OyChicago blog

An Ode to Pinterest

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02/28/2014

As the last of the Valentine’s Day chocolates are slowly being eaten, a question is on my mind: Is it possible to fall in love with a website?

If it is, well, then I have it bad for Pinterest. Bad.

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, Pinterest is a website that mimics a bulletin board. I see something cool that I like somewhere on the Internet, so I can take it and “pin” it to my bulletin board. You can see my bulletin board and if you like what I’ve “pinned,” you can copy it to your bulletin board. Virtual bulletin boards with an unlimited supply of pushpins — count me in!

I’m not as active a Pinterest user as I am a Facebook user, but Pinterest has its moments for me. Here are my top favorite times to use this beloved site.

1. Searching for something specific. My favorite way to find new recipes is to pick a main ingredient and then search by that ingredient. If I’m looking for a recipe that includes butterscotch or red velvet or apple cinnamon, I’ll head to Pinterest first and search for those main components, and I’ll find dozens of butterscotch blondies, red velvet whoopie pies, or apple cinnamon banana bread chocolate chip pumpkin bread bundt cake lava cake. It’s a haven for an avid dessert maker like me.

2. Daydreaming. I love looking at pictures of wedding dresses with bows, dream homes with grand staircases, functional treehouses with electricity, and cute ways to keep pictures of future children as they grow. I’m not really in the market for any of these things, but it’s nice to daydream as I scroll through pictures. Wouldn’t it be great if my bedroom had a sheer white canopy, periwinkle curtains, and 15 sequined pillows on my bed? What would my life be like if I had a mudroom with DIY antique hooks to hang raincoats? Could I be a person who has a wedding cake made of ice cream cones?

3. Finding new “life hacks” I didn’t know I needed. I didn’t know that there was a problem with the way I was organizing my paperclips — but now that I’ve seen a cute, creative, easy way to use magnets to keep them away from other office supplies, I must do it. Now. How did I live for 27 years without using a CD case as a bagel holder? What about a sneaky way to make my ponytail look longer? Yes please!

An Ode to Pinterest photo

4. Killing time. This is really the main reason why I love Pinterest. It’s a great way to kill a few minutes — waiting in line, friend is running a few minutes late for lunch, etc. — without getting too invested in something too deep. You can scroll through people’s pins for 30 seconds or 20 minutes, and suddenly your wait time doesn’t seem so bad. Or it’s a great way to relax when you’re trying to fall asleep. So thank you, Pinterest, for keeping me entertained until the wee hours of the morning.

See you on Pinterest!

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The battle we know nothing about

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02/27/2014

The battle we know nothing about photo

The above quote is profound, practical, instructive, and chock full o’ brilliance. There is a fairly popularized proverb that I first saw in a collection of inspiring stories by Rabbi Paysach Krohn that states the idea that if everyone’s bags of troubles, challenges, heartaches, difficulties, etc. were put in a clear bag and hung out on a line for all to view and choose from, we would look at everyone else’s bags and realize that our own bag isn’t so bad.

So, the person you are sitting next to during your morning commute might look like they have their act together and are “living the dream, baby,” but they also might be dealing with a personal problem that we would never be able to deal with. The person in front of you at Trader Joe’s might look relaxed without a care in the world, but they might be stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship. The boy in your child’s class who always seems to get extra attention from the teacher might be subjugated to the most horrific family situation that you could ever imagine. The department head in your office, with the leased company car, the never ending suit collection, and the perfect golf game might have a seriously ill child that is costing him thousands of dollars in medical bills. That dude sitting next to you in Starbucks with his MacBook Air might have a serious learning disability and can’t read above a fifth grade level. Your friend in the Zumba class who has three part-time jobs and the perfect boyfriend might be struggling with an eating disorder.

There are times when I think that others have it much better than I do. There are times when I see the problems others have and think that I could handle their tzuris (troubles). Understanding that my own problems (despite having a family that loves me, a job I like, and really cool kids) are tailored exactly for me isn’t easy, for sure. It’s much easier to think that we know everyone’s story and it’s natural to want to walk in someone else’s shoes.The truth is, we don’t know the problems that many people have. Sometimes all we can do is be kind, patient, and sympathetic to others. Sometimes just doing that can lighten the load someone carries and help them fight their battle.

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Dispatches from the Sofa

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02/26/2014

Dispatches from the Sofa photo

So, the Polar Vortex got the best of me, though really – I got the best of me. After months of whining about the incessant winter chill, I slipped on my way home from work. It was the first time in my life I’d “fallen and couldn’t get up” and instantly I knew something was very wrong. The ER visit revealed a broken ankle. A broken ankle in need of surgery. How’s that for a Tuesday afternoon? Never a dull moment.

Here I am, two weeks post-op, and my world (for the time being) is reduced to my lovely house in the burbs and the occasional outings to the doctor. I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am to my family for all of their help and my fantastic employer for their patience while I figure out how to navigate (temporarily) on one foot. I also know how lucky I am that it was just my ankle and nothing else.

So while I will not be running any marathons anytime soon, trying to work normal hours, devouring the latest episodes of House of Cards, re-reading Bossypants for about the eighth time and healing a little more each day all combine to fill my days in a way I didn’t anticipate. I am anything but bored – and that’s a very, very good thing. While this broken ankle might have slowed me down, my mental shpilkes (nervousness, anxiety) are very much intact.

The day I plopped down on the ice, I had an interesting conversation with my manager earlier at work. We were dishing about Kundalini yoga – breathing and relaxation, all that good stuff. I’m very much a yoga novice, but the idea of the practice as an infinite process has proven to be resonant thought over these past couple of weeks.

She was saying that after four kids, she turned to yoga as a new way, initially, to get in shape and refocus. What she learned shortly was that regardless of what poses she could and couldn’t do, she was on a continuum. It doesn’t matter where you begin or where you end up eventually, all that matters that you are on the path.

So what are some takeaways from my couch-dwelling days? I tend to think of myself as a pretty patient person, but oh how my patience has been tested. It’s been tricky attempting to balance a go-go-go attitude some days with feeling completely exhausted others. But it’s all about being on the path, isn’t it? No matter how silly/frustrated/tired/annoyed I feel that I can’t get up and walk around, I know it is a temporary situation and I’m already making progress each day.

Enduring the pain, prodding, sitting and waiting is all building toward my big goal for this spring, which I hope to achieve near Passover time: walking on my own two feet, all on my own. It’s funny how five seconds of your life can give it an entirely new perspective. (Captain Obvious realization now over.)

In the meantime, I’m just going to rock my fluorescent pink cast and find new ways to make these next 4 to 6 weeks productive. Reading suggestions welcome in the comments below.

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Call me sentimental

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02/25/2014

Call me sentimental photo

In this world, there are people who save things and people who don’t—and I guess some people who probably fall somewhere in between.

I am a “don’t save things” kind of person—it’s in my genes. In my family, if you get a new pair of shoes, you should really give away an old pair. This is partially about making space for new things and mostly about recognizing the importance of having a finite number of possessions that you appreciate, rather than an accumulation of stuff. I’m not the most organized person, but the less stuff and clutter, the better.

I always say that I’m not sentimental about things—ticket stubs, clothes, cards, etc. But I do value memories and traditions—I love looking at old photos and watching old videos, treasure the pair of earrings and handkerchief I inherited from my great-grandmother on my wedding day and Flower, the smiley-faced baby toy I slept with from the time I was six months old until I got married, still has a home in my nightstand drawer so it’s close to me at night.

My husband Mike is more of a sentimental saver. He holds on to receipts and ticket stubs forever and has t-shirts in his closet that are more than 20 years old. When we came back from our recent trip to Europe—Mike’s first trip abroad—he saved all of the maps and museum tickets and flight reservations in a Ziploc bag that I desperately want to throw away.

When I got back from studying abroad my junior year of college, coming home put me in a funk—it was such a meaningful and life-changing time for me and I needed to figure out a way to close that chapter and move on to the next. So every night for weeks, I sat down and worked on a scrapbook, adding in ticket stubs and photos and memories I didn’t want to throw away, for once. The final product wasn’t very pretty—I’m not really the artistic type—but I felt the closure I needed and was happy to have those memories tucked away somewhere tangible.

Since Mike and I returned from our trip to Europe, I think we both have felt that same need to package the enormity of the experience into something tangible, other than a Facebook album and the Ziploc bag, of course. So for Mike’s birthday, I spent hours agonizing over creating a Shutterfly photo album, moving photos around and telling the story of our trip. When I clicked the order button, I felt that same sense of satisfaction I had finishing up my study abroad scrapbook. Hopefully when he sees it, Mike will feel the same.

I guess maybe I am more sentimental than I think I am, or maybe there are just some memories—and even some things—that are too meaningful to just throw away.

