OyChicago blog

Flickers of light

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Tuesday night, as my husband Mike and I lit the candles for the first night of Chanukah, for some reason I started thinking about  those candle lighting ceremonies everyone did for their bar and bat mitzvahs. You know, there was a cheesy poem, and for each candle a different family member, or important figure in your life, came up and the DJ played a song to match?

As I watched the candles burn, I thought about how in the story of Chanukah each candle represents another day of light and a small miracle. In a year that was filled with tough times and sadness, I thought about the flickers of light that were brought into our lives and what I would dedicate each candle to this Chanukah. So, in no particular order, here is my Lights of Chanukah 2011 candle lighting ceremony:

Candle 1: The weather we've had in Chicago this winter has been a small miracle. Barely any snow and it's almost the end of December? I dedicate this candle to you, mother nature.

Candle 2: Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit got to come home after five years in captivity. This candle goes to Gilad on the first Chanukah in five years that he can spend with friends and family.

Candle 3: I dedicate this candle to my friend and yours, Siri. She brought light into our lives by teaching us how to tie a bowtie, showing us a picture of a weasel, and so much more. Siri, your answers to our inane and stupid questions brought many a smile to our faces, so this candle is for you.

Candle 4: For the next candle, I'd like to call up Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, whose story of recovery brings light to one of this year's darkest events.

Candle 5: This candle is for Crumbs cupcakesthanks for coming to Chicago. Your gigantic cupcakes bring much happiness and add to our celebrations (and our bellies).

Candle 6: I light this next candle in honor of the NBA season being back on. Chicagoans everywhere who have given up on the Bears now have something to look forward to—the Bulls. 

Candle 7: This one goes out to my favorite YouTube sensation of the year, Sophia Grace and Rosie. Your spirits are infectious as the Nicki Minaj song you sing (here they are on Ellen). You're beyond adorable with your pink tutus and sparkly crowns, and I can't wait to see what you do next!

Candle 8: I've saved the last candle for all the people who have brought light into my life personally this year: My husband, for being an amazing partner for this adventure of a year; My family, for throwing me the most kickass wedding and for being there to celebrate; my friends and colleagues who've made me laugh, joined me for brunches and glasses of wine and been a shoulder to lean on; and lastly to all of you, Oy! readers, for encouraging us to continue writing and doing what we do.

Wishing you all a very Happy Chanukah and a new year filled with lots of light! See ya in 2012!


Reconsidering the Kotel

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My connection to Jewishness is in other places



The Kotel

I’ve been thinking about the Wall. No, not the Pink Floyd album. And not the security barrier that prevents terrorists from infiltrating Israel.

The Kotel. The Western Wall. The Wailing Wall. Whatever you want to call it, the Wall is a symbol not only of Jerusalem but of Judaism to many.

Except when I look at the Wall, I see a place that has been imbued with meaning by people. I see a collection of stones that surely witnessed some of the world’s greatest tragedies and triumphs, but one that remains a collection of stones. I see a place that allocates barely a third of the space to women (and has a million conditions for women to even approach the wallcue the ultra-Orthodox women policing one’s attire so it’s “modest enough” to pray there). I see a place where history stands still and where feminismthe idea that men and women are meant to enjoy equal rightsis forgotten or, worse, can feel forbidden. I see a place where I don’t feel the spiritual awakening many claim.

My spirituality, my sense of Jewishness and my personal understanding of my people’s history just don’t fit there.

As Jews, we are supposed to feel a strong connection to the Kotel. I’ve been at conferences in Israel that were so packed that no visit was scheduled. And yet my fellow participants made special detours from their itineraries to trek into the heart of the Old City and touch the Kotelsometimes very late at night because that was the only time available.

Where does that connection come from? Is it from years of being told of the Kotel’s significance? Or is it because there actually is some higher power that is concentrated in the Kotel and I just haven’t felt it?

For me, the connection to my people is clearer when I stroll the streets and parks of Tel Aviv and hike in the fields and hills of the Galilee. I feel that connection when I sit at a café, everyone around me chattering in rapid-fire Hebrew, even if I don’t understand more than every 10th word. I feel it in Jerusalem, too, just not at the Kotel. The connection is clearer at places like Kol HaNeshama, the Progressive synagogue in Baka, where a children’s choir performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during a Friday night service last time I was there.

The Kotel’s staid adherence to centuries-old tradition does not convey the vibrancy of the State of Israel and modern Jews. That vibrancy is clearer in the shuk, especially right before the onset of Shabbat: The scurrying of people trying to finish last-minute shopping for their Friday dinnerwhether they’re religious or not; the yells of the merchants calling out steep discounts at the end of the day; the smells of tomatoes and sweet peppers so fresh they probably were ripped off the bush just that morning; the pungent aroma of spices; the delicious odors emanating from Marzipan bakery (the provider of world’s best rugelach).

Reconsidering the Kotel photo 2

Leading a Rosh Hashanah celebration in the woods while sitting atop the rocks at Devil's Lake in Wisconsin in September 2009

Of course, the other connection to Jewish peoplehood is right here at home, and one needs not travel to Jerusalem to feel it. When my husband and I gather with friends for Shabbat dinner; when we celebrate Tu B’Shevatthe once obscure Jewish holiday celebrating trees and nature’s bountywith a haggadah we compiled ourselves; when we read about Exodus and add our own stories of migration; when we honor Rosh Hashanah while camping in the woods, by reading a new take on Unetaneh Tokef and the celebrated Israel writer Yehuda Amichai’s poetry. Those experiences have drawn me ever closer to my already strong pride and love for being Jewish.

