Tuesday, 29 December 2015

An "Out of Her Skin" Optimist's Guide to Her Birthday

Optimism doesn't come easily to me. I prefer to think of myself as a "cynical realist" combined with a hint of wondrous faith when the unexplainable occurs. But I find myself leading a lonely existence in today's overindulgent age of "feel-good" mantras, positive affirmation statements, unsolicited mental health advice, and generally junk science studies on how optimism can lead to longer lifespans. What's a generally cranky curmudgeonly bitch supposed to do in a such a world?

But, it is my birthday and I have been feeling the love all day long, so I will step out of my aforementioned comfort zone and give you my optimistic view of the world for this one specific day. Hey. If you can't live it up on your birthday then when can you?

There are some really great things about birthdays, mostly of the free and discounted variety. I was absolutely feeling the love from the barista at Starbucks when she handed over my complimentary soy mocha frappuccino light. (I even sprung for the more highly caloric grande! What the hell.) And I knew that it must be my special day when the Blue Jays shop sent me a code offering 15% off my next purchase. I must be spending way too much cash on my boys of summer for them to offer up a birthday discount, but loyalty is loyalty and mine is being rewarded.

I have to love a day when even the most ardent of meat eaters will acquiesce to lunch at a vegan restaurant in order to make me happy. It is even more incredible that they actually enjoyed their meals. A birthday miracle on par with the virgin birth.

The best gifts are the most thoughtful; like the chef's knives that my mother purchased for me months ago without knowing that I had been secretly plotting to abscond with hers, or The Husband replacing my Roots purse that literally fell apart from overuse. (I am not a big purse lover, but I missed this one desperately.)

Did you know that Herbie the Love Bug was number 53, the same as my age this year? I had forgotten until The Husband reminded me and decided that it would be hysterical for him to call me his "Little Love Bug" for the year. (My kids might call this a "dad joke".) I think that I would rather he call me Herbie than suffer that indignity.

The interwebs have an incredible way of making one feel loved even if it takes only a minute to comment. Facebook is great for this. My feed has been jammed all days with virtual cards, messages, flowers, and photos. It is kind of amazing how taking just a moment out of one's day to express felicitations can alter the recipient's mood. Little things like this really matter, even to a cynical realist.

End of the year birthdays tend to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Who wants to brave a store for something as trivial as a birthday gift when the other December events have simply drained one of a year's quota of enthusiasm? We who were born at the end of a calendar year are used to feeling like a bit of an afterthought. But, today that simply wasn't the case. The sun was shining, the temperatures were grand, the people were smiling, and the caring and consideration was abundant from all. Days like today remind me of a favourite line from a favourite film.

Clarence: Remember, George: No man is a failure who has friends. (It's a Wonderful Life 1946)

Thanks for the birthday love. Tomorrow, I return to my cranky, cynical self. Well....maybe.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Bullshit Tradition of Chinese Food and a Movie on Christmas.

Members of the Tribe...this one is for you.

Can we stop pretending that Chinese food and a movie on Christmas is some kind of sacred tradition in which we all must participate? Can we not be honest with ourselves that there is no real correlation to Jews and Chinese food on Christmas other than the obvious fact that for a very long time, those were the only establishments open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? So why has this activity become something akin to latkes on Chanukah?

I have recently read article after article extolling the "history" and the "cultural significance" of this kitsch custom and frankly, I am baffled. Yes, it is true that many of us order lo mein on the 25th, (with or without the kosher-offending ingredients) but there is only one true reason for this supposed foray into a "newish tradition".


When I was a kid, my mother would work each and every Christmas. Being a floor nurse at a local hospital, she happily worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that those who celebrated the holiday could spend it with their families. She would often trade off New Year's Eve and the deal worked well for all concerned. My dad, not being all that well-versed in the culinary arts, would take my brother and me out for Chinese food and a movie simply because in "blue-lawed" Toronto of the 70's that was the only place one could get a non-homecooked meal. Believe me, if he could have found a deli, a Thai place, (not yet available in my parochial hometown) or some other food type, he would have taken us there too. My dad has never been one for limiting his food choices.

But today that simply isn't the case. There are other non-Christian ethnicities that open their restaurant doors to customers on Christmas. And...braving a movie theatre in 2015 on the one day where the majority of North Americans have an off-day is sheer lunacy. Haven't any of you ever heard of Netflix? Have we Jews become so enraptured with this season that we feel the need to turn Christmas, which is in no way, shape, or form our holiday, into something that matters to us by virtue of some invented tradition?

There really isn't a need to "find something to do"on Christmas. How about family time with board games and books? How about a walk? How about some exercise? Or how about cooking a meal together? A movie? Sure. But don't pretend it is some kind of a tradition.

I do have wonderful memories of those Christmases with my dad and brother. They were special times brought on by the confluence of mom working and a holiday that didn't cater to us. But I refuse to pretend that there is some kind of time-honoured Jewish tradition that requires Chinese food and a movie on the 25th, kitsch as it may be because that would mean that I look at this holiday as one of my own and, honestly that is a wee bit insulting to my Christian friends.

And anyway...there is a major Jewish holiday being celebrated this year on the evening of the 25th. It's called Shabbat. Try that instead.

Monday, 7 December 2015


Tonight I lit Chanukah candles with a gentleman from my building who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Since this is South Florida and it has been unbearably humid, he was suitably dressed for the climate in a short-sleeved golf shirt. As we chatted, it was difficult not to notice the numbers tattooed on his forearm. I have had many conversations with this man over the years and I have always marvelled at his strength and fortitude in keeping his horrific experiences alive in the hearts and minds of the next generations through his participation in education programs, speeches, and countless trips back to Auschwitz on March of the Living. But tonight, we were just a group of Jews lighting candles to recall our people's struggle against another tyrant living centuries before the one he survived.

And then I came upstairs and watched Donald Trump's latest foray into demagoguery. I watched as supporters at his rally shouted "Heil Donald Trump-THE ULTIMATE SAVIOUR"  and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Trump's completely fascist call to bar all Muslims from entry into the United States can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of fringe entertainer. Tonight he and his supporters entered a new realm of right-wing jingoism, Neo-Nazism, and totalitarianism that every thinking person in the United States and around the world should vociferously denounce. Usually I am loathe to evoke memories of or comparisons to Hitler, and I can't ever remember calling up Godwin's law before, but Trump and his  supporters are definitely skirting a dangerous line. When protestors are physically attacked at his rallies; when overt hatred of Muslims is spouted by his supporters; when white supremacist organizations are now a solid part of his base; we can no longer ignore the comparisons.

I have had several conversations recently with Jews who are ardent Trump supporters and I have to admit to being baffled. Now I am just disgusted. It is no longer acceptable for Jews (or anybody else) to support this dangerous fascist bigot knowing what we know and knowing the extreme consequences of actions like the ones he is proposing. Trump's call to isolate and bar Muslims is one step away from the Judenfrei policies of Hitler's Nazis.

Tonight, in response to Trump's announcement, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism issued the following statement:

While we take no position on Mr. Trump's candidacy for president, we condemn in the strongest terms his comments calling for barring the entry of Muslims into the United States. As Jews who too often suffered persecution because of our faith, we cannot abide religious bigotry.
Our nation, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, is rooted in principles of religious freedom. The absence of religious tests for entry or for office and the freedom of every individual to practice their religion are sources of national strength, not weakness.

It is time for Jews of all political stripes to speak up and finally suppress Trump and his dangerous rhetoric. Jewish Republicans need to find another candidate and they need to say this man is anathema to everything that Americans hold dear. At this season when we recognize light over darkness, religious freedom over persecution, and rededication over hate, Americans must commit themselves to vanquishing this dangerous hyperbole before innocent people suffer. It is a debt that this generation of Jewish Americans owes to people like the man in my building.

Monday, 30 November 2015

NaBloPoMo Happy Dance

It's over!

Another blogging challenge confronted and met with success. I do hope that you all have enjoyed it. It was creatively exhilarating and emotionally exhausting. Thanks for reading. I really do appreciate all of the support.

And now....we dance like an Animaniac!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Dead Blog Post File

We are just about at the end of this gruelling November ritual of 30 in 30.

