OyChicago blog

To share or not to share

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Deciding about a baby’s privacy online


Jane Charney photo

Before my son was born, I swore I wouldn’t add to the legion of mommy bloggers. And I’m still hoping to focus on issues only tangentially related to babyhood.

Still, while I’m on maternity leave, my universe has shrunk to just a couple hundred square feet (with occasional walks in the neighborhood and a trip to the doctor’s office thrown in the mix). And time moves ever so slowly in the breastfeeding chair.

So I’ve had lots of time to ponder all kinds of questions. One of the foremost issue son my mind has been my child’s privacy. Sure, Oy!Chicago announced his birth along with the birth of fellow blogger Rachel Friedman’s son, but since then, mum’s been the word on Ron’s adventures in babyhood—on Oy!, on Facebook, on Google+, on Twitter, or any other social media.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t announce the impending arrival of our son on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else—unlike most of my friends or, if we’re keeping it realistic, most of my generation. Passing references to not being able to travel by plane for some time don’t count.

For me, social media moved out of the realm of the personal and into the professional universe several years ago. I cultivate a particular persona on Facebook and Twitter, one that has a decidedly Jewish, pro-Israel voice that occasionally (ok, all the time) promotes my organization’s events, shares articles on everything from Israeli innovations to the challenges of preserving a distinct Russian-Jewish identity in America.

Very occasionally, I post photos of myself or announcements of non-work events I’m attending. That’s largely to keep my friends from completely losing faith in my ability to turn off the Jewish professional side of my personality.
Now that our son is here (oy, it’s still a little bit weird that I can call someone “my son”) I’ve ignored the several hundred requests to “please post lots of pics soon.” We announced his birth and his name the sort-of old-fashioned way: via phone calls and a mass email sent to family and friends. And information about the brit milah also did not seep onto social media.

Several reasons drive our decision to limit Ron’s exposure on social media:

1. I want to give him the choice, eventually, on how much to share about himself.

2. I don’t want to mix him into my professional social media presence.

3. I don’t want my child’s pictures exploited for others’ gain, such as the new practice of Facebook ads using personal photos within one’s network.

4. My husband is in IT security, and we’ve become paranoid about information over-sharing and theft.

I occasionally have moments when I yearn to share the latest trick he learned with the world. Those mostly come at hour 7 of being alone with him. That’s when I call friends or my mother. I’ve also been training myself to write down everything he does or learns so I can send emails to family and friends detailing his accomplishments.

Still, my Facebook and Google+ feeds are loaded with pictures of friends’ babies—seems like everyone and their mother decided to procreate in 2012! That’s why I conducted a completely unscientific survey of friends’ preferences when it comes to sharing their child’s photos and updates.

Not surprisingly, a large number of friends who are parents carefully curate who sees what within their network. Now that Facebook has some increased privacy functionality and allows users to designate special groups for various types of content, parents within my network have taken advantage of this feature. Google+ is even easier: the functionality to limit exposure was built-in.

There’s a caveat, which my friend and occasional Oy! blogger Anna Abramzon noted: “once your child has friends and play dates and birthday parties, there's really no way to keep their pictures off social media entirely.” Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

Another parent, former colleague Brooke Mandrea, quipped: “[Sharing photos] was the main reason I joined Facebook. How was I going to show off the kid as a sleep deprived new mom? Like others I keep it very controlled. It also helps with my litmus test for ‘friending’ people: do I want to wish them Happy Birthday AND show them pictures of my kids.”

Still others said that it’s an extremely personal decision for every parent. One friend noted that he only shares photos of his daughter with the family and friends who actually requested to see them. Another said she posts photos to a locked album on a photo-hosting site, while occasionally writing status updates with funny things her daughter says.

Despite these reasonable explanations, I’m comfortable with our decision for now. As our son grows, we’ll probably re-evaluate and change our minds a million times.

Readers, what do you think? Do you share news of your child’s accomplishments or post photos?


Goodbye, Dear Friend

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Is my dog Jewish? photo

I bid farewell to one of my oldest and dearest friends. He could not speak, but he had a mighty roar. He held no grudges, but carried a world’s worth of love in his eyes. In the end, he could not hear, but always trusted his nose. He could not cry, but we knew it was time. My family made the painful decision to lay our dog, Archie, to rest this week.

Some might recall Archie’s brief moments of YouTube stardom, in which he debuted his special talent for single-handedly scarfing down an entire challah in OyChicago’s Hanukkah promo video. Others might remember my ode to Archie back in 2010, in which I questioned the relationship between faith and pets in my article, “Is my dog Jewish?” In the article I half-jokingly criticized people’s obsessions with their pets—and let’s face it, my own.

Goodbye, Dear Friend photo

Archie, a blonde cocker spaniel-poodle mutt born on a farm in Iowa and raised in a Jewish suburb of Chicago, liked romping through grass, catching bugs, eating challah and matzah, and was always up for a good cuddle. His neurosis surfaced when left alone, when watching others hug and when one made eye contact with him for too long. Archie was a seductive flirt and always got what he wanted: a scratch under his belly or behind the ears. He feared most men—likely because he lived in a house of nearly all women. Archie also was unaware that he, himself, was a dog. Thus he also feared most dogs—including those smaller than he. Generally, Archie’s life consisted of an insatiable quest for love from humans, and we fed him generously.

