Tuesday, 20 December 2011

My Special Piece of Chanukah

As we prepare to begin the festival of Chanukah, I have been following the excitement all day amongst my friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, email and other forms of social media. It always interests me in how people celebrate holidays and which customs remain important throughout their lives. Whether it is the visceral odour of latkes cooking, the lighting of the Chanukiah, the music, or the gifting that tends at times to go somewhat overboard, every single one of us has a tradition that absolutely must be carried forward or else "it just isn't Chanukah!" Today I was reminded of mine.

This is my mother's Chanukiah.


                                             

It is the Chanukiah that we always lit when I was a child and it is the Chanukiah that my parents continue to light and carry with them wherever they are in the world for Chanukah. Today I watched as my mother brought it out and set up the candles in preparation for this evening, just like I used to do when I was a kid. It brought back a hundred different memories all at once. I love this piece. It isn't the most beautiful Chanukiah I have ever seen, but it is the most special to me. I always knew that the piece was given to my mother by her father, but until today I never delved further into the story.

It seems that my grandfather, a jack of many trades throughout his lifetime, was working as a travelling salesman shortly after the war in the late 1940s. He happened upon one of his customers who drew him into conversation and soon discovered that he was Jewish. She brought out this Chanukiah and told him that it had been smuggled out of Holland just before or during World War II. She had no idea what it was but she knew that it was of some significance, and wondered if my grandfather might like to have it. He took it gratefully, and it remained in my grandparents' home until my grandmother moved in with my family after my Zaidy's death. My mother inherited it from her mother.

Years later during one of my parents' many trips, they happened upon other Chanukiot just like it in a museum in Amsterdam. My mother was so excited that she took photos of those to show all of us at home. Until today, she never told me the story and I never knew the significance of the piece.

It has always surprised me the myriad of Chanukiot that are available today, many of which I find to be quite tacky. I could never imagine lighting Chanukah candles with Bart Simpson or Mickey Mouse as the Shamash. When The Husband and I were searching for a Chanukiah of our own, I always came back to the traditional designs that were inspired by this particular and special piece of family folklore. Tonight as we light the first lights together with my parents, I will be marvelling at uniqueness of our Chanukiah and what it means to both my mother and me.

חג שמח to all who observe!!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

50 Years and Counting.....

I have really struggled with the writing of this post. It shouldn't have been all that difficult. I mean, really! How many couples do you know that have managed to make the 50 year anniversary line, and how many of those are actually related to you? My parents will be celebrating this auspicious milestone this coming Saturday and since we won't actually be in the same city until Sunday, I really wanted to recognize the day in print. But the writing gods have been tremendously unkind and have afflicted me with a block at the exact moment when eloquence is desperately required. You see...I felt that I needed a hook, a literary device to express exactly what I am feeling and to hopefully make the post more interesting to you the readers. Maybe a bit of satire or comedy? But then I realized that this nonsense was horseshit. What really matters isn't the flowery language in which I couch my emotions. It is the occasion itself.

There will be ample celebratory moments for our family over the next couple of weeks as we all arrive in the Southern Home to fete Mom and Dad, but the actual day is being planned as a low-key affair. When I asked how they planned to spend Saturday, my mother answered in typically understated fashion "I am thinking chicken wings, pizza, and maybe The Big Bang Theory on Tivo." When The Little Bro and The Ying to his Yang put together an invitation for a small party being thrown down here, they used my parents wedding picture as part of the design. My mother strenuously objected. Not just because she loathes their wedding picture (too long a story for this post, believe me!) but she really wanted to keep the occasion light, fun, and devoid of mush. My sister-in-law always the artist and ever the smartass, replaced the photo with this:

My mother loved it. It was exactly in keeping with how she and Dad want to celebrate.

My parents are not the centre of attention sorts. (Ok! Dad is-but he shares this particular centre with Mom.) They don't want speechifying or toasts. They aren't into slideshows or big parties, and most of all the dictum came down from on high that "there are to be absolutely no syrupy recollections." For them, it is all about celebrating with family and close friends and that is exactly what we plan to do. But as is my nature as oldest child and obstinate daughter, I just could not let this Saturday pass without a few thoughts. So here are some random thoughts about 50 years with my Mom and Dad.

50 years of Dad telling stories and 50 years of Mom correcting his tall tales.
50 years of Dad screaming about nothing and 50 years of Mom laughing about it later.
50 years of Dad losing stuff and 50 years of Mom finding it.
50 years of Dad getting lost and 50 years of Mom digging him out of his self-created holes and getting him back on course.
50 years of Dad telling jokes and 50 years of Mom fixing the botched punchlines.
50 years of Mom taking classes and 50 years of Dad reaping the benefits.
50 years of Mom baking and cooking and 50 years of her telling Dad that he can't eat any of it.
50 years of travelling the world together and 50 years of Dad meeting people he knows in all corners.
50 years of technology and 50 years of Mom trying to idiot proof it all for Dad.
50 years with Other Mother and Other Father and 50 years of developing a relationship that is unique to the outside world.
50 years of public displays of affection.
50 years of kvetching and 50 years of thanking a higher power that those kvetches aren't much worse.
50 years with 2 kids, 1 son-in-law, 1 daughter-in-law, 5 grandchildren, 2 other kids and spouses whom they treat as their own, 5 great-nephews and great-nieces who think of them as Bubby and Zaidy, and countless other family members and friends who love and respect them.

Not a bad legacy for 50 years of marriage.

Yesterday, when discussing this anniversary with my mother she told me a story that she heard while attending Susan Werner's concert last weekend. It seems that Susan recently lost her grandmother who hit the century mark and then some. She shared some of her grandmother's wisdom with the audience. When asked the secret to a successful marriage, Susan's grandma replied "choose someone that you can live with and not someone that you can't live without." My parents figured that nugget out a long time ago. They adore living, loving, and laughing together and my guess is that they wouldn't have changed much in the last 50 years. Ok! Maybe my father's temper tantrums and my mother's guilt trips could have found their way to the trash, but other than that....NOTHING! Happy 50th Mom and Dad. May you continue to embrace every single day as if it were a gift. Too mushy? Too bad.

Love, Dawn (Your first born, obstinate, opinionated, strong-willed daughter that you made in your images!)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Where are the Women??

This past summer The Husband and I made our first pilgrimage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I will admit that we had ulterior motives in making the five hour drive around the lake that didn't involve visiting the shrine, but while we were there we knew that we needed to finally see the place. It was a fantastic experience and one that I would gladly repeat again and again. A music lover's paradise. One of my greatest thrills during our trip to the Rock Hall was viewing the remarkable exhibit set up to honour Women Who Rock. It was like Cleveland knew I was coming and designed a special showcase just for me. We spent hours perusing and listening to all of the greats. It was pure joy.

We finally made our way into the screening room to view the film that honours all of the hall's inductees. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but was tremendously dismayed at the dearth of women who have actually been inducted into the hall. Did you know that while the Rock Hall has been open since 1983, it took until 1987 for them to induct their first woman, Aretha Franklin? There have been 619 total people inducted and only a handful of them women, some of whom were members of bands that were ushered in collectively like The Mamas and the Papas or Fleetwood Mac.

So I need to ask the question, "Where are the Women"? Where are the likes of Heart, Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King (as a performer), Cyndy Lauper, Donna Summer, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The GoGos, Janet Jackson, or The Carpenters? And this is just a list of the obviously missing. How does a group like the Red Hot Chili Peppers make it this year and not the Wilson sisters who paved the way for them? One might start to wonder if a gender bias exists in Cleveland?

