this world.           We wish you happy holidays and a loving and joyful, if fleeting, 2011.


As you drive up to the house you are greeted by the blue eyed boy raking golden leaves into a pile right in your parking space.  He laughs when you crumple the leaves under your tires, then sets down his rake to talk you into the house.  He’s feeding bees at school, enjoying his three rats: Al, Dwight and Captain Kirk, loved playing football this year, and is getting ready for his bar mitzvah.  All this he intersperses with comments about zombies, creepers and pink sheep that live in his computer world.  Through the windows you see the green eyed girl at the piano, but the windows are closed tight against the cold so you don’t hear the singing until the red door opens.  The music stops and the sixteen year old girl gets up to give you a kiss hello.  You are glad she has stayed home to spend time with you.  Her driver’s license has given her the freedom to come and go, and you know that she spends much of her time going.  She walks you through the house, explaining the intricacies of filming a movie and there are words like boom and AV script that you hope she’ll define when she takes a breath.  The wife is in the kitchen and sets down her spatula to give you a kiss hello and pour you a glass of wine.  You notice the kitchen looks different and start to ask what’s changed when the husband comes around the corner, wiping paint on his multi-colored sweatshirt that looks like it used to be gray.  He has a smudge of orange and a smudge of brown on his cheek as he shakes your hand and gives you the grand tour.  They’ve added nine square feet and it feels like a million.  You settle in for an evening of good food and conversation with people who are so happy you’ve come.  With love from the sixteen year old girl on the go, the boy who lives in several worlds, and the grateful husband and wife.  Oh yes, and the big dog who must have been in the garden when you arrived.


You walk up the steps toward the red door and see the wife sitting by the window….you know she is waiting for the white truck that won’t be coming again.  As she opens the door to greet you her smile turns from wistful to happy you’ve come.  You give her the hug that she needs then turn to greet the husband who is walking in from the kitchen to say hello and offer you his hand and something to drink.  You understand that they’ve had a busy and sometimes trying year, but the house feels like it always does…happy to see you.  You’re about to ask about the blue eyed boy and the green eyed girl when you hear gunshots coming from behind the glass door beneath the sign.  The wife opens the door and the boy in the orange sweatshirt puts down his video controller and walks with you to the dining room table to say hello and tell you about his one remaining rat, his bar mitzvah, and something called ‘scratch’ that he says has to do with web design.  He’s about to  tell you about his job at Sunday school when the green eyed girl comes through the front door and greets you with a huge smile and a warm hug.  She’s just home from work and has time for dinner and a visit before she goes back out again to sing with her a capella group.  She tells you about her last year in high school, bike team,  college applications and life with a boyfriend who is 4 hours away.  The conversation is settling into a rhythm when the doorbell rings and the husband goes to let in the big white joyful dog.  He bounds over, wags his tailless bottom and laps at the air around your face.  It’s so nice to be loved…from the seventeen year old girl planning her future, the thirteen year old boy who’s no longer a child, the grateful husband and wife, and the big white dog.

22 months

It’s been nearly two years since Dad died, a lot longer since Mom died, and a lifetime since my little sister died.  A couple of therapists and a few grief groups later I’ve finally sorted through all of the charts that describe the cycle of grief, the poems that are supposed to help, and the stories that other people took the time to write down.  I have 4 pieces of paper left that didn’t end up in the recycle bin.  The second one was something that Dad gave me shortly after Mom died.  I can’t truly let these pieces of my grief go, so I’m putting them here….

Death is Nothing
Henry Scott Holland, Oxford, 19th century

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.

I am me.
You are you.
Whatever we were for each other…
we still are.

Call me by the name you’ve always called me.
Speak to me as you always have.
Do not use a different tone;
Do not take on a solemn or sad air.

Life means all that it has always meant.
Everything is the same as it was.
The string has not been cut.

Smile.  Think of me.

Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you.
I am not far;
Just around the corner.

