Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Post "Yontif" Sloth

It has become my custom on the day or two (or ten?) following Yom Kippur to simply collapse. The energy expended during the months leading up to the Days of Awe (or is that awww as in a 5 year old whine?) is directly proportional to the depths of my exhaustion in the days that follow. Last year I gave a fairly accurate account of my "post-Yontif" sloth routine, so there is little need to rehash the experience, but yesterday as I remained immovable from my designated spot on the couch, I took the opportunity for the first time in weeks to give real thought to our community's worship experience over the past few weeks, and the enormous effort by many, both recognizable and faceless, that was needed to bring it all together. We are a small congregation and we lack permanency in our home. In order to accommodate everybody for the holidays, we need to move our services to another location in the area. The details required for this move comprise a list longer than my arm and include everything from the construction and deconstruction of a bimah and Aron Hakodesh, to setting up a temporary sound system that won't cause member's ears to ache, to the relocation of the Sifrei Torah and all of the other ritual objects necessary for the observance of the days. There was the coordination of babysitters, the training and overseeing of ushers, the distribution of tickets and other promotional materials, the coordination of social justice programs like collection of food on Kol Nidre for the local food bank, the organization of service participants (which has been described to me as a little like herding cats!) and just making certain that general details like matches to light the candles are taken care of. The scores of our member volunteers (yes-VOLUNTEERS!!!) that turned out this year to take on these tasks are too numerous to mention. It got me to thinking about volunteering and what drives people to do what they do. Before I delve too far into that realm, I need to make special note of a couple of remarkable groups of individuals who stepped forward and never once complained about the task. They just did what needed to be done.

It was made clear to us early on that Rosh Hashana falling on the weekend was going to be an issue for the banquet hall we were occupying. It seems that they had scheduled a wedding for the Saturday night and were not in any way willing to compromise a lucrative business opportunity for a bunch of Jews that won't use their bar. A deal was struck with the management that worked like this. We would complete our first day Rosh Hashana worship by 12:00 noon at the very latest. (In order to accomplish this task, we needed to begin at 9:00 am.) As the rabbi and I made our way back over to the day school we use as our regular home in order to conduct an afternoon children's service, our crew of dedicated builders and schleppers came in to dismantle the entire room at the banquet hall-bimah and all! They stored everything in a rented panel truck that they parked on site. The wedding family arrived later in the afternoon to discover that their required set-up was complete. It gets better! The next morning, before 6:00 am mind you, our group of eager beavers returned to the hall and reset the entire room-bimah and all-so that we as a congregation might resume our Rosh Hashana worship. Following that morning's worship, they then once again dismantled the entire thing and re-stored it until Yom Kippur, when they repeated the process one more time. The dedication of these men and women absolutely floored me, and I am relatively certain that few in the congregation knew what they did and how they did it with smiles and understanding.

Before the holidays, a question arose on one of the listserve groups to which I subscribe as to how to go about forming a volunteer synagogue choir. The discussion centred around expectations, Hebrew literacy, music literacy, rehearsal times and demands placed on members. I hesitated entering the fray because frankly, I have no idea how I came to be so blessed with the unbelievable group of people that comprise my synagogue's choir. These are individuals that come weekly to rehearse, (twice weekly in the summer) and with a shared purpose of making the music a true extension of our worship experience. They are of various musical levels and various Hebrew levels. They are men, women, young people and not so young people. Some of them pre-date me at the synagogue and some are relative newcomers. They sing every kind of Jewish music that we throw at them-from challenging Baroque choral pieces to contemporary rock-and they do it with a passion and a kavanah (intent) that is unparalleled. Our musicians include keyboard, cello, guitars, clarinet, oboe and the occasional tof, volunteers all! These people give up their weekends at the cottage, their Wednesday night Lost fix, holiday evening family dinners, early arrivals at break fasts, and sitting and worshipping with their loved ones, all in the name of the music and the prayer. They are soulful and spiritual and they do what they do because of their love and commitment to our synagogue and to Judaism. Believe me, there are trying times. There are occasions when we have all questioned our sanity and dedication, but I simply cannot imagine my synagogue without my choir family. I hope they know the depths of my gratitude.