When he passed, my mom donated most of Archie’s belongings such as his leash, but kept two items: She held onto a blue neckerchief with white Jewish stars that she put on Archie during the Jewish holidays. She also kept Archie’s blue stocking that she hung above our fireplace during Christmas alongside mine and my sisters’—all filled with Hanukkah gelt. (This was my mom’s confusing method for making us, Jews, feel included during Christmastime.)

We first got Archie about 15 years ago. He was born on Mother’s Day, but we had to wait the allotted number of weeks for him to wean. I was 13 and still in braces. My older sister surprised us with him on a trip home from college at the University of Iowa. She got him from a farm in a nearby town. At the time, my family was struggling to recover from the loss of our previous pet, Rosie, a Shar Pei who lived a short and fragile life marked by health problems. Archie, a mutt from the farm, showed promise of a long and sturdy life, and that, he had.

Archie and I supported each other through our awkward years. I tortured him with sweaters and Halloween costumes and he wriggled out of them and loved me anyway.

My sisters were older and they spent less time with Archie during his formative years. One of my sisters, who was not Archie’s biggest fan, was unaware that Archie schooled himself on spite while she was away. She came home from college one weekend and Archie walked into her doorway, took one look at her, peed, and walked out. Welcome home!

Dogs are intuitive; they give what they get, and then they give some more. My mom and I were reflecting today that Archie related to each of us in our family differently, based on how we interacted with him. My oldest sister took on the role of Archie’s original mother figure that swept him away at a young age from the farm into his new life. He knew no boundaries with her and their attachment ran deep. Whereas, my mother was the nurturer and bearer of discipline—Archie knew he couldn’t mess with her. My dad was the play pal. I was the affectionate cuddle buddy who always snapped pictures of him. Archie would never dare pee in my doorway…though he would get into mischief.

At my book club this week, we discussed that living with a significant other before marriage can be a true test of a relationship because even after a bad day, you have to face that person—whereas if you’re just dating, you can avoid them until you’re shiny and happy. Pets are the opposite of impatient lovers. They insistently nuzzle you with love when your cheeks are streaked with tears and your world is crashing around you.

Nothing can prepare you for the love that develops for a pet over the years of its life. Similarly, nothing can prepare you for the great loss felt by that pet’s absence. One day, a veterinarian declares your pet unfit for life and then you feel guilty for every indecisive minute thereafter that you are keeping him alive.

Had we opened our eyes sooner, we might have acted sooner—only because Archie endured a lot of pain these last few months of his life. This regret now haunts us.

We had eyes, but could not see. We had hearts ill-prepared to break.


One last summer at camp

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Lauren Schmidt photo

A little less than a month ago, I sat in a crowded stadium as the dean of students called my name, deeming me officially a “post grad,” “adult” and lots of other words that I am in still in denial about associating with myself. Over the course of commencement weekend, the infamous question of “what are you doing after graduation?” that I had been asked approximately ten thousand times since the start of my senior year was brought up more than ever. However, instead of brushing it aside, mumbling something about how I was “working at camp, but looking for a full-time job for fall, don’t worry” and immediately harvesting anger towards anyone and everyone for pestering me with this question, I smiled and explained that I was going to have a new position of managing the communications and social media at my former overnight camp.

I am not sure what exactly prompted this shift between being embarrassed that I hadn’t even started applying to full-time jobs to being unconditionally happy that I am spending my summer in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, but I somehow came to this realization. After being at camp for about three weeks, I am certain that no matter what life stage I am passing through, it is a smart decision to be at one of the places I love the most and an even smarter decision to be in a position that I am so passionate about.

Jewish camp is something that is a phenomenon and consequentially, it is challenging to accurately verbalize its importance. I used to think that Jewish camps provided Jewish kids with a home away from home over the summer and a place to grow up and feel comfortable in their own skin. I still think this is one of the most important purposes of Jewish camp, but as I get older, I realize there is much more to it. Camp is something that remains constant when the world around you changes. Not only is it physically the same place, even with the minor structural or programmatic changes from year to year, but the feeling and atmosphere of camp remains the same. I still walk past the same trees that I did as a camper, swim in the same pool, and enjoy some of the same activities. I can say that although I am a completely different person than I was when I first came to camp 14 years ago, I still get the same feeling when I pull through the gates and the same camp chills from being at a place that is so special.

So, while most of my class entered their first full-time job, packing up their childhood rooms and preparing to rent their first “real” apartment, I spent a few hours packing up the same duffels I’ve used forever, threw them in my trunk, and drove three hours to the Wisconsin Dells. Instead of sitting on the train for half an hour commuting to a desk downtown, my commute is about a two minute walk from my cabin to my office desk. Instead of daily or weekly happy hours, my breaks mostly entail eating pizza with camp friends, dancing in the dining hall, and sitting on the porch of the camp office for hours talking about whatever is on my mind. Sure, to the untrained eye, this may seem ridiculous. Why would anyone give up that sense of newness, independence, and freedom in their early 20s? Why would I trade the glamour of city life for a few months here?

