Monday, 28 December 2009

Every Single Day I am Reminded That I am OLD!

I figured that I couldn't allow my birthday to go by without some kind of recognition. We have been continually inundated over the last few weeks with lists of the best and worst of the decade of zero and of 2009 specifically, so I thought it only appropriate to offer up a quick hit list of my own that will bring into better focus how I know that I am closer to fifty than forty. Happy f@#$ing Birthday to me!

  1. I know that I am old because I do not for the life of me understand the allure of American/Canadian Idol. When did it become okay to accept canned shit for music entertainment? From what I have been able to garner from the brief snippets that cross my screen as I am waiting for Bones or House to start, is that very few of these poor deluded souls can actually sing and that the image that they are trying to project is nothing short of hideous. Where is the real musical talent for the new millennium going to come from if we the viewing and listening public keep relying on Simon Cowell to spew it? I pine for real musicians-you all know who they are!
  2. I know that I am old because body art is lost on me. I realize that I covered this in a previous post so I will not rant for too long, but honestly? I saw a guy the other day in Miami with sleeves tattooed on his arms! In glorious technicolour! My boys tell me it is the age of self-expression. I think it is the age of stupidity.
  3. I know that I am closer to 50 than 40 because I have yet to recognize the obsolescence of the land-line telephone. Both of my boys have forgone the old telecommunications model, and rely solely on their cells. They are not unusual amongst their generation. I still cannot get past the idea that a blackout will one day soon re-affect the entire eastern seaboard and the only way of getting a message through to loved ones will be on the old analogue plug-in that The Husband and I keep locked away safely in the front hall closet. In the words of the Boy Scouts "Be Prepared"!
  4. I realize that I am old because I spend most of my time at B'nai Mitzvah parties in the foyer or the hall avoiding the ear-splitting thump of the horrid dance music that emanates from the gadgets of the already hearing-impaired DJs, who seem to forget who pays the bills and blithely ignore our pleas for level decibels. To all of you who are coming up on parties for your new teens: I highly recommend a kid's-only bash. Us old farts can't handle the noise.
  5. I know that I am old because I would rather see a good movie with great acting and a wonderful story than be wowed by special effects. I have been told by many people, including Older Son that Avatar is an unbelievable movie-going experience that will change film-making forever, but that the story is merely adequate. Call me crazy, but I would rather watch Meryl Streep act her ass off, than have her upstaged by computer generated effects.
  6. I get it! I am old! I know this because Lady Gaga is a poor woman's Madonna to me, I am wholly uninterested in the Kardashians, (who the hell are these people?) and I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the lives of any real housewives from any city in the lower 48.
  7. I know that I am old because I have already come to the unmistakable conclusion that no matter how much I cut back on carbs, sugar, calories, taste, or food in general, and no matter how many hours I spend sweating and toning in the gym, I will NEVER EVER EVER look like any cover girl on any magazine on any stand in the Western Hemisphere. Why? Because I know (age will do this to you!) that all of these images are unattainable as a result of photo-shopping, plastic surgery and botox. Even the 60 year olds are touched and retouched, so I can't even look at the "mature" women's rags without puking. Love yourself is my motto, and f@*& what is unreachable.
  8. I know that I am old because I hate the term "cougar" and any other such moniker that demeans women of my age. What is wrong with women enjoying and dating younger men? Old guys with young hotties on their arms have been the norm for decades. Nobody called these dirty old bastards something as offensive as cougar. I am open for suggestions. Anybody got an equally ugly moniker for an old fart who needs several Viagra in order to get it on with his cradle-snatched mate?
  9. I know that I am closer to 50 than 40 because I still like to receive snail mail. Don't get me wrong, I am an avid user of e-mail and I like to text, but there is still something really special about receiving a letter, card or thank you note in the mailbox. And while I am on the subject, thank you notes should always be handwritten, personalized and sent out within weeks of the occasion. (YUP! I am old!!!) On the other hand, junk mail is worse when delivered because it is truly a colossal waste of paper.
  10. Finally, I realize that I am old because every meal is an adventure in some new stomach issue. I used to have a cast-iron stomach, but that all changed as I entered middle-age. Dairy, heavy sauces, some raw vegetables, certain ethnic dishes and legumes will undoubtedly increase the likelihood that I will spend copious amounts of my time in the lavatory. What a wonderful way to approach my next decade.

It should be noted that my birthday is only my 47th and that I still have a few years to go before I hit the golden age, but I have noticed lately that 50 seems much closer in the windshield than 40 does in the rearview. While I hope to embrace tomorrow and every birthday which I am blessed with with verve and excitement, there is a strange sense of foreboding that comes over me when I realize that I am now in a new age range on the surveys, that I am close to being able to get into a movie in Miami as a senior, that I am fearful of driving at night because of the strange halos that I see around street lights, and that I am the same age tomorrow that my mother was when she first became a grandmother! (Not that I want to be a grandmother, gentlemen!!) 47 is starting to sound pretty good. Happy Birthday to me!!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Gecko Named Gordon

There are many things about The Husband worthy of admiration. He is truly brilliant, yet he has a wonderful way of explaining a situation to you without making you feel stupid. He is a real out-of-the-box thinker that sees problems from angles that most us could never even imagine, yet he is perfectly happy to walk away from ownership of these solutions and allow others to assume credit. He is incredibly handy, especially considering he is a Jew, and he is usually willing to try new things, mostly because his intellect causes him to bore easily and the new and untried provide challenges. Yes, there is much about The Husband to admire. His interactive skills when it comes to the smallest of nature's creatures, however are not usually worthy of praise. My man has a genuine phobia of the creepy crawlies!

It usually is quite manageable. He screams "spider" or "wasp" and I come running with tissue, vacuum hose, or can of Raid at the ready. Squeamish I am not, so it has become understood in our relationship that I kill the bugs. (An aside to my dear friend Twin Son's Better Half-Yes, I kill them!! You are the only one with enough karmic energy to save the little buggers from a hellish and devious death!) We have a good division of marital labour that works. He does the banking and I annihilate the critters. It has served us fairly well over the years. Ok! There was that one time when he almost drove us into a tree because a large, green preying mantis found her way onto the inside of the driver's side window, but those incidents are rare. And then-there was our stop today in Costa Rica.

The six of us decided to charter a private tour to show us a good chunk of the country. We were all set for a wonderful day roaming through the local markets, a banana plantation and a river tour of the rain forest. Our friends at Okey Dokey Tours (swear to God! I couldn't have made that name up if I tried for a year!) provided is with a great driver, a sterling guide named Harrison, and most importantly, an air conditioned 8 seater van. As we piled into the vehicle, The Husband chose to park himself beside one of the windows. As I slid in next to him, I noticed a small gecko had made himself comfortable on the window ledge inches from The Husband's arm. The poor little guy was just taking in some sun. Keenly aware of his history, I quietly asked my man if his little seat companion was coming along for the tour. Well, that was clearly the wrong approach. The man jumped five feet and wedged me between himself and the door of the van. He kept pushing against me (not in a good way!) all while I kept attempting to calm him down so that I could corral the scared creature and free him from a car-full of panicked Canadians. Gordon (I named him for Michael Douglas' character in Wall Street) was not about to sit still for the commotion and made his way to the rear of the van, where my equally terrified friend was sitting. She was none to happy with Gordon's flight and she moved into a similar pattern as The Husband's. By the time that Gordon had fled and order had been restored, his legend had already grown to ridiculous proportions. According to The Husband, he had hair and long fangs. He had huge eyes and a longing to suck all of the life juices from his body. The bloody thing was the size of my thumb and wouldn't hurt an ant, but such was the terror in The Husband's mind.

Our friend the social butterfly was so amused by the events of the day, that he bought The Husband a t-shirt sporting Gordon's image for him to wear all around the ship as penance. Being the great sport that he is, The Husband complied gracefully. As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida"-It's all good!

Cruise Impressions

A few cruise thoughts.

