OyChicago blog

Yitro

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22 Shevat 5773 / Feb. 1-2, 2013
01/31/2013

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week's portion, Yitro, we find Moses (and the Israelites) being greeted by Moses's father-in-law Yitro (aka Jethro) after the Israelites managed to fight off the armies of the nation of Amalek.  Yitro greets Moses, bringing along Moses's wife and two sons.  After telling his father-in-law all that God had done for the Israelites in Egypt, Yitro rejoices, praises God, and offers up a sacrifice.

Shortly thereafter, Yitro observes that the Israelites are approaching Moses to settle every little dispute.  He advises Moses to empower a number of individuals to serve as judges (effectively, establishing the tiered court system that we still use today), thus allowing Moses to only adjudicate the major disputes, while relying on others to adjudicate minor ones.  Once this new system of resolving disputes has been put in place, Yitro takes his leave.

The Israelites then enter the wilderness of Sinai, and approach the mountain contained within it.  On the third day, amidst thunder, lightning, horn blasts, and what appears to mimic a volcano that is about to erupt, the 10 Commandments are given.

The traditional understanding of the text suggests that God actually spoke to the entire Israelite nation assembled at the foot of the mountain, as at the end of the portion we find God instructing Moses to say to the Israelites: "You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the heavens."

"Revelation at Sinai," as this event is commonly known, is in many ways the central event of the entire Torah (it's where tradition says that we received the Torah itself, after all).

One of the more intriguing pieces of this episode that the ancient rabbis picked up on is that the Israelites supposedly "saw" the thunder and "saw" that God spoke to them - as opposed to hearing these things.  Revelation at Sinai was so significant and powerful in our narrative that it actually altered peoples' senses.

For us today, I can't help but think that before we could ever be in a position to have our senses altered again, that we'd need to be better at embracing our senses as they currently exist.

Do we savor our food, take pleasure in its odor and taste, and express our gratitude after consuming it?

When we hold the hand of or hug another, do we recognize the intense power and energy that physical connections create? 

When we hear thunder and see lightning today, do we take a moment to reflect and be in awe of the power nature holds?

This Shabbat, let's resolve to take a break from our mile-a-minute lives, and to make the time to both figuratively and literally stop and smell the roses.  Because in addition to adding depth and quality to our lives, perhaps once we come to a fuller appreciation of the senses we're blessed to have, we'll be meritorious enough to have our senses altered in ways currently unimaginable, as tradition shares our ancestors before us did.

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Lost and Found

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01/31/2013

Lost and Found photo

One of my kids had a play date on the horizon. I entertained his reminders and countdowns for a full week until the joyful day arrived and my son announced, “I am SO excited for my play date!” and he skipped out the door to school. It got me thinking about the ease in which happiness seems to come into the heart of a child. They express an unabashed joy over the simple things. Things like balloons, swimming pools, individually packaged snacks and puppies. They appreciate what we grownups refer to as “the little things in life.” And then the little people morph into big people and us big people seem to need much grander gestures – more bells and whistles – to find the same level of excitement. Things like a new car, a bigger house, more money, a younger wife. Why does this happen? Where does the happiness for the little things go?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about going out to dinner was that I would be allowed to order a kiddie cocktail – a Shirley Temple with extra maraschino cherries. It always came with a toothpick umbrella. And if I was very lucky, (and my mom wasn’t paying attention), I could get away with ordering a second Shirley Temple. I stirred the red sugar juice into the bubbly clear sprite with my straw and watched it all blend into the most perfect pink. I felt happiness. I felt joy. And I collected all the toothpick umbrellas in a special drawer in my room.

Sleepovers were another source of happiness for me. I got to giggle and whisper into the late night with a girlfriend until someone’s parents threatened to take “fill-in-the-blank” home if we didn’t “go-to-sleep immediately-and-I-mean-it!” It was the best! Waking up in the morning and seeing your friends eating breakfast in their pajamas was so cool. You got to see the color of their toothbrushes and the kind of toothpaste they used. It was totally worth that terrible, grouchy exhausted feeling that took over the second you got into your parents car and your little body decided that the two hours of sleep was not sufficient to even remotely function for the rest of the day.

There’s an innocence to childhood that seems to wash off of us as we begin to age. Maturing seems to be the slow killer of our belief in everything magical (the good guy always wins; the tooth fairy brings the dollar; your parents never have sex…) I try my best to maintain the magic in my house, but the reality is, my kids are getting older. They read the paper. They ask me about the death penalty, the Holocaust, and the long term effects of people who eat McDonalds. They are seduced by headlines and playground gossip. And alas, I am married to an engineer who is not only a black and white thinker, but has always been suspicious of the tooth fairy and non-fiction books.

When I picked my son up from his play date, he was full of chatter and smiles. He’d had a great time. I had spent the day busy, overwhelmed, running errands, making and going to appointments, my head filled with the usual have tos and need to get tos. But when we were driving home and he was reliving each detail with me, (snack, game, snack, legos, snack, Wii, snack…) I felt a lightness in me. I felt a happiness inside. Listening to my son relay the simple things – the little things – that gave him joy that day, gave me joy as well. Maybe we grownups aren’t so lost after all. Maybe the happiness found in the little things isn’t gone. Quite possibly it’s just waiting to be noticed. And we just need to pay attention.

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Goodbye Corolla

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01/30/2013

Goodbye Corolla photo

The tech bubble burst in the early 2000s and I was a casualty. Two companies I worked for went out of business. My career as an underpaid consultant was not leading me to a lucrative career. 

I traveled 100% of the time for the first company I worked for. I was in towns like Macon, Enid, Muskogee, and other exciting towns like Rockford. Please do not take offense if you live in these small cities. I’m just bitter that a coworker of mine would always end up in the big city, like Tulsa, while I was driving 500 miles around the great state of Oklahoma. 

My second consulting gig was a little more glamorous. I drove to Hoffman Estates for six months and then got placed on a project in McHenry, where I stayed at a Motel 6 for another six months. When I was in McHenry I would pack six or so sandwiches for the week and fruit and put it in the client’s fridge. My coworkers would make fun of me, but at some point, someone always wanted half a turkey sandwich. 

My trusty leased Corolla took me back and forth to McHenry, Illinois. When our project ended, there was not much work to be had in the Customer Relationship Management software business. Sensing the end was near, I started working at Bally’s part time. I also began throwing parties in Chicago as a promoter. 

Since I graduated from college I helped my friends throw parties at bars and clubs, for some reason a lot of Jews are in the business. Once my consulting days were over I spent my nights throwing parties and my days training whoever I could sell training too. This lucrative move helped me max out a credit card or two. 

Eventually I started working for my friend at the JCC in Skokie and I kept the other two jobs. The training was really starting to come together. I would take my trusted Corolla to Skokie, then to Webster place Bally’s, and then I would double park outside of clubs and bars. Instead of throwing parties, I was taking pictures for a website (whatsupchicago.com) and selling online ad space for them. My debts were starting to diminish. 

As I cut expenses, I realized I could buy a car instead of lease it and pay less per month. So I did what any freak would do, I bought a car on my lunch break. I purchased a ‘03, white, Toyota Corolla. The car did not have power locks or windows, which forced me to be a gentleman and open the door for any guest. This would later provide my wife with material for ridicule. “You bought a car at lunch? You did not get power locks?”

My poor man’s BMW drove like a dream. While most people took cabs, I walked or took my car. I never cared about parking it on the street or dings and dents from parallel parking. In ten years I only put 70,000 miles on it. 
My insurance company decided to put down the Corolla. In an accident where no one was hurt, and oddly neither my wife or I were driving the car, the Corolla did not survive. The insurance company decided that the price to fix the car exceeded the value. I was crushed. This was my baby, 10 years old and still running well. I wanted to keep this car for a few more years. It had character, it was missing three hubcaps, the trunk was stocked with fitness equipment, the glove box held every oil change and other work done, and most importantly it was paid off. 

Getting a new car was stressful. I had no idea at first how much money the insurance company would cover. I did not want a car payment so used cars were my only option. My wife and I visited a few shops with our son, who at 18 months loved opening the car doors, running around the galleries and did not want to sit still. Car buying attempt number two started Wednesday at 1pm. My wife and I drove from a dealer in Highland Park to Rogers Park. The same thing happened at both spots, “What can we do to get you from walking out the door.” 

Next we drove to Des Plaines, almost bought a Hyundai. Starving, tired and approaching 8pm, we picked up some drive through food (disgusting describes the food and how we felt afterwards) and then off to dealership number four. This place was in Schaumberg. We drove two Honda Accords and decided the gold ’04 drove the best. Finally, I think we found our car!

But then we could not agree on the price. We stormed out with a lot of purpose and Andy, the manager, stopped us. The usual car salesman smile, “Come on, don’t leave. We have a deal.” 

Andy agreed to our price! We arrived home that night at 9:30 pm. While driving my new ride, with heated seats, power locks and windows, I was happy and really tired. My high school car crush was a Mitsubishi Eclipse, and then I saw a totaled one on the street. It looked like a ball of tin foil. I started to crush on a new car, and now I own it!

