Sunday, 30 November 2014

Another November Happy Dance

Today is the final day of both National Blog Posting Month and, more importantly, of the Rob Ford era. Yay!!! Both are occasions for happy dancing. Congratulations to all who made it through both.

First we posted.

Now we dance!!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Shabbat Music Break

This is the last in my month-long series of women in rock whom I believe have been snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today's entry is Melissa Etheridge

Melissa became eligible for admission last year, but has not yet received a nomination. Male fronted bands who began in the same era as did she, including The Red Hot Chili Peppers (inducted) and Green Day (nominated this year), have already found their way onto the committee's radar.

She is a two time Grammy award winner for for Best Rock Performance female and she has been nominated another thirteen times in various Grammy categories. Her 1993 album Yes I Am spent 138 weeks on the charts and was certified 6x platinum. As a matter of fact, her first five albums went platinum or higher. Her discography boasts of fifteen long play albums, mostly consisting of songs that she herself composed. She also won the Academy Award for Best Song in 2007 for "I Need to Wake Up" from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. 

Melissa has been a fearless social advocate for gay rights, the environment, and breast cancer awareness. Her driving performance of Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart while bald and weak from chemotherapy stopped the 2005 Grammy Awards and is still considered to be one of the all-time greatest live performances. Melissa is still a fixture on tour, hard-rocking it out with both her signature six and twelve-string Ovations, and it is my opinion that her induction into the Rock Hall is only a matter of time.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Secret of Life

I'm often asked if I have a favourite song.

What a ridiculous question. It is a bit like asking if I have a favourite droplet of water or a favourite atom. There are simply too many to count.

But, I do have a special place reserved for certain songs that evoke certain memories and certain emotions. James Taylor's Secret of Life off of his 1977 release JT is one of those passion-fuelling pieces.

** I ask that you please listen to the song before reading on, even if you are well acquainted with it. It will make the rest of this piece make so much more sense. 


The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time....

It seems to me that we so often dwell on trying to maintain the past and focusing on the future, that we forget to live in the present. We need to relish the mundane and see the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to focus on the beauty all around us and treasure those dearest to us.

A year ago at this time I thought that my world was as it always had been. I had no thoughts about loss or pain. Those closest to me were happily going about their lives and we all were enjoying the passage of time. I loved carelessly and I valued less. I never foresaw the change that was coming.

The secret of love is in opening up your heart....

Our loves define us. We are who we are simply because of the people we allow in. Our loves mould us, shape us, and provide us with the clarity and foundation necessary to give us full form.

A year ago at this time my illusions and my childhood were about to come crashing down. I desperately wish she was still here. I desperately long for one more minute, one more hour, one more day. I wish I could have said goodbye, to tell her how much she was loved. But I wouldn't trade the pain of that soul-crushing and devastating loss for never having had her in my life. I love her as earnestly and as fervently today as I ever did. I am acutely aware of the hole that will never be filled.

The thing about time is that time isn't really real....

Time is the great equalizer. It affects us all and there is absolutely nothing we can do to halt its relentless march forward.

Nearly a year ago at this time I wished I could stop the clock. I wished I could erase it all and I wished that I could pretend it wasn't real. I railed at the undeserved, the unmerited, the unjustified. I railed at God. I didn't want to remember. I wanted to forget.

Last spring when we were cleaning out her things, I asked for this.



It's absolutely nothing. A few beads held together by those tiny and ubiquitous pink breast cancer ribbons. Being a survivor, she felt obliged to pay a few dollars for it at a local craft show years ago, and she kept it on one of her purses. I took it from her things and it is now dangling on my purse. I often find myself rubbing it like worry beads or perhaps, a non-religious rosary. It takes me back in time. It allows me to relive memories. It reminds me of who she was and how essential a role she played in me becoming me. As if I could ever forget.

Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race.

As we come oh so close to Yahrezeit, I can now smile a bit through the tears. I am able to recall the joy even as I still acutely feel the sorrow. I am truly a work in progress as I try to remember the Secret of Life.





Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Greatest Fear

Fear of flying?

You have aviophobia.

Fear of spiders?

Arachnophobia.

Are you ailurophobic? Then you have a fear of cats. (Can't say that I blame you for that one. Strange and diffident creatures, perpetually going through life with their middle fingers in the air.)

How about emetophobia? It is a fear of vomiting. Personally, I gave up that particular one a long time ago. When you have puked in front of as many strangers as I have, you tend to just go with the flow.

While I can't honestly say that I would actively court encounters with any of the above, none of them constitute my greatest fear. I'm not even certain that there is a name for that which causes some of my greatest angst.

The thing that I fear most, that thing that sends me into night terrors, that which truly gives me the heebie-jeebies, is the realization that Hollywood is about to transform one of my all-time favourite books or plays into a film. Oh the humanity!!

It is often difficult for me to explain to people the emotions that develop when I am truly moved by great art. When a phenomenal piece is presented to me, either on stage or on the page, I feel as though a part of my soul has been altered. The author or performers have managed to reach deep down into the depths of my being and stir something that has lay dormant for far too long. Those exquisite bits of beauty gifted to me as an audience member are precious, and I become extraordinarily protective of them. And while I appreciate re-interpretation and reimagining of classic creations, I only ask that they be done with dignity, taste, and an understanding of the artist's original intent. Can anybody honestly say that any of those qualities are on regular display in Hollywood adaptations? And so....I worry.

This December's polar vortex of such fretful re-vampings has me quaking in my Uggs. It all begins next Thursday with the live television event showing of Peter Pan, starring that ubiquitous name from musical theatre....Allison Williams.


Who?

Yes, I have watched Girls and yes, I know who she is. I do so want her to smash the role and I hope that she does. I desperately want this type of television programming to be a success. Bringing live musical theatre to millions of people at a time can only increase its waning profile and hopefully its appreciation. But at what cost? The live production of The Sound of Music last year proved fairly conclusively that a pretty voice and a big name does not an actress make. My biggest fear with Ms. Williams is not necessarily in her acting chops, but rather does she have the musical theatre background, that is the voice and choreography skills, to carry it off? Has NBC learned its production lessons from last year's sometimes nightmarish and awkward performance, and can a play that features kids, a dog, and flying through the rafters....all happening in real time on live TV.....overcome those obstacles? I do so want to be pleasantly surprised but....

Next on my December viewing worry list is Lifetime's two day "event" airing of Anita Diamant's brilliant novel/midrash The Red Tent. I read this magnificent book in a single afternoon. I simply could not put it down, and years later it still evokes a myriad of emotion. (One of my biggest regrets in life was forgetting to bring my worn copy of the book to the URJ Biennial in Washington where Ms. Diamant was a keynote speaker. I would have hunted her down for an autograph.) Handing this magnificent bit of feminist Jewish writing over to the hacks at Lifetime is akin to allowing Mickey Ds to cater a White House state dinner. I am honestly getting the dry heaves imagining the strong and virtuous women of Diamant's opus being depicted as Dance Moms or Real Prison Wives. And though it would be easy to suggest that I don't watch the miniseries, I almost feel that it is my obligation to be there to protect the vision; to remind people who don't know better that there is brilliance there. Oh God...please let it be good.



Finally...there is the Christmas Day release of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods, one of my all-time favourite stage musicals. Sondheim's plays have been notoriously difficult to put on film. Just check out the movie versions of Sweeney Todd or the vintage A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His music is extremely challenging for the average musical movie goer's ear, and even more challenging for the average movie actor or actress to pull off and sing well. It's why the best performers of Sondheim's work are not household names to most. They exist almost exclusively within that wonderful bubble of live theatre and are rarely cast in big budget Hollywood extravaganzas. Hello Bernadette Peters. I do admit to seeing some light in the casting tunnel for this movie, however. There are some real voices there amongst the younger set, and anything that has Meryl Streep hamming it up as the Witch can't be all bad, but still there are the nagging worries. I have already been forewarned about changes to the story and song list that include doing away with the character of The Mysterious Man and the elimination of the wonderful song he sings with The Baker, No More. I realize that most people won't care one whit about any of this minutia , but these are the same people that seem to be okay with Cameron Diaz playing Miss Hannigan in the latest iteration of Annie. All I'm saying is that it matters to me.