Good thing too. I am just about at the end of my creative rope. Viable and interesting ideas have become scarce and frankly I just don't lead an interesting enough life to keep you all entertained for another thirty days. This post is a fine example of the fact that I have run out of ideas. I herewith present you with The Dead Blog Post File. These are ideas that I jotted down throughout the month hoping that they might evolve into somewhat coherent thoughts. Obviously they never did. You should all thank me for halting the process before it even began.
  • I chose not to blog about politics at all this year. It didn't start out as a conscious decision, but it definitely worked out that way. Frankly, I was emotionally spent after the October Canadian election and the clown convention that is the American primary season is just too sad for rational thought. It seems as if the entire Republican field is attempting to out-asshole each other, and the venom and hate being spewed is just too heinous for rational discourse. It just felt cleaner for me to stay above the fray. It still does.
  • I tried on three separate occasions to write about my favourite show on TV these days, The Affair. It is smart, complex, sexy, and so much more than the run-of-the-mill murder mystery that it is being advertised as. The shades of grey involved in the story telling and the various points of view being investigated are unbelievably compelling. If you haven't started watching it, you really should. It requires attention and a substantial time investment, but it is truly worth it. And as an added bonus...the Fiona Apple theme song is the best minute and a half of music on television right now.
  • I had a strange experience at the pharmacy a few weeks back when the entire customer base was comprised of dozens of men in their 80s, complete with walkers and caregivers, all lined up for flu shots at the same time. I kept thinking that I was in a scene out of a Mel Brooks comedy, but I couldn't come up with anything else to write about it, and so that was that.
  • I really did want to write about where people find complete joy; that is their "happy places". I actually have several, but then I couldn't find a hook to connect the piece, so I abandoned it. I would still be interested in hearing about your "happy places". Maybe for next year. 
  • I am still suffering from baseball withdrawal, but really, other than me, who cares?
  • The Husband and I went to view the terrific Andy Warhol exhibit that is currently on display at TIFF in Toronto. I was mesmerized and gave great thought to the making of an iconoclast. It still does intrigue me, but again...maybe next year.
  • Why are the windiest days of the year only on garbage days, so that I have to chase our blue boxes and cans down the street to retrieve them? (You can see that I was getting a bit desperate.)
  • The Husband has been raving about his new Tesla for months now. It is a technological marvel and an incredible gift to the environment, but that's his story, not mine.
  • Did you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas turns fifty next week? Do you care? I'm certain that there are plenty of stories in there to tell but damned if I could find them.
These are just a few that never made their way to full blog posts for the month. There are several others, but frankly they don't even merit decent consideration for the dead blog post file. It's been a slice of life all. Hope you've enjoyed the ride. Me? Well...I have eleven months to consider once again if this is a worthwhile exercise.

**I would love to hear from all of my faithful readers. Let me know if this month was a joy, a pain, a distraction, an intrusion or just plain fun. Thanks for the support.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Shabbat Music Break

Our final Shabbat Music Break Broadway Style recognizes one of my favourite theatre going experiences of the last two years. My infatuation with Idina Menzel is well-documented, but seeing her in this incredible production was stupefyingly mind-blowing. If/Then tells the story of Elizabeth, a 40-something who has moved back to New York following the breakup of her marriage. Her life is mapped out for her depending on the choices she makes and the people she meets. The play is a bit like the movie Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, in that it follows the same character on two distinct life paths that are dependent on the options presented. Ms Menzel is always a revelation, and the music has been perfectly tailored to her immense vocal talents. I tend to weep every single time I see her live. It's kind of a thing between her and me. If/Then has begun a national tour and will hit Toronto in the spring, and while Ms Menzel will not be in the cast, it is still an incredible theatre experience. It is not a show for the lazy theatre goer and it is not a show for those expecting big, brassy production numbers. It requires attention, thought, and perspective. It is very adult and very brilliant.

Here is the "11:00" number. I convulsed with tears.

If/Then (2014)
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Book: Brian Yorkey

Song: Always Starting Over

Friday, 27 November 2015

My Husband The Plumber

There is never a shortage of issues confronting us when we arrive at The Southern Home following our annual eight-month hiatus. This isn't surprising. As with any home ownership, things break and crumble with age and weather. In past years, we have had to deal with washing machines that have walked across the floor locking us out of the laundry room, leaky toilets that have left us puddles on the bathroom floor, a garburator that rusted through causing a lake in the kitchen every time the dishwasher was in use, dead palmetto bugs big enough to saddle, broken light fixtures, a defrosted freezer, hurricane shutters that won't open, and twice we had leaks from upstairs neighbours causing enough significant damage in our unit that we had to re-drywall, re-plaster, and repaint. Ah...the joys of condo life. We have been here long enough to know that there will always be some fresh hell sent to challenge us or just plain aggravate us upon our arrival. Of course, this year was no different.

We arrived in the early evening on Saturday. We really weren't planning on arriving until Sunday morning, but heavy rain throughout our drive in Florida really repressed any notion we might have had of stopping for a meal, snacks, or bathroom breaks. There was a dogged determination apparent in The Husband's demeanour that basically said "Enough of this f***ing drive already. Let's just get there." As a result, we were both quite spent upon our arrival and in no mood for bullshit. But, bullshit has a way of finding us. While I got to the unpacking, The Husband set to the task of attempting to open the hurricane shutters. The first two were no issue, but the main one's lock was rusted through and stuck like a son of a bitch. No amount of brute strength, banging, jiggling, or angry cuss words were going to move it. When after countless attempts he finally broke the key off in the lock, I think his angry epithets were heard down in South Beach. Knowing that this was a lost cause in the dark, he moved on to check the rest of the apartment figuring that he would deal with the shutters after a good night sleep. All seemed well until he turned on the main water. (It is a condo regulation that we absolutely must turn off the water when leaving for extended periods of time. The plumbing in this building can only be described as f***ing crap, and as such we have had major leaks over the years. Turning off the water is supposed to help alleviate some of those concerns.) I heard an odd whooshing sound coming from the bathroom and then a plaintive call that sounded like a cow singing James Brown's "I Feel Good." 

Me: "What the f*** was that?"

The Husband: "The toilet is singing to you."

Me: "I'd prefer it didn't but if it has to, I would prefer James Taylor to James Brown."

The Husband: "I don't think it is offering a choice."

While the toilet kept up it's mournful wailing, I kept the faith that this was a temporary situation akin to the broken key currently jammed into the lock on the shutters. The major difference was that the lock while aggravating, didn't have the ability to keep us up all night bleating like two cats in heat. We were simply too tired to deal with it and we were certainly not about to call a plumber at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night. I had no desire to contribute to some pipe jockey's kid's college fund. We climbed into bed with the sounds of Marley's ghost wailing in the background.

But, I married one of the only Jewish handymen. He is really good at fixing things and refused to be waylaid by a broken key or a melancholy toilet. The shutters were successfully opened the next morning, and while he did manage to remove the offending key, he is succumbing to having a professional come to service them and replace the lock. The toilet was another matter. After ascertaining that the flapper inside the tank wasn't sealing properly, we figured out that the offending noise was being caused by a decreasing water line that in turn caused the toilet to run and sing. The flapper needed to be replaced, but given that we had a myriad of tasks to accomplish on Sunday, like groceries, we decided to leave it for one more day. That was a mistake. On Sunday evening, the moaning increased to levels that would have made Tibetan throat-singing monks envious. At 1:00 am, I arose and turned off the water in the toilet. I had to awaken The Husband (how he slept through it I will never know) in order to tell him so that he wouldn't accidentally make a mess the next morning. By first light, I was at Walmart hunting for a replacement flapper. 

My husband the handyman went straight to work. Five minutes later it was Goodbye James Brown; Hello Sounds of Silence.

The Husband is many things, but never once before have I mistaken him for a plumber. He isn't crazy about getting his hands dirty and toilets are not really his thing. But he is my superhero when it comes to stuff like this and I have nothing but admiration for his myriad of hidden talents. If I had known about this when we first met, I might have encouraged this side of him. There is big money in being a plumber. But for now, I think that he will content himself with today's win. Anyway, my parent's toilet is sounding like Barry White. He is going downstairs to silence that one too. 


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving American Style

I plan on spending my day marvelling at huge balloons floating through the Manhattan skies and I plan on watching a football game or two. This isn't my holiday, but gratitude is important and should be acknowledged.

