Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Hope Chest

In my last post, I made mention of the fact that I believe that New Year's resolutions are strictly for suckers. Ask anybody who has promised themselves to quit smoking, exercise or drop 20 pounds at the stroke of midnight, how long the commitment lasted? No, I prefer to proffer my personal amendments in small increments and at times that make more sense than the changing of the calendar. As we finally leave the chaos of 2008 behind, I thought that instead of a resolution list, I might instead offer a hope list. These are things that I hope will happen, (as outrageous as many of them might seem) and even if they don't, even if they seem slightly impossible, the wishing is half of the fun.

  • I hope that my years of suffering as a Leaf's fan comes to a merciful and joyous conclusion. I realize that there is about as much hope for this happening as there is for me jumping out of an airplane, (and believe me-that is one thing that does not appear anywhere on my personal life list!) but remember, this is a hope list. My beloved shinny team has been stuck in the hockey equivalent of the Cubs futility for most of my life. The difference is, is that the Cubs actually have made strides over the years and the Leafs have careened from bad to worse to mediocre to pathetic. For all the blather about Detroit being HOCKEYTOWN or Montreal being the hotbed of Canadian hockey, the real truth is that if the Leafs were to ever get past the 41 year old ghosts (and counting!) Toronto would erupt like Boston did when the Sox won in 2004. Bedlam would ensue, civic holidays would be declared and it would probably be enough to sustain us for another half of a century. 
  • I hope that politicians stop promising and start doing. I am so tired of hearing partisan bullshit that my ears ache. My city and country, and the cities and countries around the world, have real on-the-ground problems that desperately need addressing. Specifically for Toronto, I hope for a concrete, sustainable and real solution to our transit issues. Anybody who has been stuck in our constant gridlock would hope for the same. We need rapid public transit built in bulk and we need it now. We need an integrated system of fares and we need to stop expecting that it will pay for itself at the cash box. All of our levels of government need to stop analyzing an issue that has been analyzed to death and pony up with permanent and sustainable funding. If our leaders are truly serious about greening our city, then getting people out of their cars and into fast, clean and convenient public transportation systems like our European cousins have done, should be a gigantic first step. Moving the people of Toronto has long been ignored and it is crucial to our economy, our environment and our social structure.
  • I hope that reality television will die. In 1976, Paddy Chayefsky scripted a brilliant movie entitled Network. In the film, Peter Finch's Howard Beale is a network news anchor who is unceremoniously fired after his ratings drop. He responds to his dismissal by announcing on air of his intention to commit suicide in front of his millions of viewers. Stunningly, the ratings skyrocket and unscrupulous network executives take advantage of his ravings by giving him an unscripted forum to vent; in effect the genesis of the modern reality show. I don't think that Mr. Chayefsky could have foreseen the cesspool that network TV has become, but he was incredibly prescient. Today we have dross like Wife Swap, (how totally misogynistic is this crap?) Mamma's Boy, (the Bachelor trying to get a date to meet the approval of his forever disapproving mother. Again; women "what are you thinking?) and SuperNanny. This doesn't even begin to address the litany of crappy half-assed talent shows like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent and on and on and on. We have created a subculture of "Z" list celebrities that show up in newspapers and magazines long after the expiration of their 15 minutes. Worse yet, we think this idiots have talent and we pretend that their goings-on have importance. TV has become devoid of true talent. Gone are the writers, actors and directors with vision, only to be replaced by the Simon Cowells of the world. And the worst part is, that we the public have become willing voyeurs all in the name of ratings.
  • I hope that baseball gets a salary cap. Is there any fan out there outside of New York that doesn't hope for the same thing? I speak as a Blue Jay fan who knows that my team can never compete for the playoffs, let alone the division, so longs as the Yankees are allowed to spend 485 million dollars on 3 players. Most teams are slashing payroll and yet the Yanks, with their bottomless pit of resources, are behaving like Saudi oil sheiks. Sports leagues may think that they are 30 individual teams, but there needs to be a collective good so that all teams can compete on equal financial footing, else the league dies. Baseball is the only major professional sports league without salary management, and the time has come to join the club. I realize that a whole host of problems stand as impediments to this occurring, but with shrinking TV revenues, a diminishing fan base and a tanking economy, the baseball mandarins on both sides are finding it harder and harder to justify the grossly inflated salaries. I mean, really. C.C. Sabbathia will make $100,000 an inning over the life of his contract! The time is now.
  • I hope that Barack Obama can restore credibility to the White House and that the faith placed in him by the American people is justified. He is just a man, not the messiah many make him out to be, but so much damage has been done on such a massive global scale, that even small victories will be hailed as gigantic achievements. He will encounter dissent and debate, and he will make choices that are questionable, (see Rick Warren!) but the entire world should be at least be willing to give him the chance to try. At least he speaks with intelligence and sophistication and he never, ever mispronounces the word NUCLEAR!!
  • I hope that Bernard Madoff gets his comeuppance. I cannot even fathom $50 billion dollars. The numbers are so astronomical that they defy comprehension. I have not historically been a big believer in an afterlife, but I do think that there is a special place in hell reserved for people like Madoff who stole from rich, poor, and middle-class alike. He took money out of charities and ripped off his friends and family, all the while pretending to be a pious and observant. Madoff gives all of my people a bad name. The punishment coming his way will never be enough.

I hope that we all enjoy health, family, good friends and much peace. I hope that we know a life rich with chocolate and that we take a few minutes to smell the bread. I hope that we won't fret over a pound gained and that we won't kick ourselves when our resolutions go awry. I hope that we will see the good in our opponents and have the patience to understand that we all want the greater good. I hope 2009 is a bit better than 2008! Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

A Year of Personal Reflection

It is the time of year when one cannot open a newspaper, magazine or blogsite without seeing some sort of year-end review. There are top ten lists of everything from movies to books, and there are people or events of the year gracing every cover. I have never really been one to look back and lament over things that cannot change. I tend to look forward to what might be. But I am blessed or cursed, depending on your perspective of birthdays, of being born two days before the end of the year. Since I have never been a big proponent of New Year's resolutions, (I am still attempting to lose the same 10 pounds that I couldn't lose after the birth of Older Son in 1987!) I thought that a bit of self-reflection over the past 365 days (leap year!) might not be a bad idea. Call it a birthday present to myself entitled "Things I Discovered in 2008".

  1. I had even less tolerance for stupidity than ever before. It isn't like I ever had much tolerance for it, but this year was the year that any residual tolerance for the chronically stupid went out the window. From inept politicians to crap on television, I felt the need to call out the idiots. I was bequeathed with an opinionated streak a mile long and I seemed less willing to allow people to get away with pandering bullshit. My mother even had to beg the Little Bro and I to curtail any talk of politics at the Shabbat table. From Sarah the Moose Hunter to W and his butchering of the English language to Sweater-Vested Steve to just plain ridiculous conversations in my everyday life, I learned that my time on this earth is finite and I refuse to spend one more second of it pandering to stupidity!
  2. I found that my role as a day to day parent had come to an end and that I had to reinvent my relationships with my sons. I realized with fascinated horror that both of my little boys are now independent and self-sufficient young men who are developing lives of their own, outside of the confines of our family structure. I had to learn when to ask a probing question and when to mind my own business. (OK! I am still evolving into this role. Gimme a break. It is new to me!) I had to learn that there would be times when they wouldn't be able to be in attendance at certain functions and I had to learn that this was okay. I learned that our grocery bill was cut in half, our hot water bill was a third of what it was before (no more 30 minute morning showers!) and laundry could be done with increasing irregularity. I learned that my house was cleaner than it had been in 20 years and that there was something tremendously liberating about closing off two bedrooms and a bathroom. I learned that I could drive my car for 3 weeks without a fill-up. I also learned that there is a chance for reflection in the silence and a calmness that comes with less chaos.
  3. I reconnected with The Husband as life partners and not merely parents. We have always made concerted efforts to do just that, but this was the year when empty-nesthood stared us down. We shopped for groceries together and cooked our meals together. We spent quiet time together and knew instinctively when to give each other space. I became a maven of all things whisky and he immersed himself in Kol Isha. We both found new interests that didn't impede upon our collective enjoyment. All in all, a pretty positive beginning for Chapter 2.
  4. I watched from an uncomfortable distance as some of my friends had to cope with major life trials. Illnesses, aging parents and deaths made me realize what a gift this life is, and that I plan to enjoy every last second that I am granted on this earth. I refuse to worry about the calorie count of that brownie if I really want to eat it. I will eat bread, because fresh-baked bread is one of life's greatest enjoyments. I will not relinquish my work-out time for any rehearsal or meeting because it is my time. As long as it is not illegal, immoral, I can afford it and doesn't hurt anybody, I plan on doing it-whatever it is. 
  5. This was the year where I challenged myself to try something outside of my comfort zone and I think it was a success. When a rabbi friend invited me to participate in the Kol Isha concert, I tried to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why I couldn't or shouldn't participate. "It isn't really what I do", "I am not really a performer", "It is way too much to take on right now", "I am not good enough", or "Who would want to pay to see me?" Even when it was apparent that it was too late to back out, I secretly hoped that I could find a non-invasive, non-confrontational way to run in the other direction. I am so glad that I followed through with it. I found a strength in the challenge that I never knew that I had, in spite of all of the ego-boosting that my family and friends heaped upon me in anticipation of my trepidation. I made new friends and strengthened old relationships with a camaraderie that only women can know and understand. I found new passion in my work and a sense of renewed purpose in my professional life that had been missing for a while. Early in the spring, a dear friend told me that stretching myself in this way could only be positive, and that I needed to "get over" the impostor syndrome that I seemed to find myself mired in. I am so grateful to her and everybody else who made me see that this journey was a moral imperative.
  6. This year I discovered a new outlet in this blog. It provided me with a way to vent, cry, cheer, share and connect. Creativity shows itself in the strangest ways and I honestly never thought that this was part of mine. 
And so, I begin the second half of my 40s looking forward and building on what I have learned. I hope to be a bit more patient, a bit less self-involved and a bit less picayune. Happy Birthday to me!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Mother of Anti-Climaxes!