My new daughter-in-law tells me that I should learn to just enjoy what is presented to me and not analyze everything so much. She is correct, of course. I would probably live longer if I could simply go with the flow about these really trivial matters and just be a regular audience member. But the problem is that I do feel as though greatness is being tampered with. It is a bit like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa or having the cast of the Simpsons sing Carmen. In my mind, it destroys the artists' visions of what they saw and how they originally presented it to their audiences. I am fiercely protective of those images and emotions.

I can only hope that my worst fears aren't realized.










Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

My final Almost Wordless Wednesday image for this year's blogfest is from Rosh Hashana this year. As I explained in yesterday's post, The Husband and I spent the second day of the holiday hiking near our home and finding new ways of connecting with our Judaism. It was a perfect September morning as I blew the shofar.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

When Prayer is No Longer Easy

I used to get paid to pray.

I realize how utterly crass and unappetizing that must sound, and in truth it is a gross oversimplification of what my position as a cantorial soloist was all about, but there is some veracity in the statement. A huge chunk of the job description was all about leading the congregation in prayer, and I took tremendous pride in the sourcing of inspirational liturgical settings, as well as songs from outside of the synagogue, that would aid my community in the facilitation of their personal and collective davening. 

And yet....

Several years ago I began to feel like a fraud. My personal conversation with The Divine Spirit, which had always flowed so freely and unencumbered had, over time, become stale, stilted, and, so very gruelling. There was no specific incident that led to this frustration. No renaissance moment, no lightening bolt. It was a gradual process. The words on the page had become rote, and the music, in which I had previously taken so much comfort, began to seem ordinary and uninteresting. It felt like a huge part of the foundation on which I had built my entire life was crumbling, and I honestly had no idea how to deal with it.

There were times when I wished for atheism. I wondered if lack of belief was more liberating than my  personal struggles. But absence of faith was never my problem. Rather, I had become distressed that the old, comfortable ways of engaging had abandoned me. I questioned my spirituality. Oh, how I loathe that word. To me, it is a catchall phrase designed to offer deistic comfort where none exists, and it fails me miserably.  How could I be an effective leader of prayer if I simply couldn't find the will to engage in my own?

My recent retirement has afforded me some much needed time to ponder the dilemma. I have taken a step back from the established prayer service, and I have attempted to discover new and non-traditional ways to facilitate my personal dialogue with God. It has been frightening to abandon my comfort zone. When The Husband and I took one of the days of Rosh Hashana this year to hike through some trails near our home rather than attend synagogue, I will admit to some deep and profound feelings of guilt. (We Jews are nothing without a good dose of guilt.) But as we blew the shofar in the woods and performed our own personal tashlich (the ritual casting out of sins) in the Don River, I felt my personal connection with The Divine Spirit repair just a wee bit. I knew that God was there that day and we began the slow and painful process of reengaging our conversation.

And so, I will persist in my attempts to rediscover that which has been lost, to repair that which has been damaged, and I will continue the search for meaningful new prayer rituals.  They might include Shabbat walks on the beach when I head south, or they might involve some new practices in yoga or meditation. I haven't yet decided on the path, but I have the freedom now to experiment. I have, however, realized that my personal connection with God hasn't disappeared, it has merely been transformed. It is now up to me and my perseverance to enact the changes necessary to maintain the relationship. To me, it is one worth saving.

Kein Y'hi Ratzon. May this be God's will.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Meatless Monday

We're here! It's the final Meatless Monday of the month. Today I offer you a wonderful vegetarian chili that uses quinoa as it's base.

Dear friends of ours hold a Chili Bowl every March, and this past year I was finally able to attend. The idea is to create a uniquely tasting chili, something that is pleasing to the masses yet different enough to attract attention. This recipe was my spin on a hearty southwestern flavoured dish that used all vegetarian ingredients. Surprisingly enough to this rookie Chili Bowl attendee, it won "Most Trendy Chili" of the evening. It still amuses me because I certainly don't consider quinoa trendy anymore, but apparently my meat-eating friends do. By the way...the cutesy name is an integral part of the contest. Enjoy.

Quinoa Chili (a.k.a Quinoa-n of You Show Me The Way to Santa Fe)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 Onion, diced
2 cups quinoa
2 cans (19ml) fire roasted tomatoes
1 can (19ml) tomato sauce
1 can (4.5 ounce) Chipoltle peppers with Adobo sauce, chopped (use less if smoky and spicy is not your thing)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1-2 teaspoons chipoltle tabasco sauce (more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn kernels
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 avocado, seeded, peeled, and diced
shredded cheese

Directions:

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions become translucent, about 2-3 minutes

2. Stir in quinoa, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chipoltles with adobo sauce, chili powder, cumin, paprika, sugar, tabasco, coriander, and 1-2 cups of water, making sure to cover most of the ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until thickened about 30 minutes. Stir in beans, corn, lime juice, and cilantro. (If it gets too thick, add more water and cook down.)

4. Serve topped with avocado and cheese, if desired.

** I apologize for no photo. I honestly forgot to take one. I promise it looks as good as it tastes.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Husband's Wedding Speech....Finally!

We have a guest post today.

I was finally successful in my begging and pleading with The Husband, and he has graciously relented to the publishing of the speech he gave at Younger Son's and His B'shert's recent nuptials. His reticence has been based mostly on the fact that he was concerned it would lose impact and import if it is merely read as opposed to actually witnessing the exceptional presentation he gave that evening. I am absolutely convinced that he has nothing to worry about on this account, and that considering the deals I had to make with devil in order for him to agree (you really shouldn't ask for the details on a family-style blog), I know that you will also nod your heads in assent. (This is the part where you all obediently nod your heads vigourously.) So, here it is. A first for this blog. A guest post from The Husband. And....it conveniently strips another day of NaBloPoMo off of the calendar.

Wedding Speech (From the Father of the Groom)

I know what most of you are thinking right now. The answer is... about five minutes. I've been to a lot of weddings in the last year, and despite the heartfelt and passionate nature of all the speeches I've heard, I can't recall a single detail about any of them, so I take great comfort in the fact that none of you will remember this either.

I wasn’t sure where to start when preparing this speech, so I consulted father-of-the-groom-speeches.com. I found there a template for a father-of-the-groom speech that I thought I would follow. In other words, How To Write a Speech in Seven Easy Steps. So here we go.

Step 1: “Start with an inspirational quote, or a short poem”. Upon proofreading this speech, Dawn vetoed my poem. Some nonsense about off-colour limericks not being wedding appropriate. So, I decided to go with an inspirational quote from one of our favourites, Ogden Nash:

“To keep your marriage brimming,
 With love in the loving cup, 
Whenever you're wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you're right, shut up.

Step 2: Next on the father-of-the-groom speech template is welcoming guests. Dawn and I are so incredibly honoured by your presence here tonight. Today is truly momentous, but it is being able to share it with all of you, our friends and family, old and new, that makes it extraordinary. So many of you have travelled great distances in order to be here, and that is a testament as to how important K and L are to you. For that we are grateful and we thank-you all for celebrating with us. At the same time, we can’t help but think of cherished loved ones who are absent this evening. We miss Aunty Marlene deeply and know how much she was looking forward to this day. We are terribly sad that Zaidy Milton is not well enough to be here, but we know that he is thinking of us tonight.

Step 3: The template tells me that it is now mandatory to welcome the bride to the family. This seems a little redundant. L, you are so outgoing, friendly and caring that you fit right into our family, immediate and extended, very quickly. No easy task, given our substantial motley crew. Clearly family is very important to you. We can hardly remember when you were not “one of us”. L, there is no doubt that all that you are and all that you have become is because of your roots. We are so privileged to be able to call John, Robin and Josh family.
We know how hard it was for you to leave home and move north of the border. Canada might not have all of the qualities of the civilized world that you are accustomed to in Aurora, Ohio, but we’re trying. We have Panera, DSW, and, if you give it a chance, Target. Nordstrom is coming next year, and maybe someday DQ will offer chocolate soft serve. Don’t worry about mastering kilometres, celsius, litres and kilograms. We’re bilingual and will understand you when you talk miles, fahrenheit, gallons and pounds. We don’t have a provincial college that we’re all supporters of, but we are determined to make you feel at home, so I want to announce that, henceforth, our family will adopt the Buckeyes as our official team.

