Sunday, September 19, 2010


This morning, the Other Family Human and I woke up after a rewarding but exhausting Yom Kippur in Ramona. We planned to pack up and roll out early, but we didn't even wake up early. We planned to eat on the road, but by the time we woke up our gracious hosts Diana and Scott had prepared a breakfast of French toast, veggie sausage and fresh-squeezed OJ. As we packed the car, Diana called us back to the fence at the back of their property to show us a vine filled with caterpillars and chrysalises and their final result, a host of Monarch butterflies flitting around the vine. For one day after the Days of Awe, it was pretty awesome.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On This Inward Turning Day

Sometimes just showing up is enough.
Yom Kippur.
A day of showing up -- wherever we are -- and turning inward if only for a moment.
Like the tides, life is a leaving and a returning -- always.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In The Moment With A Strawberry

A famous zen legend tells of a man running from a tiger that’s chasing him. He runs through the woods until he gets to the edge of a cliff. The tiger is still behind him, so he climbs down a vine. The tiger reaches the top of the cliff and paces back and forth, licking its chops. Midway down the cliff, hanging onto the vine, he sees another tiger below him, pacing back and forth, licking its chops. As he’s hanging there, two mice come out and start gnawing on the vine. He tries to shoo them away, but they won’t go. They just keep gnawing on the vine and he, hanging from it, watches as it begins to fray to pieces.
Just then he sees, growing out of the face of the cliff in front of him, a wild strawberry. He picks it and eats it. As the vine rips to pieces and he begins to fall to certain death he says, "What a delicious strawberry."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Loft Update

Scraps The Cat continues to live in the loft -- an elevated room we use as on office.  This evening dinner was late.  Generally a case study in sweet disposition, Scraps made it to the top of the stairs to complain about the poor service.  She didn't care that the Family Dog is ill and spending a night at the vet's.  So she ate her can of food and then enjoyed the chicken livers and rice we had for dinner.  Of course, later this evening she managed to eat her French Vanilla ice cream.  And then hopped up into my desk chair.  Scraps The Cat is writing the book on living every moment of life.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stuff About Sleep

I come from a long and dedicated line of insomniacs.  That doesn't mean I'm happy about not sleeping but it does keep me interested in the phenomenon of sleep.  So, here's this from  You'll either find it fascinating or it will put you to sleep.  Really,  It's a win/win video.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Having Dinner Out

This is not something that happens very often, but we do occasionally get mule deer in our neighborhood. As I was coming home from work tonight, I parked the car and looked at a family of them dining in the backyards of the houses across the way. Apparently, they are comfortable enough that they will stop eating long enough to pose for a picture. They said that they usually don't eat out during the week, but it was such a lovely evening they decided to splurge.

Monday, September 13, 2010

News From The Loft

Actually very little is new either from or in the loft, that part of our house called home by Scraps The Cat.  Her domain has gotten smaller and still she enjoys French Vanilla Ice Cream as a bed time snack, eats a small can of food for each meal, enjoys water, uses her box, complains if her snacks aren't on time -- you know.  The usual cat stuff.  The tumor is larger and still she walks about her domain.
It would be easy to start believing that this could go on forever.
It won't, of course.
Each night I say good night to Scraps with a loving head scratch and a 'maybe I'll see you in the morning' benediction.
I guess that's all any of us can hope for, really.
Scraps The Cat -- my teacher.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is A Feather Really Just A Feather?

Sometimes we look for signs from a source greater than we.  The only thing is, how do we know something is a sign and if we decide it is a sign how do we interpret its message.
The other day during my walk I saw a feather sticking up in the grass.
I took it as a sign that (1) Life is as unpredictable as a falling feather.  (2)  Everything is up from here on.  (3)  Sometimes when feathers fall they land in interesting positions.
We own the meanings of the events of our lives because we create them.
Here's what really amazed me about the feather:  I noticed it and stopped to admire it and photograph it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Going Too Far

Rabbi Leslie Bergson -- Rosh Hashanah Day -- Congregation Etz Chaim, Ramona

September 9, 2010

“Going Too Far”

When Fran first wrote to her parents from Israel that she was getting interested in her religion again, they were very happy. Fran had been brought up in a Conservative Jewish household and went to religious school, but lost interest during her college years. In her mid-twenties, she went on a Birthright Israel trip for post-college students and became involved with a group she met at the Western Wall. She extended her trip and spent a Shabbat with them, and then another. Her parents’ delight ended when she announced that she was going to stay and live with this community in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank territories. Her group believes in the imminent arrival of Messiah and is planning the building of the third Temple. They believe that the Dome of the Rock should be torn down and all Muslims and Christians expelled from Jerusalem. Fran—now known as Fruma—is married to another member of the group and they have four children. She has broken all ties with friends and family outside of her community. When her parents visited Israel she and her husband did agree to meet them for lunch but they left their children with friends lest they become soiled by their grandparents’ distortion of the absolute truth of Jewish law.

