Thursday, October 30, 2008

I need help! In a good way!

After many months of no (good) job news to speak of, I found out today that I am one of eight people being interviewed for a job at a food-related non-profit. The first round of interviews will be on the phone, and that's where my request for help comes in.

I've only done one phone interview before and I totally bombed. I could use any advice or feedback those of you with interview experience can give me. If you've been on the hiring end of a phone interview, I'd particularly like to hear from you; what are you looking for? what makes a good impression? Whatever you can share is appreciated.

Thanks! Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tune in this Sunday, Oct. 26

I'll be hosting the Yiddish Hour Sunday at 10 a.m. and playing music from all over the Jewish map, both geographically and musically speaking.

If you know anyone outside the Portland area who would enjoy the show, please let them know they can hear it free online at The show cannot be podcasted or downloaded for copyright reasons.

Remember, all you devotees of This American Life in Portland who are conflicted because TAL is on at the same time as The Yiddish Hour, you can catch that show on Wednesday nights at 8pm on OPB, or download it as a free podcast to listen to anytime you like. So you have no (legitimate) excuse for not checking out the Yiddish Hour. How's that for a little Jewish guilt?

Hope you can join me this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Michael Pollan's Farmer-In-Chief redux

Sweetie tells me most folks won't have time to read Pollan's open letter to the next President, which I referenced in my 10/20 post. If that's true for you, you can download a free podcast of an interview he did with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, in which he summarizes his ideas. Since everyone seems to use different programs for downloading stuff, I won't link to any one in particular. Check it out; it's definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Follow this blog!

Blogger has a new feature called "followers," which allows you to follow a particular blog if you read it regularly. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but if you'd like to become a follower of this blog you can click on the "avid readers" sidebar next to this post and check it out. If you are not a subscriber to Blogspot, you may not be able to do this; it's not clear from their instructions. But give it a try! I have no idea who's reading this thing; it would be fun to find out. 


A year ago today we doubled the size of our family when Yofi and Addie moved in with us. Here's what they looked like back then:

Yofi in the sink:

Addie on our couch and chair:

We fell in love with them the moment we saw them at the Humane Society. I've always been a cat person, so for me this isn't surprising, but Sweetie is another story. An avowed dog person, although she has lived with cats in the past, Sweetie refused to admit she was smitten. I would taunt her with cries of "Cat person!" and she'd snarl back "Shuddup!" even while she was murmuring sweet endearing nothings at the girls while she was curled up with them on the bed or couch.

Until one day, a bit sheepishly, she said in a tiny voice, "Okay, I'm a cat person."


Yofi is a snuggler. She loves burrowing under the covers and curling up next to or on anything warm (us especially, and Addie too).

Addie is a bit more aloof about personal space, but is very much a flirt. She loves to rub up against people and hang out, just not on our laps. She's also very vocal and responds to any sounds we make, particularly singing.

Over the past year Yofi has been helping me look for work and write my notes for the symphony.

Addie is less interested.
They are a daily source of joy and we look forward to many more cativersaries together.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Michael Pollan's open letter to the next President. The most cogent arguments for why we need to rethink our food policy in this country.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Birthday at Mazanita

This year my birthday fell on Kol Nidre, plus I had a cold, both of which conspired to make the day feel distinctly un-birthdayish. When you are born during the Yomim Nora'im (the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), every few years or so your birthday will fall on either Kol Nidre or Yom Kippur. For you non-Jews, these are the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, and Yom Kippur includes a day-long fast. Definitely not the sort of thing you want to be doing on your birthday.

Fortunately, we had ample warning of the calendrical snafu and we booked our favorite rental house at our favorite town on the north coast, Manzanita, for the weekend just after my birthday. And what a lovely weekend it was. The weather was outstanding, mild and dry (Saturday was incredibly clear and beautiful), and we took full advantage of it. We arrived Friday around noon, had a quick lunch and then went down to the beach. It was a bit windy that day so we headed back, stopping in at the various stores and galleries to see what was new and what was still the same. After dinner we went to our favorite wine bar, Vino,
and, on the recommendation of our server, had an amazing red blend of Merlot, Pinot and Barbera, called "Tantrum," (named for the winemaker's four daughters) from Erin Glenn Winery (I don't usually go for blends, but this was fantastic), along with a Caprese salad, smoked salmon and really opinionated sharp cheddar with rosemary crackers. It was all delicious and I loved the way the wine changed its taste depending on what I was eating. Even Sweetie, who usually doesn't care for wine, was turned on to this stuff.

