Saturday, 30 November 2013

Another Happy Dance for NaBloPoMo

30 posts in 30 days.

3 years running. November you are my bitch.

And so...we do a happy dance to celebrate.


Snoopy dancing

See you all again soon.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Island of Misfit Blog Posts

The finish line is in sight and this madness of blogapalooza is just about over. Baruch Ha-Shem. (That's Praised God for all of you without mad Hebrew skills.) It's a good thing too. I am running on fumes when it comes to original or even partially plagiarized ideas.

As we wind it down, I thought that I might give you a mulligatawny soup mixture of a few ideas that didn't have the staying power to make a complete post, but were actually percolating in my draft file this month.

1. Did you know that I have had a lump on my head the size of a walnut for most of the last two weeks? I wish I could tell you that it was a battle injury or even something as sexy as the end result of a heroic rescue of an animal in distress gone horribly wrong. Instead, I am black, blue, and green because a mini-muffin tin fell out of the cupboard above my oven and landed flush on my forehead, dropping me to the floor like a stone. It is yet another example of my 4'11" frame not ergonomically fitting properly in the world. I should have climbed on the stool in order to retrieve the cookie sheet that I was searching for, but I got lazy and reached beyond my height class into the abyss and instead unleashed the fury of the happily secured muffin tin. In its anger, it rushed to the front and attacked the right side of my brow. It is still tender to the touch two weeks later. Being short has never bothered me all that much, but it is so very obvious that the world was not designed for me.

2. This month was the 6th anniversary of my blog. This little vanity space has certainly grown over the years, but I couldn't come up with anything that was either relevant or exciting about a 6th anniversary, so I just let it go by without celebration or recognition. Apparently it is traditional to give candy or sweets on a 6th anniversary, so if you all want to send chocolate my way I won't refuse it. Dark is preferable, milk is certainly acceptable, and white can remain languishing on store shelves.

3. Snow came early to the Great White North this year, but I decided that complaining about the weather was simply too much of a Canadian cliche to bother with it.

4. During the month of November we have had a myriad of phone issues, beginning with some late night wrong numbers and ending just yesterday with our landline totally crashing. (I am waiting for a Bell service call as I write this post.) The Husband and I have had serious conversations of finally doing away with the landline once and for all. The nuisance calls alone (YES! We are on the DO NOT call list, for all the good it does us) would make disposing of it worthwhile, but there is still a bit of the Luddite in me that worries about blackouts and 911 connections. What can I say? I'm middle-aged. I will say to the assholes who program their phones and faxes to robocall at all hours of the day and night, there is a special place in hell for you people. We have some family members coping with catastrophic illness right now, as well as family members travelling in some exotic locales. To be woken up at 3 am by your bullshit several times over the last few weeks was enough to send our heart rates soaring into the stratosphere. There ought to be a law. Oh wait...THERE IS!!

5. Today is Black Friday and I could not care one whit. Shopping has never been a passion for me, but this time of crass commercialism that has seeped over the border from our American friends is the height of ugly. I have taken to calling it the Hunger Games of commerce. There are no winners. It is also an incredible paradox that this bowing at the altar of consumerism is paired with American Thanksgiving. On one day there are expressions of gratitude for all that we have, and on the next we are told to replace it with newer and cheaper shit. I'll pass.

So there you have it. The posts that didn't live long enough to see fruition. Maybe if I'm really good this season, some portly guy in a red suit will rescue them from my hard drive and find the inspiration necessary to turn them into something pithy. Then again, I think that I have written enough about the Mayor of Toronto to last a lifetime.

Thanks for sticking with me this month. Tomorrow's finale with involve a happy dance.




Thursday, 28 November 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday on Thursday

Thanks for your patience concerning Almost Wordless Wednesday.

My final pictorial reminder of nature's wonders seen this year comes straight from our backyard deck. This summer we were stunned and blessed by the presence of a mama mallard nesting in one of our flower boxes mere inches from the backdoor. The five week odyssey saw the eventual birth of eight ducklings and a webcam setup that was viewed with excitement by hundreds of friends and followers. The Husband was able to capture the actual hatching with grace and beauty. This photo was snapped within an hour of hatching. This particular shot is The Husband's favourite of the hundreds he took that day as he thinks the little guy in front looks like a character right out of Angry Birds. It was a miracle right at our doorstep.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Great Hillel/Shammai Chanukah Candle Debate

**Due to the arrival of Chanukah this evening, my regular feature Almost Wordless Wednesday will be presented as an Almost Wordless Thursday tomorrow. 

Last year on Chanukah we tried an experiment in our home. We lit two Chanukiot on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. Now that exercise isn't terribly unusual in and of itself. Many families will light several special Chanukah menorahs each night that may have sentimental value or familial or historical significance. The result is a substantial illumination that is befitting the holiday. But as a kibbitz last year, The Husband and I decided to light one chanukiah in the tradition of the Beyt Hillel and one in the tradition of the Beyt Shammai. It wasn't long before we began to really talk about the ritual and about the meaning behind it. And within the confines of those eight days, our little joke took on some significant meaning. But first, some Judaic perspective.

Two of the Talmud's most learned sages were Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. Their disputes are detailed and legendary. The schools of disciples which they headed often debated on matters of ritual and theology, always with honour and reverence, and in most cases the ideas of Hillel won out. Those arguments are meticulously recorded in the Talmud. Yet, the school of Shammai didn't just disappear into the ether and his students continued to follow his teachings. The Talmud tells us Elu V'Elu Divrei Elohim Chayim; that both sides are "for the sake of heaven" and therefore are the words of the living God and should be respected.

One of Hillel and Shammai's most famous debates concerned the lighting of Chanukah candles. It was the determination of Shammai that one begins lighting with the days remaining, while Hillel taught that one begins with the days completed. Thus it was that Shammai would light eight candles on the first day and decrease the number by one on each successive day. Hillel followed the opposite path of lighting one candle on the first day and increasing the number by one on each successive day. Thereby Shammai celebrated the days to come and Hillel the days that had already passed.

Of course there was Halachic rationale for both philosophies. Shammai's comes from the holiday of Sukkot where it was tradition to bring bulls for the sacrifice. On each of the days of the holiday, that number would be steadily decreased by one. Thus the candles of Chanukah should follow the same counting. (There is some thought that the first Chanukah was actually a delayed celebration of our fall festival of Sukkot. The postponement was brought on by the Maccabees battle and subsequent victory over the Hellenists, thus making a rededication of the temple necessary.) 

Hillel's reasoning was that when it comes to matters of holiness we should always attempt to increase our commitment. The Chanukah candles remind us of our continual striving for a greater level of holiness in our lives. 

As was usually the case, Hillel's arguments won the day and thus it is our practice to light the candles in increasing rather than decreasing order. As The Husband and I began our little experiment last year, it occurred to me that even though Hillel's practice is followed today, Shammai's point of view is neither deleted nor dismissed. This is an inclusive brand of Judaism that I find very appealing. While law has become codified, it is neither static nor without counter-arguments. Majority and minority opinions both carry weight within our tradition. We continue to discuss, to change, to include, and to move progressively forward so that Judaism can remain relevant today. 

So tonight on this first night of Chanukah I will again light two Chanukiot. One to honour the mitzvah of the holiness of the lights in the tradition of the accepted practice of Hillel, and one to honour the inclusiveness of the minority in the tradition of Shammai.



I wish all who celebrate a Chag Urim Sameach. To my American Jewish friends who are observing a once in a cosmos converging of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, I wish you double blessings. To everybody else Happy Thanksgiving or Happy Wednesday/Thursday. 



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's That Time of Year

It is Michigan week.

That strange and extraordinarily barbaric time of year when decent, hard-working, God-fearing people residing in the usually bucolic midwestern utopia of Ohio, transmute into maize and blue flesh eating zombies ready to attack at the mere mention of that state to the north. Last year I remarked on my conversion to all things Ohio State football which came about as a direct result of Younger Son's insistence on dating a Buckeye.