Is Christmas Day an anti-climax? I ask this question of my Christmas-observing friends not with any antipathy or religion-baiting subtext. I ask it in genuine perplexity as a person for whom the holiday holds no intrinsic value or time-bound tradition. For me, December 24th and 25th are much like any other day on the calendar, with the noted exception that the only entertainment open to me are the aforementioned Asian restaurants and movie theatres. (Frost/Nixon is excellent by the way, as was our Christmas feast of Thai/Sushi!) The four weeks of December leading up to Christmas are awash with planning and preparation. The ubiquitous decorations and carols in every establishment are impossible to avoid. Television seems to turn its entire program schedule over to specials and holiday episodes. (I fall for this stuff every year. I love the constant repetition of Jimmy Stewart running through the snowy streets of Bedford Falls or Ralphie hoping against hope for that elusive Red Rider BB gun. He almost shoots his eye out, you know?) I watch in distanced marvel as my friends and neighbours scurry around for the last minute gift, decorate their living spaces within an inch of the fabled Griswolds, or cloister themselves in kitchens, baking furiously, but when the actual day arrives I always wonder "Where is the promised excitement?"

I have spent most of the past 21 Christmases in the southern climes of Miami in a condominium development that, while fairly heavy in Semitic owners, has more than its share of Christmas-fearing residents as well. Many of my floor neighbours are full-timers with children who observe the holiday. So, every Christmas morning I expect the full Hollywood scene. I expect to hear squeals of laughter and giggles of delight as my neighbours open their gifts. I expect to hear raucousness and singing. I expect wafts of delicious odours permeating through my walls as people prepare for their Christmas feasts. I expect to see my neighbours decked out in their finest to head off for religious ceremonies. I just don't see it happening. Instead I see people tired and fed up with the season. I see folks awash in obligation rather than enjoyment. I see people choosing to work on a day when few do. I hope that I am wrong, but it seems to this outsider who looks in that Christmas truly is the mother of all anti-climaxes. I would very much like to be proven wrong about this observation, so I am asking all of you readers who have some knowledge on the subject, to set me straight. Has Christmas become what Charlie Brown feared or is there still a bit of Linus left in the day? I am truly interested.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Chinese Food and a Movie, Anyone?

I have wonderful memories of Christmas. Given the fact that I am a non-Christian attempting to avoid all of the commercial trappings of the season, one might find this statement to be odd at best, but I truly do have wonderful childhood memories of Christmas' past. Most people know how Jews spend Christmas. We head out for Chinese food. There is a historical basis for this tradition. Firstly, we Jews really do know great Chinese food (a cultural stereotype that I am more than willing to embrace). Secondly, for many years it was all that we could find open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There was a time in my life when most proprietors of Asian restaurants were also non-Christians, so remaining open over the 24 hours of Christmas boredom was non-invasive. So, head out to any Asian restaurant tonight or tomorrow and you will most probably find the establishment packed to the walls with Jews. Growing up in Toronto meant an almost infinite number of restaurant choices, given our extensive Asian population, but the customer base was invariably the same on Christmas-Jews. But my memories of Christmas and Chinese food extends a bit deeper than most of my landsmen. 

My mother is a nurse and throughout much of my childhood, she worked on a post-surgical floor in a hospital nearby. Unlike many professions, hospital staff must work throughout the holidays. In my mom's day, nurses were given the option of working either Christmas or New Years. (for double time and half, no less!) Being one of only a handful of Jewish nurses on the floor, it was a no-brainer that Mom would volunteer to work the 24th and 25th. Her co-workers were immensely grateful, as at least one of them would be spared having to work through his or her holy day. She would often work the evening shifts-3 pm until midnight- and as such, she left the Little Bro and I in the somewhat capable hands of my father. Not usually an issue, except that when it comes to cooking, Dad is a bit of a lost soul. He can make a mean omelet and can pour a bowl of cereal with the best of them, but as a cook he is a terrific cleaner. We were not a restaurant going family the rest of the year, but every Christmas Eve Dad would splurge and off we went to Spring Garden Chinese Restaurant at Yonge and Finch. (I also have a vague memory of the Sea Hi on Bathurst once or twice as well!) After dinner, the three of us would head off to a movie, (whatever was playing at the Willow or Fairview that might be age appropriate) and then home to wait up for Mom. 

Now this might sound like a very benign memory in the grand scheme of childhood recollections, but it was a big deal for me. It was one of the few times that I can actually remember special time with just the three of us. Dad would make a big deal out of how it was our own special tradition. (Of course, years later I discovered that most Jews have Chinese cuisine for Christmas, but that is truly beside the point!) He planned it and he made a concerted effort to continue it long after Mom stopped working and she rejoined the party. This time was special Father/Kid time and I will forever cherish it. This afternoon, as we were all attempting to figure out something to occupy us this Christmas, Dad mentioned Chinese food and a movie. I think that both of our palates and stomachs have probably moved on past Chinese food. Maybe, sushi and Thai? Tomorrow? What do you think, Dad?

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Oh, The Things One Sees!

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you had remembered to throw your camera in your bag? You are quite safe in the knowledge that without verifiable proof, nobody will ever believe what was actually witnessed? I had such an occasion very late last evening on the mean streets of North Miami. Oh, how I wished I had carried my camera!

The Husband and I ventured out into the balmy South Florida night at around 1:00 am to retrieve The Progeny who were flying into Miami International from the frozen tundra. We are located much closer to Fort Lauderdale, but given airfare at this time of year, Miami was a much cheaper alternative. Given the weather nightmares that are occurring all across the continent, the boys' flight was about an hour behind its scheduled arrival, and as such we found ourselves traversing the still busy Miami roadways at this ungodly hour. (It is truly unbelievable to me what can be done at 1:00 am. We could have eaten at any number of diners, drive-ins or dives, shopped at the local Walmart for those last minute "just can't live without" holiday items, taken in the early show at the strip club up the street, had our prescriptions filled at Walgreen's, bought a fifth of anything at the liquor store and done our banking at the drive through! We are Canadians. Our cities close at ten. We aren't accustomed to all of this conspicuous commercialism. My American friends have learned to thrive in a 24/7 world, while my country-people are more the 12/5 type! But, I digress.) As we headed west along Hallandale Beach Boulevard towards the entrance to I95 south, we noticed that there was an increased police presence on the roadways. Given that it was 1:00 in the morning, The Husband and I found this little occurrence quite comforting. I mean, this is the city where last week a husband and wife attacked each other with kitchen knives! The police were out in full force. In the span of a few miles we noticed cars from both Aventura and Hallandale. Three cop cars all within our vision. As we approached the final traffic light before our turn onto the highway, we found ourselves parallel with a solo officer in a marked Aventura cruiser. We noticed that he was busy punching something into his onboard computer touch screen; checking a suspicious license plate, no doubt. As we pulled up even with this joker, we saw what it was that was really eating into his concentration. This dedicated "keeper of the peace" was playing Microsoft Solitaire online. The Husband and I looked at each other incredulously and just broke out into gales of laughter. We couldn't stop. My asthma kicked in and it took me a good few minutes to breathe properly. This was a classic example of our tax dollars at work. I remarked that I wished that I had my camera, but the husband noted that perhaps taking a flash picture at 1:00 in the morning of a cop with a gun "doing his duty" might not be the smartest move in the world. They do have a tendency to shoot first and question later. It is interesting to note that at least they have made an effort to train these officers in computer literacy. What's next? Tetris?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

I Want a Dog!

