OyChicago blog

My dad, the mensch

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01/30/2014

My dad, the mensch photo 1

Dad and me (age 4) in Moissac, France in 1988.

“Well,” my father said that Friday night in August, “it’s all over.”

He was calling to tell me my mother had just died. Ignatz, as she’d named her brain tumor, had finally taken her from us. We’d known this day was coming all year, but I’d always imagined it going differently—less blunt and simple, maybe. We were resigned that evening; we didn’t cry until much later.

When I was little, I thought my parents were a perfect matched set for my needs. My mom would talk me through long tearful jags and ask how my novel writing was going. My dad would help with homework and talk about ideas with me like I was a grownup. This kind of oversimplification breaks down with any kind of consideration, but I held onto it for a very long time.

My dad was my mom’s primary caregiver when she was sick. He did everything for her, as “everything” got harder and harder and harder. This isn’t the essay about the kind of selflessness and love that takes, but I want to recognize and honor it.

Both of us spent most of our energies on keeping Mom as happy and comfortable as she could be, which left very little for anything else. After my mom died, though, and after we’d cleaned out closets and put away jewelry and cleared all the cancer accessories, my dad and I had to find a new way to relate to each other. We didn’t share this big task anymore, unless you counted the ongoing work of grieving and getting on with our lives. We had to figure out a new way to be.

The part of me that pigeonholed my dad as cerebral and little else forgot some of the best parts of my childhood. Dad making me breakfast—Texas toast, hash browns, dollar pancakes—over stories of his days as a short-order cook. Dad helping me walk on walls when I visited his office. Dad singing hilarious and embarrassing dad-lyrics songs, parodying pop and opera. Most of us think of our parents in the context of our families, but every Friday that I wasn’t in school, I tagged along to “lunch with the guys,” my dad’s friends from work. It’s a gift to see your parents as people, in their element. You can meet this whole person that somehow you’ve overlooked at home.

My dad, the mensch photo 2

On a boat tour last summer with dad.

My mom was vibrant about her emotions: I can’t think of a single thing she was truly shy about. Dad has always been more low-key, but now I see him opening up more. We have actual conversations about feelings sometimes, when we’re not watching movies together. But his style is action, and always has been. When he talks to you about a book he’s reading, when he makes you your favorite dinner, when he emails good links throughout the day, every day, that’s him saying I love you.

We both lean on each other. We talk on the phone—not enough, you always feel, but for nearly an hour at a stretch when we do. I free him from dog-walking whenever I’m back in Ohio. My dad isn’t Jewish, and he’ll grumble that even after 30-plus years of attending services, he still can’t remember all the words for the prayers. When I’m home, we’ll light the candles and drink the wine and break the bread. When I sing, he sings along. When he needed the Mourner’s Kaddish, we said it together.

For my mother’s stone-setting last summer, he put together a beautiful service. Everyone in my family came back to my hometown, two hours from anywhere. I’d spent a long time bearing up and helping out, but one evening, as we walked around uptown, whatever had held up my heart for so long gave out. I started crying, like I hadn’t at Mom’s funeral, like I hadn’t in the year since she’d died.

My dad found me sitting on the grass near the library, where I’d fled my siblings and nephews. “What’s the matter?” he asked, and I shook my head.

“Will you please sit down with me?” I said, and my dad settled in to hold me until I was done.

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P90Krit

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01/29/2014

Ron Krit photo 2014

It was time for a new workout. Partly out of boredom and partly because everyone should mix up their routine every six weeks seeing as your body adjusts to how you train. Also, I’m past the stage of wanting to be a muscle man; I want to be lean and healthy. So far, my plan has really paid off and it can for you too!

I am not guaranteeing success like an infomercial, but this workout has been helping me stay lean while adding a little muscle. My plan was to see how I would respond to a full-body workout as opposed to working out one muscle group a day. It’s almost too simple: full-body workouts 2-3 times a week with lots of leg movements. I believe the leg work has helped the most.

There are two main reasons you need to work your legs:

1. More growth hormones are released when training legs than upper body muscles
2. Your legs contain a lot of muscle, which means using them burns a lot of calories

I have generally had a love-hate relationship with my legs. I remember walking down the steps of my old gym in high school and my legs would be shaking. Once I became a trainer, I fell in love with leg training because there is so much you can do:

• Jumping
• Pushing a sled
• Lunging
• Dead lifts
• Single leg work
• Agility ladder drills

And then I got injured! I had minor hip surgery and gone are the days of heavy squatting, box jumps, and other ballistic activities. The past few years I’ve cut down on leg work and then a month ago, it was time for a new approach—so I decided to do more leg training. I started incorporating a lot of bodyweight exercises, single leg, and light weight movements to my workout. Since I do not have a ton of time, I combined my upper body training with legs. So far, I feel great! Here is a look at my typical workout:

• Calf raises (trying to fix my chicken calves) 20 reps
• Chin ups, as many as I can do
• Hip-raises with my head on bench, 20 reps
• Push-ups, 20-30 reps
• Lunges 10-15 reps each leg
• Bicep curls 10-15 reps
• Deadlifts 10-20 reps
• Triceps extension 10-20 reps
• Wall-sit 30-seconds to a minute
• Shoulder press against wall 10-15 reps

I repeat this routine 2-4 times based on how much time I have. I can usually repeat the routine three times over the course of 35 minutes. On the days I do not lift weights I do light cardio, stretching and core work. Recovering from workouts is IMPORTANT and I am a big fan of the following: massages (either hiring someone or using a foam roller or tennis ball), baths with Epsom salt, SLEEP, and walking.

Along with my new workout routine I continue to add protein to my diet. Every snack and meal has some type of protein. My top three favorite proteins this month:

1. Cottage cheese after a workout
2. Lightly salted almonds between meals
3. Kind Bars 

If you have any questions on how to perform any exercise, email me at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com. I would also love to hear any of your favorite workouts, post them below!

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Changing My Name

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01/28/2014

Marcy Nehorai photo 4

What’s in a name?

It’s a strange, funny story, especially when you go by one name your entire life, and then travel to a foreign land (Israel) where everyone squints at you with a confused expression after hearing your name, but then nods in deeper understanding and appreciation when you, with a hand gesture, add in a side note that your Hebrew name is different yet more familiar. You realize that your Hebrew name is something deeper, more significant, more universal and particular to your mission in life.

But when you go back to where you came from, that certainty fades and everything feels awkward again, as everyone who knew you before sounds out your new name with discomfort, as you ask yourself, remind yourself, “Who am I, again?”

Names have always felt odd and humorous to me, back before any Israel voyages. Even when going by “Marcy,” I found it funny when others would refer to me that way, as if I was watching myself from a distant vantage point. My name, though I enjoyed it, it always felt distant from who I was. And “Rivka” as well, now more than ever, also feels like a piece of loose clothing. While I was in Israel it was snugger, but still loose. Here, as I’m asked what my name is, I have to stop and think, “What’s my name again?” as I answer with slight hesitation and amusement, “Rivka. Rivka Nehorai.”

But I’m not really Marcy either. It’s all a costume, all an act, all a shell, all of it.

I think about the desire I feel to feel known, a deep desire not just to be enjoyed, or respected or “Pop Chassid’s wife” or a “cool artist” or ” mom” or ” nice” or any of that, but known in a deep, comfortable, and intimate way that can only happen through a soft sharing of myself.

