Friday, 30 November 2012

My Happy Dance


30 for 30! Happy NaBloPoMo to all! It has been quite a ride people. Thank you to all who visited and continue to visit this petri dish of a blog. (It sounds germ laden! Masks and gloves available at the front.) I know that I am still trying to figure out what this whole thing wants to be when it grows up, but it is an interesting social experiment nonetheless.

I am grateful to the Blogher community for allowing us all to connect in such a meaningful way. There are others out there like me. Who knew? I have read some remarkable postings over these past thirty days, and I have been both enriched and slightly awed by many of you. Ok. And a bit disturbed as well. But that has made it all the more exciting.

I won't be attempting December. Too much to do and so little time to do it all. But I will post again as the spirit moves. There is after all a big trip coming up in the new year. How could I not share all of that? I know that many of you are just itching to find out if I made it through all of those flights without tossing my cookies!

So until then....task complete and task well done. And now.....everybody dance!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

My Travel Paradox

Here's a paradox for you. I love to travel but travelling makes me sick. How does one reconcile this mess?

Some needed history.

The Husband and I have always talked of extensive travel. There is after all, so much out there that we want to see and experience, and only a fraction of that can be found within a ten mile radius of our home. Pictures are nice and so are travelogues, but we have always had a desire to get out there and view the world face to face. Sounds great, right? Except that travelling requires motion; movement by planes, trains, automobiles, boats, buses, and maybe even the odd helicopter. And therein lies my problem. I am a desperate wanna-be world traveller afflicted with chronic motion sickness. 

Now, I'm not talking about typical lightheadedness or the odd "I don't feel well" moment. I'm talking full on nausea, head bent over the toilet, vertigo inducing, crashing waves of rolling sickness that can strike at the most inopportune of touristy moments. I have been sidelined at some of the most beautiful places in the world. Really! The Blue Grotto in Capri? The Husband took stunning pictures for me, because I was cleaning up in a "pay for play" restroom after a particularly horrendous bout brought on by a mercilessly bouncing hydrofoil ride over from Naples. Sausalito? The ferry from San Francisco rocked for 40 minutes until I was so green that we had to sit for an hour on a park bench after disembarking. Saint Lucia? The pitons were great to see going up, but the van ride coming down had me hanging my head out of the window like a labrador retriever with my tongue blowing in the wind. Santorini? I actually stuck my head under a closed-flap tarp on a tender boat so that I might have fresh air. These stories are but a sampling and I tell them with massive embarrassment and zero embellishment. I have witnesses. They love to share in my humiliation. Oh the horror! There is absolutely nothing that compares on the shame scale like being stone cold sober and puking in public.

But, I refuse to let it stop me even though some say I should. Stop cruising? Ok, but I get just as sick driving in a car. Stop flying? You can't take a train across an ocean. And anyway, subways do it to me too. What am I supposed to do? Sit on my sofa and wait for the inevitable? Nope. So I suck it up, pray a little, and hope for the best. And....I try to prepare as best as I can.

As part of my upcoming Shabbatical, The Husband and I will be taking a month off to travel Down Under. Australia and New Zealand are anticipating our arrival and we are excited beyond belief, but my enthusiasm has been slightly tempered when I read about and study all of the methods of transportation that await. I worry that I might spoil Sydney or heave at the Great Barrier Reef. Wouldn't that just suck? A person's greatest travel anecdotes should not all be about vomit! It just isn't right or fair! So, I plan and I prepare. I will take the strongest possible prescription medication available. I won't read in a moving vehicle. I will try to gaze at horizons and stay in the fresh air. I won't sit at the back of a bus or car. I will wear Sea Bands even though I am not convinced about their effectiveness. (Hey. Can't hurt, right?) I will chew on ginger even though I loathe ginger. I will carry airsickness bags with me at all times. I will even chug tomato juice because I was told that it might help. All of these meticulous plans still might be for naught, but this trip is just too important to me to be sidelined by spewing.

There is no explanation as to why some people like The Husband feel nothing of the world's continual spinning on its axis, while others like me suffer every single movement. There are theories, but very little that can be done. But there is much for me to see and fawn over during our upcoming journey and I want to enjoy it all. Here's hoping that the stories I get to tell upon our return are puke free. 

*I am not proud. If any of you have remedies that you swear by to combat motion sickness, please send them along. I will try almost anything short of sacrificing live animals and virgins.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

God is in These Details

So often, we are advised to try not to obsess over the minutiae in our lives. Stress kills, we are told. Relax. Take a load off. Stop and smell the roses. Entire books have been written on the subject to aid us in our (more often than not) vain attempts to step back from the pressures, and to instead show us how to live according to one-line, pop culture, fortune cookie slogans suitable for Facebook posting. But, what if instead of trying to identify all the "stuff" that act as stress-inducers, we took the time to relish that which gives us contentment....the small things that make us happy. I realize that it sounds a bit cliche, but philosophical introspection goes hand in hand with the looming "golden birthday". Here are a few of life's niceties that just make me happy and fill out my day.
  1. Celestial Seasonings Green and White Tea with honey, lemon, and ginseng. The stuff is pure magic for the soul. It warms me from the inside out and just helps my day begin with quiet pleasure. While I am certain that the caffeine and the ginseng play a huge part in shifting the chemical balance of my body when I enjoy a cup, (or more) it is a luxury of which I am more than willing to partake.  
  2. Hearing a song that I love on the Broadway channel in my car, jacking up the volume, singing at the top of my lungs, and fantasizing that I could be Patti, Barbra, Idina, Bernadette, or Audra. (If you need to Google these names, for shame!!) It is fun to watch the strange reactions from other drivers at red lights. Sometimes in my job, I forget how much joy I actually derive from singing. OnBroadway reminds me of that daily.
  3. A phone call from my boys. It isn't every day, and I swear that this isn't a typical Jewish mother thing. I am not complaining one whit about their devotion, but the call that comes with no agenda at all other than to just to say hi, is a delight. And....they do it all the time. Where did I go right?
  4. Not wearing a bra. Don't get excited. There will be no public viewing. I am, after all, sporting half-century old puppies. But the liberation that I feel when removing that horrible contraption (that must have seen its nascent origins developed sometime during the glory days of the Spanish Inquisition) after a long day, and slipping into a large oversized sweatshirt is unbelievable.  If any woman, no matter her cup size, tells you that she loves wearing a bra and you buy into that sack of doggie doodoo, well.....let's just say that the words Florida and swampland spring immediately to my mind as possible investment opportunities for you. We women do what we have to do, but trust me....Thanks for freeing the slaves, Mr. Lincoln. 
  5. The sun. If the sun is shining my day is better by default. Nobody wakes up in the morning wishing for grey and dull unless they are a drive test examiner. The sun is life affirming, even in the winter. We may have devolved to lives of indoor hermitage, but we were meant to experience the sun. 
Add your own to the comments. Life is so much more enjoyable when we notice that sometimes God is in the details.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Ford Becomes an Edsel


"Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 139-141)

This quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar comes during a discussion between Cassius and his friend Brutus. He is trying to convince Brutus that it is in the best interests of the public that Caesar must be stopped in his quest to become ruler of Rome. The line is often interpreted as Shakespeare's commentary on what drives people to do what they do. Cassius is dispelling the notion that fate has any hand in our decisions and actions, but rather we must look inward at our own failings and shortcomings.