Art Reynolds’ father, driving while drunk, killed a man in another car. While serving a brief prison term, Art’s father became a born-again Christian and began taking his wife and children to a fundamentalist church, where the pastor railed against all sorts of sexual perversity, especially homosexuality. When Art, in his teens, became aware that he was gay he knew he would have to leave home. He went to college in Los Angeles, stayed there, and became a successful businessman. Every year he sends his parents a Christmas card, which they do not answer. I met Art when he asked to see a hospital chaplain to talk over his problem. Art is dying of liver cancer, and only one sister who is still in touch with him knows of his illness. They are trying to decide if there is any point in telling his parents. They are both fairly sure that to do so would just reinforce his father’s belief that God punishes homosexuality with an early death.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet”, says the book of Malachi”, and he will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents.” This statement typifies what religion should be and should do. However, the family stories I just shared with you are not uncommon. We want to think of religion as something that draws us together, something to share with those we love. The High Holy Days approach, we plan to see our loved ones, to share a holiday meal, to attend Rosh Hashanah services—and there we hear the story of the Akedah. God tells Abraham to offer his beloved son Isaac for a sacrifice and with no word of complaint whatsoever, Abraham prepares for the task. Who is this Abraham? The same Abraham who dared speak back to remind God that he did not yet have an heir to carry out God’s lofty promise that he would be the father of a great nation? Where is his protest now that that he is asked to take the lie of that heir? Is this the same Abraham who cajoled and bargained with God for the lives of ten purportedly righteous souls of Sodom, and who is now not willing to raise his voice to God to save the life of his own beloved son?

The traditional commentaries explain Abraham’s compliance as ultimate faith in the Almighty; the willingness to give up everything on earth, even that which he loved beyond his own life, for God. This is not to say that no one has had problems with this text. The Akedah is probably the most studied, analyzed and discussed section of the Torah. A midrash uses the words of Psalm 38:14 as an explanation, “But I am as a deaf person, I do not hear, and as a mute person who does not open my mouth.” It portrays Abraham confronted with God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham has a perfect retort, one that will silence even God. God has promised him, “In Isaac, seed will be called to you”, and Isaac is still childless. Out of his great faith, Abraham does not use his retort, but it is so difficult for him that he has to make himself “as if mute and deaf” to accomplish it. According to the midrash, because of this act Abraham merits rewards that no other human deserves. The story of the Akedah is regarded as a symbol of Jewish faithfulness, and the lessons that have been drawn from it throughout the ages are wide-ranging and diverse. But Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s request could also be seen as a frightening example of devotion to God gone out of control. For, in the name of devotion to God, a person can go so far as to destroy everything else and everyone else in his or her life.

Father Leo Booth, an Episcopalian priest, has written a book, When God Becomes A Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse. He defines religious addiction as “…using God, a church or a belief system as an escape from reality, in an attempt to find or elevate a sense of self-worth or well-being. It is using God or religion as a fix. It is the ultimate form of co-dependency…this is an unhealthy relationship with God. It is using God, religion or a belief system as a weapon against ourselves or others”. We have seen many tragic results of extremism in religion in recent years. In two days we will commemorate the ninth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. We remember how stunned we were, not only at the random viciousness of the death and destruction, but also to learn that there were people in the world who would willingly give their lives to kill thousands that they did not know in the name of God. Most of us in this country knew little of Islam and its many followers and manifestations, which run the gamut from moderate—even progressive—to horrifically extreme. Some of us tried to learn more. Others, driven by fear, hid behind their own religion and developed an ideology almost as frightening as that of the 9/11 terrorists. A church in Gainesville, Florida plans to honor the dead of 9/11 by holding a public burning of copies of the Koran on Saturday. They have decided that Islam is the devil, and that it it Christianity’s mission to wipe it, if not off the face of the earth, at least off the face of America. All over the country, most notably in New York, but as close as Temecula, there have been protests over the building of Islamic centers. Here’s the good news, though. In the story of the Akedah, an angel stayed Abraham’s hand. In our day and age, some of that task is being done by ordinary people. An L.A. Times editorial on August 4th describes a protest held at the proposed site of the Islamic center in Temecula. The protesters were outnumbered four-to-one by those who supported the right of Muslim Americans to build a house of worship. The editorial went on to quote President George W. Bush in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Regarding animosity toward Muslims, he said: "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind. And they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."