I think about how often times when I’m talking to others I feel aware of myself – self-conscious, we call it – as I imagine how I look and appear as I’m speaking with them. Good or bad, I imagine in my mind.

But when I’m with my husband, someone I feel close to, I realize I don’t think about appearing good or bad. I find myself beyond that, beyond myself, in the realm of connection.

My husband calls me “Marz” around the house, though he also refers to me as Rivka. He has known me since I was 12, when I was Marcy, and Marz, and through all the journeys of Rivka-hood. When I pointed out to him the strange discrepancy of calling me both names, he shrugged, unbothered: “It’s a nickname,” he responded.

I like that. Because I’m not Marcy; I’m not Rivka. And that’s what I’ve been intuitively feeling all these years when I noticed the names felt like a costume, an act. I’m something way beyond them all, in a realm that “Marz” fits when my husband calls me it, not because that’s my name, because it’s not – not really, not completely – but because when he calls me that, I know, and I feel, that in the midst of this rushing world in which I am a friendly stranger to just about everyone, when he calls me that I feel like I’m finally home. I feel, finally, known. 

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Nominate a Top American Sports Rabbi

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01/27/2014

Jeremy Fine photo

For the last five years, The Great Rabbino has tried to bring to you the best in Jewish-related sports content. Now, we are turning the tables a bit to bring you the best in sports-related Jewish content – specifically rabbis.

In recent years, there have been lists after lists of “top rabbis.” There was Newsweek's Top 50 Rabbis in America, The Forward had a list of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis, and recently Jewrotica.org ran a list of Hottest Rabbis. Now, we are getting into the action and looking for America's Top Sports Rabbis.

What makes a rabbi a “sports rabbi?” The list breaks down into two categories:

1. Rabbis who are/were actual athletes:

Did your rabbi play in the Maccabi games? Did he play college baseball? Maybe she was All-State in volleyball. We want to know these rabbis!

2. Rabbis who are sports enthusiasts:

Does your rabbi have more sports autographs in his office than Torah commentary? Did she coach in the Maccabi games? Does he have season tickets to his local team?

Together, let us scour the nation for these rabbis. Nominees have been coming in, so don't leave your rabbi off the list. To nominate your rabbi, pick the category and then send your rabbi's name, photo, and why you think s/he should be nominated to info@thegreatrabbino.com. Nominees are due Mar. 1 and we hope to announce the list in time for March Madness.

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There Will Definitely Be Cupcakes

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01/24/2014

Abby Cooper photo

Confession: I cheated at NaNoWriMo.

Please do not tell the people who sent my official certificate. They can't have it back, anyway. It's like, permanently stuck on my fridge.

Remember NaNoWriMo from Ashley's post? In case your memory needs refreshing, NaNo is a super intense month of nonstop writing with occasional breaks for sleep and food and your job. 

I technically started my book in the beginning of September, but used NaNo as motivation to get myself to keep going and actually finish it. And … dramatic pause … I did! 

Somehow, I made it to the 50,000-word goal (which, you know, I probably should have, with the whole cheating thing and whatnot.) About 40,000 of the words weren't any good, though, so I replaced those words with better words, and then I entered my book in a contest, and … dramatic pause part two … I won!

The prize was quite possibly the coolest thing ever for an aspiring author: the opportunity to revise my book with a published writer. As in, someone who actually knows what she's doing. 

While this was all extremely exciting, it was also pretty terrifying. I've never been one of those people who walks around like, "everything I do is amazing." I'm usually more like "everything I do is awful," even if the things in question are not awful at all. For example, my book is clearly not awful because Amazing Published Author chose it out of all her submissions. So, there's that.

I was a nervous wreck as I sent off my book and waited for her to read it. Every time I got an e-mail, I imagined it was her, saying something along the lines of "This book is horrible  and I regret the day I chose it!" in a really dramatic email voice. 

As it turns out, she loved it, and we spent the following month taking it from pretty good to this could actually be something. Before, I wasn't so sure about my book, but now, I'm completely in love with it, and I'm not afraid to shout it from my sketchy deck-type thing. (I moved and no longer have a cool rooftop …)

What a nice place for the story to end, right? But it's only just beginning. Because even though she loved it, and now I love it, too, there's the concern that agents won't. And then, if agents do, publishers might not. And even if publishers do, maybe readers won't. Somehow, I've managed to create a chain of doubt over something that's supposed to be kind of amazing. I mean, you guys, I wrote a book.

As I was panicking over my Never Ending Chain of Doubt the other day, I came across these hysterical videos, in which well-known children's authors read the worst reviews about their books. What makes the videos so remarkable, though, are the author's reactions. You don't see anyone crying, screaming, yelling, or saying, "man, I wish I hadn't written that book." You see them laughing, because they know the secret I struggle to internalize-the only opinion that truly matters is your own.

Self-doubt tends to pop up in many different areas of life. Maybe not with a book, but with anything: your new haircut, the "it's either brilliant or stupid" paper you turned in for class, a date where you weren't sure you wanted him to call until he didn't call and then you realized you totally wanted him to call, etc. In these cases, the best thing we can do is trust our decisions, our instincts, and ourselves. Of course, there's always subjectivity (someone might love what someone else hates), but there is always going to be someone waiting to tell you that your book isn't good enough or your haircut isn't cute enough. These authors prove that one bad review is very, very far from the end of the world. And since someone is always waiting to offer negativity, there's no need to be that person to yourself.

When I submit my book to agents in the next few weeks, I know it's going to take a lot of something (Chutzpah? Alcohol? All of the above?) to click "send." There might be panic. There might be doubt. There will definitely be cupcakes. Regardless of what happens, though, I'll finally be taking the step to send something out in the world and tell the world that I think it's awesome. The world might not agree, but I'm ready to take the risk. 

Follow Abby's exploits with her new Twitter handle, @_ACoops_ 

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Four Ideas for New Facebook Filters

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01/23/2014

On Facebook, there’s a setting for who you want to view your posts — everybody, just your friends, or a custom list of friends (like “my female friends who live in Chicago and like watching 10 Things I Hate About You on repeat while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream”).

But what if I want a choice as to what type of posts I view from my Facebook friends?

I think I finally figured out how to not see any posts about Farmville (is that still a thing?). But I would vote that we should have the option to view posts that fit — or don’t fit — these categories.

1. Posts about the Bears.

Four Ideas for New Facebook Filters photo 1

“BEARSSSSSSSSSSSSS.”

“Touchdown so-and-so! Cutler something-or-other!”

“The current score is 32-28 at the beginning of the first quarter. Check back here for live updates throughout the game.”

If you’re a fan, it’s fine, but if you’re not interested in having your News Feed dominated by repetitive posts that just say “Bears,” there should be an option to eliminate those posts. Even if you are a fan, but maybe you taped the game, there should be a filter to hide sports posts by team. And if you’re a big fan and would love to watch these statuses, maybe there should be an option that for a certain amount of time, you will ONLY see posts about the Bears game — but no posts from Packers fans.

2. Babies and puppies.

Four Ideas for New Facebook Filters photo 2

I personally enjoy these posts, but they are not for everyone. Maybe there should be a way to set a limit for how many baby/puppy posts you get in a day.

I’d like 2-4 puppy pictures and one puppy status maximum per person per day and 3-5 baby pictures maximum per person per day, but only if the babies are cute. However, if there is a picture of a baby and a puppy together (like these), then there is no limit. Keep ‘em coming.

