Sunday, December 30, 2012

Poem for the New Year

Okay! I'm back. I'm committed and look forward to sharing more with you, soon! I close 2012 and open 2013 with a poem sketched in 2010 at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year 5771). (For those who do not know: tallit is a prayer shawl and tzitzit are the ritually knotted fringes on each of the corners of the tallit.)


I stand at the cusp of a new year and ask:

What do I bring with me from the year ending?

Let me bring openheartedness and the courage to love!
To love the neighbor that drives me crazy.
To love the co-worker that makes work difficult.
To love the friend whose mouth is almost always filled with complaints. 

Yes, let me openheartedly, courageously love difficult moments and 
difficult people, including me. Sometimes, what scares me in others are my fears manifests; requesting compassion. 

I create a spiritual tallit: 
Weft with the sweet moments of friends and family and community
Woven new work and opportunities
Weft with the sweet moments of friends and family and community
Woven of memories of those lost in all the different ways we lose people
Weft with the sweet moments of friends and family and community
Woven with renewals of old acquaintances and friendships
Weft with taking notice of life’s myriad of moments
Woven with the sweet moments of friends and family and community

I knot a tzitzit for my love of the Eternal One.
I knot a tzitzit for my love of community within the covenant.
I knot a tzitzit for my love of community outside the covenant.
I knot a tzitzit for my love of life and creation.

Let me bring wisdom and wonder.
Let me bring wisdom bold enough to crack open
and wonder spirited enough to melt down.
Let me bring wisdom and wonder to guide me on this path of 
        learning and growing and sharing and renewing.

For this New Year 
I bring all that I have been and
All that I have experienced
So that I may be all the Creator needs me to be
For this New Year.



(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Awesome Days


(Remarks as delivered, Hill Havurah community, Rosh Hashanah 5773 - September 17, 2012, with notes added)

Shanah Tovah!

I am so excited and so honored to be here with you; and I am so aware that you have been sitting for a very long time!! So, as I begin, I invite those of you are able and desire to stand or sit and stretch, shake your hands and body. As you continue to work out a few kinks in your body, I’m going to sing a song and those of you who know I invite you to sing along and those of you who don’t know might recognize the melody so you can hum along until you get the words and then join.

Yah, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living 
Sanctuary for You. 

I so love this time of year:
  • The unrelenting heat of late summer gives way to meteorological fall; crisp mornings and warm days – perfect sleeping weather.
  • The month of Elul with the daily sounding of the shofar, a cry to awaken to what is so; to shake off the haze of long summer days and pay attention. 
It is so appropriate that these Awesome Days are tied to late summer and early fall, the time of harvesting and releasing; shedding really. I love the communal rituals of these Awesome Days; an opportunity to speak to our subconscious to affirm our desire to move forward, to ask: 
  • How can we been our best self this year? 
  • What are the gifts from 5772 that we collectively and individually want to bring into 5773? 
  • What are the hurts, the pains we want to leave behind?
  • What sweet memories will we carefully pocket or smooth into a scrapbook? 
  • For which disappointments will we stand and say Kaddish?   
This is the time of year to ask: 
  • How am I numbering my days? 
  • Am I on the path to obtaining a heart of wisdom (and that path is not age restricted)? 
  • Have I become so mired in the muck of pain and the grind of daily life that I am misdirecting my longings? 
Rav (Abraham Isaac) Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (Palestine), wrote that we can get so tied up in the day to day that we can mistake our soul’s longing for closeness with the Holy One, Blessed Be G!d, with the longing for things. So we buy more things or do more things and the longing doesn't go away; it intensifies and we do more and buy more and continue to be less satisfied until we pause and in the pause examine what we are doing? What are we missing? 

I pray every morning; sometimes in minyan often alone; many times the full liturgy often something much simpler. At minimum, I awake with (chanted): 


Modah Ani lifanecha, ruach chai v’chayam shechehazarta bi nimashti bechemlah rabba emunatecha. 
Thank you, Breath of Life for compassionately restoring my soul to me; great is Your faithfulness. 

I also do the daily blessings, though sometimes I’ll adlib one or two or three.
Blessed are You Eternal One, Sovereign of the Universe, who created such a glorious day!
… who grants us much needed rain!
… who surprises us with unexpected beauty!

Under my tallit, in addition to the traditional blessing, my mediation is Sanctuary. 
(Spoken) Yah, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living 
Sanctuary for You.