Look it is obvious that rock and roll has traditionally been a guy's game, but women have forced their way into the picture and can no longer and should no longer be ignored. These omissions are neon-lighted slights that need to be corrected. Will they also ignore Melissa Etheridge when she becomes eligible next year? Travesties!

While we wait and hope for these errors to be corrected, we can and should acknowledge the great Laura Nyro who made the cut this year as the ONLY woman inductee. In the meantime, if you have a chance to get to the Rock Hall to see the Women in Rock exhibit I highly recommend it. It is on display until February 2012.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Take That NaBloPoMo!

Completed! Finished, ended, concluded, finalized, accomplished, achieved, discharged, settled, done! Wrapped up, sewn up, polished off!

Thirty blog posts in thirty days. I met the challenge and made it my bitch!! (I think that's Shakespeare or maybe my Polish grandfather. I often confuse the two and their words of wisdom.) I must tell you all that I seriously considered leaving today's post totally blank-a tangible symbol of my conquering the beast and a statement of total independence. But could you imagine running the twenty-six miles and quitting with 385 yards left? Neither could I, so here I am today just like the previous twenty-nine. The Husband thought that I should extend the challenge to include the first day of December just to prove that I could go to infinity and beyond. A symbolic gesture if you will, to my new commitment of writing. I dismissed that idea out of hand if only because I really want to maintain control of this exercise and I wasn't going to let anybody dictate terms to me, not even The Husband. Besides that-I really need a break, at least for a day or two.

I already have given you a detailed post as to what I have learned from this daily blogging extravaganza, so I won't rehash. Just a few added tidbits leftover from the month have been percolating and need to be shared.
  1. I read a great deal of really bad writing over the last thirty days. Really bad!  I don't mean amateur bloggers or would-be writers, either. I mean supposed professionals who do this daily and are compensated for their efforts. Journalists, freelancers, speechwriters, and their ilk all caught my attention this month simply because I was on the hunt for post ideas. The grammatical errors in our printed materials are abundant and spelling errors are common. Look, I don't profess to be perfect nor am I the grammar police, but I do know the correct usage for there, their, and they're. You would be shocked at how many out there do not.
  2. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people in my real life wanted to "help" me with post ideas. I truly appreciated each and every comment, email, and conversation, but it became almost impossible to explain that the process for my writing is organic and builds upon other kernels; a process that only I understand. While some of those helpful hints found their way into a post or two, more often than not the essence of the ideas were amalgamated into something totally unrecognizable to the original offering. Please don't stop offering suggestions. I love and appreciate the help more than you all will ever know. Just don't get bent out of shape when I don't use each and every one.
  3. I was unbelievably flattered when Blogher asked to syndicate one of my posts. Thousands of bloggers had registered for NaBloPoMo during the month of November and to have one of mine selected for highlighting on their main page was incredibly exciting. That particular post had a couple of thousand reads on their site and a couple of hundred more on mine. It was the first time that I personally felt the power of the interweb and all of its connectedness. Thank you to the people at Blogher for allowing me to participate in this manner and for believing that my scribblings were worth sharing. 
  4. I loved discovering what my readers love. The recipe blogs were extraordinarily popular which stunned me. Our vegetarian lifestyle has been the butt of many jokes with family and friends. To discover that others actually liked our way of eating or at least were willing to try some of the foods we eat, was tremendously satisfying. I also enjoyed sharing some of my favourite female musicians with you all. I always knew that I was partial to the female voice in my music choices (Take that kol isha!) and I loved finding out that many of you were as well. Those Shabbat Music Breaks were amongst my favourite posts of the month, not just because they allowed for a pause in the daily writing grind, but rather because they allowed Shabbat to feel different from the rest of the week. I know that other bloggers fully refrained from posting on Shabbat, but for me that would have felt dishonest to my observance of the day. Those music breaks were a wonderful compromise. 
  5. Finally, I am thrilled that I was able to see this challenge through from start to finish. There wasn't one day neglected and there wasn't even one day when I posted late. I haven't always finished what I started, but today I state categorically that I whupped NaBloPoMo's ass!
Thanks to all of you who have read, tolerated, offered help, and basically just supported my ridiculous little endeavour. I am not giving up blogging, actually far from it. I just need a couple of days to recoup and recover and then I will be back at it as the spirit moves. I hope that you all enjoy your Decembers whatever holidays you observe or don't.



Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Joint Blog Post

Today's post is a joint venture between my mother and myself.

It hasn't been an easy week around my family. Without delving into the details, suffice it to say that all of our emotions have been on a razor's edge. Yesterday in a conversation with my mother, she told me that she had decided to take a break from the chaos and start to go through her photos from her latest trip to the Galapagos Islands. I had briefly mentioned this most recent adventure of my parents' in a post from earlier this month. My parents are world travellers and while they love to relax on a beach from time to time, they much prefer destinations where the sights are less pedantic. A trip to an "almost untouched by human hands" part of the world is just the kind of vacation that thrills them.

My mother is a remarkable woman, although she would strenuously and vociferously argue the point. She has an artist's eye for composition and it is this sensibility that makes her a phenomenal photographer with absolutely no training whatsoever. She told me during our conversation yesterday that sorting through her pictures brought her an element of peace and happiness that calmed her frayed nerves. I asked her to forward me a couple so that I might share her awareness, and when they arrived I was absolutely stunned by their beauty, artistry, and grace. I asked her if I might share some of them with the blogosphere and she readily agreed--to all of our benefit. Every single one of these photos was taken by my mother. All the rights and copyrights to the material belong to her, so please be sensitive to that before sharing. In other words-just ask. I am certain that she will say yes.

Red-Footed Boobies

Sea Turtles doing the Deed
Smile!

Getting a better view

The look!

Black Widow-Gentlemen Beware

Sally Lightfoot Crab-Related to Gordon?

New seal pup having lunch-I love this picture!!

Iguana Community
C'mon Dad! Time to go!!


Watching and Waiting


She was absolutely right. Pure, simple joy. Thanks Mom for the glimpse into a magical trip. The perfect antidote to a difficult week.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Meatless Monday:Quinoa

The final Meatless Monday edition for this year's November blog extravaganza. I hope that you have tried a few of the recipes and given some extra thought as to the amount of meat that you are consuming on a weekly basis. My hope has not been to convert you to my dark vegetarian lifestyle, but rather to offer a bit of education and some delicious alternatives to the diet that do not require animal protein to be filling and nutritious. In today's Meatless Monday spotlight we see quinoa. Quinoa is a grain-like (note that it is grain-like) crop found mostly in South America and grown primarily for its seeds. It is closely related to crops like beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds, although I haven't seen anybody eat a tumbleweed since watching old John Wayne westerns. After it is harvested, the seeds are processed and the bitter outer coating is removed. Quinoa can be prepared much like rice, but it offers a complete protein in that all nine amino acids are present. It is also very rich in magnesium and iron, is a good source of dietary fibre, and is gluten free if that is an issue for you. Because it is relatively new on the North American scene, some Orthodox rabbis and most progressive Jewish organizations have classified it as Kosher for Passover rather than banish it to the kitniyot  pile. (Note: My family does eat kitniyot at Pesach and we do so proudly, but that is the subject for another post.) A few wonderful recipes using quinoa are offered below. Enjoy all.