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They Didn’t Leave It To Beaver

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The Truth About 1950s Sitcoms
01/29/2013

 They Didn’t Leave It To Beaver photo

I keep hearing people holding up the 1950s sitcom as the standard for family structures, notably Leave It to Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Aside from the fact that I don't even take my family advice from the shows that are on now (do that many people really have a Modern Family family?), I started wondering…

Were the sitcoms of the 1950s only about families with a mom, dad and a couple of kids? I decided to find out.

I found a website that listed 117 sitcoms that aired during the 1950s. I found 80 of them depicting family units or other relationships. Here is what I found:

Yes, the largest group was the one that depicted parents and children. These include the ones mentioned above, and also others whose names we still recognize: Father Knows Best, Life With Father, and Make Room for Daddy.

But there was variety even here. For instance, I Love Lucy featured a family in which the father was an immigrant, and The Goldbergs were Jewish. The show Mary Kay and Johnny showed a married couple sharing a bed, and a pregnant woman, on TV as early as 1948. Another, The Life of Riley, is credited as being one of the first shows to depict lower-class family life.

All of these shows together, however, still only come to 26— not quite a third of the family/relationship sitcoms on air in the 1950s.

Another 16 that I found do show married couples, but without children. Many were married for several years (i.e. seasons) and still had no kids. This fact gives lie to the idea that marriage was always seen as being predominantly for the purpose of procreation. Such famous shows as Burns and Allen and The Honeymooners showed longstanding childless couples. With Blondie coming to TV from the funny pages, Fibber McGee and Molly coming from radio and The Thin Man and Topper coming from the movies, it seems fairly clear that the childless couple was a widely accepted norm. 

Another family structure depicted as early as the 1950s was that of the single parent. While My Three Sons did not debut until 1960, the show Bachelor Father was already on before that. Yes, that show depicted a single man raising his orphaned niece, but other programs, from The Eve Arden Show to The Dennis O'Keefe Show, portrayed single parents raising their own children.

In all the cases I found (three single-mother/adoptive aunt shows and five single-father/adoptive uncle) the reason for single parenthood was the death of the spouse, not a divorce. Evidently, that reality was a bridge too far for a 1950s sitcom. 

I also found a half-dozen shows with dating, but yet unmarried couples, including That Wonderful Guy, featuring future movie star Jack Lemmon.

But what struck me was the large number of shows featuring singles on the dating scene, half a century before Seinfeld and Sex and the City. Such stars as George Burns, Ray Milland, and Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz) played men-about-town.

And while the show How to Mary a Millionaire continued the plot of that gold-diggers-gone-wild movie, So This is Hollywood showed a single woman who wanted to do movie stunts, and The Adventures of Tugboat Annie showed the life of a woman who captained her own vessel. December Bride, decades before Golden Girls, showed the life of a single, older woman still looking to date. 

Already, by the 1950s, African-American actors were appearing on, and even starring in, their own shows. So were women, who were depicted as running their own successful businesses, not dependent on anyone. Jewish, Italian, Irish, Hispanic and other immigrant characters also married, had children, and supported themselves and their families in the America inside those wood-encased TV sets.

So the answer, as I suspected, was no. No, the makers of the sitcoms of the 1950s did not "leave it to Beaver" to depict the variety and scope of American family life at the time. They also left it to Beulah and Amos 'n' Andy, to Luigi and Bonino, to Duffy and Mr. Sweeney. They left it to the Bachelor Father and Mama Rosa, to the Boss Lady and Our Miss Brooks.

Even before the advent of color television, it seems, everyone knew that life was not black and white. 

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Jewish enough for ya?

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01/28/2013

Jewish enough for ya? photo

What makes something Jewish? Who owns the labeling rights to call something Jewish enough? If I go to a service, how do I know if I am experiencing something authentically Jewish? It’s a question that I grapple with. I have a non-Jewish spouse, and when we have kids, we have committed that together we will raise them Jewish. It’s important to me that they are raised “Jewish enough.”

Not long after we moved to Washington, DC my wife and I found our way to a Sixth in the City service at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. Sixth and I is a nondenominational/non-membership synagogue and Sixth in the City is their brand for programs targeting the 20 and 30 somethings. It tends to be a Reconstructionist meets Jewish summer camp-style service. There is a Rabbi, a song-leader with a guitar, a volunteer choir, a lot of short prayers, upbeat and catchy tunes. There is also a happy hour before the service and dinner is served after. 

Prior to coming DC, it would not have been my first choice for a Friday night service. I identify mostly with what most would label a traditional Conservative service: lots of Hebrew, very little skipping around, and no instruments. Still, everyone had encouraged us to go to Sixth and I. “What is Sixth and I?” I would ask. “You just have to go to understand.” 

Few people would question whether all of this was a Jewish event or a Jewish experience. It’s a Friday night service with prayers, blessings and a Shabbat meal. The food even comes from a kosher caterer. However, after going a couple of times, I had this nagging feeling that this service might not be religious enough for me. To complicate matters, my wife decided she like this service better than any other service we had gone to. She also was very aware that I didn’t love it. I was faced with the choice of attending Sixth and I again with my wife, or going to my flavor of service by myself. 

All of this caused me to reflect and wonder. What makes something Jewish? More importantly, who am I to judge the merit of one Friday night experience over another? Who is anyone to do this? As someone who had spent a lot of time both volunteering and working in the Jewish community, I felt guilty and embarrassed. I was acting a bit superior to others in the room because I had a different kind of Jewish education. Was I cheapening the experience by acting as if I was going to humor somebody? Was I cheating myself out of something? 

To attempt to answer the question, I chose a new approach. The next time I went to the service, I tried all that I could to go without expectation and just be present. It was only then that I understood what everyone had been talking about. What you couldn’t explain, and just had to go to see for yourself.

I began to notice different things. I realized how welcoming and warm all of the staff were. I realized that there were volunteers with nametags there to also greet and meet people. I watched how the service was inspiring people throughout the room. I heard how the direction from the Rabbi was carefully delivered to ensure that everyone was on the same page and nobody felt dumb or belittled. I saw how everyone was able and eager to participate. I saw that almost everyone was smiling. Most of all, I noticed my wife was too.

The Sixth in the City service meets once a month, and we try to go as much as possible. It’s a Jewish event that we can look forward to attending. Is it Jewish enough? I think I have learned that the answer has more to do with those participating in the service, than the service itself.

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Supermom Doesn't Exist (But Specialized Imma Does)

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01/25/2013

Supermom Doesn't Exist photo

The entire phrase "you can do it all" must be dismantled from its shaky roots, swaying in an imaginary location deep in never-never-land, where children with needs do not exist, where a day is made up of 200 hours, and where choices do not have consequences.

A person cannot do it all, they must choose and they must make sacrifices. The tale of the Supermom is a flimsy attempt at a chickflick gone wrong; beyond that, it is not something to strive to reach. One must instead strive for what their mission is and, unlike the General Education focus of our upbringing, specialize, specialize, specialize. Specialize in what they do best. Put a little bit of time into those activities, set aside a lot of time for the odds and ends that is existence, and slowly and steadily rise.

You cannot watch your kids constantly and have someone else watch them for you. You simply must make a choice. There is no shame in staying at home, and there is no guilt in going to work. The end question is all in the intention, the goal. 

The question is not: Can I do this. As women, we know it is possible to climb any rank of business. That is no longer our question.

Now, it is not about me acting upon the job, but what will this job do to me? Will it make me into a better mother, a more balanced wife, a healthier Jew? How does my job impact the roles of my life?

It is that integration, from what I do to who I am, that is essential, that must be considered. And while a college resume may be impressed with the person that is taking on seven different clubs and three after school activities, a busier mom, a more responsibility-laden wife, and an overwhelmed Yid are not necessarily things that will elicit positive reactions from the recipients; the children, the husband, the friends. 

I have thought of this deeply, as I took on a new job. One that required what I thought was nothing- four hours/day (of things not directly in my line of interest, the arts).

As I soon found out, the sacrifices were great. By the time I got home to rest, there simply wasn't enough time in my life for all of the things I cared about, especially my daughter and husband. Something had to give. For if you do too much, everything suffers. I had to focus on my core interests and specialize. 

The "you can do it all" motto is so passé. The Supermom imagery is old news and unrealistic. But the specialized, integrated mother, whose activities are work in whatever form she chooses, that builds her emotional, physical, psychological (even spiritual) muscles—that is the new thing.

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How to change everything in one month or less

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01/24/2013

How to change everything in one month or less photo

I may have figured out the shortest route between Fisk Hall and the Evanston Davis Metra station—a dire necessity in Winter Quarter, when your first class starts at 9 a.m. sharp. I’m learning a lot about Evanston now that I’m spending more time there. The coffee shop in the Metra station serves hot chocolate with Nutella if you ask for it. One does not jaywalk across Sheridan Road lightly. It is entirely possible to notice red-tailed hawks perching on street lamps, if you’re observant.