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Did I Ever Tell You ...?

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02/24/2014

Did I Ever Tell You ...?

“Let’s pretend I was abducted by aliens. What would you tell your kids about their grandma? What would you remember about me no matter how much time went by?” 

Four sets of eyes looked at me.

“There are no aliens,” my second oldest replied. 

“Hello? We’re pretending here! Just answer the question.”

“Um, you wipe your boogers on your pants. I would tell them you wipe your boogers on your pants.”

“What?”

“You wipe your boogers on your pants.”

“No I don’t!” I protested.

“Yes you do. It’s disgusting.”

“You yell,” my third child offers sweetly as though this should make me feel better about the boogers.

“And …?”

Silence. Dead silence.

Two weeks prior…

We were together for five hours – my dad and I. We weren’t alone. There were other people with us and my dad told stories. Good stories. Actually they were great. They were stories about his youth and of people that influenced and shaped him. Some of us laughed. Some of us cried. Some of us did a little (or a lot) of both. I did both. I felt sentimental as we drove home.

“I didn’t know those stories,” I began. “Why haven’t you told me those stories before?”

My dad shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I don’t talk about that part of my life that much.”

I felt a sadness begin to creep into me. “But dad, if you don’t tell me, I can’t tell my kids and then they can’t tell theirs. If you don’t tell me your stories, they’ll die with you – like they never happened.”

I went home filled with a sense of panic. What do I really know about my dad? I’m 42, he’s turning 72. That’s 30 years of his life I know nothing about without guidance. No doubt I know some of my dad’s stories – my kids have heard some of them firsthand and others I’ve relayed. A family favorite is one about my dad in his youth. He was being bullied by a brute named Jimmy McBride. He was doomed to a lifetime of taunting and punches until he got schooled by a friend in the art of the headlock. They practiced the moves every day after school. Then one day, my dad had his chance! Jimmy McBride found himself trapped in a headlock and my dad refused to let go no matter how Jimmy thrashed. Crying the entire time, my dad held on for dear life. He won the fight because Jimmy said, “Uncle!” and never bothered my dad again. Now that’s a story every kid wants to hear. It’s a story every kid needs to hear! And to me it’s the coolest story ever, because my dad was the hero.

So then the questions turned inward. What do my kids know about me? What stories have I relayed? Do they have a sense of who I am? Have I told them enough? Have I told them too much? But most importantly, what will they remember? 

It seems as if I were to disappear in that moment as I proposed, abducted by aliens and flown to a galaxy far, far away, my legacy would be of that I wipe boogers on my pants (I wholeheartedly deny this) and that I yell (denial denied). My grandchildren would conjure me with accuracy from these generous, kind and detailed descriptors: grandma was gross and insane. I would then fade with little fanfare to just a name on a leaf of a massive family tree. 

Ok, ok. Totally pessimistic attitude, I know, but I’m jerking your chain just a little bit to encourage action. Share yourself with the people you love. Tell your stories. Don’t save them for a rainy day or “the right time” because that time may never come. No life can be truly summarized in 10 or 100 stories, but we can certainly make a most valiant effort to hit the highlights, boogers and all.

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Is Bulls Silence at the Deadline Deadly?

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02/21/2014

Is Bulls Silence at the Deadline Deadly? photo

Another uneventful trade deadline for the Bulls shouldn’t come as a surprise to die-hards, but in another year in which a second round playoff appearance appears to be the ceiling, we are now beginning to wonder what future the Bulls’ brass has in mind. If anything, the Bulls’ silence has confirmed that they are not planning on changing their identity and following the star-piling trend of the league.

Historically the Bulls don’t make those big headlining moves. Trading Luol Deng for cap relief appears to be their high-profile move of the year. So what do we want the Bulls to do, hope the Bulls will do and think the Bulls will actually do by next season?

Carmelo Anthony is the guy everyone wants – a pure scorer who makes up for the Bulls’ biggest deficiency – scoring. And while it seems to be the obvious move going forward, I’m not convinced it’s the best move. But there are good arguments for what the Bulls should do next, and as I’ve not been able to stop thinking about them since Derrick Rose went down again earlier this season, let’s take a look at a couple of their options as we sit at the mid-season point of another lost season in Chicago.

To Melo or Not to Melo

The big free agent signing this off-season for the Bulls would be Carmelo Anthony. And there are a lot of reasons to believe this could work – Melo has said he would like to play for Tom Thibodeau, and he has said he wants to go somewhere he can win a title now. And with a core of Rose and Noah, the Bulls offer a better shot at that than the current Knicks team. The Bulls need a scorer and someone to take the pressure off of DRose at the end of games. Melo offers that and allows Rose to take a lot of the pressure off of his shoulders, which will likely be necessary as he comes off his second major knee surgery in as many seasons.

But at what cost will Carmelo come? They’d definitely need to part with Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer and if it comes in a sign-and-trade (which many think it will), they may have to give up Jimmy Butler too. And while this is a no-brainer argument for those who believe the Bulls over love their assets and believe Rose will not be the same again, is Carmelo Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now?

To me, he is Mr. Right Now. He is the guy we have the best chance of getting, but while he is insanely talented, he has not proven that he can lead a team and win. He doesn’t make players around him better and he is a me-first player. The stars we want make everyone around them better: Jordan did it, Magic did it, LeBron is doing it – Carmelo doesn’t do that. And I don’t think he wins a championship as the team’s leader and best player. As much as we don’t want to wait any longer, let’s also not settle because we are desperate and he’s the best we can get. That said, I’m not even convinced we can even get him, and is it worth it to clean house to clear the cap space needed to sign him, only to come up empty like we have so many times before.

Mirotic – Dirk or Kukoc?

The other option the Bulls have this off-season is using their amnesty on Boozer and trying to finally bring over Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic, however, wants a lot of money and is a total unknown in terms of what he can accomplish in the NBA. Scouting reports and highlights of him look really good, but anyone can make a compilation video that makes someone look really good. Great European players don’t always translate to the NBA. Does Mirotic with basically the same Bulls lineup we see now, plus a healthy Rose, make a big enough difference to make them contenders?

This is the much bigger unknown, but might be the most realistic option. Keep this core together, bring in Mirotic and hope he can be a difference maker. Our hope the Bulls would tank and fall into the lottery is dead, however, the Bulls have drafted really well and with potentially two mid first round picks this year in a deep and talented draft, they could still improve in the draft. But not knowing what Mirotic will be is the biggest factor in this decision, especially given how much he’ll be asking and how little flexibility it’ll give the Bulls with his contract on the books.

The Return?

The biggest unknown of all of this is what Rose will be next year. Will he ever return to his MVP form? Will he have to adjust his game? The Bulls will either need to construct a team that takes the pressure off of his shoulders or commit to the guy they thought was their star, leader and franchise player  and hope he will lead the Bulls back to the title.

Would the Bulls be making a mistake to count on Rose again to stay healthy? Do they stay the course, keep bringing in assets to create a winner around Rose, or does Rose become an above-average role guy so the Bulls can clean house and bring in a star? This will be a very important off season for the Bulls – they will need to take some risks, make some tough choices, and all we can hope is that they are the right ones.

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How To Be a Cheater

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02/20/2014

How To Be a Cheater photo

Confession: I am a cheater. No! Not the bad kind. I mean, there was that one time in high school. Doesn’t everybody do that? My Geometry teacher was sick on the day of our midterm and yada yada yada … Because my friend Natalie and I swore each other to secrecy, I can’t say another word, but you get the idea. No, I’m not talking about geometric proofs or romantic shenanigans. I’m talking about faking it in the kitchen.

I’m sure you have relatives or friends who make all sorts of magic happen in the kitchen. When these magicians want chicken, beef or even vegetable stock, they purchase the bones or celery or what have you and get to work. They might make their own jams, pickles, bread or even cheese. I absolutely admire this Old World attitude, but I can’t pretend like it’s not frustrating to see their kitchen sorcery.

I’m more impressed by their excellent time management skills than their ability to figure out how to make food from scratch. Who has that kind of time at their disposal? These must be the same people who manage to read 52 books a year. I applaud them but also have to try to turn away before my eyes roll right up onto my forehead. 

Again I say: I am a cheater. I make salads using canned veggies for goodness sake. One of my most favorite things to do is to take something delicious and wonderful and strip it down. How can I make a delicious _______ but with as little effort and gymnastics as possible? What I really want to know is how can I cheat? 

My most recent kitchen shortcut is chicken noodle soup. We’ve had perfect chicken noodle soup weather, but these dark skies don’t make me want to stand in the kitchen all day long. I want a soup that tastes great and looks like I’ve devoted my whole life to making it happen. With the extra time you’ll have left over after making this soup you can watch the whole new season of House of Cards – a second time.