  • The ability to live and love in the moment
  • The small graces bestowed upon me and my loved ones 
  • The completeness of the natural world
  • The warmth of a good laugh
  • The catharsis of a good cry 
  • The genius of creative thought
  • The wonder of presentation
  • The blessing of talent
  • The capacity to make choices
  • The acceptability of failure
  • The emotional release of a well-place F-bomb
  • The gift of imperfection
  • The potential of continuing education
  • For difficult discussions and easy decisions
  • For moral clarity
  • Understanding of differences and acceptance of similarities
For all of this and so much more, I am grateful.

A song for the day. My all-time favourite non-Hebrew song about gratitude. It's worth spending a few minutes listening to exquisite beauty. Happy Thanksgiving.

Music and Lyrics by: John Bucchino
Performed by: Art Garfunkel

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday

My final Almost Wordless Wednesday for Blogapalooza comes from earlier this year and serves as a reminder as to why I love the Southern Home so very much. This shot was taken while we sat on our balcony. This little guy just kept stopping by for regular visits during the latter part of March. He was fun and frisky and we were in awe. The best experiences in life are the ones you simply can't anticipate.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Road Tripping Redux

The Husband and I have completed our annual pilgrimage to the Southern Home and I must say that every year the drive down is filled with more tedium than excitement. Not that I am looking for excitement, mind you. I had enough of that to last me a lifetime the year that we were waylaid for six days by a massive snowstorm in the midwest with nothing to eat but Pizza Hut. (None of us has set foot in a Pizza Hut in more than twenty years.) No, I am perfectly fine with the mundane. But I must say that even after all the years, I am struck by how the little things on a road trip seem to stick with me. This year was no different and offered up a few choice impressions.
  • I have never been in the United States for their Thanksgiving. (Sorry Canada. Ours is a pale imitation.) Not ever. I have always envied Americans and their observance of this most secular of holidays. It is an amazing concept. A holiday that cuts across religious lines, is quintessentially American in its origins, involves an entire nation, and allows for gluttony on a national level. What's not to like about that? Watching Americans prepare for this holiday from afar has always been filled with envy and a twinge of sadness. But seeing it up close, even from the limitations of the Interstates, is a revelation. Our hotel was decked out in harvest paraphernalia. The roads were jammed with college students returning home for the holiday in cars packed to the windows with bags of dirty laundry.Thanksgiving specials and flyers were in the windows of even the tackiest of gas station souvenir shops. (I made do without the two-for-one turkey jerky offered in South Carolina.) But my favourite Thanksgiving interlude on the road came from Canonburg Pennsylvania. By sheer chance, (it is almost creepy how by chance this is) we have stopped in the same small town for four years running. It must be that we come through the same stretch of road at approximately the same time every year, given our penchant for starting out early in the morning, or we are just looking for a Subway so that we might be able to eat something vegetarian that doesn't taste like rubber.Whatever the explanation, we once again stopped in Canonburg in order to eat and pee. This year, the only other patrons of the shop were a father and his young son all decked out in pilgrim costume, complete with hat. (I have to say that the hat made the ensemble.) The boy was talking animatedly about John Alden, Myles Standish, and turkey. It reminded me of those days long ago when my own boys would participate in school productions and chatter incessantly about all they had learned. If ever we question the reasons for making holidays fun, interactive, and filled with family and friends, one need only to have watched this little guy exude excitement for the day. It was truly special.
  • The border was quiet when we crossed. We were the only ones in the Nexus line, but the heightened security given the Paris attacks was intense and not surprising. We were grilled for several minutes as to the registration of our car, what we were carrying, our professions, and why we were travelling back and forth this winter. We were asked for dates and about the contents of our belongings. We didn't mind, but this was the Nexus line. One can only imagine what the non-prescreened people went through.
  • There was many a deer sighting on the road this year. Some live, many not. Bambi and his extended family were actually quite brazen in their appearances, foraging at the side of the road as if it were a Hometown Buffet. It was almost as if they were saying "Hey, we're not turkeys. We have nothing to worry about at this time of year." Of course they probably weren't thinking about the constant barrage of 40-tonne trucks barrelling down on them at every pass. There were deer parts littering the highway all the way into the Carolinas. I suppose Georgian and Floridian deer are smarter than their northern cousins, and stayed away from the Eisenhower-inspired death trap.
  • This must be the week that American snowbirds make their way south en masse. It is migration week. So many RVs. So many campers. So many retirees with absolutely no idea how to drive the monster trucks they have purchased. Some are hauling their entire lives in a bus; others are merely hauling SUVs, boats, bikes, and seadoos. It is a wonder any of them reach their destinations safely given the fishtailing, swerving, and odd lane changes. There were times I hung on and just  quietly uttered the Shema hoping for the best. 
  • As per usual, The Husband and I fought over the radio. I am perfectly happy with my Broadway channel, while he just drives and stews until I change to a different station. I don't mind The Bridge, but the playlist is limited and I draw the line at the constant repetition of Eagles and Fleetwood Mac tunes. I mean really? How many times in 24 hours does one need to hear Say You Love Me? I say 4 is plenty. So we switched to The Coffee House, a channel that plays hits reimagined acoustically. But Sting waxing with poetic angst on Message in a Bottle put me over the edge. We returned enthusiastically to Broadway. I was struck by some of the ironic music experiences we had. Carly Simon's Anticipation played as we were stuck in a traffic jam outside of Charlotte, and Carolina Day by Livingston Taylor was on as we crossed the state line between the two Carolinas. Coincidence? Probably, but it was still weird.
  • The Sunshine State was definitely not. We crossed into Florida and the rain started....hard....and it stayed that way for the next 5 hours. The only positive is that we had no real impetus to stop so we made it down in two full days rather than two and half. 
It is so nice to be here. Of course there are a myriad of problems in the condo that need to be addressed. Aren't there always? A defective toilet flapper is causing one kimode to wail like James Brown. The storm shutters have a rusted lock, meaning that we can't open one side. A call to the experts is on the docket. But the season has begun. Hello South Florida. Nice to see you again.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Meatless Monday

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Today I offer one of the easiest soups I have ever made and possibly one of the most delicious. It is seasonally timely and would be a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving table that my American friends might be setting this week. Enjoy.

Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup


2 onions chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Salt and freshly crack black pepper
1.5 litres hot vegetable stock
Parsley or thyme for garnishing


In a large pan, fry the onions in oil until translucent and soft. Add squash and carrots and stir, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Add thyme and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour over stock and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using an immersion blender or a liquidiser, blend to a smooth soup. If too thick, add a little more stock until desired consistency is achieved.

Divide soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche if desired and parsley or thyme.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Multitasking Mayhem

Are you a multitasker or a uni-tasker?

Most women I know tend to veer toward the multitask side of the equation, myself included. But I have begun to wonder if by multitasking I am doing many jobs half-assed rather than one singular chore well at a time.

An example:

This morning I was drying my hair, applying what little makeup I wear, and blogging on my laptop all at the same time. I am a master of dexterity and possessor of a keen mind, right?


Of course all of that was only possible before the dryer cord pulled all of the hair products into the sink, powder spilled all over the counter, my keyboard became stained with foundation, and I slipped across the wet bathroom floor as I scurried to clean it all up. My great strategy for increasing productivity devolved into a tangled wet mess that left me bruised, dirty, and added at least a half an hour to my morning routine.

Here's another:

Last Friday morning, I needed to run out to pick up a challah for Shabbat dinner. I figured that I could knock a few other things off of my to-dos, so I made a list. (Classic multitasker behaviour.) I headed to the bank, the drugstore, and finally to Sobey's in order to fulfill the items on said list. I came home feeling very self-satisfied only to discover that the only thing I had forgotten to purchase was the f***ing challah. You see, I hadn't thought to write the word challah on my list because I figured that it was the raison d'être of the entire excursion, so why bother? I had to head back out to get the challah, once again adding at least a half an hour to my plans.