Since Younger Son and His B'shert (a much better handle, don't you think?) have finally put a ring on it, there is an even more heightened sense of involvement this year. I have come to the realization that no matter how hard I try to fight it, the annual Ohio State/Michigan gridiron apocalypse is now a deeply ingrained part of my family's psyche.

Last week when the young couple were here visiting, the OSU/Indiana massacre was on. (42-14, but the score was much closer than the actual game.) Now, I am no neophyte when it comes to football. I am intimately familiar with formations, nickel defences, draw plays, and the like and I have made it my business to better acquaint myself with some of the minutiae of Urban Meyer's program. Family harmony, don't ya know. Well....in the interest of carrying on a cogent football conversation, I made some crucial errors according to Younger Son's B'shert.

When I remarked that both teams used red in their school colours and that the stadium was awash in hues of gladiator blood, I was told in no uncertain terms that Indiana wears a much more feminine crimson while The Buckeyes are proudly adorned in warrior scarlet. Check out the difference.

Scarlet
Crimson

Who knew?

But my real trouble began when I did the unthinkable. I questioned Saint Braxton Miller's throwing motion. The football fan in me couldn't help myself. (My mind was shouting SHUT UP DAWN even as my mouth was spewing the words.) During a series when OSU was moving the ball at will against the porous Hoosier D, I noted that the speedy quarterback (and this guy is really really really fast!!) flung the ball sidearm on a number of occasions. And then...I did something even more stupid. I actually had the audacity to suggest that perhaps,  just perhaps, this hitch in his arm could be compared to another Meyer protege....Tim Tebow (Oh the horror!) and that his future in the NFL might be in question. Audible gasps!! 

Well. You'd have thought that the entire state was mobilizing with pitchforks at my door. I was accused of not being a true fan and that I knew nothing about the game because Meyer is a genius. After all, how many national championship rings am I wearing?

Because I adore my future daughter-in-law and her parents, and because no football game is worth the price of familial peace, here is my mea culpa. 

You were right and I was wrong. There is no football program in all the land that can compare with The Ohio State University. There are no flaws, no gaffes, no hitches, and no coach who can even compare with the brilliant Urban Meyer. Braxton is a god who defies description and, really who even cares about his pro future as long as he leads us to victory this weekend against those weasels to the north. I promise to proudly adorn myself in scarlet and grey on Saturday and to scream so loudly that my neighbours might have to report me to the cops.

Are we good?

And by the way...it's Tuesday and Michigan still sucks. 








Monday, 25 November 2013

Meatless Monday The Finale

Good Morning,

We are in the final week of this blogging extravaganza and as such this is my final Meatless Monday recipe for the month. We had snow up here this past weekend, so I thought that I would offer a warm and hearty dish that is perfect for the long, cold, miserable winter that is now upon us.

The Husband loves Mexican food, but I need to modify many recipes in order to accommodate our vegetarian lifestyle as well as my lactose issues. This black bean enchilada dish is easy and satisfying. Enjoy.

Black Bean Enchiladas

Ingredients

1 red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeƱo pepper, seeded and chopped (optional depending on your heat preference)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup picante sauce (Schirracha or Frank's Red Hot)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups cooked brown rice
8-10 (6 inch) flour tortillas, warmed
1 cup salsa
1 cup reduced fat shredded Cheddar cheese (I use lactose free)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Directions

1. In a large nonstick skillet, saute the green pepper, onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add the beans, tomatoes, picante sauce, chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until heated through and mixture thickens. Add rice; cook 5 minutes longer or until heated through.


2. Spoon a rounded 1/2 cup down the center of each tortilla. Fold sides over filling and roll up. Place in a 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon salsa over each tortilla. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

A quick bonus recipe for the season:

It is the earliest ever Chanukah arriving this Wednesday evening. Here is my favourite and ridiculously simple Baked Sweet Potato Latke recipe to help celebrate the occasion. (I am not much for overly greasy fried foods, so baking the latkes gives me the taste without too much oil.)

Baked Sweet Potato Latkes

Ingredients

1 pound sweet potatoes , grated
1 medium onion, grated
1/4 cup green onions thinly sliced
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3 eggs
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
salt

pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare baking pan by spraying with cooking spray or oil.
2. Grate onion using the large holes of a box grater. Do the same with the sweet potatoes. Squeeze excess liquid by wrapping grated potatoes and onion in clean towel to drain.
3. Combine eggs, bread crumbs, green onions salt and pepper and parsley. Add to drained potato mixture.
4. Scoop rounded tablespoon sized mounds and place on baking sheet, flattening slightly into 1/2" thick pancakes.
5. Drizzle with olive oil
6. Bake for 15 minutes before flipping and baking an additional 15 minutes.

Chag Urim Sameach!!


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Gratitude

I have a poet friend who has been tweeting about gratitude. She is revelling in the small stuff. While most of us ignorantly blow by these everyday occurrences, she is instead taking the time to pause and acknowledge all those details which makes her life special. I have been impressed by her buoyancy and even more by her immersion in the positive.

The world can be a pretty unforgiving place. We are continually bombarded by images that display the underbelly in our communities. Housewives getting mean with each other for the sake of entertainment. Politicians behaving badly. News stories from around the world so disturbing that they challenge and erode our very core beliefs. Natural acts so desperate that make us question our faith. And yet, amongst the darkness there is light. Amongst the decay there is new growth.

The Husband and I spent last evening with good friends. 5 couples who got together to share some wine, some good food, some laughter, and some great conversation. We chatted late into the evening about the current events of the day; our rogue mayor, the disaster in the Philippines, and more importantly about our everyday lives. It was sometime between the lasagna and the coffee that I realized just how fortunate I was to be in the company of such loving and caring people, and how each and every one of us has something happening in our lives right now for which we should be truly grateful. There is recovery from illness, a couple of upcoming weddings, a new grandchild on the way, and a new job that is the fulfilment of a life's dream. There was pride in our voices as we talked about children making their own way in the world. There was excitement expressed about upcoming trips down south and there was wonder communicated about the daily growth and escapades of a toddler. Our lives have indeed been blessed.

It won't always be so. There will be difficult times and even heartbreaking ones. But if we can hold onto the little things in our lives that remind us of life's purpose, it will make the journey so much more comfortable.

Yesterday my poet friend tweeted that she was grateful for inspiration. I jokingly asked her to send some my way so that I might be able to complete this month's blogapalooza.

She did just that with her heart, presence, and wisdom. So today I am grateful that I have such a creative and inspirational friend.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Shabbat Music Break

I remember when I first discovered Karla Bonoff. A friend had told me of this amazing songwriter who had been selling all of her greatest compositions to Linda Ronstadt. By 1976, there were three of Bonoff's songs on Linda's Hasten Down the Wind LP: "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," "If He's Ever Near" and "Lose Again." But in 1977, Karla Bonoff had released her first solo album with all of these songs and a few others that I have been singing ever since. I saw her perform live in the early eighties when she was opening for James Taylor. A fantastic double bill of a concert. Bonoff's strength as a songwriter is tremendously apparent in her poignant lyrics and emotive melodies.

Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 22 November 2013

Our Memories

I am not entirely certain as to where I was 50 years ago today when President Kennedy was assassinated.

In all likelihood I was napping, because that is what eleven month old infants tend to do in the afternoons. My memories of that day are fully dependant on other's recountings and from continual viewings of the grainy black and white footage that have become an indelible part of the historical consciousness.

Collective memories like the ones that were formed on that fateful day in Dallas half a century ago, are fascinating. While there is no disputing the outcome of what occurred, (conspiracy theories notwithstanding) namely the death of a president, every single person who has the ability to recollect, remembers that day very differently. The entire world witnessed a catastrophic event together and yet no two people remember it in exactly the same way. We are forever coloured by our environment, age, sex, ethnicity, geographic location, political affiliation....the list is endless.

Our memories are at the core of who we are as people. They define us and set a course for us to follow throughout our lifetimes. Memories act as learning tools, as nostalgic indicators, and as familial touchstones. It is why diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias are so insidious. These conditions rob patients of the fundamental part of their psyches that determines who they are.  We depend on our sepia-bathed reminiscences to see us through difficult times and to remind us that our lives are the sum total of both beautiful and arduous moments.