The problem with the now possible "former" Mayor of Toronto, is that he never has been able to recognize his own weaknesses and foibles, let alone take responsibility for any impulses that might control his entire public persona. And while hubris and ignorance may not be indictable offences under the law, those characteristics certainly didn't help Mr. Ford in his defence against, and eventual conviction of, conflict of interest charges brought against him by one of the very "taxpayers" that Mayor Rob has always purported to serve. The penalty for this crime as imposed by the judge (and make no mistake friends, it was a crime whether you like it or not!) is removal from office pending a stay and an appeal. We can debate whether or not the punishment fits the crime, but the facts of the case are not in dispute. The crazy part of all of this nonsense is that The Mayor could have avoided the entire episode  had he simply recognized that the "fault is not in our stars but in ourselves". If he had recused himself from the initial vote at council when advised by the chair at the time that he was indeed in conflict, he'd be clean. If he had responded to the countless letters from the integrity commissioner informing him of his failing and just repaid what most seem to agree is an inconsequential sum, he'd be clean. If he had listened to Toronto Council and repaid the sum, he'd be clean. If he hadn't viciously and publicly attacked the integrity commissioner for simply doing the job to which she was appointed, and demanded the elimination of her position all together, he'd be clean. If he had merely apologized for a lack of judgement, he'd be clean. If he had pleaded ignorance of the law and demonstrated anything but utter contempt for the process, he might be clean. But this man is incapable of humility, incapable of apology, incapable of following even the most basic rules and laws of communal governance.

The Mayor rode a wave of populism that propelled him into his office. But, populism should never ever be confused with competence. Think Sarah Palin. This is a man who has continually displayed his inadequacy for the office. And while he has had some political successes, he has displayed a chronic unfitness for the very office that he has sworn to uphold. From Jonathan Goldsbie in the National Post:
If you neither understand nor care to understand the specific law that you have sworn to uphold, then you don’t belong in that position. When you carelessly break a job contract and refuse to apologize for having done so, you deserve to be fired.
It is far too easy to lampoon this guy. Honestly....he has laid so much of the groundwork for us already.  His public embarrassments and gaffes are well documented and should be grossly humiliating to any ordinary person and the citizenry that elected him. But, Rob Ford is certainly not ordinary and neither are his tunnel-visioned supporters. But, the administration of the city of Toronto is far too important and far too complicated to entrust it any longer to a man who clearly holds neither the intellectual capability nor the political acumen to adequately serve the people.

Judaism has a great deal to say about the behaviour of our elected officials. Babylonian Talmud Hagigah 5b states that "God weeps over a community leader who is domineering."

That same text notes in Pesahim 113b that "There are four kinds of people whom people dislike:
One of them is a communal leader who is arrogant toward his constituents for no good reason."

On the other hand, it is written in Tosafot Sanhedrin 7:1 that "One who is wise, humble, clear-headed, and fearful of sin... may be made a judge/leader in his/her city."

Tell me? Which of these is descriptive of Rob Ford?

It may be convenient for the mayor, (and unquestioned red meat for the base) to call out the judge, "the left-wing loonies", his political foes, the mainstream media, or any other imagined enemies in order to assign liability for his present condition. It may also serve the mayor and his supporters to engage in false equivalencies of others caught up in conflict of interest scandals. But the truth is that the blame for Rob Ford's predicament lays directly at the feet of Rob Ford. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meatless Monday-The Decadent

Today's Meatless Monday is proof positive that.....

A. Eating a vegetarian diet doesn't have to be boring, mundane, or tasteless. And....

B. That eating vegetarian can feel decadent, rich, and creamy.

This recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto is so good that even the pickiest of eaters will love it. Risotto is one of those foods that is naturally rich in texture and flavour, so be careful. A little goes a long way as a main course. No substitutions allowed on the arborio rice. It carries a much higher starch content than other rices, and is what gives risotto its creaminess. I like to serve it with a green vegetable or a salad and dinner is done. While the recipe is not difficult, it is what my grandmother used to call "patschidik"or hands-on. You can't leave it alone and need to constantly stir it otherwise it either burns or turns gloppy. Dedicate the time and dinner will be great.

Butternut Squash Risotto
2 cups cubed butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups hot vegetable stock
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and ground black pepper to taste

**If your butternut squash doesn't come already cubed, the easiest way to deal with that is to cut the squash in half, seed it carefully with a spoon, place it skin side down on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven and bake it for 40-45 minutes. The flesh will then remove easily from the skin.

1. Place squash cubes into a steamer basket in a saucepan. Add water, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow to steam until the squash is tender (10 to 15 minutes), then drain, and mash in a bowl with a fork. (Or use the oven method and then mash!)

2. Melt butter in a  large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir for 2 minutes until the onion begins to soften, then stir in the rice. Continue cooking and stirring until the rice is glossy from the butter, and the onion begins to brown on the edges, about 5 minutes more.

3. Pour in the white wine; cook, stirring constantly, until it has evaporated. Stir in the mashed squash and 1/3 of the hot stock; reduce heat to medium. Cook and stir until the stock has been absorbed by the rice, 5 to 7 minutes. Add half of the remaining stock, and continue stirring until it has been absorbed. Finally, pour in the remaining stock, and continue stirring until the risotto is creamy. Finish by stirring in the Parmesan cheese, and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gus and The Grandparents

The grand-puppy came to spend a few days.

Cute, isn't he? His people were terribly excited to watch the Buckeyes pummel the Wolverines in the flesh, so The Husband and I became babysitters for this American Thanksgiving long weekend. He came to us totally equipped. Equipped with copious amounts of paraphernalia, toys, food, treats, medication, and above all...instructions. Things we should absolutely do and things that we should absolutely avoid. He has spent time here before and is quite comfortable within our walls, but every day in the life of a five month old puppy is like thirty-five in people days. Change is the only constant. So, while Younger Son and his Young Lady had the best of intentions in detailing their instructions, they failed to note the fluidity of puppydom.

Here are a few examples of the expectation versus the reality.

His Day Bed
Where he actually sleeps during the day
His food bowl
Where he demanded I place the food, because he was afraid of the bowl
The time we were told to expect him to awaken on the weekend
The time he actually woke up on the weekend
His myriad of chew toys
That on which he would rather chew
That with which he would rather play. Look carefully for the nose and tongue prints
His bathroom
Where he thought his bathroom was on day 1
We are new to this grandparent thing, but I think that I have finally figured out why it was that I had to de-program my own kids every time they went to stay with Bubby and Zaidy. I think I've got it. The key to a successful grandparenting experience. Ready??
  1. Go with the flow. 
  2. Don't get too worked up if the kids aren't doing exactly what their parents had hoped they would. 
  3. Spoil them just a bit. (ok. Maybe more than just a bit. After all that is where all the fun is!) 
  4. Show them off to all of your friends.
  5. Return them in one piece so that nobody is the wiser to all the damage you have inflicted upon the progeny and their best intentions. 
It's been fun Gus. Time to go home!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Shabbat Music Break

The last Shabbat Music Break for NaBloPoMo. Today I highlight the soulful Bonnie Raitt singing one of my all-favourite songs. Angel From Montgomery was written by John Prine and was featured on his self-titled debut album in 1971. Written from a women's perspective, it delves deep into the thoughts and feelings of a middle-aged housewife who is feeling much older than she truly is. It has been much covered including versions by Carly Simon and John Denver, but it wasn't until Bonnie Raitt sang it on her 1974 album Streetlights that it attained wide recognition. Bonnie's rendition is raw, pure, painfully truthful, and just magnificent. I tend to cry every time that I hear her sing it. Please take a few minutes to listen to musical perfection. Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Death of Pi

Have you ever totally despised a book that the rest of your friends, indeed the rest of the reading world, seemed to fawn over? Worse yet, what are you supposed to do when they make that book into a "can't miss" movie? It was bad enough being part of the minority opinion at the book club, but now that millions more are embracing the story on the big screen, your point of view seems even more inconsequential.