It might be easy to dismiss my clumsiness and forgetfulness as age, but frankly I think it is symptomatic of another problem. I am wondering if my mind has become far too cluttered to handle the multitasking I used to achieve with relative ease. I am forever stuck in a latent stress mode over a myriad of chronic issues that cannot easily resolve themselves. No matter how much I meditate, no matter how hard I search for tension releases, no matter how strenuously I exercise, there are and will always be backburner questions that continually invade my subconscious. This isn't unique. We all have some version of the same truth. The decluttering of one's mind is often a much more difficult task than the decluttering of one's physical space. I can't have a garage sale to rid myself of the flotsam and jetsam scattered throughout my psyche.

The Husband is a uni-tasker and has always had tremendous problems handling more than one chore at a time, so he doesn't even try. When I told him of my little mishaps, he took it as validation of his way of being and challenged me to take a step back and slow down the process. I probably can't alleviate all of the stress, but perhaps I can achieve an easier coexistence. At the very least, I can simplify enough so that  I don't end up on the bathroom floor with wet makeup all over my clothes.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Shabbat Music Break

Our Shabbat Music Break today is the Tony Award winner for Best Musical of 2015 Fun Home. Adapted from Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, Fun Home the musical follows her complicated relationship with her closeted father and her coming to terms with her own sexuality. Told through the eyes of Bechdel at various ages and through her own experiences as a comics artist, the play alternates between poignant and heart-wrenching. The music is incredible and the intimate setting at Circle in the Square Theatre perfectly captures the sense of claustrophobia that both of the main characters must have felt as they were locked into their hidden lives. I walked out in tears. Fun Home isn't a classic big ballsy Broadway musical and at times it is difficult to watch. It is, however, a game-changer in the theatrical world and needs to be seen by a wide audience. It elevates Broadway to the next level.

Fun Home (2015)
Music by: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics by: Lisa Kron
Book by: Lisa Kron

Song: Ring of Keys

Friday, 20 November 2015

10 Movies I Can Watch Over and Over and Over and Over.....

I am travelling today and will be out of touch for chunks of the weekend, but I will try to diligently update this space in order to keep up with my pledge of thirty posts in thirty days. The actual postings may come at odd hours, but I promise that they will be here. Please don't abandon me now. We are so close to the finish line.

Today, I thought that we might play a game so that I have something to occupy me during the many tedious hours I will be spending in a car. Herewith I offer you ten (there are so many more) movies that I can, and have, watched many times over. I'm not talking a mere second viewing, here. I'm talking watching a film so many times that I can actually do the dialogue (and sometimes the musical interludes) along with the actors. These are probably not the finest films ever made, but each one has special significance to me. So in no particular order.....
  1. The Sound of Music. I realize that this is probably the weakest of all of Rogers and Hammerstein's musicals, but there is something about this film that just works for me. It could be the remarkable voice of Julie Andrews, the extreme diffidence of Christoper Plummer, the magnificence of the location, the cloying schmaltziness of the kids, or just the easiness of the score, but I watch it at least twice a year. I have lost count as to how many copies of the film I own, and The Husband and my children have given up their protestations whenever I choose to watch.
  2. Rocky. The original and only the original. Every other incarnation of Stallone's alter-ego isn't worth mentioning, but that first film is genius. There is an intense vulnerability in the character that I find disarmingly charming, and the awkwardness in his relationship with Talia Shire's Adrienne is painfully real. The ice skating scene is the classic first date; uneasy, tense, clumsy, and filled with sexual tension. Rocky is only a sports movie in part. It is also a great chick flick.
  3. The Big Easy. The New Orleans backdrop and musical score is perfection in this cop thriller. The chemistry between Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid is as hot as anything ever filmed, and frankly he gives me the vapours. The actual storyline is pretty good too.
  4. When Harry Met Sally. The best Nora Ephron script ever and one of the best comedies ever filmed. Enough said.
  5. West Side Story. Musicals are a running theme with me, but great musical films are rare. This one holds up well. The supporting characters are actually far better than the leads and Rita Moreno blows everybody else off the screen. When she sings the line "A boy like that, he killed your brother..." my heart just aches for her loss.
  6.  It's a Wonderful Life. I love anything with James Stewart, but this one is an obvious classic. Buffalo Gals is a perfectly acceptable earworm and how great is it that the cop and cab driver are named Bert and Ernie? I even love watching this one off-season.
  7. The Americanization of Emily. Julie Andrews, in a rare non-singing role, is positively feminism-incarnate in this film. James Garner is a studly rogue, and the black and white patina brings a certain realism to the entire endeavour. I love that all the romantic clichés fall by the wayside in this brilliant Paddy Chayefsky script; heroism, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and fidelity. My favourite line?  "I don't want to know what's good, or bad, or true. I let God worry about the truth. I just want to know the momentary fact about things. Life isn't good, or bad, or true. It's merely factual, it's sensual, it's alive. My idea of living sensual facts are you, a home, a country, a world, a universe. In that order. I want to know what I am, not what I should be." Just an all-around great film.
  8. It Happened One Night. The first "runaway bride" film stars an incredibly charming Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I have to say that I am not a huge Gable fan, but he is at his heart-swooning best in this gem from Frank Capra. This is a film that invented the clichés; The Walls of Jericho, the "how to" guide on hitchhiking, and a shirtless Gable. And honestly, how could I not love a film that has a character named King Westley? 
  9. Marley and Me. I first read John Grogan's book about his uncontrollable labrador retriever just months after we had lost our own goofy yellow menace. I devoured the book in less than a day, alternating between heaving sobs of sorrow and heaving sobs of laughter. I had lived John's life. The movie was just an extension of that love and I have seen it countless times, each time stifling tears at the end. Marley's attempted escape through the car window still evokes scary memories of my car trips to the vet with BJ. It all happened just as John described.
  10. The Pajama Game. I have a confession to make. I love Doris Day. No explanation for it. I just happen to love her. In everything. But especially when she sings. The movie version of the legendary George Abbott's stageplay is great on so many levels. One is Doris Day. Two is a rare screen appearance from the magnificent John Raitt. (Bonnie's dad and Broadway legend.) Three is Carol Haney who gets a chance to show off her brilliance. Four is the duets. I just love this film.
So there you have it. My ten films that I can and do watch repeatedly. Help keep me occupied on our long road trip. Name yours either in the comment section, on Facebook, or shoot me an email. I have many kilometres ahead of me.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Step Away From The Keyboard If....

It has been a difficult week to be an active online participant. There has been so much hate spewed by so many about so much, that I have honestly begun to question whether or not this great social media experiment that billions of us have signed on for is actually worth it. I am all for the free exchange of opinions and ideas, but I have reservations when that careful, cool, and considered debate turns into something darker and more sinister. It isn't just on social media sites. Check out the comments section of any newspaper, magazine, or blog and you will find a litany of venom spewing from all sides of a dispute. And this crap is just the stuff that has made it through the moderators. Imagine what gets filtered?

I have given much thought to online etiquette and why our discourse has become so very toxic and I have developed my own personal filters to weed out the miscreants. Here are some basic tips for commenting, posting, or sharing online. I am calling it Step Away From the Keyboard If...

Step Away From The Keyboard If....that which you are about to share comes from a blog, "news organization", or media site that you have never heard of before or has no attributable source. The chances are if it has a funky name, it is spewing bullshit.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you might share a meme, photograph, or photoshopped image that has no viable attributable source.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you don't feel comfortable posting under your own name. If you feel that you need a pseudonym or handle in order to feel safe or comfortable with your words, I can almost guarantee that what you are about to post isn't worth it and probably shameful.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you are about to share a meme, photograph, or photoshopped image that comes from somebody with a pseudonym or handle you are unfamiliar with. The chances are, that it emanates from bullshit.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you are thinking about posting on a friend's Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page with angry, contrary, bigoted, and expletive-laden opinions that are certain to anger your "friend". Discussion and discourse are fine. Hostility and venom are not.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you are thinking about sharing an email that has a chain of hundreds of thousands of names, comes from an undisclosed recipient, or arrives from an address that you are unfamiliar with. Chances are....bullshit.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you would never consider saying the things you are about to post in a face to face conversation.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you have given less than five minutes of thought to that which you are about to post or on that which you are about to comment. Impulsivity is certain disaster online.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....a friend's post makes you so angry that you are tempted to type a diatribe response filled with expletives, hate, and venom. Angry online debates are a waste of time. Civil discourse requires thought and space.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you have only read the headline or title of an article and have only skimmed the contents. Context is everything. Don't comment if you haven't read something thoroughly.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you can't be polite.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you are uninformed or underinformed on the topic presented. Trust me when I say that ignorance can't be easily hidden.