  1. Eating is a spectator sport on any cruise. It constantly amazes me how many people I only spy at the buffets. And of course, one full plate of the taste of the day is never enough. We have seen many a food addict with several plates piled high with enough calories to choke an elephant. With our new eating routine has come a much stronger awareness of what we are putting into our bodies. I believe wholeheartedly that obesity is the scourge of the 21st century. No wonder The Biggest Loser is such a popular show.
  2. Speaking of our veggie lifestyle, we have found it incredibly easy aboard ship. Now it is true that the staff is eager to cater to our needs, but both The Husband and I have discovered new ways to eat, and both of us are enjoying it immensely. There hasn't yet been a meal where either of us has walked away hungry or unsatisfied. Now, last evening's meals of teriyaki tofu steak was not high on our taste hit parade, but it was artfully prepared and filling. We much preferred the stuffed poblano peppers and the Indian meal. Vegetarian does not equal boring.
  3. The Husband and I are certainly feeling quite young on this particular cruise. The average age seems to be hovering around 70, and it is not unusual to encounter near collisions with a variety of motorized scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, or just an over-anxious senior with a cane. Yesterday we met up with several lively characters. First, there was Joe from Delray Beach via Brooklyn. Joe simply decided that he had had enough of his lunchtime company and parked himself at our table to give us a lesson in origami. Two cranes, a box and a boat later, he was cajoled by he wife to lave the "younguns" to their business. Our friend the social butterfly later ran into Joe in the elevator and in the time it took to travel 5 floors, found all about his pension, his monthly income, and how many cruises he takes yearly. Later in the evening, we had the distinct pleasure of meeting Betty and her partner Lou. They were waiting for late seating dinner and were alone because all of their travelling companions were too old. Point of order!! Lou is 94 and Betty is 84! They have been together for 19 years and she said that the secret to their longevity is to NOT get married! "Who needs it?" "It only complicates things!" They travel a lot and have only recently been slowed by Lou's required use of a walker. He seems to hate it, but accepts it for what it is.
  4. Were you aware that the earth spins? And were you also aware that it moves continually around the sun? Apparently these really smart guys named Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton canonized these ideas centuries ago. There also exist the many laws of motion. One cannot get from point A to point B without using some form of transportation, be it by foot, wheel, rail, air or sea. So given all of this necessary movement, and the basic laws of physics, why is it that I cannot go anywhere without becoming violently ill in the process? Our second sea day was a nightmare! We were on the outer edge of a tropical storm and the ship pitched miserably for about 18 hours. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, my equilibrium was shot and the only thing left in my stomach was air. Even water was coming back. Dinner was a write-off and I knew it was bad when The Husband joined me in a fetal position on the bed. The next day when natural order had been restored, we learned that a good 50% of the ship's passengers had forsaken dinner, and that walkers and wheelchairs were hurled about the deck like toothpicks. Several near death experiences were luckily averted.
  5. I realize that I am no longer counted amongst the youth of society, and that this question might sound a tad old-fartish, but can somebody explain body art to me? A small tattoo on the ankle or shoulder in the shape of something cute like a rose or a dolphin is perfectly understandable to me, but what is up with the garish colourful crap adorning huge percentages of body canvas. This shit would make even Picasso or Dali mutter "HUH?" We have seen it all. There is a woman aboard who has the entire Lord's Prayer scrawled on the side of her torso in Aramaic! We know this because my friend actually had the cajones to ask her. And what about all of the jokers with Asian or East Indian characters inked on? I am certain that they believe that they say something spiritual and comforting like "hope" or "strength". My guess is that it really says Kung Pao shrimp with a side of rice. Why would anybody permanently etch something on their body that they wouldn't be caught dead hanging on their walls? I know! I'm old!

I love cruising but sometimes I cannot understand those who cruise. It is truly a microcosm of our North American society.

Don't Eat That Chicken of the Sea


We are finally on vacation! I honestly never thought that I could be so tired. Every fiber of my being is screaming for quiet and every cell in my soul is calling out R&R. I sit here typing this from my extended balcony cabin aboard Carnival Cruise Line's "Miracle", gazing out onto the beautiful Atlantic. I tell you all this fact not to invite envy nor to incite jealousy, (although I am quite certain that many of you would like to be here with me) but rather to count my own blessings. Believe me when I say that sometimes life really doesn't suck.

The Husband and I are quite determined to make a real go of our new veggie lifestyle and this cruise will provide a true test. As we boarded this afternoon, I swore I saw panic in my man's eyes and I could almost hear the faint whine emitting from his lips that cried "I'm going to starve, aren't I?" I keep reminding him that he is not tied to anything and the decisions that he makes are entirely his own. He, on the other hand, keeps reminding me that he knows who is the boss and he in no way feels "whipped"!

Following a lunch meal that was filled with meatless options, he relaxed a bit and in all seriousness wanted me to know that he is actually enjoying the new way of eating. He is sated on much smaller portion sizes, has tried foods that he would have previously dismissed, feels less weighed down and less stomach heavy, and likes the new-found consciousness and awareness he his absorbing with his meals. The cruise will still provide a few challenges, though. We will have to discuss joining our friends at the gourmet steakhouse on board, as the options seem a bit limited. (Editor's note: We did go to the restaurant and it was exceptional. The chef bent over backwards to accommodate us for both my dairy problems and cook us a gourmet vegetarian feast.) We may grow weary of seeing the same food day after day, but hopefully that won't happen. Believe me. This vacation is about way more than food for me. It is about getting my bearings back and about relocating my joy. The veggie lifestyle has surprisingly become less taxing and more organic than I ever thought possible. It is becoming part of who I am.

A quick little cruise tidbit. We headed down to one of the lounges to mark the fourth night of Chanukkah with "those who share the Jewish faith." Aside from the New York Zaidy who thought he was the only maven capable of leading the masses, it was lovely. Zaidy did a commendable job with the lighting, but his renditions of Chanukkah song classics sent me in search of a Hari Kari sword. The misery was that severe. The latkas were great and the Maneschewitz was flowing like milk and honey. My friend the social butterfly implored me to take over the music, but I would need a lot more of the red stuff for that to occur. All in all, a great first day.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For.....

I have been so extraordinarily wrapped up in my little food project of late, that I almost allowed my seasonal rant to fall by the wayside. Yes, people. It is that time of year again when all of us non-Christians living in the northern hemisphere desperately search for ways to survive the month of December without going bat shit crazy. The malls have been tinseled since Hallowe'en, the neighbours have "Griswolded" their homes to such an extent that bright light streams through our bedroom window all night, and many of my favourite radio stations have adopted all-Christmas playlists until after the new year. I ask you in all honesty. How many different interpretations of Frosty The Snowman does the world really require? Today I heard a ridiculous tune from Brad Paisley entitled Penguin, James Penguin about a little flightless bird that acts as Santa's secret spy. I almost drove off the road.

It is difficult enough for all of us non-Christmas observers to muddle our way through this overwhelming time of year, without the added demand of having to defend ourselves from those within our own ranks who clearly have a lack of understanding about our own observances. Such was my impression from the article that appeared across my screen yesterday from Tablet Magazine. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a practicing Mormon, has written a brand-spanking new Channukah song and has recorded it just in time for the start of the festival. While I applaud the senator for his ecumenical leanings and his attempts to breach the religious chasm, I personally found the song he composed incredibly infantile and trite, and took great exception with author Jeffrey Goldberg's comments that he "always felt that the song canon for Hanukkah, a particularly interesting historical holiday, is sparse and uninspiring, in part because Jewish songwriters spend so much time writing Christmas music." While it is true that many beloved Christmas songs were composed by Jews, it should in no way diminish the incredible roll of Jewish artists that have and continue to compose outstanding musical representations of the festival. (BTW! Check out the lyrics for such modern Christmas standards as White Christmas or The Christmas Song, written by Tribe members Irving Berlin and Mel Torme, and you will find references to trees, mistletoe, gifts and winter, but no mention of Jesus or religion! They are actually acute examples of how Christmas has be inappropriately absorbed as a non-religious experience by so many outside of the Christian faith. Not exactly in the same vein as Adeste Fideles.)

Believe me, Mr. Goldberg, Channukah music ceased being simply about that Little Dreydl long ago, and it speaks to your ignorance on the subject when you fail to do your homework. The list of Jewish artists who have recorded some outstanding and truly rocking tunes for the holiday is too long to list in one post, but I will direct your attention to so that you might better understand the Jewish music culture that exists today and that seems to be sorely lacking in your education.