Ok. Here goes. I hated the book Life of Pi. I found it boring, pretentious, over-eager, and a bit religiously lazy. Just an opinion. My opinion. An opinion that is obviously not shared by many if you spend any time at all on book review sites or talking to friends and relatives who have embraced this novel and its author as the inheritors of some great literary legacy. Please don't jump all over me with incredulous "Are you f***ing kidding me" comments. I get it. I am surfing on the outer edges of a tsunami of critical acclaim. But, you telling me how fabulous you thought the book was, isn't going to make me like it any better. My mind is firmly set on this topic. I am quite fine with the "agree to disagree" rule on this and have finally entered the acceptance stage of this dispute. Please just leave it alone.

Except.....the brilliant Ang Lee had to go and make a movie out of the whole sordid tale. And not just any movie. A supposed masterpiece....a visual tour de force. A movie that everybody is anxious to see....and nauseum. Don't be fooled. I have no intention of spending my 12 bucks on this flick and I have never feared swimming upstream against public opinion, but I do feel as though I am being drawn into a no-win discussion all over again. So, I have developed a few unbendable rules on the subject.
  1. Chocolate and vanilla. We have discussed this before. I don't have to like everything you like and vice versa. If I tell you that I am not interested in seeing the movie, go without me. I will not take offense.
  2. Don't spend any time at all extolling the book's virtues. I read it. I hated it. Life sucks. I'm fine.
  3. Yes, I know that Yann Martel is Canadian. Is that supposed to help in my conversion to the mass appeal? Justin Bieber is Canadian too and I am not running out to his concerts either. Happy for their success...just not my thing. 
So go. Enjoy. Have fun and relish in the experience. Me? I am heading off to see Lincoln.

**By the way....I didn't like the Hunger Games trilogy either. Deal with it.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Aren't You Glad You're Not a Turkey......

For the sake of my American friends, I won't get too verbose or too heavy on this their grand national holiday. I will attempt to keep it light and fluffy just like those helium balloons headed towards 34th Street. So, instead I will offer a few quick observations of Thanksgiving noted from a distance.
  • I love a parade. I especially love watching a parade from the warmth and comfort of my own home and HD TV. Notwithstanding the relative balminess of this particular November day, the best sight line for the annual Macy's march is from my couch. It would be great to see it in person some day.....but only if Thanksgiving moves to July.
  • Watching Martha Stewart and Giada De Laurentiis work together to prepare Thanksgiving dinner this morning on the Today Show was a bit like watching Cinderella cook with the Evil Stepmother. Martha didn't let the poor girl get a word in, and the irony is that it is Giada who is the Cordon Bleu trained chef! Instead Martha had her basting the turkey and pouring apple slices into a prepared crust like a lackey. Disturbing!
  • I think that I have figured out what most Americans are thankful for today....not having to work retail! The "festivizing" of conspicuous consumption is bad enough on Black Friday, but for stores to open their doors today on Thanksgiving Day is slightly unseemly. I can almost tolerate the idea of late night doorbusters, but compelling your employees to miss their own family celebrations during the day all in the name of consumerism is abhorrent. Which brings me to.....
  • Black Friday. Leave it to North Americans to worship and celebrate a holiday totally devoted to shopping. A day totally set aside for buying useless shit on sale that will probably end up in a landfill six months from now. Absolutely brilliant! And so in the style of all religious celebrations, I offer a prayer for the day. 
All praise to the god Walmart! May his vision and strength sustain all throughout this holiday season, and may his rollback price guarantee grant us serenity of wallet. May he offer health and courage enough to withstand the trampling crowds, the potential knifings that might be inflicted at the electronics counters, and the old ladies with shopping carts ramming into our shins. May he provide us the will to resist purchasing that ugly menorah sweater with the flashing candles simply because it is marked down 80%, and to buy only that which is truly that ugly reindeer sweater with the flashing red nose that is marked down 90%. May he ensure our continued sanity and well-being after the three hundredth hearing of the musak version of Jingle Bell Rock. May he protect and keep our credit and debit cards safe from harm and far from the dreaded scissors, and may he grant us all the peace of mind that comes with the successful procuring of this year's must have toy. Peace on earth, good will towards men and Chag Sameach.

In all seriousness....To all who are celebrating.....have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Remember your blessings and please consider those who are still suffering. A donation to the tzedakah of your choice goes a long way to helping those who can't have turkey and family today.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My Jubilee Year

"This fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families. "
—Leviticus 25:10

It is difficult, if not impossible, to turn 49 years old and not think about what comes next. There is an inevitability that is inescapable. For some, it can lead to a total reexamination of their life's purpose. For others it can mean an embracement of all that is offered. For me, it was the realization that Matthew Broderick and Jodie Foster would also be turning 50 in 2012! For some strange reason, I found that comforting. Ferris Bueller and The Freaky Friday girl joining the half century club just help to reaffirm the basic truth that time marches on for all equally, regardless of fame, fortune, or social standing. We may choose to remember Matthew (I feel that I can call him Matthew...1962 birthdays have a special kinship!) "Twisting and Shouting" as Ferris, but reality knows better.

I am having no real identity crisis with the idea of turning 50. (Does that bore you? Perhaps you were holding out for uncomfortable angst or a massive Xanax-laden depression?) My life is in a pretty good place and I really can't complain. (I would publicly list all of my joys and blessings for you, but my grandmother used to say that would be an Ahora-an invitation to the evil eye, so I think that I will just play it safe for Bubby's sake!) But, there did seem to be something missing. It seemed obvious to me that there should be some way to mark this important milestone other than simply partying or revelling in Jodie's and Matthew's fifty years here on planet earth.

And so....I decided to go biblical. As my fiftieth birthday draws ever closer, I will be taking a steal a word from a friend. I will be embarking on a seven month leave of absence from my work at Temple "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up", and I hope to discover a measure of freedom and celebration just as the book of Leviticus commands. There is a karmic and cosmic twist to all of this as well. Just as I am about the celebrate my golden birthday, I have also recently marked eighteen years of service to my congregation. Chai! To Life! As well, The Husband and I find ourselves in the position of true empty-nesters. (Translation: College is over and they're gone!) After twenty-five consecutive years of hands on parenting, (and the expenses that go with it!) our children are off figuring out their own lives. We have come to a point where there is the joyous liberty of Tabula Rosa...A blank slate.

What should I do with this new found freedom? What would you do with seven uninterrupted months...a true gift of time? Travel? Create? Connect? I do have some thoughts and a few plans, but I am finding that the genuine jubilation accompanying this exercise is that everything is on the table. Yes, there will be travel. (That will be discussed in an upcoming post!) And yes, there will be learning and some form of creativity. But, hopefully there will be some surprises as well. It is precisely these feelings of the unsettled and the unresolved that is making these upcoming months so terribly exciting.

I am not a fan of the term "bucket list". There is an implication of death that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I am not ready to think of death. anybody ever ready to think about death? Rather, I am looking forward to adding to my life's vision. To see the world with a newfound freedom and most importantly of all.....I need to reclaim rest. Shabbat. Rest for my mind, rest for my body, rest for my soul. A Shabbatical. 

The winding down of the year 2012 brings with it the end of my first fifty years. I hope to begin the next fifty with excitement, wonder, courage, health, and hope. It is sacred time. It is celebratory time. It is "me" time.

I would love to hear from you all. What would you do with seven uninterrupted months? Please respond in the comments section.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Shalom Bayit

We Jews will do a lot for Shalom Bayit. Literally translated as "peace in the home", Shalom Bayit is more about maintaining a happy and tranquil family life; not wanting to upset those whom we love with unnecessary aggravation. The Husband might define it as "happy wife, happy life". I, on the other hand, have recently come to fully understand that the authentic manifestation of Shalom Bayit is really all about which way one swings on the pendulum that is the Ohio State/ Michigan football game.