We live in a world where it is not uncommon to have things done for you. Groceries are delivered to your front door, gardening and household chores can easily be contracted out, and child care is passed off to others. We pay a fee and we demand services in return. Occasionally though, we encounter a select few who recognize a void that needs filling and don't wait around for somebody else to fill it. They have vision. They do it because they want to give back, to help the collective and to enhance somebody else's experience. Volunteers are not unpaid employees, but rather they are caring souls who do what they do out of love. As we begin this new year, I urge you all to find a volunteer opportunity that suits you. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our society and there is nothing like the feeling one gets from a job well-done. And now, I return to my slothing.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Three "S"s

I don't normally consider myself a superstitious woman. I am perfectly comfortable with black cats, the number 13, broken mirrors, hats on beds and the like, but I have been rather reluctant to share my personal experiences of the last eight days with all of you for fear that whatever entity hovering out there in the universe one might believe in, be it mainstream or off of the charts, might come back and bite me once again in the ass. I have decided to throw caution to the wind and take my chances.

I am, as most of you are aware, a facilitator of Jewish musical prayer. It is my job to stand on the bimah during worship services and sing my lungs out like there is no tomorrow. (For fear that there actually may be no tomorrow.) I help lead the congregation through their spiritual journey and I do this with my singing voice. It should come as no surprise that this is my busy season. Getting prepared for the High Holidays is a panic attack complete with the dry heaves waiting to happen most years, but this year took that paralysis to a new level. Last Monday afternoon, as I was preparing to leave for a community choir rehearsal, I felt a small catch in my throat. There was a hint of a rasp and the frog that was developing was quickly moving out of the tadpole stage. I attempted to sooth the impending amphibian with a shot of green tea and a shot of Ventolin. (I suffer from chronic asthma and as such I am quite sensitive to various triggers. The weather here in the GTA has been very un-September"ish". We have been experiencing the summer that should have visited in July. Hot, humid weather with nary a drop of rain for almost three weeks has been prevalent, and the air is filled with moist, sticky and heavily pollenated crap, most suitable for major allergy and asthma attacks.) Neither the tea nor the inhaler could calm Kermit, so hyper-ventilation ensued. By the time I arrived at the rehearsal, my voice was little more than a croak and was barely audible. Needless to say, I was in a panic. My choir friends were more than understanding, but I could see the concern in their faces. Rosh Hashana was a mere four days hence, and here was the cantorial soloist in total incapacitation. I went home in tears and cried inaudibly to The Husband who immediately leapt into action. He dubbed his recovery plan the 3 "S"s. Silence, Steam and Scotch. (I think that he was secretly hoping for a 4th "S", but that is another blog post altogether!)

It was decided that I would totally shut down all preparations for the next few days. No talking, singing or any vocal activity permitted. (Silence!) If you needed to contact me, iChat was the order of the day, or email. (Thank God for technology!) Choir rehearsals were out, as were rehearsals with the rabbi. All meetings were to be conducted in silence over conference calls, and all of my energies were to be directed at soothing the beast. Together, The Husband and I came up with a plan. I was to begin the morning with several cups of green tea with honey and lemon. I was then to make my way to the basement, where we were wise enough many years ago, to install a steam room. (Steam!) 15 minutes in the steam with a healthy shot of eucalyptus oil was followed by more green tea and gargling with a salt water mixture infused with vitamin C, grape seed, rosemary, rose hips, witch hazel, and sage. (A home remedy recommended on WebMD!) Hey! I was desperate enough to swallow castor oil if I thought that it might work. I was on a strict diet. Nothing that would irritate my throat was permitted. No dairy, citrus or caffeine. No chocolate (AAGHHHH!) and no excess salt. I repeated the tea/steam routine several times during the day, and while I was not allowed to utter a sound, I was kept busy with organizational details for the upcoming services. Finally, after a third round of tea/steam in the evening, The Husband presented me with his panacea. Scotch. Now, I loathe alcohol. It is the adult equivalent of serving me eggplant and I avoid it like the plague, but I was willing to sacrifice my right foot for a voice, so scotch it was. I have commented many times on The Husband's obsession with scotch and I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that he has close to 100 bottles of the shit. I told him to make it light, fruity and heavily watered down. The first evening's dram was brutal. I could barely swallow it, but swallow it I did. I can't believe that I am copping to this, but it did soothe the ache. The glow on The Husband's face was priceless. He was like a proud papa watching his child score the winning goal for the Maple Leafs. All of our years together and this is what it took to get me to drink scotch.