As a musician, who on more than one occasion has been asked to provide the token Channukah song in the "Holiday Program", I beg Mr. Goldberg and all those in the media like him who haven't kept up with the cultural and religious music from his own people, to take a closer look. We in the business certainly know the true meaning of this holiday and we kind of resent the ignorance being spewed by those who should know better. Mr. Hatch? Thanks for the present, but I think that I will be sharing the music of Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, Craig Taubman et al as my personal musical gifts for the season.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

How We Doing So Far?

We are a week into the Great Vegetarian Experiment, and I thought it fitting to offer up a few observations on how things are progressing. Of course, it isn't possible to accurately gauge anything from a week, but there are a few things that I have found rather telling. Here we go in no particular order.

  • It is much easier to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle today than it was 25 years ago. The choices that are available, especially in a big city like Canada's largest, have exploded. There are several organic and specialty stores within a couple of kilometres of my home, and they carry anything and everything that the budding carrot eater might require. I must admit that preparatory research is essential in planning the menus and changing the eating paradigm. Textured Vegetable Protein isn't necessarily on the average carnivore shopping list, but can be a staple in this new diet. Interesting and varied vegetables and fruits, once firmly ensconced on the exotic register, are easily obtainable in most produce sections and can liven up boring meals.
  • While we have been able to procure almost everything that we have so far required, the costs can be ridiculous. There is no doubt that eating in this new way has inflated our grocery bill. Fresh produce is not cheap, and buying fresh produce in Toronto in December can be a source of stomach churning anxiety for even the most hardened of food shoppers. We have always purchased fresh fruits and vegetables even when winter drives up the prices, but because we are consuming them in greater quantities we have seen our bills reach for the heavens. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the primary reasons that obesity and health issues are so much more prevalent in lower income household is the high cost of healthy eating. Let's face it-it is much cheaper to feed a family a steady diet of Mickey Ds than it is fresh food. If we ever hope to instill smarter eating choices as bedrock foundation for our ever-growing population, than the economic realities of healthy eating must be addressed.
  • We are not hungry! Neither one of us. Isn't that stunning? We aren't searching for snacks, we aren't complaining about not being sated, and we aren't miserable. In fact, just the opposite is true. I have noticed a fullness after meals as a result of much smaller portions. I am certain that one of the reasons attributing to this phenomenon, is the addition of more fiber to our diets in the form of beans and seeds. I have supplemented my eating with a few extra vitamin enhancements such as B12 and Omega 3 and I suppose that this has also helped, but all in all I am a bit shocked. I have tried every conceivable fad diet know to Western civilization, and this is the first time that I am not feeling hungry or deprived. Can it be that my body is actually getting everything it requires and thus isn't speaking to me in those surreptitious gaseous noises that I attempt to hide from the rest of the world?
  • I feel lighter in spite of my fullness. I have dropped 3 pounds this week and it certainly isn't a direct result of my workout schedule, which has become slightly dormant due to increasing apathy. (This is not an unusual occurrence for me at this time of year as I attempt to navigate the early stages of winter and SAD in the Great White North, and I prepare for my annual pilgrimage to the Southern Home.) There is no doubt that my exercise regime will resume when I find myself once again in the land of sunshine and colour, but in the meantime the weight loss is a bonus.
  • I find that we are constantly having to explain and justify why we have embarked on this project. It is an interesting byproduct of the journey. I don't think I ever once had to justify why I ate meat, yet people are fascinated with the reasons why I have chosen to forgo it. There is no doubt that vegetarians still reside in a huge minority vacuum, but I do find it fascinating that we are still so far out of the societal norm that people require we provide reasoning for the choice.
  • I have become far more aware of cow farts than I ever thought possible. This will be the subject of a blog post later this week, but I thought that I would tease it here. Google cow farts and methane gas emissions and you will be stunned by the results. With the environmental summit opening this week in Copenhagen, we should all become more aware of the world in which we live. Rabbi Eric Yoffie stated it quite succinctly in his Biennial sermon.
    The meat industry today generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change throughout the world. According to a U.N. report, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all transportation sources combined. And the preparation of beef meals requires about fifteen times the amount of fossil fuel energy than meat-free meals.
    And this is an area where we can make a difference. Our carbon footprint is largely determined by the energy that we use to heat our houses, get us to work, and produce the food that we eat. There is only so much that we can do to reduce our heating bills and shorten our commutes, but we can eat in a different way. Professor Gidon Eshel of the Bard Center has suggested that the effect of reducing our collective meat consumption by twenty percent would be comparable to every American driving a Prius instead of a standard sedan.

    • The Husband and I are really enjoying the time spent together preparing meals. Throughout the early years of our marriage, there was no doubt as to who the chief cook and bottle washer was in this house. Over the years, as we have both become more attuned to the food entering our bodies, we have prepared our meals as a team and it has become one of the great times of our day. I will say that he was more than a little bit skeptical about this venture, but he has been tremendously open-minded and willing to taste and try new things. The food paradigm is shifting in more ways than just choices.
    • I can unequivocally state without hesitation that The Husband has not grown any girl parts, nor has he become a weeping mass of hormones. As to his feelings on the project as a whole, I will reserve judgement for a bit.

There is no question that some of the more challenging aspects of our new lifestyle lay ahead of us. The Husband is tremendously concerned about our cruise next week, and seems to have developed an unnatural aversion to the idea of eggplant parmesan. He thinks that this dish will be his only viable option to meat meals. (I have no problem with his squeamishness, as I too loathe eggplant!) Restaurants have not been a huge issue yet and will undoubtedly become more of a concern when our boys join us for a week in the Southern Home. Younger Son loves to eat out (especially when Mom and Dad are buying!) and most likely has compiled a list of favourites that he will want to visit. We will cross those bridges soon enough. In the meantime, week one has been successful and has raced by surprisingly quickly. Keep you posted.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Comfort Food

I once asked my mother, who suffers from more food induced stomach ailments than this space reasonably has time to describe, if she could eat one food without fear of it making her sick, which delicacy would she choose? Given the fact that it has been decades since she has been able to digest entire food groups, I expected her to chime in with dairy laden dishes like rich chocolate ice cream or four cheese pizza. But, instead my mother's comfort food was a hot plate of french fries and a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. I shouldn't have been shocked by her answer. My mother, like so many of us, has always resorted to food from her childhood when searching for that which will soothe from within. Food plays a much greater role in our lives than the simple nourishment of our bodies. What we eat also nourishes our souls.

My paternal grandmother fancied herself a wonderful cook. She really wasn't, but nobody in the family ever had the guts to set her straight. She was a formidable woman who, as an adult immigrant from Poland in the late 1920s, was already a young married running her own household when she stepped off of the boat and made Canada her home. Her culinary style was one that is still familiar to most Ashkenazi Jews. She served up a diet that was heavily laden with starches, schmaltz, and whatever kosher meat was available at the best price from the local butcher. The fattier the meat, the better it was!! Colourful vegetables were a rarity on my grandmother's table, (unless one counts dill pickles as a vegetable!) and heavily boiled or stewed carrots were about the only produce served in a semi-natural state. My father has often joked that he never knew that vegetables were green until after he got married. Everything was thrown into the same pressure cooker and emerged with the same hue-a sort of off-colour taupe. It tasted taupe too! Salads, unless marinated, were non-existent. Ancient recipes handed down for generations were staples, and often inedible. Honestly, who really can stomach ptcha? (For lack of a more appetizing description, this gelatinous mess is a hybrid of jello, garlic and cow's feet. My Bubby used to add hard-boiled eggs to it in order to give it a lift. I am gagging at the very thought of it, and it has been more than 30 years since I have seen or sniffed it.) The crazy thing about my grandmother's cooking and as unappealing as I still find it to this day, is that my dad considers it some of it the finest food he ever ate. Why? Because it was his comfort food. It brings him back to memories of his mother and his childhood. It is extremely difficult to separate the food from the reminiscence.

None of us are any different from my parents. Holiday images are all tied up with memories of Bubby's Passover brisket or Grandma's Christmas ham. We cannot even vaguely envision family gatherings without the baked chicken from this cookbook or the roast lamb from that one. To alter the model, alters our consciousness and our sensory memory. Changing one's diet radically to include a vegetarian lifestyle, changes our history, our culture and dismisses some of what came before, and in all honestly, makes me a little bit uncomfortable. If we enter into a paradigm shift on eating and we move the dialogue forward to the point whereby our families can accept the choice, can we develop new dietary traditions that will work within our cultural heritages?