You see, Younger Son's Young Lady is a born and bred, died in the wool, Ohio State Buckeye legacy. I should have realized that this allegiance wasn't run of the mill fandom, when I began to take note of a drastic change in Younger Son's wardrobe. Where NFTY and camp items used to   take up shelf space in his closet, they were fast being replaced by OSU sweatshirts, t-shirts, pendants and scarves. This boy is no fool. Shalom Bayit!! But when he made a nine hour car trip a few years back down south to Columbus for the annual Michigan game, I knew that this wasn't ordinary team fanaticism.

Look, I am a sports person. A Leaf fan who hates Les Canadiens with a passion so strong there is a visceral ache in my belly. The Yankees? They get booed no matter who else is on the field. I mean, I rooted for the Diamondbacks in the series right after 9/11. That's true team hatred. But I have never seen anything like the neurotic, all consuming, complex mania that is Ohio State football. And during Michigan week? Well, suffice it to say that wearing blue this week around The Young Lady is an invitation to excommunication. Shalom Bayit!

In order to fully understand the nuances of this extreme sporting rivalry, I have spent the past few days immersing myself in the culture of one of the longest and perhaps most hateful feuds in all of athletics. Here is a sampling of what I have learned and adopted all in the name of Shalom Bayit!

  • The Ohio State/Michigan football game goes back to their inaugural meeting in 1897. It predates the World Series by six years and the formation of the National Football League by over twenty. This isn't just hate. This is your great-grandfather's hate!
  • Ohio State isn't merely Ohio State. They are officially known as The Ohio State University. I thought that sounded somewhat pretentious. Of course, I was wrong. There is actually a history as to why this is so, and it has to do with state legislation and renaming the school. The long and the short of it....never insult the Buckeyes by leaving the "The" out of their official school moniker. And pretension? That is something left to that school to the north.
  • Which brings me to Woody and Bo. I stupidly thought that Mr. Allen was making a new film starring the Obama's dog, when in fact they were the legendary coaches on both sides who engaged in what is commonly referred to as the "10 Year War"; or as we normal human beings like to call it, "The 70s". Woody Hayes, the slightly insane but beloved coach at OSU, and Bo Schembechler, the equally nuts and paranoid head guy at Michigan, engaged in a battle royal over this decade. One school or the other either won or shared in the Big Ten Championship every single year, and usually both placed in the national rankings. No other game on the schedule mattered. Everything was (and still is) geared toward beating the shit out of the other. When Woody's boys lost one season, he had a rug made with the score emblazoned upon it. Every day his team would stomp on that rug as motivation so that the following season, they would understand the "game" and kick the crap out of the Wolverines. Woody was so immersed in his hatred for Michigan, that he refused to utter the state name, always referring to it as that school or place to the north. There is local legend telling of a road trip through the state when Woody ran out of gas. He famously stated that he would rather push the car on fumes back over the state line rather than fill up in Michigan. Now that's hate!
  • I am now a devotee of TBDBITL!!
  • Urban Meyer isn't a neighbourhood in Cleveland, but rather the current head coach of the Buckeyes.
  • What the f*** is a Buckeye anyway? Well, a Buckeye is a small, shiny, dark brown nut with a light tan patch that comes from the official state tree of Ohio, the buckeye tree. According to Michigan fans "they are hairless nuts", but those are just the jealous rantings of those that are less academically endowed. According to folklore, the Buckeye resembles the eye of a deer and carrying one brings good luck. 

  • Scarlett and grey are much more appropriate choices for my colour palette than maize and blue. Apparently, I look really crappy in blue, and yellow is never a good idea, but red seriously sets off my skin tones.
  • This is a rivalry that isn't merely about school spirit. This is about hate. Passionate, visceral, "Hatfields vs McCoys"-style hatred. A sampling. 
Q: Why did Michigan change their field from grass to artificial turf?

A: To keep the Michigan cheerleaders from grazing at half time.


One day in an elementary school in Ann Arbor Michigan, a teacher asks her class if the Michigan Wolverines are their favorite football team. The whole class says yes except for Little Jimmy.

The teacher asks, "What's your favorite football team Jimmy?"

Little Jimmy says, "The Ohio State Buckeyes."

The teacher asks, "Well, why is that?"

Little Jimmy says, "Well, my dad is a Buckeye fan, my mom is a Buckeye fan, I guess that makes me a Buckeye fan."

The teacher angered by his reply says, "If your dad was a moron and your mom was an idiot what would that make you?"

Little Jimmy says, "Well, I guess that would make me a Michigan fan." about this from ESPN

This week my Facebook timeline has been taken over by rabid Ohio State fans. I have seen lunacy in action. Did you know that as of this writing it is 9:41 am and Michigan still sucks? But I have learned my lessons well and even though my degree isn't from THE Ohio State University, I will be rooting hard for the Buckeyes this Saturday afternoon in their quest for an unbeaten season, gold pants, and bragging rights for the next 365 days....all in the name of Shalom Bayit!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Just Another Meatless Monday....Whoa Ooo Whoa...

A friend at my synagogue stopped me a couple of weeks ago and told me that she loved the Meatless Monday posts, but wanted to understand my obsession with cauliflower. She really liked most of my recipe ideas, but she herself absolutely loathed cauliflower and broccoli. I laughed and apologized, but told her that it probably wouldn't end any time soon. The fact is that both vegetables are staples in our house, favourites of both The Husband and myself. They are cruciferous foods that add greatly to the vitamin and antioxidant intake of our vegetarian diet. As well, cauliflower is extraordinarily filling and hearty, and consumption tends to inhibit our dangerous evening snacking habits. Also....and this is important.....we both absolutely HATE eggplant which tends to be a go-to ingredient in far too many veggie entree recipes. (Please don't fill my inbox with "can't miss", "you haven't tried eggplant until you've tried this eggplant", or "even my kids eat eggplant this way" recipes. It is a non-starter!) Cauliflower seems to act as a main course  vegetable for us in a way that eggplant never will.

So, friends here comes another cauliflower recipe for Meatless Monday. Apologies to my friend at synagogue, but I will try to do better for you next week.

Sauteed Cauliflower with Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous, also known as p'titim, is an Israeli developed toasted pasted shaped like little balls. It is made of hard wheat flour and toasted in the oven. It can also be found in whole-wheat and spelt varieties. It can be purchased at bulk, health food, or gourmet shops if not at the local supermarket. 

1 ½ cups Israeli pearl couscous
1 tblsp olive oil
4 cups cauliflower, florets
1 small shallot, peeled and sliced
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
pinch cinnamon, to taste
¼ cup dried tart cherries, cranberries, or raisins
1 tblsp red wine vinegar (I actually use a pomegranate vinegar because I love the flavour. Use your favourite.)
¼ cup parsely, chopped

1. Cook the couscous according to package directions until just tender. Drain if needed. Set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the cauliflower and shallots and sauté about 5 minutes or until the florets are slightly browned. Season with salt and pepper and cinnamon. Add the cherries and sauté about 2 minutes. Stir in the cooked couscous and red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives and serve hot.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

I Guess I'm Not Blogging in a Vacuum

Yesterday I found my worlds colliding. My real life came face to face with my blogging persona.

It all began with a truly innocuous question by Younger Son. He and his Young Lady stopped by the the house early yesterday afternoon to kill a half an hour after their Shabbat teaching commitments at the synagogue were completed. When they arrived, they caught me in the middle of trying to figure out which artist I was about to feature in the Shabbat Music Break for the day's post. Seeing that I was a bit stressed about the whole exercise (not really-but he thought so) he asked in his not at all confrontational manner, (HA!!) 

