OyChicago blog

The Honeymooners

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01/31/2011

The Honeymooners photo 1

I just returned from one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken.  The best part—it was my honeymoon!  Remember that day you were all left in Chicago with below zero wind-chills?  I was on a beach in Aruba...

A lot of folks get engaged over the winter and then begin the exhausting task of planning the wedding.  For those readers in the midst of the wedding insanity, don’t forget to make time for a great honeymoon.  As a new couple it is important to take time for just the two of you to escape as newlyweds and enjoy that wedded bliss.

Below are five things we did that made our trip extra special.  For soon-to-be and even not-so-soon-to-be Honeymooners, I hope the advice helps make your trip extra sweet.

1) Keep it simple
  
After the stress and chaos of planning a wedding, the last thing you want to do is have another complicated event.  Look at options that are easy to get to and all-inclusive.  Someday, I know we’ll get to take that backpacking trip to the remote regions of the Congo, but that was too logistically challenging.  We picked a Caribbean cruise because we could get there in less than a day, and once we got there we didn’t have to think about a thing. 

2) Pick somewhere new

We had been on a cruise before and both of us had traveled a little, but as a new couple we couldn’t wait to explore a new place together.  Actually, because it was a cruise we visited not one, but six new destinations.  It gave us something to look forward to each day of the trip because neither of knew what to expect.

The Honeymooners photo 2

3) Go when it’s best for you
  
A lot of people leave right after the wedding, and if that is the best time to take a trip, go for it.  We waited four and a half months for our honeymoon to make sure we could get the maximum amount of time away from work and leave at the best time.  Besides, we knew we would love taking off to warmer weather during the coldest time of year.  It was worth it because we were able to take 10 full days and feel great about it.  We added an extra weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico before the cruise departed with the extra time.

The Honeymooners photo 4

4) Take it easy

Prior to leaving for our trip we booked a flight, a cruise, and a hotel.  Beyond that, we wanted to relax.  We loved waking up with nothing to do and no agenda.  The advantage of the cruise was that activities were always happening on and off the ship.  Sometimes we chose to do them, and other times we chose to sit at the pool.  Food was available pretty much 24 hours a day so we never had worry about getting anywhere at anytime.  We even had room service bring it to us if we didn’t feel like leaving the room.

5) Splurge for romance

After all, this is a honeymoon, so invest in the extras that will make it all memorable.  Don’t take out a mortgage just to go on the trip, but spend a little extra to help keep that twinkle in your significant other’s eye.  For us, we went for the mini-suite with the balcony.  It gave us the privacy we knew we would want on the ship.  Eating breakfast on the balcony while looking out over the ocean or drinking a glass of champagne under the stars was a dream for us.

The Honeymooners photo 5

At dinner we were seated next to a couple that had been married 61 years.  You could tell they couldn’t be happier and we only hoped that we might be like them after six decades of loving each other.  The honeymoon is not always about extravagance and over-indulgence.  I’ll even admit that we found ways to save money when needed, so we could spend it when we wanted.  I really feel this trip has made a positive impact on our marriage.  It gave us a chance to pause for a moment, relax, enjoy something completely new together and fall even more in love as we begin the rest of our lives together.

The Honeymooners photo 6

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Project mini-Mussar

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01/28/2011

When I was a kid, and spending a Friday night at synagogue was equivalent to sitting through a math lesson, it was traditional for us youngsters to politely excuse ourselves during the Rabbi’s sermon. We’d lounge in the bathroom or the hallway, dramatically proclaiming our boredom and wondering why our parents made us go. When the sermon concluded, and the usher opened the doors to the sanctuary, we heaved a collective sigh and headed back to our captivity.

The adult version of me actually finds the sermon to be one of the more interesting parts of the service. The text and the music don’t change much, but the Rabbi’s interpretation of what we’re reading, or current events we’re living, is always new.

Last Rosh Hashanah, the Rabbi used his sermon as a platform to begin discussing Mussar, and I was all ears.

Mussar is a centuries-old Jewish spiritual tradition that is little-known outside Orthodox communities. According to the Mussar Institute, Mussar is a set of teachings for cultivating personal growth and spiritual fulfillment. Using a book called Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path to Mussar, the synagogue pulled key character traits found in Mussar teachings (like humility, generosity and patience) and called upon congregants to do some soul searching.

Full disclosure, I have not read the book (yet). However, one particular character trait caught my eye: gratitude.

Gratitude was something I seemed to be short on at the time. Part of the problem I chalked up to watching too many episodes of House Hunters. My husband and I have a love/hate relationship with the show; we love drooling over the huge, beautifully remodeled homes that are shown, and we hate that the homes (sometimes) cost far, far less than our not huge, not remodeled home. But, if I’m being honest, most of the problem boiled down to my desire to want things that friends and family had, and my frustration with my inability to afford these things. Mulling over all that I wanted but couldn’t have did not make me a happy camper, nor was my husband overjoyed by my barrage of “woe is me.”

Listening to the Rabbi talk about Mussar, and how working on these various character traits can help lead to a happier outlook on life, I decided to start my own mini-Mussar project, a gratitude journal. Every night before going to bed, I’d write about one thing that I was grateful for that day.

I started Project Mini-Mussar the next week (it took me awhile to find a cute notebook worthy of being the Mini-Mussar notebook). I was surprised to find how easy it was to think of just one thing that had made me happy each day. I didn’t allow myself any repeats – I could only write “I’m grateful for my husband” and “I’m grateful for my son” once – and yet the things to be grateful for were always plentiful.

I wrote every night for a month, and noticed that my mood actually was brighter, and that I was focusing more on the great things that already existed in my life rather than the ones that didn’t. Project Mini-Mussar seemed to be a success.

Following the month of everyday writing, I’ve written in the notebook sporadically, usually on days that I was particularly down. The notebook has reminded me to be thankful for all the everyday joys and, as my mom likes to say, remember that what seems to be a big deal now will always work itself out in the end.

So I guess that lesson is one of two I’ve learned through this process. The second is to pay attention to your Rabbi’s sermon. You might just learn something. 

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The notebook maven

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01/27/2011

The notebook maven photo

I did a dangerous thing this week. I had an hour to kill before meeting up with a friend, so I wandered into the Blick art supply store on State. Trust me, guys: it’s a miracle that I made it out at all.

Sometimes we find ourselves drawn to collecting things we will not use. It’s why office supply stores and hardware stores and college bookstores are so irresistibly fascinating: there are all these things that Might Be Useful Someday. If we have Item X at home, we will always be prepared for that shining moment when we will accomplish art/home improvement/baking elaborate desserts/pet grooming/something not related to surfing the internet or watching TV. It’s potential in bite-sized incentives.

I’ve got a few vices in this regard. Art supplies are certainly one of them: I have a giant pile of unopened paints and unused measuring tools in a corner in my dining room. This week, however, I fed another habit. I bought blank notebooks.

These are not just any blank notebooks. They’re made of bamboo paper. They’re narrow ruled. The manufacturer donates 2% of sales to literacy and creative writing programs for kids. In their own words, writing is “good for your mind in the same way that riding a bike is good for your legs” – so it’s almost like I’m exercising too! I have truly great plans for these notebooks. One of them is going to house extensive notes and revisions for a novel I completed as part of NaNoWriMo one year. The other is going to help me draft a totally separate project that may be a novel or it may be a short story collection. This is in addition to other notebooks I have devoted to a WWII-inspired novella, an online venture that I’ve just started, a sketchbook for a drawing challenge I’m doing with two other friends and… you know what, trust me, you don’t want to know how many notebooks I have at home and in storage. I am a notebook maven, as my mom might say.