The last time I spent this much time at Northwestern University, I was in high school, at “geek camp” studying physics. Now I’m a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism—yes, I got in!—and I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting. Evanston itself is virtually unrecognizable from my time there in 1999 and 2000. I keep catching glimpses of storefronts or buildings on campus that give me déjà vu, but there’s something more surreal than clarifying about it. More to the point, though, I graduated from the University of Chicago six and a half years ago, and while I’ve taken classes in improv, singing and ukulele in the meantime, I haven’t been a full-time student since 2006.

I only had a month between my acceptance letter and orientation, so there wasn’t much time to get neurotic about going back to school again. Mostly I was ecstatic, and I held onto that as long as I could. But the closer Orientation Day came, the more nervous I became. What if nobody liked me? What if no one else was nerdy? What if everyone else was miles ahead of me and I would have to struggle to catch up? What if I didn’t know what to wear? You’d think these fears would have been put to rest a long time ago (in middle school, maybe), but anxiety is the Energizer Bunny of useless emotions. I can’t tell you how much I fretted about what backpack to buy.

Anxiety is also not as special as we think it is. Everyone else in my cohort was just as nervous and excited and confused as I was. We’re bonding even more under the crushing workload, which we’re all too overwhelmed to accurately judge whether it’s actually crushing yet or if the best is yet to come.

The adjustments aren’t entirely external. My journalism background so far has consisted of a love of the internet and blogging, plus some professional experience with copy editing. It’s not so much that I’ve never recorded nat sound or written a lede or edited b-roll. I’m still surprised to wake up in the morning and think of myself as a journalist. I never thought I would be a journalist—except I used to long for a job that would let me meet people and write about them and travel and create media and spout opinions about the world. I tell everyone that I was looking for a career that would let me be Studs Terkel. I’ve been searching for it for so long, it’s strange to know I finally have a name for it. (It’s just as strange that it took me this long to make the connection.)

Now that I’m here, though, I’m blindingly happy. I feel like I’m among my people. And it’s only been three weeks—there’s so much left to learn: interviewing, audio profiles, the rule of thirds, the editorial drive, AP style, Supreme Court cases, news judgment, media ethics, the best place for sushi on a budget… and if there’s a quicker, warmer way from the train to Fisk Hall.

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Realistic New Year’s Resolutions Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Set Realistic Goals For Myself That I Truly Want To Accomplish In 2013

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01/23/2013

Adam Daniel Miller photo

1. Shorten the titles of my blogs for Oy!Chicago.

2. Stop listing things before the actual introductions of my blogs for Oy!Chicago.

Welcome to the delayed introduction of my blog post for Oy!Chicago! A post that is so much more than a blog. A blog that is, in fact, a vessel of hope and inspiration for the full year lying before us. I say lying because at the time of this post we are down 3 weeks, so a full year this is not. I have to say, my goodness how time……..flies. There’s a large group of flies out my window. And if there’s one thing that distracts me, it’s a large group of flies. Oh! That’s perfect!

3. No longer get distracted by large groups of….they just keep going in circles, don’t they?

Sorry. Where was I? Ah yes, time and its ability to levitate. That might actually be a good goal this year, being able to fly. Nah. This year I want to try something different. This year, I want to be realistic with my resolutions. Hence, we have the following list which I composed on a whim. Just so you know, all my life I have referred to chairs as whims. Now, these are the realistic resolutions I have set for myself in this New Year that you will call 2013. I might as well call it that too. I put a lot of thought into these as most people don’t often set resolutions they can realistically achieve. I want to be different. Therefore, when I say “realistic” goals I mean realistic in the sense that I realistically want to accomplish them. But as far as them being realistic in a realistic sort of way, well, that’s another question entirely. And here is that other question in its entirety. Are they realistic in a realistic sort of way?

No. No they are not. Enjoy!

4. Actually read a book cover to cover. Maybe even two considering it’ll only take a couple minutes to do each one. Less if I choose Dr. Seuss books. 

5. Speaking of books, go against the saying and judge a book by its cover. The same way I judge people by their clothes. Okay, maybe it’s just me I judge. I don’t think I should be a judge. That’s a funny word. Judge. Now I want some fudge. But just a smudge. In fact I would like a smudge of fudge to judge for my ludge. Lunch. 

6. Stop going on tangents about fudge. 

7. Tell a joke worth telling. That previous sentence might suffice. 

8. Finally understand the difference between the word affect and effect. Also the words weather and pancake. 

9. Write a play. Oh. Just did it. That’s wasn’t so hard. Shoulda figured since it was only two words. 

10. Stop reading into things so much. I’m tired of bruising my face.

.11 Learn how to number things properly.

512. Learn how to number things properly. 

?@H%&. Learn how to number things properly.

12. Stop repeating myself.

12. Stop repeating myself. 

14. Get over my fear of silly superstitions. Learn to deal with only the regular kind of stitions. 

15. Learn a new language. Like blortic. Get it? Because it’s a NEW language and you thought I meant…moving on.

16. FIX MY CAPS LOCK BUTTON AND MY LACK OF BEING ABLE TO DISPLAY GREAT EXCITEMENT!!!!!!!!! 

17. Overcome my fear of using the word synthesizer in the proper context of a banana. 

18. Capture, train and domesticate a great white shark to become my own personal marine life bounty hunter.

19. Work, on the, problem I have with, using unnecessary com,mas,. ,,

20. ,

21. Whenever I walk past someone trying to hail a taxi, hi-five them. 

22. fewkjwe@**6*Sskdhiwehk0)0S@1wejq92kqjkq20W):’!’1’

Sorry about that. Just killed a spider on my keyboard.

23. Go around dressed as the planet Mercury complaining about how hot I am because I’m so close to the sun while yelling at everyone else for not understanding true first world problems. 

B-7. Bingo!

24. Communicate with old friends that I’ve lost touch with. This applies mainly to my butt. We’re not on speaking terms right now which is a shame because we used to be really tight. 

25. Bah-dum chee!

26. Start acting my age, not my shirt size.

27. Not die. I’m actually going to try this one.

28. Do more outdoor activities in the comfort of my own apartment. 

29. Finish everything I start, including showers. 

30. Work out more. I’m tired of constantly workin’. (See what I did there? Neither do I)

31. Eat healthier AKA stop swallowing my food whole. 

32. Convince Whole Foods Market to sell me an individual slice of pizza. Or a piece of pie. I don’t always want the whole thing for goodness sake. Although sometimes I want the whole thing for deliciousness sake. 

33. Try walking a mile in someone else’s shoes because walking a mile in my own shoes takes about a month. I don’t go anywhere. 

34. End this list as anti-climatically as possible. 

So there you have it. My list of realistic New Year’s Resolutions for the year that will eventually be formally known as 2013. I’m feeling pretty good about this list. In fact I don’t think this list is half bad. It’s closer to about ¾ bad. Just like my humor.

Happy Jewish Newish Year!

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Edon’s Got Talent

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01/22/2013

Festival of lights and laughter photo 3

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

Edon Pinchot is the Skokie teen, a freshman at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, who took the country by storm in 2012 on America's Got Talent. He wowed the judges and charmed the crowd with his heartfelt piano renditions of today's hits, reaching the semi-finals-all while proudly wearing his kippah. He opened for Aziz Ansari at YLD's Big Event.

Below are excerpts from an interview with the phenom. The full interview is available as a podcast on www.jufnews.org.

On deciding to audition for America's Got Talent 
I had always been a fan. I had seen that they had had really talented kids on the show. People were encouraging me to put my talent out there.

On auditioning and performing 
Up to going on the show, I had never had experiences of going in front of a crowd. I had never performed in front of more than 10 to 15 people. It was nerve-wracking but also exciting. My dad and I flew down to Austin for the audition. It looked like a circus! There were acrobats and dancers, and crazy, crazy acts. It was overwhelming, but the response from the judges and crowd was exciting. As the show went on, it became live [for every performance], so then I was more nervous. Once you are in front of that crowd, there is not much you can do. Performing was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. That was fun for me. Once you start playing, you let everything go.

On his songs 
The songs were chosen by me. As the competition goes on, they give you tips. By the live round, it's me choosing the songs and them approving them. In between each stage of the competition I had about two months of preparation, which was more than enough. It's fun to take songs that other people already have a connection to, and to be able to make it your own- one of the most exciting parts of the show. I listen to a pretty big variety of music. I recently got into country, and I listen to pop and alternative. I listen to one song over and over until I get sick of it!

On piano lessons 
I started when I was 9. I had been asking my parents for a couple of years at that point. I was playing classical, and I hated it, for a year and a half. I wanted to quit. One summer, I stopped taking lessons. But my friends were at camp. I had nothing to do. I sat down and started playing something I heard on the radio with one finger, which started to turn into chords, and then I started to teach myself a little bit. I realized I had to start taking lessons again…I had something going for me there! I started with more mainstream chord progressions, more what I wanted. Having that background in classical music really helped!

On being openly Jewish on national TV 
We got some comments about what the yarmulke is. People would ask why I couldn't be there on Shabbos. Overall, I was treated like anyone else, which was an amazing part. It was an experiment, to see how people would accept someone wearing a kippah, how they would react. As the show went on, we started to realize more reactions across the country, more people picking up on me. That's when it hit us, the aspect of me kind of representing the Jewish nation. That was one of the really cool parts. As the competition went on, I started to see more Jews were following me, excited about what I was going to do.