The great Torah commentator Rashi gives what I find to be the best explanation for Abraham. He explains the verse, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy, neither do anything to him” in this way: God says, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy” and Abraham, having already worked himself up to do the deed, is not relieved but disappointed that his great sacrifice will not be allowed. “Then I have come here for nothing”, he says, “at least let me inflict a wound on him and draw some blood”, so God continues, “neither do anything to him.” At this point, Abraham comes to what Father Booth would call a moment of clarity, and finally questions the sequence of events: “First You told me that Isaac would be my seed, and then you said, “Take now your son” and now You say “Do not lay your hand upon the boy?” And God replies, “I did not say to you sh’chateihu, slay him, rather ha’aleihu, bring him up. You brought him up the mountain, now bring him down again”. Ha’aleihu is commonly used to mean “sacrifice”, although its literal meaning is “bring up”. Rashi is pointing out that Abraham interpreted the word in that manner, understanding that his choice was either to take his son’s life or disobey God. Abraham nearly made the tragic mistake of not questioning, and almost lost that in life which was dearest to him. If we sacrifice our values because of an imperfect understanding of what God wants of us, we cannot count on an angel to stay our hands. Let us take the responsibility for interpreting Jewish law with the dual qualities of justice and mercy, using our God-given intelligence and compassion to apply it to our own times and circumstances, and not become so transfixed by the glow of God’s holy light that we cannot turn away from it to see what it is illuminating.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Skin Deep

Yesterday, the Other Family Human and I were at our occasional pulpit in Ramona, California, where most of our congregants are the kind of bucolic Jews who grow their own vegetables and raise their own chickens. Our generous hosts were in Hawaii, but let us stay at their house anyway. The note they left told us to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen. A big bowl of citrus fruit was on the kitchen table. As I looked at the fruit, I realized that it did not look like the fruit I see at supermarkets in suburban L.A. It was smaller and unevenly colored. If I saw it in a supermarket, I would say, "hmm, the fruit doesn't look too good today". However, knowing that it came from a tree not thirty feet away from the breakfast table where I sat, I unhesitatingly chose a grapefruit. It was delicious; far better than anything I could have found at Ralph's or Von's. How foolish have we become that we must have fruit that looks like a magazine ad, whether or not it tastes good? Reminder to self for new year - buy fruit at farmer's markets or ethnic markets, where the price is right and the fruit is good. Or take advantage of the generosity of our friends in Ramona.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

French Vanilla Time

Scraps The Cat, embracing the literal meaning of 'party on' enjoys a dish of French Vanilla ice cream each night before the rest of the family calls it quits and goes to bed.  Scraps the Cat says that she will probably let us know when she's ready to call it quits.  In the meantime, she continues to enjoy life and food.
She is quick to point out that this isn't low fat French Vanilla.  She expects and receives the best money can buy.  She says that she is worth it.  We agree.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ready To Begin Again

As this day ends and the Jewish New Year begins may we know peace -- in our world and in our hearts.
Awake you sleepers.
Life matters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A New Language Is Born

Teabonics.  That's what the language of the Tea Party is now called.  Well, it's not really a language.  It's actually English in the hands of people who never learned the value of spelling and meaning.  Here's an example.

Absurd?  Certainly.
Also terrifying because the people who speak and understand this butchered English may very well be running the country come January 2011.  Of equal concern is, of course, the use of a circle to dot an i but that's another story.
Be very careful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Light The Fire And Party On

Today is Labor Day.
Today is a paid holiday for some, a regular work day for others.
This from Wikipedia:
The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882 in New York City, by the Central Labor Union of New York, the nation's first integrated major trade union. It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of United States military and the United States Marshals during the Pullman Strike when President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date originally chosen by the CLU of NY and observed by many of the nation's trade unions for the past several years was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers' Day  because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair,  for which it had been observed to commemorate. All 50 states  have made Labor Day a state holiday. 
Here's something else to think about while you're waiting for the coals to turn white:
Thanks to Lester Aponte through Jeannette Bronson for reminding us that as we celebrate Labor Day it is important to remember that in twenty-nine states it is still legal to fire someone solely because of sexual orientation.  Congress must pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Law.
Food for thought on this holiday of traditional commemoration.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

At Some Point

A work colleague shared this card with me.  The message inside reads, "At some point you just stop counting."  It was a birthday card.  The message applies, though, to a lot of situations -- dinner guests, amount of debt, rude drivers.  Here's what it should never apply to though -- blessings.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bringing Rudy Home