3. Engagements and weddings.

Four Ideas for New Facebook Filters photo 3

Not everybody loves these posts, but I am borderline obsessed with them. I would like to increase the volume of these posts, in fact. Facebook friends, send me your friends’ wedding and engagement pictures, even if I don’t know them! Seriously. But if you’re coming out of a serious relationship or are just not in the mood to see other people gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes while standing on a semi-dangerous downtown Chicago street, there should be a button you could press to X out the XOXOs.

4. Vacations in warm places.

Four Ideas for New Facebook Filters photo 4

It is sooooooo cold here in Chicago. And for some reason, seeing your pictures of your trip to Cancun or Jamaica does not make it any warmer here in Chicago, much to my shock.

For this Facebook filter, there should be a setting for the maximum temperature of the weather in the pictures. So you can post whatever pictures you’d like, but they will only appear in my News Feed if you are somewhere between 0 and 60 degrees (because let’s face it, nobody takes pictures when it’s under 0 degrees; your fingers are too frozen to touch the camera button).

For me, I’m happy just reading everyone’s post and silently judging everyone, but if you don’t have time for several hours a day of sifting through the statuses, maybe these filters are for you.

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Keeping it all Connected

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01/21/2014

Andy Kirschner 2

I keep hearing about how lonely the world is becoming. Articles like this one from The Atlantic have been popping up for several years now, while this one, like many recent books and posts, touts that Millennials are now the loneliest generation of all. Some of what you read out there makes you wonder if 21st Century technology has doomed us all to a life of solitude. Well, it doesn't have to be that way!

Last week, I stood in the conference room at Tribe Commons in Philadelphia. I was facilitating the first seminar for the Tribe 12 Fellowship. It's one of the PresenTense programs, which seek to help innovators and social entrepreneurs around the world build new ideas into transformational ventures. As I met the innovators in the room, I was reminded how valuable and natural it is to create actual offline connections.

The woman who introduced the agenda for the day was Danielle Selber, coordinator for the Tribe 12 Fellowship. I had a position similar to Danielle's in D.C. before I launched my coaching business, 100 Reasons to Win, but she and I have known each other much longer; we were both Fellows at Birthright Israel NEXT (her in Philadelphia and me in Chicago). We have kept in touch since, though mostly with the help of social media.

NEXT was also how I first connected to PresenTense. I was at a conference for NEXT staff and volunteers in New Orleans several years ago when Ariel Beery, co-founder of PresenTense, happened to sit down next to me at lunch and we struck up a conversation about his organization. I loved the idea and made a mental note that I should try to reconnect someday. Well, someday came just a few years later when I moved to D.C., where my wife received an amazing job opportunity. I didn't have a job lined up, so I started networking. I met with the campaign director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (we were connected through a Birthright trip organizer I knew in Chicago who ran their trips) and she informed me that PresenTense was coming to D.C. and the program needed a coordinator. Without hesitation, I told her to hire me.

Back at the Tribe 12 seminar, one of the Fellows standing near me, Carly, is the director at Challah for Hunger. Turns out she is working with an executive coach at Generate Change named Annie Lumerman, a client of mine from 100 Reasons to Win. It felt like I was meeting the professional equivalent of my grandchild.

I felt like this sort of connecting, reconnecting and interconnecting was happening all day. All of us were finding enjoyment and benefit from taking the time to spend the day together and meet face to face. I could rattle even more details of all the personal and professional connections and funny coincidences, but hopefully you see the point.

It is often quipped that the world is made smaller by way of all the social media outlets at our disposal. Every new platform has the power to bring the seven billion inhabitants of our planet closer together. Let's not forget that behind every Twitter handle or Facebook profile is a real person making a real connection. 

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Crepes from the Mother

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01/20/2014

Crepes from the Mother photo 1

Growing up, every Sunday I jumped out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. and hurried downstairs to join my mom in her Sunday errands. These typically included going to the grocery store, the butcher and meal planning for the week. My mom, my babushka and I would all get into my mom's car and drive to the stores. I have fond memories of these days. I sat in the front seat and quietly listened to the gossip being shared between my mom and my babushka. Mom would rattle off in Yiddish and Russian to babushka all about her numerous dramas with her clients, her disagreements with her sister and random stories that we all laughed and snickered at. I relished these moments. I felt like one of the big girls drinking in the stories and feeling very mature, able to poke fun at my mom and babushka. These moments bound our three generations into one.

It was also during these shopping trips that my mom taught me how to pick out produce and meat, like how to find the ripest tomatoes and the brightest tasting pineapples and how to pick the right cut of marbled beef for a pot roast. I even learned how to plan meals for the week on a budget. Momma was a genius to me for being able to run a household with the flick of her hand all while waving a fist at me and my brother for getting into yet another useless argument.

These Sundays became extra special, however, when my mom made her famous crepes – batches upon batches of vanilla-infused and orange zest-laced fluffy and chewy crepes. My mom would whip them up in minutes, using only a whisk and a frying pan, always eyeballing the ingredients and always sharing the first crepe with me and babushka so that we could decide on the flavorings. In 30 short minutes my brother would come stumbling down the stairs with his hair still gelled up from the night before and my dad would come in from walking the dog. Together we would all sit at the table, munching on crepes, jam and Russian-style cottage cheese. My mom never ate more than one crepe. Instead, she sat at the table and listened to our quiet chews and loud banter, taking it all in over a steaming cup of tea, always having a clever anecdote or joke to add in to whatever conversation we had at that moment. I fondly look back on those Sundays and I can still hear the echo of laughter in the corners of that house.

After my mom passed, I kept trying to recreate her crepes. More than trying to recreate the crepes, I tried to recreate those moments. Alas, they had slipped away and I was devastated that I could not have them again. It was too hard to make them without her, so I stopped and never picked up a crepe pan again, not until culinary school as French crepes were part of the curriculum. When I had to make them, I felt my mom by my side and I recreated her crepes. My teacher, a French chef named Michele, tasted them and smiled at me. "Ziz are amazzzzing," he said in his heavy French accent. "Go ahead and put some crrreme in zem and serrrrve to the other classmates."

And I did. I slathered some flavored ricotta cheese on the crepes rolled them up and threw some fresh berries on top and I saw the same enjoyment come across their faces that my mom must have seen on our family’s.

I made these stuffed crepes at various catering functions and for many of my clients, always using mama's recipe. Now, I get to create these crepes for my little munchkin. I watch as she chews quietly with a wide smile.

Ricotta-Stuffed Crepes

Crepes
1/2 cup water
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest

Filling
3 oz cream cheese
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar

First we start with the batter for the crepes. Combine sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl. Combine eggs, milk and melted butter in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add in egg mixture into flour little by little to ensure that it's all incorporated and batter does not get lumpy. Add in your orange juice and vanilla extract. Let the batter rest for 30-45 minutes in the fridge so that gluten relaxes a bit.

Crepes from the Mother photo 2

In the meantime, make cheese filling. Combine ricotta, cream cheese, egg, orange zest, sugar and lemon zest until well mixed. Set aside.

Crepes from the Mother photo 3

Take an 8-inch crepe pan and heat up to medium high heat. Take a stick of butter and cover the surface of the pan with the butter just enough so there is a small layer of butter bubbling up. Once you see the bubbles take a ladle of batter, pour into the center of the pan and swirl around with your wrist. Do this quickly.