Quinoa Salad


Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
8 asparagus
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup green olives, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
½ tbsp. olive oil+drizzle for asparagus
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar (I use a wonderful fig balsamic)
salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil the quinoa in large saucepan and cook until tender, as per directions of package. While the quinoa cooks, prep the asparagus. Remove the woody ends by gently bending each spear until it breaks-it will naturally snap off at the right place. Lay the spears on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes.
2. Chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces and add to the cooked quinoa, along with the cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes oil, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

Quinoa Pilaf


Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup hot vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Pour oil into a medium saucepan, and place over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots; cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Using a strainer, rinse quinoa under cold water. Drain well. Stir into the vegetables; cook and stir for 1 minute. Add stock, bay leaf and lemon rind and juice; bring to boil. Cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender.
Discard bay leaf. Stir in peas, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers


Ingredients:

1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 ribs celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 Tbs. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup quinoa
3 large carrots, grated (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups grated reduced-fat pepper Jack cheese, divided
4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

Directions:

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.
2. Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Stir in 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.
4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour. Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 Tbs. remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

Happy Meatless Monday to all!





Sunday, 27 November 2011

Shabbat and The Telephone

A few weeks ago I commented to The Husband about the increasing irritation of our landline telephone. I had noticed that with the exception of one or two calls a day, (thanks Mom!) the telephone only rang with calls from banks offering new credit card rates, newspapers trying to increase their circulation, or duct cleaners. Yes we have registered our phone number on the f*#@ingly useless "Do Not Call" list and yes we have call display that shows most of these solicitors coming through as 800 numbers. The latest scam for the duct cleaning business is to use area codes from out of country so as to dupe us into thinking that the call might have some importance. At first we were polite, told them that we were registered on the DNC list and to kindly remove our number. Last week when the poor schmuck on the other end of the line began his pitch, I yelled loudly into the phone "ARE YOU F*#@ING KIDDING ME???" "DON'T YOU PEOPLE EVER LEARN??" And then I politely hung up. My point is that our landline has fast become the spam provider of our communications system.

We have discussed ridding ourselves of the nuisance. I know many people who refuse to use landlines. Both of my sons rely solely on their cellphones. The Husband and I just can't seem to cut the cord, though. We worry about emergency response and power outages that tie up cell service. In the great Northeastern blackout of 2003, the only phones that functioned effectively were those that were connected directly into the phone jacks and didn't require electrical power or batteries. We still keep one around for emergencies, but my realization of a few weeks ago is still relevant. Between our cells, texting, and email we barely use our landline. Until yesterday.

Shabbat is usually my quiet day. Following our morning at shul we attempt to keep the day as peaceful and unobtrusive as possible. A Shabbos nap is my hoped for activity, but it doesn't always work and there are Shabbatot where real life does intrude on the m'nucha. (rest) A series of unforeseen events all collided with one another yesterday and had my telephone in constant service for almost four consecutive hours. I don't think that I have spent four hours on the phone during the entire month of November. Every time I took a call, another went directly to voice mail. Every time that I thought that a situation was under control, the next dam burst. It was a frenzy that rendered Shabbat totally useless.

Last evening after a fun Muppet movie experience, we went for a light bite with some friends. Somehow we got onto the subject of Shomer Shabbos-the ritual keeping of Shabbat laws. Far be it from me to tell anybody how they should practice and observe, but during yesterday's craziness it became clear to me as to why many feel the need to draw a rigid line in the sand for Shabbat observance. While I cannot subscribe to many of the outright  dismissals of logical modern conveniences such as electricity use, phones, cars etc.. I can absolutely understand the need to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the outside world for a full day. Shabbat should be about study, rest, and joy. It shouldn't be about fighting crowds in the mall, haircuts, carpooling kids, banking, or frenzied telephone calls. Look. I am not naive. I realize that our modern lives are squeezed for time. Many work full-time with spouses or partners who do the same. We need those non-working days to keep the house in order or the family fed. But I urge you all to try and unplug for one day a week. Maybe one day a month? The results are cathartic and therapeutic and, frankly necessary to our well-being as a society.

If nothing else, yesterday's lunacy has put talk of disconnecting the landline on hold for a while. (pun absolutely and apologetically intended!) But it has revived an old debate of what to do with the phone on Shabbat and the determination of which calls are necessary to receive and which can wait. I admit I am still struggling with this one. I would be happy to hear what you all have to say.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Shabbat Music Break

One final Shabbat Music Break for National Blog Posting Month. Melissa Etheridge is my ultimate example of a woman who flat out rocks. Her lyrics are true and pure and there is a clarity in her voice that I find spiritually uplifting. She lives life on her own terms and that honesty is reflected back in her music. And-how could you possibly not love a woman who rocks a twelve-string? "California" is off of her 2007 album The Awakening. Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Black Friday Bonanza

I have never been a fan of the bloodsport of competitive shopping. In my mind there is something unseemly about camping for days in front of a Walmart in order to bargain hunt. I haven't got the stomach for the "every woman/man for themselves" mentality, and I certainly wouldn't go to the mattresses for a discount. (Is anybody else impressed with my "Godfather"reference?) I tried it once. This menace of zombie shopping. Not on Black Friday mind you, but on Boxing Day the day after Christmas. I was at the Southern Home as I usually am for the Christmas vacation. It was six weeks prior to Younger Son's Bar Mitzvah and I still had nothing to wear. I was seriously entertaining the idea of attending in my torn jeans and a turtleneck, when I cajoled my Other Mother (my mother was still in Toronto due to circumstances unforeseen) to trek to the stores with me in the desperate hope of finding something more suitable for the occasion. We left our homes at 6:00am so that we could a) Find a parking spot that wasn't in Tallahassee and b) enter Bloomingdales with the other crazies at 6:30. After pulling every possible item that wasn't jeans and a turtleneck off of the racks and shelves, (size matters not a whit when shopping with animals) I staked out my claim to the last available fitting room. I tried on clothes while Other Mother acted as runner. Competitive shopping is a two-person game, lest the inmates attempt to usurp your hard-won territory. After several hours of playing survival of the fittest, we left the department store with a silk skirt, a lovely top and a shrug all for a deeply discounted price. We never left Bloomies, our mission completed with one-stop shopping and neither of us having the stomach to venture deeper into the belly of the beast. Let the next morons have their shot. We both swore a blood oath "Never again".

But far be it from me to keep others from that which they love or find important. I freely acknowledge that the Jew in me doesn't fully understand the Christmas shopping mentality, so if Black Friday is your thing-have at it. I do however, want to put in a personal plug for the shopping season. Tomorrow has been labelled Small Business Saturday in the United States. I kind of love this idea. After you have muscled and bullied your way through the big box and chain megastores, try and send some of those shopping dollars to a small business in your area. How about frequenting the local pet store instead of Petsmart to find that perfect gift for Fido or Fifi? Or how about a visit to that funky bohemian clothing shop downtown, rather than Macy's? Maybe that local gourmet shop has some nifty kitchen gadgets that can't be seen at William's Sonoma? In these difficult economic times, it has been the locally owned and operated businesses that have taken huge hits. How about sending them some love and capital this holiday season? If Saturday shopping is not your thing, take Small Business Saturday and transfer it to Sunday or Monday. The sentiment is still the same.

In that vein, I would like to tell all of my Toronto-based friends about an exciting new local business finally opening for retail. The Husband and Twin Son have been making their artisan spirits for several years now and have been trying to shoehorn their way into a tightly government controlled market here in Ontario. They have finally, finally, finally been given permission to open a retail store on the site of their distillery and hope to have it up and running by December 1st, (Please note the date. They aren't ready just yet to receive the hoards that we know will be pounding on the door!!) just in time for all of those holiday parties. Please come and visit Still Waters Distillery at their new onsite retail outlet at 150 Bradwick Drive #26 in Concord. Details can be found at the website. The boys will happily set you up with their award winning vodka and some special single malts unavailable at your local LCBO. Sincere apologies to my out of town readers but e-commerce is not yet available. Hopefully soon.