As I move through the day, I ask: how can I be a Sanctuary for the Eternal One? Most obvious is that I can be kind, courteous and/or helpful to all I encounter, whether I know them or not, whether I like them or not. I can listen patiently to friends who continue to complain about the same things over and over and over, without comment on their monologue and being – remaining – an active listener. When I am asked to comment, I can or not comment. I can offer them what I hear differently; and if I offer my opinion, I don’t argue about it – after all, it’s just my opinion. I offer solace, comfort where I can, and when I can’t I can be an active, fully present witness. I celebrate all joys and triumphs for there is no such thing as a small victory. I stay present, mindful and actively use proscribed and created blessings to honor moments.

Do you know why we have so many blessings? Who can tell me that? Who knows why we have so many blessings? There are two simple reasons: One is conveyance. The other is mindfulness.

1) Conveyance  –  Everything belongs to the Eternal. What makes it powerfully useful to us is when we say a blessing, honoring the Source of All.

2) Also, mindfulness  –  that we take a moment and pause and recognize everything that happened to make the moment possible for us, whether it’s a rainbow, a meal; whether it’s seeing friends for the first time in a long time; whether it’s meeting new people, wearing a new outfit... Honoring the moment  –  that’s the purpose of blessing as well as saying thanks to all who were involved in creating that moment. 

How can you be a sanctuary for the Eternal One, Sovereign of all that is known and unknown? How can you live into the promises and possibilities you want for yourself, your family, your community and the world for 5773? First and foremost, by recognizing your own humanity; where are you on your list of those you need to forgive? What are the things you say to yourself about yourself that are unkind, demeaning, and not true? Are you ready to show yourself compassion and, by doing so, increase your ability to be more compassionate with others and, by doing so, being more compassionate and creating more compassion in the world?

Are you ready to consider that possibility? It’s only three steps.

First, is to actually notice when you are berating yourself. Most of time, it’s a mindless tirade that we launch into when we do the least thing wrong or silly; and sometimes it’s absolutely, positively not intentional. So the first thing to do is to notice when we do that tirade and to stop; and to listen to it. 

The second step is an exercise I take from Sylvia Boorstein. It’s an exercise in which you say,  “Oh, honey! You’re having a moment! Slow down. Take a deep breath. I promise you it, will be okay. Take another deep breath. Have a cup of tea; go for a walk around the block or the building… Yes, you really do have time to take that moment to walk away from that state of being as well as that physical state of being so that when you come back you are more present to what you really want to accomplish." The idea is to interrupt the tirade with self compassion.

The third step is to develop a sense of humor, because sometimes we launch into the tirade out loud with other people around; sometimes perfect strangers – so, develop a sense of humor. “Oops, I seemed to have lost my mind. If you give me a moment, it will come back.” 

I believe that everything we do matters. Every step we take has a consequence. Every word we speak a reverberation. We choose to smile or not to smile at a stranger. We choose to take offense or shrug off another’s actions or inactions. We choose to be reactive or responsive every moment of everyday, and some days we do better in our choices than others. 

Our intentions matter; and, when our actions do not land as intended, we are responsible for their impact. When we take responsibility, we can mitigate some to all of the unintended harm we caused. When we don’t take responsibility, the negative energy adds to all the other negative energy in the world and another set of our actions – or those of another – can mitigate them. What we do and what we say matters. 

This last week of 5772 was a tough week and a wonderful week. Like many of you, I awoke Tuesday morning to the cool crisp air of pre-fall and I remembered that the morning was exactly the same way 11 years ago. The sunrise was beautiful; some distant fog and wispy clouds exactly as I remembered it being 11 years ago. And, so was the rhythm of my day: staying present to the occurrences and demands of Tuesday, September 11, 2012 and walking with the echoes of Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Like many of you, as I listened to the news, I stressed over the reports of violence in Egypt and Libya. I feared that it wouldn't be long before there was more violence in other places. As I heard and read more details about the impetus for the violence, I was horrified by the thought that anyone would deliberately provoke another group of people to violence – a thought I could not articulate in 2001; and it is important that I can still be horrified because being jaded is an energy state that fails to mitigate evil.

There was also sweetness in the week: Planning services with Laurie and Michael, time spent in person and on the phone with friends and family; studying and praying and walks; sunrises and moonrises and the sound of the shofar; my mother calling me for the first time to wish me a happy Jewish New Year; and my youngest sister giggly as she shared with me the new love in her life that she wants to bring to Washington so that I can meet him. What is significant is not that my baby sister is in love; it is that she is giggling and in love; it is that she wants me to meet him – two shifts in her life that I welcome because they represent transformation and healing and hope. 

Transformation and hope and healing: that is the promise of the New Year and that is why we read the story of Sarah and Hagar on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Sarah is transformed from a barren woman to one who gives birth to laughter – joy she previously had not known. 