Step 4: It says here that I “must compliment the bride”. Now, anyone that knows me will understand, I don’t like being told I must do something. Its pretty much a foolproof way of ensuring that I won’t do it. So, L, you’ll understand that what I am about to say is not because I’m being forced to. You really look so beautiful tonight. You should be so very proud of all the work you did in making this celebration happen beyond just saying “yes” to K. You are gregarious, accomplished, strong-minded, independent, and intuitive. And, on top of all of that, we think your taste in men is impeccable.

Step 5: The instructions are very explicit. I quote: “Congratulate son for choosing such a lovely wife, but be careful not to exaggerate with the compliments. You must be sincere and tell only what you really think, if that doesn’t offend anyone, of course. So, in your father of the groom toast you shouldn’t say what others want to hear from you, if you really don’t feel that way. Because, if you lie, the guests will figure out and you will make a bad impression.” Okay, I’ll be sincere and I hope I won’t offend anyone. K, we want to congratulate you for choosing such a lovely wife! No, really. I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely believe you have found a truly lovely partner. Congratulations. Sincerely.

Step 6: This is the part of the speech where I’m instructed to tell you all about my son. Anybody who knows K will confirm that he is highly intelligent, creative, fun-loving, and sensitive. I could go on and on about his love of music, movies, theatre, and Maple Leafs hockey. He is a dedicated and loyal friend and a caring and compassionate brother, son and grandson. You know we love you dearly, K, but truly the best word to describe you is....GEEK! Really.... a true fanboy! We always knew that when something excited K he would talk increasingly faster, louder, and ad-nauseum about whatever had caught his interest. He still does. To see this for yourself, just ask Kyle about Batman, Superman, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Video Games, Pokemon, Superhero movies, the new TV season, Super Mario, Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, or the latest release of Unix, iOS, or OSX, or the latest iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. He is our very own, Leonard Hofstadter. L, is it true that K is taking you to Comic-Con for your honeymoon?

Step 7: The final stage of a father-of-the-groom speech is to give some advice for married life. It is suggested that I draw upon my own experience, but that I be careful to not offend anyone, especially my wife. (Don’t look so worried, Dawn.) Well, I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of marriage advice, both serious and funny. There are no shortage of jokes about marriage and a myriad of relationship self- help books published. Everyone has their own advice and you’ll find a lot of conflicting ideas. But we do have some serious advice for you that has served us well for almost thirty years. Mom and I firmly believe that you shouldn’t take anyone’s marriage advice, including ours. This marriage is your’s and L’s. You have to find what works for you and what makes the two of you happy. Keep on talking, keep on loving, keep on enjoying. The rest will take care of itself. We love you both. Mazel Tov!!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Shabbat Music Break

Today's edition of "Women who Should Be in the Rock Hall but Aren't" features the amazing Pat Benatar. Pat has always been a trailblazer and a true original in the rock world. In fact, she didn't even start out singing rock until her early twenties. Classically trained with thoughts about opera and musical theatre, she turned down a spot at Julliard in order to pursue a very different musical dream. Armed with that killer voice, a high kinetic stage presence, and an image of tough sexuality, Pat charged up the charts in the '80s and '90s. She is a four-time Grammy winner for Best Female Rock Vocalist and was nominated three additional times. Two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and 15 top 40 singles, including three Top 10 hits, should have solidified her entrance into the Hall, but sadly she has never once been nominated. What more does see need to do to be considered?

**Note: I really wanted to use a live version for this song so that you could witness Pat's performing prowess. The problem here is that there is a full minute of audience screaming before the song begins. Skip ahead to about 1:03.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Writing Every Day is Hard

Well, here we are almost three full weeks into this blogapalooza and I think that I am hitting the wall. It says a great deal about how scarce good post ideas are when I am sitting here on my couch, examining my toes, and thinking about sermonizing on the need for a quality pedicure. (I really need one, for your information.) The creative process involved in spitting out thirty posts in thirty days is incredibly draining, and I believe it has me acting a bit wacky.  Yesterday I willingly surfed through Buzzfeed and Reddit, searching for any kernel of an idea that could be fittingly converted into a post. When that happens, I know I'm desperate.

I have learned a few things about this writing stuff during this incredibly arduous process however, both about myself and about others who have taken up the challenge. So in no particular order.....

  • Writing every day is HARD! Writing well every day is next to impossible. Yesterday I was watching an interview with the brilliant and pithy Aaron Sorkin, writer and creator of the West Wing, The American President, The Newsroom and so much more. (Oh why can't I be brilliant and pithy?) To me, he is the gold standard of superstar scribes. Sorkin described his bad writing days as his "resting pulse", meaning that on most days his work just bites the big one. Now I think most of us would open a vein to experience just one of Aaron Sorkin's worst writing days, but the message is loud and clear. Most writing is crap and should never be shared with the world. (This blogpost notwithstanding of course, because I need it to fill a day for NaBloPoMo.)
  • A writer's best and worst friend can be a thesaurus. I have read far too many items this month where it was so blatantly obvious the author had his/her face buried in Roget's. Mr. Wall, my high school English teacher was right all those years ago when he said "Just keep it simple." The best pieces are the easiest to read. 
  • I get my best ideas in the shower. Truth. That is my alone time with no distractions. It is weird how thoughts just clarify while the hot water is cascading down. The problem is I have spent far too much time in the shower this month. My fingers are in a perpetual state of prunage. 
  • When Edmund Kean allegedly uttered "Tragedy is easy; comedy is hard" all those years ago, I believe that he may have been foreshadowing a blogging extravaganza like NaBloPoMo. I desperately want to write fun and droll pieces that will entertain. The problem is, is that I am not Nora Ephron nor am I Tina Fey. Finding one's own voice and sometimes making it humorous is perhaps the most difficult thing that I continue to struggle with throughout this process. Bear with me. I am learning.
  • The best posts are those that are true. My blog is a non-fiction chronicle. I am not attempting a fictitious account of life's aggravating moments. Maybe someday I will get to that point, but for now, what you see is what you get. The readers can tell if I am bullshitting them and they love to call me out on it, so telling the stories in a straightforward and honest manner is always the most prudent path. 
  • Here are my apologies for the month. We Jews call them the Al Cheyts. (It's a Yom Kippur thing.) I'm sorry if my grammar has been less than stellar. I'm sorry if I haven't been diligent enough in my proofreading. I'm sorry if I have been pedantic or worse yet, boring. I'm sorry if I have relied too heavily on pop culture or internet memes for my posts. (I really do hate that stuff, but I've been desperate for ideas.) I'm sorry if I've sounded preachy. (I'm working on that.) I'm sorry if I have repeated myself. (I honestly can't remember many of the posts I wrote for NaBloPoMos of years past.) I'm sorry if I have flooded your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram feeds with notices of my posts. It's coming to an end, I promise.

So here we are. I'm still standing and hacking away after twenty-one days. If you are one of my three to five diligent followers, I thank you. I will try and keep it interesting for the final week. Or....you might get an up close and personal look at my new toenail colour.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

His Legacy

For the last month or so, The Husband and I have been watching a new series from Showtime called The Affair. (Here in Canada it airs on TMN.) This is not a show for everybody's tastes. It is a provocative program that is all at once brilliantly maddening, gut-wrenching, difficult to watch at times, and certainly not for the lackadaisical TV viewer who might find entertainment value in Lifetime's nauseating Prison Wives Club. The Affair is one of those rare pieces viewed on television that actually elevates the medium to an art form. It demonstrates what can be accomplished when true skill is applied and performed. Those moments are rare in an industry that these days makes a star out of somebody as talentless as Kim Kardashian. It is my belief that because we so desperately seek diversion and amusement from all the crap in our everyday lives, we have forgotten how infrequent an occurrence genuine craftsmanship is in the entertainment world, and how touched we are when those authentic moments of artistry actually do happen.