The next evening was much like the first, except that he decided to expand my horizons and try a new brand on me. I tasted like paint thinner and I complained vociferously in sign language. He relented and went back to the first brand. This routine continued for the next several days. I was constantly in a state of sweat from the steam, my skin seemed to develop an interesting olive green hue from all of the tea, I suspect, and I managed to singlehandedly kill a bottle of MacCallan.

I was overwhelmed by the emails and good wishes, but I was still very unsure of what I had in me by the time Friday evening's service rolled around. I was tentative in my first few pieces. Nerves combined with insecurity is never a good thing, but it became apparent that my voice was there and I became more confident with each note. By the time Rosh Hashana was over on Sunday, I felt I was back to at least 85%. Those who know me well know how this episode affected me. I am always on edge and nervous at the holidays, but this year brought me to a true state of panic. I have never before had to worry if my voice would fail me. It was always just something that was a part of me and I never questioned it. I now realize more than ever what a gift it is and how it could all be over tomorrow. I am eternally grateful for all of the gifts that have been bestowed upon me; my talent, my dear friends, my amazing children, my wonderful family, and most of all The Husband and his clear vision. Rosh Hashana 5770 will forever be remembered in our house as the New Year of the 3 "S"s. Here's hoping for a Yom Kippur that works as well. A little scotch couldn't hurt, either.

G'mar Chatimah Tova.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Quintessential PPM

Mary at her best.

Peter Paul and Mary

I Dig Rock and Roll Music was actually a gentle dig at some of the less than appealing music of the day. Again note the harmonies.

Another Tribute to Mary Travers

Another early Peter Paul and Mary video. The harmonies by Mary are striking.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Unbelievable Mary Travers

When I was about 12, my parents took me to see Peter Paul and Mary at Hamilton Place as part of their Reunion tour. My dad was a huge fan and had all of their recordings on vinyl. We wore those records out when I was a kid, and when I was older I replaced each and every one on CD. Since that first concert, I have been privileged to see PPM live on at least a dozen more occasions, the most memorable was when I took my own sons several years ago to Roy Thomson Hall. Mary Travers was always the centre of the group. With her pitch perfect nasal harmonies, trademark blond flip of the hair, and true passion, she was able to convey the message of the songs with unmatched eloquence. I feel like a part of my childhood died this evening. May her memory be forever a blessing.

Who are We? Siskel and Ebert?

It is a Rosh Hashana tradition as old as apples and honey. On the second evening of the New Year, (this Saturday) my family gathers for a holiday dinner to meet and greet, reconnect with genuine love and emotion, overeat as only Jews can, and to enter into the time honoured activity of deconstructing our various worship experiences. Now, I should explain that my extended family could never be accused of merely being "Jews in Pews". Littered amongst the 50 or so aunts, uncles and cousins, can be found some of the most committed and involved members of the Canadian Reform Jewish community, both past and present. There are several former youth group board members, youth advisors, youth group presidents, regional board members, song leaders and even a former NELFTY president. (Back in the days when it was called NELFTY as opposed to NFTY-NEL. For my readers that need some edification, NFTY is the National Federation of Temple Youth-the youth wing of the Reform movement.) There are individuals who have served on synagogue boards and executives in various capacities including a few presidents, and many have taught in our schools. Two of us even serve as clergy. My family has within its ranks people who have founded synagogues when the need was obvious in outlying areas, and have worked and volunteered in all aspects of temple life. This year we will be represented at 6 different worship services in the Greater Toronto Area, where most of us are active and committed members. In short, my family "walks the walk" and are not (for the most part) twice yearly synagogue goers that are so prevalent in today's spiritually challenged society. So, it never fails to amuse me at Rosh Hashana dinner how these incredibly active, intelligent, and intensely spiritual individuals devolve into the Jewish equivalent of the American Idol judges.