It’s a childhood thing. I always wanted notebooks when I was little. Diaries and sketchbooks and places to write stories in and school planners and address books and even pads of paper whose sole purpose was for me to cut them up and make things with. (Thank you, Rhodia: you remain perfect even now.) Notebooks became the default gift for me when people didn’t know what else I might want. You could do anything with notebooks. And once I realized you could have a notebook for each project you had devised, oh well. There went my allowance money.

One of the great things about the internet is bringing together communities of people who wouldn’t have necessarily found each other in other ways. For instance, I am a little addicted to Notebook Stories, a blog devoted not just to personalized pages and incredible art within notebooks, but to collections of notebooks themselves. People show off their notebooks in forums and journaling sites all over. Just do a search on Etsy for “moleskine” or “notebook” and you’ll see how fiercely people are devoted to personalizing where they put their pens (and other art supplies).

Why, you ask, would I want more notebooks? Isn’t there a danger of too much of a good thing? In this week’s case, not at all. Blick very kindly also provided me with a brand new Sharpie, some self-adhesive photo-corners and a stack of postcards, and I have plans for the covers.

Of course, it’s all very well and good to have plans for the covers. It’s great to have a notebook for each project. They’re a great impetus to sit down and fill them up. And having things is all about the potential to use them, right? All the attention I lavish on my notebooks further incentivizes me to use them.

Full notebooks are beautiful things. They’re messy and brimming with ideas and mistakes and awesome surprises. The pages are rumpled, they don’t lie flat, and there are probably tea stains on at least five pages. But… they have sketchbooks at Blick. Big, beautiful, hardbound, unlined sketchbooks. Sketchbooks without anything in them yet. And — hear me out — I just got this idea.

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Happiness is…

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01/26/2011

Winter. Ugh. Still here. Snow. Slush. Nearly freezing temperatures day after day (after day after day, etc). Never ending. Blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

While winter is certainly STUPID, I have no chances to actually live in a warm climate any time soon, unless I can fast forward my life fifty years to my future snowbird days.

The temperature continues to drop, and with it goes all motivation to leave my house. I go into a hibernation-like state, curling up on my couch watching endless hours of mind-numbing television (most of which isn’t even that good…Teen Mom 2 anyone?).

It can be seriously hard to shake those mid-winter blues. Sometimes, the easiest way is to remind yourself of the things that make you happy, that invigorate your spirit and bring a smile to your face.

Happiness is… photo

I have this theory that when you’re down and feeling uninspired and lazy about life, one of the greatest ways to shake it is to take those thoughts and make an actual list. Write it down. A tangible collection of things that make you smile.

So because there are 53 days until spring arrives (yes, I’m counting), here are 53 things that make my list:

1) Comfort food – especially macaroni and cheese
2) Having a really good sweaty workout
3) Sunshine – even when it’s cold out
4) The smell of baked goods
5) Having friends around to help you eat the baked goods
6) Playing competitive Rummikub with my family
7) Sons of Anarchy – currently the best show on TV in my humble opinion
8) Moving back to the city from Evanston this summer
9) The wonderful friends I’ve met in Evanston through Kellogg School of Management and the prospect that many of them will stay in the Chicagoland area after graduation
10) The smell of a campfire
11) New shoes
12) Receiving snail mail that isn’t junk!
13) The Food Network
14) Babies – I am seriously obsessed
15) Having the best husband a girl can ask for
16) The fact that my husband is not completely driven crazy by #14
17) Spending a whole day in pajamas
18) Australian accents
19) Finding a great deal for a place you already go on Groupon
20) Closing in on our last few months of living as a one-income family
21) Being the only girl I know who hasn’t succumbed to the Real Housewives series
22) Reading Oy!Chicago
23) Sushi sushi sushi – I love me some sushi
24) Dance parties
25) Supporting great causes – like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and the Jewish United Fund
26) The warm fuzzy feeling you get when you help others
27) Finding outlets for creativity
28) Window shopping
29) My Kindle (see #15 – thanks for the best gift ever)
30) Learning something new
31) Netflix
32) Weekend getaways
33) When my nails actually grow to the point of having white at the tip of each one, which doesn’t happen all that often, despite my best efforts
34) Hosting cocktail parties and Shabbat dinners
35) Mega Sudoku
36) Eating Cheez-Its while watching the Biggest Loser…fail
37) Making new friends
38) Akemi Fitness in Evanston
39) Getting good news
40) Hearing your favorite song on the radio and singing along
41) Reading a good book that you don’t want to put down
42) Having friends like fellow blogger Ron Krit who remind me that I’m still young, even as I feel older each year
43) Homemade greeting cards
44) The fact that I’m lucky to still have 3 wonderful grandparents
45) Cheesy romantic comedies
46) Hippies – even though I could never pull off the carefree lifestyle, it makes me happy to know that there are people out there who can
47) Dinner dates with old friends
48) Half-birthdays and people who celebrate them
49) Trying new things – whether it’s a new recipe, a new restaurant or a new experience!
50) Watching shows like Dexter and Big Love, with main characters that are so morally reprehensible and yet so loveable
51) Having something to look forward to
52) Movie Theater popcorn
53) Costume parties

What makes you happy?

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So Trendy

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01/25/2011

The food trend list is not nearly as exciting as the list of movies up for awards, but for those of us in the business and those of us who LOVE to eat— this is important stuff. Here goes foodies— the list for 2011!

So cupcakes are dead and pie is the new ….well, cupcake! Kumquats are the new pomegranate and vegetables, especially root vegetables are the new meat (I called that one last year). Kale is the new hottie in the sauté pan AND the salad bowl and not eating meat once a week is all the rage.

So Trendy photo

Thanks

While I am not sure that the cupcake is really dead, who could resist the Lilliputian decorated delicacy? I nevertheless completely embrace Meatless Mondays. Most of us eat too much meat and with the current movement/trend to cut back on eating meat and all of the stress on the planet that cattle cause, not to mention the economy, and everyone trying to cut back, I am all for the weekly dairy or vegetarian meal.

The vegetarian cassoulet is rich hearty and very earthy. All of the steps to prepare the cassoulet can be done the night before. Very delicious and very trendy dish:

Vegetarian Cassoulet

1 cup dried Navy beans*, soaked overnight in the refrigerator and drained
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
2 leeks, white part only, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped or 1 15-ounce can whole plum tomatoes with their juices (broken up with your hands)
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard
2 carrots, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
2 parsnips, diced
Bouquet garni of: Several sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley stems tied with kitchen twine
½ cup panko style breadcrumbs or other crispy breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Sauté the onion in a medium sauté pan lightly coated with olive oil until the onion is caramelized and very brown (about 5 minutes). Lower the heat to medium and add the leek and the garlic and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes until the leeks are very soft. Transfer the onion to the slow cooker or Dutch oven.

2. Place all ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook on low for 10 hours in the slow cooker or for 3 hours in a covered Dutch oven until the beans are soft but still holding their shape.

3. Toss the breadcrumbs with the olive oil and sprinkle the mixture over the top of the cassoulet. Serve in a bowl with your favorite salad and toasted baguette.

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When Is It Time To Let a Friendship Go?

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01/24/2011

Most of the time, I write about making new friends. How to meet them, nurture them, keep them. It’s important stuff.

Equally important though? How to let friends go.

Yesterday a new pal told me that she and an old BFF have been growing apart. They live next door to each other, so they have every opportunity to hang out like they once did, and yet they’re continually drifting.

“Instead of trying harder and reaching out more, I've been pursuing other interests,” she told me.

This is an option that almost never occurs to me.

I’ve made no secret of how hard it is for me when people are upset with me. I’m sure this is some deep-seeded issue with which some therapist could have a field day. (This is not an invitation…) In that same vein, it’s hard for me to just let a friendship go. I forget that sometimes a relationship can grow apart naturally, and that that’s ok.

The friend in question is younger than me, and most definitely at a place in her life where people grow apart. Instead of holding on to the past, she made a healthy decision. She decided to pursue the new activities and people in her life that make her happy.

