29 October 2011

Coffee

It's a cold, nasty late-October morning.  We are expecting a nor'easter that is predicted to dump four to seven inches of snow on our little hamlet on the Hudson.  This will be our first measurable snow in October since 1952.  I think this is a perfect time to talk about...coffee.

My parents are big coffee drinkers.  When I was growing up, my dad got up early every morning to make a pot for my mom.  He drank it too, and so did my Grandma, but the story always was that the coffee was a gift of love for Mom.  She could not function in the mornings without it.  Dad was happy to oblige.  He cheerfully got up before the sun and ground the beans and perked the coffee.  Back then, in the early seventies, coffee was not brewed.  It was perked, either in a big tin pot that sat on the stove, or, later, in an automatic percolator that sat on the counter.  I don't know the etymology of the word "perk," and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I'd guess, off the top of my head, that it had something to do with the sound made by the percolator.  Perk-perk-perk.  The percolator always had a glass knob on top, and you could see the coffee perk-perk-perking through the knob.

It perked Mom up, too.  You were not permitted to speak to her or ask for anything before she had had her morning coffee.  If something drastic happened before she had had her coffee, that fact would be essential in the retelling.  She would tell one of the other moms on our street, "The phone rang on Friday morning.  It was the police.  They called before I had had my coffee."  And the other mom would cluck sympathetically.

Later, my grandma had some heart problems, so she switched over to Sanka.  Sanka was instant decaffeinated coffee that came in little individual packets.  I can still see Grammy standing in the kitchen in her green bathrobe, whacking her little orange packet of Sanka against the edge of the counter to settle its contents before she ripped it open.  I think the fact that restaurants put an orange plastic rim on their coffee pots, to signify decaf, is an homage to Sanka and its distinctive packaging.

Coffee wasn't a big deal when I went off to college.  I never really developed a taste for it.  When I needed caffeine (which was fairly often), I drank Diet Coke.  I stuck with that until the nice doctors at the college health service advised me to stop.  (Extreme amounts of caffeine can cause or aggravate all kinds of maladies that plague young women, like bladder infections, heart palpitations, and cystic breast disease.  Not to mention what it does to sleep patterns.)  I discovered herbal tea and have been a big decaffeinated tea drinker ever since.

I do enjoy the occasional cup of coffee.  When I was working in the city, I became a fan of Starbucks and their various latte drinks, which generally contain more milk than coffee.  I drank a lot of them, mostly decaf.  Now, once a week, I meet with a group of neighborhood women for a cup of coffee and a chat.  It was my turn to host this past week, and I got myself a nice new Cuisinart coffee machine for the occasion.  It's white, which means it needs to be wiped down lovingly after each use, lest it develop brown coffee stains all over it.

One of my son's dearest friends is a boy named Juan.  Juan's family comes from Colombia, and Juan drinks coffee.  We don't usually serve coffee to young people in my house, but Juan insists, like my mother, that he can't get his day going without it.  In the beginning, when he slept over at our house, we refused him a cup of coffee.  He told us, however, that all children drink coffee in Colombia, and that his parents would not let him sleep over any more unless we provided it.  (I know his mom pretty well, and I am fairly sure that the latter assertion is false.  But I didn't call him on it - I just handed over the coffee.)

So here we sit at the breakfast table, me with my herbal tea, my son with a cold glass of milk, and Juan with his steaming cup of coffee, freshly poured from my fancy new machine.  The sleet and rain are swirling outside, and I am thinking about what should go into the crockpot tonight.  It's going to be a good night for it!

26 October 2011

Decorations

Halloween is approaching.  I can tell, because my neighbors have decorated their yards.

When I was a child, we didn't really decorate for Halloween.  We did carve smiling pumpkins and set them on the porch with candles inside them.  We did dress up as princesses and fairies and pirates and go door-to-door, filling our pillowcases with candy.  Sometimes Mom, who was a teacher and had a stash of seasonal decorations in the attic, hung a cartoonish paper skeleton on the front door.  But we didn't decorate our lawns, trees, and windows with gruesome likenesses of dead, dismembered bodies.