After living in Washington DC for four years and dealing with the hustle and bustle of daily life, I can tell you that there is a certain beauty in holding onto a utopian-like setting and a place that brings out youthfulness. Of course, it’s a plus to be in a position that I feel will benefit my career, but in the end camp is camp and it is the ideal setting to spend a summer.

I know that someday, and by someday I mean most likely in seven weeks, my 14-year run at camp will be over. I know that I am going to miss this place terribly, as I transition to “real adulthood,” but until then I plan on enjoying every second I spend on camp’s gravel roads, cherishing the nights walking beneath the stars, and appreciating the humid days beneath the sun, because before I know it, I will be saying goodbye…but hopefully not forever.


Social Media— A Mechanism to Effectuate Real and Meaningful Change

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

The Chicago Tribune recently published an article titled, “Social Media a Godsend For Those with Rare Disease” which featured a Chicago area woman who retreated into cyberspace when diagnosed with a rare heart condition called SCAD— Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. Using the mouse as her guide, within a few moments, she was able to find support, encouragement and relevant information about her disease.

Now more than ever, individuals with rare diseases are finding the critical and necessary information and support to better manage illness. When health care providers are unable to fulfill those needs, the web-based community is ready and willing steps in.

In December 2010, I was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer called Gray Zone Lymphoma, a disease that has only been officially recognized since 2008, and affects less than 300 people in the United States. As a result of the newness and rarity of this cancer, my doctors and team of specialists were unable to provide me with statistics that could provide further insight into my illness.

In this case, not only did the medical community have little information to offer about my disease, but the web-based community was unusually quiet. After many sleepless nights and hours spent scouring the internet, I was finally able to connect with four other “Gray Zoners” on Facebook.

The lack of research, statistics, and evidence-based practice related to my disease, led me to feel empowered to write my own story. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the lack of viable information, I made the conscious decision to educate, inform, and raise awareness about this disease. Social media in essence was my soapbox.

Throughout treatment I used various social media platforms to open up about my hopes and dreams and everything in between. I discussed the hardships and triumphs while undergoing various procedures, scans, and 720 hours of chemotherapy. I discussed fertility issues, relationships, and the complexities surrounding re-emerging into the world after enduring a year of profound sickness and isolation.

Nothing was off limits. There was no topic I wasn’t willing to discuss or share. And through sharing came increased vulnerability and through increased vulnerability the world opened up.

Upon completing treatment in May of 2011, I was determined to give back and in a big way. On June 3, 2012, also known as National Cancer Survivors Day, “Twist Out Cancer— a support community with a twist on cancer” was officially launched.

Twist Out Cancer (TOC) leverages social media to help survivors and their loved ones combat the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that often accompany cancer diagnoses and treatment. TOC provides a forum through which anyone affected by cancer can share thoughts, experiences, stories, and insights, allowing for the exchange of ideas, encouragement, and wisdom from one community member to another. Twist Out Cancer provides survivors and supporters with the necessary information and support that they may not be able to get through their health care providers. It meets the need that I recognized early on, and creates a community of shared experiences and hope.

This past week I have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in the ROI Summit in Jerusalem which brings together 150 young social innovators from around the world. These selected ambassadors have been given a unique set of tools to help enable them to turn their innovative ideas into meaningful change.

Throughout the summit, social media has been the primary focus and mechanism to create community, establish strategic networks, and turn a vision into reality. Over the last few days it has become apparent that while social media may be a tremendous resource for information and support, it also has the potential to create meaningful relationships characterized by sharing and reciprocity.

The power of social media is boundless. It not only has the ability to create psycho-social support for individuals with rare diseases and/or cancer, but it should be seen as the primary mechanism to repair the world.

While cancer may have been the catalyst for me to learn about and leverage social media, it is the ROI Community of change agents who are continuing to show me how our journeys may be different and unique but are inextricably linked and dependent upon each other. With social media as our means to connect— anything is possible. 


Decidedly Indecisive

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Andy Kirschner 2

I am on the road, headed back to Washington from a long road trip to a wedding in Illinois.  I put off submitting my post this month, thinking that the time in the car would leave me ample space and inspiration to craft a masterful piece for Oy! readers.  Unfortunately, I'm stuck, and can't find the right topic to hit on this time.  Per usual, I solicit my wife, Rose, for ideas. 

"Why don't you write about how your wife always has to come up with your blog post topics?" she says,  as she begins listing off some ideas.

Rose would like to see me write about the top 10 keys to a successful road trip or just focus on the debate we always have about where to stop for dinner.  Do Oy! readers really care about our endless debate on whether one should do drive-through or sit down, fast food or a place where you get to leave a tip?  It's a risky topic to cover, because Oy! readers might take her side.

She talks about how we have gone to some lovely weddings this month, most recently this past weekend.  Could I write about wedding toasts?  I hesitate because I can't figure out a way to do this without embarrassing our own families.  Rose thinks that nobody remembers that story anyway.  