So my question is, how do you know when it’s time to let a friendship go?

It’s one thing if one person moves and the distance makes it harder to connect. But if you live next door? Is there an amicable way to separate and move on?

I’m not sure that it's possible to grow apart but still maintain a friendly relationship. When friends drift (aside from the moving far away scenario stated above) there’s usually one party feeling left behind. Whether the catalyst for the separation (yes, I’m using dating language again. That’s all there is) is kids, a new job, a new beau, or just old-fashioned outgrowing each other, someone’s going to feel the sting.

Although, now that I think about it, that might be girl-specific. Guys don't seem to mind it. Whenever I hear about two men having a falling out, I try to grill my husband Matt for specifics. Who dumped who? Was he sad? Hurt? Is he trying to woo his BFF back?

And then my husband looks at me like I have three heads. “No he didn’t try to win him back,” he’d say. “They’re guys.”

Oh, yeah.

Many things to cover: 1) When is it time to let a friendship go? 2) Can a friendship ever separate amicably? 3) Do girls have a harder time with fading friendships than guys do?

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G.U.I.L.T. Gross Use by Intellectual of Limited Time

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01/21/2011

G.U.I.L.T. photo

So bundled up that they can’t move, but at least they are warm. No need to feel guilty here…right?

Guilt. It is not just brought on by a Jewish mother or grandmother, or a Catholic mother for that matter. I have learned that this capital G word, the one with no happy spot attached, is brought on simply by becoming a mother. I wish someone would have warned me for the onslaught of guilt I would have on a daily basis since the moment Violet and Autumn were born.

I felt guilty about not spending 24 hours a day with them in the hospital NICU for the three and a half weeks they were there. I had a cesarean, so I didn’t really ‘give birth’ to them. I’m not making enough play dates for them. They should be enrolled in more classes. I’m taking them out in the cold too much. I’m keeping them inside too much. I’m not teaching them enough sign language. When I do have child care in the form of my grandmother (the amazing granny nanny), I stay around too much and don’t get out of the house to work on my own projects, the whole reason she is helping out. I feel guilty about staying. I feel guilty about leaving. I’m a stay-at-home mom; I’m supposed to be there. Guilt, guilt, guilt. It is eating away at my soul. And more pressing, it is eating away at my happiness.

Commence, mission to free my mind of guilt. I alert the people around me that I need them to tell me it’s okay to leave. It’s okay to stay. They tell me it’s okay to feel guilty, but at the same time pointless, an incredible waste of energy. Support from my inner circle is in place. I tell them when I feel guilty, at least some of the time. Baring the magnitude of my guilt out in the open would be too embarrassing, even for my partner and closest friends and family. And yet, I am doing it here.

I have to, because the freedom from guilt mission is so far accomplishing nothing. Not even fake announcements of victory are on the horizon. I figured the best way to be rid of this guilt is by posting about it, because the shame of still feeling guilty after writing about its absurdity would be monumental. And shame does not need to be added to the feelings or thoughts in my world. Happiness is at stake!

Luckily, I have Mandi, the love of my life and the great Mommy M. “Yes, you are a horrible mother.” The sarcasm oozes around her words. It snaps me out of my black hole of guilt because I know it is ridiculous. I know I’m doing a good job with the girls and I couldn’t love them more.

But a little guilty bit in the form of a ‘but’ slips through. “I know I’m not horrible, but I just feel like I’m not giving them enough opportunities/one-on-one time/fill in the blank issue.”

Mandi to the rescue again. “I’m sure they will grow up traumatized by playing indoors on super cold days, where they appear happy with their toys and laugh all the time. Yes, I’m pretty sure you’re ruining their self-esteem and social abilities forever.”

“Oh, shut up.” Having my ridiculous thoughts thrown back in my face is exactly what I needed. I’m wasting my time being worried about everything and nothing at the same time. It feels crappy. I remember that I want to model confidence and calm and by being wrapped up in my guilt I am doing the exact opposite. This is the realization I’ve been searching for. My guilt is gone. I’m free! Well for now, until it comes back. But at that point, things will be different. I can go back and reread my realization over and over until it is no longer needed. This post will save immense amounts of guilt-ridden time so if you’re still reading, thank you for indulging me. And if your name is Chai, get over yourself already.

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Et Tu B’shvat?

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01/20/2011

Et Tu B’shvat? photo 1

For all those trees, past present and future that I’ve neglected to hug. Thank you for this paper in my somewhat-recycled notebook. Thank you for the apple I just ate and the rain-soaked branches that stretch outside my window. Not to mention the whole taking carbon dioxide and water in and churning out more oxygen for me to breathe thing.

I have to admit, the last time I made a concerted effort to celebrate Tu B’shvat was back in grade school. I vaguely remember rewriting a Violent Femmes song to represent the Jewish fight for trees and freedom, but maybe that was for Pesach. Anyway, this year my two-year old daughter is going to an amazing Jewish Montessori school in Brooklyn and in her ten-hour school week she has learned more Jewish tradition and history than I have retained. Which is humbling and inspiring. So instead of waiting for her to explain the Knesset to me, I’d like to restart my Jewish education here and now, with a salute to some very important trees I have known.

Yoshimi. The Japanese maple tree that my father planted in our backyard in Westchester, New York. We had a lot of rocks and a small slope of lawn. Mom couldn’t believe the tree took root but it did, and grew like a lacey beach umbrella, shading our toes. In the fall it erupted in a wildfire of oranges and reds. After my father died, I often felt like Yoshimi was standing sentinel, holding up our sky.

PBJ tree. Location: Mary Hilderen’s yard. I’m assuming her dad is the one who nailed down a few floorboards and attached a green canvas roof, making this the greatest tree house palace ever constructed in the history of ever. Mary’s mom let us take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off and box drinks of 5-Alive up into the tree and sit there choreographing our new secret handshakes for hours.

Skidoo. So-named because this tree seriously appeared out of nowhere and then was definitely in front of us and I was just learning how to drive and Mom yelped, “Turn! Turn!” but Pontiac Phoenixes aren’t that responsive to audio commands so I skidded to a stop and whimpered instead. We did make it home after a seven-point turn and a good cry.

Twiggy. Poor Twiggy. She was just beginning to come into her own. A spindly yet graceful sapling planted outside my apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park. I locked my ten-speed up to her trunk, which was no wider than my wrist. In the morning the bike was gone and so were Twiggy’s branches. The bike thief had pulled them off to airlift my two-wheeler. I actually could list at least a dozen trees I used as hitching posts during my years of living in Hyde Park, followed by Wrigleyville, Ravenswood, and Lincoln Square. But the final tree I’d like to honor today is:

Maya. Who sits in front of me right now. Rather arises, majestically from a blue terra cotta pot next to my son’s baby swing, reaching out in a long leafed canopy as he snoozes. Maya lived in my childhood home for many years, and when I moved to Brooklyn, I adopted her. I honestly didn’t expect her to survive. I’d managed to kill every species of indoor plant including a rubber tree and had a $9 budget for a monthly splurge of cut flowers. But Maya grew. And grew. My then-boyfriend-now-husband Jay made sure she always got light and every few weeks I’d douse her with a watering can. When we moved to our present home, she got the front room. And slowly, I began to…care for her. Feeding her and talking to her and sometimes even petting her leaves. Jay and I started a family, and now my children know Maya and care for her too. She’s getting closer to our ceiling every day, watching over us. And yet, I’ve never properly recognized or thanked her.

Et Tu B’shvat? photo 2

Thank you Maya, for being my anchor. My connection to my past and my companion for the present and future. Thank you for waiting until I was ready to put down my own roots and make a home. Thank you, and all of your leafy friends, for sheltering us. For giving us new breath. For making each day a cause for celebration.

