Monday, 29 June 2009

The Curse of 24 Hour News Coverage

The world has stopped spinning. At least it has felt that way since last Thursday. The tremendous tragedy of losing two pop culture icons on the same day is certainly not lost on even the most cynical among us, (read: ME!) but since then I have been lost in the morass and swill that has been the wall-to-wall coverage. It is not news to anybody, that the media has an ugly case of attention deficit disorder and an itchy trigger finger waiting to pounce on the tawdry, the sensational and the ugly. The fact that they rarely wait to get the story accurate is of no concern. All that matters is filling airtime and scooping the competition. Over the last few days we have been subjected to interviews with people taking photographs of the ambulance leaving the scene and how they felt, disgraceful displays by "F" list wannabes who are desperately re-seeking the spotlight, and supposition and innuendo slung by reporters who should know better in an attempt to lay blame on a medical person who may or may not have played any role in this misery. I would like to see the 24/7 news channels use some tact, taste, and civility in all of this, and grant the family some peace to grieve , but I know that this is a bit like attempting to get the Husband to clean his home office. Instead, the world will certainly be subjected to many more months of speculation stories, money-grubbing publicity hounds, and anchors hoping to make their bones on this horror. I have thought often over the weekend if there is anybody out there not experiencing many of these same emotions and I, not surprisingly, have compiled a list.

  • Governor Mark Sanford (R. South Carolina) and Senator John Ensign (R. Nevada). These two men found themselves in the middle of a growing quagmire of family values hypocrisy last week before the King of Pop and the Pinup Girl knocked them off of the front pages. The Sanford story and his jaunt to Argentina is just so juicy that I am a bit stunned that it hasn't been more front and centre. The irony of both of these men being caught with their pants around their ankles after being at the forefront of the chorus condemning Clinton, is just too good to pass up. I believe that while the media frenzy surrounding pop culture is apparent and all-consuming at the moment, these two assholes will still have to publicly and fully answer for their sins.
  • Bernie Madoff. On the very day of the deaths, the King of Scheme was in court begging for mercy and it barely caused a ripple. The justice is that today Bernie the Bunko artist was sentenced to the maximum for his crimes and his double-dealing mug is being splashed all over every TV set and computer in the world. Bye-bye Bernie. Maybe you catch up on your reading.
  • Jon and Kate Gosselin. Manufactured celebrities are not usually my style, but I will confess that in the early days of TLC I did watch these people. I was taken with the children and the organization it took to deal with 8 kids under the age of 3. The break-up of any marriage is incredibly sad, but all the more so when it is experience in public. These people have dominated press coverage for weeks and, what's worse they seemed to have lapped it up like hungry puppies. Last Thursday the world finally stopped caring what a sad couple in Pennsylvania thought about anything. The kids must be thrilled that the paparazzi have turned their lenses elsewhere.

I would have thought that the media would have learned their lessons about over-covering a pop culture story with its coverage of OJ, Princess Diana, Anna Nicole, and the like. I was obviously wrong and I am totally convinced that the worst is yet to come. This weekend on some CNN program, a hack from Access Hollywood was asked if it is the media's job to report on the story or to generate the story. Not surprisingly he responded that as long as people are interested, they have a responsibility to continue with their coverage. Funny! I always thought that they should simply relay the news and not become the news. How wrong I was!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Cardinals, Squirrels and Wind Chimes!