In the desert, Hagar’s despair is turned to hope when the Eternal opens her eyes to see what she had previously missed. Each woman experiences healing and so does Abraham. Abraham follows G!d’s counsel, creating peace within his home. Though he is wronged by the actions of the house of Abimelech, Abraham presents Abimelech with the opportunity to make a correction. 

Giving birth to the possibility of joy and laughter, opening our eyes to see what we may be missing, and taking the time to make peace requires mindfulness. The cultivation of mindfulness is one of the essential elements of Jewish practices and that’s why we are all here today: to mindfully step through the practices and rituals of these Awesome Days to create motion and momentum toward more good in our lives and, as a consequence, in the world. 

Like Sarah, we seek possibility. Like Hagar, we seek to have our eyes opened to what has eluded us. And like Abraham, we are willing to pay at least the price of our ego to make peace.  

In just a few moments the shofar will blast several times. What, if anything, do we want to be awakened within us? What, if anything, do we seek to release? Is there an ache that needs to be soothed or broken open? A cry we cannot make that needs to be heard? Whether you can articulate it or not, each of us will be different after the blasts, and much of the next few days will be spent discerning that difference. 

My invitation to you is to spend the Awesome Days ahead in gratitude for all there is, including whatever may be unpleasant and or painful, and with growing compassion for your own humanness. While the Gate of the Wounded Heart is always open, these Awesome Days are an opportunity to purge those things which no longer serve us: old jealousies, useless fears; rage, anger, and resentment that are the poison we drink in hopes that another will die; haughtiness that hides our vulnerability; greed, self-righteousness and cynicism to name a few of the ways in which we can miss the mark, be blinded – unable to see what is right in front of us, and add to the negative energy in the world. Practice and generate gratitude, generosity, compassion, hospitality, appreciation, wisdom, love, and strength – to name a few of the passions that can mitigate evil. And, remember to put yourself on the forgiveness list. Be the compassion you want to see in the world. Be a living sanctuary for the Holy One, blessed be G!d.

Shanah Tovah

For more about Rav Kook

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hate Crime or Domestic Terrorism - There's a Choice?!

Last Sunday, August 5, I returned from a nine-day retreat and learning opportunity. It was the same day that a gunman went into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, murdered six people and injured three people - including a police officer who injured the shooter (yes, I am deliberately not using his name). Since I was still in something of a cocoon, I was unaware of the incident until Monday morning. My heart sank.

As with the mass murder in Aurora, Colorado last month (may I not have to write or say that again any time soon), I remembered so many other such shootings that have occurred over my lifetime. In 1999, I cataloged several infamous murders and mass murders in a poem and called it "Heart Meditation"; amending it after September 11, 2001 to include that event and it may be time to amend it again. 

Since then, I use it as part of my intro to remarks. Today, I will close with it as I need to discuss two disturbing phenomena in reporting the story regarding the Sikh Temple.


First, I find myself distressed by the conversation to make a distinction between "hate crimes" and "domestic terrorism". I consider the attempt a parsing in search of differentiation. From my experience hate crimes - crimes committed against others due to the bias, hatred or assumptions of the perpetrator(s) are acts of terrorism. The specific victim is a message to all who identify with the victim. Hate crimes are intended to make it clear that:

  • any woman of any race or class regardless of looks can be stalked, raped, maimed or murdered simply because she is female by any random male who has that point to make.
  • any person perceived to be out of the sexual norm (whatever that means) will be beaten, humiliated or murdered by any person at random who has that point to make.
  • any person of color, or person perceived to be something other than white, can be humiliated, beaten, terrorized, tortured, or murdered at random by any person who has that point to make. And,
  • anybody who is different can be a target of anything from mischief to mayhem.
I was four-years-old when I learned I the world was not safe because I am Black. I was ten when I learned the world was not safe because I am female. Decades later, nearly daily there are reminders that some people would prefer that I and many people I care about would just shut up or otherwise disappear. 

Despite the stress of that part of my reality, I get up everyday with gratitude and happy to be alive - a major accomplishment in a world where people want me dead. And, that's the point - despite the intent to terrorize (cause one or many to live in fear), I live life as fully and purposely as I can. Many of us live life as fully and purposely as we can - WE live. Yes, like any woman or person of color, I take certain precautions just as some light-skinned people take precautions. By and large, fear of being harassed most of the time does not stop me from doing most of what I want to do; only how I decide to do it. 