"Mom, would it really hurt if you didn't post for one day?"

I was thrown. Seriously! For a proverbial loop. Thrown! As I attempted to formulate a response, I stepped back and gave it sober thought. Would it? I mean, really? What am I truly gaining from this blogapalooza? Could I handle a NaBloPoMo that featured 29 posts instead of 30? Or 28? Or 27?

While he stood there awaiting my answer, I mumbled some incoherent bullshit about following through on a promise to myself and how one should always finish what one starts. You know.... typical good mother answers. But, he had triggered some serious doubt within me. Have I merely embarked on a narcissistic exercise, or is there anybody out there who finds my ramblings and tortuous verbal labyrinths remotely interesting? 

Fate is a funny thing, because I found the answer later that afternoon in a hospital room. The Husband and I went to visit a cousin who has been confined due to serious illness for several months. As if her own maladies and subsequent surgery weren't enough to wreak havoc on body and soul, she has been forced to endure weeks of isolation due to contracting one of those dreaded institutional borne antibiotic-resistant staph infections. This week she was moved to a rehab facility and finally felt ready to receive visitors outside of her immediate family. 

We spent some time catching up with the usual questions about her recovery, family, and of course what comes next, when my curiousity took over. I just had to ask....

"How did you combat the chronic boredom that must have accompanied your isolation?"

She told us of going stir crazy, of course. There is only so much reading and so many crossword puzzles anybody can do. But then she showed me her iPad and she told me that she was reading my blog daily. I laughed, thanked her, and responded that she must have been incredibly desperate in her search for things to pass the time, but she was serious. She said that she enjoyed it. By reading it she felt connected to things other than her illness. She told me to keep them coming. She has at least another week inside, which coincidentally will take me almost to the end of this blogfest. I was humbled and touched.

So, at last I have an answer for Younger Son. Yes mein zein*, it would hurt if I didn't finish this exercise. It is so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves that we often forget that our lives touch others, even in the most cursory of ways. I never started blogging with any delusions that anybody other than close family would read. I saw it merely as a way to journal in a more technologically friendly manner. But, something changed along the way. People reached out. We don't always have to agree, but the connections are priceless. 

*mein zein  is Yiddish for "my son"

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Shabbat Music Break

I am often ridiculed by my friends for my love of and passion for country music. I, on the other hand, prefer to look at it as part of my eclectic musical tastes. I refuse to close off any genre simply because of a presupposed bias. (That and hip hop....not a great fit!) And music is just a natural extension of my passion for folk, blues, and roots. I discovered Sugarland in their earliest days before they hit it big. I just love the uniqueness of Jennifer Nettles voice and how she can equally sell a ballad with tremendous emotion, or push forward a hard driving, high charged raunch with massive energy. Baby Girl was their first breakthrough hit in 2004 and it came at a time when they were still a trio as opposed to the duo they are today. Please enjoy and Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 16 November 2012

R.I.P Twinkie

The daily rundown has brought news of an impending death. Today we must all bid farewell to the Hostess Twinkie. This morning, Hostess Brands Inc. made good its threats to liquidate the company in the wake of crippling debt and an unresolvable strike by it second largest union. The loss of over 18,000 jobs is tremendously sad and I feel great sympathy for those who will find themselves on the unemployment line, but I have to ask.....Should we be lamenting the loss of a product that is a nutritional vacuum and is a contributing destructive influence to our mutual health and well-being?

Twinkies list 37 or so ingredients on their package. 37!!! In his book Twinkie Deconstructed Steve Ettlinger plays detective and follows the ingredients found in some of our processed foods. Many are "often more closely linked to rocks and petroleum than any of the four food groups." Without getting into the grisly details, suffice it to say that there is more unnatural (in strictly eating terms) about a Twinkie than is natural. I mean, there must be a reason that the snack cake could survive a fall from a sixth floor window mostly intact, yes?

I get it. Twinkies and their Hostess cousins Cupcakes, HoHos, Devil Dogs, SnoBalls are a part of our collective nostalgia. We recall them in a sentimental haze along with Partridge Family lunch boxes and noontime double dutch competitions. But there are many products that were popular at the time; a time when we simply didn't know any better. Supposedly we do now. Would we feel this sadness if it were a cigarette, asbestos, or lead-based paint company ceasing operations? How many of us truly feel just fine about including a Twinkie in our kid's lunches?

I am not trying to dance on a grave yet cold. I really hope beyond hope that these workers find employment soon. I am simply wondering if perhaps a natural selective process, consumers making wiser and healthier food choices, has contributed to the Twinkies' fall from grace. We may economically and nostalgically lament the loss today, but won't we and our children will be healthier for it tomorrow?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

I Stand With Women of the Wall!

I have told this story before, so forgive me if it is known to you. I promise that I have a point in retelling it.

Years ago when I was interviewing and auditioning for my current position as Cantorial Soloist at Temple Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up, the rabbi at the time asked me what my feelings were about wearing a kippah and tallit. She (yes, she!) knew that I came from a Classical Reform Jewish upbringing where back in the day, outward religious prayer symbols like the kippah and tallit were frowned upon garb even amongst the men of the congregation. Neither my father nor my brother ever wore either, not even at my brother's Bar Mitzvah. I had never given much thought to the question until this particular rabbi asked it of me, even though it was once again becoming accepted practice within the Reform Movement for both men and women to don these ritual objects. She told me at the time that while she understood my discomfort with appropriating both as part of my own davening, she felt it extraordinarily important that I be seen on the bimah wearing them. She wanted the girls in our community to know and understand that they were equal partners in matters of prayer and ritual and what better way to role model that than by showing the two female religious leaders of the congregation appropriately attired for t'fillah. She was so concerned that I might balk at the request that she had it written into my first contract. That first High Holidays, as I set about putting on The Husband's Bar Mitzvah tallit which I had borrowed for the occasion, Younger Son, all of four years old at the time, said with pure innocence, "Look! Mommy is putting on her Cantor's costume!"

In truth, it did feel like a costume. It felt uncomfortable and disingenuous. After the Holy Days, the rabbi sat down with me and once again asked about my feelings on the subject. I told her of my concerns and she in turn made me a promise. She asked me to wear the tallit for a period of time, perhaps six months. If I still felt nothing we would talk again, but she was willing to bet that something will have changed. She spoke of the increased intimacy and enveloping warmth that I would feel wearing the tallit and kippah. She spoke of a more personal connection to prayer and a deeper and more spiritual involvement. And while my skepticism was acute, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. The following year my parents bought me my first tallit to call my own. I now own a half a dozen  and I cannot imagine not wearing one.

Last evening, our latest crop of B'nai Mitzvah students (our seventh grade class) began their annual Tallit workshop. Over the course of the next few weeks, these young people will learn of the significance of the tallit, understand the importance of the tzitzit (fringes) and knots, and create their very own special and extremely personally designed prayer shawl. Boys and girls. Many of these kids will wear these very creations at their upcoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The girls never even think twice that they shouldn't be included in the ritual. The egalitarian nature of the practice is just understood amongst all.