As previously stated, I would love to have another dog. The Husband has been adamant in his disapproval, and has come up with every excuse under the sun as to why this would prove to be impossible. I have heard it all. "We aren't in town enough" or "Do you really want a big sloppy animal soiling our pristine living spaces again?" It isn't enough that I am the one who goes the extra inch to keep those living spaces pristine, now he feels that it is his responsibility to remind me of the cleaning duties. None of these half-assed pretenses has deterred me in my quest for a chocolate brown labrador puppy, but I feel as though I am fighting an increasingly losing battle. This week, my dear friend Twin Son's Better Half, took up the cause on my behalf. She suggested that we share the animal or else she might be forced into adopting a second feline for their household, something to which Twin Son is forcefully opposed. A flurry of emails and Facebook notes went back and forth until it became almost comical. And while I have yet to give up entirely on my quest for filler for the animal void in my life, I have at least learned to tread a bit slower. I truly will have no other than canine in my home (please don't suggest aquatic, rodent, feline or rabbit-like creatures as substitutes--they positively will not do!), but I have made friends with a denizen of my building down south.  Check out the closest thing to a pet that I currently have in my life.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

My Parallel Existence

We all take tremendous comfort from our memories. There is a calming stasis that exists within them. High school friends with their natural hair colour, (or in the case of some of the guys-any hair at all!) or old homes with rooms that seemed much larger at the time. Our memories have this innate ability to remain constant, while everything else around us goes through a natural metamorphous. People and circumstances remain constant in those reminiscences, while reality moves forward with light speed. Such is the circumstance in which I find myself whenever I trek to the southern home. 

We started coming to this place when Older Son was but a lump in a stroller. My parents purchased this home away from snow so that they could escape the miseries of winter. At the time, they were amongst the youngest snowbirds in the building, not much older than I am now. Over the years it became a regular retreat for all of our families, and when Other Mother and Other Father bought their place one floor up, the December exoduses seemed carved in stone. The Husband and I purchased our sanctuary in the building a few years back and a certain circle of completeness was neatly formed. 

The characters in the condo seemed to be never-changing. We would return year after year to find the same people with the same stories and the same miseries. True, we would hear about weddings, babies or bar mitzvahs, but they seemed to occur in another space and another time; a space and time to which we could never fully relate. I had a real life of work and family and friends north of the border and these people existed solely in our parallel universe of snow-birding in South Florida. 

Then slowly, as my attention was diverted by my real life, things started to change. Every year, one or more of these individuals wouldn't return. Age or infirmity or time had called, but still we carried on and moved forward with those that remained. We kibbutzed and played as though we were safe within our protective bubble of this parallel world. 21 years is a long time to be oblivious, and so it is that I find that I can no longer ignore the realities that have interfered with my parallel universe. This year change has smacked me hard. 

The physicality of the building is changing. This is a good thing. The 1980's have been over for decades and this place is in dire need of a facelift. There is much grumbling and much discord from the denizens, but they will survive once they embrace the change. It is a virtual impossibility for every single person to agree on decor and design, and the animus right now is profound, but I have hope that once the mess is over they will move on to the next fight. No, the change I feel runs deeper than tile and carpet. There is a connection that has been severed with the loss of two specific individuals. The first was a kindly gentleman who became a sort of adopted grandfather to all. He was omnipresent in his captain's hat and he always had a hello and a story for all he encountered. He was here the first day I entered the apartment, and his void is felt keenly by all, especially around the pool where he was a regular. The second was a regal lady who was a survivor. Never a hair out of place or a shoe that didn't match the bag, she relished the life she had built. She had her difficult moments, but she and I connected, and I always felt that her inquiries about my children were heartfelt. I will miss her class. 

The characters in this parallel universe are changing. I can no longer avoid it. I need to embrace it. I am establishing new connections and new ties that will eventually lead to new memories. My real world and my winter world are converging, and I can no longer cling to the fantasy that time stands still. My bubble has finally and forever burst and I am the better for it. Thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Travel Shit and Other Transient Thoughts

I am not known as a relaxed flier. (This little tidbit of information surprises you?) I am able to muster up a tremendous amount of anxiety when I spy that tin can with wings approach the gate. I find myself fully ensconced in the camp that wonders about the logic of thousands of tons of metal and gasoline lifting 40,00 feet off of terra firma. I also suffer from an extreme case of motion sickness that morphs into vertigo at first puke. The anxiety that I experience in flight, only serves to exacerbate the barfing. It has always been this way.

I have been a projectile vomitter for as long as I can remember. Many a family car trip was interrupted by pit stops at filthy restrooms, so that my extraordinarily patient mother could wipe emesis from my clothes. One would think that age and experience would cure my issues, but no. If I ride in the back seat of a car, I require a window cracked open a hair to allow for airflow. I cannot read, play word games or move from side to side while a vehicle is in motion, else the heaving starts. Boats on the water? Forget it. I have been seasick in some of the most beautiful places in the world. I was nauseated on ferryboats to Sausalito and Prince Edward Island. I puked off the back of a launch in Ochos Rios Jamaica. I was leveled by a hydrofoil in Capri, (I puked into a baseball cap for 45 minutes!) and I hung my head out of a covered launch in Santorini Greece. I have left little parts of my meals in locales the world over. And, planes are the worst. The stench of jet fuel mingling with body odours and weird foods is almost more than I can bear. Combine that with slight fear, and there exists a recipe for disaster. (One of the first times that I flew all alone, with nobody to cover me, I was pregnant with Older Son. The husband was on a business trip and I decided to head to Florida to spend 10 days with my parents. I was about 4 months along and the flight was incredibly rough. I couldn't reach for the bag fast enough and thus, I threw up all over my seatmate. He was an incredibly lovely man who told me not to worry. His wife was also pregnant and he was quite used to a woman vomiting on him! My embarrassment knew no bounds!) I now take a very strong anti-nausea that at least keeps my stomach contents where they belong, if not fully curing the illness, but the pills make me incredibly groggy and I am often passed out cold before the plane is in the air. This state of being is not usually an issue when I am traveling with somebody, but when I am alone, as I am today, it takes all the energy that I can muster just to stay conscious.

Flying has become a chore rather than an excited enticement for travel. Airlines have found ways to suck every taste of joyousness from the experience. The constant leveling of surcharges has forced travelers to stuff their personals in cases so small that it is a wonder that people ever change their clothes while on vacation. Flying with anything in liquid form is strictly prohibited, so most people are left with the options of purchasing their shampoo and toothpaste on arrival, or living the organic life of a 60's commune dweller. Every bit of baggage is scanned and scrutinized and shoes have become lethal weapons. It is not like any of these restrictions are new, but every single time that I line up for security, there is always one dipshit who thinks that they are special. Today it was the asshole who decided that her shampoo and liquid foundation wasn't liquid enough to qualify for the 1 litre Ziploc and held up the entire line while she systematically tossed the entire case into the trash. Then there are the fun people who have made it their life's ambition to entertain us all at the Customs and Immigration booths. The lines today at Terminal 3 were extensive. The wait was at least a half an hour to enter the 7th circle of hell known as the interrogation by US Customs. There are normally 20 or so booths available, but the joke for today was that there were only 5 open. As I finally made it to the front of the line, the booth that I was waiting for, inexplicably closed. I was shunted to an adjoining booth where I met Chahima, the most colourless and most humourless woman on the face of the earth. Chahima is obviously of Semitic descent, and I think that she felt it was her duty to oppress all of us in much the same manner that she herself has probably been unfairly racially targeted. By the time that Chahima and I met, my medication was kicking in big time. My tongue felt like it was coated with a layer of velour and I am not altogether certain of what I said to her. I might of accidentally admitted to a third world revolt. After a thorough grilling as to my profession and how I could afford to take the time off, (she also inquired as to the husband's line of work-as if women can't afford to do these kinds of things without the support of a man!) she grudgingly allowed me to pass. 