Crepes from the Mother photo 4

Once the edges started getting golden brown, about 1-2 minutes, take the crepe out. You only need to do one side of the crepe if you are rolling them up. If the edges look like they are getting too dry, turn down the heat a bit. Always taste the first one for flavor. Continue making the crepes stacking them carefully one on top of the other until the batter is gone.

Crepes from the Mother photo 5

Take the white side of the crepe and place it facing upwards on a cutting board or any other flat surface. Place about two tablespoons of ricotta mixture onto crepe like so.

Crepes from the Mother photo 6

Fold the crepe in half over the filling and then fold the sides over, wrapping it up into a neat little mini burrito. If you are making these ahead of time, you can freeze them at this point. They will be perfect once you defrost them and fry them up in a pan for a bit.

Crepes from the Mother photo 7

Crepes from the Mother photo 8

At this point, you can either pan fry them quickly to seal them shut and warm them up, or you can place into a preheated 375-degree oven in an oven-safe pan and warm them up just in time for brunch.

Crepes from the Mother photo 9

Sprinkle with some powdered sugar and berries and a sweet and chewy delight is headed your way.

Crepes from the Mother photo 10

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My Jewish Journey: Or How I Came to Drink the Pickle Juice

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01/17/2014

Annice Moses photo 2

My journey to Judaism has been complicated, and Jewish motherhood has thrown me my fair share of challenges as well. When I shoo (and occasionally shove) my kids out the door for Hebrew and Sunday school amidst a chorus of protests, I feel a level of hypocrisy because I never went to either of these things myself. The closest I came to any formal Jewish education was age 12 when my parents asked me if I was interested in being bat mitzvahed. When I inquired what that would entail, and the word “school” was uttered, I said whatever version of “hell no!” was acceptable at the time.

I hated school and anything that slightly stunk of it. (Even school cloaked in a tallit, shmear and a dance party.) My parents didn’t push it. I think they understood that because we had no affiliation with a synagogue, a JCC or even that many Jewish folks, my sudden interest in a Bat Mitzvah was a longshot. Even having my last name called out in class – Moses – caused me to squirm; nothing like being an unaffiliated Jew who also shares a name with one of our greatest leaders.

As I became a full-fledged teenager, I found myself much more comfortable within the folds of the African-American community than with anything or anyone Jewish. My first serious boyfriend was African-American. We dated for four and a half years and I saw myself marrying him. This wasn’t uncommon where I grew up, so my community and my parents were very accepting. However, when I went to college, it suddenly became very important to them that I not be the token Jew. I was looking at very small liberal arts colleges, so the chances of being the only Jewish person there was plausible. I ended up at a college of 500 and out of the 500 students, there were only four of us, so 0.8% Jewish. I wasn’t the token, but pretty close.

One of the Jewish boys stood out to me. He made references to being Jewish on a daily basis; he used Yiddish words for punch lines and emphasis; he went to High Holiday services and drank pickle juice. He also listened to rap music and had a general affinity for black culture. And so, we bonded. He got me thinking about being Jewish in a different kind of way. More honestly, he got me thinking about Judaism in the first place.

In the meantime, my boyfriend joined the military. When he sent pictures I noticed there were no white soldiers around him, and when he came home on leave I noticed he’d added quite a few Malcolm X T-shirts to his wardrobe. We broke up my senior year, and he told me he’d never date a white girl again. Stung as I was by his statement, in time I recognized that he had found a sense of belonging to his culture while I was still a stranger to mine.

So, what to do after five years of college and a degree in psychology? Tell your parents you want to be a bartender in Boston of course! (“Where everybody knows your naaaaame…”)That decision went over like a lead balloon. Not only because they knew my favorite drink in college was Purple Passion in two-liter form, but also because they had a super-secret alternative plan for me – ISRAEL. The catch was, (if I took the bait), I had to go for a year.

Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I agreed. I never expected for that trip to entirely change the course of my life, my identity and influence so many of my choices thereafter, but it did. And as dramatic as it sounds, I truly, wholeheartedly, believe going to Israel saved me from being lost in life. The first Shabbat I celebrated in Israel cemented for me that I too wanted a cultural belonging. For the first time, Judaism resonated with me. The rest of the year in Israel affirmed my connection, and I returned home belonging to something bigger than myself.

My Jewish Journey: Or How I Came to Drink the Pickle Juice photo

Annice (far right) and friends in the Arava Desert in Israel circa Chanukah 1993.

A year later, back in Chicago and working for Hadassah, I met a wonderful and kind Jewish man (just like Bubbe always wanted.) We were married two years later in his family’s synagogue and went on to have three sons, all of whom got the official Jewish snip-snip in that same synagogue. And, we adopted our daughter, who received her Hebrew name there too. Sounds great right? “Unaffiliated Jewish girl becomes a massive devotee after Israel visit.” Well, kinda.

As I mentioned, it’s been a complicated journey. Because I wasn’t raised with any kind of formalized Judaism, I struggle in a formal setting. I dress the part, but I have to look to others for the cues to bow and stand. I can’t read Hebrew either, and there have been moments during responsive readings when I’ve remained close-mouthed because I don’t agree or understand the portion. At the same time, when the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited, I do feel a genuine sense of collective community love and support for the bereft. When I look around at the hundreds of people –hundreds of Jewish people – gathered together to reflect, repent and begin anew during the High Holy Days, I feel a part of something. I think of the sacrifices, the history and the losses of my people. There’s also a sense of sadness for all the years I wasn’t a part of things. The years I spent not knowing that Judaism was a part of me.

I swore to myself that I would raise my kids with a sense of belonging and I do believe my kids feel grounded in a Jewish cultural identity. They know they are Jewish first and foremost. Sometimes they ask us to look up all the Jewish fill-in-the-blanks so they can brag to their friends about how “officially” cool Jewish people are. If they hear a Jewish sounding name they ask us to verify. They love a good Shiva spread. They carry the last name “Moses-Rosenthal” and none of them mumble or bow their heads in shame when they need to say it, spell it or own it. There is tremendous pride in that for me. And within that pride, lives my new beginning. 

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Resolutions? Oy.

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01/16/2014

Blair Chavis photo

Resolutions. What can I say? Every year I make ‘em. Usually, I break ‘em. This year, I nearly resolved not to make any resolutions. I didn’t stick to that either. In my lack of commitment to resolve to do nothing, I somehow resolved to do something, and it appears to be having a ripple effect! Let’s all take a moment to consider the power of reverse psychology—on ourselves. “That’ll show me!”

Have I lost you yet? Good.

For instance, I’ve been paying for a gym membership I don’t use … for quite some time. I’m a gym’s dream subscriber. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to launch myself into action, but I mostly blame the Polar Vortex, and the mental, emotional and physical toll it took on us all.

I used the Polar Vortex as an excuse for not going to the gym in the new year because I couldn’t leave my apartment for fear of frostbite or imminent death. Heck, I didn’t even drive to work. (I did wrap myself in four layers of clothing to walk down the street for Starbucks, but let’s not speak of that—unless, we count it as exercise.)

In the new year, I have, however, re-vamped my eating habits. I’ve also bought new gym clothes to motivate me to go the gym. I have yet to actually walk into the gym. Baby steps.