That's what my neighbors do.

The house a few doors down from me is actually locally famous for its Halloween display.  It features rotting corpses, bleeding Chuckie dolls, and realistic rubber rats feeding on body parts.  There are hands, half-stripped of flesh, reaching up out of the ground from behind Styrofoam gravestones.  My neighbor starts decorating in mid-September, and by mid-October, amateur and professional photographers are crowding the corner, documenting the carnage from every angle.  Cars slow down so their occupants can gape at the orange-and-black lights hanging from the trees.  The local newspaper actually calls around the neighborhood, looking for quotations from neighbors to use in their coverage of the display.

This house is right across the street from our local elementary school.  For two years, my daughter refused to walk past the "scary house" during the fall, instead making me walk the long way around the block to take her to school.  She had nightmares that featured vignettes from the phony graveyard on the corner.  I asked my neighbor, in the most polite way I could think of, whether it might be a good idea to tone things down, given the proximity of the school and the number of small kids in the area.

The response?  Halloween was a favorite holiday, allowing my neighbor an opportunity to decorate with abandon.  Scaling back just because some local kids were freaked out was just not part of the plan.

It's been almost fifteen years now, and I've gotten used to the seasonal carnage.  My kids are no longer frightened, but simply regard the decorations as a massive display of terrible taste.  Most of the neighbors I have talked to about it agree that it's awful, but they would never complain about it, publicly or privately.  Doing so might jeopardize neighborly relations or hurt feelings.

I agree with my Halloween-enthusiast neighbors that they have a right to do whatever they want with their lawn. I just wish that what they wanted could be more about the fun - the costumes and the candy - than about death and destruction.  Halloween, after all, is all about children.  It's about wearing costumes, walking around the neighborhood with your friends, waving a flashlight, crunching through the fallen leaves.  It's about knowing there's one night a year when you can eat peanut butter cups for dinner if that's what you want.  Adulthood and mortality come fast enough for all of us.  Can't we just enjoy a little innocence for a while longer?

24 October 2011

Moving On

And so life goes on. Not necessarily because we want it to, but because it has to. There are briefs to be written, lunches to be packed, leaves to be raked, messy houses to be cleaned, knitting projects to be finished, cookies to be baked. There are celebrations and quiet moments. We keep breathing in and out, because what else are we to do?

The days immediately following my miscarriage were difficult. My husband took me out to dinner, and a woman at the next table, noticing the size of my belly, glared at me as I sipped at a glass of wine. We saw a movie. I had a facial. I walked the dogs endlessly - never further than a few minutes from my house, but endlessly. I went to church in ambiguous clothes, pretended nothing was wrong, and directed my little children's bell-choir as usual. The pastor, who knew what was going on because Sam had called her, touched my hand as I packed the bells into their little black case after rehearsal. She didn't need to say anything. What was there to say?

My son made my favorite tea and brought it to me in bed. My daughters hugged me. On the day of my surgery, my neighbor brought my children to school in the morning. When I got home, I discovered that she had also left a crock-pot full of chili on my counter, with a big loaf of French bread next to it and a salad in the refrigerator.

The anesthesiologist at the hospital was brusque. "How far along are you?" she asked, as she was about to put a tube down my throat. She had not read the chart and assumed I was aborting electively. Just another wealthy suburban woman, terminating an inconvenient pregnancy. I looked at my obstetrician for help. She squeezed my hand. My eyes welled up. "This is a case of fetal demise at thirteen weeks," my obstetrician said softly. I saw the oops in the anesthesiologist's face just before everything went dark.

The light came back into my life slowly. I got some beautiful gifts for my birthday: an orchid from my mother-in-law, a crystal vase from my brother and his wife, gift certificates for spa days from my sister and my mom. My brother sat next to me and put his arm around me, without saying a word. The bell-choir performed flawlessly at church a few weeks later and brought tears to the eyes of all present. Yesterday, I walked in a 10K charity fundraiser to combat hunger, and I was the top individual fundraiser there. And last night, I had the privilege of hearing an old friend, one of the most gifted pianists alive today, perform a Liszt concert at Carnegie Hall.