Jews are all about the food. There cannot be a gathering of Jews without noshing. Having a meeting? Who is providing the snacks? A rehearsal? Where are the cookies? Holidays are more than simple family gatherings. They are about commemoration through cuisine. Observance through eating. It's Rosh Hashana? Break out the honey cake recipe. Channukah? The latkes. Shavuot? I want my blintzes!! It is impossible to separate our Jewishness from our Jewish food, and there is an element of that eating that is tied up with meat consumption. We have come close to hand to hand combat in my family over the additions or deletions of certain Passover recipes at the seder table. It is a true demonstration of the passion that our food can engender. Could my family envision a wholly vegetarian seder? I honestly think that many of them would rather return to slavery in Egypt. The reconciliation of my history with a new norm is part of the struggle that I am having.

I have always maintained that eating is more than about calories. Nora Ephron has a wonderful passage in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. She writes:
"Here are some of the questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard?....Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down and smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievably delicious?"

She has a point. We cannot effectively separate ourselves from the emotion that our food decisions conjure within us, nor should we attempt to. My efforts to make ethical eating choices need to blend seamlessly with my emotional requisites, my likes and dislikes, and especially my history and heritage. I don't want to always think about what I am eating. Every so often I really want to join my mom in a steaming plate of french fries. Dad can keep his ptcha all for himself!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Does Being Vegetarian Make One a "Girly-Man"?

There are a great many issues that interest me about vegetarianism. The effect of the meat industry on the environment, the health effects of a heavily meat-oriented diet on our bodies, the health effects of a mostly vegetarian diet on our bodies, the cost factor in maintaining this way of life, the social stigma involved in the transition, the Jewish response to all of these questions, and of course the obvious moral and ethical dilemmas, are only some of the questions that I hope to answer for myself throughout this month. I must confess that I was heavily into my research on factory farming and noxious pollutants when The Husband expressed his greatest fear about my project. I was fully prepared for an extended whine concerning his suffering from malnutrition or his ambivalence toward tofu. I never saw this reality coming. My man was concerned that becoming a vegetarian would affect his masculinity in the eyes of his friends. He stated it bluntly.

"I don't want to be seen as a "vagiterian"!

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The pun was priceless and extraordinarily clever, but it was a perfect elucidation of his point. Does adopting a vegetarian diet make a man feel less like a man?

Now, please understand. I have occupied the estrogen space in this house alone for the last twenty-five years. Being the only woman in a house full of men has taught me a great deal. No matter how enlightened they are, and no matter how feminist-conscious I have attempted to make them, they still are men and certain behaviours are in-bred. Toilet seats will always get left raised in a full salute. The Sports Illustrated swim suit edition will always be the only issue that is physically fought over. My boys loved stuffed animals when they were children, but they naturally gravitated toward video games. They both love to read, but while my idea of a classic is anything by Jane Austen, theirs is anything by Hunter S. Thompson. They like Borat and Judd Apatow and hate romantic comedies with Sandra Bullock. They love the theatre, and I have even managed to instill within them an appreciation for musicals, but they both gravitated towards Rent and Spring Awakening and loathed Hairspray. I get it. They are men, and men have a different way of viewing things then do women. So, when The Husband stressed over becoming a "vagiterian" I may have laughed, but I took the concern seriously.

There is a perception that has been fostered of man eating meat. A prehistoric male hunting and gathering and hauling the kill back for a meal. Fred Flintstone and his brontosaurus burgers and pterodactyl wings. Think of King Henry VIII holding a turkey leg or middle-ages knights dining on hindquarters of mutton. King Henry holding a tofurky drumstick doesn't quite fit the image, does it? Roman orgies wouldn't have the same cache if they only served stir-fries and couscous.

Men like meat. It is built into the DNA. They revel in the masculinity of finishing a 20 oz steak at the finest restaurant in the city, and bragging about the "meat sweats" in the aftermath. They discuss grilling and barbecues as lovingly as they discuss cars. They drool at the thought of chicken wings and ribs at their Super Bowl parties, and they mock those who eat said food with utensils. Real men gnaw on the bones. (Insert grunts and barks here!) The Husband was worried that he was going to be ridiculed for giving up that which he considered a vital part of his virility. In short, he was concerned about peer pressure and getting beaten up on the playground. And he would not be all that far off in his assessment.

In the vegetarian population, women outnumber men by almost 2 to 1. According to a 1992 Yankelovich study commissioned by Vegetarian Times, of the 12.4 million people who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male. There are some reasons behind this discrepancy, but the most obvious is health. The number one reason that most vegetarians forgo meat is to improve their overall health. Figures show that women tend to play a more proactive role in their overall preventative health care. Because women tend to pay more attention to health matters, they are more likely to change their diets in response to a health concern. Animal rights is another reason that people turn from eating meat. Men are certainly involved with animal rights organizations, especially in the upper echelon of these groups, but almost 80% of the membership of these groups are women.

There are recent concerns about what eating a meat-free diet and what excessive amounts of soy-based products specifically, will do to a man's testosterone levels. Anytime a report messes with manhood, there is a reflexive spasm that seems to occur in all men to grab their crotches. While all of the evidence certainly isn't in yet, the mere mention of raised estrogen levels is enough to scare off even the most enlightened man. There are other sources of protein that can replace soy in a vegetarian diet, and hopefully these will be enough to quell The Husband's fears, but the social stigma still remains. Holding up famous vegetarian figures like Jim Carrey, Albert Einstein or Paul McCartney does nothing to help the image that vegetarianism is girly. A few high profile pro athletes stepping forward, or an action star or two would certainly help the cause. How do we convince men that healthy and ethical eating is not effeminate? How do we turn "vagiterianism" into vegetarianism? Real men want to know.

Monday, 30 November 2009

What to Cook on the Night Before?

What does one cook on the night before entering into self-decreed vegetarianism? Is it incumbent upon me to empty out the refrigerator and the freezer of all things animal? Do I toss the last bits of turkey chili into the trash and do I scrub out the last remnants of chicken curry from a weekend meal? Or do I instead, have a smorgasbord meal. A last blowout of carnivorous indulgence that will probably result in what my dear friend labels "the meat sweats"! It is kind of like getting stinking drunk the night before adopting a dry lifestyle. Does that totally contradict what I am attempting to accomplish, or does it serve to remind me of what I am planning to forgo? It is a difficult choice, considering the fact that I still haven't heard definitively from The Husband if he intends to join me in this new dietary habit. If he cannot enter into the pact free from reservation or qualification, then that leftover turkey chili will come in mighty handy as a meal for him when I am busy experimenting with new dishes that centre around tofu, quinoa and black beans. On the other hand, do I want to become a short-order cook and have to prepare separate meals for each of us?

I think that this vacillating is demonstrative of the questions that I am having about this entire project, and I do believe that this is healthy. If this new chapter in my life has any hope of taking a permanent foothold, I have to be able to reconcile all of the various issues that are certain to crop up. I will need to be able to answer for myself why I choose to do this, and if I cannot be satisfied with the answers, why I will choose to abandon it come January 1. While fascinating on a personal discovery level, it doesn't bring me any closer to the question of what to make for dinner on this the night before. To meat or not to meat? That is the question!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A New Way of Looking at Food

This post is my 300th since I began this blog two years ago. I decided that in order to fully honour this auspicious occasion, something dramatic and monumental was in order. Okay. So maybe what I am about to say isn't all that dramatic, nor is it particularly monumental, but it is a bit of a change for me. On December 1st (Tuesday for all of you poor souls without handy access to a calendar) I plan to embark upon an experiment in ethical eating and vegetarianism. Allow me to elucidate.

This is not the first time that I have embarked upon a vegetarian lifestyle. I have been a sort of rogue vegetarian off and on since high school. At the time, it was a way to assert my independence and my sense of self. A kind of bumper sticker mentality that would hopefully (and hopelessly, as it turned out!) make this music geek more palatable to a wider variety of high school cliques. The downside of my aborted meat boycott was the 25 or so pounds that I packed on when carbs became the focus of my diet. I was incredibly naive. I thought that I could simply remove an entire food group from my diet and not suffer the physical repercussions that were inevitable. Nobody thought to school me on protein or iron deficiencies, nor did we have a complete understanding on complex carbohydrates and the difference between a good carb and a bad carb. Back then, soy and soy products were things to be ridiculed, rather than embraced. I clearly remember the shunning that took place when an aunt dared to bring a tofu cheesecake to a family dinner. Oh, the horror!! Jews and tofu simply didn't mix. I returned to a meat eating diet, albeit minus most red meat because I simply do not like the taste, in part to pacify my horrified health care professional mother, and in part to better regulate my weight, iron levels and protein issues.