We have become lazy audiences. We have accepted dross because we are either too exhausted or too voyeuristic to insist on better. We haven't allowed ourselves to be moved by those authentic voices and instead we are taken in by the hucksters that desperately seek fame at all costs. We have become junk food consumers when it comes to entertainment, and our intellectual capacities are being atrophied by the continual barrage of crap.

We tend to apply the term genius far too liberally in the performing art world. Winning an Oscar or a Tony does not make one a genius, nor does recording a video that millions watch on YouTube. Rather, I would submit, that genius can be found in discovering an authentic voice and being able to reinvent that voice time and again in a variety of media. Not every painter is Picasso, nor is every actor Meryl Streep. But when that bit of brilliance shines through, even for a moment, we are transformed and transported into a morass of emotion.

Mike Nichols was a genius. A true genius. The fact that one doesn't even have to recognize his name to know and appreciate his work speaks to his genius. Mike Nichols imparted in his audiences an ability to contemplate that transcended the piece being performed. We saw a generosity of comedic spirit in his work with Elaine May. There was the extreme pathos he wanted us to envision in Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, and there was the loving camaraderie he encouraged out of Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple. He saw brilliance in the raw talents of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and so many others, and he mentored them to greatness. Mike Nichols never played to the lazy audience. His work required a certain level of attention and engagement. In a 1965 interview with The National Observer he stated:
“I’ve always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another, and wishing they were doing a third. The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That’s what interests me most.”
The legacy of Mike Nichols shouldn't be our regurgitation of crap from reality television, nor should it be plunking down the price of a movie ticket on junk. We the audience owe it to Mike Nichols to be far more demanding in our viewing habits. I'm not saying that we should all like or appreciate the same performance. Art is certainly subjective. But perhaps we can attempt to step outside our comfort zones for a bit, and give real attention to something as difficult to digest as The Affair.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Here is the third in this month's series of Almost Wordless Wednesdays whereby I present you with stunning images that I witnessed this year. Today I take you to my happy place. I ascend to a special stratum when I visit Broadway and see a brilliant new musical up close and personal. The emotions send me soaring.

This past spring, The Husband and I sojourned once again to the bright lights and big city. My early purchase of tickets to If/Then was truly inspired. I have had the privilege of seeing Idina Menzel live several times before and was duly influenced by those past experiences. That woman's voice just does something to my insides. The adventure did not disappoint. The play is not for the lazy theatre goer nor the casual musical fan. It requires tremendous thought and attention, but the rewards are magical. Because the show was written specifically for Ms. Menzel by the creative team that brought you Next to Normal, and because she carries every single powerful scene, it is difficult to imagine another actress in the role. If you are in the New York area, catch it while she is still on board.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Search for Joy, Find Peace

So. Much. Sadness.

The news out of Jerusalem this morning made me want to retreat back under the blankets and hibernate until June.

So. Much. Misery.

Watching the images this morning of another family of another aid worker murdered, made my body convulse with pain.

So. Much. Injustice.

Hearing about more social unrest in Ferguson made me want to weep.

Where do we search for comfort? Where do we find joy?

And so...

I willed my body out of bed refusing to yield to the temptation of retreat.

I saw hope in the November sunshine, even though the temperatures were clearly yelling "January!!"  

I wrenched myself onto the treadmill with willful purpose, and I ran 5K with coughing determination. I focused on every breath I took, and reminded myself that in each of those breaths was life.

I worked out in a retro camp t-shirt and recalled some of life's better days.

I listened to Melissa Etheridge and was renewed by her pulsating guitar and cut-to-the-bone lyrics.

I showered and let the hot water restore both body and soul.

I watered my plants and saw this.


Esah Einai el he-harim, me-ayin yavo ezri? 

I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? (Psalm 121:1)

It comes from within. It comes from the daily miracles. It comes from an ingrained faith that things can get better. It comes from me.

This poem is by Rabbi Zoƫ Klein

If God Would Go on Sick Leave: A Poem of Peace

Nowhere is there more prayer.
The Nuns at the Holy Sepulchre.
The faithful at Al Aqsa Mosque.
The worshippers at the Wall.
The call to prayer at dawn and dusk
Warbling from the citadels.
The church bells,
The Persian trills,
The passion spilled over texts
From every major/minor religious sect.

Nowhere is there more prayer than Jerusalem,
Thanks be to God, Hamdilala, Baruch Hashem.
And yet,
I'm starting to think that it's You and not them,
God, what's the point of prayer?

If there's nowhere where
There's more prayer,
And terror reigns
Then, Who's to blame?

If suddenly, without a whisper goodbye,
Jesus, Allah, Adonai,
The three men they admire most
All took the last train for the coast,

And the Moslems got up from their knees
And the Christians put down their rosaries
And the Jews stayed their hands from kissing
Their mezuzahs,
And everyone looked up,
And realized something's missing...

God is missing.
Stop the praying! No One's there,
They'd arrange a party to search everywhere.
They'd look for God
But there'd be no Presence
In Holy Books or stars and crescents
Or steeples and crosses.
People'd be at a loss,
Is He ever coming back?

They'd be so distraught,
Their searching for naught,
There'd be nothing on high
So they'd turn to on low,
There'd be nothing above
So they'd turn to below,
And they'd finally see there,
In the face of the other,
A semblance of sister,
The eyes of a brother,
They'd turn and they'd lean
Upon one another.

You see, every group can't believe that they're the ones chosen,
Every group can't believe that the Holy Land's owed them,
Sometimes faith in You, God,
Builds insurmountable walls,
And everyone falls.
Everyone falls.

How wise are the secularists for whom the dead aren't martyred
But, quite plainly, murdered...

This might sound like an absurd,
ungodly thing to say,
A truly heretical supplication to pray,
(I say this only out of the deepest respect)
But if for a few days, God, You'd just give it a rest,
If You'd take a sick leave and just go away
And let Israel work this out without You in the way,

God, for that kind of peace,
You're a small price to pay.




Monday, 17 November 2014

Meatless Monday-Totally Tempeh

Hello Meatless Monday adherents. Today's recipe features one of the most hotly debated foods in the vegetarian world, tempeh. Nothing seems to inspire a "love it/hate it" argument as easily or as readily as tempeh. Made of fermented soybeans and pressed into a patty-like cake, tempeh is definitely not for everybody's palate. Many people find the texture and earthy flavour of the whole-bean product off-putting, but it really is very versatile to cook with and it's nutritional value, which far exceeds that of tofu in terms of protein, vitamin content, and dietary fibre, makes it a favourite of vegetarian and vegan menus.

The Husband and I are always on the look out for entree items that can both satisfy and make us feel as though we aren't always eating grass. This version of Buffalo wings certainly meets both criteria.

**I found this recipe on the internet years ago, but the original source has long since disappeared. I apologize for that oversight and if you recognize this as yours, please contact me so that I can give you proper credit.**

Buffalo Tempeh "Wings"

1 (8 oz) pkg tempeh
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs

Wing Sauce

1/2 cup  Louisiana-style hot sauce (because we put that s*** on everything!)
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp chili sauce (ketchup works fine, but I like the tanginess of the chili sauce)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring 4 cups of water to boil over high heat.
Meanwhile, remove tempeh from package. Slice into 8 strips. (If you are a first time tempeh eater and have texture issues, I recommend slicing into 10-12 strips) Once water is boiling, lower heat to medium high, add tempeh, and boil for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water.

Set out 3 bowls. In one, pour in milk. In the second, combine flour and seasonings. In third bowl, add panko crumbs.
Place each strip in milk. Coat in flour mixture, then briefly re-dip into milk. Toss with panko crumbs, coating well. Set on slightly oiled baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tempeh strips. Once all are coated and on baking sheet, lightly spray all "wings" with cooking spray. Place into oven and bake for 10 minutes. Flip "wings" over and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

While they are baking, place wing sauce ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Cover with Saran wrap and heat in microwave on medium high setting for a minute and a half. Remove from heat and whisk ingredients together.