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you feel the need to use euphemisms like "libtard", "Left-wing asshole", "cu**servative", "right-wing nut job", or if you use demeaning nicknames for the leaders of Canada or the United States. For the record, those proper forms of address are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama. Whether you like them or not, or agree with them or not, they are the duly elected leaders of our countries. When you demean their names, you demean the offices they hold. Unless you are a satirist (and trust me none of you are) stop with the name-calling. (I must admit that I learned this one the hard way.)

Step Away From The Keyboard If....you can't address the issue at hand without personal attacks.

I am not suggesting that we shouldn't enjoy our time online, nor am I suggesting that it shouldn't be fun. I am suggesting that we be far more careful about the tone that we are setting and far more careful about the content we are spreading and, by default, becoming responsible for. These are just a few gentle reminders. I hope that by following some of them, we can improve the tenor of our discourse.

One last thing on a highly personal note: If anybody ever posts anything on any of my social media sites or on this blog which I deem to be racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, religiously insensitive, culturally inappropriate, or just plain mean that person will be permanently blocked. My game, my rules. I have no time nor patience for bullshit.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Today's image comes from our trip this past summer to the Baltics. While in Oslo, we had a chance to visit the Nobel Peace Centre. It is a showcase for the Nobel Peace Prize, the work of Alfred Nobel, and it offers an interactive display of all of the Peace Prize laureates. From their mission statement:

The Centre also acts as an arena for debate about important social issues. Through permanent and temporary exhibitions, guided tours, various events and family activities, we wish to foster reflection and engagement on topics related to war, peace and conflict resolution. 

The Hall of Laureates left me breathless and filled with emotion. While there has been controversy over the years as to some of those honoured, most have been incredibly deserving. In this time of global turmoil, the Centre serves as a living reminder to what can be achieved through communication, understanding, and peaceful coexistence.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Finding Peace in Sadness

**I wrote this last week before the events in Paris, Sinai and Beruit. It's funny that I think it more relevant now than ever.

This is the time of year that The Husband and I start catching up on all of the worthwhile films we missed due to our antipathy toward the modern cinema-going experience. We haven't sworn off movies, but rather going to the movies. Hence our recent love affair with Netflix, pay-per-view, and Apple TV. Last week we finally got the chance to settle in and watch Pixar's latest masterpiece Inside Out. The story follows young Riley as she and her family move from their comfortable Midwest home and relocate in San Francisco. Her emotions--Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear--are all in conflict as they struggle to navigate Riley through the new situations she faces.

I could sit here and wax poetic about the sheer genius of the film, and trust me it is f***ing brilliant, or I could spend several paragraphs on my unadulterated passion for all things Pixar. But instead I very much want to focus on my favourite character in the movie, Sadness. (By the way, the casting of Phyllis Smith in this role is inspired. She is flat out perfect.)

Sadness captivated me from the very beginning. She is coloured blue. She is short, kind of schlumpy, hunched over, and in a constant state of exhaustion. Her voice sounds chronically depleted. She is an outcast from the other emotions and tends to keep to herself for fear of ruining everybody's "happy girl." Joy is forever trying to isolate her and keep her away from Riley's memory balls for fear that Sadness will tinge every recollection with her special brand of melancholy. In short, Sadness is the emotion that all the other emotions do not want to deal with at all.

And....neither do the other people in Riley's life. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, all want to see the happy joyful Riley. They tend to overlook the moments when Sadness takes over her being because Sadness is often so painful to address and far easier to ignore.

Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist who specializes in emotion, social interaction, power and social perception, and behaviour, and was a consultant to director Pete Docter on the film states:
One, [emotions] are really critical to how we look at the world—our perception and our attention and our memories and our judgment. They guide us in our handling of really important life circumstances, like moves and developmental changes.
The second thing is more subtle to perceive in the movie, and it's something that we've been arguing for in my lab: People in different traditions like to refer to emotions with a social idiom or a grammar of social interactions. Emotions are the structure, the substance, of our interactions with other people. If I'm falling in love with somebody, everything that I do in that euphoria of love—buying flowers, reciting poetry, touching the individual's hair—it's textured by the feeling, and it sets up these patterns of how we relate to each other. Those scenes in particular with Riley's fights with parents and running away and coming back are all about sadness. That's what it really got right. Emotions shape how we relate to other people.
We tend to disregard sadness because we would rather our memories are filled with happy and positive experiences. But our emotions are malleable. Sometimes they are all jumbled together in order to create one single memory. By discounting one and only focusing on the others, we are neglecting the whole picture and all of the individual moments that went into making that memory. Dr. Keltner continues:
You may think your memories are a factual representation of events, but in fact we lose a lot of information. Memory is imperfect, that's OK, and emotions are part of the reconstruction of the past. People say they get it, but once you portray that artistically, then people are crying and struck by the existential truth of that notion.
In other words, Sadness matters. We navigate our way to joy and contentment through a maze of competing emotions. How can we possibly understand or appreciate our euphoria if we refuse to acknowledge and deal with the dolefulness?

I am always underwhelmed by people who are in a constant state of positivity and attempting to impose those emotions on others. You know the type? They're the ones who are filling up your Facebook feed with positive affirmation statements. It isn't that I have a problem with their optimistic outlook, it is that I am suspicious that negativity seems to have been banished from their lifestyles. Life is a balance and from an emotional perspective neither extreme is good. Once more from Dr. Keltner:
One of the things I really resonated with is that we have a naive view in the West that happiness is all about the positive stuff. But happiness in a meaningful life is really about the full array of emotions, and finding them in the right place. I think that is a subtext of the movie: The parents want Riley to just be their happy little girl. And she can't. She has to have this full complement of emotions to develop. I think we all need to remember that. This is a weakness in Western culture and the United States. You need sadness, you need anger, you need fear.
Obviously it is far more complex than can be gleaned from a two hour Pixar movie. What is important is that we learn to recognize our emotions and how they control every aspect of our lives. There is no magic bullet to achieving balance and the journey is complicated and filled with a myriad of pitfalls, but we cannot get to where we want to be by denying a huge chunk of our emotional psyche. Sometimes sadness takes over. Understand it. Own it. Feel it.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Meatless Monday

Here is another recipe in my ongoing quest for restaurant-style Asian dishes that perfectly utilize vegetarian proteins. Today we talk tempeh. Tempeh is a soy product that is fermented so that it binds together in a cake form. It is a whole bean product so it maintains higher quantities of protein, fiber, and vitamins than does its better-known cousin, tofu. Tempeh has a unique texture that might require some getting used to, but it is extremely versatile. Once again, I found this recipe surfing the interwebs and full credit for it goes to Breast Cancer Maven. I prefer my tempeh a bit crunchier when fried, so I used more oil in the pan to achieve a more deep-fried texture and I added more maple syrup.

General Tso's Tempeh


1 8 ounce packages of tempeh
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
1/4 cup olive oil

General Tso's Sauce
Olive Oil (drizzle for the pan)
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup vegetable broth
2 TB Tamari Sauce (or soy sauce)
2 TB tomato paste
1 TB rice vinegar
1 TB vegan hoisin sauce
2 TB maple syrup


Tempeh Prep:

1. Preheat a steaming pan.
2. Cut the tempeh package into half or thirds.
3. Steam the tempeh chunks for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cut the tempeh into bite size chunks. (You can stop here if you prefer not to fry your tempeh and skip to the sauce prep instructions).
4. Mix the cornstarch, garlic powder, and paprika and pour into a plastic bag.
5. Lightly coat each piece of tempeh with the cornstarch mixture, shaking off any excess.
6. Preheat a skillet on medium heat.
7. When hot, coat the bottom of the pan with oil.
8. Add the tempeh pieces.
9. Cook the tempeh until golden brown. When crispy, remove from pan.

Sauce Prep
1. Using the same pan, and add a drizzle more oil and toss in the fresh garlic and ginger.
2. After a few minutes, mix veggie broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, tomato paste, hoisin sauce, and maple syrup in the pan with the garlic and ginger.
3. Add the tempeh and stir to coat each piece with sauce.
4. Turn down the heat and saute for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Serve with brown rice or rice noodles.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


This weekend has just been exhausting.