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Top ten Jewish connections left in the NFL Playoffs

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01/19/2011

I am clearly out of my NFL playoff bracket. My NFC pick, Da Bears, are still alive and well, but I’m 1-3 in the opening round, and the Patriots losing did me in. However, I did pick the Steelers at the beginning of the season...so that kind of counts. Nevertheless, The Great Rabbino goes on. Today we look at the Top 10 Jewish connections left in the NFL playoffs.

10) Jewish Summer Camps
There are several reasons to LOVE this upcoming weekend's Bears/Packers game. One of those reasons, is the connection of Chicago to Wisconsin. Close in proximity, Jewish Chicago teenagers flock to Wisconsin for summer camp. Camp Chi, OSRUI, and of course Camp Ramah are just a few. If this is any indication of who will win, very few Wisconsonites come South to Chitown for the summer. So, if you view it that way, the Pack will win.

9) Super Bowl Home
Many Cowboys fans actually thought they were going to play the Super Bowl at home this year. Ha. But the Cowboys had two Jewish players (maybe the two best) in Igor Olshanky and Kyle Kosier. I am sure they will get nice seats.

8) 2009 Jets Dilemma
In 2009 the first two home games of the season for the Jets were planned on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Jewish Jets fans did not take a liking to this. There was plenty of kvetching. It got plenty of press. Click HERE for ESPN's coverage. For Jimmy Kimmel's coverage see below.

   

7) Former Players
There have not been too many former players on any of these three teams. Sid Luckman (who we will discuss later), Alan Veingrad (who we will also discuss later), Antonio Garay (former Bear, still active), and a few others. Wish there were more here but our luck ran out with the Patriots.

6) J-E-T-S/J-E-W-S
It is no secret that NY is home to many Jews, including me. So Jets fans, this shirt deserves some attention for your upcoming AFC championship party. Check it out HERE. If the Jets players wore these, maybe they would have a little luck beating Big Ben and the Steelers.

5) Half Time Show
We are all thinking it. Will the Black Eyed Peas sing "I Gotta Feeling?" If so, everyone will be screaming Mazel Tov! LeChaim!

4) Steelers Owner
Well, I guess the Jewish pick remaining goes to Barney Dreyfuss the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ever been to Pittsburgh on a game day? It's like Monsey on Shabbos. Everyone at "Temple," streets empty, and lots of praying.

3) Commercials
Plenty of people watch the Super Bowl forone1 reason, the commercials...just ask my wife. Plenty of Jews pop up from time to time. Like this cameo below of Andy Samberg. Not sure how this will help anyone pick a winner, but come on everyone loves the commercials.

   

2) Chabad
Chabad is seemingly everywhere. Literally, they pop up wherever there are Jews. The Super Bowl is no different. Former NFLer Alan "Shlomo" Veingrad went from the NFL to the Chabad house. He made his mark with the Packers, but won his Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys. No doubt the Chabad movement will/should use their own to promote Super Bowl Sunday. To read more on Veingrad click HERE.

1) 1941
The Bears and Packers have not met in the playoffs since 1941. It was then that the Bears got the best of the Packers. And Sid Luckman led the way. The greatest Jewish NFL player of all time. This upcoming weekend there will be video highlights and mentioning of Luckman all over the place. Relish in it. Hopefully, the Bears beat the Packers once again.

And for my new picks. Bears over Steelers in the Super Bowl. Bear Down!

And Let Us Say...Amen.
-Jeremy Fine

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My Cradle List

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01/18/2011

My Cradle List photo 1

My husband and I in Paris—a pre-baby trip.

I have a cradle list—a list of things that I want to do before having another child, such as spending as much 1-1 time with my daughter while I can, and taking a couple of vacations while we only have to pay for one extra seat.

I know that I’m not the only woman with a cradle list—several of my friends have lists of their own.  For my friends who haven’t yet had a kid, their lists tend to include practical things, such as accruing enough savings to take time off from work, or moving to be closer to family.

When I talk to my friends about their lists, I like to tell them that it shouldn’t just be about the obvious things like getting your finances, living situation, and career in order.  A cradle list should include some of the things you dream about doing—things that can be done when you have kids, but are often harder to do.

So, with hindsight being 20/20, and the acknowledgement that there is rarely, if ever, the perfect time to have a kid, below is what I recommend being on a cradle list.  Do you have a cradle list?  Tell me what’s on yours!

1.  Dangerous feats.  Skydiving and bungee jumping just isn’t as much fun when you have to think about who would take care of your kids if things went wrong.  And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think my body could handle jumping out of a plane anymore.  (Damn aging process.)  So whatever the thrill, my advice is to get your kicks in before you are responsible for another human being’s life, and physically up for the challenge.

2.  Travel, travel, and then travel some more.  Especially to all the places it is better not to go with kids (e.g., backpacking through Europe, hiking, etc...)  Yes, you can and will travel with kids.  But overall, it’s more expensive, more complicated, and you will want places to be kid-friendly.  And you really don’t want to find yourself pushing a stroller on Bourbon Street in New Orleans at 11 p.m. at night.  Just because babies theoretically can go anywhere doesn’t mean they should.

My Cradle List photo 2

3.  Finish all DIY home projects, including getting everything organized and your closets cleaned out.  Once that little bundle arrives, finding time, energy and motivation for home stuff is going to be hard.  Not to mention you are going to need to be careful about exposing baby to any potentially harmful chemicals.  And you will need the extra closet space to store baby stuff.

4.  Get screened for genetic disorders.  Nothing is more nerve-wracking then being pregnant and waiting to find out if you or your husband is a carrier of a genetic disorder.  Do it prior to conception and save yourself some anxiety.

5.  Read, sleep, go out for happy hours, and/or put in crazy hours at the office.  These are all things made harder to do once you have a child.

6.  Get that coveted degree.

7.  Get into a workout routine.  Besides all the health benefits of being in shape, the reality is finding time to work out is going to be hard once baby arrives.  So my guess is that you will have a better chance if you are already in the habit versus if you are starting from scratch after baby.  And while you’re at it, now is a good time to reduce your dependency on caffeine too.

8.  Have a lot of nooky-nooky just for fun.

9.  Spend as much time as possible hanging out with your single and/or childless friends and listening to them.  Yes, you will still be friends after—but you are going to bore them to tears with stories about your kids.  So make those bonds strong now and put their needs first for a while.

10.  Treat yourself to a big-ticket item.  Instead of spending big bucks on a baby item with a limited shelf life, treat yourself to something you have always wanted, and can enjoy for a long time.  After all, chances are you are going to spend the next 18 years putting your child’s wants and needs before your own.  So go ahead—get that new *dark colored* couch, big screen TV, or fabulous piece of art.  The key here is just to make sure it’s something you can actually still use once baby arrives.

11.  Buy the biggest bed you can get in your bedroom.  My husband and I are not big people, and until my pregnancy, our queen sized bed was fine.  But add into that bed a giant belly, my humungous pregnant ass, tons of pillows, and suddenly we were fighting for space.  If you can, get a bigger bed, and hell, enjoy it as much as you can before baby.

12.  Resolve family issues.  You might not be able to solve years of dysfunction, but now is a good time to get over the fact that your sister cut off your Barbie’s hair in second grade.

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In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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01/17/2011

We thought we would share the video of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the March on Washington D.C. for Jobs and Freedom in honor of MLK day, instead of a regular blog post. Some powerful words. Enjoy!

   

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And I'll sing my soul to You

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01/14/2011

It was 1997, my senior year of college, one of the scariest times in my life. I felt like I was supposed to suddenly become someone successful. My brothers had graduated several years before me; one went on to work at a big accounting firm, the other to medical school. My parents were married by the time they graduated college. What was to become of me? I felt lost and in between achieving my goals and unclear what my goals actually were.