Now, don't get me wrong. With 6 separate worship experiences to discuss, it is inevitable that we should ask benign questions like "How was your service?" Sermons are delivered in order to provoke discussions, and believe me when I tell you, my family does not require provocation. I really take no issue with any of these conversations. As a service leader, I have come to understand that there is a certain theatre quality to what we do, especially at the High Holidays, but I would like to suggest a few tips to my family and many others out there just like mine, on how to achieve more spiritual fulfillment during synagogue worship. Please note that I DO believe that prayer and worship is incredibly personal, and what am I suggesting is in no way an indictment on those who find such experiences difficult. I am merely offering some ideas that might make your High Holiday synagogue attendance a bit more meaningful and less likely to lead to the "thumbs up/thumbs down" mentality.

  • Note the beauty and not the flaws. We all make mistakes. I have hit more wrong notes in my career than I care to remember. I have been part of choirs that have barely made it through some pieces. I have had to leave the bimah on occasion to retrieve forgotten items and I have left the bimah (white robes flying behind me!) to silence noisy crowds that seemingly have forgotten that they are not in a sporting venue. These are the things that people comment on and remind me of year after painful year. Instead, try listening for the tight harmonies on well-rehearsed yearly favourites. Look around the B'eit T'fillah (sanctuary) and note how beautifully it has been decorated and appreciate the work of the volunteers that put it all together. The silver is polished, the Sifrei Torah are decked out in their finest, the music and sermon topics carefully chosen and diligently rehearsed, and everything resonates with that yontif aura. Accentuate the positive.
  • Try reading the machzor with a new eye for understanding. Yes, it is true that many of the selections and prayers come off as trite or pedantic, but many others offer true comprehension of the themes of the holidays. True repentance can only come with bona fide understanding. Perhaps when the cantor or choir is singing, examine the translation of the piece. There is usually reason behind it.
  • Try singing, even if you posit that you can't. I recently wrote the following for our temple's bulletin.
I would like to suggest that the rabbi and cantor are not on the bimah to pray for the congregation, but rather their roles are to facilitate prayer, so that it might be accessible to each individual, and thus enable every person to find his or her voice in order to engage in a personal conversation with God. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur especially, it is incumbent on everybody to find a portal, an avenue, or a gateway towards that conversation, so that we can pray with true sincerity, and make t’shuvah with an honest and repentant heart with each other and with God.
We aren’t merely working towards yet another performance, we are striving for holiness and we want each and every member of the congregation to join with us. We need to hear you sing. We need to feel your presence and your prayers. We are not performing for you, we are praying with you, and your participation is not only requested but also required.

Music elevates our spirituality. Yes, I realize that this platitude is coming from a singer, but I have heard it from congregants over and over again on how the music has taken them to new heights. Try it. Music speaks louder than words. (With apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary.)