So much hate.

So much carnage.

So much pain.

So much hurt.

There is so little to say and so little I understand. I have no words and I certainly have no inclination to be pithy or glib. I refuse to enter into social media debates that have no purpose other than hate. Instead, I offer some salve for the soul. The message is so simple. If only they would listen.
Peace...שלום...Salaam...paix...paz...fred...vrede...der friede...pace...✌🏼

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Shabbat Music Break

Today I offer another in my series of Shabbat Music Breaks Broadway with the incredibly clever and hysterically funny new musical Something Rotten. Set in South London in the late 1590s, Something Rotten follows the story of the struggling Bottom brothers as they attempt to make it in a theatrical world dominated by their arch nemesis William Shakespeare. Opening on Broadway in March 2015, it was nominated for a myriad of theatre awards including 10 Tonys, (winning but 1) including Best Musical. This show is just a rip-roaring great time at the theatre.

Something Rotten (2015)
Music by: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Lyrics by: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Book by: Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell

Song: A Musical

Friday, 13 November 2015

Religious Litmus Test

I am not an atheist.

This may seem like a strange statement to have to make, but somehow it feels somewhat necessary for a centre/left progressive in 2015. We seem to be a vanishing breed, us liberals of faith.

I will not get into why I believe or how I choose to articulate that belief. Frankly, that isn't any of your business. All that anybody needs to know about me is that I am a committed Reform Jew; that the structure of my belief in a Higher Being stems from the basic tenets of God, Torah, and Klal Yisrael (the entirety of the Jewish community); that I do observe many of the mitzvot (commandments, albeit reimagined for a modern world); that I am deeply committed to Tikkun Olam (the reparation of our world); that my Judaism is one of equality for all no matter their gender, race, or sexual orientation; and that for me, belief in a Higher Power is not in any way inconsistent with scientific discovery. It is my hope that anybody reading this will respect my intensely personal and private belief system as I vow to respect theirs.

So it deeply concerns me when I hear political candidates vying for the highest of leadership positions talk of religious litmus tests as necessary qualifications for office.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R): "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country."

The Senator was responding to a question as to whether an atheist should be allowed to serve as president. Jews actually do much of our praying standing up. Is the Senator also disqualifying Jews from the presidency?

Ben Carson (R): "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

Dr. Carson's views are wholly inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, of course, but why should he let details get in the way of xenophobic fearmongering.

Mike Huckabee (R): "The only thing worse than not being elected president would be to be elected president without God’s blessing. I can’t think of a worse place in the world to be than in the Oval Office without God’s hand upon you. I’d rather not get near the place."

The idea that God is dictating the decisions of the president is not only inconsistent with the separation of church and state, but it is a bit worrisome. Does the president owe his/her first allegiance to their God or to the citizenry of the United States?

I find it absolutely stunning that many of our American friends find it necessary to apply a religious litmus test to their presidential candidates. Here in Canada, there is little or nothing known about the religious beliefs of our leaders. Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is a practicing Catholic who finds absolutely no inconsistency in advocating that divisive issues like abortion or doctor-assisted suicide should be based on personal conviction. He believes that public officials should not impose their personal views on entire communities.

“I’ve sat down with a number of bishops, archbishops, and even a cardinal and I’ve talked about the fact that their job as priests is very different than my job as a leader, as a politician,” he said.

And while many political opponents point to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's evangelical Christian faith as the basis for his many disputed policies, the truth is that he kept much of his radical Christian right-wing effectively muzzled during his almost ten years in power.

Western democracies cannot function as they were meant to when religious beliefs creep into policy-making decisions. The Bible should never be looked upon as the source of scientific proofs, nor should centuries-old religious disputes play out in a country that pits "us against them". Our governments need to remain staunchly secular so that they may adequately and properly serve the needs of all citizens, no matter their religious convictions.

Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that only 58% of Americans would vote an atheist for president. I do wonder what has people so spooked about the lack of religious belief in their leaders. It seems to me that qualifications, a clear vision for the country, intelligence, management skills, compassion, and understanding should matter far more. I fear the day when religion is a litmus test for leadership.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Christmas Coffee in a Red Cup

I do not celebrate Christmas. Not at all. Not even in my imagination.

And I don't have a problem saying that, nor do I begrudge any part of the season to those who do.

I smile generously when a clerk wishes me Merry Christmas and I respond in kind. I love the brightness of the lights and I appreciate the beauty of the decorations, even though it looks like an elf might have puked on the walls of many stores. I grew up singing carols in school choirs and I still find myself humming along in the malls. (It can make for some tremendously awkward moments and some unusual stares when my fellow synagogue members catch me bellowing O Holy Night in the drugstore. It is my all-time favourite, but Jews don't always go for the Christ references.)

I am not at all interested in North American society's attempted equalization of our holidays, and frankly, Chanukah is undeserving of the upgrade. I don't want a holiday tree, nor do I ever again need to hear the term "Chanukah Bush". Such insipid and insulting behaviour is what drives this teetotaler to the liquor cabinet. And while I may not be fond of crèche displays in front of public schools, honestly, given the import of the season, I can cope.

Most of us "others" can cope. Most of us are secure enough in our own faiths, our own agnosticism, or our own atheism that to us, Christmas is just there. That statement shouldn't be viewed as a slight to the believers, rather it should embolden them to understand that we want you to have your holiday and most of us are not at all interested in waging war on it. Most of us simply do not care.

Which brings me to Starbucks and their festering cup "nontroversy". Is this the best that some angry asshole could do? Scream and yell about a red paper cup? Do this putz and all those who have followed and inhaled his bullshit (Yes Donald Trump, I'm looking at you!) really believe that there is a sinister underground war brewing (see what I did there?) that will see steamed baristas (HA!!) everywhere rise up and destroy the fabric of the holiday? Are people so insulated and insecure in their own petty little lives that they need to manufacture outrage where none exists? Does anybody really and truly think that Starbucks went out of its way this year to explicitly insult Christians?

Here are some suggestions for all those dipsticks who need to seek conspiracies at every corner. How about employing some of that energy on positive endeavours? What if, the next time you went into a Starbucks, instead of railing at the poor shlub behind the counter against the lack of snowflakes on your cup, you bought gift cards and gave them to the homeless? What if, instead of screaming about a media-manufactured "War on Christmas", you found ways of making your holiday more meaningful for your family and friends? What if, instead of worrying about the "holiday tree" at City Hall, you instead focused on your enjoyment of the festive season?

A red cup doesn't define Christmas and Starbucks isn't an enemy of anybody's faith or belief system. Get a grip. Sometimes a cup is just a cup.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday

My Almost Wordless Wednesday for this Remembrance Day comes from a recent excursion to Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, home to one of the finest veteran's residences in the country. The grounds are being covered with these small flags to recognize the tremendous service of our men and women in uniform. Last evening in the rain, volunteers placed 30,000 more to honour the day.

Today...we remember.

Today...we give thanks.

Today...we are humbled.

At the eleventh hour
On the eleventh day
Of the eleventh month....

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

What the Poppy Means to Me This Year

There is a kind of wistful patriotism that spreads across the country during the first eleven days of November. The scarlet hue of poppies adorning lapels everywhere brings the essence of military service and sacrifice into laser-sharp focus for even the most cynical of Canadians. We are challenged to remember and admonished about forgetting. There are deep nobility and honour that comes with these days, but for most, it is fleeting and ephemeral.

This year, I have newfound respect and kinship with those who have been touched by our greatest heroes. One of my nearest and dearests has recently enlisted in the Canadian Forces with the wholly virtuous goal of serving as a medical technician. He has chosen for himself a life of service, and one that will see him truly helping the afflicted. We are all tremendously proud of him, but watching him passionately prepare for his departure last week, I couldn't help but be slightly weepy and nostalgic for that little boy who used to bounce off  walls and do handsprings in my living room. This life that he has chosen for himself is impressive, but I cannot pretend that it doesn't come without some inherent risks and major concerns for all those who love him.