I returned to vegetarianism for several summers while working at camp. Again, my reasons were somewhat less than altruistic. The food at camp sucked! And while this wonderful Reform Jewish camp didn't offer a kosher menu, (it was the Midwest of the 1970s and 80s) it did offer an alternative vegetarian menu for all of us so inclined. The food on the veggie bill of fare was marginally better than the swill emanating from the regular kitchen, so I enthusiastically signed on. The catch was that once one was labelled vegetarian, one had to remain so for the entire summer. No waffling allowed. No sneaking fried chicken on Shabbat. I had no problem adhering to the rules, but the problem was that the camp cook believed that a vegetarian diet was primarily based on the constant consumption of cheese. By the end of the summer, I had honestly forgotten that broccoli was supposed to be green in colour, carrots orange, or that protein could be found in sources outside of the cow.

The last many years have been spent outside of the realm of vegetarianism. I have still shunned most red meat, but poultry, seafood and fish are staples. I have an issue with lactose intolerance, so most of my focus has been spent trying to remain healthy after a meal, rather than worrying about the meat industry and its effects on our environment or on my body. Stomach issues are not pretty. I have been continually preaching healthy eating habits in my home for as long as anybody here can recall, but it is true that I am not a saint, and I fall off of the wagon more times than I care to recount. I have a penchant for chocolate and I love french fries. Bread is one of the great inventions in the history of mankind. It is right on up there with penicillin and the wheel, as far as I am concerned. Food is important for so many reasons to me and it is important that healthy eating doesn't forever get in the way of enjoyable eating. That is why I am taking such an intense look at this foray into vegetarianism this time around, and why it is tied up with a heightened interest in ethical eating.

Here are the ground rules as set down by the commissioner. (That would be me!) This experiment will commence on December 1st and run for at least the entire month. I will forgo all animal flesh during that time, but I will continue to consume dairy (lactose-free!) and eggs. Just call me a lacto-ovo vegetarian for the month. I will chronicle the entire process through this blog. I have numerous questions and concerns that I am hoping will be answered either by my own experiences, or by you the readers. I have asked The Husband to join me on this quest of self-discovery, and to his extremely carnivorous credit, he is giving the matter considerable thought. If he chooses not to embark on the journey, there will be no judgement. I have decided to use the month of December for very specific reasons. Firstly, we are only going to be in the northern home for another two weeks and then we head south for three more. I really wanted to live the life in a variety of situations. Secondly, we will be going on a cruise for one week during the month, and I wanted to get a handle on vacationing as a vegetarian. Anybody who has ever been on a cruise knows all too well the importance and centrality of the food. Thirdly, I have a birthday at the end of the month, and the date seemed a logical time to shoot for as a goal. Finally, much of December is food focused. Holidays, family gatherings and vacations are all intertwined with menu preparations. Could there be there a better time to focus on what is going into my body?

I don't expect this to be easy, nor do I expect to feel deprived. I simply want to look at my life and eating habits with a new and hopefully more conscientious focus. I expect the road ahead to be challenging but intriguing. Happy 300th to me!

Friday, 27 November 2009

How Much Longer?

For any of you who have followed this blog since its earliest days, you will recall that it began as a recounting of our kitchen renovations in the fall of 2007. You can find the link for those early posts on the bottom right of this page. Home improvements have been a constant theme throughout the course of my marriage. We are always attending to something. It could be as basic as cleaning the gutters, or as involved as gutting the kitchen. Most of the responsibility for this constant state of redecorating and renovating turmoil definitely lies with The Husband.

I am forever in awe of my guy's abilities. He has a fix-it gene that seems to lay dormant in most Jewish men, and he has a way of looking at a project that can foresee the underlying beauty as opposed to wanting to attack every problem with a sledgehammer and circular saw. The Husband also has an innate need for constant change. I think that it is the curse of the truly brilliant that they bore easily and endlessly, and therefore require the new and improved in order to keep them truly engaged. This defines The Husband to a tee. He is always searching for the next great thing. Often he can satisfy these urges with a new toy. (At the moment, his new iPhone is filling a tremendous void!) Sometimes, a new project can fulfill his needs. (This is an ideal time for a commercial for Still Waters Vodka, now available at a location near you. Please pick up a bottle to help enhance your holiday celebrations.) But, every so often that home renovation urge kicks in and my man has to scratch his itch. Such is the case with our supposedly simple bedroom project.

Many months ago, it became quite apparent to the both of us that our bedroom required an upgrade. We had been sleeping on a mattress that was well past the expiration date, our threadbare linens dated back to the Clinton administration and the paint on the walls was washed out and depressing. Given the economy, and the knowledge that the changes required were little more than cosmetic, we came up with a scaled back plan of redecoration by which both we and our bank account could abide. The first job was the bed. We had been sleeping (or attempting to sleep) in a worn out mattress that fit in an over-sized wrought-iron 4 poster frame. The frame was far too big for the room and we desperately wanted to scale it back. The Husband went to work on the bed, removing the posts and replacing them with finials that created a much more comfortable and relaxing environment. It wasn't any easy job and it required a few tools that I am still unfamiliar with. It took several weeks to work out the issue, but work it out he did. We were ready for step two; mattress removal and replacement.

A trip to Sleep Country Canada had been on our calendar for weeks, but I hate shopping on Saturdays. For several years I have attempted to keep Shabbat in my own way, and shopping on Saturday is one of the things that has disappeared. The Husband is only available on weekends due to his busy schedule, so finding a suitable Sunday to test beds was a challenge. High Holidays this year all gathered on the weekends, so our mattress dancing journey was inevitably delayed. Just as we were about to venture forth into the world of Sealy, Serta and Simmons, The Husband abruptly decided that maybe we should search for linens at the same time so that we would be prepared when then new mattress arrived.

The white sale was my domain. Anybody who has ever tried to procure decent and beautiful sheets in Canada, does so in the States. We just do not have the same kind of selection that our American cousins have. Since a trip to Buffalo was not in the cards, I did the next best thing. I went south on the internet. After requisite stops to the usual haunts here in the GTA and coming up unsurprisingly empty-handed, I went for a virtual shop. I found what I was looking for on This wonderful company buys up overstocked merchandise from retailers and offers them at cut rate prices on the web. Overstock recently began shipping north of the border and I was able to find wonderful thread count sheets and finishings at a very decent cost. Ordering done, The Husband and I headed to lie horizontally on a dozen or so king-sized. An hour of foolishness later and our new mattress was ordered and scheduled to arrive at or around the same time as the linens. All was going well, and it seemed that the only task left in our mini reno work was to paint the walls.

The inevitable fly in the ointment. I knew that it was too good to be true. I begged The Husband to hire a professional painter. It wasn't that I doubted his abilities to paint. Far from it. I know how good he is at this stuff. I just wanted the project to take a day or two at the most, and I was concerned that if he tackled the job, it would take weeks or months. He laughed and mocked me. "It is only four walls and a ceiling", he sneered. "It won't take me long!!" Famous last words. We picked our colours on October 24th. How do I know the exact date? Well it was Parashat Noach (the Torah portion for the week was Noah) and we ran into a temple choir member at Home Depot who was also doing some painting and had chosen Noah's Ark blue for her basement. Kitsch? Maybe, but the date stuck with me. We bought all of the supplies, save the paint, because The Husband wanted me to bring home the samples to be absolutely certain of the colours. He didn't bring the paint home for another 10 days!! Why? Don't know! But something always seemed to get in the way. I came home from a Saturday morning service a week later to find the trim and doors painted. The next week, he did the ceiling and the following week, he taped the walls. We had decided to paint three walls a honeysuckle gold and one wall, the one with the bed, a cherry red. The gold had to come first. Two Sundays ago, I finally had gold walls. A couple of days later, hoping to finally complete the job, he stripped the tape off of the gold so that he could re-tape on the soon to be red wall. Disaster. (You can't be surprised!) For some inexplicable reason, the tape between the ceiling and the freshly painted walls stuck mercilessly, and stripped huge chunks of gold paint. He was crestfallen and sulked for three days. This past week, he hand painted the entire perimetre of the room. It was frustrating and time consuming, but brilliantly done. Hopefully, the red wall will get done this weekend, but I will believe it when I see it.