Perhaps one day, when the Kotel is more inclusive of all sorts of Jewish traditions; when women can pray and read the Torah on equal footing with men; when there’s a place at the Wall where families can pray together rather than being separated into a women’s and men’s sections, I might reconsider my connection.

For now, however, it remains a collection of stones with lots of stories to tell. Sure, they’ve got the prayers and hopes and dreams of thousands of people. But I feel more comfortable leaving mine elsewhere.


Happy Chanukah!

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We’re on Oy!cation! See you in the new year!


A rude awakening

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I had a rude awakening this morning. I spent the night in Lakeview at the home of the guy I'm dating. Around 6:15 a.m. he dropped me off at my car on his way to work. It was parked right on Sheridan Road, among a slew of other parked cars. The scene looked completely normal. I opened my car door to put a bag in the backseat and I saw that the box holding my brand new GMAT prep course books, which had been unopened the night before, was open.

Considering that it was the crack of dawn and I was groggy, I took a moment to make sure I was thinking straight and that I had not opened up the box the night before and had just forgotten.

I then started to panic when I simultaneously noticed that the items in my trunk were rustled about the pieces started to come together.

A half second later I looked up and realized the glass of the rear passenger window was completely smashed in and shattered everywhere.

Then the real panic kicked in.

A rude awakening photo

Even though I park on the streets of Chicago every day, this had never happened to me before, and I was alone, in the dark. My car held nothing valuable, and nothing seemed to be missing, even my radio/CD player was still there. However, I was now standing there, by my broken-into car with my wallet, iPhone and laptop. My mind started racing what if the people who did this were still nearby, waiting for people to enter their cars carrying their purses, etc. I started running and frantically called the guy I'm seeing in a complete panic.

Minutes later, he returned to calm me down and help me out. I pride myself on thinking things through and being calm in times of crisis needless to say, this wasn't one of those times. This break-in, something that probably happens hundreds of times per day in this city, completely threw me for a loop.

Coincidentally, my dad called at the exact same time all of this was happening. I explained what had happened (obviously, and somewhat uncomfortably having to admit the reason for why my car was parked where it was), and he helped me with the insurance company, etc. My insurance is covering the large majority of the expense, and my car will be fixed by tomorrow morning.

Everything is fine, but I can't help that sickening feeling of violation. Knowing a random person(s) damaged my property, opened my personal package, and rummaged through my glove compartment, console and trunk. It's an awful feeling to be faced with the reality that people live their lives doing things like this. The timing is also ironic, happening at the time of year when we try to come together, be thankful for what we have and respect our neighbors. While living in the great city of Chicago, we usually feel safe in our day-to-day lives, but we are still in a very large, international city, and realistically, there's crime.

I was reminded that not everyone's as well-meaning as we would hope. This holiday season, I'm especially grateful for the many wonderful people in my life who enhance it and fulfill it, well aware that unfortunately, not everyone lives by the same moral code we would hope for in our society.


‘Tis the season for dating

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When the matchmaker tried photo 2

During my fifth holiday party this past weekend, it struck me that for all the drinking and eating and celebrating that goes on during this season, the holidays are actually a great time of year for dating (and for this wannabe matchmaker to set folks up)!

Back when I was still single, I used to dread the holiday season because it meant going home and facing well-meaning, but annoying comments and questions from loved ones wondering why I didn’t have a boyfriend. Don’t let these folks get you down. With all of the festivities taking place during December, this is actually one of the best times of the year to meet new people and go on dates…so that by Passover you have a different answer for Great Aunt Ruthie.

The biggest holiday party of the season took place a few Saturdays ago and while it’s already been covered here , here and here, I know of three potential first dates that I set up that night and I’m sure with 2,600 people in attendance those weren’t the only ones!

Now don’t feel too bad if you missed out on that great potential dating opportunity because the Matzo Bash is right around the corner. Here is the link to buy your tickets— get them soon as prices are going up.

And if giant holiday parties aren’t really your style, there’s plenty of smaller house and bar parties to attend. This past Friday I went a friend’s festivus and brought a few single girlfriends with me (as did many others in attendance.) By the end of the night, a few folks had exchanged numbers and I know for sure two of them are going out on their first date tonight! While you might not think there will be anyone new to meet at a smaller party, you really never know. So don’t get the holiday blues or turn into scrooge and skip out on any of these great events!

To keep you focused and in the holiday spirit, here are some of my tips for landing dates during the party season:

- Say, “yes” to every party invite you receive, whether it’s from your boss, your neighbor downstairs or your best friend. You never know who you are going to meet at one of these bashes. If you have two parties in the same evening, try to hit both, so you can expand your odds of meeting someone new to snuggle with during the cold months ahead.

- Plan a few holiday party outfits in advance. The holiday season can be long and tiring with lots of parties on week nights after work. To cut down on the temptation to just lie on the couch at home watching TV, have some rotating outfits on hand. This way you’ll be less likely to want to stay in and use the excuse, “I have nothing to wear.” Plus, planning ahead will help ensure you don’t wear the same outfit twice in front of the same group of friends. God forbid.

- Don’t be afraid of theme outfits/parties. The ugly sweater party is never going out of style, so go ahead and just embrace it all: ugly sweaters, reindeer headbands and menorah glasses. These all make great conversation starters and make going up the cute guy or gal in the bar a little easier.