I have been struggling to pinpoint exactly what my earliest fully formed memory might be. I was three and half years old and that summer my grandfather decided to purchase two-wheelers for many of his grandchildren, at least for those of us who were still without. I remember him coming over to our house with my brand new bicycle and I remember me attempting to master the training wheels. Brother/Cousin, fully nine months older than me, was already busy with his and was well along the path toward becoming an expert cyclist. That memory is my one and only fully developed recollection of my grandfather who died later that summer. And yet, that one captured moment in time is something that I cling to with vigour and purpose. It provides me with a personal connection to a man who will forever be defined for me by other people and their stories.

President Kennedy's murder is one of those remarkable moments when the entire human population formed a memory of a singular event. As those of us who were there can attest, it will forever remain a defining snapshot of the collective consciousness. Today we remember and today we share.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Eighth Night For Ethan

**This is an edited and updated version of an appeal I gave at my synagogue's Yom Kippur morning services this year. The call for action is still just as relevant today almost three months later.

I stand before you as an alumnus of the URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute. GUCI, as it is affectionately known, is a sister camp to our very own Camp George which is located in Zionsville Indiana, just north of Indianapolis. GUCI was my home for 9 summers; as a camper, counselor, leadership staff, and songleader. It is the place where I learned to live and breathe Judaism, to find connection, to discover myself. It was where I chose to send my own children and it is where they too came into their own as active members of the Reform Jewish community. GUCI is a part of my soul, my lifeblood. The GUCI community and the extended URJ camping community are family.

And so it was that the news from GUCI this summer struck such a personal chord. On June 29th, the peace of a Shabbat afternoon was rocked by a lightning strike that left three young campers who were playing Ultimate Frisbee, injured on the athletic field. There were no storms forecasted for the area, nor was there a cloud in the sky. The lightning was truly a bolt out of the blue. Due to the quick response and heroic efforts of staff, all of whom are personally known to my own sons, the campers were rushed to area hospitals and all survived. Two of those children thankfully have recovered, with one even returning to camp for a visit.

The third camper, 13 year old Ethan Kadish, was hospitalized in his hometown of Cincinnati for 145 days and he and his family are in need of our help. His injuries have been catastrophic and the challenges that he faces are many. For these many months, Ethan has been working hard on his daily therapies in preparation for his discharge that finally occurred yesterday and saw him return home. But he and his family still face a long road ahead. There are mounting financial costs that are related to his ongoing care and therapies, and the accommodations that need to be made to their home.

Every morning at GUCI the camp gathers together to sing the song “L’takein” written by GUCI alum Dan Nichols and former director Rabbi Ron Klotz. The lyrics are as follows:

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam shenatan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et ha’olam.

Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has given us the opportunity to mend the world.

We have a chance to help mend Ethan’s world.

At the end of August, during the week that was to have seen Ethan called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, a fundraising campaign was launched to help the Kadish family meet the immense financial challenges that lay ahead for uninsured therapies, home modifications, and other injury related expenses. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of The Union for Reform Judasim reminds us that our tradition teaches:

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh...all Jews are responsible one for the other. I would like to think that maybe Kol ha-anashim arevim zen b'zeh...that all people are responsible one for the other.

In an effort to help the Kadish family, a series of fundraising events will be held this Chanukah. From the URJ.
In connection with the Union for Reform Judaism, and HelpHOPELive, URJ Camp George has organized a fundraising flashmob on the 8th Night of Hanukkah called 8th Night for Ethan.  This campaign invites individuals and organizations to give donations (in multiples of 18 – a number that symbolizes good luck in the Jewish tradition) over an 18-hour period on the last night of Hanukkah. Donations will go directly to HelpHOPELive, which has set up a fundraising campaign to assist with Ethan’s ongoing medical expenses. Camp George’s Facebook page will include updates on the event beginning on November 27 (the first night of Hanukkah) and ending on Wednesday December 4 (the 8th Night of Hanukkah).
On the eighth night this year, it is my fervent hope that every family who lights a Chanukiah will light a blue candle in Ethan's honour, and in lieu of gifts that evening to please make a donation to HelpHOPELive to help with his ongoing care.

The Talmud teaches that whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved the entire world. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9) Ethan's world needs our help. Together we can make it a little bit better.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday Episode Trois

Today's pictorial of natural beauty comes from New York's Central Park. The Husband and I spent four days there this past June in celebration of his milestone birthday. We decided to pass most of our Shabbat morning wandering through the park and as per our custom every single time we visit this magnificent oasis, we managed to get ourselves horribly lost. It was the kind of lost that we relish. We just took our time taking in the stunning images. I snapped this shot from a small footbridge off the bank of the pond. Enjoy.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

I'm 50 and I Can Still Touch My Toes. Can You?

I was always a very diligent student.

I did my homework and assignments in a timely manner. I rarely handed anything in late, I asked for help when needed, and I studied in a conscientious manner. But no matter how zealous I was in my work habits, I always ended up cramming before a major test or exam. It seemed as though no matter how prepared I thought I was and no matter how meticulously I had followed the lesson plans throughout the year, I believed that I could get that much better if I pulled an all-nighter.

Of course the logic was flawed. While the intensive review probably helped a bit in the short term, it was the consistent work ethic over a long period of time that was the true source of my scholastic success. And yet....I still have a measure of that panicked student in me when it comes to my yearly physical.

For some strange reason, even after all of these years of attempting to maintain healthy practices, I have this mistaken belief that if I suddenly alter my lifestyle, eating habits, and daily routines a few weeks before the doctor sees me, I can somehow "pass" the exam without giving a great deal of  thought to the work required for my overall physical well-being. I become extraordinarily diligent about remembering to take my supplements. I work out six days a week instead of the usual four to five. I eliminate as much sugar as I possibly can from my diet and I cut way down on the so-called "white foods" so that the scale might pop a more friendly number. It is all so very stupid.

The fact of the matter is that it is the daily choices that have helped my overall well being and not the intensive cramming. A few extra milligrams of vitamin D might look good on a blood panel, but if I don't maintain the regimen it is effectively useless. It is the little things that I have chosen to make a part of my routine that have helped improve my wellness, both physically and emotionally.
  • Cutting out diet soda and all artificial sweeteners from my diet. H2O is my friend and most of my friends rarely see me without my water bottle or thermos of green tea. I was a huge Diet Coke consumer. It has been two years since I kicked the habit, and I have never felt better. 
  • Our strictly vegetarian diet has improved my stomach issues, my cholesterol, my weight, and my energy levels. I'm not perfect. Sometimes I indulge in a bit too many carbs (especially at this time of year) and I cannot quit chocolate, but the increased consumption in a variety of the best that nature has to offer has been a boon to my overall health.
  • I have been so much better about remembering to take my supplements. Vitamin D, B12, Red Yeast Rice, CoQ10, Calcium, a multivitamin and a few others are all part of my daily intake. My sugar and cholesterol numbers are great in part because I am not as lax as I previously was in doing as my doctor prescribes. (Do not take any supplements without first consulting a health care professional. Many vitamins and natural remedies are contraindicated with other medications and can be dangerous. Talk to your doctor about your specific needs.)
  • I move. Everyday. Without fail. It might be a walk outside or a run on the treadmill. It might be a weight routine or even just a half an hour of going up and down the stairs, but I move. We don't realize how sedentary our 21st century lives have become. We need to push ourselves to get off of the couch and away from our screens and just move.
I still have a lot to work on. I don't get nearly enough sleep and my stress levels can be off the charts depending on the day, but I am trying. As I get older I have discovered that I want it more. I want to be like my 75 year old parents who are on this very day trekking in Southeast Asia. I realize that I can't guarantee good longterm health, but I can aid in it with smart choices. Our health is not something that we can fix in a day. It is something that requires longterm commitment and care. Small choices and changes in routines are the best ways to kickstart a new approach to wellbeing. Our time here is short enough. Make the most of it.