On his life and music now 
I came back from New York, straight into starting high school! In the past months, I have been doing a couple of performances. I did the GA (The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America). I am going to start doing some more YouTube stuff. Hopefully, I'll be able to record some original music.

On what he learned 
From a performance aspect, I've really matured. Getting a response from a crowd like that, and the judges, was amazing for me. I had my doubts, [thinking] 'This person is better than me. There is no was I'm getting though this stage.' I really progressed with my music and as a performer. One of my main goals in my music career is to be able to share it with everyone. You don't need to make up some alter ego, to change everything about you in order to have people enjoy what you do. You have to stay true to who you are. I've matured, but I've tried to stay the same person I was.

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Baby-friendly Judaism

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01/21/2013

This year, instead of throwing together a list of resolutions I'd promptly forget or break, I made a handy "13 Goals for 2013" list, which I've plastered all over my house and lodged deeply into my brain (and my blog). One of my ambitions in 2013 is to find ways to incorporate Judaism into Colin's life in baby-friendly ways. 

In no way would I self-identify as "religious," but before I became a full-time mom, I spent five years working full-time in the Jewish community, four years before that active at the Ohio University Hillel, and four before that as an active participant in the B'nai Brith Youth Organization. So without being particularly proactive, I've always had an obvious, natural foot in the door for easy entry to the Jewish community  I always had my niche, without having to actually invite Judaism into my front door.

Since Colin was born, that has not been the case. Of course, we tied a little kippah on his head, had his bris, and ate a bagel in his honor. We traveled to Ohio to celebrate the High Holidays (which Colin basically slept through), and we lit candles and gave C presents during Hanukkah. But on a day-to-day basis, we haven't been particularly Jew-ish. 

What I love about being Jewish is the sense of continuity and community it propagates and the set of values that we share as we share time-honored customs and traditions. I guess that is a fancy was of saying that being Jewish is cool, and I want Colin to feel the same way.

I know I have time to address this, since our days consist primarily of scooting across the floor, singing silly songs, drinking milk, going for walks and attempting to ingest solid food. But nevertheless, I think that starting early can never hurt.

The first and easiest thing I did was hop onto Amazon and order a set of inexpensive candlesticks. Colin certainly doesn't even know what day it is, much less when it's Shabbat or otherwise. But starting to light candles now will hopefully mean that by the time he can ask, "why?" and understand the concept of Shabbat as a day of rest and quality time as a family, it will have become a regular weekly habit. 

Baby-friendly Judaism photo 1

The other big news on the Jew-ish front for the Friedman family is a class we enrolled in called Zemer Emet. It meets at a local synagogue that is only four blocks from our house, which is super convenient. It's a music class for kids under three, and we sing all sorts of traditional and not-so-traditional songs in Hebrew and English (and by not-so-traditional, I mean Head Shoulders Knees and Toes in Hebrew - yikes! I'm glad the words are written on the marker board because I wouldn't have a clue otherwise).

I like exposing Colin to Hebrew songs at a young age, and hopefully as we learn some of them better, we can sing them at home too. This class has been really cute, because most of the kids are older, and Colin sits and watches them with such curiosity. While he gums the musical instruments as the other kids play them, it's a great preview for me to see what having an older kiddo will be like. 

Baby-friendly Judaism photo 2

Colin dressed all fancy for his first time at Temple for class

Also, this week's class reminded me that we have Tu B'Shvat coming up. While I may or may not have forgotten prior to class that this holiday existed (Happy birthday, trees…sorry I forgot about you.), it was a great reminder. 

Around the same time, I got an email about a family program called Jammin' with the Trees, sponsored by PJ Library. So on Sunday, February 3, we're going to visit the Garfield Park Conservatory, reconnect with nature and wish all the trees a happy birthday with a ton of other young Jewish kids. (PJ Library is a program that sends free monthly books to Jewish kids under the age of five…which is awesome! If you have or know a child who should be receiving these books and isn't, it's easy to sign up - just click here.)

Down the road, I'd love to try bringing him to a "Tot Shabbat" program and getting him involved in TOV's Hands on Heroes program for volunteering with little kids. But so far, we're off to a great start!

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Young Adult Engagement and Philanthropy: An Event Model that Works

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01/18/2013

Festival of lights and laughter photo 1

Photo credit: Jeff Ellis 

Those of us working with young adults know all too well the many challenges of attracting this demographic to fundraising events. We constantly look for new ideas, venues, speakers and incentives. Then we use facebook, twitter, email, websites and more to market the event, with the hope that people don’t ignore us. We check our registration lists incessantly and pray that people show up. We try to explain the cause in an effective way and hope people understand. We review each aspect of the event so it delivers in hopes that participants will enjoy and bring their friends in the future. Sound familiar?

If you’ve felt this way and are looking for a single event that can draw hundreds of young adults in support of the community then read on, because in Chicago, we’ve spent five years building an event that thousands of young Jews know about and attend each year.

In 2008, the Young Leadership Division’s (YLD) professional and volunteer leadership team dreamed of something BIG, something new that would attract hundreds of young adults to come together for a single evening to support the Jewish United Fund and the Chicago Jewish community. In its first year, the event attracted over 700 participants, including 250 new donors and 100 Ben Gurion Society members, donors who contribute a minimum of $1,000 to the Annual Campaign. In total, YLD attracted triple the number of people than at the two major fundraising events from the previous year. YLD’s first Big Event was the largest YLD Campaign event in its 60 year history.

This past December, and five years later, YLD held its 5th annual Big Event, which is now the premier fundraising event for the next generation of Chicago’s young Jewish community. The event, held in a ballroom the size of a football field, drew a crowd of more than 2,400, including hundreds of first-time donors. The evening featured entertainment by Edon Pinchot, 14-year old semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent, and Aziz Ansari, Parks and Recreation star.

Festival of lights and laughter photo 5

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

Elements of Success

There are three important elements of the Big Event that we have focused on each year:

1. Provide great entertainment: Having an A or B list celebrity provide the evening’s entertainment has generated enormous buzz over the years. YLD has been entertained by Matisyahu, Andy Samberg, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon and Aziz Ansari.

2. Make the event accessible: For the first time in YLD’s recent fundraising history, the Big Event had no minimum gift to attend. Rather, the requirement is for every new donor to give a gift that is meaningful to them (for some it is $18 and for others $1,800). For all previous donors, the ask is to match or increase their last gift.

3. Recruit: Our best recruitment strategy has been to leverage the relationships of community members to recruit their family and friends. We utilized a table host model to incentivize people to recruit their networks by securing preferred seating with friends at no additional charge. YLD has held five Big Events and with each year, we gain more momentum. In the first four years, attendance increased 50% or more from the prior year. The maximum attendance was in 2012 with over 2,600 (Jimmy Fallon was the entertainer).

Late night with Jimmy photo 1

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

Measures of Success

Attending the event is a commitment in and of itself. Each participant must purchase an $80 ticket, commit to give a gift to the Annual Campaign and spend an entire Saturday night with JUF. We are proud that thousands of young adults opt into this year after year. We know that the entertainment and open bar are great perks, but we also believe that people are coming to show their support for the Jewish community.

At the event, participants demonstrate solidarity, strength, and collective responsibility. This past year, over 2,400 young adults of all backgrounds joined together to recite the Chanukah prayers, light up a room (with glow sticks) and commit a gift to this community.

Anecdotal comments have also been telling. People have expressed their appreciation of having a way to connect with hundreds of other young adults and reported feeling good about being a part of something larger then themselves. Table hosts have shared positive experiences about their leadership roles.

As for fundraising, the first Big Event raised over $250,000, 25% more than the two major fundraising events from the year before. By 2012 that number has doubled to close to $500,000.

Every participant receives an “interest” card at the Big Event, which offers a personal connection to YLD leadership. Hundreds of people have filled out this card and met with YLD Board members and professionals. Several Big Event attendees have taken on leadership roles in the community because of a connection made through the Big Event.

Communities across the country are inquiring about and replicating the Big Event model. In 2011, Michigan held their first Epic Event and is planning to host it again in the Spring of 2012.

In total, 5,763 unique participants have attended a Big Event. As the younger generation begins to step up, accept responsibility, understand what the community is about and come to an event because they want to, we know the future is in good hands.

Young Adult Engagement and Philanthropy photo

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

What’s in Store for the Future?

We are constantly re-evaluating our fundraising strategy. At an event that keeps growing, it becomes more difficult to get the room’s attention and to explain why it is important to give through the Jewish United Fund. This past year, the pitch included several elements to make the message of JUF more relatable. For the coming year, we will re-evaluate the messaging and explore how to best capture the room’s attention.

We are constantly gathering feedback from community members in an effort to ensure that we plan an event people want to attend. We strive to understand where we can improve. We are encouraging everyone to weigh in, because we want this event to remain relevant, even if it looks different than before. What worked five years ago may not continue to work and we are open to exploring new options.