For a moment, I consider an expose over the outrage that popped up lately in the Trader Joe's- loving, Kosher-keeping community around the U.S.  Trader Joe's had to change its non-dairy label of chocolate chips to Kosher Dairy.  It's a technicality based on how the equipment used to make the chips.  Check your Jewish friends' Facebook pages- it's on there.  You would think Trader Joe's was putting bacon in the chips the way people are talking. 

Is the average Oy! reader trying to figure out how to make chocolate chip cookies for dessert after serving a brisket on Friday night?  Do we even do surveys of our readers on Oy!?  There's a topic to cover, the demographic breakdown of Oy!Chicago.  The article would be titled a Dem-OY-Graphic Study of one of Chicago's Most Vibrant Online Communities.

Rose informs me that any time there is a debate, it piques a reader's interest.  Could I write about our recent move to suburbs of D.C.?  My post about Chicago vs. DC caused quite a stir.  What about Evanston vs. Bethesda?  Do people in Evanston know where Bethesda is?

Now Rose tells me to write about ice cream, or trees, or barns or gas…she's just listing off things she sees on the side of the road.  No Rose, I can't write about those things; I'm out of space for this installment.  If you have any suggestions, for what you would like to see this hopelessly blocked writer blog about next month, please leave them in the comment box or email my wife.


The Night Circus

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The Night Circus photo

"The Circus arrives without warning...It is simply there, when yesterday it was not."

These are the opening words to what will probably be the next phenomenon in Young Adult literature. Released in fall of 2011 The Night Circus has all the necessary elements to captivate its readers as much if not more than The Hunger Games and its other YA/Fantasy counterparts. But if you were overwhelmed by the thousand page series of Hunger Games, or more so the five-thousand pages so far of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), do not fret. At a mere 400 pages of pure delight you'll wish you could stay in the magical world of The Night Circus for just a bit longer.

The Circus is all anyone could dream of as children and adults alike marvel at its magnificence. In fact its name is 'Le Cirque de Reves', or The Circus of Dreams. Colored only in black and white, from the numerous circus tents to the performers' costumes and even the caramel popcorn, the circus has all the acts one would expect. Adding to its mystery are the more obscure tents with seemingly impossible magical qualities such as a garden made only of ice that never melts and a merry-go-round with animals that come to life beneath their riders.

Underneath this blanket of wonder is a competition set in motion by two men with powerful magical ability. It's done in classic nature vs. nurture, Duke and Duke fashion, but with a twist. The question is simple: Which is more important in performing magic, innate ability or strict academics? Though these magicians have clearly engaged in this same competition before, the details are hazy to the participants, a young girl and boy who by a wager are pitted against each other in a test of magical skills of which they are unaware of the rules, the consequences to the loser, and even the identity of their opponent.  

In this, her debut novel, author Erin Morgenstern jumps back and forth through the life of the story to examine the Circus, the wager which prompted its existence and perhaps most importantly the relationships between the circus performers and the circus-goers, whose belief in its goodness keep the Circus alive. Morgenstern makes magic a reality and the Circus come to life in what can be called a fantasy but will have the reader wishing it were real. It's the kind of book that has the ability to put a smile on your face for no reason at all, and possibly the only book that upon finishing the last page I seriously considered going right back to the first and reading it all over again.

As with all books that I love, I wonder how they would look on the big screen and then always seem to be disappointed with the adaptation despite fairly low expectations. With The Night Circus I had that same initial reaction, but then found myself half hoping that this one flies under the radar of the film studios.  With a book like this there is no way any film adaptation could compare to my imagination. Nonetheless, The Night Circus has been picked up by Lionsgate (Hunger Games), who with their purchase of Summit Entertainment (Twilight) seems to be attempting to corner the Young Adult Fantasy market as if it were Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice. With the captivating first page featured in the newest Nook commercial, it seems to be gaining strong popularity. In response to a tweet from yours truly, author Morgenstern wrote, "I hope it can handle the hugeness!" I'm confident that it can. My only advice to everyone would be to read it soon, read it slow, and then read it again. @JMeyer44


Burn More NEAT!

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Ron Krit photo 3

When I say NEAT I am referring to Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It’s basically the calories you burn when you are not exercising. Many studies show, people who burn a lot of these calories are thinner than their counterparts. It makes sense that sedentary people burn less calories, then your coworker who taps a foot compulsively and occasionally breaks out in dance. In Yiddish we say, that person has the shpilkes.

Having the shpilkes is a good thing, unless you are trying to gain weight. Bouncing off your office or cubicle wall might help you burn more calories throughout the day, but there are others ways to burn off a burrito.

Unfortunately, most of us sit at a desk all day and bring our metabolism to a painfully slow pace. You can reverse that trend by standing up. I usually recommend standing up for a minute every 20 minutes. If your heavy workload won’t allow for that, stand up at least once an hour.

While seated at your desk there are a million simple exercises to get your heart rate moving, prevent carpel tunnel, and ease neck pain. Here’s a few to incorporate in your day:

• Wrist circles: hold your arms at 90 degree angles, palms down and circle your wrists clockwise and then counter clockwise three times.