Oh boy! Summer is finally upon us in the Great White North and I for one couldn't be happier. Sunshine, heat, blue skies, viewing the world again through the lens of technicolour, and freedom for my toes are all part of my basking in the glow of my favourite season. Summer has a rhythm and a soundtrack all its own, and while I am generally loathe to heap scorn upon this beautiful time of year, (I spend way too much time and energy complaining about the cold!) I have just spent the past several hours taking in the sounds of the season from the vantage point of my own backyard. Some are lovely- some not so much-but all combined to remind me why I love this time of year.
  1. The anxious call of the cardinal. We have noticed over the last several weeks that a cardinal and his mate have made our pool area their summer home. The Husband went on a search late last week and believes that he found the nest in a towering pine that overlooks the water. I have been stalking the poor birds with a camera hoping to capture them to digital disc, (It just doesn't have the same cache as saying "capture them on film" does it?) but they are after all wild and free, and I am not that skilled as a paparazzi. Today while trying to catch some rays, I noticed the male perched on the chimney of our home, wildly calling for the lady of the nest. Perhaps she was lunching with friends? He kept up his racket for a good 10 minutes before she finally deigned to respond and showed up to quiet his wailing. The irony of the male/female dynamic was not lost on me! The two flew off together to parts unknown, but not before I committed their calls to memory. I am now totally enraptured by the avian sounds in my backyard and hope to identify a few more before the summer is done. Music to my ears!
  2. The f@#*ing squirrels are back so it must really be summer. I have often lamented in this space about these menacing rodents that have used my property like their own personal spa. Today only reminded me of why they make me wish that Dick Cheney was my hunting buddy. The pear tree by the pool is sprouting what can only be described as "pearlettes"! This nascent fruit is so tiny that calling it fruit is insulting to real fruit. Anyway, I was sitting in my chair, minding my own business and engrossed in a truly trashy novel, when a sound from above disturbed my peace. I looked up into the upper branches of the tree when I spied the little bugger. He was gazing down on me, watching me watch him, and then (I swear he giggled as he did this!) yanked a prepubescent pear off of its branch and began grinding away at it. The f@#*ing little bugger sounded as though he was sawing wood. I was so pissed off, that I began to bark like a dog. The deeper I barked, the more the little asshole laughed and, once sated he scurried off to enjoy the neighbour's "applelettes!" I really hate squirrels!
  3. My next door neighbour has a thing for wind chimes. Now, I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I am not a big fan of wind chimes. I find the musical tones quite off-putting and several of these things going off together at the same time really sets my teeth on edge. Too much dissonance for this musician. The slight breeze in the air today was quite lovely, unless you were sitting next to several wind chimes like I was. I think that I would rather have listened to the f@#*ing squirrel. (Notice how this has become the little bastard's full name?) Wind chimes should require permits like home additions and fences. Let me listen to it first and then I will decide if it is tolerable or if it is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Today was like the latter.
  4. The Jonas brothers wafted their way into my yard this afternoon. I have never been a fan of bubblegum and the only way that I know that it was the Jonas brothers caterwauling across my neighbour's yard was the shrieks of two pre-teen girls yelling out their names. They had the radio cranked up so loud that I honestly thought that the brothers were giving a live concert. Now, I was amongst the fortunate parents whose boys never enjoyed the flavour of the moment when it came to music. While all of their friends were into The Spice Girls or The Backstreet Boys, my musical connoisseurs were discovering new gems like Led Zeppelin, Dave Matthews and Pink Floyd. Imagine their shocked glee to stumble upon their father's treasure trove of the entire catalogue of Queen albums on vinyl. The teen-scene in music was never their thing, so I thankfully avoided the garbage. But, I can see that I might have to keep the iPod juiced at all times this summer to avoid the newly minted teenagers across the way. I am always looking for something new to add to the library. Anybody willing to share hidden musical gems?
  5. Today was the first day that I actually spent some quiet time in the yard. Just as I was settling in, the guy behind me decides to mow his lawn. A very large and expansive lawn. It took a good half hour to get through the noises of the mower, weed-whacker, and leaf-blower. The iPod couldn't find a volume loud enough to drown it out.
  6. Garbage trucks! Sorry Toronto, but it seems like this is a sound that you might not hear all summer. Maybe living in the city above Toronto has some advantages after all, as I am actually looking forward to the familiar rumble tomorrow.
So, the cacophony of summer has begun, and while I am not complaining too loudly (Ok! Maybe a little bit!) I would appreciate a bit of quiet this year. Summer is supposed to be lazy and tranquil. Let's strive for a bit more of that.

Monday, 22 June 2009

A Perfect Moment of Worship

I have not often written in this space about my work (or calling?) as a cantorial soloist for a small Reform synagogue in the north Jewish ghetto of Toronto. Perhaps it is because I feel that religion is an entirely personal matter, and far be it from me to impose my views of spirituality and prayer on anybody. Perhaps it is as basic as keeping the virtual walls I have created in my world intact, and not feeling all that comfortable with the deconstruction of those barriers. Perhaps it is simply because I cannot adequately verbalize the emotions that overwhelm and overcome me at perfect moments of worship. It is this thought that I am now willing to tackle and share with the blogosphere.