Monday, 18 November 2013

Meatless Monday Comfort Food

Today's Meatless Monday is an homage to my all-time favourite comfort food, macaroni and cheese. I love the stuff, but unfortunately I usually can't eat it because of this little lactose-intolerant issue that plagues me. (Thanks Mom!) Thank goodness there are now many cheese and milk brands available that allow for dairy enjoyment sans lactose. The other issue of course with mac and cheese is the high caloric and fat content. Guilt abounds at the mere thought of making it and I can almost feel my thighs expanding while sourcing recipes. And then.....I found this little gem of a dish in Vegetarian Times. It combines the flavours  I seek with the comfort I crave, all while severely limiting the fat and calories. Enjoy.

Ingredients

2 cups (8 oz.) whole-wheat penne (I use a bit more)
1 lb. spinach leaves, trimmed
¼ cup olive oil or butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
½ cup plus 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese (I use lactose-free)
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Cook penne according to package directions. Drain, and set aside.

3. Heat large pot over medium-high heat. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted, stirring with tongs to cook all leaves. Drain, and press out any excess liquid. Coarsely chop wilted spinach, and set aside.

4. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in milk, and cook 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, then add penne, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, garlic to sauce, and stir until well coated. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Transfer to prepared baking dish, sprinkle remaining 2 Tbs. Parmesan over mixture, and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is browned.

** I often add a 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs to sprinkle on top just before baking. It adds a nice crunch.



Sunday, 17 November 2013

I Don't Get It

I promise that today's post is a total coincidence.

I had been collecting notes for this particular piece for over a week when suddenly I read the following on a friend's Facebook status.

"Name three things you will never, ever, ever understand."

Oh my God! I was going to write about that. Honestly!

I want my friend to know that I swear I am not trying to plagiarize from her or attempting to steal her idea or thunder. I guess the cosmos is sending both of us some strange-assed juju to have so wanted this topic put out in the ether.

I have been spending a considerable amount of time lately trying to figure out the how and why of certain occurrences in the universe. I mean, c'mon. I live in the Greater Toronto Area. If these last few weeks and months haven't given tremendous rise to the "I will never understand this shit" mantra, nothing will. But aside from the obvious thoughts of why do bad things happen to good people, I thought that I would lighten the mood slightly with a few things in our modern world that I will never truly understand.

1. The popularity and celebrity worship of William Shatner. If this makes me a bad Canadian, then so be it. I simply cannot stand watching the man. If you want to see how a real Starship Enterprise captain behaves, just look at Jean-Luc Picard. Now there's leadership with sex appeal.

2. Lining up in sub-zero temperatures to purchase the latest and greatest _________________. Usually we are talking about fan boys here, but is it really necessary to camp out in front of some megastore for days in advance just to be one of the first in the world to play with some newfangled electronic device? Will waiting a few weeks make you any less a geek? (And I ask that question lovingly as a parent and spouse of geeks who never camped out for their video games or phones.)

3. The excitement over the return of the McRib. Every year this elusive sandwich seems to have North American fast-food palates all atwitter. Now I realize that I am speaking from the perspective of a vegetarian, but why would anybody want to eat anything that starts out looking like this?


Doesn't it remind you of the childhood board game Operation?

4. Slasher movies. I will never quite comprehend spending ten bucks or more to watch some psycho in hockey gear machete everybody in town. Please do not compare these films with suspense flicks or dramas. Hitchcock was a genius and even I can see the artistic merit in something like Aliens. I am talking about any gory and grotesque movie that has a sequel number approaching double digits. Yes Saw 7, I'm talking to you.

5. Chronic lateness. I get it. Everybody has a bad day or two, but to be continually tardy shows an incredible lack of self-awareness and it is unbelievably selfish to all of those affected by it. And believe me, others are ALWAYS affected by it. Whether it be the patrons at the theatre whom you disturb, the coworkers left waiting to begin a long scheduled meeting, or friends just left hanging, a persistent lack of punctuality is unfathomable to me. Buy a watch and use it.

These are a few of the things in my world that I will simply never get. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section. I am truly interested.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Shabbat Music Break

This week's Shabbat Music Break came to me via the new "family to be" who reside in Buckeye country. I had never even heard of Neko Case until last week, and now I find myself searching online to hear more and more of her hauntingly unique voice. It is an added bonus that while she is an American by birth, she has done some of her best work while living up here in the Great White North. Night Still Comes is off of her most recent album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. (2013) The harmonies are simply beautiful. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom



Friday, 15 November 2013

I Look Hideous in Beige

My son is getting married.

That's Younger Son! As in....my baby. The last of the progeny. The child who gave me the illusion of my own youth even after it had long dissolved into middle age.

There is an old adage that states that the Mother of the Groom should just shut up and buy a beige dress.

Well...this blog's very existence should tell you that blending into the woodwork has never been a part of my persona, and besides I look hideous in beige.

Marriage.

It is a word and an act that carries such permanence and stability in a world that is full of tremendous fluidity and inconsistency. I am not at all surprised by Younger Son and His Young Lady's foray into wedlock. (As an aside, I need a new handle for her. I have toyed with calling her Future Daughter-in-Law, but it  is a mouthful and sounds slightly archaic. I am accepting suggestions.) He has always been the child who is most likely to crave solidity and balance. He is the son who always had a plan....for his schooling, his career, and now for his life partner. He likes and plays to traditional norms even though he might strenuously object to my characterizing him in this manner. "God, Mom. You make me sound so boring!" He is anything but. He is smart, talented, creative, easy-going, and so very comfortable in his own skin. A true gift that isn't often found in one so young. I am tremendously proud of him and the path he has chosen and of the strong, independent, outgoing, capable, and loving woman who has agreed to share it.

There will be a few blog posts upcoming about the wedding plans. It is an inevitability. When such a monumentous event grabs hold of a family, it becomes the focus. The Young Lady (Yup. That moniker really doesn't work any longer) has taken hold of the project with gusto. She knows her mind and has a definite vision of what she wants the day to be like. As for me? I will try so very hard to not be the meddling mother-in-law that brides tend to consign to the dustbins of family folklore with tales so vile that the Brothers Grimm plagiarized them. You all have my permission to slap me senseless if I get out of hand. Seriously. Do it. 

But I cannot remain silent about how wonderful it is to watch your children achieve this level of happiness. It is all that we as parents hope and pray for. They are so jubilant even through the haze and pressure of preparations. I know that the road will not always be easy and I know that life will present challenges that will at times seem insurmountable. But if they hold on tight to the love and connection they feel for each other, the ride will be thrilling. The wedding is the event, but the marriage is the lifetime.

I will have more to say as the year passes, but I can honestly promise all of you that it won't be coloured beige.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

My Hump Day Civics Lesson

It has been quite a while since I took a high school civics class, so given the fact that my Wednesday was relatively clear of professional duties, I decided to spend much of the day watching the international debacle that is the Mayor of Toronto and the circus act that doubles as a city council meeting. Here are a few things that I learned about municipal political engagement in the City Below Vaughan.