When wings are finished baking, toss with sauce. Serve immediately.



Sunday, 16 November 2014

101 Dalmatians...and Gus

This is Gus.


Gus is a two year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the pride and joy of Younger Son and his B'shert. That makes Gus my grandpuppy and the apple of this Bubby's eye. (Yes, that is is my Sunday morning self on whom Gus has obligingly draped himself over.) In my mind, this dog can do absolutely no wrong and frankly every single thing that he does is either adorable, massively cute, or just plain brilliant. I mean, really. Would a son of mine have a stupid dog? It isn't even remotely possible.


Gus is very much at home here. When he comes for a visit he immediately races into the family room in search of greetings and hugs from his doting grandparents. And I do mean hugs. He actually throws his front paws around my neck and snuggles against my cheek until I reciprocate his canine embrace. He is sweet and he is smart. He never barks, even when the doorbell rings, and his only fault seems to be that he likes to cuddle a little too much and a little too often. Only the worst of humanity wouldn't be enamoured by a dog like this one. 

Because he is so very comfortable here, Gus will often come to spend several hours at a time with us when his people find that they can't get home to feed or walk him. Last night, was a red letter day in Gus' short life as we celebrated his first sleepover with Bubby and Zaidy.

I had stuff planned for the little guy. We would play games and chat. Maybe we'd go for a walk in the November chill. But in truth, Gus isn't really all that active. He likes to loll around and sleep. He eats daintily and cautiously begs for a bit of my meals. Occasionally he will remind me of his natural needs and nudges me ever so gently to take him outside. (He really is a Stepford dog.)

But what Gus seems to love most of all, is to watch television. And he is fussy. It can't be just any programming. It has to be shows or commercials that feature dogs. He goes nuts for them. He is extremely partial to the new Target Christmas commercial with the bulldog running across the screen. He already knows the music and races to the front of the TV every single time it airs. Now, I have had dogs for the better part of my life, but I have never before witnessed any of those animals so fully engrossed in television. It is truly a spectacle to behold. I never even knew that dogs could process the two-dimensional images so fully and so completely as Gus seems to. 


The Husband and I decided that since Gus was going to be spending a prolonged period of time here yesterday, we would download something from Netflix for him to enjoy. And what better film for him to delight in than 101 Dalmatians. In truth, I was very interested to see how he would react to both the constant barrage of puppies scurrying across the screen and to Glenn Close's masterful portrayal of Cruella De Vil. I had planned on engaging him in a very intellectual dissection of the movie following its airing, but Gus was having none of it.

Check it out for yourself.



He couldn't have cared less about the humans. If the dogs were on, he was fully engaged. If Cruella was around, he retreated to his chair (yes he has claimed a chair) and waited patiently until the next puppy sequence. He pretty much watched the entire film this way. Since he refused my invitation to a post-mortem, my guess is that he rated it four paws up.

I have been pining for a dog ever since we lost our beloved and strangely goofy yellow lab almost ten years ago. And while I would excitedly and immediately run to the shelter if The Husband would ever relent, Gus is, for now, the perfect compromise. He comes, he visits, he snuggles, he watches TV, and then he goes home to his people. What more could a grandparent ask for?


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Shabbat Musc Break

Today's Shabbat Music Break edition of "I can't believe that she's not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" is devoted to the Queen of Rock and Roll. The argument generally used to explain away why Tina Turner  has not been inducted is that she is already there along with her ex husband Ike. But, if Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney can be inducted three separate times each, then the time has certainly come to recognize the brilliance of Tina's solo career. Tina Turner had arguably the greatest comeback and second act in rock history. Without her lead, performers like Janet Jackson and Beyonce wouldn't even exist today. She toured more than any other solo female act for almost twenty years, with perhaps the exception of Cher, and her high energy shows are legendary. It stuns me that Tina Turner has never once been nominated for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, and frankly it is long overdue.

Friday, 14 November 2014

I Need a Fitbit Support Group

While vacationing in Newfoundland this summer I experienced a sensation like never before. It wasn't the thrill of viewing the majestic icebergs for the first time nor was it the glee of getting up close and personal with the puffins. 

No. My true excitement was saved for that wondrous first time my Fitbit vibrated with enthusiasm to inform me of hitting 10,000 steps. There was something almost magical in the knowledge that five miles was not only an attainable goal for this otherwise chronically underachieving fitness wannabe, but a surpassable one. We had been together for only a couple of weeks at that point, my Fitbit and me. I had decided to purchase it at the end of June after first guinea pigging one for The Husband as a birthday gift a few weeks earlier. Watching him slowly descend into the psychosis of the Fitbit-obsessed was more than enough incentive to join him in this crazed madness. I simply couldn't let him outdo me when it came to the most basic of human motion....walking. So I bought one for myself just before our early July sojourn out to the east coast. 

It was comical to witness the competition that commenced between me and my spouse. He would continually lament and constantly complain that given my shorter strides, it meant that I was covering far more steps in the same distance than was he. (This is the only time in my entire life when being under five feet tall was viewed as having an athletic advantage.) While my wristlet was blinking the ominous five lights indicating that I was oh so close to the daily goal, he was still stuck back on the wannabe four. Our travelling companions even joined in with the rivalry. Twin Son's Better Half decided that she was absolutely on board with my totals, even though she has about six inches on me. Far better to achieve my 17,000 steps in a day than The Husband's 15,000. That was the trip where Fitbit and I became fast friends and truly one with each other.

In short, Fitbit is my latest obsession. It is the perfect device for the Type A who has trouble sticking with a realistic fitness program. It pushes me to the treadmill or for a walk or run outside. Those 10,000 steps hang over me like the Sword of Damocles. I must walk, I must walk. It sends me helpful little reminders when I am slacking or slightly short of my daily objectives. It understands and calculates the differences in my movements. It tracks my horrendous sleep patterns. If I find that I am slightly deficient in my totals, I walk up and down the stairs in order to achieve maximum "stepage." I get positively giddy seeing that walking through the candy aisle at Walmart gave me 1,000 steps. There exists a tremendous sense of balance in that knowledge. How could anything that encourages constant motion be bad?

My parents were totally intrigued by the rubber bands adorning our arms. By August, they had both purchased Fitbits and were well on their way to joining in with our mania. My dad has taken to walking the halls in his building, while mom tramps around the apartment as she chats on the phone. She has taken to calling me with updates on her totals. Yah. Like I can't beat a seventy-something when it comes to walking. (I have yet to surpass that crazed bitch.) All of this follows their daily workouts that they have duly increased in order to boost their totals. My dad lost 10 pounds in his first month with the gizmo without changing a single thing in his diet. They are travelling at the moment, but haven't neglected to call on a regular basis to notify me as to their progress. It seems that a cruise ship is the perfect place to foster good Fitbit habits.

This week, the unthinkable happened. My Fitbit died. It simply stopped working. Only six months old. It is true that the good die young. Is it possible that I did this? Did I overwork it? Could it simply not keep up with my new fully active lifestyle? The people at Fitbit were gracious and apologetic. After determining that the battery was indeed faulty, they have shipped me a new one gratis. But until it arrives, I need to discover a different motivation for my daily activity. I feel naked and lethargic. I can't seem to get myself off  the couch to do anything with the same verve or spunk. Until Fitbit returns, my workout world is lifeless and colourless. It is truly sad to discover how important the positive reinforcement of a little black rubber band is to me. I miss the lights. I miss the vibrations. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the competition with The Husband. Fitbit has turned my every step into an over-achievement. 

Come home soon.



Thursday, 13 November 2014

Riding with God on a Comet

I stayed in bed a little later this morning for a couple of reasons. Firstly, that nasty insomnia bit me in the ass again and I really needed the extra hour of horizontal time. Secondly, I was absolutely transfixed to the TV watching the live news conference from the European Space Agency as they gleefully updated the progress of the Philae lander that successfully touched down on comet  67P. It was exciting to watch these grizzled scientists act as though they had been given the keys to Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. Their life's work has just been validated.