This past Shabbat was a particularly beautiful one for our congregation. We have started a series of community Shabbat dinners which have been embraced by the community. These dinners were the brainchild of our rabbi, who felt that in addition to helping our members connect and reconnect with both the synagogue and its members, it would allow those who were feeling the pinch of the economy to have a full Shabbat meal without incurring any costs, which have been defrayed by donors. A planning committee came together quickly and they contacted a local caterer to ask for his help and guidance. He graciously offered his kitchen (we operate out of a local Hebrew Day school and as such our kitchen facilities are grossly lacking!) and his expertise. Not only that, he oversaw and helped with all of the cooking. The first dinner back in April was a huge success with almost 90 people in attendance. We dined on roast chicken and potatoes, soup, salad and decadent desserts. We sang as a community and we segued directly into Kabbalat Shabbat services. It was so beautiful and well received that we decided to try it again last Friday. We moved the dining outside into the unlikely and unremarkable paved playground and we barbecued. Our friend the caterer took it upon himself to do the cooking, and we were stunned to see more than 120 people of all ages. Kids played, adults shmoozed and caught up with one another, and everybody felt appropriately sated as we welcomed Shabbat together as a Kehillah Kedosha, a holy community. Once again, we all moved towards the Beit T'fillah (sanctuary) as one group to begin our Kabbalat Shabbat worship.

Our senior youth group had been charged with the duties of leading services. This was a welcome change for me, as I always love it when the high schoolers put themselves into the creation of worship, and it affords me the opportunity to daven as a regular member of the congregation. The kids had asked permission of the rabbi, if they might take all of the traditionally sung prayers and change them to Beatles melodies. It was fantastic. We were treated to the S'hma sung to "Blackbird", V'shamru to "A Hard Day's Night" and Shalom Rav to the tune of "When I'm Sixty-Four". (My personal favourite!!) In between the chanted pieces, there were dramatic readings of some of Lennon and McCartney's other masterpieces. Yes, there were some chuckles from the congregation as they overcame their discomfort and yes, it took some creative mastering to fit Hebrew words to the melodies, but it was brilliantly done. The kids had obviously taken great care to prepare properly for the occasion and their guitar playing was masterful. The songs are so well-known to everybody that even a novice could pray comfortably and it proved to be a perfect capper to the evening. It reminded me of the best creative services from my URJ camp days, and it gave us a glimpse into the teenage mind as they strive to find relevance in prayer. I was overcome with pride as I watched these young people skillfully lead the congregation and I found myself connecting with the Shechina in a way previously unknown to me. (I think the lightning hit as the community was singing "Let it Be" as a concluding song and I worried over uttering the words "Mother Mary" in a Jewish sanctuary. Yes, I am aware that this is not a christological reference, but rather a shout out to Paul McCartney's mother, but it still stuck me as odd!) It was the rabbi who made the connection to the Shechina (the essence of God) for me, but I was already onboard. I realized that this was a perfect moment of prayer, a time when I connected body and soul to the words that I was uttering. I will admit that it doesn't happen very often for me and I am certain that there are many out there still waiting for their first occurrence, but I remembered why this community is so important to me. We are willing to dare. We are willing to experiment; to try new things and to allow all of our individual members, younger and older, to find God and Judaism in their own time and their own way. May we have many more Shabbatot like this previous one.

Friday, 19 June 2009

18 Days

The city of Toronto seems to be on a collision course with its unionized workers towards a work stoppage this Monday. While many city services could be affected by the strike, such as pool closures, city camp disruptions, permit allocation and the like, the one area that everybody is talking about is garbage! Yup! It's true. The city of Toronto is likely headed towards a garbage strike beginning on the first full workday of summer. A caveat in the interest of full disclosure: I don't technically live within the city limits, so my family will not be fully involved in this strike as my city, the totally above scandal and reproach (she says dripping with sarcasm!) city of Vaughn, will continue to haul my trash and recycling as per usual.