Enjoy the day of bargain busting friends. Me? I will spend my time getting ready for Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thanks and Giving

I love Marlo Thomas. Not just as an actress, although she is tremendously funny and wonderfully human in almost everything she has done. No, I love Marlo Thomas the feminist icon, the social activist, the educator, the philanthropist, and the role model for young women. It is hard to believe that it has been 45 years since  "That Girl" premiered. At the time, Thomas' Ann Marie was the only single woman living an independent life on network television. The show depicted her living in her own apartment-without roommates-striving to make a name for herself as an actress in New York. The other characters, her boyfriend Donald, her parents, her myriad of temporary bosses, were secondary storylines to that of her striving to live life on her own terms. Behind the scenes, Thomas was a co-creator and a producer of the show-almost unheard of in those days unless your name was Lucille Ball. Without Ann Marie blazing the way, we probably wouldn't have seen Mary Richards, Murphy Brown, Carrie Bradshaw, or Liz Lemon.

After "That Girl" ended Thomas went on to educational projects-Free to Be...You and Me-which encouraged individuality in children and to develop pride in who they are. With the success of the book and subsequent television program, Thomas established the Free to Be...You and Me Foundation designed to "ensure children's wholeness as human beings: their right to nurturing care from women and men; their right to schools, homes and a society that are free from discrimination based on sex, race, culture, class, or any condition of birth; their right to non-sexist, multiracial education; and their right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting that encourages independence." Whew! How can you not love a woman who actively works for and believes in something like that. In 1973, Ms Thomas joined Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin as the founders of the United States' first women’s fund, the Ms. Foundation for Women. The organization was created to deliver funding and other resources to organizations that were presenting women’s voices in communities nationwide. She did all of this phenomenal work while still maintaining a thriving acting career and a successful marriage.

But it is at American Thanksgiving that I am most impressed with Marlo Thomas. Carrying on the work begun by her father Danny Thomas, Marlo serves as the national outreach director for St. Jude's Children's Hospital raising funds for their tremendous work. In 2004 she started the Thanks and Giving program. Using her connections with corporate sponsors and within Hollywood, Marlo began this annual fundraising blitz which occurs during Thanksgiving week and the week beyond, and has raised almost a quarter of a billion dollars for the hospital in 7 years. Stunning. 

When I hear young women spout nonsense like feminism is dead and it isn't necessary for them to be involved in causes to raise awareness, I always point out that it is because of women like Marlo Thomas that they have the opportunities that they do. When I watch women idolize the Real Housewives of anywhere or regard the Kardashian sisters as a positive image for girls to aspire to, I turn them onto the work of Marlo Thomas and gently explain why she just might be a better role model.  

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. Enjoy the day. Just remember that as you all convalesce from your turkey stupors it is all about the Thanks and the Giving. 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam she-natan lanu hizdamnut l'takein et ha-olam.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Yes Virginia, I Miss You

Is it possible to miss someone whom you have never met? Well, I miss Virginia. Virginia was the kindly lady who used to call our house once or twice a month for the last five years so as to inquire whether or not we required our regular water delivery. Her calls were like clockwork. Every second Monday of the month the call display would light up revealing Virginia's company name and phone number. Her's was a call I would always take if at home. No ducking Virginia. She had a voice built for telephone conversation; smooth, calm, and without even a tiny hint of the sarcasm and cynicism she surely must have felt given that she spent most of her day making customer service calls. She was kind without any pushiness, probing without being nosy. She would wish me safe travels when informed of our absences, and more than once begged me to take her with us-in total jest, of course.

I had concocted an entire back story for Virginia. She must have been about 55 and was probably carrying around a few more pounds than she would like. She was divorced-still on good terms with her ex-but the split had forced her to take the part-time work in the family water business to make ends meet. She dreamed of travel and hoped that she could take that long-awaited trip to Hawaii at Christmas break. Yes, I liked Virginia very much and I looked forward to her calls. And then one day, she was gone. One day the phone rang with that all too familiar number and instead of Virginia's soothing voice greeting me, on the other end of the line was Kelly. Kelly is perky and young. She is sweet and efficient and probably very good at her job, but I miss Virginia. I feel like a friend has quit me with no notice and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I did wrong. I hardly had any interaction with Virginia, but something in her manner and tone had me convinced that I liked her. She was just a voice, but I had an entire picture of her in my mind. Obviously I had created a fictitious character, but it was fun while it lasted.

Years ago I used to do Bar Mitzvah recordings for a rabbi from a small community about two hours west of Toronto. Rabbi W would call the house to give me the chapters and verses he required, and I would send tapes in return. We never met. Our whole relationship was conducted first on the telephone and later via email. He was a lovely man with a baritone that would make James Earl Jones jealous. I had a picture of him in my mind as to his looks and his life. Total fabrications, of course. As our conversations became more involved and more frequent, I soon discovered many details about Rabbi W's life that didn't fit with my mental picture of the man. He was older than I had originally thought, with grown children. He loved farming and outdoor life-a far cry from the suave debonair image I had falsely formed. One day, Rabbi W informed me that he would be in my neighbourhood and would like to stop by to pick up the latest recording. When I opened the door to greet him I was totally stunned by the man who stood on my stoop. He looked nothing like my false representations, but as we spoke that day I became acquainted with the whole man and not just his voice. When he died two years ago, I mourned along with countless others. He had become a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.

We are constantly affected by the glimpses or sounds of the people in our lives. I didn't know Virginia at all and yet I am saddened by her absence. I had a cursory relationship with Rabbi W and yet his impact on me was profound. Those disembodied voices we hear every day are really quite connected to us after all.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Writing Prompts: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

During the course of this month-long blog extravaganza, I have been rather fortunate. Ideas, stories, and anecdotes have magically presented themselves to me. I have lived in abject terror of the well running dry, of hitting the proverbial wall, but so far so good. Many online sites including Blogher have been offering helpful writing prompts designed to stir the creative juices, but so far (thanks to the deity!) I have found them unnecessary. I was kind of curious about other writing sites and what they might be offering, so I decided to float around the interweb and do a quick and dirty search to see what nuggets of ideas they might be offering to those of us in the final laps.

One site actually suggested that I imagine my life as a coffee maker. Seriously! A coffee maker. How could one possibly get creative about a coffee maker? I kept imaging the sexually satisfying properties of Folgers versus Maxwell House. Which brand really was the best part of waking up or did I really need it to be good to the last drop? Twisted and perverse, I know. Never a true fan of pornography, I decided to move on.

Several sites wanted me to recall a painful breakup or to describe an incident when a supposed friend had wronged me. Gothic images of Inquisition-like torture devices invaded my sleep. Bloody tableaus with dismembered limbs littering dark forests (why do these things always take place in dark forests?) crept into my waking thoughts. Messy crime scenes worse than any imagined or depicted in the most grotesque slasher film pervaded my subconscious. Revenge may be sweet, but it is definitely not clean. After several fitful and sleepless nights, I decided that these kinds of stories were better left up the experts-serial killers and Stephen King.