Saturday was sunny and beautifully clear. I made Sweetie an omelet with the leftover cheddar and we both enjoyed bagels, cream cheese and the rest of the smoked salmon, and then we headed to the beach to daven the morning Shabbat service. We like doing this when weather permits. Here's our shul:

And here was the view of Mt. Neahkahnie from our shul:

We spent a good part of the afternoon at a harvest festival at Alder Creek, a nature reserve nearby. There's a resident elk herd and a community garden there, (Sweetie made a new friend)

and the festival featured lots of farmer's market vendors, barbecue, stuff for kids to do like pumpkin tosses and face painting, and square dancing. The square dancing was fun to watch; I used to do it when I was a kid. The caller had an interesting array of tunes, including O-Blah-Di O-Blah-Da and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville (proving that you can square dance to just about anything). Here's a view of Saddle Mountain from Alder Creek, and a glimpse of the elk:

After the festival we rented bikes and tootled around Manzanita and Neahkahnie a bit; we saw parts of Manzanita we hadn't explored before, including the impossibly cute 9-hole golf course.

Then we came home, rested a bit, and went out for my birthday dinner. The whole weekend was an indulgence in excellent food, including this dinner (I ordered lamb chops, something I haven't eaten in ages) and the tiramisu cake dessert, along with a chocolate Cabernet (it's Cabernet filtered through cacao beans, the perfect compliment to anything chocolate). My tastebuds are still recovering.

On Sunday we checked out the new yarn shop and found this amazing creation:

Brownie points to anyone who can guess what it's made of. We also saw this; both were created for Junk to Funk, a recycled fashion contest.

I particularly liked the espadrilles.

We had a lovely time.

When we got home yesterday, our cats, particularly Addie, who is usually more aloof, curled up right next to me on the couch as if to say, "We're glad you're home." I couldn't ask for a more perfect weekend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hearing Lang Lang before a funeral

This morning I had the opportunity to hear the Chinese pianist Lang Lang play in rehearsal with the Oregon Symphony (staff were invited to this rehearsal in thanks for our hard work promoting and selling the show, and even though I'm not technically staff they generously allowed me to attend as well, which I appreciated). Tonight Lang Lang will be performing to a sold-out crowd in a special OS concert. 

For those of you who don't know who Lang Lang is, he's the pianist who was featured in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing games. The New York Times has called him, "The hottest classical musician on the planet." He's the current Big Deal in piano soloists. At 26, he's outgrown his prodigy status (he made his professional debut at 17 with the Chicago Symphony, to rave reviews), but he's flamboyant and dramatic and has sparked much debate within classical circles about whether he's the real deal or merely a talented musical drama queen. 

I've never had the opportunity to hear a musician of his reputation before. The Oregon Symphony doesn't usually have the budget to be able to afford the fees of the most famous artists on the classical performance circuit; we book excellent second-rank (not second-rate, note the difference) performers who in some instances are just as good, if not better, than the folks with the outsized reputations and performance fees. Still, I was curious to hear him play, to see what he was like close up and to find out if he was, to borrow a phrase from hip hop, All That.

I came to the rehearsal with a sober heart. My friend A's mother died two days ago, and after the rehearsal I would go sing at her funeral. I didn't expect to hear anything at the rehearsal that would touch on all the emotions I've been experiencing in the past few days, as I helped clean A's house, ran an errand for her and her wife M, and just generally kept her close in my heart.

Lang Lang was playing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, not music associated with death or heavy thoughts. It's very romantic, lush and emotional, not really my style, and not something I'd go out of my way to hear (We attended an excellent performance a year ago and I certainly didn't need to hear it again so soon, but I was there for Lang Lang, not Rach). Would he be distractingly showy and employ the gesticulations and facial expressions for which he's been both praised and criticized? 