Now, anybody who has ever lived through a garbage strike knows that things can get fairly ugly pretty quickly. In spite of designated transfer stations and areas designed for dumping, inconsiderate boors tend to just toss their crap wherever they please. The odours become unbearable and the health ramifications are enormous, especially in the heat and humidity of a Toronto summer. (If it ever shows up!) So, it would seem logical that both sides in the dispute would be doing everything they can to avoid such a scenario. The problem is 18 days. 18 measly sick days. It seems that the union had negotiated in past contracts a marvelous little perk that allowed its members 18 sick days a year. If those days were not used, they could be banked and cashed out at retirement, with certain limits, up to 130 full days. This little nugget, which is unheard of in the private sector, is costing the city upwards of $250 million dollars per year. Obviously, the city wants to do away with the practice while the union is fighting tooth and nail to keep it. This little gem of a cartoon by Patrick Corrigan of The Toronto Star appeared in today's paper.

While I am sympathetic to workers who have negotiated contracts in good faith, it is becoming increasingly obvious that unions have yet to grasp the severity of the new economic order. Last month, the Canadian Auto workers seemed willing to allow GM and Chrysler to go under, rather than accept concessions that were necessary to keep the companies afloat. In the end, the companies got what they required if only because the workers finally came to understand that a plum manufacturing job of any kind in this market was better than unemployment. Not only that, it is difficult to sell such a lavish perk to the public and get them on your side when many of those same rate payers are suffering economic hardship. The optics for the union in this case are poor and it will be next to impossible to win the PR battle. It will only get worse when the garbage starts piling up, the smells start permeating and the tourists stop coming.

If any of my friends or relatives who live in the city require help in disposing of trash, call me and we can arrange suitable waste management. We have every other week pick up (welcome to the real world Toronto!) with a limit of 3 bags. Anything over that costs a buck, but it is well worth the loonie. Recycling occurs weekly with no limit, so if your are a conscientious separator, we can do business. I end with my favourite folkie who in this one song sums up what we may be in for. Good luck TO! You're going to need it.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Be Extraordinary!

At the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening, it is traditional for us Jews to mark the occasion with a short ceremony called Havdalah. The purpose of this service is to not only mark the end of the Sabbath, but to revel in and to praise the separation between that which we view as kodesh (holy) and that which we view as chol. (ordinary) It strikes me that lately we have spent far too much time engaged in the ordinary and not nearly enough time in the pursuit of the extraordinary. Our lives have become fragmented parts of the whole and we desperately require a "de"fragging program to bring it all back into focus. We worry a great deal about the minutiae of our lives (grocery lists, work tasks, and schedules) and we don't seem to fully appreciate the new, the adventure, the enthusiasm or the exciting. Several events over the past couple of weeks have forced me into an examination of the pursuit of the extraordinary.

Firstly, I was quite ill. While a week in bed with the flu is certainly not worthy of an epiphany, it got me to thinking about small pleasures to be relished and enjoyed. Music, chocolate, ice cream and a warm blanket all added to my comfort, and their healing properties should never ever be dismissed. As I was healing, it became very obvious to me that I had absolutely no interest in dealing with the mundane; the chol, but rather I found myself searching for things that would invigorate, incite and stimulate my psyche. I felt like I had lost what I began to term as "my clever", that part of me which is creative and extraordinary. I began to rediscover it during a week of R&R, first on Moore Road and then by just watching the ocean tides in South Florida. I read a phenomenal novel, (Loving Frank by Nancy Horan-a must read!!) I listened to some new music on my iPod, and I saw Pixar's latest, which is a full examination of the ordinary versus the extraordinary. (If you haven't yet had the privilege to see UP, you absolutely must!!) I came to realize that "my clever" needed to be fed and nurtured and that I could only accomplish this feat with a consistent understanding of the need to strive for the extraordinary and not allow the chol to monopolize my life.