• Finger circles: hold your arms at 90 degrees, palms down, and at the same time make circles with your thumbs in both directions three times, work your way through each finger.

• Shoulder rolls: lift your shoulders up back and down 10 times, and then back, up and down 10 times.

• Belly breathe: inhale and fill your stomach with air, exhale slowly and repeat. Take 5 breaths like that. Most people take shallow breaths and that can cause tight shoulders and neck.

• Stress ball: squeeze a ball, egg, wax… 10 times in each hand.

Now that I have gone off on my office tangent, let’s discuss the evil combination of couch + television. Vegging out after a rough day is a rite of passage. We all do it, but night after night of sitting on the couch after sitting at the desk makes us round and tired. It sounds odd, but moving around is energizing and lying down is fatiguing. Pick a few nights a week to walk or bike ride. With the summer it’s easier to get outside, have fun and be NEAT. 


Such a deal

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Annice Moses photo

I decided to have a yard sale. I have never done this before. When I began thinking about it, I was on a (albeit brief) cleaning rampage and found boxes and boxes full of tchotchkes. I wondered why and by whom had they been so tenderly wrapped when they would never, ever see the light of day in my house? Why were we keeping these and, even more puzzling, when had my husband, (who shuns all things materialistic and fancy), begun a collection of crystal desk clocks, Royal Crown Derby figurines and cloisonné? But I digress. The yard sale seemed like a fun idea – grab a whole bunch of stuff, price it to sell and donate all the money to charity. No biggie, right? Right.

First, I spent hours on the computer researching how to have a successful yard sale. I printed out a woman’s 16-page musings on the “art” of it – signage, theft, sorting, pricing, sticker switching, weather, having a manicured lawn the day of the sale, etc. It was then I realized that a yard sale might be kind of a big deal – as in a lot of work. But I pushed on, spending several more hours on eBay looking for pricing of matching items that had actually sold, not what the items were listed for. I had learned after countless hours of watching “Pawn Stars” with my kids, that on eBay you can ask for whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna get it. My husband’s pre-me things took up the most time. It was tedious and frustrating. And frankly, I got tired of looking at the ugly crap. But forward I went.

Sorting through our mutual things – things my husband and I had gotten together, or mainly, the things we had bought when we had children – proved to be a different kind of difficult for me. The baby bumper, the board books, the mobile that hung over the crib, the baby backpack that carried our firstborn all over the Utah mountains – things that had been put away for years, and yet when they saw daylight, I panicked at the prospect of our parting ways. I turned to my husband. “What about this stuff for the grandchildren?” I whined. He rolled his eyes, “By then that stuff will be old and gross. Pass it on.” And so I did.

Following my mom’s advice – (she’s in the yard sale/garage sale/estate sale scene) – our yard sale ad read, “No early birds please.” It was two days before the sale. I was in the shower. I heard the phone ring. When I got out of the shower, I played the message. It was an older sounding gentleman saying that he was in town having lunch with some lady friends and they had seen my ad. Would I mind, since they just happened to be in town, if they popped by and took a peek? I called him back fully intending on saying very politely that the sale was on Friday and Saturday and NOT on Wednesday. However, since he sounded so grandfatherly on the phone and was so polite, I instead ended up telling him that yes, he could come by, that I had just showered, and would he mind giving me 10 minutes to get dressed? How’s that for setting boundaries? Not only would I let a strange stalker man into my house with his “lady friends” but I would also inform him that I was currently naked! Well, all I can say in my defense, is that he bought 3 expensive things and paid full price. (And yes I found out later from my mom that this guy and his two “lady friends” are dealers, and they pull this crap all the time. This heads up was left out of that 16-page “Have a perfect yard sale!” article.)

The day of the yard sale came. It was hot. There were very early early birds. People came with magnifying glasses searching for all important stamps and signatures under the tushies of my husband’s animal collectables. People furrowed their brows at a $5 dollar price for a brand new calculator. It came with two pens! And pen holders! A woman almost spat on me when I told her she could buy two jean jackets for $10 dollars! (One was from the GAP! Granted the other was from Chico’s – but still!) She said she’d give me $2. I told her to take a hike. My friends told me I needed to work on both my people skills as well as my sales technique.

But not all of the sale folks were chazers and spitters. A man who initially haggled with me over a pair of collectible ducks that were priced insanely low – two for $20 – and reluctantly got me down to $15, returned an hour later with an impassioned speech: “I realize you’re doing this for charity – for a camp for kids with cancer. I was wrong. Your price was a fair price. There are some things that just aren’t OK. I’m sorry I did what I did.” And he handed me a five dollar bill with a bowed head. There were little boys and girls clawing through the $1 stuffed animals finding love. There was the man who bought two $1 CDs and paid with a $5 and told me to keep the change. And there was the little girl who showed up with her family an hour after the sale was over. We were boxing the leftovers to donate when she saw a Leapster IMAX with a bunch of games on the edge of a table. “How much is this?” she asked. I looked at the $20 price tag. “Two bucks.” She was so excited she actually started jumping up and down for joy.