Today I brought the box containing the ashes of Rudolph Valentino Catz home from the vet's office.  It seemed the drive should be marked with ceremony but I couldn't think of what might be appropriate for such an occasion so I just got in the Jeep -- the very same Jeep that several years ago transported one rainy Sunday afternoon the Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel across the width of Los Angeles County -- and headed East to Duarte.  I hadn't gone far when I saw, pulled over to the side of the Ventura (134) Freeway, a white, Rolls Royce hearse.  Several men wearing suits stood around the disabled vehicle.  Such a sight I had never before seen but it lacked at that time meaningful coherence.
On I drove to bring home Rudy.  Unable to make the trip a ceremony, I ran a couple of errands with the container holding what was once an amazing cat sitting on the front seat of the Jeep.  Errands finally finished, I got back on the Ventura (134) Freeway at Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena and headed West toward home.
I hadn't driven more than a mile or two when a flat bed truck pulled into the lane next to me.  On the flat bed was the white, Rolls Royce hearse.  We traveled side by side until I took my exit.
Sometimes ceremony just happens.
Welcome home, Rudy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hope From Pomona

For a few years I have, when failing to bring my lunch, walked down Garey Avenue to AJ's ice Cream & Deli.  It's a nothing fancy hole in the wall of a place.  For those preferring to dine in, there's a table inside and a table out on the side walk right across from the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.
I think it's a Mom and Son operation.  For several months I've expected it to go the way of many small businesses and close up shop.  I'm always pleasantly surprised to find the place still in business.  I guess it and Scraps The Cat have a lot in common.  At any rate --
Today I stopped by for a sandwich.  The sandwich menu is reduced to tuna, turkey and ham.  Not so the quality of the sandwich, though.  For turkey you also get cheese, tomato, avocado, jalapenos, lettuce and onion on whole wheat or white.  All for four dollars.  Apparently the mom and son failed to receive the memo saying cut down on quality and for Pete's sake stop being friendly.  Yeah, a couple of display cases are empty and the drink selection is down to Arizona tea and Snapple.  You select your chips, should you want any, from a cardboard box on the counter.  They still sell raspados and tortas and, yes, ice cream.
While waiting for A or J to make my sandwich I shared my pleasure that the place was still open.
"Yeah," A or J replied.  "Last year was really rough.  But now we are seeing some definite changes.  Things are really looking up."
Wasn't it the deceased brother of Joan Baez who wrote a book called "Been Down So Long It All Looks Up To Me"?
In Pomona at the AJ's Ice Cream & Deli establishment things are taking a turn for the better.
That's good news for all of us.
As AJ's Ice Cream & Deli goes, so we hope goes the rest of the economy.
And the sandwich was really good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Animal Specialty Group

We've become well acquainted with the staff at Animal Specialty Group in Glendale.  Here's what they have to say about themselves:
Established in 1990, Animal Specialty Group is recognized throughout the nation as a cutting edge multidisciplinary veterinary specialty hospital. A top staff of board certified and residency trained specialists. State-of-the-art equipment. Expertise in the latest leading edge treatments. A passion for compassion. And a positive, collaborative approach to working with referring veterinarians.These are the attributes every primary care veterinarian seeks from a specialty hospital. At Animal Specialty Group, we're dedicated to delivering on every one. Adding to its stature, Animal Specialty Group is renowned for its open, collaborative approach to partnering with referring veterinarians. Operating as an extension of the primary care veterinarian's practice, Animal Specialty Group provides referring veterinarians with access to sophisticated, leading edge resources, plus timely patient information and full participatory consultation throughout the treatment process. Operating from its 12,000-square foot hospital, Animal Specialty Group has earned the highest level of accreditation from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The hospital's founder, Dr. Kirk Wendelburg, is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and is internationally recognized for his key contributions to today's accepted protocol for canine total hip replacement. Dr. Wendelburg continues to practice and share his expertise by mentoring residents, lecturing locally and nationally, contributing to professional journals and providing continuing educational courses. The standards he sets are high and are exemplified at every level at Animal Specialty Group.
Here's what we have to say about them.  They're great.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lessons Learned From The Dying Cat

Scraps The Cat continues to enjoy life to the best of her ability.  Although her geographic area is much reduced, she remains the queen of her realm.  She eats, demanding whatever taste she desires.  She sleeps.  She enjoys a good petting session.  We reduced the number of times she receives pain medication from every eight hours to every twelve because we suspected she didn't need that much and apparently we were correct because she is more alert and thus more able to demand specific flavors of cat food.
She is a testament to the value of focusing on life and all life has to offer instead of focusing on the countdown until death.  After all, we're all on that countdown.  Scraps has more information than many of us.  That's the main difference between a diagnosis and ignorant bliss, it seems.
As for us, we aren't counting her days since each one with her in it takes us completely by surprise.  We're just in the moment with Scraps.  That seems about the way it should be.  One of these mornings or one of these evenings things will take a different turn.
Until then, we'll just keep dancing.