Now let’s get dating. This is actually my favorite time. There is so much to do in Chicago that is fun, unconventional and fosters way more conversation than say, just going to a movie. Here are some great first dates for the holidays:

- Saving your cash for holiday presents? Why not grab a hot cocoa and take a stroll through the ZooLights display at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

- Don’t think because it’s cold out you can’t still be active! This year, Chicago has FOUR ice skating rinks available to the public. Millenium Park, Navy Pier, Daley Bicentennial Plaza and Wrigley Field all offer rinks, for more information check out this list of skating rinks.

- Being outside not your style? Go see a holiday-themed play! Who says Jews can’t celebrate Christmas? Check out a showing of the new play, A Christmas Story, The Musical! The lyrics are written by MOT Benj Pasek. For ticket information, visit The Chicago Theatre box office or call 1 (800) 745-3000.

- Do a little holiday shopping on your date at the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza.

- Tour the Sauganash neighborhood holiday lights. Grab another cup of cocoa and a car and take a drive. You can make it a game to spot the tackiest, prettiest, most unconventionally decorated house.

- Make a ginger bread house or bake some cookies. Stay-in on a particularly cold evening and bake some holiday themed treats with your new sweetie.

Hope some of these ideas help gets you through the holiday season and adds a little perspective to this time of year. Feel free to share your own advice and ideas below!

Happy Chanukah, everyone!


Have you been Tebowed lately?

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Have you been Tebowed lately? photo 1

While it would be easy to ignore the craze, Tim Tebow-mania is everywhere. As I like to say, he is the "best, worst player I have ever seen." While he throws a horrible deep ball, he misses receivers like no one else ever has, and his reckless style will eventually get him hurt, the kid is a winner. Tebow wins. And the last time I checked, winning is what pro football is all about.

Clearly Tebow is not Jewish. In fact, he is a firm believer in Christianity. But what Tebow has done has brought religion, prayer, and deep faith onto the 50 yard line. Do his prayers help the Broncos win? Is God watching down on them and protecting Tebow and his teammates? I am not sure, but it certainly hasn't hurt. If anything, it seems to have centered Tebow and kept him focus. No one has been more watched and scrutinized. Yet, Tebow remained confident and poised. He remained centered. His faith was a big part of that.

If God and religion certainly have a place on the field, Tebow has used it to help himself. Now he has a football and religious following. Tebow has helped draw attention to faith and hopefully to a better world (even the football world). A world with less players that stomp on people's heads and instead play with a healthy competitive edge. He has helped players find an outward connection to their faith. And maybe, just maybe, this will rub off on the Jewish athletes.

Have you been Tebowed lately? photo 2

While I hate what he did to the Bears this weekend and while I think there are so many problems with his game, he wins, he is fun to watch, and ultimately he is a role model. So yes I have been Tebowed and I am on board to watch the Broncos play and pray their way into the playoffs.

And Let Us Say...Amen.


Top 10 reasons Matisyahu shaved his beard

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Top 10 reasons Matisyahu shaved his beard photo

10. He wants to be in Old Spice commercials for the Super Bowl.

9. Waxing hurts.

8. He had a bet with Mitt Romney that the Bears would win on Sunday.

7. He got sick of being called a Rabbi.

6. He had put on weight and people thought he was Santa Claus.

5. He just found out that you don't need a beard to be religious.

4. The hair care products didn't last long enough to cover the gray.

3. It was itchy.

2. He saw himself on this new Bravo show and thought it was time to rethink how he observes Judaism.

1. It's easier to eat a jelly doughnut without having to worry about it getting in your beard. 

Best of luck to you Matisyahu. I like your music with or without facial hair. I especially liked when you sang with the PS22 Chorus. I hope wherever your spiritual journey takes you, it takes you to the recording studio.


Reflections from a visit to an Israeli Post Office

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Reflections from a visit to an Israeli Post Office photo

His eyes were warm and for some reason following me
as I walked through the metal detector.
I turned and somehow found myself in conversation
and he was saying something to me
and it felt as if i had come into the conversation midway
helter skelter.
"Moshav Meir,"
he says as I look on in confusion.
"Moshav Meir," he repeats, glowing eyes waiting for a response.
Have I heard of it? I ask… "Well yes... well yes, I have, well yes, someone randomly told me about it, well yes."
And he puts his hands together, cupped in classic Israeli fashion, eyes shining and says, "They're the best people, the best."
And I wonder why
Why he is telling me this
What he knows
What God knows
Where we should go
Where we should go next.
We are never here we are never resting.
Always going.
All roads lead to Moshav Meir
I suppose.
And after a conversation that seemed to last a while
But perhaps, only another minute
Yet a minute with a radiating security guard that wants to tell you how he tries to keep kashrus and wants to be religious as I assure him that he is doing well, as he looks at me in my tiechel and little baby in praise, and I glow, a responsible young adult.
Well then
A minute like that is a long minute indeed.
I walk away, eventually, immediately, and it barely hits me anymore
That a security guard here
cares about my wellbeing
tells me about keeping kashrus.
And back there, in America, no one cares whether you come out dead or alive
Unless it's on their watch.
And they have no business telling you where to go or what to live
and anyone with shining eyes is shown the way out.
But here, it's not scary.
Here, it's shining.
Here, it glows.


A Slow Exhale

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Jenna Benn photo

The days leading up to my scan and the 18 hour wait for results took a noticeable emotional and physical toll.

We were in a holding pattern waiting for life to potentially shift for our worlds to be turned upside down.

This time I felt I had that much more to lose.

My life since cancer has been a state of elevation, of hyper-color vision, and filled with immense gratitude.