Cheatin’ Chicken Soup

Ingredients
3 teaspoons olive oil
3 carrots (medium chopped)
2 celery stalks (medium chopped)
1 chopped onion
1 garlic clove minced
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock (canned!)
1 (8-12 oz) bag of egg noodles … depends how noodle you want the soup
2 cups shredded roasted chicken.

****We need to talk about the chicken! Jewel (and most other grocery stores) sell perfectly delicious shredded chicken in the deli section that will make your soup look like you’re a Bubbe who has been hard at work all day. Or, if you can’t find this, why not use canned chicken? You can find it right next to where the canned tuna. It’s white meat and also completely delicious.

Directions
Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onion. Cook until tender.  Add garlic, oregano, thyme and bay leaf. Stir everything together and cook for a couple more minutes. Stir in your chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in noodles and reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes or until noodles are tender. Add the chicken and give that enough time to warm up (5-10 minutes). Season to taste and remember to remove the bay leaf before you serve.

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J-Strong: The Final Countdown

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02/19/2014

Editor's note: Jamie was brave enough to share her story of learning she had breast cancer with Oy! this past summer. You can read that story here and follow all of Jamie's posts on her blog, J-Strong.

J-Strong: The Final Countdown photo

In the beginning, radiation was flying by and I couldn’t have been happier to see it end. But about halfway through, my feelings about things winding down changed. That’s because counting down the days until it was over also meant we were getting closer to losing my Bubby.

On Christmas Eve, she arrived home from a three-day hospital stay with an around-the-clock hospice nurse. We were told her kidneys were failing and she would only be with us for another week, maybe two or three. As much as we knew this day wasn’t too far into the future, it still came as an absolute shock. Yes, she was 95 years young. Yes, she had been saying for the last few years that she was ready to go. But at almost 96 years old, she was still living alone in her Skokie home of 53 years. She was bored and lonely because she outlived everyone and had stopped driving a few years ago, but still she was otherwise independent. So how could someone go from taking care of her home and getting out and about to suddenly being unable to eat or drink or walk and only having a few weeks to live?

Well, as sudden as it was, if you have to leave this earth – and we all do at some point – this was absolutely the way to do it. Bubby refused to move out of her home over the last few years and said she would die in that house and she did just that. She was able to come home with dignity and grace. She had a hospital bed in the family room and visitors came in and out to say their goodbyes. What is more amazing, however, is that she was completely aware of what was happening. For 95 years old, her body might have been failing her, but her mind was still SO sharp. She always said she didn’t feel her age, and didn’t think her age. We all thought she didn’t look her age either. Again – all reasons this came as such a shock.

Her doctor told her she was dying and she accepted that. It was her time and she couldn’t be more ready. She’s been saying for years that she lived a good life and that was a statement she repeated over and over again these past few weeks. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone nor did she want to slowly turn into someone other than herself. She got her wish. The first two weeks at home, she would tell stories and crack jokes and it was the Bubby we all knew and loved shining through. Honestly, we had missed that personality of hers and we wanted to soak up every minute – even if she did repeat things. It was incredible how she could answer any question you asked, memories of an entire lifetime still fully intact. It is amazing how the repetition that frustrated us over the past year suddenly made us happy just to be hearing her voice.

Ever since my husband and I got engaged, Bubby would constantly say, “I just need to make it to July 20 (our wedding) and then I can go.” Of course, that’s not something you want to hear, and you tell her she’s crazy, she will be around forever, and she will see great grandbabies. But in the back of my mind, I began to worry she might not make it to that day. Well she more than made it – she tore up the dance floor.

After the wedding, she continued to say she was ready to go and we’d continue to give her things to look forward to. She even found herself a new countdown – the end of my treatments.

You see, while I don’t carry the gene, my Bubby had breast cancer too. We were always told it was something she would die with and not from. When you live as long as she did, cancer just happens, but it generally grows too slowly to kill you. Regardless, while she didn’t want any surgery or chemo or any drastic measures taken for any aspect of her health, she still knew what it felt like to have breast cancer. Sure, she might have had a skewed understanding of how cancer works; when I told her my news, she’d say over and over that she wondered how I got mine because of course, she got hers in her car accident when her breast hit the steering wheel.

Regardless, Bubby would ask how many treatments I had left every time we spoke. Even in her last few weeks at home, I would come in and she’d say, “Jame, how many more?” I would tell her and hold up my fingers in case she didn’t hear. She would hold up her fingers back to make sure she got it right and I would nod. She would nod and say “good, then I can go. When I know you’re okay, I can go.” And you know what? She did just that.

The last few days of my treatment, I hated telling her the number. She couldn’t ask it anymore but I could see by the look on her face that she wanted to know, so I would tell her and she would smile and nod. When I got to her house the night after my final treatment, I took her hand and said very loudly that I was all done. She gave a nod, which, while so tiny, was clearly done with all the energy she could muster as she squeezed my hand. Over the next few hours, her breathing became shallower and more labored. As hard as it was to watch, I sat by her side and held her hand. Perhaps her eyes were only watering, but once I could no longer fight back my tears, I smiled through them as I held her hand. She appeared to be crying too. Her eyes were open and she just kept nodding. Maybe it was her restlessness, but I choose to believe that she knew what was coming and was telling everyone it was okay, she was ready.

That entire week, we went home by 9 or 10 p.m., but there was something about last night that made us all unable to leave that house. We had made the decision to spend the night when it was after midnight and we are so glad that we stayed. She stopped breathing at around 1 a.m. We had been anticipating this for weeks, but no matter how prepared we were, in those last few hours it was over in a snap. But she did the two things she said she wanted to do: she died in her home, on her terms, and she waited until she knew I would be okay.

I never used to think I was anything like my bubby. She was so tough and strong and stubborn as hell. I was the softy of the family. But I think these past few weeks made me realize that I get my strength from her. She went through a lot in her lifetime and she always came out stronger on the other side. While I know that everyone in my life has helped me stay J-Strong, I think it is her blood running through my veins that turned me into the strong woman that I never knew I could be. I only hope I live as long as she did and never let go of who I am.

Now it is my turn to repeat what I said at least a hundred times in the past few weeks. I love you, Bubby. And even though she isn’t here to say it, I can hear her voice saying, “I love you more.”

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The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts

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02/17/2014

Weddings are in the spring and summer, so invites are going out soon, and that means you have to go wedding-gift shopping again. Well, we’re here to help. Here are the major categories of Judaica (according to one website, at least…) and my unsolicited advice as to whether they will make good wedding gifts. Of course, everything depends on the bride and groom and how well you know them.

Candlesticks: You can never have too many. If the couple doesn’t use them, they can save them for Friday Night guests. Get nice wooden ones they won’t be afraid of damaging. A travel set is especially useful, and you’ll probably be the only one who thought of it.

Hand-Washing Cup: Depends on their level of observance.

Kiddush cup: A very nice gift that’s practical and pretty. Again, they can let guests use it if they don’t. It’s simple and elegant; neither too formal nor too modern.

The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts photo 3

Kiddush fountains: Unless you have exactly eight diners, they are useless. Also, these are hard to clean and bulky to store.

Challah covers/boards: You have to know the couples’ tastes, or even their dishware. On the other hand, these are relatively cheap. Go for a nice holiday-looking one that says “Yom Tov,” as they may already have a Shabbat one. 

Mayim Acharonim: For the Orthodox couple that you know will get everything else on this list from someone else, sure, but post-meal hand-washing is too obscure a practice for most couples.

Havdalah set: How observant is the couple? If you do give one, be sure to include a candle, and one that fits the holder.

Menorah: I know – they’ll only use it once a year, but it looks nice all year round. Again, it can be used by guests or children (and children of guests). And if you can’t give a menorah as a Jewish wedding gift…

Passover items (seder plates, matzah covers, and Elijah cups): These have a lot of artistic value, but will only be used once a year, if that;  many new couples still celebrate seder at their parents’ or grandparents’ homes.

The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts photo 4

Shofar: It’s loud and too bulky. If they happen to want one, it’s something they’ll want to get in Israel, if they go.

Mezuzah: This is a good housewarming gift, but couples may have very specific design ideas and color schemes in mind for their homes. A mezuzah isn’t just a gift— it’s a piece of décor. Many couples prefer to choose their own.

Kippot: They will most likely have leftover ones from the wedding itself.

Kitel: If the groom has one under the chuppah, he doesn’t need another one. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t even need a first one. Also, this is a gift that only one of the couple can use at a time.

Tallit: This is a traditional gift from one half of the couple to the other.

Yad (Torah Pointer): That’s more of a bar/bat mitzvah gift.

Wall Blessings: Again, more of a décor matter and a common souvenir of an Israel trip.