I was a college journalist, devoted to the college student newspaper and then to freelance writing for a mid-size newspaper. Every week or so I would get a rejection letter for a job at a newspaper or a magazine that I dreamt of working at and would feel crushed. I was even rejected from Teach For America! Also, I was in a relationship with someone my parents stupidly didn’t approve of and he was becoming more and more disinterested in any kind of future with me and for sure my family. My Bubbie who I loved very much had died after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. I was gaining weight and struggling with eating issues and other health problems. It was just not an easy time for me.

During that same year, the General Assembly of what is now the Jewish Federations of North America was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. I have no idea what prompted me to attend this national meeting of Jewish communal professionals. I think I went there under the guise of journalism, and published my first front page article with a quote by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying every Jew was welcome in Israel, where I write this post from now.

At some point after she had performed at this convention, I ended up buying a Debbie Friedman’s Songs of the Spirit Musical Anthology CD. I knew Debbie Friedman’s basic liturgical music from camp; as a pre-teen, I would sing the Friedman’s V’ahavta before bed to soothe myself to sleep and to pray, just as my grandmother had sung the Shema to me before bed. But I was unfamiliar with the rest of her songs.

So as I drove back and forth to the GA from Indianapolis to Bloomington, about an hour drive in the dark, I listened to this new Debbie Friedman CD. While I have always struggled with the notion of spirituality, I can truly say that she soothed my soul.

I kept my Debbie Friedman music to myself. I just didn’t think my friends who were into grunge music would get it, nor the friends reconnecting spiritually through music like the Moshav Band. To be honest, I didn’t totally get my sudden interest in Debbie Friedman myself, and I do not think one person knew I listened to those CDs dozens of times, as I did.

The song that I played over and over again was “You are the One.” I played it during those trips from Indianapolis to Bloomington and later in the year from Bloomington to South Bend and Bloomington to Chicago, after more personal rejections and more professional ones.

After college, I participated in Project Otzma and it was a great experience for me. Professionally, my life blossomed.

Interesting enough, in more recent years I met Debbie Friedman at my friends Shannon Millenthal and Joe Dressler’s wedding in Columbus. It was, again, another difficult time. I had gone through a devastating break up and was trying to be joyful for my friends while I felt total misery.

We met at the bar, and as she ordered a beverage, hopefully without seeming too stalkerish, I told her how much her music meant to me. She nodded graciously and I realized my words would never be able to communicate just how much her music had given me solace. So I hope that I can better communicate that to my readers with this post and by introducing you to this song that I played over and over.

You are the One, for this I pray,
That I may have the strength to be alone
To see the world, to stand among the trees,
And all the living things.
That I may stand alone, and offer prayers and talk to You
You are the One to whom I do belong
And I'll sing my soul, I'll sing my soul to You
And give You all that's in my heart.
May all the foliage of the field,
All grasses, trees and plants,
Awaken at my coming, this I pray,
And send their life into my words of prayer
So that my speech, my thoughts and my prayers will be made whole,
And through the spirit of all growing things
And we know that everything is one,
Because we know that everything is You.
You are the One, for this pray
I ask You, God, to hear my words
That pour out from my heart; I stand before You;
I, like water, lift my hands to You in prayer.
And grant me strength, and grant me strength to stand alone
You are the One to whom I do belong
And I'll sing my soul, I'll sing my soul to You
And give You all that's in my heart.
You are the One, for this I pray,
And I'll sing my soul to You.

May Debbie Friedman’s memory be for a blessing.

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New Year for the Trees

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01/13/2011

Tu B’Shvat is next week and is the perfect day to reflect on how we might better take care of the earth and its resources. Though the holiday has changed throughout the centuries, Tu B’Shvat can be a day to celebrate the unique partnership between man and nature. It appears that now more than ever we need to be more conscious of everything we do and how it affects the planet.

This seasonal menu is perfect for Tu B’Shvat or any festive meal this winter.

Citrus Salad with Beets, Candied Kumquats and Tangerine-Honey Vinaigrette

The beautiful citrus sections or supremes-in French, look picture perfect on a plate and are easy to cut.

Start with a sharp paring knife and cutting board. Cut off a small section from the top and bottom of the fruit. This will give the fruit stability and keep it from rolling around.
Cut down the rind from top to bottom following the curve of the fruit. The goal is to remove the rind and the pith (white bitter part) but not the fruit. Continue until all of the rind has been cut off.

Hold the fruit in one hand and cut ½ into the fruit at one of the dividing membranes. Cut on the other side of the segment along the membrane. This should release the segment or supreme. Continue until all of segments are cut out. Squeeze the juice into a bowl and discard the membranes. Reserve the juice.

Kumquats are beautiful and irresistibly cute when you see them in the store. They are not for eating out of hand though as they are very sour and bitter and need a bit of WORK before they can be added to your menu. You need to plan ahead at least three weeks to candy kumquats. This should not discourage you though. Once candied, the kumquats are delicious and will hold up for several months in the refrigerator in their syrup.

Serves 4

2 cups assorted citrus sections (grapefruit, blood oranges, tangerines, Meyer lemons)
1 fennel bulb, white bulb only, fronds reserved for garnish, shaved on a mandolin or cut thinly and put in acidulated water to preserve the color (water with lemon juice)
2 red or golden beets
1 cup candied kumquats*
2 cups baby spinach or baby arugula or favorite sturdy greens
⅓ cup tangerine juice
2 tablespoons best quality honey
¾ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400

1. Lightly rub beets with the tablespoon of olive oil and wrap them in aluminum foil. Roast the beets until they are easily pierced with a paring knife (about 45 minutes-1 hour). Set aside to cool. Once cooled, peel the beets and slice them into thin wedges.

2. Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch sections and discard the seeds. Drain the fennel.

3. Whisk the tangerine juice, honey and olive oil together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

4. Before serving, toss all of the salad ingredients together in a bowl or arrange on individual plates and drizzle lightly with vinaigrette.

Candied Kumquats

3 cups sugar
3 cups water
2 pints kumquats, stems removed

1. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Cool completely.

2. Place the kumquats in a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour the cooled syrup over the kumquats. The kumquats are buoyant and need to be weighted down. I place a piece of parchment paper over them and weight it down.

3. Place the kumquats in the refrigerator and in 3 weeks the kumquats will have softened and will be sweet and slightly sour. Store the kumquats in their syrup for 2-3 months.

Pomegranate Date Relish with Marinated Chicken Paillard and Barley Pilaf

For the Relish

I love the harmony of sweet, sour and spice in this relish. The dates become soft and gooey and the crunch of the onions and pomegranate seeds are the perfect counter point to the quick cooking and brightly flavored chicken breasts.

1 cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
¼ cup honey
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups pitted dates
½ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the red wine vinegar, crushed red chilies and honey until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the sliced red onion and dates and remove from the heat. Allow the onion and dates to marinate in the pickling liquid for 30 minutes.

2. Remove the onion from the pickling liquid, reserving the liquid, and coarsely chop the onion and dates.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and 2 teaspoons of the pickling liquid.

4. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the marinade

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 glove of garlic, grated on a microplane
1 medium shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Whisk all of the ingredients for the marinade together.

For the Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼ inch thickness

Place the chicken in a medium container and pour the marinade over the pounded breasts. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no more than 6 hours.

1. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and discard the marinade.

2. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle to medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.

3. Place the chicken breasts in the hot pan, be sure not to over crowd the pan or the chicken will not get crispy and brown. Cook the breasts on the first side for 3-5 minutes until they are browned and slightly crispy. Turn the breasts to the other side and cook an additional 3 minutes until the breast is lightly browned and cooked through(you can test this by gently pushing on the breast and checking for firmness). If it is firm-it is done.