Surprisingly (and refreshingly) not. I'm sure he was saving a lot of his energy for tonight, but Lang Lang nonetheless gave us an emotionally honest interpretation, largely devoid of all that flourishy theatrical stuff that I find detracts from, rather than adds to, a performance. I could sense that he sincerely felt what he was playing during the run-through portions of the rehearsal, and the way he connected with the music made me connect with it in a way I never have before.

But what really surprised me was what happened at the end of the second movement. This is perhaps the most famous of the three, with a theme you'd have to be made of stone not to appreciate (I'll give Rachmaninoff his due; nobody wrote romantic melodies like he did, and if you're in the mood for something lush and schmaltzy you can't beat his music). At the end of the second movement, just before the orchestra comes in, there's a moment where the soloist plays a few ascending notes, filling out a chord, very slowly, and then comes to a quiet cadence. If it's done right, it's a lovely and graceful transition from the solo cadenza to the return of the full orchestra. When Lang Lang got to that place, he played with something more than technique and grace. He played those notes in a way that conveyed acceptance and something deeper: with those notes, and the completion of the chord, I had a powerful sense of a universal rightness. 

There's no good way to explain what I mean, but I'll try. The writer Madeleine L'Engle, who died not long ago at the age of 89, talks in one of her journals, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, about the death of her own mother, who lived with L'Engle and her family the last summer of her life. At the end of the book, after L'Engle's mother has died, L'Engle describes a moment between herself and her own four-year-old granddaughter Charlotte. Charlotte asks, "Is it all right, Gran? Is it?" L'Engle muses on what it means when we tell someone, especially a child, that things will be all right. She says we aren't promising that bad things won't happen, but that, in the end, in a universal, cosmic sense, things will be All Right.

Death is a part of that rightness. From what A told me, her mother had an excellent death. She died at home, surrounded by family, and she retained both her mental capacity and her spirit until the very end. My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 17, but the radiation used to treat her cancer caused her brain to shrink, and for the last seven months of her life she was like a person with advanced Alzheimer's disease. Her short-term memory was wiped out, and she often didn't recognize her own family members. She didn't remember our visits, which were frequent (in the case of my father, daily), and she would often berate him for neglecting her. She had always been proud of her appearance, and to see this tiny bald woman with a hostile suspicious expression glaring at me from her bed was heartbreaking. Everything that made my grandmother who she was was erased by her illness and subsequent treatment. 

A's mother was a Roman candle who illuminated the lives around her with her vibrant energy, and she continued to make her wishes known right up until the day she died. In the words of Wallace Stegner, "...and she is not going to be shushed, not even by cancer. She will burn bright until she goes out; she will go on standing on tiptoe till she falls." I am glad, for A's sake and for that of her family, that they got to keep her mother with them until the very last moment.

My heart aches for A. She was so close to her mother, and in many ways is very much like her. I cannot help reflecting on my own relationship with my mother (we're also extremely close), and I am so grateful that she is well and, G-d willing, will remain so for many years to come. But underneath my sorrow, I know that A will be all right, in time, as she learns to live (as my sweetie puts it so eloquently) with the mom-sized hole in her heart. That was what I got from Lang Lang today, and, as I listened to him tear into the exuberant third movement, I felt unexpectedly comforted.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tune in this Sunday, Oct. 5

I'll be hosting the Yiddish Hour again this Sunday at 10 a.m. on KBOO and playing a terrific story. It's a retelling of Peter and the Wolf, called Pincus and the Pig, written and narrated by Maurice Sendak. Any of you with kids over five will enjoy this one, and adults will like it as well.

Also, if you know anyone outside the Portland area who would enjoy the show, please encourage them to listen for free online at As I mentioned earlier, for reasons of copyright we cannot podcast the show. 

I've heard from a few folks who are diehard listeners to This American Life that it's a conflict for them because TAL and the Yiddish Hour are on at the same time here. There is a solution: you can download TAL as a free podcast and listen to it whenever you like. If that doesn't work for you, TAL is rebroadcast locally on Wednesdays at 8pm. 

So please tune in this Sunday and enjoy the longest continuously running Yiddish radio program west of the Mississippi.  Thanks!