The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts photo 5

Tzedakah Boxes: It sends a nice message. Get something sturdy, yet pretty, and easy to open when full. 

Donation in their names: I do truly believe that some couples, rather than more things, would want to have someone else also have a nicer day because they got married.

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A Simple Valentine’s Day

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With Nutella pastry cream
02/14/2014

Beshert in Chicago 400

Every year countless of women and men wrack their brains over what to do for Valentine’s Day. Some consider it a typical Hallmark holiday, but the hopeless romantics incessantly search for the perfect date night. The beauty is it does not have to be as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. 

Speaking from experience, Valentine’s Day does not have to be expensive and lavish but instead loving and original. My husband has given me some pretty memorable Valentine’s Days. He has taken me to plays, top Chicago restaurants and given me special gifts. But one of the most memorable Valentine’s Days was one when there were no restaurants, no fancy outfits and no lavish gifts.  

I came over to his house after a 12-hour work day as a server, on the busiest night of the year, exhausted and frankly sick of Valentine’s Day. Adorned in my garlic-infused work uniform and a few splatters of marinara, I walked into the house ready to grab my bottle of wine and go to sleep. Instead, he walked me down the stairs to his basement and revealed his surprise: a room full of lit candles, champagne and handmade chocolate dipped strawberries with a bottle of Reddi-wip.   

The strawberries were adorably messy and irresistibly sweet and the Reddi-wip was just so deliciously perfect. We giggled and sprayed whipped cream at each other and cuddled up to watch a movie. There were no views from the 99th floor of some swanky building, nor were there any fancy outfits. It was us and a simple spread of sweets and laughter. It was just enough.

If I can tell you anything it’s that, on the busiest day in the restaurant world, do yourself a favor and stay in, and while you are at it, whip up this tantalizing dessert. It’s incredibly easy but impossible to resist. Grab a bottle of champagne and go crazy over this sweet and creamy dessert. You can also use this to fill éclairs, cakes, macaroons, puff pastry, filo dough and practically any other fillable dessert you can think of.

A Simple Valentine’s Day photo 1

Nutella pastry cream

Ingredients

3 Cups Whole Milk
1 Cup Sugar
6 Egg Yolks 
1/3 Cup Corn Starch
1.5 Cups Nutella

Instructions  

1. Combine eggs and corn starch in a bowl with a whisk.

2. Pour milk and sugar into a medium-sized sauce pan and bring to a boil.

3. Once the milk boils, pour the milk into the egg mixture one ladle at a time using half of the egg mixture. ***This is called tempering. You want to do this because if you combine the hot liquid with the eggs without tempering they will curdle.***

4. At this point, pour the egg mixture back into the sauce pan and bring it back up to a boil while stirring vigorously with a whisk.

5. Once the pastry cream has thickened up, remove from heat and add Nutella.

6. Pour into beautiful glasses or ramekins and cool until ready to eat.

7. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar and enjoy. 

A Simple Valentine’s Day photo 2

For more posts in our “Beshert in Chicago” series, go here

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Love at First Click

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02/13/2014

Beshert in Chicago 400

I’m serious – it really was love at first click. To me, this is not so different from love at first sight. Blind dating is blind dating, but you get to know someone a little bit better with an online dating profile than, say, participating in speed dating events. Being set up can be nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t consider yourself the blind dating type. With online dating, however, you have a lot more control in a single click – and it can change everything.

Four years ago, I was a single, Jewish man in his mid-20s living in Chicago. I was living the complete bachelor lifestyle, bartending and managing at restaurants and enjoying the night life. I didn’t date much because I wasn’t really looking for anyone. Jewish parents, on the other hand, are always looking. That’s when I received an unusual birthday gift from my mother – a subscription to JDate. 

“Did you know that so-and-so met their spouse on a Jewish online dating website?” my mom would say each time we spoke. “You really should try it; you’ve got nothing to lose!” Who hasn’t gotten sage advice like this from a Jewish parent before? Thanks, Mom. 

At first, however, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was having challenges meeting women, so I felt sheepish about resorting to the taboo that online dating was at the time. And what would happen if I tried and came up empty? 

Creating an online dating profile felt weird, but I gradually began to understand why people like me were doing the same. I was ready for a serious relationship, so I figured to take a risk and put myself out there. Maybe I’d at least go on some fun and entertaining dates and save myself the embarrassment I felt of late at not having attracted anyone’s attention.

Sure enough, if I hadn’t taken the plunge and accepted my mother’s birthday gift, I would not have met my beshert. In that moment, I had no idea I was beginning a journey that would forever change my life.

But it wasn’t that easy. I joined JDate optimistic about finding love, but those dreams slowly melted away with each passing month and every short, intermittent subscription renewal. I eventually reached the end of my online dating rope, hanging on by a thread, growing tired of scrolling through the same profiles and even more tired of one-time dates that amounted to little more than wasted time. Sure, I met a few attractive, fun, humorous and engaging women, but there was no spark, no chemistry, and no desire to keep hanging out. The more I dated, the more comfortable I became walking away from an uneventful date and feeling nothing. So I decided I would take a break. 

On what was to be the last day of my subscription, the end of three years of failed attempts to find myself “the match,” I put together a last-ditch effort to see if there was anyone worth keeping in touch with after my subscription expired. It was 1 a.m. on a weeknight (thank you, bartending schedule) when I began what had to have been my thousandth JDate search, and possibly my last. I entered my search criteria and crossed my fingers that some new faces would come up. 

Her screen name was “Ashcan.” She had blond hair and blue eyes, which, admittedly, was rare. She was, as I would say, “va-va-VOOM!” attractive. I rubbed my palms together like a child preparing to dig into an ice cream sundae with two cherries on top and clicked into her profile. She was Reform, she grew up in Glencoe so we probably had mutual friends – but other than a funny quote or two, she didn’t really fill in the rest of her profile, so I was curious. I had to talk to her. She seemed smart, goal-oriented and funny, so I clicked “Yes.”

For those not in the JDate loop, to “click” with someone else is letting them know you like their profile without having to directly contact them, only to find out they have no interest. This was something I reserved only for special profiles, for girls I knew without question that I was interested in, because if you both click “Yes,” then JDate notifies you of a match and encourages you to chat. 

And that’s what happened right when I clicked “Yes” on Ashley’s profile. We “clicked” right away and my heart fluttered for a moment. Time still of the essence, I scribbled out a message asking her to chat so we could make a date to hang out. I stared at my computer screen, scrolling back and forth, hoping she’d get the message while I was online. I kept looking back to her profile, at her gorgeous blue eyes and wide smile, wondering what might be in store for us on our (possible) future date. I left myself logged in all day and later discovered she had responded. My eyes gleamed as I read her response, and already I began to feel a connection.

I was in disbelief. It was mere minutes before the termination of my subscription – that’s how close I came to missing her. Something inside me said this was not a simple coincidence.

On our first date, I picked Ashley up in my mother’s luxury car to let her know that I meant business, and we hit it off right away. We talked about our families and our childhood upbringings, playing Jewish geography and finding lots in common. I didn’t want the night to end, though I did learn later that Ashley thought I wasn’t so into her. I proved her wrong, however, when I walked her back to the car. She was giving me all the signs: big toothy smile, eyebrows raised, extended eye contact, even batty eyelashes. As we approached the passenger side door, I reached over her shoulder to open the door but quickly closed it, spun her around, pushed her up against the door and laid a fat, juicy kiss on her. Sparks were certainly flying that night. 

Love at First Click photo 2

After I dropped her off, I called my mom and said, “I think I finally met someone, and I want to see her again.” 

“Is she the one?” my mom asked, as she did after every date. 

I rolled my eyes. “Too soon to tell, Mom,” I said wearily, “too soon to tell.”

Well, it wasn’t too soon. A month later we were saying “I love you” and after a year we were living together and talking about getting a puppy. Two years later, I proposed to her, and a year after that, we got married. This summer, we are beyond excited to welcome our baby daughter into the family.

Love at First Click photo 1

Bob & Dawn Davis Photography and Design

The funny thing is, it turns out that Ashley’s friend had set up her JDate profile, clicked “Yes” on mine and encouraged us to date. More importantly, however, is that we made the fateful decision to step out from behind our computer screens and into each other’s lives, and we never looked back. We are proof that online dating, with all its quirks and taboos, can be a true and sincere way to find someone and fall in love. 

Whether you’re looking for social clubs, sports leagues or a romantic partner, the power of human connection can cross all types of boundaries – even technological ones. Many people remember the first time they went out on a date, or what they wore, or the details of that first kiss. I will forever remember and cherish my first “click” with my beshert.

Read more posts in our “Beshert in Chicago” series here.