I also know from personal experience that: 
  • most people are kind and well-intentioned, 
  • most people are ready and happy to assist,
  • I don't have to meet another's bad actions with the same energy,
  • if I disappeared this instant, I would not take all the bigoted energy in the world with me, and 
  • my willingness to live as much as I can into gratitude, generosity and grace are a triumph over every form of evil.
Yes, there are exceptions to each of these statements, including the moments when I am reactive instead of responsive. That's life. I was never promised that life would be easy or simple. Reality is much more interesting - much more complex. I think that's why I so appreciate this quote:
"I learned to make my mind large - as the universe is large - so that I could hold paradox." Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior.   

That is the paradox: To live fully is to live with and enjoy the good as well as honoring and mourning the rough. That's why I mourn all those lost to hate and will as long I am alive. I will keep sharing this poem, remembering as I do all the incidents missing - including those unknown to me. I am a survivor who is thriving and I am fully aware that makes someone known or unknown to me angry. I choose to count my blessings and ask for forgiveness before I fall asleep and rise with joy and thankfulness. Yes, there are days when it is harder to muster than others - that's why I appreciate prayer; my gateway to holding all that needs to be held.

The second concern is how it's been reported that the shooter may have thought he was killing Muslims - as if it is okay for him to wanted to kill anybody. When we create hierarchies of oppression we are actually perpetuating the model instead of transforming it. As my friend Mario Cooper said nearly 20 years ago: Pain is pain and discrimination is discrimination. Domestic terrorism, whether perpetrated by a "lone wolf" or a group is a message to all who are different - ALL who are DIFFERENT. All who differ. WE ALL ARE DIFFERENT.

Heart Meditations

Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi v'hegyon libi
l'fanecha, Adonai tzuri v'go-ali.
I give thanks to the Ancestors, the First People of this land. 
I give thanks to my Ancestors: those of blood, those I have chosen and those who have chosen
   me. 
I give thanks to the Mother/Father Godspirit, the One of Many Names, who gave us, and continues to give us, heart teachers to guide us on our paths, our journeys, especially those that lead to connection. 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart 
be acceptable unto you; be acceptable unto you.

I give honor and praise to the Original Fire within each of us. 
I give praise and salute the spirit within you that guided your journey here.
May my words fall upon your heart as they are intended: to aid us all in the work of building right relations among and between our many people.

I dedicate my remarks to the memory of 

  • Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and his brother Bobby; Malcolm X, Medger Evers
  • James Byrd, Jr
  • Mathew Shepard
  • Billy Sykes, 
  • the 12 students and the teacher Killed at Columbine High School, 
  • the young children injured and frightened at the Los Angeles Synagogue day care center and Joseph Ileto, the Filipino Postal Worker killed in the same rampage, 
  • Coach Ricky Byrdsong and the others who were murdered and injured during the hate spree in the Asian American, African American and Jewish American communities in Illinois and Indiana in the summer of 1999; 
  • the more than three thousand, four hundred people who died or were injured on September 11, 2001; 
  • and all victims of hate in this country and around the world. 
May the grief we who knew you and we who never knew you feel for how you died and how you were injured give you peace, and motivate us to be:
  • stronger allies of justice 
  • responsible advocates of change, 
  • ambassadors and modelers of, respect between and among our many people.
Adonai, zuri zuri v’goali
Adonai, zuri v’goali

Amein
So Mote It Be.
Om Shanti
Aché
Amen

responses are welcome below or at othermadthoughts@ssellc.net 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Are All Culpbable

I am amazed and troubled by the many people who have spoken about the actions of Jerry Sandusky as if his actions only impacted his victims. Though I understand their predicament, I am especially disturbed by the statements of Joe Paterno's family and former Penn State University president Graham Spanier

There are many commentators and interested persons stating that the NCAA went too far. However, I believe the NCAA took the correct action and could have gone further, though it still would not bring enough relief to the young men victimized by Sandusky. These young men - boys at the time of the incidents - are our children. Sandusky's ability to molest and abuse the 11 children that we know of was facilitated by the failures of the leadership at Penn StateThe ramifications of all their actions and inactions are already disrupting the lives of the survivors of Sandusky's abuse and all the families of the victimized, and will likely ripple through their lives in unexpected ways for innumerable years, if not generations. The same is true for the lives of the survivors of abuse by priests, ultra-orthodox rabbis and other trusted adults. 

What is unprecedented about Sandusky and Penn State is that we know about it. What is not unprecedented is that a respected adult molested and abused children, repeatedly, and that other trusted adults covered it up - and I am not just talking about the Catholic Church

We know that the Air Force most recently uncovered a problem at Lackland Air Force base. Yet, sexual abuse in the military is also not new. 