  • Use the silence. There is a distinct purpose for personal mediation. Find something within yourself that challenges your thought process. Express gratitude, fear, pain, joy, anxiety or simply find peace. Close your eyes and internalize. Blinker the fidgeters, the wrapper crinklers, the doodlers, and the clock-watchers. Attempt to engage in that personal conversation.
  • Remember what is important about these days. Does it really matter if some boor misbehaves? Does it really matter if some worshipper is inappropriately dressed? Does it really matter if some small detail is forgotten? (You need to know how difficult it was for this anal retentive schnook to write that last one!) What really matters is our communal conversation and our personal repentance. While we might wish for everybody to follow our ideas of standard dress, behaviour and decorum, we can only advise, strongly suggest, and police so much. Everything else rests with the individual. That said, please note that you are entering into a holy space. Proper respect is due your surroundings and those who attend. Cell phones discourage, detract and distract. Unless you have a direct line to The Holy One, turn it off!! (Not mute. OFF!!)
  • Finally, COME! For those of you who beg off synagogue attendance, try one service. Open the book, read the prayers, listen to the music and participate. And once it is over, come back. Wish your seat partner Shana Tova, bring your children to hear the shofar, and join with the choir in singing. You just might find renewed energy and rediscover your heritage.
I refuse to tell people how to pray. I am merely offering suggestions so that synagogue experiences might be enhanced and thus, somebody might discover one new thing about their worship. We should be discussing the provocative rather than the errors. We are not there to write a review, rather we are there to connect and identify with our heritage and with each other. May the year 5770 bring all that is good, peaceful, healthful and joyful to every living soul. May we all be inscribed for blessing.

Shana Tova U'metukah

Friday, 11 September 2009

None of the Above

Back in 1985, the great comedian Richard Pryor starred in a goofy film entitled Brewster's Millions.The basic premise of the film was as such. Montgomery Brewster, a career minor league baseball player, is unexpectedly left as the only heir to a wealthy heretofore unknown relative. In order to discern if Brewster understands the value of money, the rich uncle sets up a test for our hero. If Brewster is able to spend $30 million dollars in 30 days, he will then inherit $300 million. Now, in these kinds of movies there is inevitably a catch. Brewster cannot tell anybody about his task (not even best friend John Candy), nor is he allowed to have any assets to show for the $30 million at the end of the month. He is only allowed to give a certain portion away to charities and he is only allowed to spend a certain percentage on salaries. Sounds easy, right? It proves to be much more challenging than anyone might think. Now, my favourite part of the movie occurs when Brewster stumbles on a surefire method to rid himself of huge chunks of the cash. He decides to run for mayor of New York City, but encourages the citizens to not vote for him, nor any of the corrupt politicians seeking the office. (If Brewster were to win the election, he would be on the hook for the mayor's salary and cannot have that count against the $30 million!) Instead, Brewster implores the people of New York to vote for "None of the Above".

Canadian politics and the cesspool in which we currently find ourselves has started me thinking that I might have to join with Montgomery Brewster and vote for "None of the Above". Our chronically indecisive electorate and our regional disparities have plagued our country with three consecutive minority governments and it is apparent to even the most dispassionate Canadian that yet another federal election will be called sometime this fall. Four elections in five years is something that even we stoic Canucks are having a difficult time understanding. The colossal waste of time and money for outcomes that are pretty much pre-determined to not change one thing in Parliament, has most of us reeling. We are in tough economic times, unemployment is through the roof, promised government spending on shovel-ready infrastructure projects has been tied up in red-tape for months and our classy (?) political representatives are lining their war chests for yet another round of name calling, venom spewing, and out and out bullshit!! TV ads have been running for weeks with each leader calling the others, names that are CRTC-friendly euphemisms for whore and traitor. Last night, Prime Minister Harper was caught on "Candid Camera" at a supposed closed door function spewing hatred and contempt for the progressive left-wing opposition and fear-mongering the troops into battle mode. "Sweatered Stevie" doesn't look so cute and cuddly when uttering such crapola like this.
But I guarantee it, if we do not win a majority, this country will have a Liberal government propped up by the socialists and the separatists. That government may not last long but every day it's in office it will do long-term, real damage to this country. This country cannot afford a government like that.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has done absolutely nothing to endear himself to the electorate. As a matter of fact, he was AWOL for most of the summer while the country was sweating and sinking. NDP leader Jack Layton spent his summer months trying to decide if his party should change their name. A rose by any other name, Jack--well you know the rest. The Bloc is trying to dismantle Confederation, and The Greens have yet to appeal to many outside of their fringe of tree-huggers and granola eaters.