  1. Municipal politics is simply the transference of playground disputes to a rotunda. The geeky kid with the glasses is still being intimidated by the school bully, only now he can publicly call him out on his behaviour. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's concern that Mayor Ford was going to deck him on the floor of council certainly appeared well-founded when the corpulently imposing chief magistrate physically blocked the path of the much smaller councillor from Don Valley East. It brought back images of my own school days when the big guys used to force us  puny kids to take alternate routes to our lockers so as to avoid ending up inside said cubicle. 
  2. Councillor Jaye Robinson got the fun going by introducing a petition that was signed by 30 of 44 council members. They rose at their seats one by one as she called out their names. It was a powerful moment that clearly displayed in few words how truly embarrassed and angry these elected officials are by the extra-curricular activities in which hizzoner has engaged. The glares and animus coming from the Fords was obvious and telling. 
  3. I've always thought that synagogue Annual General Meetings were amongst the most uncivilized gatherings that I have ever had the displeasure to witness, but they have nothing on a Toronto City Council Meeting. The poor and downtrodden Speaker (who is so far out of her depth in this position) was forever reprimanding members about their lack of decorum and comity. I had a flashback to the movie ...And Justice for All starring Al Pacino. You must remember the line. "You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order!"  That was poor Frances Nunziata during the proceedings. Had I been in her chair, I might have used much stronger language like arrogant, vainglorious, and pompous to describe some of these assholes that claim they are speaking for the citizens of this city.
  4. Distractions are an ingrained part of any hopeful political reclamation project. Those head- fakes started on Tuesday with the peddling of the absurd Mayor Ford bobblehead dolls. (An initial selling price of $20.00 a bobble with a portion of the proceeds to aid the United Way was exponentially increased on Kijii and Ebay later in the day.) The diversions continued on the floor of council Wednesday, with Ford stooge Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti trying to disingenuously monetize the discussions about the attempted censure of his boss. It astounds me that anybody could think that this discussion of the mayor's behaviour was offside and that the members of council should not be afforded this opportunity to express their extreme anger and frustration at this poor excuse for a leader. As an aside, I think that Mammoliti is a toad who will never amount to anything more than a sidekick. He continually heckled every councillor who didn't agree with his position and he was the object of the Speaker's scorn on multiple occasions. If I had to pick a particularly low moment for the councillor, (and there were many) it might have been when he hurled accusations at Councillor Gord Perks (a left-winger who was doing his level best to save council from itself with a motion to refer the whole matter to the Integrity Commissioner) about his being high on marijuana during the meeting and his insistence that every member of council be immediately drug and alcohol tested. His conduct was deplorable. The punchline? Mammoliti actually supported the failed Perks motion. As I said...a toad.
  5. Politicians certainly know how to parse a phrase. The council chamber erupted in laughter when Mayor Ford responded to Councillor Del Grande about his drunken episode at the Air Canada Centre saying that he "promised it would never happen again and it has never happened  again....at the Air Canada Centre." What a maroon.
  6. And then there was the jaw dropping moment of the day when the mayor admitted on the council floor that he had purchased illegal drugs within the last two years while he was mayor. And yet....there is still no real recourse to remove this boob from office.
  7. Councillor Doug Ford is becoming a hinderance to the mayor and his public efforts at rehab. His attempt to bait the members of council into admitting their own drug use and then his live appearance on CNN at noon trying to justify his brother's behaviour were quite simply embarrassing. 
  8. Some of my favourite moments of the meeting? Mayor Ford asking Councillor Michael Thompson if he had ever visited the supposed crack house at 15 Windsor Dr and Thompson responding "I have no interest being in that house. I’m not a crack user." Burn!!
  9. I enjoyed Councillor Karen Stintz rising to face the mayor and in her best "mom voice" chastise him for forcing her into a situation whereby she had to explain what crack was to her nine year old daughter. And yet...Councillor Stintz missed the vote. She was "conveniently" outside of the chamber. That showed an appalling lack of conviction for somebody who has already declared her candidacy for mayor next year. Some advice Karen. It's time to stand for something.
  10. I loved Councillor Shelly Carroll telling Toronto that pulling a "Mayor Rob Ford" has become a verb for bad behaviour.
  11. And I absolutely adored Councillor Mike Del Grande turning his back to the mayor each and every time the blowhole opened his mouth. Del Grande was basically neutering the man and telling him he doesn't give a damn what he has to say.
While all of this shit was happening inside, outside there was a very well-attended rally to show the mayor the hearts and minds of the "taxpayers".....many of whom voted for him. Award to best placard goes to the ingeniously creative mind who thought up "Weasels Bobble but they Don't Step Down." 

The fine folks (a word that is a Ford favourite and one that makes my skin crawl) who are running this weekend's Santa Claus Parade have sent the mayor a letter that basically tells him to piss off and that he is now unwelcome to march. They want the focus to be on families, kids, and the guy in the red suit, and they believe that the mayor's presence will distract from that. Really?? Ya think? We'll see if the man's ego allows for this dismissal.

And...just when you thought it was safe to read the newspapers or the internet again, comes word that more of the court documents have been released and the details are getting even more sordid. Allegations of sex workers roaming around City Hall and more drunken stupors litter these reports. It seems interminable.

And just for good measure....there was a group of high school students roaming the corridors of City Hall on Wednesday. They received a civics lesson that could never be adequately taught in their classroom.

Me? I need to bathe.



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Another Almost Wordless Wednesday

Here is another in my monthlong pictorial of natural beauty witnessed this year. Today's photo is from Talon Lake in the Kawarthas. Twin Son and His Better Half have a cottage getaway that is a snapshot in serenity. I am so very appreciative each and every time an invitation is extended. This particular image was snapped at sunset in July.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Meatless Monday on Tuesday

I apologize for the delay, but Remembrance Day should always take priority. Lest we forget.

Today's Meatless Monday (on Tuesday) stems from my search for new recipes involving leeks. Last summer we were blessed with a bounty of leeks from our Community Supported Agriculture. The CSA was overflowing with the stalky things and I needed a few creative cooking tips. My quest led me to this delicious and surprisingly light risotto recipe.

A few basic reminders about risotto. Only use arborio rice. No other can be substituted adequately. Make certain that your broth is hot. It absorbs better and makes for a much more tender dish. Risotto is easy, but fussy. You need to be perched at the stove and stirring continually, otherwise you will end up with a sticky, gloppy mess. Enjoy!

Leek and Green Onion Risotto

Ingredients

25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
4 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves , sliced
150g arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4-5 cups hot vegetable stock
 parmesan cheese to taste, finely grated

Preparations

1. Bring the stock to a simmer.

2. Heat a large wide pan and add the butter and the olive oil.

3. Add the spring onions, leeks and garlic and cook for 5 minutes until softened.

4. Add the rice and stir to coat (about 1 minute) then add the wine and bubble until reduced.

5. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring until the rice is tender with a little bite and oozy.

6. Stir in the parmesan and season.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembrance Day Haikus

In honour of Remembrance Day, the normal Meatless Monday post will be moved to Tuesday. Instead here are a few meagre Haikus to mark the day. Thank you for understanding and for taking the time to pause and reflect on those who served. 


Sounds of Kristallnacht
Cries and crash of breaking glass
And of breaking souls.

Old men sit in chairs
Medals wet with autumn rain
Wailing pipes mask tears.

Some battles are fresh
The soldier's scars more recent
But still they run deep.

Cenotaphs are red
With poppies instead of blood
Now and for always

Poppies give us pause
To remember why we're free
Lest we forget them.

Eleventh month, hour
We stop, we weep, we recall
Canadians all.











Sunday, 10 November 2013

Squirrel Olympics 2013

My battle with the urban pest known as Sciuridae or the common tree squirrel is well documented. Previous postings can be found here, here, here, and here. If it seems like I have become a bit obsessed, it's ok. I can live with that. Some people have issues with spiders or snakes. Me? I simply want to rid the world of the pestilence that these rats with pretty tails have become.

The thing is, I think they know how much I truly loathe them. It isn't as though I have physically harmed them in any way, shape, or form (yet!) but trust me...they know. They are insidious that way. Those beady little squirrel eyes see all. I do believe that they are starting to concoct new methods of taunting me. I swear by all that is holy that I saw two of them the other day with their thumbs planted squarely in their ears as they mocked me with the squirrel version of "nya nya nya nya nya". 

Lately, they have devised something even more diabolical. I think that our property has become the training grounds for the 2013 Squirrel Olympics. (Host city to be determined at a later date.) Squirrels of all shapes, sizes, and colours have been leaping, jumping, diving, and running around our property as if going for the gold was the only purpose in their miserable little squirrel lives.

The mayhem begins promptly at daybreak. Two or three of the creatures have been using the newly screened-in eaves troughs that are mounted directly beneath our bedroom window as their personal practice track for the 100 metre squirrel dash. I hear them scurrying by and squealing with delight as they talk squirrel trash to those who bring up the rear. The morning exercises continue until all members of the team have had their opportunity to break in the new raceway. (A friend has helpfully suggested that we should set up tiny little metal barriers so that they might prepare for the 110 metre hurdles as well. My friends are so very sympathetic to my plight.) I have even taken to timing the little rat-bastards, and to their credit they are improving. It used to take a good two minutes to complete the morning ritual, but they are now down to about a minute and half.