My life since cancer has shown me what it feels like to be deeply loved, supported, and cared for.

My life since cancer has been filled with clarity, meaning and fulfillment. 

I didn't want to lose all that I had since been given.

I didn't want to part with this new self, this new state of being, this new life.

As I deliberated over my potential losses, I realized the critical importance of reframing my thoughts in order to get through the wait.

My scan-xiety is a symptomatic reminder that my survival, fight and journey is continuous.
As a cancer survivor, I have to accept that I am and will always be reliant on the system. I am and will always be a part of this community.

It is this system this community that continues to keep me alive, that continues to keep me strong, and will be there to brace my potential fall.

This morning I received the news that my scans are clean and that I continue to be in remission.
As I slowly exhale, and tiptoe into celebration, I do so with the knowledge and appreciation of life's fragility.

And it is that knowledge that drives my deep appreciation and gratitude for this community, this experience, this moment.

Thank you for your love, support, and prayers.

I needed you, I felt you, I am grateful for you.


A Philanthropic Birthday-Take Two

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A Philanthropic Birthday-Take Two photox

So I'm totally afraid of being that annoying mommy writer who only writes about her kids and then I looked at the last few things I've written and found that I already am that person. How did this happen? I have so many other things to talk about. Don't I?

Being a stay at home mom for a full year now, I have to say that the struggle to find purpose in my life does center around raising happy and healthy children. It is literally the first thing written on my to-do list, so that I know that even if I don't get to anything else, I am still being a productive person in the world. But finding a purpose in my life goes far beyond those two little ones. I have had this nagging little whine in my head for as long as I can remember: what are you doing with your life, anyway?

When I worked in the Jewish nonprofit world, I had a purpose every day: raising money to help people in need. I went to work and thought about the Jewish community and the larger community that needed food, housing, health care, education, you name it. Working in a philanthropic field kept me in touch with a larger purpose.

Now I'm way more self-centered. I think about my family, my daughters. I think about my artwork and the new business I launched this fall. I think about going to yoga, sometimes actually going to yoga. I practice my cello. I think about how I became this mommy writer and how the hell did I let that happen?

And then I wrote this really boring post about how I'm starting a tradition on my daughters' birthday next week (again about the kids, really?) of donating $18 in each of their names to a different nonprofit each year. Eventually they will be able to choose the charities they contribute to and hopefully this will instill in them a love of helping others, or at least a habit of doing so. Believe me, it was really boring.

But it did get me thinking about philanthropy and how giving  even in a small way  is something that enriches life and offers a sense of purpose. Turns out I've been doing that all year - giving to different causes and volunteering when possible. Teaching the value of philanthropy to my children is just another way of giving back, part of the larger purpose of my life. Hey, maybe there are a couple of purposes out there.

I'll spare you the boring post and just give a couple of shout outs: 1) to my friend Rachel, from whom I am stealing the birthday giving idea; and 2) to the JUF Chanukah Coat Club, which received the very first donation in the names of Violet and Autumn Hinkley-Wolfman. They were born on the first night of Chanukah two years ago, so really the choice was easy. I hope that when they look back at the first page in their birthday donation scrapbook they will feel proud about helping to keep other children warm this winter.

And now I'm going to think about all the other things floating around in my head, so that maybe next time I will write about social change, or affordable health care, or the environment. You know, the stuff that matters, like your kids.


You’re never too young to think about getting old

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You’re never too young to think about getting old photo

It happens to all of us. Some of us sooner than others, and there's nothing you can do about it. Yes, this article is about agingyou're never too young to start taking good care of your mind and body.

In college, I thought my eyes might be the reason the chalkboard was fuzzy. I went to my parents' eye doctor, and not to brag, but my eyes were 20/15 and the doctor said, "It's the chalkboard. You have better than perfect vision." And so I went on my way, thinking well, at least I have that.

Several years later, my wife, who has had glasses since middle school, said "one day it will happen to you." And she said it smiling, like she was excited that one day my vision would go. Never having had glasses, I always wanted a pair. I think people in glasses look smart and give off this vibe that says:

 I read Dostoevsky

 I travel the world

 Small talk is for the birds

 And of course, I read nutritional labels (you need glasses, that font is small)

The last time I faced this type of change was in sixth grade. I was going to my locker when my friend Noah looked at me and did a double take, "You got braces?" Being slightly nervous and embarrassed, I begged him not to say anything. He responded with a bigger smile, "Don't worry." Although he said the right words, his deceptive grin didn't ease my angst. I walked into class with my lips glued together.

Everything seemed normal, except, why is Noah standing on a chair? "Hey everybody," Noah said. "Ronny got braces." And, so my awkward stage began.

Noah probably would call me four eyes today, but I don't really care. Maybe that's the upside to growing old; you care less about the little things like glasses, braces, and the occasional zit. As you age there are more important things to worry about. I'm not going to tackle saving for retirement or social security, but I will discuss a few anti-aging techniques.