Secondly, my parents left yesterday for their latest global jaunt. My parents both on the cusp of 70+, have departed for an adventure in the Sahara and North Africa. My septuagenarian parents, both sets mind you, will be cavorting through exotic places with names that I cannot pronounce and will be riding camels to a campsite in the desert plains. Now, anybody who has ever had the pleasure of meeting my parents will realize that this travel is so much a part of their everyday existence that the mere mention of the trip inspires a nonchalant shrug. My parents learned long ago that life has no dress rehearsals and began to live the extraordinary years ago. In addition to their thrice yearly trips, they have embraced artistic pursuits, scuba diving, exercise programs and adult study. They refuse to live their lives through the mundane and prefer to realize all the potential out there. When I grow up, I want to be just like my mom and dad!

Now, I am not suggesting for a minute that one needs to venture out into the Sahara or jump out of an airplane (that would just be stupid!!) to realize the extraordinary. I am simply suggesting that the kodesh can be found in everyday activities. So this summer, as we all search for activities to occupy our time, I would like to offer the advice to pursue the extraordinary. Try a new food or a new restaurant. Listen to a musical genre that is foreign to you. (I have promised myself to attempt to find the joy in opera. A tough sell, I assure you!) Become a tourist in your hometown and maybe visit its museums and galleries. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, something that terrifies you just a little bit. Get moving and take a walk. The extraordinary is not found in front of the TV or the computer. Make contact with an out of touch friend or relative. Make peace with an adversary and put old grudges to bed. Above all, rediscover your clever. Find that creativity within each of us that has been tamped down by the all-consuming adoration of the mundane. Live in the chol, but live for the kodesh!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

I Never Tire of The Drive Up Moore Road!

I have spoken in this space on many occasions as to the importance a small cow patch in the middle of Indiana farm country has played in my life and in the lives of my family, both immediate and extended. It is very difficult to explain to the uninitiated as to how a camp with a few broken down cabins, swimming pools rather than a lake, strange odours that, depending on the direction of the wind could either be the kitchen or the cows from the farm next door, and gravel roads could possibly have been so formative in my growth, but there it is! This is the place where I learned how to live Jewishly. This is the place where I learned how to do my own laundry. This is the place where I was schooled in parenting 101 at the tender age of 18 and this is the place where I learned the value of grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch. It is also the place where the geeky kid could be the lead in the summer play or where the shy artsy could find a home studying Torah and singing Z'mirot. (Hebrew songs!) It has been more than 25 years since my last summer at Goldman Union Camp, and yet I still feel a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach as I realize that Kallah Aleph is a few days from commencing or a odd curiousity as to what musical Anaf might be presenting. It helps that my progeny have become just as attached to this oasis in the Midwest as was their mother. Since 1995, one or both of the boys has acted as my agent at GUCI as they have assumed the familial obsession. But, I still want to be there. I know it is odd and strange that a middle-aged woman should want to go to summer camp, but there is a part of me that longs for the void that GUCI used to fill. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that The Husband and I headed to the heat and humidity of Indiana on the weekend for a quick stopover. (OY-My hair!!)

The camp is finally entering into the 21st century with the building and dedication of the state-of-the-art Mercaz Tarboot. (Cultural Centre!) This multi-million dollar building is unlike anything that this dump of a camp has ever seen. It will house all of the arts programming on camp and will finally allow GUCI to demonstrate what its denizens have known for decades; that this camp is the cultural hotbed of all of the Union's summer destinations. It may not have a stunning lakefront with water skiing or sailing, and it may not have acres and acres of greenery, but it has something much more important and much more intangible. This camp has a Jewish heart and soul. The kids who come together in the centre of Indiana each and every summer know instinctively what matters most to them, and they have been rewarded with this magnificent building. 

For those of you who are familiar with the fluttering tickle that arises in the stomach when you finally make that turn onto Moore Road, you might be shocked by this new edifice. At first glance it is very "un"camp. It is not painted brown and yellow like every other structure in the place. Stunning. It is enormous, with a stage that can accommodate the entire camp, a huge fireplace for indoor campfires, and an Aron HaKodesh (ark) built into one of the walls. There are separate rooms in the basement (BASEMENT!!) for music, dance, and digital photography chugim. (interest groups) The building has bathrooms without spiders and with toilets that flush and the absolute best in all audio and visual technology. (I can't even procure a working microphone for my synagogue!) The place is pristine, at least until the campers show up today and I am told that the man in charge is being very judicious with the keys. 