Life is cruel, but it is also a great gift. There are high and lows. We all endure our own little tragedies and our own little triumphs on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes those around us know what we are going through, and sometimes they do not.

Here is what I have learned: we are all going through something. Do not glare at the pregnant woman with the wine glass. Do not assume anything about the apparently wealthy suburban housewife. Do not wish moments away. Do not withhold the bad news, but do not hesitate to share the joy either. Someday, they will cancel each other out.

Have a wonderful week. Seize every moment. I know I will.

Jennie

22 October 2011

Thursday

Thursday, September 22, 2011.  Approximately 2 P.M.  Mount Sinai Medical Center, Department of Maternal and Fetal Medicine.  Manhattan.

I am excited.  I have been waiting for this appointment for weeks.  I am going to have a detailed sonogram and undergo a quick, painless test to make sure the baby has all the right chromosomes.  I'll have the results in time to announce my pregnancy to my family at my birthday dinner next week.  That will coincide with the end of my first trimester.  So far, no one knows but my husband.  He's just finished a hearing in Brooklyn and is on his way to join me so he can see the baby too.  Mount Sinai has sophisticated, high-resolution sonogram equipment, so we'll get a great picture to show my parents and Sam's.  They'll be stunned and thrilled.

On the crosstown bus on the way there, a lady offers me her seat.  I decline but ask her, "Is it obvious?"

"It is," she says.  "Best of luck to you."

On the table in the clinic, the technician smears warm gel on my swollen belly and presses down with the transponder to get a good view of the baby.  "Look!" I say.  "It's starting to look like a baby!  Hi baby!  So those are the little feet that have been kicking me!"

She doesn't say anything, but she takes some measurements.  Rump to crown, cerebrum.  "Make sure you measure the nuchal translucency," I tell her.  "At my first-trimester screen last week it was a little thicker than they liked.  They wanted me to mention that to you."

She switches off the screen and says, "Stay put.  The doctor will be right in."  She then leaves me alone in the darkened room.

There's a quick knock, and I think it's the doctor, but it's not.  It's Sam, having just arrived at the hospital.  He sits on the chair next to me and I jabber away, telling him what he missed.  "I saw the baby.  It's really cute.  Don't worry - you'll get to see it in a minute when the doctor comes in.  The whole procedure is sonogram-guided, so you can watch it in real time."

The doctor comes in, introduces herself, and turns on the sonogram machine.  She moves the transponder over my belly, back and forth for a few minutes.  There's the baby on the screen again.  Sam leans in to get a good look.  It's a little grainy, but it's there.

Then the doctor says, "I'm not seeing any cardiac activity."

At first I don't understand.  I'm thinking, cardiac problems we can deal with.  It's the chromosomal stuff I was worried about.  You know, because of my age.  We'll call in a prenatal cardiologist or something and fix whatever you see.  No worries.


But then there's a pause, and Sam catches her meaning a second before I do.  He puts his hand on my arm.  I turn and look at him, and I see a single tear making its way down his cheek.

I realize the doctor is talking and moving the transponder around.  "There's no heartbeat and no fetal movement.  It looks pretty recent, because the fetus is measuring true to your due date.  I'll have your regular doctor call to discuss the next steps.  You can get dressed."

She turns off the machine, turns on the lights, and leaves the room.

That's it?  I think.  Just like that, this whole thing is over?  No more tests, no more pictures?  Now I just go home?


Sam helps wipe the gel off my belly, and I sit up.  The doctor comes back after a moment and hands us a box of tissues.  Sam pulls out six or eight sheets from the box and presses them to his face.  The doctor tells us she has called my regular obstetrician and brought her up to date; the office will call my cell phone shortly to set up the necessary surgery.  The doctor says it was probably a severe chromosomal defect in the fetus, since the nuchal translucency measurement, a marker for chromosomal abnormalities, was indeed elevated.  "I'm sorry," she says.  "You seem like such nice people.  Maybe I'll get to see you in here again sometime soon."  And then she leaves.