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Bears bring in Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman

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01/17/2013

Bears bring in Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman photo

The Chicago Bears hired a Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman, to improve their pigskin prowess.

Trestman, 57, a longtime NFL assistant, was named Wednesday to his first head coaching post in the league. The 57-year-old Minneapolis native will be the only Jewish head coach in the National Football League.

Over the past five seasons he served as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, leading them to two championships.

In Chicago, he succeeds Lovie Smith, who was released following nine seasons that included one Super Bowl appearance. The Bears finished 10-6 last season but did not reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, even after a 7-1 start.

Trestman, who has been an offensive assistant with several NFL clubs, has gained a reputation for improving the play of his quarterbacks. The Bears were seeking improvement on offense.

"He understands quarterbacks," the Bears' signal-caller, Jay Cutler, told the team's website. "He understands their thought process and the minds of quarterbacks and what we have to go through. It's going to be a quarterback-friendly system and I can't wait to get started with him."

The Bears reportedly interviewed at least 13 candidates for the position and had brought back two others for second interviews.

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Kindle Culture: What I read in 2012

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01/16/2013

Stefanie Pervos Bregman photo

These days, it seems like I'm just devouring books. I'm not sure if it's because it's so easy to download new books on my Kindle, or the hour plus each day I spend reading on my iPhone while trying to balance on the El, or the fact that I often can't fall asleep at night, but lately I find myself finishing up to three books in a week. While my elementary school teachers would be proud, this habit is not so healthy for my bank account. To save some bucks, I tend to read a lot of not-so great books I find on the lists of free books like Pixel of Ink or on Amazon's books for under $3.99. Sometimes the books on these lists are fabulous, but not always. (Someone recently mentioned to me that the Chicago Public Library lets you check out books for free on your Kindle—gotta look into that.)

Despite all the junk-reading I do, which on top of my reality TV-watching makes me incredibly cultured (not), I did manage to read a lot of great stuff this past year. Not all of these books came out in 2012, and I'm not claiming these are the best books of 2012—though some of them are considered among that list. This list merely represents the best of what's on my Kindle from 2012. 

A Dog's Purpose and its sequel, A Dog's Journey by Bruce Cameron and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 
Okay, so thanks to my bichon poodle puppy Bialy, I'm a little obsessed with all things canine these days. While the third is not related to the first two, all three of these books are written from the perspective of the dog, which I just adored and because of which now spend a lot of time trying to figure out what Bialy is thinking. Whether or not you're a dog lover, I think you'll love all three of these doggy tales about the special and unbreakable bond between humans and their dogs.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 
Love it or hate it, this thriller about a super messed up marriage is one of the more disturbing, suspenseful books I've ever read—I couldn't put down. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
We learned about this magical book about a circus filled with all kinds of enchantment and mystery that arrives only at night from Oy! blogger Jon Meyer back in June—I read it based on his recommendation and this was definitely one of my absolute favorites from this year. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 
This book came out in back in '99 but resurfaced in 2012 when the movie came out. I hadn't read it before now—it's a classic coming-of-age story about all the awkwardness and angst that is high school and a really good one at that.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson 
This book about Peter Pan's friend Tiger Lily was recommended to me by a friend, otherwise I might never have discovered it. If you love Peter Pan and love stories and you have an imagination, you'll enjoy this book. 

50 Shades of Grey Trilogy, by E L James 
What? You know you read them too.

The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg 
I had to check this one out because it's written by a Jewish girl from the burbs of Chicago about a Jewish family in the burbs of Chicago. While not an uplifting story, the characters are so well-written and real I felt like they were people I knew—and maybe they are. It's a good read filled with local references and landmarks those of you from the North Shore will definitely recognize.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 
This is one of the best and one of the saddest books I have ever read. It's about love, cancer and childhood. Have tissues ready.

As we move into 2013, it's about that time to refresh my Kindle, so tell me—what's on your reading lists? I need your help to keep feeding my crazy reading habits!

PS-While we're on the subject of Kindles, I should mention that the anthology I edited, Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation, came out on Kindle last month, so if you haven't yet checked it out, now's a good time!

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Great Jewish NFL moments this season

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01/15/2013

The Great Rabbino’s Jewish NFL player of the year photo

There are not too many great Jewish NFL moments to write about, the highlight being Adam Podlesh's two-point conversion. Most of our great Jewish NFLers are Offensive Linemen (we are not complaining). Here is how everyone checked out.

The season began without David Binn, Sage Rosenfels, Kyle Kosier, Adam Goldberg, Igor Olshanksy, and Greg Camarillo on NFL rosters. Camarillo did find his way onto a team, signing with the New Orleans Saints during the season; he finished with four catches for 44 yards. 

Gabe Carimi was one of the bigger stories of the Jewish sports year, but unfortunately for being benched. The Bears OLine struggled and Carimi was a part of that. We are still big fans and hopefully with a healthy off-season he can come back better than ever. 

Brian De La Puente had a nice season blocking for Drew Brees and a slew of RBs in New Orleans. He started all 16 games for the Saints.

Mitchell Schwartz, a top draft pick for the Browns, started as well. Looks like he and Trent Richardson were good finds for a struggling team.

Erik Lorig scored his first NFL touchdown. He started seven games for the Bucs and had 12 receptions for 83 yards.
Antonio Garay had only one sack in his 16 games. He did however keep up his amusing Twitter account @antoniogaray71.

Julian Edelman (while I know some people hate that I include him) had 21 receptions for 235 yards and three TDs. He also continued to return some punts and kickoffs returning one punt for a TD. He ended the season on IR.

Taylor Mays played in all 16 games and should appear in the playoffs for the Bengals. He had 22 tackles.

Adam Podlesh had another solid season for the Bears. He averaged 42 yards per punt with 34 inside the 20. He also scored a nice two-point conversion.

And we have decided to give Geoff Schwartz the TGR NFL Player of the Year Award. Granted Schwartz did NOT start on the Vikings OLine, he was a vital part of their blocking scheme. Which as we all know led the way for Adrian Peterson to have one of the greatest and historic seasons of all time. They protected Christian Ponder as well. Congrats the Schwartz.

Another bizarre year in the NFL. Keep an on eye on Mays and Schwartz in the playoffs.

And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy

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New Year, New Me

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01/14/2013

Ashley Kolpak photo

Ever since my late teens and into my twenties, this motto “New Year, New Me” echoes loudly in my mind this time of year. I’m both a terribly sentimental and superstitious person, so New Year’s also tends to elicit my most ambitious activity seen all year round. It’s simple enough most of the time. Work out more. Be a better friend, sister, daughter. Do more of what I enjoy. Give back. And then some. 

And so propelling through January, driven by this motivation, I’ve been trying to do the normal, day-to-day stuff with a little more umph, a little more purpose. I’m kidding myself, aren’t I? And this is all in preparation for the personal milestone that looms large for me at the end of the month...my birthday. I’m turning 26 this year. No comment. 

This past Christmas eve, I attended, for my third time no less, the Matzo Bash. It’s a gleeful gathering of my friends and an immense crowd of every single person I grew up with, all under one roof. For a social butterfly like myself, it’s an interesting opportunity to kibitz the night away (an open bar does not hinder such a situation). By Christmas eve, the thoughts of what the new year will bring and what last year taught are under full rumination by most. What shape will the new year take in our lives? How can we best prepare to expect the unexpected? 

I started talking to a guy a couple of years older than me, who grew up here but made a rather thrilling pilgrimage to the West Coast not too long ago. A web/app developer, he just screamed “2013” to me. Young, entrepreneurial, living a life of his own invention. He very clearly had a “look”...a cross between a curly Jew fro and a ‘80s French pompadour ‘do that he was definitely pulling off. As we chit-chatted, he talked about his ultimate 2013 goal: living the life of a renaissance man.

I looked at him. This was a conversation at a party, but even still he was very committed to this notion. A renaissance man, he said. He tries to reinvent himself as often as he can. Whether it be a change of style, a new activity, anything. Anything in the name of being shiny and new. Skeptically, my first thought was, “does this guy think he’s Madonna?” But I took a step back (New Year’s resolution #1401: be more thoughtful). 

Could I be a renaissance girl/woman/what have you? Would I even want to be? I joyfully listened to my new friend list activities like skateboarding, surfing, making short films, attending short story readings and I let my own imagination run a little wild. It’s not too far-fetched. Looking back at my twenties thus far, two of those birthdays were spent in France. I’ve been running between Champaign, Chicago, the North burbs and France for the last seven or eight years. Everywhere I go, I’m a little bit different, by nature. Everywhere I go, I try new things. Is that reinvention? 

He talked about his favorite story-telling hour at Hopleaf and I thought about the book I want to write (at some point before I’m thirty). I looked at my friends scattered about the room, I thought about my family, my job, and how everyone has these thoughts from time to time. So I bid my new friend adieu, and went back to enjoying the evening with the rest of the group.

So here’s to 2013, may it bring something special to all of us. Here’s to having fun while you’re young, making the most of opportunities, caring for others and appreciating the good. 

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What’s 26.2 miles after 40 years in the desert?