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Falling Madly

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02/12/2014

Beshert in Chicago 400

It was humorously idyllic before it hit us. We were holding hands, strolling through Lakeview side streets, hopping across elevated tree beds, even running through sprinklers, soaking up the warm last moments of September sunshine. We were giddy and high from each other's company—we would say that the positive energy emanating off of us could be seen from space. And then, as we were crossing Diversey, we were flying. It wasn't love that suddenly hit us, but a Dodge Charger. And we fell, madly.

Like love, I didn't even see it coming. Lying there in the middle of the ruckus of evening rush hour was strange, and I realized that I was screaming. Last I could put together, we were almost across the street. I was looking at oncoming traffic from the right when I was no longer on the ground and being impacted over and over again. I had no control so I let go. "What the fuck just happened?" I noticed I was screaming into the sky over and over again. Reality entered me by way of Dusty's incredulous voice coming into my left ear from the ground next to me. "We were just hit by a car." Yes, that made sense. That's why my head hurt and my back hurt, and ow, my knees. My knees. My knees.

I looked around me for more context and saw Dusty's shoes near my head and strangers aghast, looking at us. I saw a small girl and stopped yelling "What the fuck."

"Sorry!" I instinctively shouted at the mother, who was surprised and reassured me that it was okay, as if to say that if ever a time was right for vulgarities, this was it.

I wanted to get up, and I started to when another woman yelled at us to stay down. Stay lying in the middle of traffic. She was standing on the other side of the street – exactly where I should have been standing right then.

And then a moment occurred that was so much like falling in love. Realizing terror in this banal moment of crossing a street, I felt small and dependent on trusting that the pedestrians around me knew better, that the surrounding cars wouldn't run me over, that I was insured, and that everything would be alright because I was lying next to this guy I met not a month before at the street canvassing job I took out of desperation.

With my head turned to Dusty, his big blue eyes embraced me as he asked, "Are you okay?" 

"Yes, are you?" I answered, not because I wasn't hurting – my whole body pulsed from the impacts from the car's bumper, then the hood, then the pavement and the pavement again – but because he was alive and I was alive and 30 seconds ago we were so enamored with life that it hadn't faded yet.

A woman stood over us and consoled us. I don't remember her name or her face but she was a saint, unselfish with her love that she resonated toward us. The humanness of the experience of being an object in the way of a speeding engine was all I could latch on to. I realized Dusty and I were once again holding hands as we heard fire trucks and ambulances approaching us. It was then that it set in: gratefulness, which eclipsed everything else from that point forward. The young man who hit us stood over me and said he was sorry, that he was so glad we were alive too. I took his hand and assured him there were no hard feelings. I looked at Dusty, thinking perhaps I was being irrational in the moment, but I saw the same gratefulness in his eyes.

Falling Madly photo 2

The scene of the accident

We were strapped onto gurneys and taken away in separate ambulances. They thought I had lost consciousness because I hadn't seen the car coming in the first place, but I finally convinced them that I was lucid albeit disoriented, that my abstract rambling wasn't due to brain damage, but my being an artist.

As they wheeled me into ER at Illinois Masonic, the paramedic announced, "This is Margarita, she's not crazy, she's an artist." A grand entrance – my favorite kind. I expected to be reunited with Dusty, but I was instead stranded alone in what felt like a hallway. Great. Still strapped down, I couldn't look around. All I wanted was to fall into Dusty's warm eyes again, to know that he was really okay.

I finagled my phone from my big gold purse, which the paramedic left between my legs, and found a text from him that he was somewhere in the ER and that they'd told him I was there too.

Should I call my mother? No, I thought. Not until I could reassure her that the doctors said that nothing was broken so I could argue with her about the fact that she had nothing to worry about.

I called my sister Karina in California to confirm that I wasn't being a terrible daughter. She said she wouldn't want to worry her own mother either if she was in that position, but she would let our dad know what happened. I wanted her to know. Our sisterly connection is a magical one—with a father and brothers in common, we linked each other to the similar attributes that we celebrated in each other, including creative oomph and a Soviet callous strength in trying times. 

Just two years before, our teenage brother Eli was killed in an accident when a truck hit the family car on the way to Yosemite. That I survived this naked, without the safety of seat belts and the solid cabin of a minivan, seemed a cruel joke. The universe was a cold, unfair place, and nothing happened for a reason, as I exasperatingly explained to the rabbi at Eli's funeral. Being anything but grateful felt selfish, and being hit with Dusty, an equally optimistic creature, gave me the opportunity to celebrate living.

I finally convinced the doctor to unstrap my head as I didn't feel like I had messed anything up there, since all I could feel was frightening pain in both my knees. I managed to piece together that after bouncing off the Charger's hood, I had landed on my knees and then back on my head. A resident dispensed a strong pill that further sent me on my way to grateful celebration of life.

I finally spotted Dusty across the ER. He was sitting up so I could tell he wasn't paralyzed. We almost died together, I thought. Our relationship wasn't even public knowledge at the office and this was almost my “’till death do us part.” 

While I have never been able to set professionalism aside and dive in with all my heart in workplace romances, fundraising for a nonprofit that sued KKK and neo-Nazi chapters on behalf of their victims was noble work but not my forever. He was my supervisor my first day on the job, and from our first conversation over lunch before our shift, I was swooning over this drummer from Michigan with a gentle spirit I could relate to. 

In the ER, business moved incredibly slowly. We wanted answers by way of X-rays, but the Vicodin softened the anxiety. Dusty was too far away for us to talk directly, but we made due with body language. Flirty glances and coy waves carried us those few hours as we spoke to doctors, policemen and insurance people. We learned that the driver, a local rapper, sped through his left turn to avoid traffic, but never noticed us until we were on his hood. 

At some point, a man near me awoke from his alcohol poisoning and began retching profusely, as I mimed puking at Dusty. I boldly asked every medical assistant at my disposal if they could wheel me next to that handsome boy over there, some of whom didn't know we were brought in from the same accident. We got by, and managed to have a fun rest of our date. 

After X-rays showed no broken bones and we were given prescriptions for more pain killers, we hobbled out of the hospital, and without a second thought headed to his apartment together. To go through whatever came next alone was never a thought for either of us. Over the next few weeks, we set ourselves up in an opium den, him taking care of pain killer timing and me finding a lawyer from Russian radio that we both ended up working with. She set us up with doctors and physical therapists, going to our appointments together. After a few weeks, it was determined that I would need surgery on both knees. His back pain continued, and we were there for each other for every challenge as we nursed each other back to better health. 

Dusty walked my dog when my knees couldn't take it, and I cooked us interesting meals every day, something few boys had ever trusted me to do, but I ended up being pretty good at it. While we both could not return back to working on the streets, somehow our shared resources pulled us through those months. At the Trader Joe's near the scene of the accident, staff who saw it would ask us how we were faring. Friends came to visit us, and we would joke that if they were ever to be hit by a car, to make sure to do it with someone they liked. 

Falling Madly photo 1

Me and Dusty on Halloween weekend 2013, a day before knee surgery

After the pain killers wore off, we returned our attention to work and creative pursuits and what it was that we wanted, really. Dreams of continuing to fall down the rabbit hole of what felt like everlasting love were eventually grounded by lucid thinking. The nuances of our individual pursuits evolved to being on different wavelengths, and that aura we perceived to be blasting goodness across Chicago's wards wained. 

And yet, now that we had been hit together and carried each other through it all, we had become family. No matter what the fight or disparity, we'd always have Diversey. 

And that is how two artists found love in Chicago.

For more posts in our “Beshert in Chicago” series, go here

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Margarita Korol is Artist President at Urban Pop Art Projects, an art studio and public outreach hub headquartered in Chicago with bases in New York and LA. She was named the Chicago Reader's Best New Visual Artist of 2013, and her upcoming project is a new book in her publishing imprint, an illustrated full-length play by New York creative Aleks Degtyarev, Jewish [En]Lightning. The book designed by Margarita and edited by Jewrotica’s Emma Morris is due out this spring. 

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Life, Love and Shawarma

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An Ode to OkCupid and Beshert in Chicago
02/11/2014

Beshert in Chicago 400

I’d never dated a Jewish guy in my life. I’d made a number of international choices with my men—I’d gone out with eligible suitors from India, China, Turkey, Mexico, Spain, Africa and Albania. I liked dating those who were not only different from me, but who also had interests outside of Miley Cyrus and hot dogs.  

But after four years of the college bar scene and the men who frequented it, the delusional dating, and the lack of follow-up, I’d had enough. I decided it was time to ‘get serious’ and date one of my own. After taking a Birthright Israel trip my senior year, I realized I wanted to be able to share my love of Jewish culture, passion for Mediterranean food, and my value in a Jewish identity with a significant other. I didn’t want to have to explain who I really was to somebody; I wanted it to be a mutual, inherent understanding.  