Several prompts asked me to imagine that I was a princess searching for Prince Charming. Look-I have been married for more than twenty-six years to the same man and have been with him for over thirty. That number encompasses almost 2/3 of my entire life span. I love him dearly and respect him tremendously. How many men do you know who would allow his wife to continually bash him in her blog? He is a wonderful husband, father, and son, but my delusions about Prince Charming disappeared the first time I saw the holes in his socks. No partner is flawless and no marriage is a fairytale. Relationships take work-real involved and tough work-and frankly selling that "princess living happily ever after" bullshit just isn't my style. I prefer the "warts and all" view of life. Sometimes when the princess kisses the frog, he is just a frog. And sometimes he is a brilliant, kind, decent, sort of geeky, but still tremendously sexy man who just happens to love me. I will take that over Prince Charming any day.

Yesterday's prompt on Blogher asked about passion projects and try as I might, for the life of me I couldn't think of a single thing that I am currently passionate about. This little realization just about had me running for the Zoloft. My kids? Always, but they are off on their own life's journeys. My guy? Well, he got his own paragraph one up. My work? I love it and still find satisfaction in it, but passionate? Not so much anymore. Chalk that one up to middle-age. Politics? Puh-leeze! And then it hit me. Sometimes our passions are hidden and out of sight. Sometimes we don't know we are passionate about something until we start to do it and realize that it has become the best part of the day. That is what this little writing exercise has become for me. A true passion. I need to do it or else my day seems incredibly wasted. Am I any good? Who cares! I do it because I truly love it. Look-I may never be able to imagine myself climbing Everest or know what it feels like to be an Italian sports car, (both prompts from other sites!) but I do understand passion and the grip it has on my psyche. Finally, a writing prompt that I could use.







Monday, 21 November 2011

Meatless Monday:The Fall/Winter Soup Edition

Once again we find ourselves at Meatless Monday. It is amazing to me that since I began this Blogapalooza, (I confess that I blatantly stole that from my Aurora friend!) the Meatless Monday posts have generated the most feedback. It seems that we all are in search of new, refreshing, and healthy ways to feed our families. Once again I urge you to try to reduce the amount of meat in your diets. I have become tremendously fond of all of you and meatless meals, as I have stated before, are generally more healthy for your bodies and for the environment. Given the distinct chill in the air today, my Meatless Monday post is focusing on soups. I love soup. A hearty soup with a light salad and some fresh bread is a wonderful way to increase vegetable consumption, warm up the insides, and it is tremendously filling. Here are some of my winter favourites. Enjoy your Meatless Monday!

Lentil Soup Sababa Style
There is a wonderful middle eastern restaurant here in north Toronto called Sababa. Several years ago they shared their recipe for lentil soup which is to die for!


Ingredients:
1¼ cup red lentils
½ cup white rice
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cup warm water
1 tablespoon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cumin , ground
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt , or to taste
lemon wedges, optional

Directions:
1. Soak the lentils and rice in warm water. Add onion to hot vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Add the 6 cups of water and bring to a boil.
2. Drain the soaking lentils and rice, rinse well then add to boiling water with onion and boil 15-20 minutes.
3. Add vegetable stock, cumin, olive oil and salt. Serve each bowl with a wedge of lemon.

Spicy Black Bean Soup


Ingredients:
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cup red onion, chopped
1 4 ounce can mild green chiles, diced
2 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeño, chopped with seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 15 ounce can black beans, undrained
2 cup vegetable broth
8 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
sour cream (Plain yogurt works just as well!)
tortilla chips

Directions:
Heat oil in heavy pot over medium high heat. Add onion, green chiles, garlic, jalapeno and cumin. Saute until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans with juices and broth. Bring soup to a boil. reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until flavours combine, aout 15 minutes. Puree 3 cups soup in batches in blender. Return puree to same pot. Add 6 tablespoons cilantro. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls with dollop of sour cream and tortilla chips. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

Tomato Bean Soup


Ingredients:
4 large onions, chopped
1 green peppers, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 28 ounce can tomatoes, undrained
3 tsp. chili powder
4 cups vegetable stock
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can chick peas, drained
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Saute onion and peppers together is olive oil until soft. Combine remaining ingredients and cook until flavours come together. Could it be easier than that?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

My Possessions Require GPS Homing Devices

I have misplaced my hot water bottle. Or I should say my house has eaten my hot water bottle. And my white oxford blouse. And my cream coloured fleece sweatshirt. I have come to the conclusion that houses gets hungry from time to time and the beasts need to be fed. Rather than politely asking for snacks of extra home heating fuel on chilly November mornings or demanding the odd wood burning fire, houses instead gorge themselves on random possessions left carelessly about. A single sock from the dryer. A grocery list meticulously created and left on the kitchen counter. A hot water bottle, a white oxford blouse, and a cream coloured fleece sweatshirt. A sort of catnip for the domicile. Most of the time the house has completely digested the articles before we even realize that they have gone missing. But every so often we might be able to save the odd one with a bit of cleaning and some careful organization. It was this desire to rescue my personal possessions that drove The Husband and me to clean out our closet this morning.

I should say that the two of us have managed to share a comfortably large walk-in closet (of course it is never large enough!) in our bedroom for much of the last sixteen years, mostly because my overflow clothing has found homes in the spare bedroom closet and what was once the Oldest Son's bedroom built-ins. I am fairly meticulous about weeding through the chaff of old clothes and I like to keep my clothing neat and organized. The Husband prefers to wear what is on the top of the nearest pile, has stuff he never knew existed, and hasn't done a thorough sorting in almost five years. In a desperate attempt to update his wardrobe, clean out the crap, and hopefully find the undigested items listed above, the two of us went to work on the old clothes. Two hours (he says two weeks and is still whining that I ruined his Sunday) and seven large overstuffed garbage bags later, we are ready for trips to Goodwill to dump the old and ill-fitting, and to the mall to procure a few new items. Our closet has never looked better. Hopefully we can maintain the order and organization for more than a week. The hot water bottle? Nary a sign. The white oxford blouse? Gone with the wind. The cream coloured fleece sweatshirt? A homemade snack for an obviously ravenous and underfed domicile.

I have a suggestion for all of the techies out there searching for the next million dollar idea. Microscopic GPS homing devices that we can attach to all of our personal items so that they can be easily retrieved. My iPhone has one now, why not my cream coloured fleece sweatshirt? Imagine the possibilities. Never again will we have to play fry cook to an overindulged and overly sated abode. Just push a button and a signal will tell you where every article is located. Find that sucker before the house's digestive juices permanently destroy it.

Ok. I know I sound wacky, but I want my stuff back and I am tired of playing the part of daft imbecile moronically searching in vain. Homeowners of the world unite. Renew the commitment to keep our stuff out of the guts of gluttonous dwellings. Either that or help me out with my obviously f@#*ed up memory!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Shabbat Music Break

Shabbat is upon us once again and once again I have interrupted my blogging for a musical interlude for an artist that truly takes my breath away. Alison Krauss and Union Station have been performing together since the late 1980s. Alison began performing at the age of 10 and was recording her first solo album at the tender age of 14. A true prodigy. She has released 14 albums, appeared on numerous soundtracks, and is credited with helping to revive bluegrass music appreciation. As of the 2011 Grammy Awards, she has won 26 Grammys, making her the most awarded singer, the most awarded female artist, and tied for the third most awarded artist overall in Grammy history. (She also writes, produces, and arranges other artist's works.) She has one of the clearest and purest voices in music today. She never hits a false note and to watch her play the fiddle is pure magic. This song Paper Airplane is the title track off of her latest album with Union Station. A fabulous piece of work. Please enjoy! Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Friday, 18 November 2011

My Friend the Doctor

I am headed out today to celebrate with a dear friend. I must admit that I wouldn't brave the jungle that is Toronto Friday mid-afternoon traffic to head downtown for just anybody, so the occasion must be pretty special. My friend the doctor (I sound like an old Jewish mother) is being feted by the big machers of his profession today, and is being awarded with (I hope I get this right) The Medal for Research Excellence awarded each year by the Kidney Foundation of Canada. This award is given annually "to honour the Canadian researcher who is recognized by his or her peers to have significantly advanced the treatment of kidney disease and related conditions." Impressive, yes? I am so very proud of my friend the doctor (it just sounds so right to say it that way!!) and I am so very honoured that he wanted to share his special moment with us.