 Permanent link
01/11/2013

TeamJUF logo

Make a New Year's Resolution to be healthier and help those in need by joining TeamJUF at the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 13, 2013!

TeamJUF members don’t just race for the finish line. They help thousands of people throughout Chicago and around the world. And they have a blast doing it. TeamJUF participants will enjoy the benefits of fully-supported training in partnership with CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association), tech shirts, fun runs, social opportunities, race day amenities and more.

Your 26.2-mile challenge starts here:

1. JOIN US: Sign up for TeamJUF at www.juf.org/marathon.

2. REGISTER TO RUN: On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, sign up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon at www.chicagomarathon.com. (Joining TeamJUF does NOT register you for the run. You need to do that separately.)

3. TRAIN: CARA Summer Marathon training starts June 2013.

4. RUN: The Marathon is Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. TeamJUF members will be required to commit to a fundraising minimum of $500 for the 2013 JUF Annual Campaign. This minimum is in addition to a runner's individual 2013 Annual Campaign gift.

Not a runner? You can still be a part of TeamJUF. Volunteer. To find out more, go to www.juf.org/marathon, email marathon@juf.org or call (312) 357-4877.

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‘I love you like a love song, baby…

 Permanent link
And I keep hittin' repeat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat’
01/10/2013

‘I love you like a love song, baby… photo

Valentine's Day is more than a month away, but I am hating on love a little early this year.

Love songs are like audible reminders of lovers past. If I hear a song that frequented the radio waves while I was dating a certain guy, it sticks. I will always think of him years later when I hear that song. Just like Selena Gomez's Love You Like a Love Song, it's painfully hard to forget.

For instance, I can't listen to Regina Spektor's Samson or Fidelity without thinking of an ex I dated one summer during college. Dave Matthew's Band's Crush will always make me think of my high school crush (no pun intended). Often, I hear Adele's Someone Like You come on my car radio during my evening commute and I want to cry a little bit—but let's face it, we all find someone to identify with that song—that's why her "crib" is now filled with Grammy's.

If only our senses and memory triggers were that strong when meeting and assessing new potential mates. I knew I had the topic for my next Oy article when I found myself re-dating.

During lulls in my dating calendar, I return back to the online dating world, only to be more disappointed and horrified by what I find there. A recent encounter involved a guy who shoots video for some of the major sports teams in Chicago. He seemed interesting enough, although I have little-to-no interaction with football, hockey and the like. Friends and family annually have to inform me when my alma mater is doing well or entering into a bowl. Someone mentions a "sugar bowl" and my brain trails to where I can find my next chocolate fix. After conversing with him via the site over several weeks, he sent me his phone number. I entered the number into my phone, only to find I'd already programmed him in my phone—years ago.

Somewhere between laughter and panic, I recalled the Season 9 episode of Friends, in which Joey enters his date's apartment, only to find he's already been there. He's dumbfounded that both he and his date can be so slutty as not to remember each other, until Joey's date's roommate walks in and he realizes he had previously dated her instead.

While my proverbial "little black book" isn't as full as Friends character Joey Tribbiani's, I still managed to get picked up by the same guy twice without realizing it. I code people in my cell phone by how I meet them, and I had coded this sports guy as "Camera Man." He apparently had left so deep an impression the first time I met him, that I didn't actually put his name in my phone. I must have entered him in my phone for the sole purpose of screening him. I did, however, recollect how we'd met. He and I worked in the same office building a few years back, and he worked for a different division of our company. With no prior introductions, he'd cornered me one day in the parking lot and asked for my phone number. I remembered thinking at the time that he was very awkward and I just wanted to escape to my car. Thankfully, he never followed up after his bold number exchange—until now.

I couldn't actually meet this guy face-to-face without confronting the back story. Present day" Camera Man", meanwhile, kept texting me to meet for a first date at odd hours, requesting, for instance, that we grab midnight drinks at Big City Tap. This should have been my second red flag. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and considered that he might work odd-hour shifts with his line of work. There are no excuses, however, for proposing Big City Tap. Generally, making excuses for guys' bad behavior is not productive or advised.

The week we arranged to meet, I finally texted him my hypothesis of how we'd already met. I was correct; he was shocked. He appeared not to be scheming. In fact, he seemed happily surprised. Thus, I agreed to go through with an actual date.

We met for an early evening drink. Half the night consisted of civil getting-to-know-you conversation over beers. The second half of the night, I played defense to his offensive pawing (see, I can use sports terms!) and late-night invitations. I felt like I was on a date with a horny 15-year-old. Camera Man was no Joey Tribbiani; he wasn't slick enough. Rather, he was a forever-awkward (and apparently forgetful) doof, fueled by alcohol and false confidence.

Lessons learned? I should code my phone better and follow my initial instincts. It saddened me that for a brief moment, I romanticized this guy before meeting him. I thought our scenario could be like the movies: We meet once, but the timing is not right; we meet again, and it's magic. I think I've been watching too many romantic comedies on television. Sleepless in Seattle and Love Actually can wreck a girl for real-life romances for years.

Some re-encounters with those we've met in the past are eye-opening in a good way. I've run into old friends and people I've dated or been interested in and seen them with fresh eyes, as we're both in different places in our lives. Revisiting those old romances or "wonder-if's" can be amazing and/or heart-breaking.

Online dating has the tendency to magnify all of the problems of "in real life" (IRL) dating and even exacerbates them. When two people meet in person for the first time, the process of getting to know each other is a tango between two people showing the best versions of themselves. In online dating, you get all of that first date info and best-self impression fluff out of the way before you even meet. Often when you actually then meet each other IRL, the crazy seems to come out more quickly. As with shopping online, expectations are inflated before contact. It's like picking the toy out of the cereal box and realizing it's half the size and made out of a really cheap plastic. (P.S. Guys lie constantly about their height on their profiles. We never know whether to wear heels or flats, because who knows what's going to walk through that door?)

In all fairness, my perspective is heavily informed by the female experience, because I mostly talk with women about their online dating stories. I know guys who have their horror stories about us too. However, it seems some men, in particular, use these sites to get laid, trade up, mess around and altogether inflate their egos. For some, it's a game, and we, ladies, weren't given the playbook.

The truth is, as much as I love to bash Internet dating sites, navigating getting to know someone you initially met in person can be equally puzzling and demoralizing. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Through dating, we only get to peek at them, a bone at a time.

As some Oy readers might recall, my Valentine's Day tribute last year was also centered on a nightmare online dating experience. It grieves me that this year I had yet another tale to tell. Last year, I categorically delved in the creepers trolling the dating sites. I won't do that here again.

However, I will recall my aforementioned thesis that amnesia, perseverance and optimism are needed in this crazy dating world. In my case, a little less amnesia might save me some time.

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The Optimists

 Permanent link
01/09/2013

The Optimists photo

The author, back in junior high, with her grandma, Tessie.

My late grandma Tessie was the ultimate optimist.

Growing up a poor, Jewish girl in famine-stricken Russia, around the time of the Russian Revolution, my grandma and her family could often scrounge up little food other than onions, which they'd fry up and eat meal after meal. You would think Tessie would come to hate that food, considering her onion overload. But to the contrary, onions were always a treat for my grandma back then--and even years later as an adult living in the United States.

Her love for something as measly as fried onions is just one small way she saw her world through rose-colored glasses. The same Tessie, who never met her father until she was 9, who lived through czarist Russia as a persecuted Jew, and who had seen countless loved ones die, including her beloved husband and a cherished son, that same Tessie never complained about life.

"Darling, I am the luckiest woman in the whole world," she once told me. "Many women who lose their husbands become not very sweet, but not me. I'm the happiest woman in the world."

I'm always amazed by the sense of perspective that certain people-like Grandma Tessie-possess, even those who have faced an uphill climb in life.

Perspective, it seems, has little or nothing to do with the cards you're dealt. In fact, I once read a study revealing that Africans, who live on the poorest continent, are more optimistic than inhabitants of almost any other locale in the world.

We all know people in our own lives whose resiliency allows them to come out the other end stronger for it, people who don't dwell on their own misfortune. These are the people who inspire me.

People like my late cousin, Eric, who faced a long battle with brain cancer and eventually succumbed to his illness in his late 30s. Despite his health struggles, Eric maintained a bright outlook and sense of humor throughout his life, and managed to complete college and law school, work as an attorney, get married, perform comic improv at hospitals and senior centers, and have a daughter, and then a son--who was born after Eric passed away. 

Eric's father, Ron, once spoke about his son's optimism with the following nugget of wisdom that I think about all the time. "The happiest people are not necessarily the people who are lucky enough to avoid problems," Ron said, "but rather the ones whose ability to cope increases at a more rapid rate than their problems do." 

And then there's Clemantine. I was lucky enough to meet Clemantine Wamariya, a young woman who had fled genocide at age 6 with her older sister during the Rwandan conflict in 1994. After escaping, Wamariya found refuge with a loving host family in Kenilworth, Ill. In 2006, I had the opportunity to interview Clemantine, who was one of 50 winning students--picked from 50,000 submissions--in Oprah Winfrey's national high school essay contest. The students were asked to answer the question: "How is Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's memoir Night relevant today?"