So, it is with this history in mind that I feel great sadness when I read of the continual monthly struggles of Women of the Wall in Israel. For the past twenty-four years, these brave women (and many men who support them), have been gathering at the Kotel (The Western Wall) on Rosh Chodesh (The new month) for a service of prayer. They have been constantly harassed by ultra-orthodox men and women. They have been spit upon, insulted, projectiles thrown their way, tear-gassed, and detained and arrested by Israeli police all because they have had the gall to pray publicly as women, while also donning the tallit. It seems unbelievable in a country that prides itself on egalitarian practice and equality of the sexes, but control of the Wall falls under the auspices of the orthodox minority and they have invoked a much more fundamentalist observance over the years including; the erection of a mechitzah (partition between men and women), the ceaseless shrinking of the women's section, the enforcement of more modest dress for girls and women at the site (men show up at the Wall in shorts and tank tops, but that doesn't raise ire!), the compelling and enforcement of Kol Isha (the prohibition of men hearing women's voices), a ban on women reading from a Torah, and of course the ban on women wearing tallit. And even though the Wall IS NOT an orthodox synagogue, but rather a heritage and religious location significant to all Jews no matter their denominational practice, the Israeli Supreme Court has sided with the administrators of the site in this battle. So the Women of the Wall turn their tallitot into scarves slung across their throats, and they content themselves with a short monthly service at the Wall before moving away to Robinson's Arch to read Torah and pray as they deem fit, away from those who might take offence. But, still it isn't enough. Over the past few months the police involvement and harassment has been stepped up and these brave women have found themselves targeted. Last month on October 16, 2012, Anat Hoffman, director of the group, was arrested, strip searched, cuffed, shackled, and forced to lay on a bare jail cell floor. Her crime? She recited the Shema, the watchword of our faith, out loud at the Wall. She was interrogated and held without legal counsel, but never charged. In her own words....

What is the purpose of arresting a woman, interrogating her, collecting video footage of her every move, questioning witnesses and spending hours writing reports, if at the end charges are never made? I believe the purpose of this harassment and treatment is to wear down the leaders of our women's prayer group, to exhaust us into giving up our struggle for this rights.
If Women of the Wall are truly in breach of the law -- charge them. If they are not, stop arresting them, with release pending a 30- or 60-day ban on visiting the wall area or 5,000 NIS bail.
She continues....
It is time to demand that the state of Israel act like a Jewish and democratic state. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis may be offended by the Women of the Wall practices. That is their legitimate right but it becomes dangerous and frightening when the secular Knesset, the secular courts and the secular police bow down to the ultra-Orthodox fears and demands, while imposing them in the public sphere.
Today five more women were detained at the Rosh Chodesh service and one other arrested. And so it continues. You'd think that with the escalation of hostilities this week, this nonsense would take a backseat. Sadly, no.

I took on the mitzvah of wearing a tallit with great thought, study, and care. Over these past nineteen years I have stood proudly on the bimah and witnessed countless young women follow my lead. My rabbi was right all those years ago. She told me that I would personalize it; find a comfort in it that would lead me towards a more intimate model of prayer. I cannot and will not allow anybody to take from me that which I have fought so hard to embrace. That is why I stand with the Women of the Wall in their struggle for religious freedom and independence.

A prayer for Women of the Wall composed by Rahel Sharon Jaskow....

"May it be Your will, our God and God of our mothers and fathers, to bless this prayer group and all who pray within it: them, their families and all that is theirs, together with all the women and girls of your people Israel. Strengthen us and direct our hearts to serve You in truth, reverence and love. May our prayer be desirable and acceptable to You like the prayers of our holy mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel and Leah. May our song ascend to Your Glorious Throne in holiness and purity, like the songs of Miriam the Prophet, Devorah the Judge, and Hannah in Shilo, and may it be pleasing to you as a sweet savor and fine incense.

And for our sisters, all the women and girls of your people Israel: let us merit to see their joy and hear their voices raised before You in song and praise. May no woman or girl be silenced ever again among Your people Israel or in all the world. God of justice, let us merit to see justice and salvation soon, for the sanctification of Your name and the repair of Your world, as it is written: Zion will hear and be glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, over Your judgments, O God. And it is written: For Zion’s sake I will not be still and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be silent, until her righteousness shines forth like a great light and her salvation like a flaming torch.

For Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. Amen, selah"

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shopping With a Soul

It's that time of year once again when malls turn into roller derby arenas and shopping becomes a competitive sport where only the fittest survive. Elbows raised into that pose ensuring self-defence and credit cards readied for battle, we enter into the lion's den all in pursuit of sourcing that one "perfect gift". But, what if I could help? What if you could knock a few names off of that interminable list all from the comfort of your laptop and feel particularly spiritual about your purchases as well?

Enter my friends at Benevolent Baubles. (Full disclosure: The people who are the brains behind this new and distinctive jewelry business really are my friends, but I am receiving absolutely no compensation for this post in any manner whatsoever.) Using materials sourced from around the world, these two sisters/business partners are creating unique and beautiful pieces that range from funky to chunky, daytime to dainty. And while their necklaces, earrings, and bracelets are aesthetically beautiful and truly exclusive, it is their business model that has really caught my attention.

Many of the semi-precious stones, gems, ceramics and other articles that they use in their work have been purchased from women's micro-businesses and fair trade suppliers from around the globe. They handcraft each piece individually in an attempt to make that special creation truly fit the individual. They will even custom design on request. Their online store is now up and running so that browsing can be done at one's leisure and ordering and shipping are simple without the bruising of a contact recreational sport.

But, it is their devotion to altruism and worthy causes that sets Benevolent Baubles apart from the others, and makes them a must-shop internet locale this holiday season. A portion of each purchase made will be donated to the charity of your choice. There is a list of suggested and socially conscious organizations on their site, but if you request a certain group or charitable association, they will direct your donation appropriately. Hence the "Benevolent" part of their moniker.

I am not a great shopper. I sincerely don't enjoy the process and that is especially true at this time of year. Benevolent Baubles has put a beneficent face on the gift of giving. It is very much shopping with a soul.

If you are in the Toronto area you can contact them directly to book a home or office event. If not please check them out at or on Facebook at

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

What Constitutes an Emergency?

A question: When is an emergency not an emergency?

Answer: When somebody else tells you that it isn't.

History: This tale of misery actually began almost three weeks ago. As is common practice for him, The Husband went to see his dentist for his quatra-yearly check-up. Yes, you read that correctly. He sees his dentist 4 times a year. You see he has a history of gum issues, and as a result of these past problems is meticulous about his oral hygiene. One day I will compose an entire post about his dental care regime, but for now just know that he is a dentist's wet dream. At this particular appointment, He was given the full workup. Cleaning, thorough check-up,'s the kicker..... a full set of X-rays. He left the office with a clean bill of dental health. That was two weeks ago this coming Thursday. The hell was just beginning.

On Saturday evening, following an evening out with friends, he began complaining of stiffness in his jaw and a radiating pain from his lower lip to his right ear. He thought that maybe the hygienist had struck a nerve during his cleaning two days before and took a couple of Advil before bed. That lasted him all of an hour. By midnight he was literally screaming in pain, pleading for relief. Now, it should be noted that this man has an extremely high pain threshold. He has suffered countless bouts with kidney stones and several procedures to alleviate them. That said, I have never seen him so uncomfortable from anything. By the next morning, (Sunday) he was searching the Internet for emergency dental clinics. If he was willing to visit some strange dentist, than I knew this was serious. A trip north of the city saw him wait over 40 minutes, spend $140.00, have another set of x-rays taken, see a dentist young enough to be his daughter, only to be told that nothing was wrong. She told him to continue taking the Advil, gave him a prescription for an antibiotic that he refused to fill because he was suspicious of the non-diagnosis, and told him to rest. Rest?? He was literally in tears from the pain.

Another sleepless night, saw him calling his own dentist on Monday morning. His regular guy isn't in on Mondays, so he saw the new associate, another young woman who he thought might like to meet Older Son. Dentistry seems to be a young woman's game these days. Another $60.00 spent to be told that there was still nothing wrong. He was popping painkillers like breath mints, but nothing was wrong.