My friend the doctor is an incredibly accomplished man. He literally is trying to eradicate disease and rid the world of its ills. He travels the globe lecturing, learning, researching, and attempting to make children's lives easier, happier, and free from pain. (He plays a pretty mean cello too, but I digress.) He is leaving an incredible mark. So, it got me to thinking. What kind of mark am I leaving?

It would be so easy to dismiss my contributions to the world as merely teaching a bunch of Jewish kids how to sing "I Have a Little Dreydl" every Chanukah. But wouldn't that be unfair to all of those kids who went on to teach Chanukah songs and traditions to their own children?  It would be simple to feel disparaging about musically lifting a congregation in soulful prayer. After the idea of curing kidney disease it does seem somewhat trite. But wouldn't that diminish the emotions of the community at the end of Shabbat or Holy Day services?

Look, I know that I am not curing cancer. I will leave that to my friend the doctor. I know that what I do may seem uninteresting or dull to many, but just like him, I am using the gifts that I was given to serve my community to the best of my ability. Maybe my music makes somebody feel just a little bit better on a particularly bad day? Perhaps passing on our heritage to the next wave of young people is my reward of excellence? L'dor vador-from generation to generation.

I am thrilled to be able to join with my friend the doctor on his special day. May he continue to find joy and passion in his work and may it yield fruitful results so that the multitudes that suffer find health and peace. What a great way to enter into Shabbat!


Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Disturbing, Disgusting, and Dumb

A few random items have caught my eye over the last few days and I must confess that each and every one elicited a response of "WTF?" I have to seriously wonder what went into the thought processes behind these campaigns. Somebody, somewhere had to realize that they would make the files of the disturbing, the disgusting, and the dumb.

Disturbing:

Clothing maker Benetton launched their new UnHate campaign yesterday with a series of creepy visuals of world leaders kissing each other. Check them out here.





Yes, that is the pope kissing an imam, Mr. Obama smooching with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Benjamin Netanyahu lip-locked with Mahmood Abbas, and Germany's Angela Merkel getting it on with Nicholas Sarkozy of France. It should be noted that the Vatican was so outraged about His Holiness puckering up, that Benetton pulled that picture from its campaign. Alessandro Benetton, executive chairman of the company launched the ads yesterday and attempted an explanation.

"While global love is still a utopia, albeit a worthy one, the invitation 'not to hate', to combat the 'culture of hatred', is an ambitious but realistic objective. At this moment in history, so full of major upheavals and equally large hopes, we have decided, through this campaign, to give widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and invite the citizens of every country to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of 'the other’ and of what is unfamiliar to us."

While I can certainly appreciate the ideals of love and not hate, there is something untoward about these pictures. I am not getting the vibe of world peace that I believe that Benetton was aiming for, but rather an uncomfortable and squeamish feeling in the pit of my stomach. An age of understanding cannot be forced upon us with a kiss. There is actually a christological Judas imagery that comes to mind. In truth the photo of Angela Merkel and Sarkozy is the creepiest for me. It reduces one of the most powerful women in the world to a sexist punchline. This is just my opinion, but I certainly would be interested in others.

Disgusting: 


Just in time for American Thanksgiving, those whack jobs at PETA are at it again. In a campaign aimed squarely at children comes this little gem that is popping up on a roadside billboard near you.


Nice? Friendly? Grotesque!! And I'm a vegetarian! I have discussed PETA's over the top tactics before and how I truly believe that their mandate of animal protection gets lost in the morass when it behaves abhorrently and batshit crazy. All this ad serves to do is creep out a bunch of unsuspecting kids and probably land them on a therapist's couch trying to figure out from where their nightmares emanated. I know that it kept me up! All I could think about was some weird science experiment involving the dog Eddie from Frasier. Get with the program PETA. If you truly want to educate kids about ethical eating my advice would be to tone done the nonsense, stop trying to scare the shit out them, and stop thoroughly pissing off their parents. 

Dumb:

And now for the truly dumb. On Tuesday the United States Congress decided that pizza is a vegetable. From the Associated Press:

The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year. These include limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line, putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. The legislation would block or delay all of those efforts.The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.Nutritionists say the whole effort is reminiscent of the Reagan administration's much-ridiculed attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs. This time around, food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress.

A series of high-powered lobbyists from companies that produce and provide frozen pizzas and tater tots to school cafeterias managed to get the deep thinkers from the Congress to classify the two tablespoons of tomato sauce on a pizza as part of the daily requirement of vegetables that school children consume every day. And all of this whilst the United States is battling a growing obesity problem amongst the nation's young people. Jamie Oliver is out there somewhere crying into his fresh veg. Congress is sacrificing children's health and well-being in exchange for a deep-dish from Di Giorno. And we wonder why Americans have no faith in their legislative bodies.

If you have others from the files of disturbing, disgusting, and dumb please forward them to me or comment below.

P.S I've been syndicated on Blogher They liked my post entitled "What Have You Learned, Dorothy" so much that they published it. They like me!! They really really like me! Does this mean that I am now a professional writer? You decide.





Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Muppets Are Coming!

Something a bit lighter for hump day.

The Muppets are coming and I couldn't be more excited. I have always been a huge fan. I still have a scrapbook that I started from the earliest days of the Muppet Show back in the mid-seventies. Jim Henson was at his hottest back then and at that time he graced the cover of every major magazine. I still have many of those. I own original plush dolls of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Scooter and Fozzie.



I have all of the original episodes of the show on DVD, have seen all of the movies, and own several books. Two dear friends recently reminded me of a birthday cake that they designed for me in the shape of Miss Piggy. I wasn't a kid, either. I was 18. I used to have several Miss Piggy pins and stickers on my guitar strap. The only reason that I removed them was because they broke. I still have former students stop me and ask me where Miss Piggy disappeared to. Geek? Of course I am! But you knew that already, didn't you?

So when Disney announced a rebooted movie with all of my beloved original characters, I took notice. I can't wait for the release next week and I do plan to be in a theatre revelling in Muppetmania very soon. Of course along with the movie comes the inevitable Muppet merchandise. Kermit mugs and Piggy lingerie. T-shirts galore! (I personally love this one!) A whole host of Muppet paraphernalia. But the best product tie-in of all comes from nail polish maker OPI.  In honour of the new theatrical release they have developed an entire line of Muppet colours.




With names like "Fresh Frog of Bel Air", "Warm and Fozzie", and "Getting Miss Piggy with It" these nail colours are destined to become classics. (Seriously-how much do I love this!!)

The guitar player in me usually prevents painting my nails. It seems like such a waste of time to polish only to have them chip and crack with my next chord or strum. Not so now. I am headed out today in search of the Muppet collection and plan on a painting party. I mean, really! Who could resist decorating oneself with "The Rainbow Connection".


The Muppet Movie opens next week on November 23rd. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What Have You Learned, Dorothy?