And as if that weren't enough, I have witnessed rehearsals for gymnastics events whereby the little brutes are swinging from the high and uneven bars (depending on the sex of the squirrel, of course) using the tallest tree limbs, all whilst preparing death-defying dismounts filled with twists, somersaults, and backflips. Yesterday I saw a black squirrel dive off of the roof with his eyes fixed firmly on the swimming pool cover. Greg Louganis he wasn't. The dive itself wasn't bad, but I had to deduct two tenths of a point because he didn't quite stick the landing. Honestly, I think that the first freeze might bring out a few squirrel lugers cascading from the downspout.

Please help me. I am going....dare I say it....squirrely!! I just want some peace. If I promise to become a corporate sponsor and offer up all the acorns from my oaks to your cause, can we please take the Squirrel Games to somebody else's home? My sanity is depending upon it.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Shabbat Music Break

When I started these Shabbat Music Breaks a few years ago, I didn't set out to offer only women artists, but it certainly has worked out that way. I obviously have a propensity towards the woman's voice as some of my all-time favourite musicians carry the XX chromosome. This isn't at all a knock on the men. I just seem to gravitate towards my fellow females when searching for some kick back tunes.

Lucy Kaplansky began her career as part of the Greenwich Village folk scene along with her contemporaries Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega. A friend introduced me to her music about fifteen years ago and she has been a regular part of my iPod rotation ever since. As Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote "There's just no stopping those girls with guitars."

Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 8 November 2013

I Needed at Barf Bag

I love Tom Hanks as an actor.

As a fan of classic cinema, he reminds me a great deal of James Stewart. He takes on the roles of the "everyman". His characters always seem to be individuals who find strength in surviving the ordinary and the extraordinary of daily life. Mr. Hanks can be goofy (Volunteers 1985), heartbreaking (Philadelphia 1993), heartwarming (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 2011), innocent (Big 1988), loveable (Turner and Hooch 1989), romantic (Sleepless in Seattle 1993 and You've Got Mail 1998),  heroic (Saving Private Ryan 1998), stalwart (Apollo 13 1995), trusting (pick any Toy Story movie), modest (Forrest Gump 1994), imbued with quiet inner strength (Cast Away 2000), tenacious (Catch Me If You Can 2002), satirical (The Ladykillers 2004), and so very very human (Larry Crowne 2011). Even a mediocre film is often elevated in stature for me by the mere screen presence of Tom Hanks.

He is one of the main reasons that I wanted to see Captain Phillips. (As an aside, I am also chomping at the bit to see Saving Mr. Banks due out later this year, but that has as much to do with my Mary Poppins fanaticism as it does with Tom.) I remembered well the news stories of Captain Richard Phillips and his terrifying ordeal at the hands of Somalian pirates, and the movie had received universally excellent reviews. And so it was that The Husband and I ventured out last week to a local theatre with friends.

The movie was excellent...I think. I only managed to see half of it. Oh, I sat in the theatre for the entire duration of the film. It's just that I had to keep my eyes closed and my head between my knees for large chunks of it. You see, Captain Phillips made me seasick.

I have discussed my extreme motion sickness issues before, but I honestly never imagined that I would need Gravol and sea bands in a movie theatre. There were times during the film that I was concocting Rube Goldberg-like devices to metaphorically murder director Paul Greengrass in his sleep. He choose to give the audience that true and authentic feeling of what life at sea must really be like. Jerky motions with hand-held cameras and angles that were fleeting and skewed, played brilliantly into that nausea-inducing experience. Much of the film is viewed at sea level, and the perspective one receives of Captain Phillips himself trapped inside that horrible dinghy is highly kinetic and continually shifting. And...it had me reaching for an imaginary airsickness bag from the seat back in front of me.

The Husband was incredulous. This is a man who has seen it all when it comes to me and my inner ear disorder, but even he couldn't fathom how one could suffer from vertigo during a movie.

"It's not real," he whispered. "It's just a movie."

He kept pleading with me to remove my glasses and close my eyes. He was very much enjoying the film and didn't want to leave. And so....I lowered my head, prayed for the room to stop swaying, hoped beyond hope that my Twizzlers would stay down, and listened intently to the last forty or so minutes of what should have a been a great flick.

It took me a good ten minutes after the movie had ended for me to make my exit. You're laughing, aren't you? Well, you try descending stairs in a slightly darkened and undulating auditorium. My only saving grace is that I wasn't alone. Unbeknownst to me, my friend had undergone much the same experience and was tripping down the stairs directly in front of me. Twenty-four hours later and my equilibrium had still not perfectly centred.

Movie ratings boards provide helpful classifications so that audiences might be aware of sex, violence, and language contained within. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that it might be necessary to place a warning label on a film that cautions "Puking might occur during viewing. See at own risk." 

I still love Tom Hanks and from my limited viewing of the film he might just snag another Oscar nomination. But I think that I will choose to see something a bit less brutal next time. Maybe 12 Years a Slave?






Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Wise Men and Women of Toronto

Have you ever heard the tales of the Wise Men of Chelm?

In the great tradition and history of Jewish humour, Chelm is a fictional town located somewhere in Eastern Europe that is said to be inhabited by fools. The tales centre around the "wise men", i.e the deep thinkers, who find and postulate ridiculous answers and solutions to the town's quandaries.

A few examples.

One morning, a young housewife of Chelm noticed that something strange had occurred in her kitchen. After she had buttered her toast, the woman accidentally dropped it on the floor and the bread landed buttered side up. Now, everybody knows that this defied the laws of physical nature. Everybody knows that when a piece of toast is dropped it always falls buttered side down. All the great thinkers of Chelm were called and asked to figure out what had happened. They studied, prayed and fasted for three days. When they finally emerged from seclusion, they had their answer. Of course! The young women had simply buttered the wrong side of the toast.

The town of Chelm had decided to build an new synagogue. They enlisted the help of some of the strongest and ablest young men in the area to go to the mountaintop and gather the largest and heaviest stones for the foundation. The young men put they stones on their shoulders and trudged down the mountain toward the new synagogue location. "Fools," cried the wise men. "You should have rolled the rocks down the hill." Faced with their own stupidity the young men did the only thing that they could. They put the heavy rocks back on their shoulders, trudged back up the mountainside, and proceeded to roll them back down the hill.

I have been regaled with Chelm stories since my earliest days at synagogue religious school. I just never could have imagined that one day I actually might reside in Chelm.

Because that is exactly what Toronto has become. Chelm.

The utter stupidity that has engulfed this city for much of the past three years has been staggering. It probably isn't necessary to rehash the obvious, but for expediency here goes. Toronto has a mayor who has finally dropped his translucent veneer of idiocy. He has been caught with his pants on fire and has been exposed as a duplicitous individual of questionable character with a probable substance abuse problem that has been exacerbated by his cavorting with gang bangers, drug dealers, and others who have been indicted on a myriad of offences. (It doesn't even serve me to provide links to all of his misdeeds. Just click on any news outlet site from anywhere in the world this morning and there is  the whole sordid mess.) He has continually denied every accusation, publicly trashed the reputations of those who rightly called him on his shit, bullied his detractors with threats and innuendo, and sicked his attack dog of a brother on anybody who got close to his secret life of drug dens and "drunken stupours." He has lied repeatedly and broken the public trust to which he was elected.

His answer to all of this? "I am sincerely, sincerely, sincerely sorry."

No explanations for the illegal activity. No acknowledgment of his substance abuse. No elucidations of the very public meetings with drug dealers. No mea culpas for his racist and homophobic rants. No justification for the smear campaigns against some very reputable journalists and fellow politicians. No expounding on the almost four hundred pages of police documents that show hizzoner under surveillance for months. No elucidation of the now iconic photograph that displays the mayor of Toronto with his arms around three men in front of a reported crack house. (One of the men has since been murdered and another has been arrested on various drug offences.) Nothing, except blah blah blah....sorry sorry sorry....can't turn back the past....must move forward.

My kids did better with apologies at the age of 6.