On the way out, I stop in the bathroom, and I pass the technician in the hallway.  She gives me a sad look and mouths, "I'm sorry."

The lobby is crowded with people.  We go through the revolving door into blinding sunlight.  The car is parked right outside, on Madison.  We sit in it for what seems like forever.  Sam answers a business call or two.  He cancels all his afternoon and evening appointments.  And then, slowly, he starts the car, and we begin the drive home.

20 October 2011

Morocco

Did you ever wonder what exactly a "casbah" is?  Me too.  As it turns out, the casbah is the heart of a large city, often the oldest part.  In Tangier, Morocco, it's fortified and surrounded by a wall, probably to protect against the threat of invading Christians.  We had occasion to rock the casbah of Tangier toward the end of our trip to Spain, when we hopped on a ferry and took the short trip from the south of Spain to the north of Africa.  We didn't exactly invade.  We were accompanied by our Spanish friends and a tour guide named Aziz, and we came entirely in peace.

Getting ready to board the ferry.



Aziz met us on the dock in Morocco with a van driven by a friendly man named Mohammed.  Aziz's first order of business was to teach us to say hello (salaam aleiku, literally "peace be with you"), and to touch our heart after shaking hands, to signal sincerity.  I loved this latter gesture and vowed to remember it when I got back to New Jersey.

Sign in the port of Tangier.  The French says, "Welcome To Your Country."  (I can't read Arabic.)

Our first stop was the main mosque.  We got out of our tour bus to take a picture.


Aziz drove us all over town and pointed out the important sights:  the King's palace, the most beautiful hotel, the prettiest beach, and the inner city.  The Spanish children in our group had been to Tangier before, though, and all they wanted to do was ride a camel.  Aziz was able to arrange that as well.  I even got on a camel and rode around a bit.  I thought, how many times in my life will I have the opportunity to ride a camel in Morocco?  Probably not too many.

Bobby kissing a camel.  This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip.

Tangier boasts a really cool prehistoric cave that was once inhabited by actual cavemen.  Now, it's inhabited by merchants selling locally-produced crafts and cold bottles of drinking water, both of which are in pretty high demand.  The cave opens out onto the ocean, making for some really great photo-taking opportunities.




Aziz took us to the Hotel Mirage, one of the nicest hotels in Tangier, so we could look out over the cliffs at the water.  The beach in the background is for the private use of the King and his guests, so we could only gaze from afar.  Still, the view of the Mediterranean was breathtaking.  We saw someone jet-skiing on the water and wondered whether it might be a member of the royal family.  Personally, I think my daughters looked pretty royal on the balconies.




We had a delicious lunch at a Moroccan restaurant, chosen for us by Aziz, in the casbah.  The children were amused when the waiter told them his best language was French.  This gave us occasion for a little history lesson to explain why so much French was spoken in Morocco.  The children also noticed that Aziz sat and chatted with us but did not eat.  "Aren't you hungry?" they asked him.

He smiled.  "Yes, but it's Ramadan," he told them.

"What's Ramadan?"

Aziz explained that all three of the Abrahamic religions observe periods of fasting and self-reflection. Ramadan is Islam's holy month, during which devout Muslims do not eat during daylight hours.  "So it's like Yom Kippur or Lent?  It's a religious fast?" the kids asked.  Yes, Aziz said, exactly.  He smilingly told them that, while he was indeed hungry, he would wait until sundown.  He also told them that when we wandered through the casbah after lunch, they might see people praying in the streets.  This, too, was a Ramadan tradition.

Sumptuous lunch.

After lunch, we spent some time wandering through the heart of the city.  The place was simply beautiful in its architecture and its layout.  The people were friendly.  The Moroccan children were curious about us and followed us through the casbah, trying their English out on us as they tried to sell poor Bobby, who still had a bad cold, little packets of tissues.

Tangier is known for the many beautiful doorways in the casbah. 


This man was just sitting in a doorway, making a mirror with metal that was hammered thin.

This is the communal oven.  Casbah residents bring their prepared meals here, and the attendant bakes their dishes for them.