Nope! I think that I am with Montgomery Brewster. Unless somebody can convince me otherwise and in a timely fashion, I am seriously considering voting for "None of the Above" in the upcoming erection! No-that isn't a typo. This has become nothing more than a "whip it out and see whose is bigger"contest.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Some Truly Interesting Squirrel Facts

I realize that I have been somewhat obsessed with the f*@#ing squirrels lately, as they have been somewhat obsessed with me, and frankly I am even starting to scare myself with my blood-thirsty daydreams. It would seem to me that if these creatures were to die in some gruesome manner, and I am not for a minute suggesting that anyone out there engages in squirrel-a-cide, the most ecological and environmental thing to do would be to make use of all parts of the animal. It is reminiscent of the ethical eating in which our First Nations people always engaged. All parts of the creature were used for something-food, clothing, shelter, weaponry, etc. Now, I am not the quintessential carnivore. I can barely tolerate red meat at the best of times and chicken must be served to me off of the bone, otherwise I find myself the victim of some extreme nausea. (That gnawing sound really turns me off!) But I do believe in ethical eating, so it was with some evil sense of amusement that Twin Son's Better Half located the following recipes in some very old, but very mainstream cookbooks. I absolutely swear that these are legitimate. Believe me! Even my twisted brain couldn't have concocted this stuff.

In 1931, Irma S. Rombauer a widow from St. Louis Missouri, needed to find some sort of an income to support herself and her children following her husband's suicide. She compiled a bunch of family recipes and, using illustrations by her daughter Marion and her own money, she self-published the first 3,000 copies of The Joy Of Cooking. Given that it was the Great Depression, Rombauer included many recipes that we today might find slightly on the obscure side, but if it fed an American family during the "Dirty Thirties", it found a home in Rombauer's tome. So I shouldn't have been too shocked to find the following excerpt on pages 453 and 454 of the great American cookbook. (The accompanying illustration is straight from the book as well!)

About Squirrel

Gray squirrels are the preferred ones; red squirrels are small and quite gamey in flavour. There are, proverbially, many ways to skin a squirrel, but some hunters claim the following one is the quickest and cleanest. It needs a sharp knife.

To skin, cut the tail bone through from beneath, but take care not to cut through the skin of the tail. Hold the tail as shown on the left and then cut the skin the width of the back, as shown in the dotted lines. Turn the squirrel over on its back and step on the base of the tail. (I love this part!!) Hold the hind legs in one hand and pull steadily and slowly, as shown in the centre sketch, until the skin has worked itself over the front legs and heat. While holding the squirrel in the same position, pull the remaining skin from the hind legs. Proceed as for Rabbit, page 452, cutting off the head and the feet and removing the internal organs, plus two small glands found in the small of the back and under each foreleg, between the ribs and the shoulders.

Stuff and roast squirrels as for Pigeons, page 475, barding them, or use them in Brunswick Stew or prepare as for braised Chicken. (I always knew that squirrel tasted like chicken!!) Season the gravy with walnut catsup and (here is comes--the best!!) serve with POLENTA!!!

Don't you just love the diagram of the foot on the tail. I think that this is priceless.

As if that wasn't grand enough, we stumbled upon this gem of a book printed way back in 1960.
The Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter of Herter's Waseca, Minnesota (you can't make this stuff up!) was compiled as an ode to the lumber camp and pioneer days of the northern middle states. These cooks learned from each other and old world cooks, and the Herters decided to codify these recipes. On page 39-40 we find a recipe for Belgian Squirrel. (Frankly, all I could think of were squirrels dressed like Agatha Christie's famed detective Hercule Poirot, complete with tiny little waxed moustaches.)

Belgian Squirrel

There are very few people that I have talked to that know something about eating that do not rate squirrel at the top of the list when it comes to eating wild animals. Squirrel meat is light coloured, fine textured, with a mild delicate flavour. Squirrel meat is far superior to venison or moose (Insert moose/squirrel joke here!) and you do not tire of it as easily as you do such meats when you have it for a mor or less steady diet.