1. My anti-aging mental super powers

2. Train your muscles for life

3. Nutrition tips for a long, healthy life

My anti-aging mental super powers

When my dad turned 50, I bought him this book, "Brain Fitness: Anti-Aging Strategies for Achieving Super Mind-Power." Like many books in that genre, the main takeaway is use your brain or lose it. Even at our age, if you have a family history of Alzheimer's or Dementia it's very important to exercise your mind. Several studies have shown mental workouts can help keep your mind sharp. It's best to mix them uplike muscles, your brain adapts to the game/puzzle…so if you always do word scramble, do a crossword puzzle once a week. Here are some easy brain fitness tips from the book:

 Once a week wear your watch on your other hand

 Learn a new language

 Do Sudoku or a crossword puzzle several times a week

 Tackle one brain teaser a week

 Exercise dailykeeping the heart and muscles moving helps with brain function

 Download mind/memory games for your smart phone

 Check out Brain Matrix website for more information

Train your muscles for life

There's no reason you cannot build and maintain your physique as you grow older. More important than bulging biceps and six pack abs, is functional strength and flexibility like the ability to bend down and remove dishes from the dish washer and place them in cupboards. Exercise such as yoga, Pilates, and swimming are helpful to keep joints limber. Swimming in particular is great, as water is very therapeutic. Pumping iron has also been linked to keeping your mind healthy, there is still more research to do, but it's a very positive sign.

The number one recommendation to avoid bone loss is weight bearing exercise. If your mom has osteoporosis, it's important you lift weights. Walking, elliptical trainer, and swimming are other examples of weight baring exercises that might help your lower body fight off degeneration.

I cannot stress enough the importance of mixing up your routine. Every 4 -6 weeks you should change your workout routine. There are two reasons for that: 1) Your body adapts to how you train. If you always do the same thing, your body learns how to get through the workout easily. By mixing up the routine your body is confused and you end up burning more calories and building more muscle. 2) It's good for your joints, tendons, and ligaments (connective tissue for muscles). Although your muscles get stronger from lifting weights, it can take a toll on your connective tissue. I see this with older power lifters who have beaten up shoulders and knees from too many bench presses and squats.

Nutrition tips for a long, healthy life

I often hear, "I work out so I can eat whatever I want." That phrase is very flawed. Yes, you can eat whatever you want, but the most important take away here is PORTION CONTROL. Carbs are not making you fateating too much of them is. 

For years the Mediterranean diet has been very popular with dieters. It stresses healthy fats, lean meats, lots of fish, and vegetables. In my opinion, keep it easy:

 Drink lots of water (good for your skin, digestion, muscles…)

 Increase your fruit and veggie consumption

 Eat lean proteins

 Eat more whole grains and less white breads and rice

 Try: brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, Chia, and steel cut oats

 If a cookie is calling your name, eat it! The caveat, a normal size cookie which you could fit in your palm. A cookie the size of your face should be shared.

 Drink pop in very small moderation. Studies have even suggested that diet soda reduces bone density.



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Cheers photo

I was having a party. A "women only" drinks and nosh potluck party. My husband was in Utah on a hiking/biking extravaganza with some guy friends. The kids were having a sleepover at grandmas. I cleaned and organized for a week. I baked. I fretted about wine choice. But I was so excited. I'm not sure if it has to do with being younger, being single, not having kids or what, but something that has significantly changed for me as I have gotten older and married with kids is that the precious alone time with my women friends has declined tremendously. And I miss it. My husband and I as a couple, have found "couple" friends and I enjoy that company, as well. But there is something different that happens in a circle of women when no men are present. There's energy and an ease in that kind of space that's invigorating to me. I feel it provides a balance that I really need. All this being said, bringing a bunch of women together can also cause drama. So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when I got a strange phone call from one of my friends a few hours before the gathering. But I was.

On the day of my party, I was surrounded by what felt like 1,000 kids in costumes. I was at a pre-halloween party. My phone was vibrating. Voicemail. I plugged one ear and strained to hear the message. It was my friend whom I've known for 19 years saying she was in my neighborhood and could she come over now (3 hours early) and leave when the party started? This made zero sense to me. She lives 20 minutes from me  hardly a haul  and why the hell would she come 3 hours early and then dash? I found the quietest spot I could and called her back. She repeated her nonsense message. "Why would you want to do that? Why would you come before the party  3 hours early no less  and then leave at the start?" "Well, everyone is going to be married. And you will all be talking about your kids. And dirty diapers. And I have nothing to say. Nothing in common with them." I was aghast.

"First of all," I said curtly, "you don't even know most of these women! How do you know what they will talk about?" She reminded me of my husband's 40th birthday party where she sat with my parents and grandparents to avoid all the couples. (I did not choose to point out that my parents and grandparents are couples, too.) "Yes. I remember you did that. But these are women. We all have that in common. There will be no spouses." Undeterred she said, "But everyone is a mom. Right? Everyone will be talking about their kids. And soccer. And carpool. I mean, I have nothing to say to that." My response? "You know what? No! No you may not come to my house early. Put on your big girl pants and suck it up! I'm married and a mom and the last thing I want to talk about when I have time with other women is my kids  or carpool, or soccer. You are a, a, racist against moms! See you at 8!" And I hung up the phone. I returned to the 1,000 kids in costume.

I was seething. What the hell? Who did this chick think she was? And worse, who did she think I was? I felt attacked for my life choices. That somehow by my becoming a wife and mother, I had given up my being a woman. I was now seen as someone who couldn't have a conversation about anything that was unrelated to my children. I called another girlfriend. I relayed the incident. I was yelling, in my minivan, in the suburbs, with my 4 costumed children drunk with sugar overload in the back. My friend listened intently. "This is not about you." She finally said. "She's feeling self-conscious about her life. If you are really her friend, you need to call her back and apologize. But if you don't really care either way, do nothing." I was stunned. About her? I didn't say anything about her. She attacked me! I included her! I attempted the mantra of, "it's not about you. It's not about you." I sounded semi-authentic.