You see, we are not a military family. We care deeply about our country and her safety, but it hasn't been the purview of any of us to view the military as anything other than something that other people do. Please don't get me wrong. For all my liberal views, I am not entirely anti-interventionist, nor am I an extreme pacifist. There are times when an active and involved military is necessary, and as much as I loathe the idea of combat, I understand the implications under the right circumstances. But, until the last several years, being a Canadian has been all about watching our troops serve in humanitarian and peace-keeping missions. This is the Canada that I know and understand. The role of the Canadian military has been much altered over the last decade, and the world has become a much more frightening place for our men and women in uniform. This is the Canada that I am having a difficult time coming to grips with.

He will be fine. Intellectually I know this and understand this. He is choosing to serve for the finest of reasons...to save lives. But, logic only helps me up to a point. Reason goes out the window when I think of that little boy doing handsprings in my living room. I want him to be happy. I want him to live his passion. I want him to be safe.

This Remembrance Day will have added significance for our family. This year it becomes a bit more personal. This year we wear our poppies a bit more proudly and a bit less carelessly. This year I think of that boy doing handsprings in my living room and also of the exceptional man he has become. This year we stand and show our support for those who sacrificed and for those who choose to serve.

With love to you dear boy....

Lest we forget.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Meatless Monday

We are not huge fried food eaters, but every once in while we just get a hankering for the stuff. I am a sucker for French fries or, even better, sweet potato fries. Not great nutritionally, but ever so satisfying. I wholly believe in indulging the cravings from time to time.

Which brings me to today's dish. The Husband was curious to see if we could replicate a fried tofu à la some restaurant style Asian dishes. I commenced search. (You just have got to love the internet and food bloggers. Some brilliant ideas and recipes are out there emanating from the kitchens of home cooks. You just have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.)

Full credit for today's recipe goes to The Food Lab. I have slightly altered the mixture, but certainly not enough to take credit for their brilliance. This is absolutely delicious.

Vegan Crispy Stir-Fried Tofu with Broccoli


1 1/2 quarts vegetable or peanut oil
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup vodka
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2- by 2- by 1-inch slabs, carefully pressed and dried (wet tofu will splatter in the oil)
1 pound broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fermented black bean sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 (1-inch) segments lemon peel, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
6 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, divided


1. Heat oil in a wok to 350°F. Whisk together 1/2 cup cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Add water and vodka and whisk until a smooth batter is formed, adding up to 2 tablespoons additional water if batter is too thick. It should have the consistency of thin paint and fall off of the whisk in thin ribbons that instantly disappear as they hit the surface of the batter in the bowl.

2. Add tofu slices and carefully turn to coat. Working one at a time, lift one piece and allow excess batter to drip off. Carefully lower into hot oil. Repeat with remaining tofu until wok is full. Fry, using a metal spider or slotted spatula to rotate and agitate pieces as they cook until evenly pale golden and crisp all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all tofu is fried. Carefully pour all but 1 tablespoon oil out of wok and reserve for another use.

3. Combine wine, stock, soy sauce, bean sauce, sugar, sesame oil, lemon peel and juice, and remaining 2 teaspoons corn starch in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

4. Return wok to high heat until lightly smoking. Add broccoli and cook, stirring and tossing frequently, until lightly charred on several sides but still firm. Add garlic, ginger, and scallions and cook, tossing constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer broccoli and aromatics to a bowl.

5. Return skillet to high heat. Give the sauce mixture a quick whisk, then pour it into the wok. Cook, stirring, until thick and glossy, about 30 seconds. Return broccoli and tofu to pan. Add 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. Remove from heat. Turn with a wide spatula until all pieces are evenly coated. Season to taste with more salt as desired. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Serve with brown rice or rice noodles.

Happy eating.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Audacious Hospitality

In Parashat Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-8), we are regaled with the story of Abraham and the wanderers. 
And God appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of the tent at about the hottest time of the day. Looking up, he saw: lo--three men standing opposite him! Seeing [them,] he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, bowing down to the ground, he said, "My lords, if I have found favour in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought; there was your feet and recline under a tree, and let me bring a bit of bread and you can restore yourselves.  Then you can go on--now that you have come across your servant." And they responded: Very well, do as you propose.
Abraham hurried toward the tent, to Sarah, and said, "Hurry, knead three measures of wheat-flour and bake some cakes!" Abraham then ran to the herd and took a young calf tender and sound, and gave it to the servant lad, who quickly prepared it. He took sour milk and [sweet] milk and the calf he had prepared and set it all before them; and as he stood over them under the tree, they ate.
What we often forget about this story is that not only is Abraham the consummate host, but he is actually quite ill at the time. He is sitting quietly at the beginning of the story because he is recovering from just having circumcised himself as a tangible sign of his covenant with The Almighty. Abraham's genuine show of hospitality and generosity is even more impressive given his advanced age and physical condition. For Abraham, welcoming the stranger was easy because it was a wholly natural impulse.

As I write this, 5000 of my fellow Reform Jews are gathered together in Orlando for the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial. It is a time when our movement takes stock of its congregational health, its members spiritual needs, its social justice responses, its continued learning and growing, and frankly it's just a damn good time. The music is phenomenal, the prayer experiences like no other, the study sessions are creative as hell, and Shabbat uplifts both body and spirit. I am sorry to be missing it this year, but one can't have it all, so I am following from afar.

One of the themes of the movement over the past couple of years is something that a smart  marketing guy has termed Audacious Hospitality. Personally, I find catchphrases anathema. They simply don't mean anything unless they have something substantive to back them up. The idea behind Audacious Hospitality is to correctly suggest that our congregations and our communities have been less than adequate at welcoming the new, the challenged, the different, the unique. We have also been less than stellar at engaging those who have remained. But we Jews are always striving to be B'zelem Elohim, in God's image, so I am willing to cautiously join the bandwagon. The Union made an auspicious declaration in the name of Audacious Hospitality, when it became the first major branch of any religion to comprehensively, unconditionally, and unanimously open its doors to transgender individuals. The resolution is extensive and sweeping.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Union for Reform Judaism:
  1. Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  2. Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, schools, and other Reform affiliated organizations;
  3. Encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates, including NFTY, to continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  4. Urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and that require individuals to be treated equally under the law as the gender by which they identify. This includes establishing the right to change without undue burden their identification documents to reflect their gender and name and ensuring equal access to medical and social services;
  5. Calls on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to review and revise all laws and policies to ensure full equality and protections for people of all gender identities and expressions;
  6. Urges Reform Movement institutions to begin or continue to work with local and national Jewish transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual organizations to create inclusive and welcoming communities for people of all gender identities and expressions and to spread awareness and increase knowledge of issues related to gender identity and expression. These activities may include cultural competency trainings for religious school staff, the new congregational resource guide on transgender inclusion being created by the Religious Action Center, education programs on gender identity and expression, and sermons on the topic of gender identity and gender expression;
  7. Recommends URJ congregations and Reform Movement institutions, facilities and events ensure, to the extent feasible, the availability of gender-neutral restrooms and other physical site needs that ensure dignity and safety for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals;
  8. Urges Reform Movement institutions to review their use of language in prayers, forms and policies in an effort to ensure people of all gender identities and gender expressions are welcomed, included, accepted and respected. This includes developing statements of inclusion and/or non-discrimination policies pertaining to gender identity and gender expression, the use when feasible of gender-neutral language, and offering more than two gender options or eliminating the need to select a gender on forms; and
  9. Will work in collaboration with other Reform Movement institutions to create ritual, programmatic and educational materials that will empower such institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of all gender identities and expressions.
I couldn't be more proud of my movement or of my Union. This follows naturally on the heels of the ordination of gay and transgender clergy, the decades long support of same-sex marriage, and the lowering of barriers to those who face physical or emotional challenges. We have come together as Jews and vociferously proclaimed "All are welcome."