The yard sale was a success. With the help of the friends, family and neighbors, we raised lots of money. I effectively cleaned out my basement. I met new and er, interesting people. I passed on sentimental things with good ju-ju for others to enjoy. I sold the Chico’s jacket! It was a very cool journey I’d say, that I did not anticipate taking when I decided to just sell a few things. But you know what they say: You never know what kind of gem you’re going to unearth in a bin at a yard sale. Happy treasure hunting!


Why I’ve been radio silent lately…

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Why I’ve been radio silent lately… photo

Hello, Oy! readers. Long time no see. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a bit radio silent for the past…nine months or so. The past many months have been transformative for me, going through nine months of pregnancy (and a bonus two weeks…yay for late babies…not) and the birth of our beautiful little boy almost three weeks ago.

Every time I’d sit down to write a post for Oy!, my pregnancy brain would kick in, and I couldn’t string two words together properly. Or if I could, they would be all about pregnancy, and the inner superstitious Jew in me couldn’t wrap my head around discussing my pregnancy in such a public forum, G-d forbid something bad should happen.

So now I’m back, and my slightly sleep-deprived brain and I have been reflecting on my first few posts I wrote for Oy! over three years ago. My very first post was all about things I wish people would have told me when I first moved to Chicago. I feel that it’s only appropriate, as I rejoin the Oy! Team facing another transitional point in my life, to revisit that post and share a new version: four things I wish someone had told me about parenthood before I came home from the hospital with a little human completely reliant on me to survive and yet unable to use his words to tell me what he needs…

1) It’s okay to ask for help. I have always been someone who is fiercely independent and who thought she had everything under control. Before having the baby, I grocery shopped in bulk, I pre-made a bunch of food that I froze, I lined up care for our dog – I thought I had come up with everything. And for that first week, when I had my husband home from work, and my mom in from Cleveland, we had everything under control. And then my parents left. And David went back to work. And we had eaten through the stockpile. And David worked late so despite having a noon dog walker, I had to maneuver outside with the dog and the baby at 6 pm.

So when people ask what they can do, don’t act brave and say, “Oh we’re doing great.” Be honest. Ask your friends to come by with dinner, to swing by and walk the dog after work, to stop at the pharmacy and pick up your prescription, whatever you need. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t care for you enough to help you with what you need.

2) It’s okay to let some things go. No one cares if you make your bed or if you fold your laundry right away. When your friends visit your place to meet the baby, they will only think about how cute your baby is, not how dusty your coffee table is or how baby stuff has somehow taken over your living room.

3) Make sure to maintain contact with your friends and communicate regularly with grownups. It is amazing how, when taking care of a newborn, you can blink your eyes, and the whole day has flown by: you have not left your house, you have only spoken in baby sing-song nonsense to calm a crying infant, you have not bathed or brushed your teeth, and you are dog-tired. By the time your husband gets home, you want to throw the baby at him and run. While it seems like more work, it is better for your mental health to get dressed and go for a walk, even if it’s just around the block. Even better, make a date with another friend with a baby so you can interact with someone else who is home during the day and knows what you’re going through.

In the same theme, when you have a new baby at home, oftentimes your friends will want to give you your space and not call, for fear of waking you from a nap or disturbing you in your new routine with baby. For some people, that is what they need. If you’re like me, and instead began to miss your pre-baby pals, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone yourself. Your friends will be happy to hear from you, and I’m sure they’ll understand if you have to get off the phone when the baby starts hollering.

4) Know that it gets better every day. You’ll start to feel human again soon. You will figure out, slowly but surely, why your baby is screaming his head off and how to talk him off the ledge. Breastfeeding won’t always be so painful. You will master the art of schlepping a diaper bag and a baby in a car seat and somehow steering the car to the pediatrician, the grocery store or Target.

While I’m only a few weeks deep into this new part of my life, and I haven’t always figured out how to heed my own advice, I’m excited to keep learning and growing in this new role, and I hope that all of you Oy! readers enjoying coming along for the ride.


Why it’s important to read good news – and where to find it

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Why it’s important to read good news photo

Image courtesy of Flickr user LawPrieR

Whenever I discuss the news with someone, one word seems to come up often: "depressing."

Regardless of what news site you read, each page refresh brings more troubling information, regarding everything from merciless killers to crooked politicians. Another day, another crime, misdeed or tragedy.

But that kind of sensationalistic coverage is far from an accurate representation of life, and I think it has negatively skewed the way we view the world and humanity in general. Sure, all those terrible things do really happen, but so do plenty of wonderful and inspirational things that are showcased nowhere nearly as often as the upsetting and depressing news.

I don't know about you – but that's not how I want to live my life. I don't want cynicism, mistrust and pessimism to dominate my world view, and I'm sure you don't either. So while we can't necessarily change the news or avoid reading the terrible stuff altogether, there is hope: by seeking out good, inspirational news.

Huffington Post recently established a "Good News" section specifically for the purpose of reminding people that good things do happen. In the beginning, it was mostly composed of adorable kitten/puppy videos, but it has really blossomed into a great place to find inspirational content, like the story of Marie Bell, a teacher who donated her kidney to a student's father.

Other great websites for uplifting news stories include Good News Network, Optimist World, Happy News and Gimondo. The titles may be corny, but I think that if you give them a try, you'll find that you feel a little bit better about the state of our world.