According to the American Association of University Women, the majority of sexual assaults on college and university campuses still go unreported. AAUW also asserts that the majority of bullying and other types of harassment are under reported

We have a societal problem when it comes to protecting our children, boys and girls. We have the worst record in the industrialized world when it comes to protecting our children, according to childhelp.org - and that ought not to surprise anyone. For too long we have viewed child abuse and neglect as well as violence against women as the failings of individuals, and the consequences of such crimes as limited to the individual victims and families.  

When are we going to wake up and see the collective wreckage?! We continue to teach our children to watch out for strangers. Yet, it is estimated that 93 percent of the time, a child knows her/his abuser. We know that not all kids who are abused or neglected become criminals; however, we also know that a number of juveniles offenders are or were also victims

That the actions of the NCAA holds ramifications for the entire Penn State community, including the young men who were expecting to play football for a great program, the merchants expecting to make money off the crowds, and the legacies of otherwise good men is indicative of the ramifications we pay as a society for the neglect and abuse of our children, young people and violence against women. Most of the time, we are blind to the ripples or assume we cannot do anything about them. 

I say we can do something about child abuse and neglect and violence against women, beginning with loving our children, grandchildren and community children enough to tell them the age appropriate truth about being safe. We can take an interest in the lives of our neighbors, the truancy and absentee policy of our school districts, and educate ourselves about the rates of neglect and abuse in our communities - and ask our public officials what are they doing to curb abuse and neglect. We can talk to our children about self respect; ask our daughters, nieces, their friends and our friends about injuries, clothing that seems out-of-character and reclusive behaviors also out-of-character. We can ask about changes in behavior of our sons and the men in our lives. 

We can admit that we are capable of misjudging people; assuming that wealth, education and/or stature is a vaccination against abusive behavior. It's not; never has been, never will be. 

We can demand that Congress pass the Violence Against Women Act and take crimes against children seriously; that the military really get its house in order to create an egalitarian culture, and that the NCAA conduct an appreciative inquiry into how it contributed to the pathology that produced the mess at Penn State. 

This is not the beginning of the end of abuse and neglect of children or violence against women. However, we can use it as a sea change opportunity if we are willing to make the changes in ourselves we want to see in the world. We cannot all do everything, however, each of us doing something will make a difference.  

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Good Month in the Wake of Tragedy

Today is the first day of Av, a conflicting month for Jews. We wish one another "חדש טוב" (Chodesh Tov), a good month, for a month that holds many historical tragedies. What a wonderful paradox.

The commencement of Shabbat is just a few minutes away. It is guaranteed I will be delayed in kindling the candles. This Shabbat, I will carry the historical memory of ancient destruction and the devastation of today in Aurora, Colorado. Into Shabbat I bring and hold:
  • Blessings for the Souls of those who died. May the Eternal Bless and Keep you.
  • Blessings for the Hearts of those who are injured. May you feel the prayers of those you love and those you do not know pulling for you - willing you to survive; the Eternal's shining face.
  • Blessings for the Lives of those who witnessed the tragedy. May you receive the love and the support you need to learn to live your life and hold the tragedy you experienced; the Eternal's sacred blessing of peace.
  • Blessings for the families, friends and communities touched by this tragedy. May you collectively and individually receive the support you need to remain openhearted or to be openhearted for the first time in a long time; the Eternal's sacred blessing of peace.
  • Blessings for all of us who care. May we use this event for the good of the whole and not to further divide us; the Eternal's sacred blessing of peace.
I take with me and offer to all the Eternal's sacred blessing of peace. We are the vehicle through which that peace will occur. Live it. Walk it. Talk it. Shabbat Shalom, dear ones near and far, of this tribe or another.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Private Ownership and Public Power



I am among those who did not lose power during the June 29 storm. However, I have lost power many times in the past, including the storm on June 22. More than ten years ago, I lived at the corner of Otis Street and South Dakota Avenue NE and lost power with every storm. I remember the first time I lost power in that location, calling Pepco and being told by their customer service agent that since I was calling from a cell phone she couldn't verify my location and couldn't help me!?!

Anyone who has lost electrical power at their home or business knows directly what a stressful experience it is. It makes very plain many of the daily items in our lives we take for granted: proper temperature control of our homes and work places; communication services such as telephone, internet, radio and television; security systems; and food refrigeration, preparation and storage. If you or someone in your family has a medical situation that requires electrical and/or electronic equipment, that creates another set of stresses.

Now that the outages are behind us, District Council member Mary Cheh (Ward 3) is among the many elected officials and residents talking about burying power lines underground. Indeed, this is a national discussion about how to prevent the loss of something on which we all depend and how to have it quickly restored when it is loss. 