I have eaten fried squirrel, roasted squirrel and stewed squirrel in the central, southern and eastern states and I just love them in any of these styles.

If I get to eating too much squirrel, (TOO MUCH SQUIRREL!!) I make sure to have it Belgian style as I never tire of it that way. Be sure to try it this way. I know you will enjoy it a great deal.

The recipe continues on in great detail about cutting the animals into serving pieces, browning them in copious amounts of butter, placing them, browned onions, a lot more butter, water, vinegar, thyme, salt and (wait for it!!) 1 1/2 dozen PRUNES into a deep cooking pot and baking the whole mess in the oven at 325 for 45 minutes. Thickening the sauce after cooking with some flour makes for a nice gravy to go alongside the rodent. Never let it be said that squirrel cooking shouldn't also aid in regularity!

Please understand that I DO NOT advocate the catching, killing or cooking of squirrel, but it is interesting to note that some very fine home cooks adamantly disagree with me. I am not enough of a foodie to even contemplate consuming the beasts. The only squirrel that I want anywhere near me is this one:

He goes well with chocolate MOOSE!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Joys of Cottaging

It is one of the truisms of cottage life, that anybody who owns, visits, or merely steps sole on the hallowed grounds is immediately put to work. There is cooking to be done, flowers to be planted, beer to be drunk and potato chips and chocolate to be consumed. The fascinating part of all of this activity, is that cottagers and visitors alike are more than happy to share in all of the chores and perks with equal verve and enthusiam. We eat-therefore we cook! We use the facilities-therefore we clean! (No 4-legged rodents are allowed to share space with with the 2-legged variety.) After many a weekend visiting "The Cottage", The Husband and I have become quite accustomed to the lifestyle, and have always been ready to pitch in wherever and whenever required. But, today was a new one for the ardent city girl. Today I watched and aided in the removal and winterization of a powerboat!

Knowing that this would be the final cottage visit of the season for us, and knowing that Twin Son and His Better Half would not be able to return until Thanksgiving, the removal of said vessel took on an added urgency this long weekend. Twin Son was all about winches, hitches, engines and trailers. The Husband politely nodded his ascent as if he had a raging clue what was being discussed. The testosterone was flowing at high levels. Just get any man talking about a trailer hitch and a power washer, and watch their face light up with excitement. The boat launch is at the opposite end of the lake from "The Cottage", so the plan was for The Better Half and myself to take one last summer spin in the boat, and have the guys hook up the trailer to jeep and meet is on the other side. It was all proceeding exactly according to Hoyle. We renaissance women had no trouble maneuvering the boat into position, and The Husband operated the winch like a seasoned pro! (I must admit that watching him in the pursuit of manly endeavours was quite the turn-on!) And the fun started!

It has been an extraordinarily wet summer around here and the ground is very soft-almost sand-like. The boat launch is little more that a divoted piece of beach on a wicked incline. Add to that mess, is the fact that Twin Son traded in his 6 cylinder, 4-wheel drive Jeep this past year, for a smaller 4 cylinder, front-wheel drive model. Needless to say we got good and stuck in the soft earth. No amount of gas, rubber, or digging was going to free the beast. Luckily for us citified idiots, some local idiots were making the most of the last long weekend of the summer. The nicest group of refugees from Woodstock you will ever meet. There wasn't a T-shirt or shoes on any of them, (maybe even the women-I failed to notice!) the beer was flowing quite liberally for 11:00 am in the morning, and the air had that sweet smoky smell I recall from my university days. These guys jumped to our added faster than flies to shit, and were even prepared to pull us out with their pick-up and some heavy duty chains. We were a sight! 6 shirtless hippies looking for a Hendrix concert, The Husband in rolled up denim so as not to dampen the cuffs, The Better Half with sand encrusted blond hair flying, and The Twin Son giving his poor suburban car all the gas it could take-finally pushed the sucker up over the ridge and onto the road-facing the wrong way! I of course was cheering them on the entire time. (I honestly couldn't help without being in the way. Sometimes one just has to know when to back off!)