Finally, here's my feel-good video of the week:


40 Days and 40 Nights

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Shlach Lecha
26 Sivan 5772 / June 15-16, 2012


Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Shlach Lecha, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each tribe) into the Promised Land in order to scope it out. After 40 days, the spies return and share that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey. However, 10 of the 12 spies continued to share that the land is inhabited by giants, and that those living there are much more powerful than the Israelites. This resulted in an outcry by the Israelites, questioning Moses’s leadership and God’s involvement, exclaiming that it would have been better to die in Egypt than to die by the sword while trying to conquer what was perceived as unconquerable.

As punishment for their lack of faith, the Israelites are condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years – one year for each day the spies had been in the Promised Land.

I want to draw attention to the number 40.

Forty is a significant number in our tradition, and it often is used to symbolize significant spiritual cleansing.

In the Book of Genesis in the narrative of Noah’s Ark, when the world was flooded, it rained for 40 days and nights.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses went up to Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights in order to receive the Torah.

Now in the Book of Numbers, we find that the spies scoured the Promised Land for 40 days and nights before returning with their report.

The traditional ritual bath, the mikveh, which we use to purify ourselves, traditionally contains 40 se’ah of water (there are about 5 gallons in a se’ah).

Similar to our Israelite ancestors, so too, do we sometimes feel that it would be easier to give up than to try and tackle our perceived uphill battles. We may call out in frustration, whine about it and even conclude that the particular task is unworthy of our efforts.

Going forward, I challenge you to dedicate 40 days to tackling any particular obstacle before giving up.

In our world of hyper-connectivity and instant gratification, I know that 40 days seems like an eternity. However when considered in the broader context of the days of your life, 40 days is just the tip of a fingernail as compared to your body. And yet, despite the relatively short period of time, our tradition makes clear that 40 days is time enough to be life altering.

Face each challenge head on, devote yourself to the steps necessary to overcome it and after 40 days, take note of where you were and how far you’ve come. It’s just up to you to make the time.


Fifteen Miles and a Killer Soundtrack

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Esther Bergdahl photo

I'm not usually the one who posts the stories about inspirational athletic moments. That's not really my thing. But records were made to be broken, so here's my own personal '80s training montage. It goes like this: I biked to and from work yesterday. That statement becomes a lot more interesting when I point out that I work in the Loop, but I live in Lincoln Square, almost seven and a half miles north.

A few weeks ago, JUF hosted a lunchtime information session with the Chicago Bicycling Ambassadors about bike safety and biking in the city. They got me all jazzed up to try commuting by bike, but I thought the best course would be taking a test run on a weekend, to time myself. Of course, who wants to go back to your office on a weekend? There are always other things to do. So I kept putting it off.

Until yesterday. On Tuesday night, we at the Center for Jewish Genetics ran a screening program in Northbrook, and I got home late. I had the opportunity to come to work a little later in the morning, and the weather was inexplicably pleasant and cool. I wasn't planning on biking to work… until I was. Why not? I thought. When else am I actually going to try it?

It seemed like the perfect plan: leave after rush hour traffic, go at my own pace, and stop if necessary. So what if it was the longest I'd ever biked in one go? So what if I hadn't been working up to that kind of distance? I knew that if I knew what I was in for, I'd chicken out. So off I went, still trying to figure out if my helmet was fitting correctly, feeling a little like an unsuspecting hobbit in a Tolkien adventure epic.

Chicago is, in this, blessed by its flatness; if I'd had to contend with actual topography, I might have gone no further than the nearest bus stop. But I chugged along—harder than I predicted, but I thought I made pretty good time. I did it in an hour, through some of our fair city's fairest neighborhoods, and was giddy (and thirsty) for most of the rest of the day.

Esther, Esther! you say. Where is your inspirational athletic moment? Please tell me this isn't a story about what you did for a shower or how you drank two quarts of water after you got to work. No, it's not. I promise I'm getting to the payoff!

The ride back was, in some ways, more revelatory than the ride downtown. Rush hour traffic wasn't as intimidating as I'd feared, and I began to understand why bicyclists feel so invincible in traffic—an easy, addictive trap to fall into. There's something fantastic about happening on a pack of fellow bikers at a stoplight and pulling up beside them as you wait, even if they all zoom past you without a second glance. They'll also helpfully point out that your back tire is nearly flat, which is why the going had been so tough on the first leg of the trip.

The emotional peak of my training montage came somewhere in River North. I'm naturally suspicious of sports: I was always in love with A League of Their Own and the slew of kids-on-teams movies that came out in the mid-'90s (The Sandlot, The Mighty Ducks, Rookie of the Year), but beyond two summers on a rec league softball team, gym was never my favorite thing, and I tended to write off athletic activities that weren't a means to some other end. Some of it was resentment that the arts at my high school never got the funding that our consistently losing football team did, but mostly it wasn't something that my family valued, so it never became something I sought out.