And yet, there are those "wise men and women" of Toronto who are still behind the mayor. They've got his back.

"He's doing a great job," they say.

"Who care's what he does in his private life? Isn't he entitled to a private life?"

"Can't you see he's apologized? Enough already." 

And then there's my personal favourite.

"Of course I'd vote for him again. He's just a regular guy trying to lowering my taxes."

Chelm bullshit!!

The mayor of the fourth largest city in North America is entitled to a private life when his actions do not directly impact his job. We aren't talking about him taking his wife and kids to the movies, here. He signed up for this life and all its scrutiny. That is part of what being the chief magistrate of Toronto is all about. Being tanked and loaded while in full public view cannot and should never be a part of any mayor's private life. We will never know if he made important decisions for Toronto while bombed and in a "drunken stupour", but the possibility is there and as citizens we should all take tremendous offense at that. Cavorting with known criminals on a daily basis is a breach of his elected office. The city of Toronto is no longer simply grappling with an image problem (although I do believe there is an element to that thinking) but rather a business problem. If the CEO of any major corporation was caught screwing around on company time, he or she would be escorted from the building post haste.

And as for his apology? Well...he's been so very honest before, we should simply take him at his word. (That was sarcasm, Chelmites!)

This mayor has been an unmitigated public disaster and it is time for him to step aside and address his demons. But in typical Chelm fashion, there is no mechanism for his removal unless he himself chooses to walk away from the job. I have no doubt that he will stubbornly stay on and continue to spout his Chelmnian mantras until next October's election, but we here in the Big Smoke should be ashamed of our enabling his ongoing nonsense and particularly of our own stupidity.

So did you hear the latest in Canadian folklore? There are these great stories of the Wise Men and Women of Toronto.....







Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Blogging can be an emotional experience as I rediscovered with yesterday's post. Sometimes it just makes sense to stop and admire the wonders and beauty of the world around us. It is one of the reasons that I have decided to include a Mostly Wordless Wednesday into this year's submissions for blogapalooza. (That, and because as I have previously stated I am fundamentally lazy and these visual posts will eat up at least four days.) I thought that I might share some of the most beautiful natural experiences that I have had over this past year.

Today's photo comes from the southern part of the Northern Territory of Australia. We had the privilege of visiting Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) just as the sun was beginning to set. That said it was still almost 50 degrees celsius. I was moved by the religiosity of the site and the intense manner by which it is fiercely protected by Native Australians. It is so much more than mere sandstone in the Outback.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

PSP is No Game

PSP.

When I first Googled it, a lot of references to video games popped up. An unhappy coincidence to be certain because PSP is most definitely not a game.

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

A disease so new and so often misdiagnosed that even the word Supranuclear is challenged by my spellcheck. And yet....so very real and so very frightening.

When my father-in-law first started exhibiting symptoms of "something", we really weren't terribly concerned. He was a relatively young man of sixty-seven, and in spite of his pack to a pack and half a day smoking habit, he was in fairly good shape. Stunning, but true. He was carrying around a few extra pounds, but really....who isn't? He was a busy and still practicing attorney and he went to work every day. When he started to complain of fatigue and eye-strain, he just chalked it up to age.

But new glasses and less work didn't resolve the problems. The exhaustion was incapacitating and the eye movements more laboured. And then....the falls started. At first, they were just a few stumbles. A trip over a curb or a misstep into an elevator. But, he knew that something wasn't right. A trip to his doctor led to a consultation with a neurologist who determined that he must have Parkinson's Disease. All of the symptoms that he was exhibiting perfectly mirrored Parkinson's. But, he didn't have any tremors. Not to worry, said the neurologist. Not all Parkinson's patients present with tremors. He was given the accepted course of pharmaceutical treatment for the condition.

But, the drugs weren't working. There was no relief, no change in his condition, and in fact we noticed an increase in muscle stiffness and of some loss of basic cognitive function. The Husband had asked him to sign some checks, and he simply couldn't. Not because of an inability to write, but because he couldn't remember how. A second neurologist was visited and confirmed the diagnosis of Parkinson's. And then another....and another.

And the falls continued.

With regularity.

And the fender benders.

With regularity.

And then one day, he tumbled in the middle of a busy Toronto intersection at the height of the day. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to hospital. A wonderful geriatrician looked into his eyes and immediately knew the problem. It's always in the eyes. PSP patients' eyes don't track. There is weakness in the eye movements especially in a downward direction. That and some of the muscle weakness explained the constant falls. PSP is often misdiagnosed because doctors simply don't know to look at the eyes.

Orphan Disease. 

PSP is a neurodegenerative brain disease with no known cause, treatment or cure. A progressive condition that will rob patients of the the ability to move, eat, track movement, and eventually speak and swallow. A whole host of horrors. And we had already lost so much time to misdiagnosis.

Catastrophic illness affects so many. The patient to be sure, but everybody else who loves and cares about that person. There is so much to do, so much to think about, so little time to grieve.

He is in a care facility now, having lost all ambulatory function. We are so fortunate to have such loving and committed care workers with him. He barely speaks now. Each one-word sentence so labour intensive it often puts him to sleep. But, he is all there....inside. He isn't an Alzheimer's case. He has his mind. He understands everything and his memories are mostly intact. I have often wondered which is worse; trapped in a body without a mind or trapped in a mind without a body. Conclusion? They both suck. My father-in-law is the Tin Man, only without the benefit of an oilcan.

And so we carry on. But it is always there. As we go about the mundane tasks of our daily lives, it is always there...just beneath the surface....waiting for the next shoe to drop.

When a loved one suffers from cancer or heart disease the explanations are uncomplicated. Everybody understands.When a loved one suffers from an "orphan disease" the explanations becoming exhausting. What is clear to all of us as we struggle with this misery, is that PSP, in spite of what Google might think, is no game.

For more information about PSP and other degenerative neuromuscular disorders, please check out http://psp.org

Monday, 4 November 2013

Meatless Monday...The 2013 Edition

We are approaching an anniversary of sorts in our house. We are coming up on the fourth anniversary of The Husband and I adopting a completely vegetarian diet. While I have eaten mostly vegetarian for more than twenty-five years, The Husband took it on as a limited experiment. We both have had some grave moral concerns about factory farming and food supply insecurities over the years, and this was a way to demonstrate our commitment. We decided that this decision was for us and us alone, and that we would not become "preachy" in any way, shape, or form with our friends and family. How and what we choose to eat is our business.

It hasn't always been easy. Our two sons are still stunned at their father's rejection of a carnivore lifestyle and many of our friends feel as though they have lost a partner in their endeavours to achieve "meat sweats". But, we persevere. We have never felt better, healthier, and more aware of what we are putting into our bodies. We aren't perfect. There are still some steps to take, like a move to greater organic awareness and reducing our intake of the so-called "white foods" to even lower levels, but we are happy.

Recipe sourcing has always been a challenge, but it has become a shared activity. As a matter of fact, these Meatless Monday blogs have become some of my most widely read and shared posts over the last three years of Blog-a-palooza. Several friends have asked if they would be making a reappearance this month, because they too are searching for new and delicious vegetarian options for their families.

Catalan Sauteed Polenta & Edamame

This recipe was originally found at Eating Well. I have made a few personal changes like substituting edamame for butter beans to add protein and slicing the polenta and broiling it instead of stir-frying it. I like the way it holds together better. 

Ingredients

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 16-ounce tube prepared plain polenta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes or slices
1 clove garlic,minced
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked, plus more for garnish
1 cup frozen and shelled edamame
4 cups packed baby spinach
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup shredded Tex Mex Cheese (parmesan works as an lighter alternative)
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Preparations

1. Slice polenta and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a bit of garlic powder. Place under broiler until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes and then turn to do other side. Remove and set aside.

2. On medium heat, add 2 teaspoons of oil and garlic to a large non-stick skillet, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds.

3. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Sprinkle with paprika; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

5. Stir in beans, spinach and broth; cook, stirring, until the beans are heated through and the spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in cheese and vinegar. Serve vegetables over polenta. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Women Of The Wall at 25

I am conflicted.