If you haven't been following this truly historic experience I really need to ask...why the hell not? This is the astrophysics equivalent of catching a tiger by the tail. Comets are the most mysterious of all known entities in our solar system, and scientific advancement is now giving us an up close and personal look at their composition and movements in real time. We are being gifted with a few more morsels as to the origins of our universe and perhaps a quick glance of what lies ahead. It is a glimpse into the unknown and we as a civilization should be hanging on every photograph and every detail. It is truly fascinating.

But instead of bearing witness to what may be one of the greatest scientific endeavours in decades, too many are being distracted by frivolities. Do you know what the number one story posted by so many on my Facebook feed was yesterday? Kim Kardashian's naked ass. Seriously?

When did we as a society become so incurious? According to recent polls, more than 45% of Americans believe in ghosts while 42% subscribe to a creationist theory of the universe, dismissing all thoughts of evolution. Don't even get me started on the climate change deniers or anti-vaxers. Now far be it from me to dismiss anybody's experiences with the hereafter, but I seriously cannot remember a time in my life when science has been so fully and seriously under attack, and dismissed by so many in favour of mind-numbing trivia. Come on! A pseudo-celebrity's bare buttocks has more people transfixed than clues to the genesis of civilization as we know it.

I was six and half years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I have vivid memories of my parents waking both my brother and me so that we could witness history. I watched Armstrong and Aldrin take those portentous first steps on a grainy black and white in my parent's bedroom. It was a singular moment in time when the entire world united in collective awe. Have we really become so very jaded and so hyper-critical that we can't recognize another when it is presented to us?

It is true that my relationship with The Divine Being has been difficult as of late. I have struggled, as did Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. But I do believe that when presented with an opportunity such as we have been given this week, we must open our eyes and see the truth that is unfolding before us. We must continue to explore and question, and we must find ways of reconciling our theology with our scientific discovery. Maybe then our faith will be rewarded....and I don't mean with images of Kim's derriere.




Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

My Almost Wordless Wednesday features yet another image from this past year that took my breath away. In my career I have been fortunate and privileged to be present at a myriad of Jewish weddings and I have seen many different styles of chuppot. The chuppah (for those wondering) is the canopy under which Jewish couples marry. Without delving into too much history and custom, it basically represents the home the couple will make together and the openness on all sides represents the hospitality that will be shown within that home. The cloth covering above is symbolic of the presence of the Divine Being enveloping the new marriage in a state of kiddushin or holiness.

I have never before seen a chuppah as truly magnificent as the one at Younger Son's recent marriage to his B'shert. It was designed as a wedding gift by a dear friend of my son's. Sarah is a talented textile artist who wanted to do something special for the bride and groom. She transcended even the highest of expectations. If you are looking for something truly unique for your wedding, I urge you to consider contacting Sarah at Motif Textiles or find her on Facebook

Chuppah at sunset
Hebrew names of bride and groom surrounding a rose
**photos by Eli Amon

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Ceramic Poppy Display at The Tower of London
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From "For the Fallen"~Laurence Binyon





One poppy for each fallen Commonwealth soldier of WWI




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

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

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

In Flanders fields. ~John McCrae





It isn't just another day. It is a day to mourn. A day to pay tribute. A day to remember. Zichronam Livracha. May their memories forever be for blessing.

Some music for the day. Lest we ever forget.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Meatless Monday

I have never been one to preach the virtues of vegetarianism and I certainly would never tell anybody what they should or shouldn't eat, but I can categorically state that a vegetarian diet never has to be boring. The idea of Meatless Monday isn't a subversive attempt to convert you, but rather a not so subversive way for you to have a little less meat in your weekly diet and to perhaps put a little more thought into greening the planet. 

Today's recipe originally came from The Vegetarian Times. The Husband is a huge fan of asparagus, so any recipe that includes them is usually a hit. The added spice of the smoky chipotle peppers provides the perfect compliment. I have always loved quesadillas, but I couldn't understand why the original recipe eliminated the cheese unless they were going for the full vegan effect. Sorry Vegetarian Times. Quesadillas just aren't quesadillas without the cheese. I mean...the word queso means cheese, so I added it in.

Chipotle Asparagus Quesadillas

Serves 4 (It actually made more.)

Canned chipotles in adobo sauce lend mellow, smoky heat to quesadillas. Leftover chipotles (there are usually four or five in a can) can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for future use

Quesadillas
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, sliced (1 cup)
1 medium onion, sliced (1 cup)
1½ tsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup shredded cheddar, or jack cheese
4 8-inch sprouted-grain tortillas

Chipotle Spread
3 Tbs. mayonnaise
2 tsp. minced, drained chipotles in adobo sauce
1 Tbs. lime or lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. To make Quesadillas: Toss together asparagus, bell pepper, onion, oil, and oregano in large bowl. Season with 
salt and pepper, if desired. Spread 
on large baking sheet, and roast 
10 to 12 minutes, or until vegetables 
are tender and beginning to brown, stirring once or twice.

3. Meanwhile, to make Chipotle Spread: blend all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth.

4. Spread 1 1/2 tsp. Chipotle Spread on 
one side of each tortilla, spreading all the way out to edges. Top with 2/3 cup filling on one half of each tortilla, add about a Tablespoon of cheese, then fold over tortillas, pressing edges together to enclose filling and form half-moons.



5. Coat large skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium heat. Cook each quesadilla in skillet 2 to 3 minutes, turning once.





Sunday, 9 November 2014

Thank You For the Music

There are so many mixed emotions that develop while visiting my father-in-law in the place he now calls home. I have written extensively about how this once very bright, capable, and independent man has deteriorated, and of the challenges he faces on a daily basis due to his ongoing struggle with PSP.  As a result of his condition, he now resides in a longterm care facility where his special needs can be properly addressed. While we are all tremendously grateful for the excellent and loving attention he receives from a wonderfully gifted staff who I truly believe are doing God's work, there is stinging heartbreak that is palpable for both The Husband and me every single time we come to see him.

There are a myriad of activities that the nursing home provides in order to both entertain and stimulate its residents. Musical guests and programs are amongst the most popular and for good reason. Music penetrates. It seeps into the subconscious and the consciousness of every single person it touches. It triggers memories and it nourishes the soul of even the most seemingly lost individual. There was a time in my own career when I used to make regular appearances at nursing homes in order to entertain. I have witnessed first hand the power that music, especially familiar music, can have on uncommunicative and seemingly unresponsive people. It is as if a light turns on, even if it is just for a short moment. Yesterday, I observed such a moment.

The Ps are regular performers at the care facility. They are a husband/wife team who sing with the residents using a poorly synched karaoke machine. They are often joined by their teenaged son who accompanies them with some toy tambourines. Everybody in the home is brought into the lobby in order to participate in this incredibly kitsch and unbelievably strange musical experience. When I saw the Ps perform the first time I honestly thought that it was a comedy act. The singing was so very poor and their material so very dated, and they danced around the lobby shaking and giggling like sixth graders at an elementary school talent show. I kept thinking that this was exactly the kind of routine that most people would run screaming from if they still had the ability to run screaming from anything.

But yesterday I saw something that drastically altered my thinking on the Ps. The Husband and I went to visit his dad and were dismayed to notice the entire population of the nursing home gathered in lobby as we entered. That could only mean that our visit had coincided with the Ps. We scanned the crowd and searched for his dad. We located him in a back corner and reluctantly sat with him while the Ps performed. I was steeling myself for yet another rousing rendition of You Are My Sunshine when something remarkable occurred. Amidst the blank stares, expressionless faces, and wooden looks there was a spark. An elderly lady in the front row bolted from her seat and started to dance. She wasn't simply moving her feet. She was flat-out ballroom dancing. She held her arms out to a partner that only she could see, and she was moving in a perfect foxtrot in front of the Ps. With her grey hair flowing behind her, she was relieving a memory in full public view and she was thrilled. A younger man, who was obviously a visitor, stood up and took her by the arms in order to finish the dance with her. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in a place that houses much sadness.