Breakfast was not an option. Why does every food item in airport cafes have cheese as its major ingredient? I had to fight for a plain toasted bagel and OJ. The terminal was spinning at this point and sleep would hit me soon, whether I was ready for it or not, but at least I knew that my nausea would be contained. 

I finally settle into my seat on the plane and am readying my ipod into position, when my seat mates join me. I was seated next to a shi tzu. Not a woman who looked like a dog, an actual dog! Tiger Lily. Who in their right mind names a dog Tiger Lily?  That is such a cat name. No self respecting canine could answer to such a name in the dog park. All of the other dogs would laugh and beat her up. But here I was, seated next to Tiger Lily and her very nice people-both large in stature-so that I was pressed right up against the window. Poor Tiger Lily. She was not a happy flier. They fed her doggie Valium, but her anxiety was so acute that it wasn't working. She was only happy when she was seated in Mrs. Tiger Lily's lap, and luckily for them, I didn't mind a bit. Better than the screaming twins that were seated three rows behind. Mr and Mrs Tiger Lily kept apologizing to me for their little girl's behaviour. They offered to buy me a glass of wine, but with my meds, I might still be on that plane. I offered to give Tiger Lily a taste of my pharmaceuticals, but we all thought the better of it. Three hours and a long nap later, I arrived at my destination. Stomach contents still in place and free from doggie breath, I am still heavily sedated, but I am where I want to be-in the land of the warmth and water. My guess is that Tiger Lily will be sleeping it off as well.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Cookie Wars

This blog stuff continues to amaze and perplex me. I have written for over a year now on everything from Sarah Palin's lack of intellectual acuity to the misery that is the St. Louis Rams season. But, nothing has touched the hearts, minds, and apparently the appetites of you the readers like The Great Family Bake-Off. I have apparently touched a nerve. The passion and true dedication that has been expressed over the past few days, as people have done everything short of kiss my feet for recipes, has been remarkable. You people have turned sucking up into an art form. There have been attempts to circumvent the integrity of the voting by stuffing the virtual ballot box and there have been episodes whereby bribes were offered, though never changed hands. I had the unfortunate experience of hearing about my father's prostate. (That should keep me in therapy for a few years!) I even had people try to play on my emotions and trade on friendships. All I can say is "SHAME ON ALL OF YOU!" These are cookies for f@#$ sake. Get a grip people. In the end, while you all have your favourites, it really wasn't a contest. The real winner is the traditional Chocolate Chunk Cookie and as promised the recipe is printed below. If you follow the previous caveats, all should work well, but you should know that this is a truly deadly cookie and a family tradition. Don't mess it up. 

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 cup White Sugar
2 1/2 cups Flour
1 cup Butter Softened
1 Egg Beaten
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla 
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional-but worth it!)
1 large 300 gram bar of dark chocolate (70% dark. A full bar of President's Choice is great as is Lindt!) Use the whole bar. Don't skimp on the chocolate.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine flour, soda and salt.
Cream together sugars and butter in a food processor or mixer. Add egg and vanilla and combine well. Add flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.

Chop chocolate into chunks and chop nuts. Add by hand to the dough and combine.  Drop onto cookie sheets in balls. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Cool slightly and transfer to cooling racks.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Great Family Cookie Bake-Off

I have remarked in this space before about the amazing ability of my family when it comes to baking. My mother and my other mother are true experts in the field, and they have passed this skill on, for better or for worse, down to their offspring. (The "worse" part comes with the caloric intake involved!!) Even the "married ins" seem to possess the necessary genetic code for admission into the clan. And while the gooey cakes and pies are lovely, (the Little Bro has spent an ungodly and frankly disturbing amount of his free time over the past six months on the art of scratch pie making) where we really show our culinary mettle is in the art of cookie making. Without shame and without posturing, I can honestly claim that we lay waste to any commercial bakery. This family is comprised of the creme de la creme of cookie bakers and we really earn our stripes when it comes to family gatherings. This weekend is just such an occasion. This weekend we will celebrate sister/cousin's children's B'nai Mitzvah, and the family ovens have been placed on high alert. Currently, we have whipped up 27 varieties of cookies and squares. 27!!!! This is slightly sickening and extraordinarily obsessive compulsive. 27! It boggles the mind. I was so blown away by the number, that I canvassed the clan and asked for the names of said delicacies so that I might offer up an interesting poll to the readers. I thought that it might be interesting to see where people's cookie allegiances lie. I will rhyme off the entire roster, and you all send me the one that you feel is your all-time favourite off of the list. I will publish the recipe of whichever cookie or square wins the poll. There are a few caveats. 
  1. If you decide to try to make the recipe in your own homes, you must follow my mother's advice and NEVER substitute margarine for butter or artificial vanilla for pure vanilla. There is a reason our cookies are so good and it has nothing whatsoever to do with fake ingredients.
  2. Understand that all ovens and all climates vary slightly, so tailor temperatures and times accordingly, but not until you have tested at ours.
  3. Don't over-cream butters and sugars and never over-handle doughs. This will result in tough cookies.
Ok! Here we go with the list.

Ginger snap jam sandwiches
Rocky ledge bars
Corn Starch cookies
Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Thick and Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Chocolate Macaroons
Oatmeal with Chocolate Covered raisins and currents
Tartlets with Coconut and Chocolate
Apricot Linzer Bars (Pucker Your lips)
Thumb Print cookies

3 kinds of Brownies
Crispy Corn Flakes Cookies
Oatmeal Raisin Chews
Chocolate Chip
Dark Chocolate Sour Cherry
Grammy Cookies
Chocolate Crackles
Reverse Chocolate Chunk
Mint Kisses Cookies
Chocolate Cookies with Sprinkles
Fudgy Wudgy
Shortbread Dipped in Dark Chocolate
Bubby's Chocolate Chunk
Oatmeal with Dark Chocolate and Cranberries
Dark Oatmeal with Raisins

Amazingly, every single one of these recipes has been baked without any nut or nut products due to allergy concerns, but several of these recipes are so much better with a variety of nuts added. So take your time and cast your ballot carefully. Respond by clicking on the word comments at the end of this post and lay claim to the one recipe that you want most of all. I will happily oblige. Mazel Tov to the sister/cousin and her entire family. Simchas are good.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Christmas/Channukah Problem

Several years ago, a friend of mine at our synagogue who hails from the southern hemisphere, was educating me on the observance of Channukah in his native country. The conversation was illuminating. (pun absolutely intended!) He reminded me that December in South America is smack dab in the middle of their summer, and as such a much slower time of year. The kids are out of school and many families take the opportunity to embark on vacations. The conclusion was obvious. Channukah is a minor holiday that is barely observed in my friend's country. Shavuot, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. This festival, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, is one of the most sacred on the Jewish calendar. It occurs in the springtime here and the autumn there. In South America it is a time of family gatherings and strong religious observance, in direct contrast to Channukah. So what happened to elevate Channukah in the hearts and minds of North American Jews? A little holiday called Christmas, of course. 

A bit of history is required. Channukah, for all intents and purposes, is the commemoration of a military win. It celebrates the successful victory of a small band of Jewish rebels fighting oppression and assimilation at the hands of the Hellenistic Assyrian army. The leader of this group was a Hasmonean priest named Mattathias. He and his five sons, including Judah the Maccabee, fought back against the creeping tide of assimilation, retook Jerusalem and re-established Jewish sovereignty. When they finally reached the Temple, they cleaned it and rededicated it and held an eight day celebration that was probably a delayed observance of the holiday of Sukkot, which is a major agricultural festival. This observance took hold and was eventually added to the calendar. (Notice there is no mention of oil or a miracle. That comes later!)

The story of the Maccabees is told in two books appropriately titled the First and Second Book of Maccabees. When the Hebrew bible was canonized, the books of the Maccabees were left out for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a political battle that raged between two factions of priests vying for the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. I need to restate this for emphasis. The story of the Maccabbes is nowhere to be found in the Tanach, the Jewish bible. (Those Pharisees and Sadducees were such comical people!!) The Hasmoneans sided with the losing side in this debate and as such were relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history. It was left up to the early church to include poor old Judah and his brothers in the Apocrypha. 

So where is the oil and the miracle and all the fun stuff? Well, that doesn't show up until the Gemara, a part of the Talmud. At this time, the Jewish people were living under Roman rule, and celebrations of military victories were thought to be unwelcome. So, the rabbis concocted the tale of the miracle of the oil. It is a nice story that also serves to bring God into the picture. 