All tours end up in the gift shop, and this one was no different.  Aziz appeared to have friends in the retail business.  We were expected to buy souvenirs, and we did.  Bobby and Sam bought jelabas, traditional gowns worn by Muslim men. 


I was enchanted by both the tooled leather and the pottery, and I had a hard time choosing something.

Should I get a beautiful hand-painted plate?  How would my Christmas cookies look on one of these? 
Or maybe a beautiful hand-tooled leather purse?

In the end, I chose a simple brown leather purse, because it was easier to carry home.  I kept that picture of the pottery as the background on my cell phone, though, and I look at it all the time, wondering whether I made the right choice.  I would have really loved one of those beautiful plates.

Late in the afternoon, we took the last ferry back to Spain.  We had to run to catch it, and our last half-hour in Morocco was like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie.  We ran through the casbah to get to the main road, where Mohammed was waiting in his van to take us to the loading dock.  All along the way, Tangierian children chased us, waving pocket-packs of Kleenex and chanting the few English words they knew:  "We love America!  Two Euros for tissues!  Buy tissues!  Go Yankees!  We love America!"

Back on the ferry.

Not feeling great, and ready to go home.

You know you're approaching the coast of Spain when you start seeing this guy everywhere again.

Safely back in Spain, with a solid education and some great memories under our belts, we were ready to go home.  Bobby needed antibiotics, as both his ears were clearly infected.  The flight home would be difficult for him.  And me?  I needed prescription-strength vitamins and some solid rest.

Thanks for joining us on our vacation.  Coming up:  what happened when we got home.

13 October 2011

Gibraltar

On to the south of Spain.  (Bear with me.  I think this is the second-to-last vacation post; then we get back to real life in New Jersey.)

At the bottom tip of the Iberian peninsula lies a city that needs no introduction.  It's called Gibraltar, and you already know what it looks like.

Rock of Gibraltar with storm cloud above it.  African coast in the distance.

We were staying with dear friends in Sotogrande, on the southern Mediterranean coast.  I needed to find ways to entertain myself that did not involve sangria, and so we asked our friends' children, "Who wants to go see Gibraltar?"  We got the enthusiastic response we expected, so we piled the kids - a large number of them - into our car and took the short drive to the famed rock.

Gibraltar is actually owned by England, a fact that Spaniards don't like to discuss in polite company.  This means one must cross an international border to get into the city.  The crossing reminded me of my student days in Berlin, when we walked across to the Eastern sector, through Checkpoint Charlie, with the eyes and guns of the East German soldiers trained on us at all times.  Back then, crossing into East Germany, I was fearless; now, a little older and with a lot more at stake (including a passel of kids who weren't all mine), I was a little nervous.  But it was fine.  You actually have to walk across an active airport runway to get into Gibraltar.

Me on the runway.  I would never have gotten away with taking such pictures in East Germany, but the Brits didn't seem to mind.

Once one crosses the border, it is possible to walk all around the little town.  The signage is all in English, and the bus drivers are all multilingual.  There's a bus that leads to the base of the rock, and from there one takes a gondola to the top.  At the top of the rock, there is a spectacular World War II era lookout.  Another interesting point:  the rock is populated entirely by feral monkeys who don't like children.

Feral, bilingual monkey who eats seventh graders for lunch.

Seventh grader climbing to the top of the lookout.

The view at the top is nothing short of spectacular.








All in all, Gibraltar was a very cool place to see.  I'm not sure I'd live there; the town looked a little downtrodden and was isolated from mainland Spain by the political division.  Nevertheless, the geographical features - the rock, the monkeys, the view of the Strait - were completely worth the trip.  It was dizzying standing at the top of the rock looking down at the Strait and across at Africa - my first glimpse of that continent ever.  And in a few days, I'd get on a ferry bound for Tangier, Morocco, and set my feet on the soil of Africa for the first time.  That will be my final vacation post - I am saving the best for last.

Until then, a friendly wave goodbye from Gibraltar!