I called my friend back. I told her (nicely this time) that no, she could not come early and that she would be fine. That I invited her because she was a girlfriend and this was a gathering of girlfriends. I assured her that while I could not guarantee what each and every conversation would be about, that the women who were coming were interesting, thoughtful and had more to them then a detailed account of the daily ups and downs of motherhood. She came. She had fun. She met another single friend and they made a date. I also got her a gift for her cat. I think she forgave my harshness.

Looking back I see how deeply I was triggered by what my friend had been implying. What she said about me is how I protest being seen and portrayed. I often say, that although I live in the burbs, in a house, in an affluent community and stay at home to raise 4 kids, I am most definitely not like everybody else in my same situation. I feel the need to separate myself from all the stereotypes that are married (if you will) to my life place. Things in fact that may be true about me. Fact is, I am a wife, a stay at home mom and my kids are my life, and I'm wondering as I write this why I feel the need to defend that or put distance between that and myself. Because I may be a suburbanite, mini-van driving mom, but when I've got a pomegranate martini in hand, I'm a well-rounded friend and I throw a damn good party at that.


What do Jews do on Christmas?

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Make videos about what Jews do on Christmas! 

What do Jews do on Christmas photo

So my first idea for a blog post was a list of Christmas songs and carols written by Jews. But it turns out that subject has been very, very well-documented. (I did compile a list from these sources, and tacked it on to the bottom of this post, if you are curious.)

Instead, I tried to find out what Jews today do on Christmas. Turns out, this matter is the subject of not a few online videos. Here are my favorites, one for every candle of Chanukah. (Now, some of the language in these is NSFW. But why are you watching videos at the office anyway?! Get back to work- it's a short month!)

1. "South Park": "A Lonely Jew on Christmas"
Kyle Broflovski, the only Jewish member of the South Park foursome, sings this lament on Jewish alienation on this pervasive, even smothering, holiday. And we feel the poor little guy's pain. But what could he do about it? His fellow Jewish YouTubers have this to say:

2. Chuck Brodsky: "On Christmas, I Got Nothing"
First, Kyle must realize that he is not alone. For instance, Chuck here, even as an adult, still recalls the childhood sting of being left out in the gift department. A great folksinger, he once worked on a kibbutz. His work is usually pretty pointed, with songs about everything from pollution to road rage. He also writes many songs about unusual baseball figures- some of whom, like Max Patkin and Moe Berg, were Jewish.

3. Sarah Silverman: "Give the Jew Girl Toys"
Meanwhile, Sarah wants toys on Christmas, too. But rather than pout about not having any, she takes a more proactive approach. (When Sarah wants toys, Santa, you'd better just hand them over… if you know what's good for ya.)

4. Brandon Walker: "Chinese Food on Christmas"
Of course, rather than focus on getting another Transformer or Furby, one could make one's own celebration with the resources at hand, with one's similarly sidelined palls. Are there any Chinese restaurants in South Park?

5. The Chixie Dix: "All I Want for Christmas is to Be Jewish"
And if Kyle can't find any Jews to go with, would a potential Jew do? Some Christians, like these alt-country singers, also feel put out by all the fuss made on Christmas, and actually wish for a more simple, pure, untainted holiday. Some might even be looking for a guy like Kyle to chill with.

6. Melissa McQueen: "All I Want for Christmas is Jews"
So might this Mariah Carey wannabe, although she is too old for Kyle. The guy in the last song wanted to become Jewish, but she just wants to hang out with Jewish celebrities and be Jewish-by-association. So that's another kind of person Kyle might find to accompany him for some dim sum.

7. Kugelplex: "Yiddish Rudolph"
That failing, Kyle might avoid being lonely by actually attending a Christmas party and watching some classic videos with his classmates. But that still doesn't mean he has to "do" Christmas their way. For instance, he can reclaim a famous Christmas song written by his fellow Jews… by singing it in a Jewish way. That should make a keen Christmas memory for his hosts!

8. Jewmongous: "Reuben, The Hook-Nosed Reindeer"
Or he could make up his own words… and follow the footsteps of Jews who specialized in novelty songs, such as Mickey Katz, Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer, Shel Silverstein, and Andy Samberg. Or this guy, Sean Altman. Altman's old a cappella group, Rockapella, is best known for their "Carmen Sandiego" theme song, but his solo material is far less child-friendly. (And this little ditty isn't even the worst of them.)

9. MC Jew C and Lil Mitzvah: "Merry Hanukkah"
Of course, another reaction to Christmas and the dismissive effect it has on many Jews is good ol' anger. Why seek out other Jews, or wanna-be Jews, or wanna-be-with-Jews? Why not just rail against the system, and like these rappers fight back with a personal war on the all-encompassing Christmas "spirit."

So that's what Jews do for Christmas- deal with the loneliness, alienation, and lack of presents though friendship, sarcasm … and plate after plate of moo goo gai pan. Oh, and by making videos about what Jews do on Christmas. 

For those who did want a handy-dandy guide to which Christmas songs were written by Jews:

- "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin, who also wrote the winter classic "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."

- "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…)" by Mel Torme and Bob Wells.

- "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks, who also wrote "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas."

- "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, who also wrote "The Christmas Waltz."

- "We Need a Little Christmas" by Jerry Herman.

- "Santa Baby," music and lyrics by Joan Ellen Javits and Philip Springer.

- "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" by George Wyle and Edward Pola.

- "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston (Jewish) and Ray Evans (not).

- "Winter Wonderland" by Richard B. Smith (not sure) and Felix Bernard (yes).

- "Sleigh Ride" Leroy Anderson (no) and Mitchell Parish (yes).