The Ps will never find fame and fortune doing what they do and to be honest, they really do need to update their act. But their continual contribution to a sheltered world that is in desperate need of music cannot go unappreciated. They bring joy and spark to people who have long forgotten. It is a gift that is rare.



Saturday, 8 November 2014

Shabbat Music Break

Today's Shabbat Music Break continues the discussion of women who have been sorely overlooked for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while lesser artists (mostly male) of their generations have been admitted.

Today we examine the case for Carly Simon. If we accept the premise that the Hall has accepted that singer/songwriters like Carly are justifiable inductees, then we have to look at her case as being an egregious oversight by Hall voters. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro are already enshrined in the Hall, while Carly has been consistently overlooked. She had 9 top twenty singles and 8 top twenty LPs, including No Secrets which spent five weeks at number 1. She has won several Grammy awards including Best New Artist in 1971, and an Academy Award and Golden Globe for "Let the River Run" from Working Girl in 1988. She was also awarded with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award for "You're So Vain" (the quintessential revenge song...Take that, Taylor Swift!) in 2004 and was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fall in 1994. While I would argue that Nyro was deserving of her place in the Rock Hall, her resume cannot even come close to matching Simon's. Carly Simon is long overdue for induction.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Wedding Daze

Younger Son and His Beshert have been married for almost three weeks now. Incredible. If I thought that time flew before, it is positively ethereal now. I have said very little publicly about that day and aside from posting a few pictures on Facebook, there is scant anecdotal evidence from me that the occasion actually occurred. (I am trying mightily to get The Husband to allow me to post his brilliant wedding speech. So far I have had no success. Maybe if you all provide some pressure, he will allow me to share it with the masses.) The range of emotions leading up to and encompassing that Sunday three weeks ago were and still are so terribly overwhelming that I haven't been ready to unpack them and share them with anybody other than my closest confidants, and truth be told I'm still not. Hopefully that time will come before the end of this blogapalooza month. I could really use the post to fill a day. Instead, today I will regale you with some of the behind the scenes mayhem that occurred during wedding weekend. Most weddings have a few glitches that nobody discusses until the tenth anniversary celebrations, but some of these were so comical that they deserve a timely sharing.

The bedlam began a few days before. The bride wanted to take her dress into a dry cleaner in order to have them steam out the creases from the lace bodice. She had been storing it here at our home, and a local establishment had been highly recommended. She dropped it off with the understanding that pickup would be on the Friday, two days before the wedding. That Friday was a beehive of activity. The Husband and Younger Son headed to the airport to pickup a few members of the wedding party, including the bride's brother. They dropped him off at the tuxedo rental place to meet his sister and their parents so that he could be properly fitted for his tux. In the meantime, The Husband and Younger Son brought two of the bridesmaids back to our house to wait for the bride to finish with her brother, and then we would all head into midtown for the rehearsal.

Potential Crisis #1.  When she went to retrieve her dress just before meeting us at the house, she brushed it up against her car, resulting in a black smudge across the skirt. Reeling, she returned immediately to the dry cleaner to see what they could do. Unfortunately, we live in The North Jewish Ghetto and this all happened late Friday afternoon, just before Shabbat. The only employee remaining in the cleaning shop was the seamstress. She told The Beshert to call back early Saturday morning. Somebody would answer. When she finally came into our house, she was a mess of emotion. Her Saturday was scheduled down to the minute with wedding prep and Younger Son was running all over the city shlepping and carting. It was finally decided that The Husband and I would retrieve the dress when ready and transport it downtown. The only problem was that we had a car stuffed with whisky supplies. You see, the biggest whisky show in Canada was that same weekend.  As fate would have it, it was happening at the same hotel where we were staying. The Husband had made arrangements months prior for others to cover the show, but due to totally unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, he had no choice but to cart all of the supplies for the show down to the venue and set up the booth with Older Son. (Older Son was an amazing beast all weekend. His role in averting several potential disasters is upcoming. Read on!) Where could we possibly put the dress? A game of Tetris ensued and the backseat of my car was transformed into a wedding dress hyperbaric chamber, complete with sheeting and plastic covering. The dress made it downtown intact and the dry cleaners didn't even charge us for the stain removal. ON SHABBAT!! Crisis #1 averted.

Potential Crisis #2. As we were checking into the hotel, we ran into the bride and groom in the lobby. They informed us that during all of the pandemonium of shlepping and carting stuff to the wedding venue that afternoon, they had inadvertently left their Ontario marriage license and my son's tallit (prayer shawl) at their apartment in midtown, both necessary for the ceremony the next day. Anybody who knows Toronto well knows that these trips up and down town are anything but routine travel. Traffic and construction make for hellish commutes in this city, and we are talking about hours not minutes when discussing the retrieval of these items. "No worries", states Older Son and Best Man Extraordinaire. He is staying at his home on Saturday night and he will retrieve the items before he makes his way back to the hotel on Sunday morning. Crisis #2 averted.

Potential Crisis #3. The Toronto Waterfront Marathon. 27,000 runners from all over the world converged upon Toronto that weekend, with the start and finish lines of the race presenting themselves directly across the street from our hotel at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall. No worries. The wedding wasn't actually happening at the hotel, but rather at a venue on the waterfront about fifteen minutes away. On a normal day. In normal traffic. This was hardly a normal day. Just by chance at about 9:30am, The Husband decided to walk through the lobby of the hotel where he ran into the bridal party. The girls, including the bride and her mother, were waiting for two cabs, that were already 45 minutes late, to transport them to the wedding venue. The cabs simply couldn't navigate the marathon traffic with its myriad of road closures and newly formed one-way streets. The young women were loaded down with dresses and accessories and were starting to panic about missed hair and makeup appointments that were already behind schedule. When one of the taxis finally arrived, the bridesmaids all piled in, while Super Husband grabbed his keys and transported the bride, her mom, and the dress. The original plan had called for him to drop them off, come back and get me in order to drive me over. That plan fell quickly by the wayside when a half an hour roundtrip drive turned into two and half hours, surrounded by thousands of runners and hundreds of cops telling him that he couldn't get there from here. He would call me every five minutes to update his snail-like progress through Toronto's downtown and west end. When he finally did arrive back at the hotel, he quickly changed into his tux, we grabbed all of our stuff, including my parents and all of  their stuff, and we all piled back into the car for the return trip. The amazing thing was that through it all, The Husband never once lost his composure or his temper. That's what weddings will do for you. It is a chronic happy place. Crisis #3 averted.

Potential Crisis #4. This particular one felt like the wedding gods piling on. The groom and his groomsmen were all meeting at the hotel to get ready together on Sunday morning. While all of the shit about transporting the girls was occurring, the bride discovered that she had left her veil back at their apartment. In midtown. An hour away in good traffic. The guys, including Older Son now with marriage license and tallit in tow, were already assembled at the hotel with the groom. The marathon made car transportation back uptown next to impossible. So, Best Man Extraordinaire hops on the subway back to midtown, retrieves the veil, returns via subway to the hotel, and then catches a cab with the rest of the guys to the wedding venue.  As the groom himself said..."Daniel wins the wedding!!" Crisis #4 averted.

The crazy part about all of these backstage shenanigans is that not a single one was enough to alter anybody's mood. There was just too much happiness and joy for the shit to hit the proverbial fan and put a damper on the day. The weather was glorious, the couple radiant, the parents sobbing puddles of goo, and the marriage is off to a wonderful start. It was quite the day.



Thursday, 6 November 2014

Blog Material

I spend a great deal of my time these days trying to decide if the mundane occurrences in my world can be pithily and easily translated into material for blog posts. Just try to imagine the thought processes of my grey matter at work hoping against hope that munching on granola would make even half-decent fodder for this space. Such is the torment and emotional shackling that is NaBloPoMo. So it was with some satisfaction that an idea just sort of fell into my lap the other day.