I bought myself a JDate subscription promptly after graduating in 2012. Although just a simple gift to my “adult” self, I had successfully started my mission to date a Jewish boy, and was ready to troll as much as I deemed necessary.  

JDate was an interesting experience, to say the least. It was awkward, time-consuming, and entertaining. The best part was not the men, but the stories I had afterward. After six months of a magician who tried to lure me back to his apartment by showing me card tricks, an Israeli who got back with his ex then came crawling back, a guy with a foot fetish and a plethora of other quirky Jews, I threw in the towel and closed my account.

Before long (two weeks), I had gotten bored with my love life. I couldn’t imagine meeting my beshert the traditional way. Would I meet him in the grocery store, when we both reached for the same box of Fiber One Protein Bars? How about on the El, where the train was so packed that we were actually trying not to touch each other inappropriately on accident?  

I didn’t feel that was in the cards for me. I’m quirky, and I find it takes time to meet somebody I really click with. As a proactive person and somebody who doesn’t have the patience to take part in a real-life rom-com, I decided to take my love life into my own hands and created a new OkCupid profile without much care. I wanted to try without trying. It didn’t cost anything, and there would hopefully a whole new crop of men. Love happens when you’re not forcing it, right?  

In no time, I came across a nice Jewish boy's profile. Jared was in medical school in Chicago, and he liked Mediterranean food. He went to the University of Michigan for undergrad, and I’m from Ann Arbor. Sold. I sent him a message using the wittiest pick-up line I could think of: So, what is your favorite Mediterranean cuisine?  

Apparently, it worked. After exchanging flirty texts over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we met at a bar for drinks. I could tell he was smitten; I thought he was adorable. We talked about the usual: careers, family, friends, Birthright, and food, of course. We reminisced about Israeli shawarma, which we agreed nothing else could live up to, and the search for the best Mediterranean restaurant in Chicago. We decided to find it together (we’re still looking).

Life, Love and Shawarma photo 1

Just the two of us lovebirds

Prior to the date, I had joked that if he brought mistletoe, he’d get a kiss. As he walked me home in the bitter cold and we stopped in front of my apartment building, I knew it was time for the first goodbye. Like the end of every date, the anticipation of what would come next hung over me like a tallit. Would he ask me out again? Would he hug me or dive in for a kiss?  

Even though I wondered exactly how we would say our goodbyes, it felt different this time. I could tell there was no question whether we’d see each other again. It felt easy.  

Jared pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. A picture of mistletoe was printed out on the paper. I stifled my laugh. It was cute, but so cheesy. I felt a little bit awkward. I thought he would have forgotten about it, but I was flattered he wanted the kiss so badly.  

“I searched everywhere for mistletoe, I really did. I couldn’t find it, so I brought you this,” he said. A for effort, I thought. So he got a kiss.  

I went home that night with my cheeks flushed from happiness. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, because things never seemed to work out without complications, but I felt something different. He was more sincere than anybody else I met. He was the real deal.  

So at the beginning of our relationship, I really wanted to impress him. I decided to transform myself into a “domestic goddess.” It’s not that I feel an obligation as a Jewish woman to enjoy cooking, be amazing at it, and use it to find the way to a Jewish man’s heart; it’s also a key to my own happiness. There’s nothing better than turning on Ella Fitzgerald and cutting vegetables!  

I made Jared gourmet dishes like spaghetti Bolognese, swordfish with mango salsa, steak with chimichurri, and even chicken shawarma and falafel burgers. There were always rookie recipe mistakes, but each dish still turned out miraculously delicious.  

Life, Love and Shawarma photo 2

The falafel burgers

Jared loved when I cooked and he still does. I enjoy improvising with my recipes, and he enjoys devouring my dishes, except for baked goods, which is not my specialty (he agrees). Our love of food brought us closer. When we were too lazy to cook, we’d go out and explore Chicago’s best comida. We went to one Mediterranean place, which shall remain unnamed, and Jared’s shawarma tasted like a bad Caesar wrap. We never went back.  

We’re an unsuspecting couple. We’re obsessed with orangutans and enjoy discussing politics. He’s more introverted that I am, and he’s extremely punctual. I am not. But we’re similar in a lot of ways. We’re both passionate about our careers, and we want to be better than great at what we do. Even though it nearly kills me to go a week without seeing him sometimes, I’m so proud of him for what he does. He knows little about public relations, but he knows I love it and that passion fuels my work.  

Jared is also a great listener, a quality which is a rarity these days. When somebody can completely tune everything else out and really listen to what you’re saying, it makes you feel like you’re the only thing that matters. He genuinely cares, and that makes my heart sing.  

Life, Love and Shawarma photo 3

Us at a Mediterranean cooking class we took at the Chopping Block!

More than one year later, through our differences in the cosmic Judaic universe, we are still dedicated to finding the best hummus in the Windy City. I’ll never forget why I first messaged Jared, or how my silly question ended up being catalyst of something that connects us and makes our love stronger.  

Is Jared my beshert in Chicago? Only time – and tabbouleh – will tell.  

For more posts in the “Beshert in Chicago” series, go here.  

Rachel Krasnow is from Ann Arbor, Mich. and graduated in 2012 from Indiana University-Bloomington with a dual degree in Spanish and journalism. As a Chicagoan, she works in public relations and enjoys writing, karaoke, eating, dancing, and sarcasm.  

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Braiding True Love

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02/10/2014

Beshert in Chicago 400

I always thought that I would marry someone Jewish. It seemed like a given; USY and Hebrew school classes were sometimes dedicated to teaching us about the challenges of marrying outside the faith. I was on board, and my beshert would surely be Jewish. My true love would naturally have an affinity for my first love, Judaism.

Well, I didn’t stick to only dating Jewish girls. I frankly didn’t find myself more or less attracted to someone just because they were or were not Jewish. I told myself that when it was time to settle down, I would find a Jewish girl then. A few years after college, a friend urged me to get on JDate because she was concerned I was getting close to that settling down time. I met a lot of wonderful Jewish women through JDate, but unfortunately, none of the relationships clicked.  

Then I met Rose. We shared an office together. She was new to Chicago, so I thought I would be nice and invite her along to hang out with my friends. I liked that she was easygoing about everything and always content to just come along and be present. Others eventually began to wonder what was going on between us, and over time, I did too. So I asked her out.  

I found Rose to be beautiful and patient. She provided me with a sense of calm and peacefulness when we were together and taught me to appreciate the simple joys of life. One Sunday night after a long and exhausting weekend of skiing up in Wisconsin, we got home and she baked cookies. I asked her how she could possibly have the energy to bake cookies, and she said she had been thinking about and looking forward to baking them the whole ride home. I knew she was perfect for me, because she challenged me to take time, relax, and just enjoy the small things, like the smell of baking cookies.  

But Rose wasn’t Jewish. So I decided to make my intentions known early, around our second or third date. I matter-of-factly explained that I was Jewish. I did Jewish things like keeping kosher and going to synagogue. I had been raised to marry a Jewish woman and was planning to marry a Jewish woman. She turned her head away and wouldn’t look at me and I felt a pit in my stomach. What made perfect sense in my mind a second before suddenly felt more complex, and I worried we might be ending things right then and there. After a long silence, she told me that I needed to figure this out in a tone that signaled almost as much confusion as disappointment. She didn’t feel that it was fair of me to wait for her to convert to Judaism before allowing myself to see our relationship as something serious.  

Rose was right. I was setting up the rest of our relationship on a conditional basis. If she was not Jewish, it would not work; if she was Jewish it would work. But in her patient, loving way – or perhaps just because she knew better than me – Rose gave me time to figure it out. And time turned out to be the best thing for me.  

The longer we were together, the more I questioned why marrying someone Jewish was an absolute must for me. Since we had started dating, I had become more active in synagogue life, Jewish observance, and had even started working for a Jewish nonprofit; she hadn’t inhibited my connection to my faith.  

As I grew and our relationship unfolded, I came to understand that more than a Jewish partner, I wanted a Jewish home. Granted, the task of building a Jewish home is simpler with a Jewish partner, but I was beginning to believe that it wasn’t a requirement. Rose and I were living together, hosting holiday and Shabbat meals and attending Jewish events where Rose had even learned to follow along with some of the blessings and prayers. If she could be on board with being an active partner in building this Jewish home, then I could accept that she may never become Jewish herself. When I shared this with her, we went through the difficult task of really clarifying what that meant for both of us.  

This meant, for example, that I needed her to be there on Friday night when we sat down to Shabbat dinner as a family. For her, it meant I couldn’t disown our kids if they made different choices about how to observe Judaism. For both of us, it meant building a home where each of our family values and traditions was respected and honored. It was an important and difficult conversation for us to have.  