It is really amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do for a room. We had decided to spruce up without breaking the bank, and the finished product will look spectacular if and when it ever gets completed. My guy is truly great at this stuff, but speed is definitely not his strong suit. I should have learned my lesson about home renovations and The Husband years ago, but it seems as if I am doomed to live a Groundhog Day existence forever more. Six weeks and counting? It could be worse.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

I Require Remedies for Sore Legs

A few more quick hit thoughts from the final day of the food and wine show.

1. I absolutely hate dance music. The constant backbeat emanating from the bartending school directly across from our booth is enough to make me puncture my eardrums with a rusty spoon and relish the bleed! Not only that, they have been playing the same 20 songs on a mix loop all weekend long. I used to enjoy Kid Rock's "Sweet Home Alabama All Summer Long". I think that I have heard the f$&@ing song 50 times in the past 36 hours. Guantanamo could learn a few things from the school of mixology!

2. The world is definitely divided into 2 classes-douchebags and everybody else. Most people coming to the booth have been absolutely lovely. They are kind, respectful, and eager to taste the product. And then there are the miscreants better left in the garbage holes they crawled out from. I have been perpetually stunned by the assholes who cannot seem to grasp the legal mandate of a measured pour. We have had a few belligerents try everything from bribery to threats attempting to induce an extra half a ounce from the boys. Douchebags are douchebags whether they are drunk or sober.

3. There is definitely an underworld of deal-making that happens at these shows. The guys have become friends with our neighbours in the extreme bean/Caesar rimmer booth to our left. Together we are mixing up a wicked Caesar! We are also a bit ticked off at the bartending school for actively pushing our competition, even after a very pleasant conversation that we hoped would even the playing field. No such luck. I believe that money has changed hands.

4. Finally, my legs are screaming at me for relief. After four consecutive days and nights of standing, they feel as though they have been whipped continuously with leather lashes at a high rate of speed and then bathed in vinegar. My knees are as rigid as the tinman's before the oilcan. I am not unused to sore legs. I walk or run several miles a week for exercise, but this is a new kind of misery. Any remedies from the masses are welcome.

Four hours and counting. If you have yet to buy a bottle of Still Waters Vodka, get to a store near you today or check them out at

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Game to Pass the Time

A few more random thoughts as I try to look useful at the food and wine show, going on this weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

1. Do conspicuous consumers of food and drink really need to feel as though they are indulging inside of a refrigerator? It has been a constant source of amazement to me since we started this marathon at how fricking frigid it is in here. The temperature seems to be inversely proportionate to the amount of people in the room. The busier it gets, the colder it gets. They tell me that this is an ideal environment to sell vodka. I'm just plain cold!! I have been seen several times over the past 48 hours in full winter regalia, gloves included! I feel like I am in Vegas where they purposefully lower the thermostats in the casinos in order to encourage wakefullness and supposed sobriety. Of course, the half-naked refugees from Sex and the City don't seem at all fazed by their trek through the tundra!

2. The Older Son and I have been playing a people watching game entitled "Spot the agent from the AGCO". Apparently the alcohol and gaming commission has been here in full force, but they like to play it cool, discreet, and undercover. Maybe the hidden agent is the middle- aged guy with a pot-belly and silver mullet? Maybe it is the hoser bitch who claimed that the vodka, which has been in an ice bath since yesterday morning, wasn't cold enough for her? Maybe it is the Muslim couple in traditional garb, conspicuously avoiding all alcohol booths? Or, maybe it was the slightly tipsy twenty-something wearing the tell-taled iron ring of all Canadian engineers, who kept coming back for refills with her friends hoping that we would comp her a shot! No dice!! The game continues.

Keep posted for further updates. I need to go find my gloves. My fingers are freezing!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Am I whoring out my children?

A few random thoughts as I sit here as useless as tits on a bull at the food and wine show at the Metro Toronto Convention Cente.

1. Is this any way for a nice Jewish girl to spend Shabos? Here I co-mingle with thousands of would-be lushes as they often pretentiously sniff and snort their way to inebriation, which has to be their vision quest. On the other hand, The Husband's vodka is garnering rave reviews and I still am paying college tuition for one child, so anything that pushes our way into the crowded Canadian bars is a virtous way to spend God's holy day.

2. Am I a crappy mother? We have enlisted the help of all of the offspring to help in this most important show of shows. There is something incredibly unsettling watching one's children describe alcoholic beverages in vivid detail and become animatedly excited at the same time. Twin Son put his lovely daughter to work chatting up the customers and there is no doubt that traffic has markedly increased. Is this what we have become? Vodka pimps?

There will be much more to share as the weekend progresses. Stay tuned. In the meantime, get thee to a liquour store and purchase a bottle of Still Waters vodka. Mama needs a new pair of shoes!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bruised But Not Beaten

On my way to Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday evening, I took a tumble-literally. I know that there are three stairs leading from my home into the garage, but I apparently decided that one was sufficient and completely avoided the bottom two. Consequently, I ended up with cuts, scrapes, and bruises from my right hip to my right ankle, a sore lower back, and a butt decorated with more hues than the indigo end of the colour spectrum. (For all of you long time Blue Jay fans, George Bell's butt has nothing on mine!!) For the most part I was incredibly fortunate. Aside from some obvious discomfort, I neither broke anything, nor did anything tear. I didn't injure my head and the only other thing of consequence that suffered measurable damage was my pride. I mention this Jack and Jill adventure not solely to elicit sympathy, (although a little bit of oohing and ahing from the peanut gallery wouldn't hurt at all!) but to share where I landed and how I think that it has some symbolic relevance. You see, I ended up, butter side down, smack dab in the centre of one of our blue box recycling bins. The backpack I was carrying, filled with my service music, siddur, tallit and song sheets, found a resting place in the green bin used for organic composting.

There is something strangely ironic about finding oneself amongst the recycling. It is almost as if the cosmos were sending me a message. While old ideas and thoughts can be comforting and easy, it often takes a grand leap of faith (or in my case, a tumble!) to venture into the new, provocative and unknown. The new takes work and practice and time. The old and recycled requires little thought or energy. The innovative needs planning and careful execution. The old appears unimaginative, uninspired and pedestrian. It seems to me that we all need to save ourselves from the recycling. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new and sometimes terrifying endeavours. We must never let ourselves become complacent or bored, lest we become boring. Building on the old to develop the new should be exciting, not frightening. We cannot allow ourselves to dismiss that which we do not understand simply because we are too lazy, too old or too nervous to learn anew.

There was also a strange synergy associated with the fact that my religious materials found their resting place amongst the organics. My personal conversation with God is inextricably linked with my being. It is a deeply internal conviction that I wouldn't presume to impose on anybody else, but my faith and my Judaism are living, breathing parts of me. It is that constant searching for religious truth in a modern world that has led me to push myself forward, even when life has been its most challenging, and complacency would certainly have been the easiest course to take.

It was almost as if my little slip down the stairs was meant as a little tap on the shoulder from the powers that be. Be more aware of the actions that I am taking; become more engaged in newness and freshness, lest I become obsolete, and recommit myself to personal and holistic growth. Landing on my ass was just about the best lesson I could have had this week.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Biennial and H1N1

I had my pig flu inoculation yesterday. Now before any of you accuse me of queue jumping or inappropriate health care protocol, I would like to remind you that I am considered high risk due to my chronic asthma. Breathing may be a bodily function that most of us take for granted, but trust me, when it is something that becomes laboured, one truly realizes its importance. My arm is a bit sore, (nothing out of the ordinary from the seasonal flu vaccination that I am subjected to annually) and there is a bit of bruising around the injection site. Again, nothing that a couple of extra strength Tylenol can't address. I should also mention that while my doctor is fairly certain that I have already suffered through a bout with this miserable virus, there is always a chance for a recurrence and I refuse to play host for another pathogen party.