12 October 2011

Granada

When we got to Granada on August 6, we drove up a long, steep hill to what could only be described as the top of the city.  High above Granada sits the Alhambra, the ancient Moorish fortress that presides over all of Andalucia.  When the Moors conquered Spain in the eighth century, Granada was the jewel in their crown, and the Alhambra remains as a symbol not only of their military strength, but also of their incredible architectural genius.  It is one of the most visited tourist sites in Europe, and the crowds were out in full force.

The Alhambra in Granada.  Note the impressive scale of the fortress.

We were lucky enough to be staying in Granada's parador.  A parador is an inn run by the Spanish government, usually on a site of historical significance.  Most major cities have one.  Each parador has a restaurant that serves local specialties and wines.  The rooms are generally pretty luxurious compared to budget hotels.  The parador in Granada was situated within an old monastery inside the Alhambra walls.  I'd heard it was one of the nicer paradors in Spain, and I was not disappointed.  It was, in a word, spectacular.

When we made our plans to visit Granada, we had not known that tours of the Alhambra booked early, and that we needed to purchase tickets in advance.  Thus, we rolled into town without tickets on a day when the tours were completely sold out.  While I checked us in, my husband befriended the concierge and managed, somehow, to get us booked into an Alhambra tour to begin early the next morning.  (Sam is good at things like that.  That's why I bring him along.)  The concierge also encouraged us to go to a flamenco show the following evening.  He told us that the gypsies who lived in the caves on the other side of the city were famous for their flamenco, and their shows were not to be missed.  He booked us tickets to a 9 PM show in a local gypsy cave.

We brought our luggage to our rooms.  The children were in a second-floor room overlooking the fortress's impressive gardens.  On the way there, we passed a little courtyard with a chapel.  There was a plaque there that the children encouraged me to translate for them.  It indicated that this courtyard had been the original burial site of Isabella the Catholic, before she was moved to join her husband Ferdinand, shortly after his subsequent death.

"Isabella," I told the kids, "was the one who financed Columbus's journey to the new world.  She and Ferdinand were also the parents of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife."

There was a moment of awed silence.  Here we were at the original gravesite of an historical figure the children had actually heard of.  Because we are North Americans, we know the story of Columbus's journey to the West Indies.  And because we are Episcopalians, the story of Henry VIII and his six wives is very familiar to all of us.

When Sam and I found our room, we were surprised again.  We'd been put in a two-level suite in the topmost tower, with sweeping views of the Alhambra and the city below.  Our bathroom and sitting room were on one level, and then we went up a short flight of steps to the sleeping area above.  It was, frankly, breathtaking, by far the nicest place we had stayed in since our honeymoon twenty years earlier.  I poked around in the bathroom, playing with the shower, tub, and bidet controls.  I caught sight of myself in the mirror and cringed.  My face was puffy and broken out.  I was exhausted.

But what a place to be exhausted!  We walked around a little late in the afternoon, took a power nap, and then we had dinner in the parador's restaurant, on a terrace overlooking a cliff.  Sam ordered tinto de verano, "summer red," Andalucia's delicious take on sangria.  The children sampled the tapas.  I was informed that, since we had to be up early the following morning for our Alhambra tour, the family had voted unanimously to skip breakfast in order to sleep a little later.  Still exhausted, I agreed (not that my dissent would have mattered).

That night, I lay awake while Sam slept peacefully beside me.  I could not get comfortable.  I got up and went downstairs to the bathroom, where I cringed at the sight of my face again.  My nightgown was scratchy and a little bit tight.  I dug through Sam's suitcase and changed into one of his huge, soft t-shirts; that was better.  I tiptoed upstairs and got back into bed, careful not to wake Sam.  I was hungry, but we had nothing to eat in the room.  Besides, how could I still be hungry after such a fabulous dinner?  Restless, I finally fell asleep.

In the morning, I was still dragging.  We hurried out to the meeting place for our tour.  Bobby ducked away for a moment and came back with a bag of chips.  I ravenously ate them.  We toured the Alhambra all morning, admiring the spectacular architecture and the beautiful mosaic work on the walls and ceilings.