All of this just serves to illustrate how odd an observance Channukah was even to the rabbis of old. They struggled with the holiday, just as we do today. When Jews made their way into the societies of Christian majorities, it became easy to adopt the rituals of Christmas for a holiday that falls around the same time of year. Hence we have the special foods, songs and gift giving galore. But, let us not be fooled. Channukah is minor amongst the observances of my people. It is only the presence of Christmas that has elevated it in stature. 

Now I present all of this historical context not to dampen the joy that many take from Channukah celebrations, but to put into perspective just how difficult it is to be a non-Christian in North America at this time of year. So difficult in fact, that we have allowed a nice little holiday like Channukah to be co-opted by the "holiday machinery". In my line of work, I am constantly asked for a new and exciting Channukah song that might be included in some school's winter celebrations. I am extremely hesitant to offer up a token just so that inclusiveness might be served. (That said, I have very strong opinions about religious material being sung in public schools, but that is a post for another day!) I would like to suggest something radical. I would like to suggest that this year, we look at Channukah in a different context outside of the crazy gift-giving, cooking frenzies and decorations. I would like to ask that all of my Jewish friends take a step back and pause for some real understanding of the holiday; that it is not merely the "Jewish Christmas". And then, I would like to present an interesting alternative celebration. There is a movement afoot that I first noticed on Facebook.
The event is called "Save the Oil for 8 Days-Modern Maccabee Style" and it has as its goal to try and get everyone to function on one tank of gas beginning on the first night of Channukah, December 21st. It is a terrific way to help the planet, conserve oil and remake ourselves into modern Maccabees. 

When we kindle that first light of Channukah, let us remember why we do it. Let us recall our ancestry and let us remember the fight against tyranny and assimilation. Let us recall miracles and light, and let us rededicate ourselves to important causes. Let us live in harmony with our friends of other faiths, letting them enjoy their holidays without feeling the need to adopt them. Chag Channukah Sameach. A happy Channukah to all who observe.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Tales of Disgusted Woe from a Disillusioned Sports Fan

I love sports. I always have. Perhaps it is a natural outgrowth of growing up with my brother/cousin who was a fanatic. I wanted to do and be involved with everything that he was, and since girls couldn't play organized hockey in those days, I did the next best thing-I learned to talk the talk. (As an aside, I don't throw like a girl and I used to be able to play road hockey as well as any XY! It still pisses me off that our temple baseball team doesn't include women!) Ask anybody who knows me. I understand and can talk sports with the best of them. I am a devoted follower of my beloved Maple Leafs (I know-you can all stop laughing now!!) and my equally beloved Blue Jays. (Being a sports fan in Toronto requires enormous patience, a thick skin and a tremendous sense of humour!) I am also a glutton for constant punishment known in NFL circles as being a fan of the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. (Yesterday, as I was attempting to console Older Son on the loss taken by his beloved Giants to the sad sack, yet division rival Eagles, I stated that it could be worse; they could be 2-11 instead of 11-2. He replied, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "Oh you mean like the Rams?" Nice kid I have raised!) My point is, that sports for me has always been a great hobby and a reliever of stress. I know and understand the intricacies of the games and I can easily engage in intelligent debate with the best of them, male or female. I am not naive, nor am I a purist on any level. I understand that sports are a business and, while I hate the constant movement and lack of allegiance that free agency has brought, I get the notion that both the players and the owners are in this game to make money. I also am fully cognizant that sports needs to keep evolving to keep up with the demands of the modern markets and technology. Save me from the old-school purists who believe that everything should remain the same. With that kind of logic, hockey goalies would still play without the safety of a mask, and football would be exclusively a running game without the forward pass. These issues, while challenging and certainly debate-worthy, are not the problems that are destroying professional and college level sports, in my humble opinion. It is the shit that is occurring outside of the arenas and off of the playing fields that should be of deep concern to all of those intimately involved.

Here is a sampling of stories involving sports figures or teams that have headlined not only the sport's sections of the newspapers, but front pages in the past week alone.

  • In New York, Giant's wide receiver Plaxico Burress was arrested and charged with 2 separate gun-related felonies. Seems that Plaxico visited The Latin Quarter, a popular nightclub, last Saturday with friends. What Plaxico failed to tell his buddies, was that he was packing loaded and unregistered heat. He had stuffed the weapon into the waistband of his sweatpants (sweatpants???) and was a bit surprised (dumbass!) when the gun slipped down his leg. While attempting to retrieve the piece, this "peon of intellect" accidentally shot himself in the thigh. Instead of immediately calling the police, the other player with this moron, linebacker Antonio Pierce, piled his friend into his SUV and took off for the hospital. Pierce also tossed the weapon into the glove compartment of his car, never once thinking afterward that he should turn it into the cops. At the hospital, Burress checked in under an assumed name and the doctor who treated him never reported the incident to the cops. Of course the cops found out, hence the felony charges. Investigations continue into Pierce's role and the doctor in question has been suspended from her work pending a full investigation. Burress, who signed a $40 million contract extension in the off season has been suspended for the remainder of the season and his career is in obvious jeopardy.
  • In Calgary last weekend, the hometown Flames were getting ready to host the visiting Dallas Stars. In the off season, the Stars had signed super-pest Sean Avery to a big-money contract. Avery is known around the NHL as having a big mouth and saying inappropriate things both on and off the ice. He is also an extremely talented player who keeps getting second, third and fourth chances as a result of his gifts, but it should be noted that he has played for 4 teams in 6 years as management and teammates quickly tire of his antics. Avery also has a penchant for dating and dumping beautiful Hollywood actresses and models. Last week he walked up to the waiting reporters and said some fairly ugly things regarding a former girlfriend who is now dating a defenseman on the Flames. Avery was immediately suspended by the league and there is some doubt as to whether or not he will be welcomed back by the Stars. His career is also in limbo. 
  • OJ Simpson was sentenced last week to 9-33 years in prison for his part in the stupidity in Las Vegas. Enough said.

And this is only from the past seven days. We are constantly bombarded with tales of athletes cheating, doping, gambling, carrying weapons, lying to fans and grand juries, involving themselves in off-field fracases and the like. These idiots make millions of dollars (that I contribute to through the purchasing of tickets, memorabilia or cable services)  and because of that fact, they think that they are different from the rest of us simply because they can catch a ball, run like the wind or shoot a puck. I never thought that I would see the day when I was actually so disgusted with sports that I wouldn't watch. The games were always the redemption for the stupidity, but I think that the stupidity is finally winning out. I believe that it is time for morals clauses to be inserted into the contracts of professional athletes, whereby violations would result in immediate terminations. I believe that union officials need to stop coddling and fighting for the rights of athletes that have clearly abused the public trust. I believe that repeated chances for repeat offenders are a travesty and I believe that we the fans should vote with our dollars and our feet. Stop supporting these idiots who are ill-deserving of our worship and maybe they will get the message. It is long passed time for sports stories to return to the sports pages! I really want the action to return to the games and not the crap away from them.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

What to do during Proroguing?

It is now official! The parliament of Canada has temporarily been put on hiatus so that the Prime Minister and his cronies can come up with a new strategy for the country that doesn't involve a gigantic pissing contest. Members of Parliament have been told to return home until January 26th, when, according to "his highness in a sweater vest", the business of the government will resume with the tabling of the federal budget. And, while the Governor General didn't make it easy for Stephen the Arrogant, (she made him sweat out a two hour meeting!) she really did make the only decision that she logically could make. So, now that our elected officials have an eight week paid vacation, (because God forbid that their salaries, pensions or benefit packages should have been prorogued!!) I thought that I might suggest a few ideas of how they might spend their time productively. Feel free to add your own ideas.