Note: This Post has been syndicated on Blogher

Well here we are folks. At the halfway point. Fifteen posts down, fifteen more to go. It certainly hasn't been a piece of cake, but I honestly didn't expect that it would be. And while I might not always subscribe to the notion that the best things in life are borne out of struggle and pain, there is certainly some merit to the philosophy that the more challenging the task, the more pride experienced when that task is completed. That certainly has been the case for me with this writing/blogging exercise. While I definitely do not want to dig deep into my psyche just yet-I need to save that introspection just in case I get stuck for an idea around day twenty-I have learned a few lessons about the commitment and discipline that are necessary for a daily dose of scribbling.

Everything is now a potential idea. I scour the internet, the newspapers, magazines, and television for small kernels that might develop into full-blown posts. I have been people watching at the mall and at regular haunts. What might be considered mundane everyday behaviour like standing in line at the grocery store has become fodder for this blog. So, if you see me out and about over the next two weeks and I am either staring at you or am deeply lost in thought, the chances are that you have done something that might make my highlight reel. My advice to you-run far and fast. We can reconnect privately in December.

I have become a walking writer's cliche. A pad of paper and a pen is always at the ready. I have virtual post-it notes on my computer just in case an idea strikes. I have taken to carrying my laptop around the house with me-even into the bathroom (too much information?)-in the event of a bolt of lightning. My iPhone is filled with reminder notes and dumbs pictures in case I might convert them into blog postings. I never realized until just now how seriously I had committed myself to this task. Are these signs that writing has become an increasingly important part of my day or are they just an early signals of insanity?

My best notions arrive while I am exercising. Years ago I used to write song parodies for parties. Sometimes I actually made a few bucks in the process. While doing that bit of nonsense, I discovered that my best ideas came to me in the shower. It occurred to me then that this happened because I was totally alone with my thoughts while bathing. This burst of creativity on the treadmill is just an extension of that experience. About a month before I committed to National Blog Post Month, I recommitted to my exercise regimen. It is true what they say about physical fitness clearing one's mind. I can be doing my miles, rocking out to Melissa Etheridge, and formulating blog posts all at the same time. Amazing!

It was never my intention that anybody would actually read my blog except for my mother. Long time readers of this space will recall that I started this experience on Facebook as a method of sharing our kitchen renovations with my snowbird parents. (Those initial postings are in the 2007 archives.) I had no idea others were tuning in until I started receiving comments. It was The Husband who suggested moving it over to Blogger so that it was more accessible. Over the years, I have thought of it as more of an online journal than a blog, a place where I can express my thoughts and feelings. And while I do tag certain people (mostly friends and family who I know will forgive me because they have to love me!) hoping they might read my incoherent rantings, I have never had any expectation that anyone actually does. (with the exception of The Husband. He is without choice!) I have to admit that there is a certain sense of satisfaction when somebody approaches me either in the real or virtual worlds and expresses opinions on what I have written. There are a few trolls out there of whom I would like to ask "Why bother with me?" "Don't you have real writers to annoy?" But by and large the reception has been positive. You don't have to like what I have written and you certainly don't have to agree, but it is nice to know that I am not writing in the ether. Just knowing that you all are out there actually makes this process flow better.  

Somebody asked me yesterday if I have too much time on my hands. While it is true that the month of November is typically a quieter time in my professional life, I did not start this project as a way to kill time. Actually quite the opposite is true. I have found that I have to actively make the time to sit and write, and on a selfish note,  I genuinely wanted to see if I could do it. What I have discovered is how important a part of my day this writing has become. I love the creative process and I love the discipline it is providing. 

I am certain that more bullshit self awareness will follow over the coming two weeks. These are just a few random thoughts at the halfway point. I apologize if anything has sucked so bad it was painful to read, and I apologize in advance for what I know will be a few duds to come. Thanks for reading.




Monday, 14 November 2011

Meatless Monday on Monday

Today we will actually do Meatless Monday recipes on Monday. Once again please know that I am not trying to convert anybody to what Twin Son calls the "dark side" of dining, (this week he actually saw my grocery list sitting out in the kitchen and added a melange of pork products to it in the mistaken hope that we might turn) but rather to make you more aware of the food that you are putting into your bodies. Meatless meals can be delicious, nutritious, environmentally friendlier, and are anything but boring.

The Husband and I love Indian recipes and we have taken to making many of them at home. One of our favourites is Chana Masala, a lovely spiced chickpea dish. Pair it with a roasted cauliflower or the Indian style okra and some rice and you have a terrific meal. Enjoy! 

Chana Masala

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas in water or 1 1/2 cups pre-cooked + 1/2 cup water
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
juice from 1 lemon (approx. 2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 large bunch of spinach (two handfuls) rinsed (this is optional, but I love it!)

Preparation

In a large skillet or frying pan, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until soft, about 3-5 minutes.
Add chickpeas straight from the can, including all the water. Add the spices and lemon juice, cover, and simmer about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed, until chickpeas are cooked and soft.

Reduce heat, add spinach and cover. Allow spinach to wilt for 2-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Roasted Cauliflower with Indian Spices and Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower (2lbs)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala

Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Cut the cauliflower into small pieces and place into a plastic bag. In a cup with a spout, mix the dry ingredients with the olive oil and drizzle over the cauliflower. Mix swell and allow the dressing to coat the cauliflower evenly. Spread the cauliflower on a 9x13 baking dish and bake for 1 hour.

Combine 1 cup of yogurt with 1 tbsp of dill or cilantro, 1/2 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp salt. Serve as dipping sauce to cauliflower.

Indian Style Okra

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound sliced fresh okra
1 medium tomato diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the okra and the tomato and season with cumin, ginger, coriander, pepper and salt. Cook and stir for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until okra is tender.

Dinner tonight is on me!!


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Speed it Up Already!

It is one of the remarkable experiences of aging that when we are young we wish that time would hurry up and when we get there we often wish that it would slow down. I hear it all the time. "Where did this year go?" or "Boy how time has flown." We are inundated with platitudes like "Stop and smell the roses" and frankly, for the most part I am with them. I am living the cliches. It really does seem like yesterday that I was changing diapers and now I look up to grown men. I ache more in the morning, am continually devising clever ways to cover my greying roots and creviced laugh lines, and I definitely struggle harder to keep off the winter layer of insulation. Thirty years has passed and honestly I hardly noticed. I wish like most of us that I could have lived it in slow motion. At least I have the highlight reel of videos and photographs.

But then there are the times that I honestly wish I could speed up the universe. These are the times when I don't want to live in the moment, but rather get past it all as quickly as possible so that I can move onto the more important things that life has to offer-like the roses!