There were long, steep climbs all through the tour.  Before long, I was sitting down every few yards.  The kids kept climbing, but I was just too tired.  I thought I was going to pass out in the heat.  I tried to think of an excuse to go back to the room and take a nap, but I couldn't come up with a polite way to ditch Sam and the kids.  What was wrong with me?  I had no energy.



Finally, the tour took a lunch break, and we were able to grab something to eat at a little kiosk.  Everything they had to offer vaguely repulsed me, but I was so hungry I didn't care.  I got a little sandwich and a bottle of water and sat under a tree, vowing to never again acquiesce to the skipping of breakfast.  It had to be a hundred degrees in the shade.

"Are you okay?" asked Sam.

"I'm fine," I assured him.  "It's the heat, and the lack of food."

He wasn't convinced.  He sought out the tour guide and found that the only thing left to see was the gardens. "My wife isn't feeling well," he told the guide, and he gave her our headsets and walked us all back to the parador.

I slept until almost dinnertime.  We again had a lovely meal, and the flamenco show in the cave was fabulous.  We had more tinto de verano and cheered for the dancers.  Flamenco is a remarkable form of dance; the dancers' feet drum the floor so fast sometimes that they appear to be a blur.  The girls loved the dresses the women wore as much as the music and the dancing.

By the time we got back to the parador, we were all completely spent.  Everyone fell asleep immediately - everyone, that is, except for me.  I lay awake again, thinking, What's wrong with me?  Why am I so tired and hungry all the time?  Why can't I walk up a flight of stairs without feeling faint?  Why is my face broken out like a teenager's?  Why am I gaining so much weight?  Why does my chest hurt?


Why does my chest hurt?


All of a sudden, I knew exactly what was wrong with me.  I had felt these symptoms before, many years ago.  But I had been married for twenty years, and I was just weeks shy of forty-five years old!  I tried to count backwards on my fingers, but I couldn't remember.  I hadn't been paying attention.  Oh no.  Could this really be happening?

"Sam," I whispered.  "Are you awake?"

03 October 2011

First Monday

Today is a momentous day in the life of American lawyers and law students.  Specifically, it is the first Monday in October, the day the United States Supreme Court officially opens its 2011-2012 term.  American law students are taught to await this day with bated breath.  They watch the Court's docket closely for signs of important decisions that will affect American legal life.  Lawyers hope their petitions to be heard will be granted.  The granting of a petition for certiorari, the traditional route to having one's case heard by the Court, is a rare and exciting thing.  I have a petition or two pending before the Court as I write this, but I have no illusions that my little case will be deemed important enough to be heard by the Nine.  Nevertheless, I can hope.

The Supreme Court has always been a revered institution in American life.  The judges are supposed to be immune from the political process; they are appointed for life by the President, with the approval of the Senate, and they frequently veer off in ideological directions that surprise the Presidents who appointed them.  (President Eisenhower was famous for saying that he had made two mistakes during his presidency, and they were both sitting on the Supreme Court.)  The Justices have the power to change American life in an instant.  They have stunned the nation by issuing decrees that we now take for granted:  eliminating school segregation based on race, legalizing interracial marriage, affirming a married couple's right to use birth control, and protecting a woman's right to decide whether to continue a problem pregnancy.  All these issues were once touchy but are now settled (with the possible exception of the abortion issue, which continues to teeter back and forth in the national discussion).

I was in high school when President Reagan nominated the first woman justice to the Supreme Court.  I was a law student when Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court but Robert Bork was not.  I was a young lawyer when a few well-respected women jurists were disqualified from Supreme Court service, not because of their professional qualifications or political views, but because of their childcare arrangements.  I remember all these events well.   I sat for hours in front of the television watching the confirmation hearings.  For a young woman interested in the law, and in the careers available to intelligent female lawyers, these were all formative events.

And so, despite my lost faith in the myth of the nonpolitical Court, I cannot help but feel a frisson of excitement on this first chilly Monday in the fall.  Today brings with it the possibility of change and the hope of intelligent discussion about real issues that could affect all our lives.  I raise my cup of coffee to the First Monday.