It is also one of the adages of cottage life, that one looks out for one's neighbours. Without our friends, we would still be stuck in the mud and muck screaming pointlessly for HELP! Beer is on the way as a thank you kindly to our chivalrous, half-naked knights in white satin! Here's hoping that they don't laugh at our Yuppie Coronas!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

All Thumbs. A Rosh Hashana Tradition!

Today is Older Son's birthday and naturally that got me to thinking about thumbs. I realize that statement seems like a non-sequitur and if you are new to these postings, and are far too lazy to click on the link, I will only explain that the connection between Older Son and thumbs goes far beyond the two with which most people come equipped. The opposable thumb is remarkably Darwinian. It truly is what separates us from lesser creatures, and it gives us a feeling of evolutionary superiority even if we haven't really earned it. Through our thumbs we are able to communicate pleasure, (two thumbs up!) contentment, (were you a thumbsucker?) a need for transportation, the health of our plant life, (is your thumb green or brown?) or simply to grasp at straws. We use our thumbs to hold, grapple, twist, twiddle, wiggle, cling with, or simply hang. Thumbs have been twisted and screwed, wrenched and busted. (When I studied martial arts many moons ago, I was taught that the thumb is a natural pressure point that can produce excruciating pain on the poor schnook unfortunate enough to have f*&$ed with me!) Have you ever tried to pick up a simple object from a counter-top with a less than functioning thumb? The thumb is all of that and a bag of chips, so why is it that I persist in discovering new and dreadfully painful methods of inflicting injury on mine every year so close to Rosh Hashana?

I have never been the most graceful or artfully coordinated individual when it comes to fine motor skills. My family has, over time, forbidden me from slicing bagels, removing the blades from food processors, slicing and/or dicing raw and wet vegetables or fruit, or using a flathead screwdriver. Each of these sharp objects has at one time or another resulted in copious amounts of my A positive spilling and has sent me scurrying for bandages, tourniquets or the emergency room. I am the Les Nessman of the family. (For the under-educated-Les Nessman was the bumbling anchorman on WKRP in Cincinnati. It was one of the brilliant inside jokes on the show, that every week, he would sport a band-aid on some visible part of his body. Check out the reruns and search for Les' injuries. It is a hoot!) It is true that there is no set season for my injuries, but it does seem to occur with increasing frequency around the Yamim Noraim. (High Holidays!) Over the past several years I have managed to slice the top off of my thumb with a 9" chef's knife, burn my right thumb and two other fingers removing a plate from the microwave, (that hurt for weeks!) endured various minor scraps and scratches, and then the piece-de-resistance, this week I sliced an inch and a half gash smack dab in the centre of my right thumb. How did I manage such stupidity, you might inquire? In the performance of a mitzvah! I was helping in the kitchen at a shiva house on Monday evening. We were serving a dinner of roasted chicken that came in those flimsy foil chafing dishes. I was attempting to remove the lid of one of these oven-ready torture devices, when my thumb slipped and red stuff started seeping. While the blood was thankfully minimal, the cut is not and it needs to stay covered if I want to grab onto or hold even the simplest of objects.

Now for the average person, a cut on the thumb should be a minor inconvenience at best, but I play the guitar for part of my living, and a major part of that job will be coming up in two weeks. I can't get the thumb pick on over the bandage, I can't hold a flat pick with any dexterity, I can't remove the bandage in order to get the thumb pick on because it is too painful, and I can't pick with a bare thumb for fear of re-opening the wound. Needless to say, rehearsing has ground to a halt. I feel like such a dumbass! What is it about these holidays that inspires me to self-mutilation? I am certain that all of you armchair Freuds out there will be filled with ideas and I would love to hear them, but in the meantime what I really need is a quick fix for my thumb! Send in your cures and I will try them all. Until then, I will simply wish my first born a very Happy Birthday. It is too bad we didn't save your spare. I could really use it right now.