All is well.  Nothing is lost.
All will be as it was before.

Gone From My Sight
Henry van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts out for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come together to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at that moment when someone says: “There, she is gone,” there are other eyes watching her arrival and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,

“Here she comes.”

And that is dying.

Gifts from your mother…..
Write a letter to your mother and talk with her about the gifts she gave to you during her lifetime. You might consider:

What you treasured about her
What you admired in her
How did she enrich your emotional or spiritual life
What talents or interests did she spark or encourage in you
What are you most proud of in your mom
What traits of her would you like to have for yourself
In what ways are you like her

If you could choose one thing which embodies your mother’s essence, what would you choose to keep her close to you?

Who am I now?  What do I want?

What I want is my parents back.  But I’m not sure why (exactly).  I love them both deeply in very different ways, and relied on them to help me to see clearly what wasn’t/isn’t always so clear.  They loved me in a way that only a parent can love a child~and this I now understand as a parent.  I don’t need them the way I did when I was young.  I can make decisions and live my life without them.  But I want them.  I want their level heads, their courage to look me in the eye and disagree with me without ever feeling their love of me was in danger, I want to hear my name on their lips, I want to talk about ‘our family’ in the way Dad always did~ with Dad~ as if we had the secret to happy family, I want to see Mom’s love in her eyes and hear it in her voice, I want to get Oreos from their cookie jar, I want to ask questions and hear answers.  I want.



A very experienced educator described parenting this way: you tie your children securely enough to the dock to keep them from drifting, but not so tightly that they have to break away violently. This way when they are ready to push off they have something solid to push from. If they are not tied up at all they will drift aimlessly and without destination or reference and have no dock to return to.

I would like to push the metaphor further, into adulthood. But I realize that part of me may never make the leap to adult and I will continue to search for the dock.

Ten years


Every year I plant sunflower seeds on my sister’s birthday. They bloom around the anniversary of the day she died. This year, ten years later, they’ve given me a beautiful display.

XO Carol Lee.

The May experiment…almost over!

Yup. Almost over. Anyone still with me? Well, I feel great. A couple of days I didn’t get much exercise in. A few times I ate something I really didn’t need. But it’s been fun and I’m going another month.

Today I found out I have 12 bikram classes left that expire in 13 days. So May is going out with a bang and June will follow in suit. By June 9 I should be completely exhausted.

Anyone wanna go another month with me?

Gone but never forgotten

Happy Mother’s Day to Mom and Carol Lee, my two greatest teachers.  If I am a good mother it is because of the two of you.  When I’m not a good mother it’s because I didn’t learn well enough the lessons that you taught me.  I cherish the time we had together and my family is blessed because of it.  You taught me not only how to parent, but more importantly, how to love.  Best mother, best sister, best friends….I love you.


One more rule

For me at least. I’ll make my bed. Every day. Almost every day.

Today I snacked on a pretzel I didn’t need or want. Just because it was there. Gotta not do that this month!

Day 4

It’s definitely easy to go outside if you live in northern California. So far so good with the eating and exercising and water drinking. I had a night of way too little sleep but that couldn’t be helped. Em, along with literally half the bike team, was sick. She’s on the mend and I’m catching up.

This isn’t so hard, right? I’m liking the May experiment!

It’s not a DIE-T!

My wordmaster friend Lisa made a good point.  No, I don’t die-t.  And even if I did, the May experiment is not a die-t.  It’s a live-it!  Gotta love that play on words.

So May is off to a good start.  Lots of sunshine, lots of walking, lots of water, and I passed by several dessert options that I really didn’t need.  All in all a great day.  Then I slept in this morning.  Very nice beginning.

How about the rest of you?

April 30th…the May experiment

My experiment begins tomorrow. Are you with me? So far it seems to be me and a hairy princess.

I weighed myself for the last time. Then I thought about putting the scale in the closet so I wouldn’t forget and accidentally step on it. But I decided against that. Cause this is all about being conscious. So the scale is still in the bathroom where I can consciously ignore it.