It’s a time-honored cliché to make New Year’s resolutions every January and break them by February. Perhaps, we often fail to keep our New Year’s resolutions because they’re all-or-nothing propositions. New Year’s Eve approaches and we switch on the “on” button in our brains to get going on all of those goals we’d been avoiding the year prior. The problem, however, is that despite a sudden decision to change, change takes time, planning and real resolve.

This year, I didn’t make any definitive resolutions on Jan. 1. Instead, I began working on myself in the weeks leading up to New Year’s. For instance, I used my vacation time as a test period to re-evaluate my eating habits and improve my cooking regime. This extra time without work, commuting and the daily rush allowed me to pause and start fresh. Because I began to change my thinking, I then didn’t use the holidays as an excuse to indulge. When New Year’s finally hit, this resolution already had momentum.

If we give ourselves one month a year to fix everything, we’re bound to fix nothing. Instead, what if we managed ourselves like we managed projects at work? For instance, what if we sat down around New Year’s and made a 12-month plan? Whether you pick one goal for the year, or a goal/resolution for each month of the year, you can then break down your plan of action into more manageable pieces. Give yourself monthly deadlines. Set benchmarks and rewards.

I like the idea of setting a new goal/resolution for every month of the year. For instance, in January, I will tackle eating healthier. In February, I will clean out my closet – and so on. If you start one goal, that doesn’t mean you have to stop working toward it the next month, you can just create on-going benchmarks of success once you’ve started.

Thus, you won’t have to lose 10 pounds, try every new wine bar in Chicago, and teach yourself Chinese all in the month of January.

By freeing myself from the pressure to set goals by an artificial Jan. 1 deadline, I have opened myself up to gradual change. And, the great thing about change is it breeds momentum for more change. I’ve cut out sweets and the Polar Vortex has passed. I think I’ve had just enough time to warm up to the idea of returning to the gym too.

Some Easy Resolutions You Can Try:

1. Harness social media for good. Rather than spending each day complaining on Facebook or Twitter, use it as a means to appreciate and showcase the best in yourself and others. In other words, we can’t stand your complaining.

2. Treat others on the road as you would like to be treated. Whether you take public transit or drive to work, don’t be a jerk. Think about how nice it feels when someone offers you their seat or lets you into their lane. Choose the high road, my friends.

3. Be your own best advocate, cheerleader, and pardoner. Try to do the same for others. 

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Post Florida Depression

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01/15/2014

I don’t know about you, but the Polar Vortex had me glued to my couch last week. When it’s so dangerously cold that going to work is out of the question, there aren’t many entertainment options. I coped by staring up at the ceiling (one of my favorite winter activities) while daydreaming of warmer days. What else are you supposed to do when you’re freezing AND all of your favorite TV shows are on hiatus?

Don’t call for the men in white coats just yet. I promise I haven’t completely lost my mind. While the super cold temperatures last week did get me down, the chill was only part of the problem. I have been suffering lately from what a lot of Jews deal with this time of year. I call it Post Florida Depression (PFD).

Laugh if you must, PFD is real! Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family makes a mass exodus to Southern Florida. We sit in the sun during the day and see the latest movies at night. I know. We are a living, breathing Jewish stereotype – except for the part where we’re mostly young.

Going to Florida during that holiday week feels like magic. While all of Chicago is depressed because the sun has gone down at 3, we’re still tanning by the pool. When Chicago is crying because it only has 3 little degrees, we’re half-clothed and dancing in the streets that it’s near 80. I could go on with a list of Southern Florida’s charms this time of year, but I don’t want any hate mail.

Like every spell that is cast, it’s hard to believe that it will ever end. When I left Florida the Saturday before the Polar Vortex it was sunny and 78. When I got here it was an eye-opening 10 degrees. I guess when you cheat on the Windy City with your Jewish mistress, Florida, that’s the sort of welcome home you deserve.

Since arriving in Chicago I’ve been suffering from PFD and mostly attached to my couch. How is a person supposed to eat a decent meal when the couch is calling? By firing up the Slow Cooker, of course! When you’re suffering from PFD or the Polar Vortex or whatever sort of Winter Blues might be making a visit, this recipe for a slow cooker pot roast will keep your spirits up.

Post Florida Depression photo

Ingredients
1/2 cup A1 Original Steak Sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
1 pkg. (0.9 oz.) onion-mushroom soup mix
1 boneless beef chuck eye roast (2 1/2 lb.)
1 lb. new red potatoes
1 pkg. (16 oz.) baby carrots
1 onion, thickly sliced

Directions
Mix first 3 ingredients until blended.
Place meat in slow cooker; top with vegetables and sauce. Cover with lid.
Cook on LOW 8 to 9 hours (or on HIGH 6 to 7 hours).

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On the Deng Rebound

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01/14/2014

On the Deng Rebound photo

As a die-hard Bulls fan, this is not easy for me to write: trading Luol Deng was the right thing to do, for many reasons, especially after a second season-ending injury to Derrick Rose. The Bulls were not going anywhere this season, they weren’t going to tank with Deng still on the team, and they more than likely were going to lose him to free agency and get nothing back for him at the end of the year if they didn’t pull the trigger.

After being strung along all of last season, I was finally ready for true hope to return to Chicago this year with the return of Derrick Rose. We were finally going to see if the team we spent all of these years building would be able to finally overcome the Miami Heat and bring a championship back to Chicago, knowing full well that this might be the last chance for this group to do it. But when Rose went down, again, all of that changed.

I loved Deng on the Bulls. He lived well beyond everyone’s expectations of him. But he was never going to be the no. 2 scorer we needed him to be, and the Bulls couldn’t afford to pay him like one. In order to compete in the league the way it is structured now, the Bulls need a second star, assuming Rose is able to return to anywhere close to his MVP form. But now that the Deng trade is done, I’m starting to wonder, who is that going to be?

The name being thrown around now is Carmelo Anthony. And he’s a great scorer, but not a great team player. He is not a leader, he doesn’t make players around him better, he doesn’t play defense, he doesn’t share the ball – he is literally the antithesis of the culture the Bulls have built around coach Tom Thibodeau. As I describe Melo, he sounds like Michael Jordan early in his career, but remember – Jordan didn’t start to win until Phil Jackson got him to understand that needed to do all of those other things in order to be the player he wanted to be and achieve all he wanted to achieve. I don’t know if Carmelo is capable of that kind of transformation, and he’s further along in his career than Jordan was at that time.

So, if its not Carmelo, whom are we making room for? The last few times the Bulls have made major moves like this to clear cap room, they have not been able to land the stars they went after. Whether it was Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady, or Lebron James and Dwayne Wade – they have not been able to get the big fish. Instead, it’s been Ron Mercer and Carlos Boozer. Will the Bulls go after Carmelo and land Lance Stephenson? And even if they do, is he enough to finally beat Lebron and bring a title to Chicago? And who else do the Bulls have to give up in order to get him? Boozer? Noah? Butler? The Bulls have never been able to build a team this way. They have failed every time. But they have been able to build winning teams through the draft through great role players and great coaching – not by stacking up stars through free agency.

Honestly, there’s only one player the Bulls could acquire to get past LeBron James, and thats LeBron James. And as much as it may make Bulls fans cringe, LeBron is the only star the Bulls could get and instantly become championship contenders. The saddest thing about the Deng deal is the Bulls giving up on the notion that you can win with a team and not with a group of all-stars. That will sting all the more if the Indiana Pacers manage to defeat Miami this year, proving that it indeed can work.