While sitting in front of my laptop and putting the finishing touches on Tuesday's column, I started to hear water running in the upstairs bathroom that was previously used by the boys when they lived here. (The Husband and I tend to avail ourselves almost exclusively of the spacious en suite off of our bedroom.) Now, that in and of itself wasn't really all that unusual. My wonderful and lovely cleaning woman Vanny was here, and she had taken it upon herself to spruce up the unused lavatory just enough so that the layer of dust and cobwebs growing in there didn't make it look like we were operating a root cellar. She did what any normal and logical person cleaning a bathroom might do. She wiped out the tub, rinsed out the toilet, and proceeded to start the water so that the cleaning solutions might be flushed down the drain and bowl. As I was parked on the couch in the family room right off of the kitchen and directly beneath the bathroom, it didn't come as a shock that I could hear the water flowing. That is, until I saw it cascading through the pot light fixtures in the kitchen. It was like a scene out of Singin' in the Rain and I half expected Gene Kelly to show up and start splashing in the massive puddles that were forming all over the floor. The first thing....and I do mean the very first thing...that I thought of was....BLOG MATERIAL!!

I yelped. Vanny must have thought that I had fallen, because she quickly ran down the stairs to find me soaking wet and scurrying around searching for buckets, towels, and a mop.

"Blog material", I shouted. "Blog material."

Vanny, who clearly had more sense and headspace than I did at that moment, ran back upstairs to turn off the valve on the toilet and stop the water in the tub. The woman is clearly the brains in this outfit. I began the clean up in the kitchen; the strategic placing of the buckets, the sopping up of the excess, and the mopping up of the now continuously flowing creek that began heading downstream towards the basement, all while taking in the details of the scene. I must remember this for the blog. This is classic blog material.

As the water flow dwindled and the decontamination of the kitchen commenced, it became clear that the bathtub was the culprit. Something has obviously corroded and it will need to be replaced before it can safely hold water again, if ever. (In this old house, leaks have a tendency to lead to renovations.) Vanny and I spent the next 45 minutes sloshing through the wading pool created on the main level. The good news was that while there was a great deal of water that had poured through, it was all clean. We also managed to staunch it fairly quickly, (Vanny did...I was far too concerned with planning the writing of this jaunty anecdote to think rationally) so it could have been a lot worse especially if nobody had been home at the time. There was no damage to the ceiling in the kitchen and other than a soggy mess, no lasting damage to the floor.

It was around the point when I was trying to figure out how I might humorously retell the story, that I realized we should probably check the kitchen cabinets directly below the waterline. As I opened up the one that holds all of our glassware, a tiny waterfall gushed forth to greet me. Vanny and I proceeded to remove ever glass in the three-shelf cupboard and sop up the mess. As I sponged with the last remaining dry towels left in the house and a second roll of Brawny was pressed into service, she filled the sink in order to wash and disinfect our drinking glasses. Another yelp...this time it came from Vanny. It seemed that one of our water glasses had cracked in her hand creating yet another cascade, this time of her blood. Thank goodness the cut was small and I could staunch it with some basic first aid. I have known Vanny for more than twenty years, but I don't think that I ever before witnessed the look of relief that crossed her face as she was leaving for the day. The woman couldn't escape this madhouse fast enough.

And all I could think of as she was leaving was....this is great blog material.







Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

This year during NaBloPoMo, my Almost Wordless Wednesday posts will be of remarkable images that absolutely blew me away this year. They simply defy appropriate description.

Today's picture comes from our July trip to Newfoundland. We were given fair warning as to the multitude of icebergs visible from all over the province, but we were unprepared for the stunning beauty when confronted with it. The shades of lapis lazuli, azure, and cerulean were positively breathtaking.

Mother Nature certainly put on a show for the east coast this year, but we cannot and should not forget that the increase in bergs has been scientifically attributed to a gradual warming of the planet and of  the breaking down of the polar icecap. There is something disconcerting about taking in the beauty while simultaneously worrying about our fragile earth.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

There Are Things....

As we move through these early days of November and I find myself becoming far more introspective as I attempt to come up with meaningful posts to feed the beast that is NaBloPoMo, I am struck by just how much has changed since I last attempted this gruelling task of 30 in 30.

There are definite touchstones in our lives; those moments that we recall with a maelstrom of emotion. They forever change us and alter the trajectory of our daily existence. 

This year alone I have danced at four weddings, including that of Younger Son and his Beshert, celebrated with three friends as they welcomed grandchildren, helped friends move from their house into a long-coveted condo, retired from my job/calling of twenty years, and I continue to grieve the loss of my Other Mother whose absence is still an enormous chasm I can't fully breach.

Twelve months. So much to digest. A roller coaster of emotional upheaval that is truly vertigo-worthy.

Every Shabbat in my synagogue we read the following passage from the Siddur (prayerbook).

The Talmud teaches: 

Elu Devarim She-ayn La-hem Shiur...These are the things that are limitless,
of which a person enjoys the fruit of the world, while the principal remains in the world to come. (Pe-ah 1:1)

(The Hebrew is actually a bit more extensive, but the gist is in this opening passage.)

A second teaching from Talmud is then conflated with the first.

They are:
honouring one’s father and mother,
engaging in deeds of compassion,
arriving early for study, morning and evening,
dealing graciously with guests, 
visiting the sick, 
providing for the wedding couple,
accompanying the dead for burial,
being devoted in prayer,
and making peace among people.
But the study of Torah encompasses them all. (Shabbat 127a)

I have always liked these words, mostly because they speak to the philosophical daily norms to which we should devote ourselves, but I have often been left wondering if I ever truly made the effort to really live them. This year, I feel as though I did. (I can almost place little check marks beside them all.)

My personal journey through Judaism, and faith in general, has been sorely tested over this past year. Prayer, which had always come so easily in the past, is now stunted and muted. But these words from Talmud have reminded me of what is really important; to live in the moment, be kind, remember that we aren't alone in our journey, and that there is always a foundation to fall back on. 

Believe me when I say, it helps.





Monday, 3 November 2014

Meatless Monday....Once Again

For those of you who are new to this space, eating a healthy and vegetarian diet is very important to both The Husband and me. I have been in the veggie camp for many years (off and on, but mostly on) while The Husband is coming up to his five year veg-iversary. (That's vegetarian as opposed to vegans. I have tremendous respect for vegans and their discipline, but we just aren't there yet, so please no judgement while we continue to consume dairy and egg products.)

I am always searching for new and delicious recipes that will satisfy both of us. We often cook together, but given that I am now home on a much more regular basis, I have been tasked with adding variety to what can easily become a very staid meal plan. I research, Pinterest, and yes...steal relentlessly from my friends and acquaintances if I think that a recipe will add flavour to our kitchen.

Last week a friend posted an Aloo Gobi soup on Facebook that she had prepared and I was immediately intrigued. Cauliflower, especially laced with Indian spices, is a favourite of both The Husband's and mine. It is most definitely soup season here in the Great White North, so I begged and cajoled my friend for the recipe. I asked her if I could share it with all of you and she graciously agreed considering that she herself had "borrowed" it from the PC Cooking School. I will say that I did make a few changes to the original recipe, so the version you are receiving today is a a bit of a combination of all three sources. It is delicious and filling. Enjoy.

Aloo Gobi Soup - makes 16 servings (It makes A LOT!!!)

2 tblsp olive oil
2 cups diced white onions (I like sweet vidalia onions)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tblsp grated ginger root
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I don't do heat well, so I eliminated this. Use as much or as little to taste.)
1 tblsp tomato paste
3 large yellow potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks (I used sweet potatoes. I had them on hand and I prefer the slightly sweeter flavour that they add. They do add colour as well, so beware the orange.)
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut in florets
2 pkgs (each 900mL) vegetable broth
1 tsp salt (The broth was plenty salty. I really cut down on the salt.)
3 tbslp honey

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; cook onions for 4 to 6 minutes or until softened.  Add garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne and tomato paste; cook, stirring for 1 minute.

Add potatoes, cauliflower, broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 18 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are softened.  Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.  Stir in salt and honey.  Garnish with chopped fresh coriander, if desired.

Per serving:  90 calories, 2 g fat, 210 mg sodium, 15 g carbohydrate, 2 g fibre, 3 g protein