486 separate donors made this building a reality. 486!! People literally gave what they could because they truly cared about Goldman and the work done there. When they were asked, they never questioned, they simply gave. This building and all of the kids who will benefit from it, will stand as testament and as honour to the man who touched all of their lives. Thank you GUCI for allowing me yet another opportunity to come to camp.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Ten Things I Have Discovered While Felled By the Plague!

With total deference to David Letterman and his Late Show writers, and because 3 1/2 days of flu has left me with incapacitated brain function and powers of originality, I give you the ten things that I have discovered about my world while being laid up. Here they are in no particular order. 
  1. Just when you think that you are at your most disgusting, along comes some new and unwanted physiological episode that reminds you that more disgusting is yet to come. Without getting into gruesome and gory details, suffice it to say that the human body can produce some ugly byproducts.
  2. A fever in a child seems to be a minor inconvenience, but in an adult it can be the source of true misery. If it is possible for hair to hurt, then mine does. The bottoms of my feet tingle and my knees want to bend inwards. Lifting a spoon is a challenging exercise as exhaustion reigns in every pore of my body. 
  3. Ice cream is truly the nectar of the gods. Nothing tastes right and eating is a foreign concept at the moment, with the marked exception of ice cream. Maybe it is in the coolness or maybe it is in the smoothness of the texture, but ice cream is all that I can manage to keep down. Being lactose intolerant has limited my choices somewhat, but there is a reason that this wonder treat is labelled comfort food. My personal favourite today is Chapman's Neopolitan.
  4. My voice sounds like a combination between Demi Moore and Mel Brooks. That husky, sultry sound one gets when nearly hacking up a lung is not as sexy as you might think. I make noises of which Linda Blair in the Exorcist would have been proud.
  5. Being trapped in the house 24/7 for the past 4 days has only made me realize how many chores have been left undone and unfortunately, I can't attend to any of them. The carpets need cleaning, the Older Son's room remains unpacked, the laundry pile is starting to take on life forms of its own and the office requires reorganization. All the while, all I can do is stare blankly at the walls and hope that I don't pass out on my way to the bathroom.
  6. Unwanted solicitations become even more unwanted when one has a fever of 39.5 C! If Yak Canada calls one more time to try and collect a bill that doesn't exist or if one more prick comes to the door and tries to push Direct Energy on me, I just might have to go postal on their asses. If I want you or your lame-ass products, I know where to find you, so stay the fuck off of my property and off of my phone!
  7. Did you know that Luke is still on General Hospital? 30 something years is a long time even by soap opera standards. I figured that he would have retired by now and judging by the story line I have been watching, he probably should have.
  8. We all need somebody to take care of us. When we were kids, Mom and Dad played the role of nursemaid and catered to our every need, but as adults we are expected to take care of ourselves. It seems rather unfair and slightly ridiculous, but it is the natural order of the universe. Thank God for The Husband. He has hovered, worried, run errands, rubbed my back, nagged at me to call the doctor and been an all-around good guy. (GOOD GUYS DO FINISH FIRST!!) He even left the vodka production business in the middle of the day so that he could pick up my prescriptions, thus ensuring I wouldn't have to leave the house and risk infecting the entire north Jewish ghetto. My wish for all of you is that you should find somebody just as decent and caring. I am disgusting and he still loves me.
  9. It is amazing how I can wear the same hideous sweatshirt and sweatpants for 4 consecutive days and not feel in the least bit self-conscious about it. 
  10. In spite of my best germaphobic intentions; constant hand washing, intensive use of hand sanitizer,  avoidance behaviour in terms of outside human contact i.e. hand holding, kissing etc, I still managed to contract this plague. It just goes to show that if the bug wants to find you it will. Still, we should all be vigilant in our attempts to halt the spread of this and all viruses, so please for all of your sake: Wash your hands regularly, make use of anti-bacterials, and avoid touching possibly germ laden surfaces. The extra effort is worth it, unless of course you want to be feeling like I have for the last few days. Crap is a pretty good definition. See you on the flip side.