It isn't all that unusual.

When it comes to the state of Israel, conflicted is a kind expression of my emotions.

Don't get me wrong. I believe strongly in the existence of the state and in its unique position as a haven for Jewish life, thought, education, culture, prayer, and growth. Israel is and always should be.

But, I am also a realist and a progressive. As a Jewish woman and citizen of the Jewish diaspora, I feel it is imperative to challenge some of Israel's more disturbing and misogynistic policies. The fact of the matter is that there are still many ideas and regulations within the state that are anathema to me. It is amazing that for many, these abhorrent laws have crystallized around the Kotel (The Western Wall) and the fight for equal recognition of women's tefillah (prayer) by the advocacy group Women of the Wall.

For twenty-five years this dedicated group, encompassing religiously diverse women and many men who support them, have been gathering at the Wall every month to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the new month. They come to the women's side of the mechitzah in order to pray their way; draped in tallitot (prayer shawls), covered in kippot, and ready to sing the prayers of Hallel. They read from the Torah and they celebrate as Miriam and the women did at the Sea. But, the orthodox rabbinate that controls the Wall and its plaza has become increasingly threatened by these women. They see them as an affront to all that they hold sacred, and have unleashed a torrent of hateful rhetoric upon them. These brave women have been catcalled. Epithets have been hurled in their direction while chairs, eggs and other projectiles thrown at them from the men's side. And when the abuse was at its very worst, they have been arrested, searched, relieved of their precious religious items, and held without charge. All because they wished to pray at Judaism's holiest site.

And through it all they have persisted. They have shown up every month, rain or shine, to daven. Lately, however their persistence has shown moderate signs of progress. The Knesset has been attempting to work out a compromise between WoW and the rabbis who oppose them. The battle is not yet over, but it does finally seem to be moving in a positive direction.

Today, as we prepare to welcome the new month of Kislev, the Women of the Wall are getting ready to celebrate their 25th anniversary. They will be commemorating this occasion in much the same way as they have every previous Rosh Chodesh over the past quarter of a century, with prayer and reverence at the Wall. I wish that I could be there to join them, but I hope that they take this meagre offering as a sign of my unwavering support and solidarity.

This prayer was written by Rabbi Sue Mauer Morningstar of Ashland Oregon.

To my dear Kotel sisters, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5774,

Although I cannot be with you to celebrate our 25th anniversary, I send out this prayer and my love to you:

May the Holy One who blessed our ancestors Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah, Rachael, Bilhah and Zilpah, bless all of the Nashot Hakotel and our supporters with strength, courage, perseverance and divine grace.  In the merit of our ancestors who sang out to God with their full beings in a strong voice, Miriam, Channah, Devorah, Serach bat Asher, the Shulamite and the women who came out to greet King David,  in the name of Michal, Bruriah and Rashi’s daughters,  in the memory of our Bubbies, many of whom were kept behind the mechitzah and out of cheders and yeshivot and colleges, and in humble recognition of our sisters in repressive religious regimes around the world today who are not free to sing out and to worship God in joy, may all women be free to worship God, each in her own way, because the time for silencing women is over!  “Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash!”, sing out to God a new song!

Amen, may it be so.



Saturday, 2 November 2013

Shabbat Music Break

Shabbat is a time of rest, relaxation, and introspection. I can't imagine a better artist to help facilitate that process than Shawn Colvin. I had the pleasure of hearing her perform live a few weeks ago together with her good friend Mary Chapin Carpenter. They did an intimate acoustic concert that gave off an ambience that felt as though they were singing in my living room. Shotgun Down the Avalanche was a highlight that evening. Here Shawn performs it with another of my all-time favourites, Alison Krauss. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 1 November 2013

Welcome Back November...You Are a Cruel Month

November Night

Adelaide Crapsey (1922)

Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

November can be a cruel month here in the north. The days grow shorter, darker and colder. November doesn't have the flashy beauty of October nor does it carry the festivity of December. It is the middle child of autumn, with a goal of simple survival for many. Seasonal Affective Disorder abounds as cranky citizens strive for a sense of balance. Some exercise. Some load up on vitamins. Some binge eat. Me? I vent. Loudly and openly.

It is why I use November as my annual foray into National Blog Post Month. The discipline of having to crank out thirty posts in thirty days is a welcome distraction from the grey that can be the eleventh month. This is my third consecutive November journey into blogapalooza and once again I dive in with a mix of fear, trepidation, and maybe just a bit of apathy. I will do my best to fill this space on a daily basis, but I should warn all readers that as I have aged I have discovered a hard truth about myself....I no longer feel the overwhelming need to impress. Therefore there will be some cop-out posts such as a return to my Meatless Monday recipes and my absolutely necessary Shabbat Music Breaks on Saturdays. Even NaBloPoMo participants deserve a sabbath. I will also be adding an Almost Wordless Wednesday feature. (I know myself far too well to even pretend that it can be entirely wordless.) A photograph can convey so much that simple words cannot, but mostly I am adding it because I am fundamentally lazy and this feature will eat up at least four more days. 

And so...we begin. May this November pass with distinction and may all participants in NaBloPoMo find creativity in the everyday. Oh...and may God have mercy on all of our souls. Too much??

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Blog Elul Day 29-Return

This is the final Blog Elul post for the year. Thank you to everyone who followed and commented. I appreciated all of the feedback. May we all learn the lessons of Elul well, and may the new year bring health, happiness, and peace to all. Shana Tova U'metukah.


"The Holy One, blessed be God, said to Israel: 'My children, present to me a single opening of repentance, small like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you entrances through which wagons and carriages can pass.'" –Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:3


"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."~Nelson Mandela

True repentance returns and renews our balance.

I Wish I Could Go Back to College (from Avenue Q) Music and Lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Blog Elul Day 28-Give

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”~Muhammad Ali

"Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity. This is the highest step and summit of charity's golden ladder."~Maimonides

Music and the Mirror (from A Chorus Line) Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Edward Kleban



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Monday, 2 September 2013

Blog Elul Day 27-Intend

"Our Jewish path to inner awareness begins with kavanah. Our meditative lives as Jews could not be complete without it, for it is the steering wheel of all inner consciousness work."~Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi

Prayer without intention is hollow and devoid of meaning.

My New Philosophy (from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Blog Elul Day 26-Hope


"Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all."~Emily Dickinson

Love begins with hope.

Gold (from Once) Music and Lyrics by Fergus O'Farrell



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 25-Begin

"All beginnings require that you unlock a new door."~Reb Nachman of Bratslav

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”~T.S. Eliot

Circle of Life (from The Lion King) Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Friday, 30 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 24-End

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'."~Erma Bombeck

A life well-lived is not necessarily an ending, but rather a blueprint for beginnings.

I'm Still Here (from Follies) Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim


**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 23-Love

“Love is not blind - it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.”~Rabbi Julius Gordon

Seasons of Love (from Rent) Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 22-Dare

 “A person will be called to account on Judgement Day for every permissible thing he might have enjoyed but did not.”~ Talmud

A person's life cannot be considered complete until she steps up and takes chances to do those things which takes her out of her comfort zones.

"Because of our routines we forget that life is an ongoing adventure."~Maya Angelou

Don't Rain on My Parade (from Funny Girl) Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Bob Merrill



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 21-Change

"You change the world when you change your mind."~Cyndi Lauper (from Kinky Boots)

The Sex is in the Heel (from Kinky Boots) Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Monday, 26 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 20-Judge

"But repentance, prayer, and charity temper judgement's severe decree." (from U'netaneh tokef liturgy; High Holidays)

Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat (from Guys and Dolls) Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Blog Elul Day 19-Ask

"Hillel taught...A person who is too shy to ask questions will never learn, and a teacher who is too strict cannot teach."~Pirkei Avot (2:5)

It is a moral imperative to never cease from asking questions and from discovering the wonders of the universe. If we become staid, unwilling to be critical, and too conservative in our thinking we fail ourselves and future generations.

All I Ask of You (from Phantom of the Opera) Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Charles Hart with additions by Richard Stilgoe



**Blog Elul is the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Her blog and various links can be found at http://imabima.blogspot.com