I will never forget Clemantine. She was poised, kind, easy to connect with, a woman wise way beyond her years. She never felt bad for her own plight, but wished only to move forward and tell her story to make the world a better place. During our interview, she told me the lessons her own mother had taught her as a little girl back in Rwanda. "She taught me to love, to just love people, to hug them," Clemantine said. "She taught me to love people not just because of what they look like or what they have, but just to love them because they are people."

Today, in her 20s, Clemantine, who is finishing a degree at Yale, advocates against genocide, teaching people about the lessons of love, peace, and kindness imparted to her by her mother a world away all those years ago.

Israelis, collectively, also share a beautiful sense of perspective. Despite all the terror and heartbreak they have faced during the country's 65 years in existence, Israelis persevere. When more than 1,000 rockets were fired into Southern Israel in November, I called to check in with my American friend who has made a home for herself in Israel. "Are people over there consumed by the violence?" I asked her, concerned for my friend and all our Israeli brothers and sisters. She said they talk about it, of course, but then they go on and live life because what else, really, can they do?

In his book Always Looking Up, actor, activist, and writer Michael J. Fox, stricken with Parkinson's disease more than 20 years ago, writes about his optimistic outlook, despite the advanced progression of his disease. He writes the following:

At the turn from our bedroom into the hallway, there is an old full-length mirror in a wooden frame. I can't help but catch a glimpse of myself as I pass. Turning fully toward the glass, I consider what I see. This reflected version of myself, wet, shaking, rumpled, pinched, and slightly stooped, would be alarming were it not for the self-satisfied expression pasted across my face. I would ask the obvious question, "What are you smiling about?" but I already know the answer: "It just gets better from here."

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Our Voice, Our Narrative, Our Twists on Cancer

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Brushes With Cancer: Pairing Artists and Survivors to Create For a Cause
01/08/2013

Social Media— A Mechanism to Effectuate Real and Meaningful Change photo

Over the last two years I have spent a great deal of time connecting with other cancer survivors to learn about their unique experiences in managing their illness. Some of these survivors describe feelings of isolation, loneliness, ostracism and misunderstanding, whereas others describe unprecedented love and support. Some survivors describe their experiences as colored by profound loss and repeated victimization where as others describe it as a journey filled with countless blessings.

What is clear is that there is not one cancer narrative— not one coping strategy— nor one particular model patient experience we can look to mimic or follow. And perhaps our experiences and the way we choose to describe them are influenced by where we stand. Are we recently diagnosed, currently in treatment, recently relapsed or post treatment? The options are endless and the words we choose to describe our stories can quickly change depending on where we are at.

In my case, with little to no statistics or research to explain my diagnosis and treatment regimen, I realized early on that I felt empowered by writing my own story. Writing became my primary coping mechanism for how to navigate an experience that was traumatic, chaotic, yet undeniably mine. As I felt increasingly lonely and isolated, I was deeply concerned that I would eventually lose my own voice. There were times when I appeared silent, but I was really screaming. And there were times when I was screaming, yet struggling to speak.

In a failed attempt to preserve the voice I once knew and once loved, I ended up by accident discovering a more authentic self. This self was braver, more courageous, and more giving. This self was determined to raise awareness, educate and find an outlet for my creativity.

The voice that I was so desperately clinging to was no longer the voice that I needed.
And today, I have recognized that the voice I had during treatment is no longer relevant for my here and now.

Our voices, our narratives, our twists on cancer are ever- changing.

Perhaps through writing, through art, through music, our voices then and now can and will always be preserved.

On April 17, 2013, Twist Out Cancer will launch, "Brushes With Cancer: Pairing Artists and Survivors to Create For a Cause." This event will celebrate survivorship and hope through art, music and storytelling. Over the next few months, survivors will be asked to share their “Twist On Cancer,” (lessons learned, fighting strategies and new perspectives) with our online community of support. Their ‘twists’ will serve as inspiration for local and international artists to create unique pieces of art. The art will be auctioned online and in person at the Twist With An Artist Benefit taking place on April 17, 2013 in Chicago.

At the event, participating survivors will have the opportunity to share their “Twist on Cancer”, and the artists they inspire will discuss their creative processes and reveal their final works of art. All proceeds will go directly to the Twist community.

Inspirational stories of hope will be provided by: 
Jenna Benn, Founder of Twist Out Cancer
Jonny Immerman, Founder of Immerman’s Angels
Keynote Speaker
Ethan Zohn, Two Time Cancer Survivor and Winner of Survivor Africa
Music Provided by Palter Ego
Commentary provided by Anthony Ponce, General Assignment Reporter at NBC5

Call For Submissions
Twist Out Cancer is calling upon survivors to share their twist on cancer between now and February 28, 2013. To submit your Twist On Cancer click here.

Selected artists will have the opportunity to showcase their art online and person. The art will be displayed and auctioned at Twist Out Cancer’s annual benefit taking place in Chicago on April 17, 2013. Proceeds from the auction will go toward furthering Twist Out Cancer’s mission.

If you are interested in participating as an artist please contact me at Jenna@twistoutcancer.org.

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Chicken soup for the...

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01/07/2013

Chicken soup for the... photo

"Worries go down better with soup than without."
(A Jewish proverb)

I love winter's crisp, cold air and the way the sunlight casts shadows. I enjoy the long dark nights and I especially love to cook during the winter months. I hunker down in my kitchens and bring long cooked soups and stews together with aromatic herbs, dried mushrooms and root vegetables.

I notice my customer's habits changing as well. Suddenly everyone is actually hungry. Summers dainty and delicate appetites are replaced with something a bit heartier. I really look forward to soups, making them and eating them. They remind me of my favorite sweater taken out from summer storage, cozy and familiar, like an old friend.

I teach cooking classes all over the country and am often asked how to make the perfect chicken soup and about the differences between broth and stock.

Here are some definitions.

Stock--is a liquid base from which soups and sauces are made. Stock is made by simmering bones and sometimes meat with mirepoix (aromatic vegetables) and herbs and spices.

Broth--is an already flavored stock or water with vegetables and sometimes starch added to make it more substantial. Many prepared stocks contain flavor enhancers.

Bouillon--In French means broth, it is broth simmered with vegetables, herbs, and sometimes meat or poultry.

Bouillon cubes--are made by dehydrating vegetables, meat stock, a small portion of fat, salt, and seasonings and shaping them into a small cube. Dehydrated broth is also available in granular form. Bouillon cubes are convenient but have little nutritive value since they mostly contain flavor enhancers from monosodium glutamate or yeast extract.

Stock is the backbone of every delicious soup. Sure, you can make a soup with water or canned broth, but you will not have the richness of flavor and mouth feel. As a professional chef and mother of three, I like to make my own stocks not only for reasons of attaining superior flavor, but also I like to know what exactly is in my soup. Every ingredient in the soup is in my control and I know that when I serve my family and clients, I am giving them a delicious and nutritious gift from my heart.

I make soup with a technique called Ad Hoc cooking. It means "for this." What I mean by ad hoc is that I start out with the intent to make a great soup. Each ingredient is thought out and has a purpose. Many people make soup with "a little of this and a little of that" mentality. While you will end with soup, it will not have a defined flavor and texture. I tell my staff that soup should be made just as carefully as a sauce or braised dish. That means technique as well as love goes into the pot! I do not throw leftovers into a pot hoping for a great end-product. I start with carefully chosen ingredients and then add some touches usually in the form of garnishes.

Winter is in the air and it is comfort food season. There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of delicious soup. Like a great book or your favorite dining companions, Chicken soup is complete on its own. You do not need much else. It is the ultimate dish.

The 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides touted the benefits of chicken soup to one's health. Many other cultures also believe in the restorative properties of chicken soup and it turns out that it indeed may be good for you. Poultry fat has monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid which boosts our immune system. Chicken fat has the most of this healthful fat and what has instinctively been understood by many cultures around the world can now be backed up by science; chicken soup will cure what ails you!

"Whoopee once, whoopee twice, whoopee chicken soup with rice." 
Maurice Sendak--author of "Chicken Soup with Rice"

Chicken soup is popular among many cultures and during my class "Everybody Loves Chicken Soup" we will make, explore, and taste some versions of the classic comfort dish from around the globe.

Here is my favorite chicken stock recipe.

There are only two things to remember when making chicken soup:

1. The World's Greatest Chicken Soup is made from chicken. Chicken bones, that is. The bones have all of the gelatin and collagen in them. There is no need to boil away a chicken--all you will have is "chickeny" water. Have your butcher set aside bones for you in the freezer or learn to cut your own whole chickens and save the bones.

2. Chicken soup does not come from a can, a carton, or bouillon cubes. It takes chicken bones to make a rich, flavorful, and heartwarming stock that you can turn into soup.

World's Best Chicken Soup

Yields: 4 quarts rich stock

4 pounds of chicken bones (wings, carcasses, necks etc…)
Approximately 12 cups of water
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

(Do not add salt at this point. The stock will reduce as part of the natural simmering process and salting it can make it overly salty.)

Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot and fill with water only to the level of the bones and vegetables (this will guarantee a rich, not watery stock).

Place the stockpot (uncovered) over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Skim off any scum that floats to the top. The scum will make your soup cloudy and bitter. Continue simmering for 4 hours. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken stock to steep.

Strain out the bones and vegetables and discard. Cool the stock, in your stock pot in a sink filled with cold water and ice, ompletely before storing covered in the refrigerator or freezer. Ladle off the fat from the top of the stock before using.

Stock may be stored, covered, in the freezer for up to three months or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

From stock into soup

1 pound white or dark chicken meat, cut into small cubes
½ cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup thinly sliced peeled celery root
½ cup thinly sliced carrots
½ cup thinly sliced parsnips
½ pound wide egg noodles
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and White pepper to taste

1. Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a large saucepan or stock pot. Add the ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Want more chicken soup recipes or want to see the process of making the best ever chicken soup? Come to "Everybody Loves Chicken Soup" on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Spertus at 6:30 p.m. Visit www.spertus.edu for more information.

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Hypnotized!

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01/04/2013
Hypnotized! photo

Today, January 4th, is World Hypnotism Day! In honor of this wonderful occasion, I am going to share some wonderful news with you - hypnosis is real and it really does work for everyone! How do I know this? Well, besides being a certified hypnotist and having hypnotized dozens of people - skeptics and believers alike - I know from personal experience that everyone can be hypnotized and enjoy this deep, relaxing state of mind. It's also backed by science and even originated from physicians and surgeons searching for ways to treat people and also to discover new and deeper methods of relaxation. Would you like to learn more? I bet you do!

Hypnosis has actually existed for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptian times. The word "hypnotism" is actually a fairly recent term, coined by James Braid, a physician and surgeon in the mid-1800s. It was short for "neuro-hypnotism," which stands for 'nervous sleep' (sleep of the nerves - not anxious sleep!). Many of us are also familiar with the word "mesmerized," coined by Anton Mesmer, a Scottish physician who believed in 'a natural energetic transference between all animated and inanimate objects' (source).

Since then, hypnosis has taken off in both popularity and effectiveness, as techniques and theories continue to refine and perfect the craft. The two biggest names in the last 50 years are psychiatrist Milton Erickson, who was the influence for NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), and Dave Elman, who pioneered rapid and instant inductions that took individuals instantly into a very deep state of trance, thus allowing him and others to truly help people who needed both physical and psychological treatment. Elman, in fact, turned his mastery of hypnosis around and trained dentists, physicians and surgeons to use hypnosis as an alternative to anesthesia or other conventional treatment options. Famous psychologist Freud used hypnosis to treat himself and patients, and several celebrities like Matt Damon have used it to quit smoking or lose weight. 

But let's not forget about the other side of hypnosis that has flooded mainstream media and culture, which has, in part, ruined the wondrous reputation and good name hypnosis once had: stage hypnotism. When you read the words "hypnosis," chances are your first thoughts are of an eerie looking guy with a wire mustache waving a gold pocket watch in front of your face, saying in monotone, "You're getting sleepy. Your eyes are getting heavy. Heavier and heavier." In the movie The Fourth Kind, the director and writer absolutely tarnished the perception of hypnosis by the population as "manipulative" and a scary, unknown experience. Let me reassure you, it could not be farther from the truth. You will learn in a little while why these stereotypes and typecasting images of hypnosis are totally wrong, and why I'm on a mission to hypnotize as many people as I can and to show you the truly awesome and positive power and effect of hypnosis.

The history of hypnosis is well-recorded and well-substantiated by both science and human experiences, yet many of us remain skeptical over its ability to actually work. What we do not understand, we normally feel fear. So, let me break it down for you, starting with debunking the three most common misconceptions regarding hypnosis.

Myth #1: You lose complete control when you're deep in hypnosis.
You will NEVER lose control when in hypnosis. Why? Because all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The hypnotist merely acts as a guide who knows how to access those deeper levels of relaxation that all of us have been trained to neglect. You are aware of everything that's going on. If I asked you under hypnosis to cluck like a chicken or bark like a dog, and you don't feel like doing it, then you won't. Why, then do we see people doing those things in stage shows? Because they know they're on stage and part of a show, they are volunteers willing to act a little goofy in front of others for a show. That is only one segment of the world of hypnosis.

When we were babies, we consciously went in and out of hypnosis all the time, because of its pleasant, relaxing, euphoric feeling, like you don't have a care in the world. Over time, as we grow older, society and our fast-paced culture raises our collective anxiety and stress levels, and we quickly lose this ability to return to this relaxed state we once did instantly. How would you like to learn how to take yourself back into that deep, relaxed state whenever you like? Anxiety can be a thing of the past, bad habits can be undone, positive and confident attitudes can rise up, but only if you the hypnotist want it to work. You are responsible for your own motivation and participation, period.

Myth #2: You can get stuck in hypnosis.
This is absolute baloney. Have you ever been stuck in a daydream? No! Not unless it was so good, you didn't want it to stop or end, right? Exactly the same with hypnosis! We're all guilty of daydreaming, which is a light state of hypnosis. If I were to hypnotize you and walk away, you would simply fall into a light sleep and naturally emerge from your sleep shortly after. As I already mentioned, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, so you are in control of how deep and relaxed you wish to go. Some of us enjoy hypnosis so much and reach such a deep, relaxed state, we don't want to come up! Haven't you ever wondered if you could relax to reach that point of total bliss and without any care in the world? I know some people that did! We in the business call that the 'coma state' or Ellsdale state, where the subject is so relaxed that they do not wish to emerge from hypnosis. This is also the most workable state of hypnosis and where the most effective therapy can be done.

Myth #3: You tell personal secrets or personal information.
This is really important to point out to any skeptic out there: anything you don't want to tell me when you are awake, you won't tell me when you're in hypnosis. If I was to ask for your ATM pin or Social Security number, you would give me an emphatic no. Duh! Same goes for you when you are hypnotized; you will absolutely not share anything you wish to keep secret when you are under hypnosis. Simple as that.

So, what are you waiting for? Come find me and get hypnotized! Whether you have a minute or an hour, I promise you an unbelievable experience you'll wish you tried earlier. I may even teach you how to hypnotize yourself anytime you want to relax!

Now…SLEEP!

L'Chaim!

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Suit Series Episode 1

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01/03/2013

Are you busy? The number one excuse I get for not exercising is time. Here are some of the other excuses I hear:
· I don’t have the time
· I’m too busy
· I have a social life
· I have a job, a kid and a wife
· Three times a week, really?

Well Mr. or Ms. Too Busy, I have some shorts (video shorts) for you! You do not need to work out for 60 minutes, or even 30 minutes to reap the benefits of exercise. Fit in an exercise here and there throughout the day and it still counts. You might not get six pack abs that way but it will help build muscle and burn fat.

To help you get in shape on the go I’m creating the “Suit Series.” These videos will be quick and effective exercises you can do in your office, at home or in the gym. This first video demonstrates awesome core exercises with a small band. Enjoy! Email me if you have any questions or comments. rkrit@fitwithkrit.com

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Oy! winter fashion

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01/02/2013

Michelle Well photo

Oh winter, such a tricky fashion season. I always find that I'm more creative and spirited with my fashion over the summer. Fun colors, light weight fabrics, etc. Well, I digress ... back to winter. While maturing and getting older, I have refined/streamlined my style and I have found that during winter, a few key fashion elements are helping me get through the cold and dreary weather (only three months to go!). Here are my tips for relatively simple, yet fashionable, winter style.

Buy several black layering pieces. I have found that owning many black layers to mix and match with each other and other pieces is a) easy b) allows for a variety of outfits and c) always looks sophisticated. Try a short-sleeve black cashmere T (Bloomingdale’s has a great cashmere selection) over a crisp white button down shirt - I did this yesterday (Clueless style!). The next day, go for a black T or tank under a thick and cozy black duster cardigan. Perhaps belt this one with a pop of color. As always add some punch to black with a couple colored or metallic accessories.

You can never own too many pairs of knee-high boots. Most Chicago fashionistas have already figured this one out, but I simply want to emphasize the point. I own at least five or six pairs in different neutral colors and I’m not done! Whether over jeans or tights, day-after-day these are fashion life-savers. For affordable and comfortable boots, I love Enzo Angiolini. For a lux option, go for Stuart Weitzman.

Use accessories, but sparingly. Summer is great for layering on the bangles and beads, but I find that winter fabrics are so rich and cozy, you should draw attention to your clothing and simply accent with a few key accessories each day. I stick to two or three max. There is no need to distract too much from the lovely cashmere, velvet, wool, leather and fur (or faux) of winter.

Stock up on scarves and pashmina shawls. They keep you warm outside and stylish inside. I find that choosing complementary scarves to go with my outfits works fashionably inside and outside the office and keeps things interesting. 

I hope this is helpful information as it has certainly helped me! You can follow me on Twitter @mrweilstyle and feel free to reach me at michellerweil@gmail.com if you’re interested in styling services or tips.

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