So, the Bulls are back in re-build mode, though you’d never catch them using that word. They are clearing cap space and trying desperately to fall into the lottery, which is proving to be very difficult in this pitiful Eastern Conference. Even still, we’re all hoping they can land a high draft pick; we’re all hoping they can bring Nikola Mirotic over this summer; we’re all hoping they can attract an all-star free agent this off season; we’re all hoping Derrick Rose can come back, be healthy, and still be an elite player. All of these things could happen. And all of them could not. The current window could have closed as soon as Rose limped off the court in Portland. The Bulls are going to do everything they can to make sure it opens again sooner rather than later, but until we see something tangible, all we have to grasp onto is hope. 

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Dear Peter Jackson

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A suggestion for your next movie
01/13/2014

Dear Peter Jackson photo

Dear Peter Jackson,

Part two of The Hobbit series is in theaters now, so I imagine you are very busy with the finale. After that, however, do you know what you'll be working on next? Because I have an idea for you. 

Sure, your next major film should be another epic worthy of your visionary scope. Maybe The Odyssey? The last attempt was sub-par. Same with A Wrinkle in Time. And a version of Wagner's The Ring Cycle was a recent, not very good TV movie – but if you're tired of ring-based epic fantasy trilogies, no one will blame you.

Still, in between Tolkien trilogies, you remade King Kong. And it is this kind of palate-cleansing, one-movie project I am pitching you now. Like that story, this one is centered on a misunderstood monster, torn between duty and self-fulfillment.

The story? That of The Golem.

It's the tale of a man-made monster, and it inspired many other characters, namely Frankenstein's monster. A debt is owed to the golem from every android all the way from Karel Capek's R.U.R. (source of the word "robot") to Star Trek's Data, all automatons brought to life and trying to find their humanity.

The Golem's story led to everything from romantic comedies to sci-fi romps to horror movies to … whatever you call Ted. And speaking of toys coming to life, the Golem inspired dozens of children's stories: PinocchioThe Velveteen Rabbit, Frosty the SnowmanThe Nutcracker, The Indian in the Cupboard and Toy Story. I could name a dozen more.

There is a ton of source material from earlier tellings of the Golem legend, everything from plays and operas, an award-winning children's book, and even a video game. In fact, a permanent exhibit in the Jewish Quarter of Prague is dedicated to the legend. 

But none of the many earlier movie attempts to film the Golem's story, however, had the benefit of today's technology. And none put the Golem in context of the persecutions it was created to combat. And none had access to the kinds of budgets you do. Like King Kong, the story is ripe for a modern, epic take.

Also, you have the perfect actor to play main character in Andy Serkis. I mean, after so many years as Gollum, shouldn't he get to play the Golem, his Yiddish namesake? The role of Rabbi Loew could go to Ian McKellan, or one of his Shakespeare-trained contemporaries … or maybe Ben Kingsley.

So I am looking forward to The Golem, a film by Peter Jackson, in time for Chanukah of 2017. Just make sure it doesn't open on a Friday night, OK? 

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Beshalach

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10 Shevat 5774 / January 10-11, 2014
01/10/2014

Beshalach photox

In this week's portion, Beshalach, the Israelites have just left Egypt and are being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night into the wilderness. God has Moses encamp the Israelites alongside the sea, and then proceeds to harden Pharaoh's heart one final time. Pharaoh pursues the Israelites with his entire military might, and ultimately, the sea swallows up his forces as the Israelites cross over into freedom.

The Israelites then burst into spontaneous song, and Miriam leads the women in dance.

Only a few days after this incredible experience, the Israelites were already grumbling about the lack of water, and shortly thereafter, the lack of food. I'm pretty sure this is where we learn that the surest way to keep Jews happy is with lots of food and drink. (Notice how many Jewish communal events offer refreshments!).

In response to their calls for food, God sends manna, which falls like dew each morning. Interestingly, manna was only good for a single day (it would be moldy by the next), except on Fridays, when the Israelites were instructed to collect a double portion, because God would not send any manna on Shabbat (it's the day of rest after all). It's due to this double portion on Fridays that we traditionally use two challahs to make hamotzi on Friday nights!

The Israelites are thirsty again, and God tells Moses to strike a rock, which will result in water coming forth from it. Moses does so, and the water flows. (This is a bit hard to wrap one's arms around, as later in the Torah, God instructs Moses to speak to a rock in order to bring forth water, but Moses instead strikes it and as a result is prohibited from entering the Promised Land. Moral of the story: pay close attention to instructions!)

At the end of the portion, the Israelites are attacked by the nation of Amalek. Ultimately, the Israelites are victorious, and God declares that the memory of Amalek will be blotted out from under heaven.

I often have a really hard time understanding our Israelite ancestors, and why they couldn't seem to simply have faith that everything was going to work out in their favor. They had witnessed the 10 plagues, had gone out from Egypt with riches, and had watched the destruction of their former tormentors in the sea. Yet only a few days later, they were already complaining to Moses again due to a lack of food and drink. Perhaps their bondage wasn't as bad as we think it was? Perhaps they had developed a bit of Stockholm Syndrome? Or perhaps their fear of the unknown was truly more terrifying than the existence they had known?

Rather, what we can take away from this week's portion is an appreciation of just how challenging it is to think beyond your next meal for those who are food insecure. We often take for granted our ability to see the big picture and to have faith, given that much of our community is fortunate enough to have its basic needs met.

In 2012, 49 million Americans lived in food insecure households (33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children). 

That's almost 15 percent of our population. And that's in America – let alone the developing world.

This Shabbat, reflect on the blessing of knowing where your next meal is coming from. Appreciate that others may not have the ability to think about big picture happenings, or to have faith that everything will work out, given their focus on simply surviving. Take the food stamp challenge (like Lindsey and Mark did). Commit to finding meaningful ways to help feed those in need, and to create sustainable changes in our systems and processes that will allow for none to go to bed at night hungry. 

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18 Honest New Year’s Resolutions

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01/09/2014

The Woes of Being an Introvert and Other Shenanigans photo

Let's be honest: I'm honestly not honest when it comes to my New Year's resolutions. Honestly. So this year I thought I'd set a few resolutions that are truly more obtainable. (I might have done something like this last year. But let's be realistic, if you don't click the link that's right here, you'll never know for sure. Will you?) 

In point of fact, this started out as resolutions that I could genuinely obtain. Also in point of fact, I meant for these to be reliable, just and true. Finally, in point of fact, some of these are very silly. Wow. Fact is up to three points. Swish. So enjoy my list of this year's 18 honest New Year's resolutions. I honestly don't think they'll stay that honest but one can only hope. In point of fact, once you have two or more, there's a lot more you can do than hope. Four points.

1. Brush my teeth at least twice a day so I don't have to lie to the dentist.

2. Start going to the dentist.

3. Start putting my pants on like everyone else. One leg at a time. Because trying to literally jumpstart my day is getting painful.

4. Start buying proper groceries because blocks of Philadelphia cream cheese and Flamin' Hot Fritos just ain't cutting it anymore.

5. Instead of just going by Adam Daniel Miller, start going by my full name: Adamantium Daniel Day Lewis Miller High Life. For posterity.

6. Eat less. Of what, I have yet to determine. I'll let you know later. It's not going to be Spaghettio's though. I should always eat more Spaghettio's.