  • I absolutely loathe standing in line at the check-out counter at the grocery store. In fairness, some stores have figured out how to streamline the experience with automated computer check outs and easy to carry storage bins instead of grocery bags, but all in all the entire escapade is an exercise in wasted time. I hate it when cashiers examine my purchases. "Oh cool-Tempe! How do you cook that?" I hate the cashier who seems to think that I have all day to watch her pack my bags. I hate it when customers in front of me act stunned when they realize that they actually have to pay for their purchases and suddenly go rooting around in their pockets or purses for exact change. I hate the coupon clipper who probably spent $5.00 in gasoline to drive to the store in order to save .05¢ on their purchase. Speed it up already and let me get on with my life.
  • Do political campaigns really need to drag on for as long as they do? The Republican contenders for the presidential nomination will spend up to two years, millions of dollars, endless debates, thousands of robo-calls, and a lot of wasted oxygen in order to be anointed the last person standing to challenge President Obama. Given the low level of talent available in this clown car, it might be quicker if they all just thumb-wrestled each other with a "winner take all" scenario prevailing. I can't imagine a greater waste of time. Get on with it already and let us all get on with our lives.
  • Do you know anybody who says to their dentist "Please slow down so that I might embrace this moment?" How about to their physicians during a particularly invasive examination? No I think that these are certainly times that could use a little kick in the ass.
  • Don't you hate it when driving home late at night, you are the only vehicle at the stoplight and the damn thing takes forever to turn green? Don't tell me that you haven't at least have been tempted to run the red. Why can't the city better time these intersections at off-hours so that one doesn't have to wait for what seems like an eternity all the while burning precious gasoline and life moments? Hurry up already.
  • There are two minutes left in the game and your team is up by 1. The other team is coming on like gangbusters, shots and bodies are flying everywhere, your heart is racing at such a dangerously high pace that it feels explosive inside your chest cavity, and yet the seconds tick down as if they were hours. If ever we wanted time to disappear, it is during these incidents. I mean, really. How is it possible for anybody to score a goal in 0.1 seconds? Get with it!
Intellectually I know that time passes at the same rate every day, every year. It is all in our perceptions of events that dictates whether it is passing quickly or slowly. We want to savour the extraordinary and bypass the mundane. I suppose that the answer to the conundrum of this temporal tempest is to recognize when the mundane is actually extraordinary and when the extraordinary is merely mundane. Maybe then we won't feel as though our lives are wasted or passing us by.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Shabbat Music Break

It is once again Shabbat and once again I share with you one of my favourite artists Mary Chapin Carpenter. I seem to have a thing for ballsy women artists who write their own music and play their own instruments. "This Shirt" is one of Mary's early ballads from 1990 and frankly, it takes a special kind of lyricist to make a song about an old piece of clothing sound so beautiful. Please take a few minutes to enjoy. Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Friday, 11 November 2011

11-11-11

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.





Thursday, 10 November 2011

Regrets

I watch a wonderful show on CBC call "Being Erica". (My American friends can find it on the soon to be defunct Soapnet or somewhere on the wondrous internet.) The basic premise of the show is this: Young thirty-something Erica Strange is adrift. She cannot get settled in her career, her relationships, or put her family traumas behind her. Enter the mystical Dr. Tom, the wise and welcoming time-bending therapist. Using a power that only Einstein could comprehend, he sends Erica back to various points in her life where she wishes that she had handled the situations differently. Her regrets. It is kind of like a temporal taco, where one end of time just touches another and allows Erica to see how her actions have affected others. A sort of moment mulligan. The idea is that once Erica sees the consequences of her actions and attempts to rectify the situations, she can move forward into the next phase of her life.

I wonder if Joe Paterno wishes he were Erica Strange today?

JoePa, as he was affectionately known, was until last evening the legendary football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Last night he was justifiably fired after 46 years for his gross inaction and negligence in the wake of the massive sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach enveloping his beloved campus. To be absolutely clear-the coach did not abuse any child, witness the abuse, nor his he charged with anything. Instead, his is a sin of inaction. When another assistant informed the coach in 2002 that he was a witness to "something inappropriate" between this other coach and a ten year old boy, Coach Paterno sat on the information for a period of time. When he finally did get around to speaking of the incident with university officials, it was buried so deep in paper that while the alleged offender was no longer employed by the football team, he was still allowed to bring young boys into the locker room and he was allowed to continue his work with a charity whereby he rewarded children with "special visits" to Happy Valley. (This is what the campus at Penn State is called. It sounds so disgustingly dirty now!) There are at least eight alleged victims and who knows how many more will come forward. Yesterday afternoon in a half-hearted attempt to salvage his legacy, Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of the current season. Last night the university board put him out of his misery and fired him immediately.

At best Joe Paterno's silence is troubling. At worst he was complicit. I cannot begin to understand the mindset that allows somebody to stand idly by while crime and injustice is occurring. Judaism is explicit on the subject. Aaron Kirschenbaum a professor of Jewish Law at Tel Aviv University states:

"In Judaism, the bystander's duty to come to the rescue of his fellow man who is in peril is religious, ethical and legal. A citizen is expected to engage in the act of rescue both personally and with his financial resources. He is required, however, neither to give his life nor to place his life in substantial jeopardy to save his fellow."


Maimonides went further.

If one person is able to save another and does not save him, he transgresses the commandment neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor (Leviticus 19:16). Similarly, if one person sees another drowning in the sea, or being attacked by bandits, or being attacked by wild animals, and, although able to rescue him either alone or by hiring others, does not rescue him; or if one hears heathens or informers plotting evil against another or laying a trap for him and does not call it to the other's attention and let him know; or if one knows that a heathen or a violent person is going to attack another and although able to appease him on behalf of the other and make him change his mind, he does not do so; or if one acts in any similar way - he transgresses in each case the injunction, neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor...

It is interesting that yesterday and today we are recalling the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On these days in 1938 many ordinary Germans stood idly by as Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were ransacked and destroyed in one of the most public displays of Jewish persecution by the Nazis, and it is widely viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust. Joe Paterno and the officials that stood with him at Penn State are no better than any of those who stood idly by and watched innocents suffer at the hands of tyrants.

We don't get do-overs in life. It might be fun to watch the fiction on television, but reality is what it is. We all must live with the consequences of our actions or inactions. Joe Paterno may have regrets this morning, but they pale in comparison to those of the real victims-the violated children.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Lost Art of Saying Yes

I recently completed Tina Fey's wonderfully acerbic memoir Bossypants. If you haven't yet made the time to read it, I highly recommend that you do. It is wonderfully written, laugh out loud funny in spots, and the kind of read that we all need once in a while to escape the dreary and drab. Tina Fey is anything but dreary and drab. One section of the book is entitled The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat. Tina writes:


"The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and Say YES." She goes on. "Now obviously in real life you're not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to 'respect what your partner has created' and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.
As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. 'No, we can't do that.' 'No, that's not in the budget.' 'No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar'. What kind of way is that to live?" 

Brilliant, yes? I have come to discover lately that our lives are filled with people who say no and attempt to diminish our possibilities. Politicians are forever telling us what can't be done rather than what can be done. They sit in their ivory towers, fully divorced from those they claim to serve, wed to untenable positions of dogma that can never allow for a YES. We sit in business meetings and school meetings and club meetings and there is always at least one soul saying no. I understand pragmatism and cynicism as well as anybody, but from where will the next great idea be hatched if we are forever living in the negative? Where are our out of the box thinkers? Where will the next Tina Fey come from if she is constantly told "Oh no you can't"?

Let's try a little experiment. Let's try to work with the possible. Let's sit in our next meeting and use Yes as the default before we rip proposals apart. I am not naive. Not all ideas have merit and not all thoughts are brainstorms, but won't it be fun to ferret out the possibilities? Yes is a hell of lot more fun than no and frankly it makes the work far more interesting.

Next to my treadmill I have put up posters of some of Claude Monet's greatest work. (I love the Impressionists and viewing these images during a workout is quite calming, but I digress.) One of my favourites is Cliff Walk at Pourville painted in 1882. The Husband and I had the pleasure of viewing the original several years ago at The Art Institute of Chicago.



I am absolutely certain that hundreds of painters have been to this location and painted this exact spot, but none like Monet. He saw a different perspective, a different angle, a different vision. He saw the potential and he created art. We may not be Monet, but let's say yes to the possibilities and restart our creativity. The world desperately needs it.