Conceptually, the notion is that burying lines underground would reduce outages as a result of most weather related incidents. I am compelled to say: not so fast. This is a health and safety issue. I think it's time to take a larger look at our power companies and what our fees to them actually cover. Deregulation has led to increased costs for consumers and much of that appears to be going into executive salaries. It's no secret that Pepco president Joseph Rigby made $7.2 million last year. His senior staff are also doing quite well. 

High salaries seem to be the industry norm. Duke Energy, however, must to love pay out big bucks to their CEOs. William D. Johnson, former CEO of Progress Energy signed a three-year agreement with Duke on June 27 in advance of the merger completion with Progress on July 2. Johnson resigned on July 3 and received $44.4 million in severance for essentially a few hours of work. Because of deregulation, some of us in the metro area are Duke and Pepco customers, which is why I hope the public service commissions overseeing Duke energy rates are paying attention. 

In terms of burying lines, the cost is estimated to be one million dollars a mile. That's definitely a number that causes me to gulp. Pepco estimates the cost for DC would be $5 billion (personally, I think that's low as we have 1200 linear miles of streets in DC) and will take 30 years. Aside from the disruption of construction - already a constant source of irritation, will placing lines underground really increase reliability? What will be the cost per household and business to support the effort? What do you do over the 30 years of mess? Most importantly, are we asking the correct set of questions, allowing us to make an informed decision?

To talk honestly about costs is also to look at the personal, business and public costs for: cooling and warming centers, keeping recreation facilities open longer hours, providing emergency supply services (food, medications, pet care, counseling, temporary or special housing, and hotels), emergency disaster grants, reconstruction and repair, food lost, business loses, compromised health of individuals, and missed work.

We also need to consider: 
  • What is the frequency of community-wide events? What does the historical data tell us? What do the scientist have to say about future events?
  • Are there communities similar to ours in terms of weather events and geography that have buried their lines? What have they seen? 
  • Large portions of our region are prone to flooding. We will be trading one set of problems for another? 
  • We also had two earthquakes in 13 months. Is that the beginning or the end of a trend?
  • Once the lines are in the ground, who will pay to hook homes and other buildings to the source? Is that cost included in the estimates? Or, will we consumers have a "surprise, surprise, surprise!" (Dated reference, I know)
  • Should DC ban corporate money from elections; and should the investments of elected, and certain appointed, officials be placed in blind trusts? 
We also need to ask: Has privatization and deregulation of utilities really worked for consumers? While the question can be debated, at best, the answer is mixed. The power companies have cut linemen and customer service agents, resulting in fewer in area workers to respond to outages, less maintenance or updating of equipment, and less customer service (though Pepco solved the problem I had 10 years ago, they apparently still can't find people). Whatever the savings gained from those cuts appear to have gone to executive salaries and bonuses and dividends for shareholders. To its credit the industry knows it is in trouble. Last year, Julia E. Sullivan and Jennifer Good wrote a paper, explaining how to recover executive compensation in utility rate cases.   

As our political leaders continue to put forward legislation based on the assumption that burying lines is the way to go, it's also clear they will create less than stellar panels to make the decisions. In DC the very same people who voted against consumer advocate Elizabeth Noel's appointment to the Public Service Commission are likely to be on the panel that will examine burying lines. At lease one of Pepco's shareholders, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson out to recuse himself from any further deliberations involving Pepco. 

As we consumers seek to make Pepco and other power companies more accountable to us, come November, we need to remind our elected officials where their true loyalties ought to lie. (For more information regarding Pepco and campaign contributions to the District Council see the Washington City Paper.As panels are created to examine the issue of burying lines, we - the ratepayers will be bear the consequences of the decisions made. Therefore, the commissions and panels ought to be composed by a majority of consumers and chaired by consumers. It's time to put the public back into power. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Native Irritation

I don't think I'm alone in pointing out that among the small, take-a-deep-breath-and-get-over-it irritations of life are people who take "literary license" to extremes: geographically impossible car chases through a city, having a scantily clad blond hero or heroine in a place where fair-skinned people are best covered up, and picking icons for a place for which they know nothing or ought to know more. 

Sometimes, the choices are so comical - it's easy to dismiss them. Others times, the choice can provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection or insight. Today, however, I am not that lucky. I am just plan irritated with NPR's Morning Edition feature "Crime in the City" - tagged as "a summertime series about fictional detectives and the cities where they live." 

Clearly, I had expectations that I had not expressed, and I take full responsibility for that. It's a common error in relationships. 

My primary expectation was that the chosen writers and their detectives would provide us with a sense of the the city in which they operate: the neighborhoods, the local eateries and politicians, heroes and heroines writ large and very small; the smells and aromas, the unique and ordinary characters, and the many other characteristics that provide a sense of location instead of backdrop. 