But we cannot truly walk in Abraham's shoes until we are willing to bring that lesson home to our congregations. We can't just say we are welcoming. We must live it. It isn't enough to just say "Hi" to the newcomer. We must go the extra step. Here are some easy starter suggestions that lay leaders and average congregants might want to try in order to extend that hospitality.
  • Make phone calls. Emails get tossed. Mail gets lost. But phone calls stick. Call just to chat, to impart information, and to glean concerns. "Hey, I saw you dropping off your kids at Hebrew school and I realized that we are on the same schedule. Want to grab a coffee next week?" 
  • Arrange play dates for the kids. Kids involvement can often translate into parents involvement.
  • Send New Year, Chanukah, and Passover greetings. Digital is fine, but snail mail is better. People love the personal touch.
  • Remember the child-free and the empty-nesters. Not everybody who joins a religious institution does so with kids. Highlight adult education and adult social experiences as priorities.
  • Feed them. Often. And with gusto. At every meeting and at every event. Nothing says welcome like food. Invite people for Shabbat lunches or take them by the hand and walk them into the Kiddush. Food is the great Jewish equalizer.
  • Visit the hospital beds of the sick and the shiva houses of the mourners, even if you only have a passing acquaintance. It matters and it is remembered.
  • Keep your website and social media sites relevant, up to date, and interactive. They are your gateways to communications with members. Members stop coming when communication is an afterthought.
The thing about Audacious Hospitality is that it falls flat when it feels forced or false. It succeeds when we, like Abraham, behave as if it were the norm rather than the exception. We have to learn to make welcoming the stranger an everyday part of synagogue and communal lives. Our Union has made incredible steps dealing with the large issues. We must now do the work on the ground. We are charged with the care of the individual. Until we follow Abraham's example, Audacious Hospitality is just a catchphrase.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Shabbat Music Break

In order to have a bit of a respite on Shabbat, I will continue my tradition of Shabbat Music Breaks. This year, I have decided to introduce you to some of my favourite Broadway musical performances of the past several years. (I plan on writing much more about Broadway throughout this month of blogging hell. Stay tuned.) Today's instalment comes from the 2014 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.  A wonderful and clever farce in the tradition of Oscar Wilde, Gentleman's Guide follows the antics of our hero Monty Navarro and his interactions with the upperclass D'Ysquith family. We recently had the opportunity to catch the show, but it is unfortunately closing in New York in January. A tour has already been announced and it will be making its way to Toronto in the spring. Run, don't walk to see it. Shabbat Shalom.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Music by: Steven Lutvak
Lyrics by: Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak
Book by: Robert L. Freedman

Song: I've Decided to Marry You

Friday, 6 November 2015

I'm No Bob Ross

Have you started colouring yet?

There is an obsession afoot and it is taking over the free time and apparently saving the sanity of Boomers and GenXers everywhere.

The rise of adult colouring books and sheets like these has exploded on the scene like paint-pigmented water balloons, and many of my friends and acquaintances have sipped the Kool-Aid. They are budding Picassos, each and every one of them, armed with markers and coloured pencils, worrying whether it looks strange to hue an elephant chartreuse, and whether or not their styluses are bleeding through to the subsequent page, thus spoiling the garish pink lion on the flip side.They display their completed work as if they had an upcoming show in SoHo, and they talk of stress-relief as if they had just swallowed a handful of Xanax.

And me? Well, I sit forlornly on the sidelines, politely and jealously nodding my head.

"Gorgeous," I exclaim with a tone of envious derision. "Your colour palette is stunning."

"I never would have imagined an octopus in a fairy castle looking like that." (Who would?)

Why haven't I joined in the mania? Because I am simply incapable. I'm what my seventh grade art teacher used to call "Artistically Challenged." Those are the exact words he used on my report card, whereupon he gave me the only D I ever received in school. The grade was actually overly generous and more indicative of the fact that I managed to hand in every assignment on time no matter how shitty the final product. (The fact that I still have nightmares about this some forty years later should act as proof positive of my ingrained Type A sense of order.)

It isn't that I don't love and appreciate art. I do. I am an eager student and a budding connoisseur. I love to meander through galleries and shops, and I have as great an affinity for the local artist as I do for the established. I have spent hours dawdling in some of the great art museums of the world and I always leave rejuvenated and awestruck. But as much as I appreciate the skill and technique, I am one of those poor souls who can't even draw a stick-figure. Mine look like disjointed railroad tracks with boobs. I'm not talking mere piss-poor ability. I'm talking the extreme; a middle-aged woman who cannot, no matter how hard she tries and concentrates, colour within the lines. I have a colouring disability. An artistic affliction. I used to break out into a cold sweat and shake profusely at those kid-friendly restaurants where they'd give the boys crayons.

"Wouldn't you rather play Hangman?" I'd croak.

Of course Hangman involves stick figures, so the horror that I might be introducing my children to soft-core porn at an all-too early age was always in my thoughts.

I am the lonely soul who cannot colour. I have the artistic equivalent of tone-deafness. I cannot be taught and I cannot learn no matter how much I yearn to. I am like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I can't join in your colouring games. Friends look at me with baffled expressions, disbelieving my protestations.

"Everyone can colour," they exclaim.

And then...once they view my demos, that familiar look of pity descends, followed by that inevitable sad, silent, knowing shake of the head that can only mean "Oh, I'm so very sorry for your troubles."

It really does stress me out to my core being. The idea that I might have to be alone with doodles and markers sends cold chills up my spine. You see, I require neatness and order. When my red marker skids outside of the definitions of the elephant's trunk, I actually get the dry heaves.

Relaxing?? Ha!! I'll take a glass of chardonnay and some Luther Vandross instead.

I accept that we've all been bestowed with strengths and weaknesses. I realize that I have been blessed with special and unique talents and gifts, gifts that few others possess. I'm not complaining at all. But, I am still incredibly envious of all of you who have found zen through colouring. It certainly beats many of the meditative remedies out there, and it won't land you in an orange jumpsuit. But please....stop pretending that it is the easiest thing in the world to do. There are some of us out there for which it is simply an ulcer in a pencil box.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Old Folkie

My father raised a folkie.

It was embedded in utero. Instead of traditional lullabies, my dad sang me the songs of Woody and Pete. I was cradled with a proverbial hammer in my fist and was rocked to sleep by the gentle lilts of a hobo. I sang the entirety of Stewball at two,(verses and chorus) and by the time I was six Dad had already taken me to my first Peter, Paul, and Mary concert. (My first of many.)

I would spend hours playing Dad's extensive vinyl collection until the records were pitted and grooved. Woody, the Weavers, PPM, Harry Belafonte, The Kingston Trio, Joe and Eddie, The Christy Minstrels, The Serendipity Singers, Pete, Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and of course Tom Paxton. Dad would always sing along in his deep and lustrous baritone. (I would always giggle when he tried to mimic the sound effects Tom made on The Marvellous Toy.) These artists were the soundtrack of my youth. Their music stirred my passions, my politics, my social conscience, my inner being....my faith. I was and still am, a disciple.

The Husband also shares my passion. We've happily doled out much cash over the years to add to and upgrade that original collection, and we've spent many a happy hour in dark clubs listening to our favourites perform live. So when it was announced that Tom Paxton would be returning for a final farewell this fall at Hugh's Room, we were amongst the first to snag tickets.

We have seen Tom countless times over the years and he never fails to disappoint. His voice and his stories are mellifluous, and his easy demeanour with an audience makes me feel as though he were singing just to me in the living room. He his consistent and constant, and his songs return me to an era of social involvement, collective protest, community involvement, and loving importance. At the youngish age of 78 and with more than sixty albums to his credit, Tom still wields a commanding charisma onstage, and his pathos when he speaks of old friends and loves is sincerely moving.

Tom's new songs (yes he is still actively writing and recording) mix easily with old favourites. His acerbic wit is biting and his short shelf-life songs are still ironically relevant. He has promised to keep writing and maintain his strong internet presence, but he has decided to retire from the road. He said he is tired and I suppose that after more than fifty years in the trenches he has earned the rest.

I didn't expect to be so emotional at Tom's Toronto swan song. As he tuned his Martin for a final performance of Ramblin' Boy, I realized that this was truly the end of an era. Somewhere around the second verse I was misty, and by the final chorus the tears were copious. I had a chance to shake his hand after the concert as he signed a CD for me, (a remix of his very first recording) and I thanked him for the music. It seemed like so little to say to a man who has given me so much.

My dad is presently out of town and unfortunately he missed this special evening. It seemed almost a loose end that he wasn't there with me. When I see him in a few weeks, I will share the CD, tell him the stories, and we will listen like old times. Maybe I'll even giggle when I hear The Marvellous Toy. What could be better than that?