7. Clean my dishes faster than 'the next time I need to use that dish.'

8. Pay my bills on time because having three separate guys named Bill simultaneously coming after me is getting ridiculous.

9. Enjoy life more. It's a fantastic cereal.

10. Be less lazy. Or as my girlfriend would say, "stop taking a cab to the bus stop."

11. Explain to more people that it is impossible to have a 'first world problem' because we do not live on Mercury.

12. Count my blessings. But only the ones I say to people after they sneeze.

13. Quit smoking in my apartment. I'm getting sick of the salmon smell.  

14. Enjoy life more. It's a fantastic board game.

15. Try and be less indecisive. Not sure if I'll follow through with this one.

16. Work on my drinking problem. Yes, this one.

17. Support more local Mom and Pop stores. Those creepy Aunt and Uncle stores are too expensive.

18. Be more honest, even if I'm lying to myself.

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Yes, Chicago, It Was Cold

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01/08/2014

If the last few days have taught us anything, it’s that Chicagoans love to talk about, complain about and post pictures about – the weather. And sometimes, as the last few days have shown us, we overdo it.

I get it. We can all relate to weather. It is our greatest commonality. Two people who might loathe everything about each other at least have the weather in common. When it rains or snows or the dang sun just won’t come out, we all know what that’s like and how it makes us feel. And I recognize that in the digital era, that means posting and Tweeting about the weather. That’s our reality.

All that said, Chicago, we had a little too much fun with the cold weather drama Monday and Tuesday, and none of us had anything better to do for two days than consume it. Therefore, friends, let’s take a step back and recognize some of the redundant and pointless ways we used social media during the “polar vortex.”

1. “Chiberia”

Yes, Chicago, It Was Cold photo 1

Chicago Now

Today, it seems like we have to label everything with the snazziest noun, like how every scandal has to end in “gate.” So it’s tempting to use terms like “Chiberia” when the media presents them to us. I definitely applaud the pun-ster(s) who coined Chiberia, as I got a chuckle out of seeing it for the first time, and okay – the second time too. But it was a useful hashtag, not a new entry in the dictionary. Chiberia had its moment in the (completely ineffective) sun – let’s all move on. You know what the temperature is like in Siberia now? The negative 40s. The Russians, they laugh at us.

2. The bundled-up selfie

Yes, Chicago, It Was Cold photo 2

The fact that it was cold and we wore hats, scarves, jackets and winter goggles is a matter of personal safety, not so much public interest. I’ll assume everyone just wanted their grandmother in Florida to know they were dressing warmly, though if she is even on social media, she probably left a comment saying to go inside or you’ll freeze to death.

3. Pictures/screenshots of the temperature

Yes, Chicago, It Was Cold photo 3

Behold, the only phone in the world that knows the external temperature! Stifle your jealousy!

Can someone explain this one to me? I suppose as long as these screenshots kept one person from walking outside in shorts on Monday, it was worthwhile.

4. Anything from anyone on vacation/not enduring the cold

Thanks for letting us know how not miserable your weather is, and that you sympathize with the rest of us, but let us commiserate about the weather in peace! Go enjoy the fact that you can have exposed skin outside for longer than 20 minutes. And we will try not to snicker at your being “stuck” in Florida or California because your flight was canceled.

5. Videos of people throwing boiling water outside

Those of you who got away with doing this and didn’t end up in the hospital with severe burns, I hope by now you’ve recognized that as fun as it was, it was definitely a mistake. I’ll bet not even the scientist who discovered/named evaporation would’ve condoned your decision to “make science.” However, this video of a water gun loaded with boiling water shot in Canada is awesome. Maybe not 3.8-million YouTube views awesome, but at least it was creative.

If this was too much Cynical Steven for you, check out fellow Oy! blogger Lia’s sunny spin: The top seven positive to come out of negative temperatures.

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Don’t Fear the Whole Fish

 Permanent link
01/07/2014

Laura Frankel photo 2

Ever walk by the fish counter and see the whole fish sitting there in the case and wonder what do you do with that? Wish you could pull off a big “ta-dah?” Like Indian flavors and tired of going out for them?

This dish is for you!

A big beautiful whole snapper lovingly sauced with homemade curry and comforting luscious coconut rice. Yay! You can do it!

This heart-warming delicious dish is perfect with all of the toasty spices and satisfying creamy rice. Do not fear the whole fish. Once the fish monger (dude) has cleaned the fish, all you need to do is take it home, cover it with amazing curry, roast, serve and stand by for compliments.

HUZZAH! Pat yourself on the back, you kitchen wizard you.

Whole Snapper with Coconut Curry Sauce

Curry Aromatics

3 cups diced onions
4 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 4-inch piece lemongrass (soft inner core only)
1 tablespoon of fresh turmeric or 1 teaspoon dried
2 serrano chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 cup chopped cilantro stems
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil

For the sauce

2 cups tomato puree
½ can coconut milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 red pepper, cut into julienne and sautéed
Salt and pepper
1 whole 2 ½-3 pound red snapper or favorite fish or 6, 6-ounce filets
Garnish: lemon and lime wedges

1. Pulse all the above ingredients in a food processor or blender. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut oil or olive oil and add the aromatics. Cook the aromatics, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and very fragrant (about 15 minutes).

2. Then add the remaining ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper or sugar. The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

3. Line a baking dish or large pan with sides with parchment paper. Place the fish in the pan and spoon ½ of the sauce over the fish.

4. Roast the fish, covered, for 10 minutes, then uncover and return the fish to oven for another 10 minutes or until the flesh feels firm when lightly pressed.

5. Serve with coconut rice.

Coconut Basmati Rice

1 cup basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Place the rice, coconut milk, water and salt and pepper in a pan with a tightly fitting lid.

2. Simmer over medium hat until the rice is cooked through or use a rice cooker.

3. Toss the rice with almonds and cilantro. Serve with the fish.

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The Hard Kind of Kindness

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01/06/2014

Neil Harris photo

“Looking back, what do you regret?”

That was the central question of George Saunders’ commencement speech to graduates of Syracuse University, which I was recently directed to through an article in The New York Times. After listing a few things that might be regrettable in his past, Saunders remembered the way several of his classmates in 7th grade dealt with a new girl in their school and neighborhood. He says that they, “mostly ignored and occasionally teased” this girl. Then, at some point, the girl and her family moved out of the neighborhood and life went on.

Saunders then remarked, according to the article:

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

Ok, I get the point: kindness rules and apathy drools. I am no stranger to kindness and/or the Hebrew version, chesed. It is one of the calling cards of our religion (and kindness is actually one of the three things that the world rests upon according to the Talmud). Until I read what Saunders wrote about the missed opportunities as “failures of kindness,” however, I never really gave the idea much thought. As I think about it now, I am usually so concerned with doing an act of kindness that I become blind to other opportunities.

I think there are two types of kindness: global kindness and local kindness.

Getting involved with a national or international cause is an amazing thing. Donating to a relief fund is something that is a very tangible way to help others. To be involved in a cause connected to any charity or organization is a wonderful way to give something of yourself and expand your heart. These are examples of global kindness. We often gravitate to them simply because we repeatedly hear about them and the cause resonated with us.

Then, there’s the local kindness. This type of kindness isn’t always publicly broadcasted. It could be giving some spare change to someone in need or volunteering to tutor a kid who needs help in school. It could be opening the door for a stranger, greeting someone, or even asking a friend how they are doing. These are the “easy” acts of local kindness. Easy, I say, because it’s sort of a one-time act or kindness to a stranger. Odds are that you will rarely ever see that person again.

