Monday, May 7, 2012


Ben, chillin' at the Ritz. (Thanks Cousin Hana for this pic!)
Ben and Mark return tonight after a week away in Philly. I apologize for not updating on Ben's progress's like a big inhale. Somehow I get caught up in the holding of the breath, and once I exhale, well, it's just gone.

It's also a lot like a rollercoaster.

Waiting waiting waiting. This line moves so slowly. Ahhh. Finally we're at the front. Climb in the car and please don't forget to strap yourself in. This may be a wild ride. What's that you feel? Scared? Excited? Huge anticipation of what's to come? Oh yes.

Ben's surgery on Wednesday went easily. He checked in at 6:30 a.m. and was discharged less than 12 hours later. Amazing! I talked to him, or I should say I texted him, as usual, on his way over to the hospital and then all the way until he was wheeled into the OR. He was even more calm then last time, which was pretty darn calm. Didn't seem to have butterflies at all. I went back to sleep (it was still dark outside where I was) and was awoken by a call...from BEN...about three hours later. He was just waking up from anesthesia and he was in excellent spirits. He even made a joke about some pink unicorns flying by, teasing me that he was high on pain meds. He texted me not long after to say, "I feel fantastic." And he most surely must have. That boy was up and out of there so fast.

Zoooop! Up to that first hill. Looking good, looking good.

Not long after the surgery Dr. C came by to talk to Mark and shared that Ben's spine had been very stiff and he hadn't been able to get much correction at all. We had been looking at this surgery as a dividing line. Since Ben's curve had progressed so much over the past two years (from 25 to 54 degrees) we knew that if Dr. C could not straighten Ben's spine out to the low 40's we would not be able to continue with lengthenings of the rod, but would have to turn to fusion. If there was little correction in this surgery then we were apparently done with lengthenings. And fusion is HUGE.

Zoooop! Down, down, waaaay down to the bottom. Ugh.

So, why didn't I share this with you? Why didn't I write about it? Well, I was pretty exhausted on Wednesday. I'd been up at 2:45 am to text Ben and then didn't really catch up. I was emotionally exhausted just from the anticipation. I was blue about fusion looming, closer now than ever before. But, I knew we needed to wait for Dr. C to take the post-op x-ray and tell us what he saw there. [The other reason is that as soon as Ben's surgery was over I had to go into full on final details mode for the Dan Nichols concert that was happening less than 5 days later. (It was really a bummer that Mark and Ben had to miss it!) I was working on little sleep, was single parenting, and the only time I spent on the computer was going over details for the concert. Sorry!]

Since Ben got sprung from the recovery floor so fast, Mark didn't talk to Dr. C again before they left. Dr. C was busy doing spine surgeries all day.

You might understand my surprise then when I saw this email from Dr. C's nurse the next morning: "Dr. C said after the lengthening Ben measured 38 degrees so he would like to plan for another one in 6 months."

Wha-what? That's a 16 degree correction and even with leeway for measurement error that's still about 10 degrees correction. Significant.

Zoooop! Up to the top and flying around the twists and turns! Oh my stomach!

I literally wondered if Dr. C was looking at the right x-ray. I've been puzzling over that for days and will talk with him early this week. I don't want to argue or seem skeptical, but it's hard to figure all of it out.

Anyways, the other good news is that beyond being released so fast from the hospital, Ben's had little pain this week and needed very little in the way of pain meds. The usual is Hydrocodone and Valium to help with muscle spasms that occur after being moved around so much in the surgery. This time he was done using the meds about two days post-op. That's unheard of!

It also doesn't line up with a huge correction, so I'm not sure what to think.

At this point I'm just taking my gratitude and curling up with it on the couch. Thankful my boy is feeling great. Thankful this surgery is behind us. Thankful he was well cared for by his daddy and the Ritz-Carlton. Thankful they're coming home tonight.

And, folks, as we pull into the station please remember to grab all your belongs, and loved ones, and please come back and ride this rollercoaster AGAIN.

Oh yeah. We'll be back.

another musical moment

It just so happens that I was in charge of putting on a very special concert at my synagogue on Sunday. It was a dream come true: a solo acoustic concert with Dan Nichols. And because of a connection (see below) and seeing as I'm a (some time) songleader in that community, Dan asked me to join him in a song. That's the photo above. Below, is the introduction I read at the beginning of the concert. He seemed to like it...what do you think?