- "I'll Be Home For Christmas" Walter Kent (yes), Buck Ram (yes) and Kim Gannon (no).

- "There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays" Bob Allen (not sure) and Al Stillman (yes).

- "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" Albert Hague (yes) and Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel (no).

(Some of this list was researched by Nate Bloom.)


DC ownz Chicago? Not so fast!

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DC vs. Chicago photo

Those of you that tuned in to my post last month were treated to an un-OY-fficial match up of DC vs. Chicago. In a tight race, I graciously called it a draw between the Gem of the Midwest and the Jewel of the Mid-Atlantic. Stephen Richer of Gather the Jews, a DC based website, brought on a full challenge to my results, claiming DC as the definitive winner to this civic battle. Richer gave DC ten extra points out of 10 categories! Frankly, I could easily pick apart most of his analysis, but there is no need, because I can easily come up with nine more categories where Chicago bests DC proving it to be at least as good a city:

1. Chicago is sportier: Chicago has won more major sports championships than any other U.S. city besides L.A. and New York. DC did not even make the top 10! And for those of you that want to dis the Cubs (who won all of their championships over 100 years ago,more people came out to see the Cubs lose last year than to see the National’s win.

2. Chicago is tougher on the weather:According to this article from President Obama’s first winter in Chicago, he dissed DC at a press conference for being a little too quick to cancel school on account of a little bit of ice. Chicago knows winter and knows how to handle it!

3. Chicago is worldlier: So the Bureau of Expositions has sanctioned over 50 official World Expositions, since 1850. Two have been in Chicago (1893 Columbian and 1933 Century of Progress). Zero have been in Washington… well, not totally true. In 1974 SPOKANE, Washington hosted one. How does it feel to be bested by SPOKANE, DC!

4. Chicago is Nobel-er!: So nobelprize.org allows you to sort Nobel Prize laureates into all kinds of lists. So I compared DC area winners with Chicago area winners. Based on the institutions associated with the winners: Chicago=20 and DC=7. Richer went to the University of Chicago, so when it comes to education, he should know that University of Chicago alone claims 16 Nobel Prizes awards for smarty-ness!

5. Chicago is well guided!: I had the unfortunate experience to hop onto a DC Double Decker Bus tour only to find that the tour was delivered by a well scripted RECORDING! When I worked for Chicago Trolley and Double Decker we always had live tour guides showing the sights and sharing the stories on top of the bus. DC=Fail here!

6. Chicago is funnier!: Chicago takes this category hands down. Second City, IO Chicago, the Annoyance are all Chicago originals featuring some of the funniest. Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Chris Farley, Amy Pholer all trained in Chicago’s finest comedy venues.

7. Chicago is safer!: According to the most reliable source on statistics-the Movies , Chicago is safer. DC is the 3rd most destroyed city in movie history, while Chicago is the 9th. By that rationale, you are more likely to wake up to an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse in DC than Chicago! Stay safe and stay in Chicago.

8. Chicago is better represented: Illinois has 2 senators and 19 congressmen (13 of which are Chicago area districts). How many voting representatives in DC? ZERO! The license plates in DC read - “Taxation Without Representation” for a reason!

9. Chicago is bigger!: More people and more city! And as everyone knows, size does matter!

For those of you that have been keeping score, this battle between two writers trying to come up with random factoid about two cities is tied once again. Let’s face it, we could go back and forth like this forever. For the sake of our readers on the shores of Lake Michigan and the banks of the Potomac alike, it might be best if we just admit that both cities have their pros and cons and that we all sleep better knowing that at least neither one is as expensive as New York!


Winter reading (with my new Amazon Kindle Fire)

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Two summers ago, I wrote an Oy! post highlighting my summer reading plans. It's been awhile since then and I just got my latest obsession-the new Amazon Kindle Fire. Now if you remember my last post, I talked about how much I love reading BOOKS my office at home is covered in bookshelves and was never going to convert to an e-reader. Well, things change. People change. And my boyfriend bought me this amazing toy for my birthday in October and I'm a total convert.

I know I'm late to join the e-reader bandwagon, but since the Fire is so new, I feel like it's still ok to tell you all how cool it is and why you should get one, too.

The positives: Normally a loyal Mac girl, I had reservations about not choosing the iPad, but for a third of the price, I've got to say I'm pretty happy with my choice. Besides getting books instantly to my Kindle, this thing makes renting movies and TV shows a cinch all it takes is a click and it's cheaper than On Demand and Netflix's! I can also browse the internet, create my own magazine pages and subscribe to my magazines on the Kindle. I can rent books free from the library, share readers with my friends and there is a 99 cent book of the day deal; so believe it or not, the Fire is actually saving me money!

The negative: I no longer can read on the El because I'm terrified I will either drop it, lose it or have it stolen. This seriously cuts into my reading time and makes it harder to get out of bed in the morning (a. because I stay up later reading and b. because I have nothing to look forward to on the commute to work).