This kindness can be more difficult because it involves interacting with family and friends. Being patient with a cashier at the grocery store can be easy; choosing to be patient with someone in your family can be hard. It requires us to be mindful of our relationships and how we act around those that matter most to us.

For me, my “failures of kindness” consist of a global and a local failure. I feel fortunate to live in a Jewish community (West Rogers Park) that is full of kindness. However, it’s very easy for me to forget that there are many other neighborhoods and communities in the greater Chicago area, as well. So, I need to find something “global” that can connect me to the greater community and show me the “bigger” picture. Simply put, I need to call the JUF. I am sure I can find something from helping at a food bank to tutoring. Locally, I will focus on my wife and three kids. There are times when I catch myself pointing out the negative things people in my family do. I’m not proud of it, but it does happen. For the past three weeks I have consciously been very careful to point out the positive things that my kids do – and we are all the better for it.

In the liner notes for the last studio album from punk rockers Hüsker Dü, there’s a quote I find particular meaningful: “Revolution begins at home, most preferably at the bathroom mirror.” That sort of says it all, for me. If you want to change and not have failure of kindness, but don’t know where to do start, then check the mirror.

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Kindle Culture 2: What I read in 2013

 Permanent link
01/03/2014

Last year, I opened up my Kindle to you, sharing the best of the many books I had consumed through the Kindle app on my iPhone while trying to pass those miserable moments riding/balancing on the El during rush hour. This year, in addition to racking up tons and tons of train miles, (there should be some kind of rewards program for that, don't you think?) I also did lots of traveling and thus lots of reading. So since it's the time of year when we start to think about what's on our reading lists for the year ahead, what better time to talk about some good ol' books?

Much like last year, not all of these books came out in 2013 and they aren't necessarily the best books of the year—though some of them will likely make those lists. And this won't be nearly as comprehensive or cool as NPR's Book Concierge that came out last month, but I digress. So without further explanation, here is a sampling of what's on my Kindle from 2013:

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The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
At one of the many Jewish professional conferences I attended this year, one of the icebreaker activities was to introduce yourself by sharing what book was on your nightstand. As I was in a room filled with distinguished academics, best-selling authors, entrepreneurs and other generally awesome people, you can imagine that the caliber of books being read was quite high. At the time, I was reading Divergent, the first in the popular young adult trilogy about dystopian Chicago. Luckily, someone else in the group was also reading the trilogy at the recommendation of her 13-year-old daughter, so I wasn't alone. Young adult fiction or not, I flew through this book and the next two in the series, Insurgent and Allegiant, all pretty good reads, though Divergent was my favorite. If you liked The Hunger Games, I recommend checking this series out as well before the movie comes out in March.

 

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Rick Steves' Berlin, Rick Steves' Vienna, Salzburg and Tirol, and Rick Steves' Prague and the Czech Republic
As I mentioned, I did a lot of traveling this year—including one amazing trip to Europe with my husband, Mike. You can read his account of our trip here. Rick Steves is a really great tour guide and I spent many hours agonizing over his books before our trip and consulting them while overseas. He was as helpful today as he was during my time studying abroad in college and I love how he guides you every step of the way through landmarks making sightseeing feel even more like an adventure.

 

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This was one of my favorites back in the day, so when it came up for 99 cents on Kindle one day, I downloaded it for nostalgia's sake. It was still a magical read and had whole new meaning to me reading it now as an adult.

 

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The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom's latest work of fiction came out in hardcover in Sept. 2012 but was just released in paperback and on Kindle this October. I love books that deal with time travel or manipulation of time and this story about the first man to ever measure time and how he teaches two people—a young girl and an old man—how to appreciate time is a beautiful and worthwhile read.

 

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The Dogs of Christmas by Bruce Cameron and I Could Chew on This and Other Poems by Dogs byFrancesco Marciuliano
As I wrote last year, ever since my crazy adorable bichon poodle, Bialy, came into my life, I've become obsessed with reading stories about dogs and told from the perspective of dogs. Last year, I read two books by Bruce Cameron, so when I saw he had a new book coming out I downloaded it right away. This one, though it does not have a canine narrator, is another sweet story and a good holiday read. The book of poems is not on my Kindle, but was a Chanukah gift from my parents. If you're a dog person, it's a warm and fuzzy and at times funny read and great coffee table material.

 

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Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger
This sequel to the classic Devil Wears Prada came out this summer and takes place 10 years after the first book ends. All of Lauren Weisberger's books are fun and have Jewish protagonists. I had the chance to interview Weisberger last month in advance of her January visit to Chicago, so look out for that interview to learn more about Weisberger's strong Jewish identity and how that influences her writing.

 

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
This book had been sitting on my Kindle unread for some time, but I'm glad I finally decided to start reading. Once I did, I couldn't put it down! I love books about the circus, I think because they are so magical and whimsical and this one has such rich characters.

 

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The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster
I've read all of Jen Lancaster's hilarious self-improvement memoirs. With each book, she dedicates herself to a new project for a year—this time living according to the ways of Martha Stewart—and tells her tales of success and failures through her life in suburban Chicago with her husband, dogs and cats. There are always local references in her books, which just add to the fun, and she has a way of making you feel like you're hanging out with your girlfriends as you read.

As we kickoff 2014, my list of unread books on my Kindle is dwindling, so tell me—what did you read this year that you loved? And what's on your 2014 reading list?

Happy reading! 

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Resolutions Resolved

 Permanent link
01/02/2014

Resolutions Resolved photo

12/30. The thing is, every year we make resolutions for the New Year. Exercise more, be a better son or daughter, be more spontaneous, etc. etc. And maybe we intend to keep these resolutions, but do we ever? Does anyone ever?

If you keep up your resolution through February consider it an achievement. How many people do you know you who boast about accomplishing their resolution in November? Of course there are some rare exceptions – the middle-aged woman who joins Jenny Craig Jan. 1 and is 25 pounds lighter by the following Jan. 1, or the divorcee who quits his job and travels the world for a year. But of course these are the exceptions ...

I’ve never really kept a resolution. Sure, every year I think there are things I could do better, probably a lot of things I could and should change, but my motivation runs out. So how do you keep yourself motivated to change something in your life this New Year?

12/31. I admit, I thought about it over the past 24 hours and I got nothing. I honestly don’t know how you keep a resolution, whether it is big or small, kind of dumb or really significant. Maybe you just have to want it, and if you don’t want it that bad it won’t end up changing. But that means I’ve never wanted anything that bad, so that can’t be right. Maybe you should stay small and set goals that you know in advance are doable. Remind yourself – write your resolutions down.

Maybe the secret is not making a resolution at all. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. But then again, my New Year’s resolution is to be less cynical.

I needed some inspiration today, so I asked my friend Leah who has been living in Israel for the past year and a half what her New Year’s resolution was, and how she intended to keep it going all year. Her response was to “practice gratitude everyday” even if that that sounds, “super crunchy” because living in Israel has put things in perspective. Now that’s a resolution I thought, and one that she will probably actually follow through with. (My other friends’ resolutions were to send out greeting cards, and to watch less Kathie Lee).

So this New Year, every time I feel myself becoming a cynic I’ll try to remember Leah and her resolution, because if she can keep hers why can’t I keep mine? Enter motivation.

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