4. Serve the chicken breasts with the relish and barley pilaf.

Herbed Barley Pilaf

1 ½ cups barley
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Suggested garnishes: pomegranate seeds, lemon slices

1. Place the barley in a medium sauce pan. Add 3 cups of water and cook the barley, covered, over medium heat until the barley is soft but with an al dente texture, about 30 minutes. Transfer the barley to a large mixing bowl.

2. Stir the rest of the ingredients with the barley and garnish with pomegranate seeds and thinly sliced lemons.

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Finding life’s spring in winter

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01/12/2011

Finding life’s spring in winter photo

The cold of winter is awesome – I love it.  Call me crazy.  Maybe it’s because I’m from Michigan where it is commonplace to drive our snowmobiles to work and break out the snowshoes just to get to the mailbox.  Winter is when the gloom and doom engulfs everything around us.  The reds, oranges, and yellows of fall are gone and the fresh colors of springtime are nowhere in sight.  Heck, even the pristine snow that falls on the ground becomes soiled and sullied by the salt and grime from the roads and foot traffic.  And to top it off, the sky is usually a boring grey (but I wouldn’t know because I’m in my office all day).  With all the limitations on fun that winter imposes, like no sidewalk dining and the inability to hang out at the beach, it still is my favorite season.

There’s something about the winter that brings me down to earth from the lofty and joyous other seasons.  In the summer, with the weather nice every day, I have no reason to think too hard about what to wear, how far it takes me to walk from place to place downtown, or to look out for obstacles in the way like I would for ice on the sidewalks or sliding cars in the road during the winter.  In no other season do the feelings of complete powerlessness over my environment exist, but in no other season am I humbled by and forced to respect the powers of the world around us and realize what it takes to survive.

Getting a ride home late one night after dinner, bowling, and lounging with some friends in Boston, a question was posed to me – what is life’s spring?  Some might say it’s a favorite place to go, others will declare spring has something to do with Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow, and still more will say it’s just a “health foods & juice bar” at Clark and Belmont.  There are many ways to interpret this question, but my answer is simple.  People.

In the summer, it is easy to take people for granted: Need a friend?  Head to the beach or find a kick-ball team – done!  In the winter, it’s not so easy and takes effort.  Much like we need to wear extra layers and bundle up tight to protect us from the cold, we need to make an extra effort to keep our friends closer in the winter.

With the holiday semester, as I like to call it, winding down, it can be easy to tuck ourselves away and hibernate from the rest of humanity, not to be bothered by anyone.  I agree that the opportunity is ripe to settle down and relax, but we cannot forget to also take a moment or two to reflect on the madness that has just passed us by.  Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and New Year’s are times in the middle of this arctic spell where we are warmed not by our furnaces, hats, and jackets, but rather by our the friends and family.  Life’s spring is winter.  Stay warm!

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What Debbie meant

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01/10/2011

Debbie Friedman photo

Every genre has its "without whom," as in "...without whom this music would not exist, at least not as we know it." Jazz has Louis Armstrong. Folk has Pete Seeger. Blues has Robert Johnson. And modern Jewish music has Debbie Friedman.

As a summer camper, I was regularly handed songsheets during campfires and sing-alongs. Mostly I knew all the words by that point. But one time, I actually looked at the sheets, and had a revelation— someone wrote these songs! At age nine, I had assumed that all of the great camp songs came from some bygone era, around Camelot or Chaucer… that they were all “Traditional” songs written by some “Anonymous” ancient bard. I had thought these songs were as old as the rocks and trees.

Not necessarily. While that was true of some of the songs, others were written by Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Carole King, John Denver, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon— names I knew from the radio and my parents’ LP collection.

And then the songs on the sheets that were partly in English and partly in Hebrew were written by a woman named Debbie Friedman. She was the bridge. She was the link between the Torah- and Siddur-based songs and the English-language folksongs, both antique and modern.

Although Debbie used an acoustic guitar, the effects were electrifying. For a nine-year-old boy sitting in the dirt in a summer camp outside Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, this was like being told that he had superpowers.

The revelation was this: If someone wrote these songs, then anyone could! Even… me! And I have; aside from writing about Jewish music these ten years, I am also a member of ASCAP and a published songwriter.

But the magic of Debbie’s soul wasn’t just that she made me want to be a songwriter. It’s that she also made someone else want to be a cantor. And , someone else a camp director. And someone else a rabbi. Or bar/bat mitzvah tutor… or a Jewish philanthropist… or even a Jewish musician.

Debbie’s music, and her shining spirit, made people want to participate in the Jewish community and Jewish life. She made people want to be Jewish leaders and teachers, but mostly she made people want to be Jewish.

While Debbie left us a trove of indelible music, perhaps her greatest legacy lies in the millions of Jews worldwide who do what they do because Debbie’s music encouraged them to. You can’t talk to a songwriter who wasn’t influenced by John Lennon. And you can’t talk to a Jewish community worker who wasn’t influenced by Debbie Friedman.

This is where I am supposed to say that, while Debbie is gone, her music lives on. Yes, but her fire— her smile, her presence, her living voice— being gone from the world makes our planet much, much darker and colder. With Debbie gone, all we have are her recordings and memories, and these are going to have to do.

What comfort there is comes from knowing that her light has kindled so many others’. Because of Debbie Friedman, we have: Craig Taubman, Julie Silver, Rabbi Joe Black, Sam Glaser, Rick Recht, Beth Schafer, Josh Nelson, Noah Budin, Peri Smilow, Kol Sasson, Visions, Steve Dropkin, Robbie Sherwin, Cantor Wally, Dan Nichols, Mama Doni, Linda Hirschhorn, Mishpacha, Scott Leader, Fran Avni, Judy Frankel, Doug Cotler, Shira Kline, Judy and David, Cindy Paley, and Jeff Klepper. So we can go to their concerts, to hear Debbie in them.

Further, her liturgical melodies have had more impact on what is sung in synagogues worldwide than any other woman in Judaism’s 4,000-year history. Millions of Jews sing Debbie’s melodies every week having no more knowledge of her authorship than… well, than my nine-year-old self knew that “I Got a Name” was written by Jim Croce and not an anonymous contemporary of Shakespeare.

What did Debbie mean? Debbie helped generations rediscover the joy of being Jewish. She reminded us of its meaning and its meanginfulness. She celebrated the inclusion of women and children in Jewish history and tradition. She won back disenchanted and alienated Jews. She never let her withering, devastating illness stop her from smiling and singing.

Debbie meant that being Jewish was fun, spiritual and desirable. She made it hopeful, meaningful and powerful. Debbie’s music was uplifting, inspiring, and— perhaps most importantly— encouraging. Her message was that being Jewish was something that you could do, that you were excited about. Her energy was energizing, her power empowering.

Debbie’s legacy is that she meant something to all of us, and meant something different to each of us. “She belonged to the community,” we feel, “but she belonged to me, too.”

And so we say— far too soon— a final “Shalom” to Debbie Friedman. Without whom.

Paul Wieder interviews Debbie Friedman

In memory of Debbie Friedman, we offer her interview with Paul Wieder in 2009. May her legacy be— as her life was— a blessing for us all.

Click here to download the podcast.

Debbie Friedman’s name is synonymous with American Jewish music. She is one of the foremost artists in the Jewish-music world, having blazed a new genre of Jewish music, bringing American folk and contemporary sounds to traditional texts, a style which now boasts hundreds of performers. She pioneered the movement of Jewish healing services. And, as a liturgical composer, Friedman is more responsible for what is sung in Jewish prayer services than any other woman in history. Her new CD, As You Go On Your Way: Shacharit— The Morning Prayers, continues that lifelong effort.

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Cheers! Chicago: 2011 Is Here!