Sometime after that conversation, I came home on a Friday afternoon to find myself barred from our kitchen. Rose said to stay out because she had a surprise for me. Curiosity got the best of me, however, and I wandered inside. The first thing I saw was an empty mixing bowl and several measuring cups in the sink. Up on the counter were a half-empty bag of flour, a bottle of oil and eggs. Then I saw Rose, rolling dough into long strands and braiding them together. She had gone online and taught herself how to make challah from scratch.  

In that moment, I knew that she understood what I needed in an active partner for my Jewish home. That was the day I decided I would marry her.

Braiding True Love photo 2

Today, as an interfaith couple married for more than three years, we continue to work on the process of defining what it means to build our Jewish home together while respecting and honoring both of our traditions. I’m still Jewish. I’m no less Jewish than I was before I met Rose. Rose is still not Jewish and has become no more so than before she met me.

It is my belief that you either identify or don’t identify with Judaism, or any religion for that matter. Whether someone is born into a faith or converts into it, at some point, they still must choose to believe. You can debate the boundaries of what it means to be or not to be Jewish, you can identify a continuum around observance, but observance doesn’t define religion. I don’t become less Jewish because I break a mitzvah any more than Rose becomes more Jewish by completing one; this doesn’t stop us from building a value system and creating traditions for our family rooted in that understanding.  

Braiding True Love photo 1

2010 Bluefly Lens

Friday nights, we say kiddush together because welcoming Shabbat is an important event for me. We also visit with Rose’s parents on Christmas and exchange gifts because spending family time on the holidays is important to Rose. Through it all, we still use the same challah recipe, printed on the exact same paper from the day she first made it. It’s the most requested item on Shabbat and the holidays by all of our friends – Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

For more posts in the “Beshert in Chicago” series, go here.

Braiding True Love photo 3

2010 Bluefly Lens

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Say Yes to the … Breastplate?

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Tetzaveh
8 Adar I 5774 / Feb. 7-8, 2014
02/07/2014

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we find detailed instructions for how to go about creating vestments for the High Priest (Aaron) and his sons, as well as how to consecrate and ordain them as the nation’s priests. Theoretically, this is a logical follow-up to last week’s portion, where we learned about constructing the Tabernacle and its accompanying ritual items. The Israelites built a beautiful Tabernacle – now they needed folks charged with its upkeep/maintenance and to oversee the offerings made there.

I’ve admittedly always struggled with the notion of priesthood, as in some ways it seems to suggest an inherent class difference. And yet, I can somewhat understand that in a time period where animal sacrifice was the norm, having experienced animal “sacrificers” who would be charged with overseeing the process makes sense. The alternative, frankly, could be very messy…

As Judaism eventually embraced prayer-based worship rather than sacrifice-based worship, the ancient rabbis helped fill the leadership void vacated by the priests (and prophets). But prayer was something that everyone could participate in, and didn’t necessarily require specialized “offerers” (although some might argue that cantors have helped fill that role). With time, something truly beautiful has transpired: it is no longer just “professionals” who have the ability to make meaningful contributions to the success of the Jewish people’s created structures, as was the case in antiquity; rather, everyone has the ability to meaningfully contribute. Many of the perceived class differences have faded with time, and opportunities for volunteer leadership are endless.

This Shabbat, reflect on the following:

Which structures in your life have significant meaning/value?

Who are the caretakers of such structures?

Are you willing/interested/able to step up and take on leadership roles to ensure their success?

Wishing you a Shabbat shalom,  
Rabbi Dan 

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Social Media: Use It, Don’t Abuse It

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02/06/2014

Social Media: Use It, Don’t Abuse It photo 1

“Use TIME’s calculator to see just how many days of your life have been lost to this ten-year-old.” 

This was the headline that extended across my computer screen last week. One of my friends sent me a post from Time Tech with a calculator that computes how much time you have wasted on Facebook in the past 10 years. The device, called the Facebook Time Machine, was shared with the world one week prior to Facebook’s 10th birthday, which we “celebrated” on Tuesday. I decided to let this machine calculate how much of my life had been spent reviewing pictures from the past weekend, posting links on my friends’ walls, and reading statuses that either make me laugh or question the person’s sanity (usually the latter). The results were not even a little pretty.  

According to this website, I had wasted 79 days, 20 hours, and 10 minutes on Facebook since 2006. This was based off of me averaging less than an hour a day on Facebook. “Facebook is 3,649 days old. You've belonged for 2,878 of them and posted 13,101 things to your feed in that time.” 

Yikes.

Take a moment to process that information. Think of everything I could have done with all of that time. What do I have to show for these wasted days? There is an old adage from Bertrand Russell – “the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time,” but I am certain that the large amount of time that I have spent on social media hasn’t all been enjoyable. Sure, it has its moments: playing catch-up with old friends, accessing news fast, seeing moments captured that you wouldn’t otherwise see, etc. Social media platforms make it easy to view what you want to in a quick and streamlined manner. 

That being said, it also leads you to access things that you wish you never saw, some of which personally makes my skin crawl. I never want to insult anyone’s creativity or freedom to share his or her thoughts (anyone could be reading this and thinking the same thing about me, though I really hope you aren’t), but I think there is a certain point where it is just too much (or in some cases, not enough).

In my mind, the two biggest problems with social media (ab)use is redundancy and the depth (or lack thereof) of content, which contributes to oversharing. I don’t want to see 20 plus screenshots of the iPhone weather app or the temperature gage in your car each day. I know it’s ridiculously cold and that no sane person wants to deal with this weather. I am also aware that professional sports teams play games quite frequently. Posting the name of the team you root for without any other pertinent information doesn’t prove your fandom; rather, it suggests a lack of deeper knowledge of the team or sport. Quality is much more important than quantity in this sense. If you have something witty, aesthetically pleasing, or thought-provoking to share about a general topic, I don’t see anything wrong with sharing – within moderation. It’s not absurd to post a picture of the most beautifully presented and delicious stack of pancakes you ever tasted, but if you catalog every meal on social media, it’s likely to annoy some people.

Just as generic, unoriginal posts can become irritating, sharing content that goes way too far in detail about your personal life, struggles, etc. can also be a source of frustration. I understand that some people feel it’s a viable outlet for their complaints, but what happened to the good, old-fashioned heart-to-heart with a friend? I understand that receiving validation for your thoughts and experiences has appeal. The wasted time I have allegedly spent on Facebook in the past eight years alone makes me a contributor to the problem, both as a validator and someone who wants to feel validated. I could email this very blog to my closest family and friends, but you better bet that I am going post it on Facebook and Twitter so more people see it and hopefully share it.

Social Media: Use It, Don’t Abuse It photo 2

I might sound hypocritical, but the difference is that I try to use discretion in the types of things that I share to a network that is comprised of countless people I don’t know that well. I have trouble understanding why some people choose to share sagas containing highly personal information to a network of acquaintances instead of with someone with whom they have a deep personal connection.

I know at times I need to take my own advice, but I urge everyone to think for a moment before posting something online. When someone looks at your handle on any social media platform, it is, quite basically, a summary of you: your thoughts, experiences, passions, etc. Do you really want to be thought of as that guy our gal who posts “ughhhhhh” or “Go BuLLzzzzz” once a week? Probably not. Try to channel these instincts into picking up a phone or meeting a friend in person to share your excitement or grievances. Save the social media over-sharing for the times when it’s appropriate: huge life accomplishments, the occasional crowdsourcing, and extraordinary out-of-the box experiences, like when the Cubs (eventually) win the World Series. On that day, I won’t even care if you choose to share a screenshot of the weather.

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Groundhog Day All Over Again

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02/05/2014

Groundhog Day All Over Again photo 1

When people ask me what my favorite movie is, I shudder. I hate that question. In fact, don’t ever ask me what my favorite anything is. The things I love in this world have a depth of variety and a multi-faceted nature that make it impossible to anoint one as “the best.” Ask me what “some of my favorite movies” are, however, and I will eventually tell you Groundhog Day.

As anyone who loves this sometimes romantic, sometimes black, always clever comedy starring Bill Murray and directed by Harold Ramis will tell you, there are hundreds of reasons Groundhog Day is a great movie. Personally, I’m always fascinated by high-concept stories that require a suspension of disbelief and defy logic in order to explore big ideas. Groundhog Day leaves us no choice but to ponder what we would do if we were forced to relive the same day over and over again.

Sometime after falling in love with Groundhog Day, I was surprised to learn that despite taking place in Punxsutawney, Penn., the movie was filmed in Woodstock, Ill., but as a Chicagoan and suburbanite my whole life, I assumed any town in Illinois I’d never heard of was “down south,” a long ways away with the rest of non-Chicago Illinois. As it turns out, Woodstock is 60 miles northwest of the city, just an hour and 20 minutes away, and it turned out I knew someone who not only lived there, but also whose dad chaired the town’s annual Groundhog Day committee.