  • Relationship counseling. This is not merely a suggestion, but I believe it should be a moral imperative for all of our elected officials, especially the leaders. Stick the four idiots in a room and force them to listen to their self-important and self-promoting speeches to the house, and their less than decorous responses to their colleagues over and over again on a continuous loop. (We've all had to!!) They should all be forced to apologize to each other, all of us, and then develop a strategy to work by. It is no less than we would expect from our bickering children or feuding spouses. We should demand it from the assholes that we were stupid enough to elect. After everyone has re-holstered their manhood, they should be impelled to remember some basic differences between a parliamentary system and a republic. Canadians as a whole did not elect Stephen Harper, the good folks of Calgary West did. He is Prime Minister by virtue of his heading up the party with the most seats. He is only one of 308 Members of the House of Commons and if his government has lost the confidence of the Parliament, it is well within the democratic principles laid out by our Constitution for the Opposition to bring it down. This is not a coup d'etat, but rather a perfectly legal, if maybe somewhat transparent, maneuver, but this is what all of the leaders signed on for when they ran for office, so gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) "get thee to a shrink." A bit of new-age kumbayaing is definitely called for right about now.
  • Knit. Knitting is not only nerve-calming and extremely soothing, it is productive. Knitting circles are popping up all over the place. Why not stick every MP into a knitting circle? It would force them to relate personally to their constituents, and the products of their labours could be donated to homeless shelters, hospitals and Goodwill. Winter is here with a vengeance, why not put some of that free time to good use by making winter a bit warmer for those less fortunate.
  • Snow removal. There are many individuals in my neighbourhood alone, who are not in any physical shape to safely clear their driveways. I suggest that we put the MPs to work shoveling. They are quite used to shoveling, only snow is colder! Think of the money that could be saved by our cities if we put the Members to work clearing the ice!
  • Litter clean-up. Put them to work in our parks and public areas cleaning up the crap. It is not unusual to put people convicted of misdemeanors to work on community service. These jerks have barely begun their community service and they are getting paid outrageous sums to sit on their asses. Get to work and help clean up the communities that you claim to represent.
  • Volunteer. Big Brothers and Big Sisters could use 308 semi-intelligent people to help with all of those kids looking for mentors. Maybe they could work at "out of the cold" programs or clean cages at the Humane Society. There is a lengthy list of agencies just crying for help and maybe if our ivory towered politicians saw up close those whom their politics directly affects, they might be less likely to slash and burn.
  • Teach in our public schools. Put every one of them to work explaining political science to our kids and make them answer for their decisions. Our children are often our toughest critics and ask the toughest questions. Our politicians need to be educated by our youth.
These are just a few that popped into my scrambled brain. I am sure that you have others. Send them along and I will publish.  

UPDATE*** The Sound of Music trivia is closed and I must say that I never thought that you guys would wuss out on the toughies. I did get a few responses, but Kathy once again triumphed with 10/10! Thanks all for playing.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Odetta: A Memorial

This has been a difficult year for us counter-culture types. We have seen many of our legends depart. Odetta was a pioneer of the folk movement, whose bluesy-folkie style influenced the likes of Belafonte and Dylan. A tremendous talent and a voice blessed from above. Enjoy Odetta!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Twas Three Weeks Before

With true apologies to Clement Moore, I offer my own little version of his holiday poem. My only request is that if you pass this on, please give me credit.  I really did write it!

Twas three weeks before solstice, and all over the earth,
People were hoping for a modicum of mirth.

With happiness tarnished, and nerves being frayed
By the loss of life-savings and 401Ks.

Investors were hopeful that something was ready
Perhaps a big bailout like Fannie and Freddie's?

But ma in her kerchief knew what was quite real
That only a car maker gets such a deal!

When out in the real world there rose such a clatter,
The dumbasses in office couldn't handle the matter.

On Sussex they blustered with more of the same
And dicked around playing political games.

They smirked and they name-called, each in their turn
And proverbially fiddled while watching Rome burn.

And south of the border, the lame-duck in chief
Just threw up his hands in stunned disbelief.

He'd nothing of substance to say to the mob,
He believes that they're doing "A Heckuva Job".

And, anyway he has a task that's more fun
It's pardoning season in old Washington!

And quick as a flash he wondered aloud
"Who should I pardon in this motley crowd?"

"There's Rummy and Dick and Alberto pre-emptive,
And Marion Jones seems very redemptive!"

"And what should I do about Scooter so steady,
He really has suffered a great deal already!"

"And though we all know that your stars' clearly fell
A sign of my name will erase all that smell."

"For 50 more days I will do as I wish,
And truly believe it's been "Mission Accomplished!"

But, out in the distance a small ray of hope,
That made us believe that we might really cope.

A man who is smart and steady and wise
Survived an election in spite of the lies.

He's already shown that he will not tarry
We really do like this Barack once named Barry!

His stride is with confidence, his thoughts they are deep
 Tries not to make promises he surely can't keep.

His words they are measured and honestly even,
He needs to come north and give lessons to Stephen.

He knows it is tough, this task he has taken,
But the people won't feel as though they're forsaken.

As he and his family prepare to move in,
Perhaps world healing can finally begin.

Perhaps we can stop all the madness around
And seek some solutions that might be profound.

Start taking some care with the world so entrusted,
And start fixing up some of the stuff that's been busted!

It can't all be done in 4 or 8 years,
But a start is a start to allay a few fears.

And so I proclaim in this season of fest,
Let's look to the future and hope for the best!

Monday, 1 December 2008

A Five Senses Guide to December.

I know it is here. I can see it. The dusting of white stuff that invaded last evening is proof positive that it is here. (Although in fairness to Old Lady Nature, it could have been a whole lot worse!) The malls scream December. The tinsel, green and red ornaments and ubiquitous trees are everywhere. (If you search really hard you might spot the hidden dreydl!) Rotund men in red velvet suits are now suffering their end of the year indignities; leaky diapers, screaming toddlers, frazzled parents and elves clad in green spandex. Outdoor lighting displays, while dazzling, are defying the principles of conservation. (We here in Toronto are preparing to pay for plastic grocery bags, but God forbid we should address the energy hogs of the holiday season!) Parking lots have become a bizarre game of "Who can Spot the Spot?" Crowds jostle and push and cuss, in strange contrast to the ideals of the season. Television has become of dumping ground of holiday specials, concerts, movies and animation. (Rudolph and Frosty haven't aged a day and Linus is still teaching Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas!) Yes, I can certainly see December.

I know it is here. I can feel it. My bones ache from the dampness, sudden chills and below zero temperatures. There aren't enough layers of clothing to keep me warm. My body is screaming for its daily dose of Vitamin D in order to combat my SADs. I require light and warmth. There is now a channel on the satellite that simulates a crackling fire, (Really! All it is, is a virtual burning fire that is never consumed. A sort of holiday version of the burning bush!) and I find this strangely nourishing. I crave comfort foods like soups and stews and casseroles and I don't even eat or like stews or casseroles! I force myself to exercise to stave off packing on the pounds in preparation for hibernation. I push myself out of the house in a desperate attempt to stay sane. I have begun to count down the hours rather than the days until my migration south. Yes, I can certainly feel December.

I know it is here. I can smell it. There is never as much pine in the air as there is in December. Even artificial trees are sprayed with some ungodly odour that better simulates Pine-Sol than pine tree. Ginger, cloves, allspice and peppermint are prevalent in the bakeries. (Doesn't anybody like gingerbread at any other time of the year?) Starbucks has strange coffee menu items like Gingersnap Lattes and Peppermint Mocha Twist. Cooking and baking is happening everywhere. The local supermarkets reek with a variety of  food odours that they are trying to entice the public to purchase. Perfume is prevalent as people head out into the party scene. I am overcome by the pungency of the diesel, as snow plows and salt trucks make their way through the neighbourhoods. I can also smell the panic, the fear, and the desperation as shoppers attempt to find that one missing item on their lists. Yes, I can certainly smell December.

I know it is here. I can taste it. The deep-fried rancidness of the latkes is already in my mouth and I haven't had one yet. People who would never touch a doughnut during the rest of the year, are suddenly charmed by their delectability when we rename them sufganiyot for the holiday.  Peppermint is added to everything. Hershey's kisses were never meant to include candy canes! (Strangely enough-I kind of like these!) What exactly is allspice and why must it be added to my tea? I realize that I am a Jew, but can somebody explain the attraction and taste of fruitcake or eggnog? I mean check out the ingredients for this brew and tell me that anybody actually likes it.

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

I can actually feel my arteries hardening! I am convinced that the bourbon is there for the sole purpose of anesthetizing the tastebuds! December eating is the atomic bomb of healthy consumption. Yes, I can certainly taste December

I know it is here. I can hear it. Christmas carols (and let us be honest, that is what they are- not holiday songs!) are everywhere. Radio stations give up their entire December format to Christmas. Stores play Jingle Bells so often that you can actually see a glazed-over look of submission from the employees. Big-name entertainers suddenly appear on every TV show hawking their latest holiday albums. I truly believe that the world would have gotten along just fine without "A Twisted Christmas", Twisted Sister's musical take on the season. The smart thing to do is to play last year's offerings and wait for January to purchase the soon-to-be bargain bin items from this year. Channukah is not ignored. I Have a Little Dreydl has become a December staple. (Channukah actually has some terrific music and if you are interested in some ideas, please contact me and I will put you onto some exciting new sounds that aren't all about latkes and dreydls!!) December is filled with the sounds of sleigh bells ringing and horns honking. Voices singing and voices swearing. Wrapping paper tearing and waistbands expanding. Yes, I can certainly hear December.