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01/07/2011

With a resounding cheer and a turn of the clock, we say goodbye to another year. We drink the champagne (or in my case, pour all night long), hug or kiss our loved ones, and celebrate the year ahead. The plate is wiped clean, the table is reset, and the promise of a new beginning arrives. As the New Year dawns upon us, we look towards our symbolic “contract” with ourselves vis-à-vis our “resolutions,” our list of things about our lives we want to improve, strengthen, or change. I have always wondered where this idea came from, who developed and perpetuated this annual tradition of self-reflection, and to what end do we create—  and subsequently live up to— our resolutions. I started thinking about this some more and began to ask myself, do we create realistic resolutions that we can actually see ourselves accomplishing, or do we set the bar so vaguely and outrageously out of reach that we only aspire to but never actually attain? Do we really think that this year is going to be any different than the year before? What would happen to you if something major happened in your life during the New Year, something that would change you forever? Would it change you for the better?

Let me show you a real life example. Recently, the national lottery had its biggest drawing in history totaling $380 million dollars, with the odds statistically stacked against you at 1 in 176,000,000. The very next morning, it was discovered that two tickets emerged as winners, a very rare and interesting outcome to this lottery frenzy. This could not be a sweeter or happier New Year to the two equal share recipients of the lottery winnings. With a happy couple walking away with about $90 million and the other ticket winner still undiscovered, it really got me thinking: what would I have done if I had played and won the lottery? How would it have changed my life, and what exactly would I have done with it? So I decided to test my wits and imagination and put together an impromptu list of the ten things I would do if I had won the lottery. This way, if I actually win a lottery or a large sum of money at one time or another in my life, I’ll be somewhat prepared for it. So, here goes!

1. Donate. Done and done, simple as that. I would probably give up to fifty percent – that’s right, half –  of my winnings to charity and worthy causes.

2. Save. Yep, I would probably stick a good chunk of it in some safe, secure, don’t need to think about it place where it can sit and grow and provide a sturdy “safety net” when things may not go as planned for my family and close relatives. I know, it’s not the craziest or most interesting first two thoughts, but that’s how I think.

3. With whatever money is not saved/invested or donated, I would take a nice, long leave of absence. Probably somewhere warm.

4. Shopping spree. Everything from clothing to shelter to transportation, and I’d let my instincts guide me the entire time.

5. Purchase a professional sports team. In Chicago, but open to other markets.

6. Open a restaurant with my family.

7. Travel all over the world. Probably start or end the trip in Israel.

8. Read and write books.

9. Build a global country club and golf course conglomerate.

10. Invent the next greatest gadget, food product or video game.

And now, I turn the question over to you, reader: what would YOU do if YOU won the lottery? How would it change your life and those around you? How would it change you? Play this game with yourself and others and listen to their responses...you might be surprised.

L’Chaim and Happy 2011!

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A Wrinkle In Time

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01/06/2011

A Wrinkle In Time photo

So, I’ve been contemplating a facelift. I’m not interviewing surgeons or anything, but, well, I’m feeling...old. Last year for my 38th birthday, I bought myself one of those light-up magnifying mirrors. I believe its magnification is at 200x normal, but again, I’m feeling old, so I’m doubting my memory on the specifics. At first, this was a really fun toy. I am convinced my eyebrow arch, my makeup and my ability to know exactly (to the minute!) when to get my lip waxed, improved exponentially. 200x even. But once this all became old hat, my eyes drifted to other parts. Over my eyebrow, the big freckle that appeared during one of my three pregnancies was starting to look a lot like some sort of liver spot. Dark circles had settled forever under my eyes. Creases in between my eyebrows distracted me from the pleasure of my excellently sculpted arches. Smile lines. Huh. Some birthday gift.

I started doing that thing. The thing where you stand in front of the mirror and you move your face around. I pulled my skin back. Not “The Housewives of Beverly Hills” back, but a good 7-9 years back. I reminisced about my time working with teens, wearing overalls to work and doing programming in the high schools. More than once a security guard asked me for my hall pass. I was somewhere between 26 and 29 years old. I still work with teens, but now I’m old enough to have given birth to them. No one cards me when the sign reads: “We card anyone who looks under 40.” And I get called, “Ma’am” 100 times for every, “Miss.”

It’s funny, because some of the things about getting older really don’t bother me. My boobs that hang close to my toes? A sign of the sacrifice I made to nurse my kids. They are like a badge—or two badges rather—that can be completely hidden in a good bra purchased at Bloomingdales. And in some ways I’m very lucky—no grey hair. (In addition, I have the secret ambition to become a redhead once things do, so I have a plan.) I’m also in fairly good shape. I shed 27 pounds a couple of years ago and although a pound or two comes to visit once in awhile, they don’t stay for too long. And for these things I’m grateful. I try to remind myself that getting older beats the alternative. Because by far, wrinkled and old is better than dead and beautiful.

I’m turning 39 this month and I’m thinking about a meaningful gift I can give myself. I’m not getting a facelift even though the impulse is there. The collection of lines and wrinkles and creases do sometimes mess with my self confidence. And although the culmination of time has crept up on me, I know from whence things have come: My years of laughing, smiling, crying, worrying and frowning. My experience of growing and carrying and birthing babies. Moments at weddings and funerals. Squinting my eyes at the hot sun in Hawaii. My face is older. It’s changed over the years like I have. But I recognize myself. And that’s probably a good thing. Now the real question is, will my husband recognize me when I greet him at the door in the not too distant future, as a fiery redhead?

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Tips for a smaller waist in 2011

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01/05/2011

Tips for a smaller waist in 2011 photo

Let’s cut through all the crap and talk about how you can get in shape this year. There will be no yelling trainer, no super hype infomercial, no “miracle pill” just simple advice for a fitter you in 2011.

The Workout

Has anyone heard of the P90X? If you haven’t, you need to get out more. The idea behind it is six intense workouts each week. Even the star of the video, Tony Horton, says, “If you workout six days a week for an hour, you’re going to get in better shape.” And that’s what I’ve been telling all my friends and clients that ask me about P90X. I need to create HI45, a high intensity 45 minute workout. I’ll add that to my 2011 goals. As for you, figure out when you can work out. Analyze your day and look for the time that works best for you. Try to do something active every day, here are some ideas:

• Go for a walk at lunch
• Wake up 30 minutes early and do part of a workout video
• Join a sports league
• Workout at lunch
• Play with your kids actively
• While watching your favorite shows—plank, jog in place, push up…

If you have been saying for years ‘I need to get in shape!’ do something about it! Trainers aren’t cheap but that’s one of the reasons people come. If you are paying 65-$100 for an hour, you are going to show up. If you decide to hire a trainer check them out first on Yelp or Facebook, watch them train others. It’s important you find someone that will push you but won’t break you. Some trainers don’t understand the difference (my gym pet peeve).

The most important workout tip is consistency. Find something that you can stick with. I don’t care if it’s climbing the stairs twice a day at the office, write it down in your calendar and do it!

The Diet Plan

The Lemonade diet, the Fat Flush, the Atkins, the cookie diet (seriously, there is one) are usually not the answer.  I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen many people lose weight on the Atkins and South Beach diet. And I’ve seen almost all of them gain the weight back. The problem with the Blood Type Diet, Sugar Busters, and the other diets I’ve mentioned, is that they are not lifestyle changes. You are not going to skip bread for the rest of your life. However, you can decide to eat less of it. I know crazy concept, portion control. It’s not as exciting but it does the trick. That’s one of the reasons I like Weight Watchers, it teaches you how to eat the right amount of food. You don’t have to cut out the cookies, just eat one! If you are really serious about losing weight, log your food for two weeks. That will allow you to see when you eat crap and what you can replace it with.