Contrary to the myriad of conflicting evidence about vaccinations on the internet, I prefer to take my medical advice from trained professionals; namely doctors and public health officials. (With sincere apologies to skeptics like Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, or Jenny McCarthy.) I will not profess to know everything or anything about the composition of said vaccines, or their potential effects on the body, (I will leave that up to the experts!) but I do know a bit about what it feels like to suffer through the swine flu. I do know that it can be devastating on the body and I do know that in the wrong person, the effects can be catastrophic. I do know that it is spreading like wildfire, (According to the Centre for Disease Control the flu is now widespread in 48 out of 50 states and Health Canada reports that it is now in all provinces and territories) and that it is easily spread through cursory contact. (Washing our hands and Purelling is all well and good, but I shudder at the thought of air travel this holiday season with all of the hackers, sneezers and drippers!) I believe that having the shot is a public health issue. If I get the vaccine, then that is one less person that is likely to be felled by this miserable virus. One less person clogging emergency rooms and doctors offices. One less person missing work or school. One less person spreading it around. I choose to stay healthy and I am helping my fellow citizens stay healthy as well. Obviously, vaccinations are a personal choice and I can do nothing to convince any of you to inoculate yourselves or your families. I am simply stating my personal preference.

The Biennial was a little like my swine flu inoculation. It has taken me a few days to decompress from the whirlwind that was the 70th Union For Reform Judaism Biennial. I wanted to breathe for a bit before I offered an assessment of the five and a half days that I spent in the heart of my hometown. Biennial conventions can be like camp. They are filled with great programming, phenomenal music, incredible ruach, (spirit) wonderful friends, and spiritual renewal. But, like camp the glow fades and reality takes over when faced with the truth. Biennials can do nothing to help the overall health of a congregation unless one is willing to take the shot. We must take all that we have gleaned from the convention to renew the health and well-being of our congregations. One cannot become inoculated by osmosis. One cannot simply expect others to do the hard work necessary to make our congregational communities relevant. In other words, many more need to make the commitment to full Biennial participation if the whole of the kehillah expects to remain healthy.

I learned a great deal over the last week at the Biennial. I took home some wonderful new music, some innovative service ideas, some programs that I think might translate well to my congregation and some new friendships. Mostly what was renewed in me was the sense that our congregations are all about relationships. We need to value our people and our programs will follow. We need to understand that our synagogues are not businesses in the traditional model, and that our members are not shareholders waiting for return on their investments. We rely heavily on our volunteers and they need to be made to feel as integral to our success as is the clergy. Simple letters of thanks aren't trite, they are essential. Youth programs aren't a drain on our resources, they are an investment in our future. Technology, websites, social networking and blogs like this one are the new media and we cannot get stuck in old and traditional models that no longer reach or meet the needs of our members. Rabbi Yoffie challenged all of us to update our technology in his Shabbat sermon, and we can no longer use the excuse of lack of time, knowledge, or money to block us in appropriately meeting the needs of our members. We are losing touch, and synagogues should be all about touch.

I will have a great deal more to say about synagogues and community outreach in upcoming posts. It has become a personal passion and I have come to the very real conclusion that in order to survive, synagogues and we synagogue leaders by natural extension, need to radically alter the model. The paradigm is simply outdated and needs a complete overall. If we hope to keep the synagogue at the centre of Jewish life, we need to wholly reexamine our goals, our direction, and our vision. At the top of this list should be to inoculate ourselves with the medication that is already available through participation in future Biennials. It might not be the panacea we crave, but it is a good start.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Flexibility is the key!

It has been a number of years since I sang in a choir. I have sung with choirs, for choirs and conducted choirs. But given my soloist status over these many years, singing with a group of many souls attempting to make various voices sound as one has not been on my radar. So, it was with tremendous excitement and anticipation that I registered to participate in the Biennal choir.

This decision is not one for the faint of heart or the weak of voice. The music is challenging and the hours are long. Participants need to arrive at the conference a day ahead of schedule in order to attend all rehearsals, and they need to be willing to invest several hours in advance of the conclave studying the various pieces. We are a diverse group, spanning many regions, many ages and many vocal stylings, but above all, we are there for the music, and the chance to enhance Shabbat morning worship.

It is not an easy task to coax 80 individuals to think and sing as one, but our conductor, Cantor Leigh Korn is certainly up for the job. He has been nothing short of a whirling dervish of energy, passion and fun. He has preached musical discipline for certain, but more importantly, he has asked us for flexibility; not to sweat the small stuff and to go with the flow. (Not an easy task for this anal retentive!) With his quick wit and charm, he had us at "Shalom", as we bought into his vision hook, line and sinker. Our first five and a half hour session seemed to virtually fly by.
Biennals are always an amazing musical cornucopia filled with every voice, every styling and every sound there is to offer. The biennial choir has certainly enhanced my passion for Jewish music. I can't wait for Shabbat!

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Circus is Coming to Town

They are about to descend upon my city. 3000 or so of North America's finest, and certainly most committed, progressive Jews are coming to my hometown this week in order to engage in the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial conference. It has been 30 years since the Union has brought its sideshow north of the border, and we Canucks have been anxiously awaiting and planning for the return engagement. For the neophyte amongst you, allow me to explain why this is such a big deal in my world. Every other year the union brings its travelling medicine show, complete with member rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders, the finest that Jewish music has to offer, and the best of the best in the Reform movement to a city heavy with anticipation to discuss, converse, study, pray and generally examine the health of progressive Judaism in North America and around the world. The study sessions engage in everything from fundraising possibilities for member congregations, to music workshops, to board training, to political activism, to t'fillah engagement, to outreach programs, and so on and so on and so on. It is a chance for us in the "biz" to recharge our batteries, reconnect with colleagues, re-engage with our chosen work and re-energize our professions. It is a chance for lay members to learn anew, bring fresh ideas back into their congregations and to just understand that others find themselves in similar situations as do they. In short, it is a major undertaking and the fact that all of these Jews will be descending upon the Great White North this week is fairly significant.

Volunteers from our member congregations across the GTA have been working for weeks to prepare for the onslaught. Twin Son's Better Half saw her phenomenal skill-set put to good use as she was anointed the volunteer co-ordinator. It has been her task to assign shifts for all of the 800 or so volunteer workers, and to adequately train said volunteers. Needless to say she has been swamped for weeks. Last week, she half-jokingly said it was a good thing that she wasn't presently employed because then her sleep schedule would have been non-existent. Volunteers from the GTA synagogue choirs have been busy as well. Many have agreed to take part in the biennial choir which will encompass singers from across the continent and which will perform at Shabbat morning services. We were tasked with learning 21 pieces of music in a 3 week time frame, and have committed to 10 hours of rehearsal over the next 3 days. Needless to say, Toronto has responded overwhelmingly to the call for volunteers.

While I am excited for what the upcoming week has in store and I am truly thrilled at the prospect of connecting with old friends and listening to some great new music, I am not blind to the challenges facing our movement. We need to move the model of the synagogue forward into the 21st century. We need to actively re-engage our youth. We need to find a way to blend the spirituality that many crave in a post 9-11 world, with traditional Jewish prayer models. We need to find ways to better reach out to our interfaith families and we need to find ways to honour those who volunteer. The URJ has always been a North American movement, but speaking as a Canadian, its leadership has always appeared to be somewhat tone deaf to the distinct society that is Canada. (Even if that statement is only partially true, the appearance is real!) It will be interesting to pose some of these questions to our leaders this week, and I intend on blogging several times from the conference. Stay tuned.

One last side note. H1N1 has been all the talk around our city, and most others lately. A gathering of approximately 3000 Jews who like to hug, kiss, shake hands and eat copiously, seems a likely breeding ground for the virus, so I will be armed to the teeth with a healthy stockpile of Purell and the hope that friends will understand a hearty elbow bump as a sign of true affection.

See you at the Convention Centre all!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Hugh's Room is Toronto's Hidden Gem

Several year's ago, an old camp friend introduced me to the music of a fabulous indie artist from Chicago named Susan Werner. I have been hooked ever since. I purchased a couple of albums and she has been a prominent part of my iPod rotation. Her musicianship, songwriting skills and voice just floored me. The woman is immensely talented and I am a sucker for talent. Last February, I included my version of her anthem May I Suggest in a Shabbat Shirah service in song at synagogue. The haunting lyrics, including the brilliant tag line "May I Suggest this is the best part of you life", struck the perfect chord for a song before the Mourner's Kaddish. Much of the congregation was moved to tears and, believe me it was Susan Werner, not me, who was able to induce the emotion. Our Rabbi loved the piece so much that he suggested we include it as part of our Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. The reaction was much the same.