Up until today, from what I know and can tell, that actually has been true. However, today was Washington, DC's turn and - unfortunately, they picked the predictable icon for detective stories for Washington, DC. I have nothing against Mike Lawson. He is a good writer with interesting plots that keep the action moving. I don't even mind that he is a relative newcomer or that his stories are mostly about official Washington. My point is that Washington is a backdrop and a prop much as it is for TV series such as Scandal and NCIS. If the nation's capitol was in another city, it would be the same story. 

I love Washington, DC and as a 20 plus year resident, I know many of its secrets as well as its magnificence. I do love the panoramic beauty of the monumental core in endless shades of light and dark, brilliance and moody. I appreciate the majesty of the Capitol Dome as I drive south on North Capitol Street - a spectacular optical illusion. Yes, lots of intriguing adventures - real and imagined take place in those locations, but they are not what makes Washington, the only town in the District of Columbia, home. 


When a writer uses a city as a character in her or his writing, it becomes a living, breathing organism with its own thoughts, ecstasies and sorrows that are palpable through the pages. While I do not eat half smokes, my mouth waters with a character on their way to Ben's Chili Bowl. I appreciate "remember when" references so rooted in the landscape that I wonder if I can find out if something similar to the described event actually happened! That's why George Pelecanos would be my pick for Washington detective mysteries

Whether hanging out with Nick Stephanos, Derek Strange or Spero Lucas, the newest of his characters, Pelecanos serves you Washington as place where people live, love, struggle, party, work and try to make a difference. He references communal events, such as the riots, and you see the devastation or the return to life as the character sees it in that block because you've passed by that house or restored business; the empty lot begging to be filled with new possibilities. 

Pelecanos' newest novel is What It Was. Fan or newbie, if you want to check out the writer Stephen King calls "perhaps the greatest living American crime writer" (though I don't know why he used the word perhaps), checkout PelecanosFacebook page to find how to get the first chapter of it or The Cut online

It was just last year that Pelecanos introduced Lucas in The Cut. Chances are some producer somewhere said, "Well, you just interviewed him last year. Isn't there someone else who writes mysteries about Washington?" There are many writers writing all kinds mysteries and other stories in Washington. As far as I can see, there's only one writing mysteries about Washington. If you haven't found your summer read and you like mysteries I urge you to treat yourself. 


(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Beautiful and Delicious Mistake



Since right after Pesach (Passover), I have been playing with a new recipe for gluten free challah. It is a modification of a recipe I found on Food.com. What I like about this one is the texture of the bread. I discovered that the texture is the result of a good blend and baking at high heat. You can certainly use the ingredients described in the original, use your own or another of the many recommendations for blends. I do not use blends with soy, nut or potato flours because each is an allergen. Though I enjoy using Namaste Perfect Flour Blend, with the exception of pizza or focaccia, it doesn't work well for bread. My favorites for bread blends are Bob's Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills. 

Like most gluten free bread recipes, it is wet. Yet, it stands up to two rising and people who are not gluten-free enjoy it. Last Friday in preparing for Shabbat, I made a change in the recipe. When it came to the second rising, I got distracted, causing me to miss placing the dough in the challah mold. The second rising was also in the mixing bowl. 

After the rising as I was trying to figure out what to do, it occurred to me to turn it out on a backing sheet. I lined a backing sheet with parchment paper, turned the mixing bowl upside down such that it was parallel to the sheet. With one gentle shake the dough landed on the baking sheet. Using wet fingers, I smoothed the surface and pat it into a round shape. The final step was an egg wash

Since I still had some time for the oven to preheat, I scraped out the dough in the bowl, formed it into a small roll and did the same finishing process. Both went into the oven and you can see how beautiful the "challah" turned out. It was also quite delicious. 

The recipe below reflects the changes that produced the loaf above. Another time, I will provide an adaption for pecan sticky buns. Though friends and I enjoyed the first attempt, I want to play with it. 


Gluten Free Challah Bread
By Chef #1283639 on June 01, 2009 as adapted by me, July 2012

 Prep Time: 2 1/2 hrs. Total Time: 3 hrs. Yield: 2 challahs, or 18 rolls
1 Challah and  4-6 rolls or sticky buns.