I realize that much of this sounds cynical. December should be a time of family gatherings and religious observance. (I have mine and you all can have yours!) It should be a time of looking back on the old and embracing the new. It should be, but clearly it isn't. It has become about consumption and greed, about frenzied spending and bottom-lines. It has become about gluttony and overindulgence. December fills my senses, but I think that it is time to get sensible about December.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Marley and BJ and Me!

It has been almost 4 years since our beloved and semi-maniacal yellow lab BJ died. It took me a long time to feel like his presence was no longer in the house. (not to mention his hair!) Several months after his death, the husband presented me with a book that had just come out and rocketed to the top of the bestseller's list entitled Marley and Me. Author John Grogan had detailed life with a big, goofy yellow lab that sounded much like my previous 12 years with BJ. I spent the next 24 hours voraciously devouring this charming, hysterical and poignant little gem of a book. I literally laughed out loud, blubbered like a baby, and I felt like BJ had brought me to Marley to help with the healing. (I realize that this doesn't sound much like the cynical personality that I have worked so very hard to cultivate, but I swear to you, that is what it felt like!) Since that time, I have lent and recommended Marley to all my friends and family, especially those who have had to deal with the loss of a beloved pet.

Last winter, came word that Marley and Me was being made into a movie and that the filming was happening all over the South Florida area where we visit. Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson stepped into the parts of John and his wife and many an ADHD yellow lab assumed the role of Marley. The husband and I were actually fortunate enough to accidently bump into some of the location scouting in North Miami. The movie opens Christmas Day and I cannot wait to see BJ (oops Marley!) again. Check out the hilarious trailer.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read the book-I encourage you to do so. If not-support the movie. I hope that you enjoy! Check out my own Marley! BJ-this one is for you!!

P.S. Sound of Music trivia still open. Get those answers in, folks!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Hills Are Definitely Alive!

I had planned on regaling you all this morning with a solid review of the wondrous Toronto production of  The Sound of Music. I had planned on acknowledging my reality-show bias and skepticism, and sheepishly admitting my error. The young woman who was chosen by the votes of the country to play Maria is radiant, with a voice that can only be described as phenomenal. (She is SO young, but the age difference between her and her "Captain", and her and the children is realistic to the real-life Maria.) The staging is brilliant and the children were terrific. My only complaint was with the young actress portraying Liesl, the eldest daughter. She is obviously at least 10 years older than her "16 going on 17" character and she looked older than Maria. It also played havoc with the age difference between her and the young boy (maybe age 14) playing the oldest brother. She could have been his mother! Yes, I had planned on giving you a full review, complete with some Sound of Music trivia, but I have been sidelined by a necessary rant on theatre-going etiquette. (Ok. If you continue to the end of this post you will find some SofM trivia. Cheap prize to the first in with all of the correct answers. By the way-GOOGLING IS CHEATING!!!!)

As I have previously stated, I absolutely love going to the theatre. There is something thrilling and magical about the entire experience. The sets, the costumes, the orchestra, the live performance-I love it all. But, there are times when I truly wish that I could have this experience without the rest of the audience. When did theatre goers forget their manners? When did it occur, that payment for a ticket gave one a license for rudeness? I thought that I had seen it all, but apparently I was mistaken. PEOPLE!! We have obligations as an audience. We have etiquette that needs to be observed. Hence, I offer a short list of dos and don'ts for the average theatre goer. 

  • Do come on time. There is nothing worse than interrupting the performers on stage and the audience members around you with your inability to read a clock. Traffic is terrible and food at a restaurant can sometimes be delayed, so give yourself extra time. If I have to stand in the middle of a song one more time to allow a boorish latecomer to pass to a seat, I may commit an illegal act.
  • Do turn off your cell phone! What? You think that all of those announcements at the beginning of the play are for everybody except you? If you simply cannot afford to miss that important call or simply cannot be out of contact with your babysitter, then my suggestion is that you simply don't come! I paid a pretty penny to watch the play, not listen to your telephone conversation. Several years ago I was in New York on a Broadway weekend and I had the good fortune to nab tickets to Golda's Balcony, an incredible one-woman show starring Tovah Feldshuh. In the middle of Golda debating the pros and cons of the Yom Kippur war, some asshole's phone rang. Ms Feldshuh, being the true professional that she is, stopped in the middle of her monologue, put her head on the table and waited a good five minutes until the dick in the audience switched off his ringer. It was incredible to watch, and once she had collected her thoughts, she once again returned to the character. Cell phones and live theatre do not mix!
  • Do show your appreciation with laughter and applause, but please don't sing along with the actors on stage. I get it. I know all of the lyrics too, but I paid to hear the professionals, not you. When Maria breaks into her chorus of Do-Re-Mi, please refrain from exercising your vocal abilities.
  • Do bring your children. I love watching the faces of young people totally enthralled by their first big theatre experience. The theatre needs new blood and cannot survive if we don't teach our kids. That said, children need to understand that they are not in a movie theatre. There isn't any popcorn, it is inappropriate to put their feet on the seats in front of them, and that talking is a huge no-no.
  • Do dress appropriately. I realize that we live in a casual world and that people simply do not dress-up anymore, but the theatre is an outing. Would it really kill you to not wear the jeans with the holes in the crotch or the hooker outfit bought in the Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue?

  • Don't wear cologne or perfume, no matter how much you like it or how expensive it might be. Last evening the woman next to me bathed in her bottle of Calvin's latest. I fanned myself with my program so often to attempt to dissipate the stench, that she must of thought that I was having a hot flash. I had an asthma attack in the middle of one of the Mother Abbesses speeches. OY! 
  • Don't eat garlic, onions or fish directly before coming in. We are all in very close quarters and I really don't need to guess what you ate for dinner by smell.
  • Don't bring your leftover cocktail into the theatre with you. My smelly seat mate also found it necessary to slurp her glass of red wine during the performance-both acts!! 
  • Don't unwrap your candies and lozenges during the performance. That little exercise can safely be handled before the lights dim.
  • Don't carry on your personal conversations during the show. The mother and daughter sitting directly behind us were in the middle of a typical teenage angst argument concerning piercings and tattoos. I had no choice but to listen to this obnoxious 15 year old lecture her mother about what an old-fart she is. This "bitch in training" was loud, profane and wholly undeserving of the more than $100 that her mom had spent on her for the evening. Shut up and leave the personal dramas at home.
I feel better now. Thank you for indulging me my little rant. If you have occasion to visit the Toronto area, or you have the good fortune to live here, go see this show. It is well worth the bucks!

Some SofM trivia to liven up your Wednesday. Take special care to note whether I am talking about the stage play or the movie. Good Luck all.

  1. Mary Martin played the original Maria on Broadway. She was 46 at the time. How old was the actual Maria when she married Captain Von Trapp?
  2. What does Marta want for her 7th birthday?
  3. Oscar Hammerstein II died before the film went into production. As a result, 2 songs that were added for the film were composed entirely by Richard Rodgers. What were they? (By the way-both of these songs have now been added to play!)
  4. What do Lesley-Anne Warren, Patty Duke, Mia Farrow, Sharon Tate and Kim Darby all have in common?
  5. The movie features a rare on-camera performance by Marni Nixon as Sister Sophia. Ms. Nixon was better known as the behind the scenes singing voice of many a famous actress. Name 3 movie musical roles that Marni Nixon dubbed!
  6. Who played the Captain in the original Broadway production?
  7. The entire children's cast was nominated for a Tony award. Which award were they nominated for?
  8. Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta in the movie, had to miss the final episode of her TV show that year in order to make the filming. What was that classic show?
  9. How old are the Von Trapp children? (Remember there are 7 of them!)
  10. Julie Andrews nearly turned down the role of Maria. Why?
I realize that these are tough, but did you honestly think I was going to ask you about My Favourite Things? Enjoy, and remember first with all correct answers wins a CHEAP prize.

Monday, 24 November 2008

My Not So Secret Obsession

I realize that I have been out of touch for the past few days. Coming down from an incredible high will often render one incapable of thinking of anything else for a time, but I think that I am ready to re-enter the land of humanity once again, and so back to reality.