We all connect with our Judaism in different ways. For some it’s through the rituals, for some the food, or the prayers, or the holidays. For many, myself included, it’s the music. Jewish music has always affected me in profound ways, making me smile, bringing me to tears, helping me to pray, and get in touch with the liturgy of our Shabbat and High Holy Day services. More than anything else, it’s helped me to feel the presence of God in my life. Having taught Jewish music since I first picked up my guitar over 30 years ago, and having led the music at our women’s retreats and camping trips, and being a member of the choir, I can tell you that for me Jewish music is my hook. If I’m feeling disconnected from my spiritual self, all I have to do is listen to some Jewish music or sing some myself to start to feel that fire light up again.

A few years back I had the enormous pleasure of attending Hava Nashira, the Jewish songleaders’ conference in Wisconsin. At the conference I met Dan Nichols, amongst other amazing Jewish musicians. I’d heard Dan’s music before, as one of many contemporary Jewish musicians taking our liturgy and transforming it into something fresh and beautiful. Dan was one of my teachers there. Whether we were praying together or singing rousing camp songs after a meal, Dan was the one whose presence and music transported me to another place. 

And it was Dan’s music I came home listening to. (Literally, I sat there on Midwest Airlines with Dan Nichols streaming out of my ipod!)

It’s Dan’s music I’ve gone back to and back to over the years. I’ve taught his songs to our children here at STaRS, I’ve belted them out in the car while I drove my own kids around. I’ve even hummed them as I’ve fed my donkeys out in the pasture at home. Dan’s music stays with me and moves me and fills me up. He is, most definitely, one of my spiritual teachers as well as one of my musical teachers.

For that reason, I’ve wanted you to be able to experience some time with Dan. Not just listening to the music he’s created, but being with him while he shares it with you.  We are so fortunate to have him here with us today.

He comes to us from North Carolina where he lives with his wife and little girl. He spends much of his life bopping around the country from congregation to congregation, and camp to camp, sharing his joy of Jewish values and liturgy with his audiences and students. His career is largely focused on the Jewish camp scene and, indeed, he is Artist-in-Residence at all 14 URJ summer camps, including Camp Newman. At Hava Nashira he is the mentor for all the up’n’coming URJ camp songleaders, of which he was one a couple decades ago. He is the definition of hamish. He’s humble and sweet and down to earth. He’s an immensely talented musician. And he’s here, waiting to sing for us…Dan Nichols. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


What's that they say? When the going gets tough, the tough get fermenting?

Toby and I spent a quiet morning turning raw veggies into pickles. Garlic, carrots and string beans. I love the fresh jars of ferments. Lots of potential there. It's very easy to do and the results not only taste delicious, but are so good for you (beneficial flora and all that). A friend of mine taught a fermentation class in my kitchen about a month ago and the pickled carrots and sauerkraut that came from that were amazing. The boys have been asking for more.

And now that the jars are sealed and put away on the pantry shelf all we need to do is wait.

Mark and Ben arrived safely in Philadelphia late last night. Their day of travel included a (required) stop in Oakland's Chinatown to pick up a copious amount of dim sum take out (enough to last through lunch and dinner on the plane and, after hearing what Ben ate, enough to feed an army--or one teenage boy and a little left over for his dad).

"I love the Ritz," read Ben's Facebook post at about midnight. I love the Ritz, too. I love that they had cookies and milk waiting for him. I love that there were no surprises and all he had to think about last night was a cozy bed piled high with pillows. This afternoon, after waking up late, they headed out to Reading Terminal Market, their favorite food stop. (You can see the pattern here.) Mark got a call from Shriners: Ben is first up in the OR tomorrow morning. They'll jump in a cab at 6 am and I'll get up at 3 (our time) to text my boy. The very good thing about being first in is he has a good chance of being out before the day is through.

Last night, after dinner, I had one of those incredible heart-to-heart talks with Harry, who at age 18 is turning into the most lovely of men. He brought up an experience he had last summer that while excruciatingly painful resulted in growth, learning, and other existential riches for him. "If I could get in a time machine and go back to right before it happened, I don't know if I would," he said. "I learned so much about myself from that experience. Also, what a true friend is. I have so much more self-confidence now."

The blessing of adversity, isn't that another thing they say? So many tears we've wiped away and yet so much we gain in abundance and understanding about ourselves, each other, the world.

It's like life's fermentation. You start with salt and water (um...tears, right?), some raw veggies, some bacteria. You put them together and then you wait.

In the midst of a challenging experience everything is so raw. But sometimes, with time, a little stewing in the juices, out comes something good for you, something beneficial.

Tomorrow at 6:30 am EST. Be thinking of our family, of our middle boy. Visualize all the good that will come from this most challenging of situations. Thanks.