When you look at the food you consume on a regular basis also look at the time. Maybe the reason you eat a mini-Reese’s (aside from the fast, they’re delicious) at 3:30 is because you’re starving and the bowl of treats is really close to your office. Make healthy snacks convenient. Bring them to work, to movies, airports…

Snacks along with any meal should have a protein (meat, beans, tofu), a carbohydrate (brown rice, pasta, potato) and a fat (olive oil, avocado, peanut butter). Having all those elements help keep you full longer. The problem with only eating rice cakes and red peppers, you will be hungry all the time. If you can add more protein and fiber it will satiate you better. Here are some examples of healthy snacks/meals:

• Chicken breast, rice, and broccoli
• Sweet potato with walnuts
• Celery, peanut butter, raisins
• Apple with almond butter
• A handful of almonds
• String cheese melted on wheat bread
• Greek Yogurt with honey
• Cashews and cucumbers
• Bean dip on a whole wheat pita
• Quinoa salad

Share your simple health strategies below. Good luck and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

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How To Insult Someone In Yiddish

 Permanent link
01/04/2011

Too many lists of Yiddish insults define almost all of them similarly. But the true genius of a Yiddish insult is in its specificity— how, exactly, is the person being insulted? With Yiddish, one may be quite precise in one’s put-downs. Remember, the sharper the knife, the deeper the cut.

Alrightnik—(English, “all right”) A social climber, especially one who forgets his friends and origins upon achieving success.

Am Ha’Aretz— (Hebrew: nation of the land) A country bumpkin or local yokel.

Apikoros— (Epicurus, the Greek philosopher) Not an “epicure” as in English, but a heretic.

Ba’al Agoleh—  (H: wagon driver) Someone whose brains are in his muscles.

Barimer— (Yiddish: fame) A braggart, an egotist.

Beheymah— (H: cattle) An ill-mannered, ox-like person; a bull in a china shop.

Chalerya— (Y: one with cholera) A maniac.

Farbissiner— (Y: embittered) A sourpuss.

Fresser— (Y: eat greedily) A glutton.

Golem— (from the folk-tale) A mindless person, a zombie, more robot than human.

Gonif— (H: to steal) A thief. Also a grudging compliment, meaning “clever person.”

Grubber Yung— (Y: grubby youth) A punk.

Karger— (Y: cunning) A miser, a cheapskate.

Klutz— (Y: a block of wood) A clumsy person… one who “lumbers.”

Koch-leffel— (Y: a cooking ladel) One who “stirs the pot” with rumors and innuendo.

Kuni Lemel— (name of a fictional character) One who gets everything backward.

Kvetch—  (Y: creak) A whiner.  Can also be used as a verb.

Luftmensch— (Y: air man) One who seemingly lives on nothing, a drifter.

Mazik— (H: harmful) A rascal or imp. Usually said of a cutely mischievous child.

Menuval— (H: scoundrel) A truly detestable person, whose actions are inexcusable.

Meshuggeneh— (Y: crazy) A crazy person. The shorter word “meshuggeh” is an adjective, meaning crazy. So one is “meshuggeh” or “a meshuggeneh.”

Nar— (H: lad) One acting like an adolescent. “Narishkeit” is the stuff associated with that age, such as video games and comic books.

Nebbish— (H: pity) A pathetic person.

Nishtgutnik— (Y: no good) A lazy good-for-nothing. Sometimes Americanized to “nogoodnik.”

Noch-shlepper— (Y: to drag behind) A coat-tail rider, a tag-along.

Nudge— (Y: nauseate) Not the English sense of “to move something slightly,” or even “to pester,” but someone highly annoying by his mere presence.

Nudnik— (Nudge) One who nauseates, who makes others uncomfortable.

Paskudnyak— (Y: disgusting) A cruel person, one who enjoys making others suffer. This is the harshest of all Yiddish insults.

Schlemazel— (H: luckless) A perpetually unfortunate person. In the classic formula: “The schlemiel always spills soup on the schlemazel’s lap.”

Schlemiel— (H: Shlomo) A loser. The Shlomo in question is not King Solomon, but a particular ancient general who never won a battle.

Schlep— (Y: to drag, lug) A dawdler, a lollygagger. Americanized to “schlepper.” “Schlep” can also be a verb.

Schlump— (Y: to slump) One with bad posture, possibly caused by a poor self-image.

Schmegegge— (Y: disappointment) An incompetent.

Schmendrik— (Y: from a fictional character) A useless, ineffectual person.

Schmo— (Y: euphemism for “schmuck”) An anybody, a nobody. Not a “Regular Joe,” merely an “Average Joe.”

Schnook— (Y: snout) Someone easily “led by the nose.”

Schnorrer— (Y: to beg) Not just a panhandler, but a mooch, a user.

Shikor— (H: drunk) Not used for someone diagnosed as an alcoholic, merely someone who is drunk at the moment. Can also be used as an adjective.

Tipesh— (H: fool) A fool, a generally unaware person.

Trombenik— (Y: trombone) A braggart, one who “toots his own horn.”

Vilde chaya— (Y: wild beast) An out-of-control, violent person.

Yente— (from a fictional character) A gossip-monger.

Yold— (H: child) A naïve person.

Yutz— (original unknown) A socially awkward, embarrassing person.

Zhlub— (Y: slob) An unkempt, messy person. (The word starts with the sound made by the s in “measure.”)

So there you have it. The next time your brother annoys you, you’ll be able to tell him exactly how he has done so, and what kind of insensitivity or cluelessness he is displaying, and what category of jerk he is. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.

NEXT UP: Yiddish Compliments (Yes, they exist!)

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How do you want to drink your lemonade this year?

 Permanent link
01/03/2011

L’Shana (secular) Tova, Oy! readers!  I have the distinguished honor of posting the very first Oy! blog post of the year. I have the tough task of bringing the first bit of inspiration in 2011. We know all too well that these late December/early January blog posts are chock full of retrospective glances at the past year and optimistic views of the year to come.  Let’s not mention all the good advice on how to set goals, make resolutions, and work off those greasy latkes you ate over Hanukkah.

I’ll do my best to deliver, but I’m sad to say that I am sitting here basking in the glow of the recently dropped ball in Times Square, realizing that 2011 doesn’t seem to bring us a whole lot of excitement.  There’s no election, no Olympics, and it’s not even a leap year.   The all new season of the Bachelor is kicking off, starring the all old bachelor Brad Womack.  Oh, and 117 million men were simultaneously left broken hearted last week when Natalie Portman announced that she was pregnant and engaged!

Meanwhile, the great economic recovery that was supposed to happen in 2010, well, no one’s sure if that even happened.  Many are even less sure that it’s going to happen this year.  Unemployment is high, prices are low, and inflation is flat.  The State of Illinois is hopelessly broke and facing an insurmountable budget gap.  Tensions in Korea have started again, the war in Afghanistan continues, and the conflict in the Middle East, Iraq, and Iran may never end.

Oh man, 2011 could really be a sour year for a lot of people.

This reminds me of an old saying that says, “When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.”  At the same time, I believe there is an even older saying that says, “When life gives you a lemon, just suck it up!”   The Vitamin C will do you good.  I wonder if there is a version that talks about spitting the lemon right back in life’s face!

I’m here to tell you folks that “things” might not be getting better in 2011, so it’s up to you to decide what YOU are going to do about it.  Charles Swindoll said, that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.  Attitude isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

So keep it simple Oy! readers, don’t worry about what you are going to do this year.  Worry even less about what everyone else is going to do.  If you must make a resolution, make a resolution to accept life as it happens.  You can spend your year trying to figure out if that was good or bad, or you can accept that maybe it just was— period.  Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed and unable to move forward this year because you might make the wrong decision, a bad choice, or waste time.  I know personally, in the past I have been stuck in the mud because I knew that hindsight was 20/20.  I couldn’t bear the thought of looking back on all the things I would have, could have, and should have done, so I stood frozen and did nothing at all.  I have come to realize though, that unless you are flying a fighter jet, you don’t really need perfect vision to make the most of your life.

Oy! readers, let’s just embrace the next 365 days for the wonderful blog post they will become 12 months from now.  Make some lemonade, suck on a lemon or two, or just spit it out.

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