We all have some hidden pleasure in our lives that we are reluctant to share with friends and family for fear of ridicule. Maybe you are a regular viewer of American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, but you watch in solitude on a Sunday night when nobody knows. Maybe you like a good romance novel, but will only publicly discuss the bestsellers lists. Maybe you like Elmo? (Ok-I adore Elmo. That furry red monster just makes me laugh. I cannot help myself!) I myself have an obsession that is really not so secretive. I have absolutely no problem telling the world that I am an enthusiastic devotee of musical theatre, and by extension the Hollywood musical film. (I realize that there are several of you wincing in pain as I divulge this bit of information, but I really could not care less!) My name is Dawn and I am a "musical junkie"! There is no rhyme or reason for my freaky fanaticism, I just truly love the art form. (Yes, it is an art form. I'd like to see you all break into a rip-roaring free-for-all, truly athletic song and dance in order to celebrate something as benign as a picnic!) 

I was raised on the stuff. How many people of my generation do you know, who can recite the resumes of such illustrious performers as Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn and Gwen Verdon? (Who?--Look 'em up!) How many people of my age do you know who can regale you with trivia like "Who played the original Curly in the brilliant Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway production of Oklahoma?" (hint: it wasn't Gordon MacRae! First person with the correct answer, wins a prize!!) I just love the stuff. I love how the music weaves into the story. I love the simplicity of it, even when the action is far from simple. (See Spring Awakening!) I marvel at the choreography and I am in total awe of the talent, the voices, the musical composition and the creativity. When I saw Idina Menzel in the original cast of Wicked, I bawled my eyes out when she sang "Defying Gravity". It isn't even a sad song! I was just so totally moved by the sheer power of her performance. I even love the crap. Judy and Mickey putting on a show in a barn! Mamma Mia? Crap! But I can't wait to see the movie. We Will Rock You? Utter crap!! (On second thought-don't even waste your money on that one!) Hairspray? Great play- average movie. John Travolta was seriously miscast, but I have seen the stupid thing 10 times! I am a sucker for all of it. But, the ultimate, the all-time favourite, the piece de resistance is The Sound of Music.

I have no rational explanation for my clear obsession for this piece. (Julie Andrews' vocal range may be part of it!) I have seen the movie more times than the Husband or I dare count. The Progeny are so mystified by my devotion, they have stopped asking for reasons. I personally and currently own copies of the film on VHS, Laser Disc and DVD. I have the special editions and the director's cuts. I can recite every line and every lyric. I know which nun Marni Nixon played and which nun was played by Anna Lee. (Sick, no?) But, despite my true reverence for this work, I have never seen it on stage. (Camp does not count!) So, it was with absolute giddy excitement that I bought myself a present. Tomorrow, the Husband and I will brave the Toronto traffic and head to the theatre district to finally see The Sound of Music live and onstage. Sir Andrew Lloyd  himself is mounting this production, and the part of Maria is being played by a young woman who was chosen by a reality show. In spite of all of the obstacles, the reviews have been astounding and I am truly psyched. Many of my nearest and dearest have asked me how did I managed to cajole the Husband into such an obvious "testes-squeezing" evening. What can I say? He loves me! Musical theatre lives!!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Kol Isha: The Afterglow

Well here I sit in sloth-mode, attempting to come down from the incredible high that was the Kol Isha concert.  I have tried to collect my thoughts all day before attempting to construct this post, but my head is so very muddled.  Please indulge me if I sound a tad incoherent.  

For those of you who know me personally, know that I am a bit tightly wound. (I can almost hear a collective facetious chorus of  "No shit"!!!) So, heading into our dress rehearsal yesterday I was stricken with an assortment of psychosomatic ailments ranging from intestinal disorders, to headaches and a strange nervous cough that just lingered all morning. To put it mildly, I was scared shitless and no amount of stroking, joking or confidence boosting psycho-babble was going to help the condition.  In short, I needed to get the proverbial show on the road and the anticipation was killing me-literally! To add to my now-legendary anxiety, was the fact that our colleague from Western New York was finally going to be in attendance to rehearse with us and nobody knew how the whole thing would come together. I needn't have worried. She proved to be warm, willing, gracious, altogether humble and wholly uncomfortable with the spotlight being thrust upon her. My kind of woman for certain! We all meshed in voice and, more importantly, in personality and character. By the time all of  the fussing with music stands, microphones, choreography, a slightly flattened Eb on the piano, reserved seating, frigid temperatures in the theatre (we were all blue with cold!) and the storage of our stuff backstage (six women have bags and bags of "stuff") was done, we knew that there was nothing left to do but sing our lungs out. 

And sing we did!! We sang from the depths of our souls and we sang to the rafters of the moldy old theatre. (Is it ever a blessing that this place is being torn down and rebuilt properly. The backstage and dressing areas are truly disgusting with mold stains on the ceiling and cracked tiles throughout. The bathrooms need a thorough cleaning and the temperature in the building is so inconsistent that we were wearing our winter coats inside for much of the day! We were forever warming ourselves on the light bulbs on the make-up mirrors.) We created a new model for the dusty old cantorial concert. We danced and we shimmied and we played. One of the email comments that was forwarded to me today spoke of seeing Miriam and the women with their timbrels. That comment touched me in a way that was so strikingly personal and was so at the heart of everything that we attempted to convey last night. It was impossible to get a sense of the audience (who braved a miserable weather night to fill the place to capacity!) while actually being in the moment, (the lights blinded me so completely to the crowd, that I had no idea who was there until this morning when I started getting messages!) but the response has been overwhelming. 

I need to express my heartfelt gratitude (it seems like so little, but it is what I have to offer) to my "singing sisters" who stood together as one on that stage and saw this project through to a remarkable conclusion. The music, the love, the debates, the devotion and the chocolate were more than I could have ever hoped for! The connections that were forged will last a lifetime. I need to acknowledge the wonderful people at Kolel and especially their visionary leader for even pondering the notion that something like this could work. I need to thank my Kol Ami family who turned out in force in support of something that I am certain many thought would be a colossal bore. (Boy, were you ever WRONG!!) We may be small, but we are mighty and our strength was there for all to see last evening.  Finally, to my family-those who were there physically and those in spirit-thanks for putting up with my "stuff", for listening, for lending credence to my shit and for just saying "Yes, Dear", "Yes, Dawn" and "Yes, Mom" for much of the last three months. Your support was unwavering as always.  And now, I need a vacation! Take me south, husband!!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sarah Palin:7 Million Dollar Woman!!

I'm sorry.  I have absolutely no time to be writing this today, but the headline just could not escape my attention.  It seems that the Governor of Alaska is in line for a big payday in the form of a book deal.  Publishing houses are lining up to throw money at this woman. This woman who could not string together two coherent sentences if her career depended on it! (Oh-that's right-HER CAREER DID DEPEND ON IT!!!)  If Governor Moosemeat deserves 7 mil, then I believe that I am entitled to at least half of that for having to endure the farce that was her campaign for almost three months.  Honestly!  Who in their right mind would actually shell out $25-$30 for the ramblings of the "Mind to Nowhere"?  If Sarah were to ask for my assistance on her book project, (and I am certain that she could care less about anybody's opinion but her own) I might offer her these samples as potential chapters.

  • The Tenderized Moose and How to Cook it.  She could include family favourites like Moose chili, (which poor Matt Lauer had to endure!) moose burgers, moose meatloaf, a nice moose rub, and maybe chocolate moose for a dessert!!  She could also add step by step instructions as to the art of moose stalking and a how to guide on the rigours of how to properly dress a moose, so that the funky taste of buckshot is removed.
  • Snowmobile maintenance and Care. She might require the "First Dude's" help with this chapter.  Relevant advice could include how to start the damn thing when the temperatures dip to the ungodly, diesel vs unleaded (drill baby drill!!) and how to safely affix a car seat to hold baby Trig! 
  • Pandering to Congress for Pork Without Getting Caught.  Build a few more bridges, drill on a few more wildlife preserves and melt a few more glaciers all without it sticking to you politically.
  • How to Shop at Saks and Barneys for $150,000 or less.  Worthwhile tips could include how to blame others for the expenditures, how to dress down a wardrobe so that items appear to have been purchased at the consignment shop in Wasilla, or how to teach your 7 year old to work that Prada bag!!
  • How to Deal with the Liberal Media. Basically don't engage in any press conferences, hide your medical records from prying eyes, and only give sit-downs to the friendly sorts like Sean Hanity.  Avoid the beast that is Katie Couric at all costs!
  • How to Name your Child like a True Alaskan! Just look around the room and find the most obscure object there, and VOILA!-baby name!!  "Sofa" "Frame" "Stool"......
  • Vacation Ideas from the Gov! Who needs to travel and see the world when one can see Russia from the front porch.  

Please feel free to add your own chapter ideas for the "Thrilla from Wasilla".  Mama needs to earn that 7 mil!!