I’m up in the mountains this weekend. So being outside will be easy. Happy May day!

the May experiment….join me?

I don’t diet.  But I read that we each gain about a pound and a half a year (mostly due to holiday scarfing).  At that rate I’ll be a giant boulder by the time I hit the end.  So I’m going to initiate the May experiment.  Here are my rules:

  1. don’t get on the scale
  2. eat well and enough and definitely not too much.  skip the stuff that isn’t necessary
  3. exercise every day.  if not yoga or the gym, then take a walk
  4. go outside every day.  walking to the car doesn’t count.
  5. drink lots of water
  6. get enough sleep.  at least most of the time.
  7. on May 31st, if so motivated, get on the scale and see if the scale thinks anything is different.  more importantly, see if the people around me think anything is different.

This isn’t about dieting.  It’s about taking care of myself the way I know I should be every day.  I just want to see if it’s possible for me to be this conscious for a month.  Who knows….at the end of May I might decide I like this way better.  We’ll see.  Let me know if you want to try it with me.

an Italian Shabbat cooking class

Thanks once again to Rebecca for another wonderful afternoon of cooking and learning, and an evening of eating!  And to Bascia for keeping us tidy.  And thank you to Rhonda for once again hosting this very fun event.  The menu for this class was “an Italian Shabbat” and it was delicious.

Pan de Casa
Three Antipasti: Funghi sott’ollio, Carciofi & Carote Picante
Cacciucco alla Livornese con Bruschetta e Maionese al Caperi
Mascarpone con fragioli

an open letter to the world to help New Orleans (yes, still)

From April 10 through April 17, 2011, Emily and I will be joining a group of Rodef Sholom congregants on a mission to New Orleans where we will help to rebuild a school called Our School at Blair Grocery (www.ourschoolatblairgrocery.org) in the  Lower Ninth Ward. We visited this same school last year and were deeply moved by the wonderful work that Nat Turner, the school’s founder, is doing in this still decimated community.  Please see the photos above that I’ve attached from last year’s trip.  It’s hard to believe that 5 years after Katrina there are still areas of New Orleans that are suffering such hardship.  Our group, which includes both adults and young people (14 to 77 years old), will be working alongside Nat and his people to help re-build the school and the community. Our synagogue group is being hosted by a larger disaster recovery group called Jewish Funds for Justice www.jewishjustice.org, which works in disaster recovery in areas throughout the world.

We are writing to you because we hope to raise $500 for Our School at Blair Grocery to buy necessary items  for the school, to bring comfort and dignity to the students who learn there, and to aid the community as a whole.  We know that when we travel to New Orleans we will not be going alone.  We are going on behalf of our friends, family and our entire synagogue community.  With your help we can lighten the burden and bring healing and redemption to many broken lives.

Please send checks made out to Congregation Rodef Sholom (so that you can each receive a tax deduction).  Write “New Orleans” in the memo section of the check, and send it to Congregation Rodef Sholom, 170 No. San Pedro Road, San Rafael, CA  94903.  Or you can send a note via the comments box below and we will coordinate pick-up. 

If you are unable to support our work financially, please be assured that we understand.  We do ask for your good wishes as we travel to New Orleans again this year.

 Leslie and Emily

 The concern for justice is an act of love.
~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Best flash mob so far!

thanks t-mobile…

when women cook

What a great afternoon/evening!  Thanks to Rebecca for being such a good teacher and thanks to everyone else for making the afternoon so much fun.  Here’s the menu followed by the pictures (and I apologize ahead for any unflattering photos….feel free to smack me if you see something you want taken down!)

Leek and Potato Fritters
Spiced Pomegranate Applesauce
Winter Salad with Citrus
Italian Style Chicken Fillets
Braised Broccoli with Garlic
Roasted Pears with Caramel Rugelach