Review done, here's my list of books to e-read by the fireplace (not the train) this winter. Feel free to make your own recommendations and post them at the bottom:

Winter reading photo

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson If you loved Devil in the White City, you need to read Larson's newest book about America's first ambassador to Nazi Germany, Chicagoan William E. Dodd and his family who in July 1933 find themselves living in the heart of Hitler's Berlin. This non-fiction book offers a fascinating and at times horrifying and frustrating account of the United States relationship with Nazi Germany leading up to World War II.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrad Not to include two non-fictions books here about the same time period, but Hillenbrad's latest book, which took seven years to come out, is currently at the top of my reading list. I loved Seabiscuit and I can't wait to start Unbroken about an army air forces bomber who crashes into the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

Thank You, Notes by Jimmy Fallon With YLD's Big Event only a few weeks away, I thought I'd check out this year's performer's latest book.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins If you haven't read this series yet, immediately stop what you are doing and go read them. I read each book in a day because you just can't put them down. The first movie is coming out in March and it promises to be a blockbuster, so make sure you read the book now. Check out the movie trailer

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory So last time, I told all you Oy!sters to read The Red Queen  the second book in Gregory's cousin's war series about Elizabeth Woodville and the Plantagenet family. Well, this is the third book in the trilogy only it's a prequel to the first book instead of the concluding book I'd been waiting to read for over a year! Gregory explains on her website:

Whilst many of you (myself included) were expecting a book on Elizabeth of York called The White Princess to follow The Red Queen, gloriously, the research has taken me down a slightly altered path and so Jacquetta's book, currently called The Rivers Woman, will be released in autumn 2011.

I'm still going to read it and you should, too. On a positive note, this is now the first book in the series, so if you like historical fiction and haven't read her other books, you can still start here.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Last time I ended with a favorite classic, so I think I'll do the same thing this time around. Since the movie is coming out this spring, the timing feels right to re-read one of my all-time faves, The Great Gatsby. I already own a few versions (I'm a nerd) of the actual book, so for a classic I might have to return to the real thing and skip the Fire.


Hamlet and the ukulele

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Hamlet and the ukulele photo 1

When I was choosing colleges, my mom made her qualifications very clear. First, of course, I had to go somewhere that was right for me, intellectually, personality-wise, cost-wise, etc. But vying for top consideration was this: My mom wanted to visit me somewhere she could go shopping.

This was never actually going to be a problem. I grew up in a small town two hours from anything, and I always wanted to live in a city (for many reasons, not all of them shopping-related). A decent mall was an hour away, and Columbus, Ohio, with its stores, airport and restaurants, was 80-miles just getting there. Going shopping was a grand day out, a giddy affair bookended by a great car trip, often just me and my mom.

It's no surprise that an activity I associate so closely with happiness should become a go-to for cheering myself up. I don't do retail therapy by blowing triple digits at Express (though I have been known to stagger out of a bookstore, dazed and loaded down with totally justifiable additions to my shelves). Instead, more and more I seem to be gravitating toward single, special purchases. There's a handmade leather belt on Etsy cut and dyed to look like the f-holes on a violin. I'm still floored by how beautiful it is, and I've been lusting after it for well over a year. Timbuk2 makes my favorite bags: even though I don't particularly need one, I'm really itching for one of their customizable backpacks. (It would be great for travel!) Vivien of Holloway, Nudeedudee and Rocket Originals make the most smashing vintage repro, and I can't tell you how tempting it is to dump all the clothes I own now and start over with a dedicated wardrobe straight from the '30s and '40s. Don't even talk to me about John Fluevog.

I hover over these buys, though: I stew in them and put them off, as some future reward for some future accomplishment or occasion. To get all analytical for a moment—my mom is a psychologist, after all—perhaps that's a throwback to those trips to Columbus: the drive and the delay are bound up in the payoff. But let's get real, friends: this is not about why I don't buy things when I want them. Because this week I broke the pattern, and let me tell you, the payoff has been great.

See, my mom has been fighting cancer for three and a half years now. Yesterday was a big test, one that would tell us if the new treatment is working like we've been hoping it is. It's a pretty anxiety-inducing set-up, and even if you're not consciously thinking about it, you feel it under your skin. November was also a stressful month for me on its own, and I still have a mountain of other tasks to scale.

The day before yesterday, I happened on a link: a high schooler covering a Shakespeare soliloquy on a ukulele. Not just any soliloquy: Hamlet's "To be, or not to be," touching on some of the darkest, most profound soul-dredging stuff available to us as human beings. The cover is awesome. It's so cheery, you can't help but smile. It's sweet, but it's the last thing from manufactured. And that's the thing: even the undiscovered country sounds sunny on a ukulele. I'm beginning to suspect that it is actually impossible to be sad with a uke in hand.

So, rather than liking the idea and putting it on a shelf, to be cashed in at a later date, yesterday I headed to the Old Town School of Folk Music and strolled out with a Lanikai pineapple ukulele in hand. Why not? Eight years of piano lessons aside, I've never played a stringed instrument before, and it's been years since I've played music at all, but that's okay. Ukulele is known for being both easy and forgiving, and I have to tell you, it's a lot of fun.

It wasn't a huge purchase—I've actually spent more on pants for work wardrobes—but, satisfyingly, it felt like a bigger purchase than it was. Being able to walk home and open the case, prop open the learn-it-yourself book and start strumming was glorious. And there's so much to look forward to: ukulele covers of all your favorite songs probably exist somewhere on YouTube, and the very helpful guys from Old Town were quite excited to show off Metallica for Ukulele. Anything is possible now.

The danger, of course, is that having given myself permission to actually enjoy a non-incidental purchase spontaneously, I'm now furiously calculating whether I can squeeze in the backpack, the belt, the tea dress, the shoes. Sending in my rent check this morning will probably temper those impulses, but more importantly, I think it's time to just soak up this purchase for a while. As it turns out, my mom's test yesterday came back looking great. That alone makes the world a sunnier place, but I'm not going to lie: having a ukulele doesn't hurt.

Hamlet and the ukulele photo 2

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