Just before the holidays, that same rabbi noticed from an online ad that Susan was coming to Toronto to play Hugh's Room and he suggested that we go. Torontonians!! If you have never heard of or visited this gem of a club in the north part of the Bloor West Village, you are truly missing out. The intimacy of the surroundings is not to missed, and the musicians who frequent are amongst the world's best in the folk/rock/indie scene. Local artists also showcase their talents at Hugh's, and it is impossible to guess who might pop in for an impromptu session on any given evening. Joni Mitchell has been known to skulk in the shadows when in town, as have Sylvia Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Ashley MacIsaac and the like. Other than its inconvenient location from my home, I love everything about the place, so it was an easy call to agree to an evening with Susan Werner. We enlisted the company of some friends who feel much the same about Hugh's as do we. They were not familiar with Susan's music, but I played them a couple of tracks and they readily agreed. We were blown away. Not only was she musically brilliant, but she was funny, engaging and warm with the audience. She sipped local wine between songs, and included the crowd in some comic banter. She was irreverent, fiercely loyal to her hometown, and refreshingly unapologetic. What truly stunned me, was the music from her latest album Classics. She has taken old favourites from the likes of Cat Stevens, Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon and rejigged them with snippets from classical composers like Vivaldi, Chopin and Bach. The results are brilliant. The five of us were blown away and desperate to purchase the new disc following the show.

We were not disappointed. Susan hung around the lobby signing CDs and posing for photos. When our turn finally arrived, my friend the rabbi told her of our performance of her piece at Yom Kippur. She was visibly moved and truly taken aback. She spent a good five minutes chatting with us and even asked the rabbi if he would email her regarding a question of faith. He took her address and was planning to do so this morning. She was everything that I had hoped for and more. The pictures are a bit fuzzy because I couldn't use flash, but they aren't bad. If you are ever in this part of the world, make it your business to visit Hugh's.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Dolphin Football!

Yet another reason I love dolphins! These beauties were captured playing football using a few unsuspecting jellyfish as their game ball. They could teach the Rams a few things. Fantastic!!!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Zeitgeist, Balloon Obsessions, Rush Limbaugh and Other Forms of Hot Air!

It has been a while since I have posted. Mostly there has been very little to discuss or share, but this week provided all manner of ridiculousness, both from the newsmakers and the imbeciles that bring us the news. It was impossible to separate the gasbags from the windbags so I decided to roll it all together into one hell-inducing fart on the world.

The week began with that purveyor of women's fashion Ralph Lauren. Poor Ralph got himself and his company caught up in a major fail episode. It seems that Polo Boy got his mallet in a knot over some criticism leveled at his marketing campaign by BoingBoing. Ralph and company apparently digitally enhanced model Filippa Hamilton almost out of existence. The poor woman resembles a broomstick with a head! To add insult to injury, after the exposure of their experiment in emaciation and a half-assed apology, Lauren seems to have quietly parted ways with their signature beauty because she was thought to be too heavy. Lauren and company contend that it was the result of a contract dispute and had nothing whatsoever to do with her size four figure. It might be easier to take Ralph at his word if this photo hadn't cropped up a few days later from an Australian Lauren campaign. Honestly, Ralph! Who do you think you're kidding and who do you think might take the greatest offense to these horrific pictures? How about the very customers that you depend on for your livelihood-WOMEN! Maybe if you stopped trying to make us all into some perverse ideal of what your warped mind believes a woman should look like, we might be more willing to drop a few bucks on your over-priced and over-valued image of the country club.

In keeping with the "women aren't really beautiful unless they look like an eating disorder poster" theme, comes this little gem from Karl Lagerfeld at the House of Chanel. Reacting to the news of German fashion magazine Brigitte's decision to forgo runway models in their publication and instead focus on "ordinary and realistic women" in their photo shoots, the openly gay, 71 year old Lagerfeld spewed the following invective.

The decision by Germany's most popular women's magazine was "absurd" and driven by overweight women who did not like to be reminded of their weight issues.

"These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly," Lagerfeld said in an interview with Focus magazine. The creative director of the fashion house Chanel added that the world of fashion was all to do "with dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women".

This coming from a man who has had his own well-documented battles with the bulge. It is starting to become obvious to me that these designers (many of whom are gay men) who claim to know what the ideal of a beautiful woman is and continually pontificate to the masses so as to push this ridiculous fantasy, are actually showing the world what their personal fantasy is--that is flat-chested and curve-less teenage boys. Nothing wrong with that if you are selling to teenage boys, but we beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes and have curves and cellulite. It is time that the designers started catering to us and not some image that even they have to create via photoshop. Major hot air alert!

Speaking of hot air. Here is the latest from Rush Limbore. The self-proclaimed leader of all things "right" once again showed his true colours this week when the big boys at the NFL refused to let him play in their exclusive game of pick-up. It seems that Rush had wanted to fulfill a childhood fantasy and become a part owner of my beloved St. Louis Rams. As if an 0-5 start, no offense, very little defense, a rookie head coach and a quarterback who can't stay healthy aren't problems enough for the moribund franchise, they actually entertained the notion of selling to the mouth that roared! When word leaked out of Limbore's possible bid, players, the player's association, the Reverends Al and Jesse and even the commissioner expressed some misgivings about some of Major GasBag's previously documented comments on race, race relations and black football players in particular. "Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it." Here's another gem. "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." And of course, there is the infamous Donavon McNabb epsiode on ESPN. "I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.  They’re interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.  I think there’s a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really didn’t deserve."

Now to be fair, the owners and the commissioner never let Rush's foray toward the elite circle get very far. Dave Checketts, the owner of the St. Louis Blues and the lead man in Rush's team bounced him before the bid even made it past the drawing board stage. He was too polarizing and certainly not the image that this hopeful ownership group wanted to project to the citizens of St. Louis or to the NFL. Rush blew like a volcano. Blaming a left-winged conspiracy and socialism on a scale not seen since LBJ introduce Medicare, Limbore huffed and puffed with self-importance as to the menace in his midst and how his situation was in his words "about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we're going to have." Give me a break. We are talking about a group of people who have supported more conservative and right-wing causes then most of America. Jack McCallum at CNNSI said it better than I ever could.

In point of fact, however, l'affaire Limbaugh -- which was inarguably a public relations disaster for the group that first invited him, and then disowned him -- exemplifies two quintessential realities of America, ones that I have to assume Limbaugh himself embraces. Namely:
• When you become a business liability, your once-chummy fellow businessmen will turn on you.
• Actions have consequences.

McCallum continues.

No, Limbaugh was a red flag, trouble from the start, which Checketts (who in the past has been a sharp guy) and his group should've realized. Why? Not because Limbaugh is a political conservative, a designation that no doubt describes the great majority of NFL owners (and probably owners in all the major sports). But because when, given the chance, he devolves into a race-baiting provocateur.

Well said, Mr. McCallum and may this be the end of Rush in a Ram's jersey.

It was with some amusement that I watched CNN's coverage of Rush this week. They actually broke into a story about health care to announce Rush's dismissal from the Ram's bid. BREAKING NEWS?? Hardly. So I couldn't have been all that stunned to watch the cables all trip over themselves with the non-story of the balloon boy who wasn't. For over 3 hours, the newsnets followed the flying saucer over the Colorado skies, only to discover that the boy was hiding from and fearing daddy's wrath in the attic. While I can understand hoping for the safe recovery of the young lad, can we all admit that news networks have lost their focus and have taken their collective eyes off of the proverbial ball? Has October become that slow a news cycle that this is what now passes for a story? 3 hours, people! 3 frigging hours! Olympia Snowe only received 15 minutes and she actually did something newsworthy. When John and Kate are the lead story and balloon boys who aren't dominate the day, I believe it is a sign that the apocalypse is upon us. The press has truly stopped doing their job. When Ted Turner is wondering what happened to the network he founded, we should all take heed.

This shit is what passed for news this week. May we all see it for what it truly is--Hot air rising into oblivion.