Fast forward two more unbearable nights to Wednesday. By now, he could hardly talk, he was displaying some puffiness on the right side of his face, eating was off the table, and sleep was but a memory. He finally got in to see his own dentist that afternoon. Another set of X-rays (cost: $40.00) and a whole lot of painful probing finally revealed a small crack in a rear molar and dead roots underneath. It is possible that the roots were interfering with a nerve which might be causing the radiating pain. Dentist #3 gave him two options. Remove the tooth, do a root canal, and put in a crown or remove the tooth and put in an implant. Through his haze of pain all The Husband could hear was "Remove the tooth" and frankly it couldn't come soon enough.

"Now?" He moaned hopefully.

"Oh no"' replied Dentist #3 "You will have to visit an oral surgeon. We will make you an appointment......6 days hence!" (Ok. The dentist probably didn't say "hence", but it makes for a better story.)

6 days. 6 days of more pain, more sleepless nights, more fasting, more misery. 6 days. Dentist #3 gave him Tylenol 3 to alternate with the Advil and a new prescription for antibiotics to combat any infection that might be present. He charged him $60.00 for the pills but didn't invoice him for the visit. What a guy!

Wait. It gets better. When The Husband called the oral surgeon's office to confirm that he would be sedated for the procedure, he was told that he would first need to come in for a consultation and then several days later they would do the extraction. He refused. Just get the f***ing thing out.

And we are. Today's the day. Supposedly. I began composing this post from the waiting room of the oral surgeon's office, hoping against hope that this nightmare was finally ending. I should have known better. When The Husband was called in for the procedure, he explained the whole gruesome tale to Dentist #4 and asked if he could please be sedated. "Sure", replied the nice young dentist. "But you will have to return later this afternoon because I just don't have the time right now."

So here we stand. We will return this afternoon for a surgery that has been almost two weeks in the making. I am left fuming at the entire ordeal and I am not even the one In pain. Wouldn't you think that this mess constituted a dental emergency? Why couldn't the first two dentists read a basic X-ray? Shouldn't the oral surgeon have squeezed him in given the amount of pain he was so obviously suffering rather than have him wait an additional 6 days? When is an emergency truly an emergency? Did he have to lie bleeding and broken for somebody, anybody, to takes his pain seriously? I am thinking that the entire industry needs a rethink as to the way it deals with people in pain.

Oh....and this ordeal has already cost us almost $1100.00. Talk about piling on the misery.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Meatless Monday Soup Edition 2012

It is that time of year in the Great White North when soup can be the perfect meal for a chilly November evening. Last year I shared three of my favourite soup vegetarian soup recipes that are hits here. (Well, with me anyway!) The Husband is not a huge soup eater. He prefers his soup to eat like a meal, but neither of us like the canned stuff. Far too much sodium and ingredients that we cannot pronounce. Soup is too easy to prepare to resort to processed crap. So here are two recipes for soups that are hearty and truly satisfy.

Minestrone Soup 

2 tblsp olive oil, plus more for serving if desired
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and diced (I haves also used sweet potato)
1/4 head green cabbage (1/2 pound), cored and thinly sliced
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, plus torn leaves for serving (optional)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion, carrots, celery, red-pepper flakes, rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to turn golden, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes; cook until some of the liquid evaporates, 1 minute. Add potato, cabbage, cannellini beans, and 7 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in green beans.
Reduce to a simmer, and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and, if using, torn basil. Drizzle with more oil, if desired.
For variations on this classic version, try swapping green pepper for green beans, kale for cabbage, and chickpeas for beans

"Cream" of Broccoli Soup

1 bunch broccoli, diced and cut
2 tsp. butter
1 medium onion
1 large apple , peeled, cored and diced (granny smith is best)
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoon parsely, minced

Melt butter. Add onion and apples. Cook slowly for 10 minutes over low heat. Add stock and broccoli. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Puree in food processor or with hand held. Serve hot or cold.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lest We Forget

Perspective is a funny thing. Growing up in Toronto in the 1970s, my perspective on the significance of Remembrance Day was surely tainted by school choir performances, poppy drives, and a half day off of regular classes. Certainly we listened to the stories of our veterans as they visited in their finery, but we didn't pay much heed. War tales for us were distant, esoteric, or worse yet....something that Americans did. I just couldn't grasp the connection.

Of course much has changed in these intervening years. I have a great reverence and appreciation for those who have served and those who continue to serve. And I must admit that much of my thoughts on the subject have been influenced by one man, my friend Jack. 

I met Jack and his lovely wife when I first came to work at Temple "Sings All the Time and Won't Shut Up". Jack had already retired from the Canadian Forces by the time I had made his acquaintance, and was a tireless worker and champion for veteran's causes. But, that isn't how I saw Jack. To me, Jack was a member of my synagogue community, a choir member, a regular at Torah study, a joke teller, a character, and my friend's dad. Jack was just Jack. Perspective. That is, until Remembrance Week rolled around. Then Jack became the Squadron Leader. He was dogged and unwavering. He saw it as his mission to educate and leave an impression, a perspective. He visited countless schools to talk to the kids. He attended ceremonies across the city and he was the featured speaker at many. A man small in stature, his voice boomed with fervour and clarity as he recounted the history and the horrors of war. He especially spoke with great pride of the accomplishments of Canadian Jewish War Veterans. It was and still is Jack's great passion.

Every year since I have known him, Jack has been joining us on the bimah on the Shabbat closest to Remembrance Day to speak, to recount, to educate, and to pray for the fallen. To grant perspective. But the years have taken their toll and his health isn't what it was, even last year. There were many in our community who asked if Jack was going to speak this year. We just weren't certain. We should have known better. As we gathered for Shabbat yesterday, there was Jack sitting regally in the first row, his medals shining across his chest. When it came his time to speak, he accepted the arm of his daughter to help him to the bimah, but he refused the invitation of a chair. He began quietly; telling us all of the history of the poem he was about to recite. His voice cracking just a bit. Time can be cruel. And if a switch had gone off in his head....he spoke the words of the poem with eloquence, clarity, passion, and an amplification that took us back years. He was once again Squadron Leader Jack. I cried softly in my seat as I watched this proud man turn back the clock and share his perspective.

Last month, Jack was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal given to "honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians" in recognition of Her Majesty's 60 years on the throne. (Remarkably, our small congregation is home to two recipients of this high honour! Kol Ha-Kavod) Jack beamed with pride as he showed me the medal. It is an honour most well-deserved. 

It is easy to buy a poppy and place it on our jackets. It is easy to stop at 11:00 am today and pause to remember, but how many of us actually do it. I do. All because my friend Jack has given me a new perspective. Lest we forget.

Here is the poem that Jack recited yesterday.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Officer John G. Magee, Jr. - November, 1941

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Shabbat Music Break

Today's Shabbat Music Break comes from the crystal clear voice of Cheryl Wheeler. Cheryl is a New England based singer/songwriter in the new folk tradition. Her music is passionate, true, and honest and her guitar skills are exceptional. Her songs have been covered by such diverse artists as Garth Brooks, Kenny Loggins, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Holly Near, and of course Suzy Bogguss' rendition of today's featured tune Aces. Cheryl's voice is pure and beautiful, and I have always wondered why she hasn't achieved the success of some of her more famous contemporaries like Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Please enjoy!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Bond Through Music

James Bond officially turns 50 today. Somehow it makes me feel just a little bit better to know that the world's most famous spy (Isn't there an oxymoron in there somewhere?) is older than me. Dr. No, 007's first movie incarnation was released way back in October of 1962, and with today's opening of Skyfall, Mr. Bond officially enters middle age.