Yes, Woodstock, Ill. has an annual Groundhog Day celebration on Feb. 2 during which a real, living groundhog is asked to report on the appearance of his shadow, all of which occurs in the very town square where Groundhog Day was filmed. Walking tours are offered and famous locations from scenes in the film are marked all throughout town, from the inn where Phil Connors (Murray) wakes up each day (which is now reportedly for sale) to the doozy of a puddle he constantly steps in while crossing the street.

In other words, it’s a movie nerd’s dream. Ok, this movie nerd’s dream, and one he didn’t know he had until he and his girlfriend were cordially invited to stay in Woodstock that weekend to witness the Groundhog Day spectacle.

Groundhog Day All Over Again photo 2

 

In front of the “Cherry Street Inn” where Bill Murray’s character stayed in the movie.

 

Groundhog Day All Over Again photo 3

We drove in the night before and went bowling at the alley that appears in the film, then woke up at 6 a.m. (our alarm set specifically for that time) to be in town for the prognostication at 7:07 a.m. After learning we’d have six more weeks of winter (duh, just look outside), we partook in a community breakfast attended by screenwriter Danny Rubin and actor Richard Henzel, who voiced one of the radio DJs that Phil wakes up to every morning. Henzler, a yearly attendee of the Woodstock festival, proudly did a live performance of the words for which he will forever be remembered.

Walking around downtown Woodstock that day (Groundhog Day no less) was like being in the world of the movie, and when we went to the free screening at the local theater, I felt a whole other level of connection to the film. There is definitely something spiritual about being “on the set” of one of your favorite films. Forgive the lofty comparison, but it was a lot like setting foot at the Western Wall for the first time, the recognition that the place where you stand once played host to something awesome, something bigger than yourself, something you treasure.

Groundhog Day All Over Again photo 4

 

Just before the Groundhog Day prognostication in Woodstock, Ill. the morning of Feb. 2, 2014.

A complete outsider might laugh at the town of Woodstock for milking its one (and likely only ever) claim to fame, but seeing the townspeople and the tourists who flocked there, many of who say they have seen the film at least 40 times, the Groundhog Day celebration is clearly about more than perpetuating a city’s 101 minutes of fame. Attending the sold-out breakfast with polka musicians and a Woodstock Willie mascot as entertainment, you quickly understand that it’s about the community and togetherness that something as simple as a movie can create.

When Rubin, the screenwriter, was asked to speak on a couple occasions that morning, you could see his humility. A screenwriter never imagines that his work will be honored and preserved in this way, he said. Even when he probably first learned his script had been picked up and drawn the interest of the director of Vacation and Caddyshack, he still could not have imagined that this little idea for a story in his head would ever become an entire town in northern Illinois’ pride and joy. That’s testament to the power of movies.

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Local Man Enjoys Dinner On The Road For “Just One”

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02/04/2014

The Woes of Being an Introvert and Other Shenanigans photo

CHICAGO, IL—When one is a self-proclaimed introvert (because they wouldn't want to ask anyone else to proclaim it), doing activities out and about can be a bit of a bother. Sources have confirmed, however, that introverted East Lakeview resident Adam Daniel Miller recently went out to dinner by himself, remarkably managing to have a good time.

As it turns out, Miller often has to travel for work and found himself in the glorious, majestic land of Elkhart, Ind. in early January of this year – a town where no one would willingly spend their time but would accidentally spend their entire life. In wanting to keep himself alive, Miller has dinner every night he is on the road, but is often relegated to drive-thrus and room service to save himself from the awkwardness of dining out alone. However, it was learned that due to the hype of a local small brewery that was forcibly suggested to him by one of his clients, Miller was pressured into visiting said brewery as an obligation stemming from his inability to not talk about his passion for beer.

So on a cold Midwestern evening, he figured he'd take a chance at being a party for "just one." The term "party" carries a great irony because these "parties" are often patrons out with their families and loved ones with the intention to bicker and spat while digesting moderately priced food and watered-down adult beverages they could have made at home for a fraction of the cost, both monetarily and emotionally.

Miller considered bringing a book to the evening meal but instead opted to bring just his smart phone. We have recently become aware that the smart phone is in fact not actually smart, but rather as smart as the user using the phone. With that being said, in Miller's case, it would be more appropriate to call it a potentially smart phone. With it, he took the time to catch up on his Facebook and scroll through his Twitter since it had been nearly 48 seconds since he had last done so. Additionally, he took the time to peruse his favorite website, Oy!Chicago.com, an online community for Jews in the Loop, the subtitle being a clever play on words referring to the downtown area of Chicago known as "The Loop" while simultaneously referring to the community of Jews that make up the site.

The restaurant/brewery in question that Miller was spotted in is known as Iechyd Da. To pronounce it properly, we asked local patrons who said to stop asking. Upon taking a look at the menu, it has been said that Miller took some pleasure in knowing that he wouldn't have to share the pizza he ordered and was satisfied at his public display of gluttony. Local eye witness accounts of the evening recall Miller as he ate.

"I didn't even notice him," quipped Elkhart resident Ash Williams. Talking to the bartender, it was discovered that Miller enjoyed the beer so much that he went as far as purchasing a pint glass with the logo of the brewery on it as a memento of his delightful, solo experience. And while reports indicate that Miller already has his go-to pint glass at home that he fills with delicious beer, it is safe to assume this new  pint glass will only be filled with delicious dust.

After dinner, Miller was reportedly seen taking himself out in an attempt to enjoy some more individual shenanigans. Instead, he just saw a movie, where he somehow was the only patron for that particular showtime, something that has only happened, reportedly (again), one other time in his life. Reportedly one last time, that was a considerable amount of having an evening for "Just One" to the point of uncomfortability, a word that has been made up to describe the situation.

As to whether or not it was the perfect evening, when reached for further comment, Miller simply had to say, "Unfortunately, I drank a little more than I expected and accidentally made myself a tease." 

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Connection

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02/03/2014

What’s the key to happiness? Is it winning a million bucks? Or maybe eating large amounts of chocolate and not gaining any weight? 

Of course not. The key, experts say, is connection. Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that perhaps the largest indicator of happiness is building strong relationships with other people, as author Gretchen Rubin tells us in her 2009 book, The Happiness Project. 

So with connection in mind, this month, JUF News is broadening the scope of its annual issue on love, traditionally focused on romantic relationships, to explore many kinds of strong bonds—those between friends, parents and their kids, and romantic partners as well.

And who is more blessed than we are, as members of the Jewish community, with the tools to build such strong connections? 

From the day I moved to Chicago more than 13 years ago, I joined an extensive network of Jews living in this great city, and each year, my circle grows wider and deeper. We connect at Shabbat dinners, synagogue, volunteer activities, Jewish parties, JUF trips to Israel, LEADS—YLD’s vibrant, young adult networking tool —and, of course, through good ole Jewish geography.

I’m comforted by the commonalities of connecting with fellow members of the tribe. We connect through our family members having survived the pogroms in Russia or the Holocaust. We connect through our love of Israel and our shared favorite haunts on Ben Yehuda Street. We connect through our ability to break into the same Jewish camp song in unison at any given moment. We connect because we know we’ve been taught that it’s how we treat one another that counts—and that all the rest is commentary. We connect, thank God, through our funny bone—our God-given abundant sense of humor. And we connect through growing up on brisket--only your mom prepared yours with ketchup and mine used tomato sauce.

Along the journey, my Jewish friends and I have had more good times than I could ever count or even recall—and that’s icing on a really delicious Manischewitz cake.

But connecting with one another isn’t only about the good times. It’s when things get dark that we really need to be there for each other.

Back in 2004, Gabrielle Birkner’s father and stepmother were murdered during a home invasion. Gabi, one of my dearest friends in the world, was just 24 at the time. A fellow Jewish journalist I met in undergrad at Northwestern, Gabi had been writing obituaries for a local newspaper, when her own family’s story became the subject of the beat she had once covered as a distant observer. A decade later, Gabi has transformed some of her grief into something positive and beautiful, by co-founding—along with Rebecca Soffer who also unexpectedly lost her parents—the new website Modern Loss. Their site presents resources and blogs on coping with the painful topic of loss--so often avoided or misunderstood—in a candid, relevant, and fresh way.

Over the years, I’ve seen too many friends, like Gabi, experience pain and loss. But, each time, I watch our network of friends mobilize to help our struggling friend find hope and inspiration that can transcend horror and loss, and forge new bonds.

As I get older, I see more and more great blessings, but I also witness more sadness too. In fact, I have yet to meet a person who is immune to hardship.

I wish you a life overflowing with simchas, but it’s comforting to know that when life gets turbulent, we’re part of a community that’s there to help vanquish the dark.

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