Ingredients
3/4 cups of your favorite gluten free flour blend 
1/4 cup brown sugar (can substitute pure cane sugar or 2 T agave)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
2/3 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1/4 Cup Olive Oil or other good quality oil
1 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar
4 eggs room temperature

Directions
1.   If you have a new oven (without a traditional pilot light) turn oven on 375F degrees.
      2.   Dissolve the 2 tsp sugar in the 2/3 cup of water and mix in the yeast and place on stove top (not in oven).
3.    Crack eggs into a bowl and set aside.
4.    In a separate bowl, combine the flour(s), 1/4 c sugar, xantham gum, and salt and set aside.
5.    In the mixing bowl combine the olive oil with the additional 3/4 cup water and vinegar and mix on low speed until blended. Note: if using a Kitchen Aid or other standing mixer, used the whisk for this step, then switch to dough hook
6.    Add the dry ingredients a third at a time. Blend in the eggs, 1 or 2 at a time. The dough should feel slightly warm. Pour the yeast mixture into the ingredients in the bowl. Blend then beat the highest speed for approximately 2 minutes.
7.    Turn oven off.
8.    Cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel.
9.    Place the bowl in a warm spot and let rise approximately 1 hour.
10. This is the step I skipped: Oil challah mold (I use coconut oil), including the outside edges. If you are using a traditional quick loaf pan, you may want to grease (palm oil) and flour it. (If you want the round loaf, follow the instructions above).
11. Preheat oven again.
12. Return the dough to the mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes. Using a silicone spatula, scoop approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the dough into oiled challah pan or greased and floured loaf pan. If needed, use wet fingers to even out or shape. (You may divide and bake the remainder as rustic rolls by dividing dough with spatula and use wet fingers to shape. You can also place in greased muffin tins, etc.) Or make all rolls into about 18.
13. Turn oven off when you are ready for the second rising. Let the dough rise for 60 minutes.
14. Preheat the oven to 375F and bake the Challah loaf for approximately 20 to 25. Bake the rolls 15 to 20 minutes. If using loaf pan, bake at 400F for approximately one hour. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Do We Become Too Sensible to Chase a Dream?

Mark Twain wrote: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." This is the favorite quote of my nephew, Rich Sasek. Quite wonderfully, Rich is considering doing the unexpected and going for the possibility of being able to complete his dream in an unexpected place: Cozumel, Mexico. The offer? To work as a Dive Master at a diving education and tourist business with a friend. It means picking up his wife, Carolyn, and their teenage son (who I totally adore), and moving to a completely different country; relearning a language he hasn't used much since high school and knowing that most of us who love them are not quite as physically close as we have been for most of the 40 years of his young life. 

Carolyn and Rich are engaging friends and family in their process of deciding, though most of us - including me - are saying "GO!" The fact that we are having this discussion is one of the reasons that I appreciate their blog and Facebook. Carolyn, Rich and I are close enough that I know they would have called me and asked my advise; then let me know when they were on their way. It's wonderful to be a stand for their going; to firmly and enthusiastically say "Yes!" 

The public and private exchanges with Rich and Carolyn have me wondering why I cannot muster the same undaunted enthusiasm for moving myself in the direction of my dream. Last night, the spiritual restlessness would not let me sleep. About midnight, I turned on the TV in search of a feel good program or movie. I had no idea how hard that would be but, I did stumble upon the early scenes of "A Dolphin Tale" and stayed with it. I am among the few who saw the movie when it came out last December. I was drawn to it in large part because it features Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick, Jr., and Kris Kristofferson  and nobody was getting shot or blown-up! It is a very sweet tale. Your teeth will only hurt in a few places. If you have young children, they will really like it because the children are the heroes.

The premise of the movie is true: a dolphin, Winter, was rescued from fisherman's netting, nursed back to health and given a prosthetic tail. Beyond the facts, I cannot attest to the accuracy of other points of the movie. Yet, in seeing it again, I was struck by the unwavering certainty of the kids, Sawyer Nelson and Hazel Haskett (Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff), that another way was possible. 

I saw different aspects of me in all of the adults, particularly the Frances Sternhagen and Connick characters. Somewhere along the way, I have become the practical person in relationship to my dreams and the unwavering stand for possibility in relationship to others. I can provide a litany as to why that is so, including the real practicality of "how will I have income?" But, it all comes down to fears that need my attention and losses I have not properly grieved. 

As I write, I see clearly that I, too, have people in my life who are my unwavering stand for possibility. It's really easy to isolate them as "this person over here" or "that person over there" or finding others way to diminish their support. With every word I am moving them into my sight lines and feeling them cheering me on as a community. How can I not be moved?! Yes, I have grieving to do. Yes, there are practical things that need to be done AND I can move forward into a different future; one that is fulfilling for me and will make a difference in the world. It may be a dream, however, I no longer see myself as too old to go for it. Succeed or fail, in 20 years I will be among those knowing I gave it my best.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012