Truth be told I have never been a huge fan of the Bond movies. They are most definitely skewed towards a male audience, (not that there's anything wrong with that) and they always contain that slight tinge of misogyny that has put me off. I mean, c'mon! How is any woman supposed to connect to female characters suggestively named Pussy Galore, Plenty O'toole, or Holly Goodhead? I am only guessing here, but I would venture to say that most women attend Bond showings at the behest of their husbands, boyfriends, sons, fathers, and other male friends. It's only fair after all. Payback for making them sit through The Notebook and Beaches

But the songs are a whole other story. They forever define the tenor of the film. They have become iconic. And....they have had some awesome talent behind them. Herewith I offer you my top 5 favourite Bond themes. Please feel free to disagree and offer your own suggestions in the comments section. Remember...chocolate and vanilla.

5. The Spy who Loved Me-Carly Simon

4. Live and Let Die-Paul McCartney and Wings

3. For Your Eyes Only-Sheena Easton

2. Diamonds Are Forever-Shirley Bassey

1. Goldfinger-Shirley Bassey

There is absolutely nothing that says "Bond, James Bond" like Shirley Bassey singing. As a final thought I offer you this year's theme from Skyfall by Adele. Does it measure up?


Thursday, 8 November 2012

My Evangelical Moment (It's Not What You Think!)

How is it possible that I am almost fifty years old and only now am I discovering the healing and restorative properties of alcohol? Stunning, I know. And it is made all the more remarkable by the simple fact that The Husband owns and operates an artisan distillery  that is producing some very well received whiskies and vodkas. (Shameless personal plug: Please check out his website and purchase a bottle or two. Girl's gotta eat, ya know!) Me? Well, I just have never cared for any of it. I have found the taste of most spirits to be akin to swallowing paint thinner. And flavourful as many might find them, they have always been less than satisfying to my underdeveloped palate. I hate and fear the loss of control that liquor affords; once a type A always a type A, I suppose. I have zero physical tolerance for the stuff given my almost half century of teetotalism. My friends have experienced first hand that I literally cannot tell my left hand from my right when I drink even modest amounts of the grape. Also.....and this is a big one for somebody who has constantly battled extra poundage......I have always hated the thought of drinking my calories. I would much rather indulge in a plate of fries or some chocolate. My conventional thought was that they were so much more satisfying. As a result, alcohol has been a rare indulgence for me throughout my lifetime.

But I have come to see the error of my ways. I have come to understand that there is true magic in a glass of cabernet and great curative properties in a snifter of brandy. I realize that I am not stating anything cutting edge that the average frat boy or stay at home mom hasn't known for years, but for me this is as close to a religious conversion as I think I will ever get. I have tried to ascertain when my personal "Road to Tarshish" moment occurred, and as near as I can deduce it started last year around Rosh Hashana.

Last summer brought on a horrible asthma season. The wheezing and coughing that I experienced was never calmed enough by the myriad of bronchi-inhalers, anti-histamines, steroidal puffers and an assortment of herbal remedies. In fact, a week before the High Holidays I came down with a horrible case of laryngitis brought on by the symptoms and after effects of each successive attack. As if my stress levels surrounding the most vocally taxing time of the year weren't enough, now I had to cope with the very real possibility of not being able to sing. The Husband, ever the saint at this particular time of year, (the religious metaphors simply abound, don't they?) was once again ready with his 3S cure all. This time I readily accepted the scotch with willing throat and found that while I still couldn't understand the worldwide fuss over single malts, I did find that there was indeed a medicinal property that allowed me the get through the Ten Days of Awe in decent if not perfect order. After the holidays, I promptly returned to my water guzzling ways exclusively.

But the strangest thing happened. I found that I missed it. Not the taste, mind you. That experience was still reminiscent of sucking back burnt campfire wood.  No. I missed the calm. I missed the warming sensation of sipping it late in the evening while chatting amiably with the Husband. I missed the stress release that it so obviously provided. I missed the routine. Should I be worried? Was this a cry out for an intervention? No, of course not. Rather this was an embracing of the thought that maybe....just maybe....I actually liked it? Hey! I'm a grown woman. Why shouldn't I enjoy the odd glass of something when the mood suits? Guilt and calories be damned. Welcome this moment of clarity and learn from it.

Clearly I needed to find a substitute for the swill of single malt that monopolizes our liquor cabinet. The Husband, always the willing guide on the subject, suggested brandy. BINGO! It was just what I was looking for. And so began a several week trial period of evenings curled up on the couch with my Courvoisier in a glass and endless reruns of Murdoch Mysteries on television. (I promise that sometime this month I will write an entire love letter to this show, but for now just know that it is a true passion for me. I can't wait for Season 6.)

Step one had been taken. I was actually enjoying my dalliance away from temperance. Oh the humanity! But true consumption can only be sincerely experienced in the company of friends. Sort of "if a tree falls in the woods" scenario. And so, last week I did something that I haven't done in years. I ordered a glass of wine while out for dinner. Twin Son and His Better Half looked a bit stunned, but they embraced my new-found liberty as readily as I knew they would. It was like they had won an epic battle and had brought me over to the dark side. Light sabres could finally be holstered. Years of cajoling had finally broken me, and here I was wandering in the abyss at last with all of the other mere mortals. Of course, after one glass of Shiraz I couldn't feel my feet, but we all understand that it is a process.

On election night, my evangelical moment reached its apex. I actually opened up a bottle of red and downed two glasses as I watched the returns come in. I loved every swallow. Barack and me and Dionysus makes three. Not a bad trifecta, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Pessimistically Optimistic

"Whether you are a glass half-empty person or a glass half-full person really depends on whether you are doing the pouring or the drinking."

I think that I read that on the back of a bathroom stall door....or somebody's Facebook wall...sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. But, the point is that it resonated.

Last week at a community event, a friend lost her leather coat. She had placed it over the back of a chair and when she went to retrieve it, somebody had walked off with it. Given that it was a startlingly cold night, and we were in a room filled with upscale Jewish Canadians in November, half the people in attendance, both men and women, were wearing black leather jackets or car coats. As she worked the room stealthily trying to link the offending party with her now missing jacket, her husband was raging. "How could anybody be so careless?" "Don't people pay attention?" My friend preferred to view it as the unfortunate accident that it most probably was, and was certain that the transgressor would realize the error and return it in kind. My friend and her husband saw the same event through very different lenses. I am loathe to label one as optimistic or the other as pessimistic, but rather they were two sides of the very same coin that both had equal validity. But, does every action or thought have an equality? Aren't there just some things that are patently wrong? Why must we give equal time to bullshit?

It is no secret that I am thrilled with the outcome of last evening's election. I am a fan from afar of the president, but I am also very aware of his failings. He has work to do in convincing a good many unimpressed Americans that his ways and ideas are best for the country, but I feel that he has the intellectual heft and abilities to do just that. My issues with this campaign weren't as much about my disdain for Governor Romney, but rather with the bat-shit crazy elements of his party to which he openly pandered. I can have an intellectual discussion as to whether or not their economic policies are correct. (I happen to disagree with most of them, but I can see the other side.) But, I cannot and will not ever find value in any person's platform that uses women's reproductive rights as a political tool. I cannot and will not ever find value in the candidate that thinks rape is just another method of procreation that could lead to an unexpected pregnancy. I cannot and will not dismiss science, math, intellectual curiousity, or climate change as elitist and anti-God. I will never see the equality in any policy that segregates and demonizes my gay and lesbian friends and family. I will never understand nor will I support the supposed societal ethics or laws that say it is ok to stop somebody on the street simply because the colour of their skin makes them suspicious. In my mind, there is no equivalency on these settled issues; no other side that I could ever find palatable.

Last night President Obama was doing the pouring and a majority of Americans were drinking. Today I  join them as a newly minted optimist.

(By the way-my friend found her coat!)