I knew why people loved them, though: from endless movies, TV shows, stories about Olympians and fitness articles, I heard all about the runner's high or the thrill of achievement or the pride of accomplishment. That's always been mostly abstract to me: I get those things from finishing a piece of writing I'm really proud of, or something else more intellectual than physical. But I felt it in River North, as soon as I realized I could see Merchandise Mart. I had done it. I wasn't tired anymore. I felt weightless, just on the verge of flying. I had done it! The cliché was true: I really wanted to pump my fist and crow, or spread both hands and glide over the river, magically avoiding colliding with a parked car or a pole.

We'll see if that happens again. I hope it does: I have every intention of biking to work more regularly now. I know better to check the whole bike before heading out—no more flat tires and loose helmets next time. Diving in feet first and discovering this experience turned out to be the right course of action. I feel totally inspired by athleticism again. Now comes the really hard part, which is—of course—choosing my theme song. Wish me luck, Oy!sters. (And I'd love to hear your suggestions!)


Getting Your Money’s Worth: 6 Mini Blogs for the Price of One

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Adam Daniel Miller photo

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Yes, welcome to my blog. A blog where I like to treat my readers right. So that's why I came up with this idea that instead of giving you one blog every now and again, I should give you a whole bunch at once. I'm doing this because I love you. And you're very attractive. Enjoy!


Mitzvah – The Bar

When I was 13, contrary to what my previous blog might have you believe, I had an amazing bar mitzvah. But now that I'm 25, I want to OWN an amazing Bar Mitzvah. Yes, that's right very attractive readers, I want to establish a bar and set it up exactly like a Bar Mitzvah. You might think this is a bit of a joke, and maybe it is, but you know you'd want to go there. So let me give you a preliminary list of what you may find someday when you walk into Bar Mitzvah:

- Every week a different theme based on popular opinions and suggestions

- If spotted doing a mitzvah of any kind by the staff, incredible prizes will be rewarded, such as giant inflatable couches or a three foot long tube filled with bubblegum

- The stereotypical music you love playing always and often. Especially Kool & The Gang's "Celebration," the number one song played at every Bar or Bat Mitzvah (Based on scientific data)

- Intermittent games like Coke/Pepsi, or to keep up with the times, Coke Zero/Pepsi Max

- The occasional Snowball

- A free fountain drink bar that serves, exclusively, Kiddie Cocktails

- With paid entry, a free souvenir t-shirt exclaiming such fun puns as "I had a sluggin' good time at Bar Mitzvah!" (Baseball week) or "I had an 88 Miles Per Hour good time at Bar Mitzvah!" (Back to the Future week) and even "I had a really good time at Bar Mitzvah!" (Generic week)

- A sweet table to rival all sweet tables

- 1 Hora each hour, minimum

And again, this is just a preliminary list. Imagine if I gave it more than 10 minutes of thought.


The Shameless Plug Blog 

This is a blog designed purely for the shameless self promotion of my other work. I hope I retain some respect for being honest with you.

- This was all about my trip to the Western Wall in Israel on Shorashim Birthright. Of what I have written, this is one of my own personal favorites.

- An article I wrote about short lived British comedy shows. Read this one to be educated on hilarity that you may know not of but should know a lot of. Hey, I rhymed.

- A two part YouTube video of the first time I ever performed standup comedy in college. I apologize in advance, both for the quality of the videos and the quality of me in the videos. Part one. Part two.

 - My twitter page, because I'm hilarious and you should follow me. Just not home. That's creepy. Or just simply look up TheMindofADM.

- And finally, a nice link to my profile and the entirety of my previous blogs on the wonderful, beautiful site that is Oy!Chicago.

If you actually read and watched all that, you're the most attractive reader I have and are one step closer to knowing what it's like inside my head. For this I do not envy you.

(Note: This next mini blog was the most difficult and time consuming of all six blogs.)


One Word Blog 




Rump, derriere, behind, bottom, rear, butt, heiny, tushie, gluteus maximus and even ass don't begin to compare to the word tuchus. They are a sheer fraction, a morsel, a nano-particle of what the word tuchus is and can do. Now while there are a number of great Yiddish slash Jewish words out there, tuchus just blows them all away, metaphorically speaking.  It rolls off the tongue with unparalleled eloquence. Go ahead. Try it. I'll wait.

See? Beautiful, ain't it? But what truly makes this word stand out among its fellow synonyms is the stealthy value of the word. It's like a ninja. Unlike the previously mentioned forms, tuchus is not known as widely outside of the Jewish world. It gives me a sense of entitlement that I'm not entirely sure if I'm allowed to have. Having said that, I will bestow upon you an absolutely terrible "Yo Mama" joke. Ahem.

Yo Mama so fat….her tuchus is becoming a threechus. Heh heh.


A blog where the title of the blog is actually longer than the blog itself, thus making you wonder why the title of the blog in question was so very, very, very long when it could have simply been a much shorter title that was a lot more direct and to the point instead of the ridiculous and redundant title that was unfortunately before the blog with the ridiculously long and redundantly repetitive title that was just mentioned previously 

I got nothing.


My Greatest Underutilized Jewish Fashion Accessory 

Other than in a clearance sale, I don't accept things as is. I question what I'm given. When someone asks if the glass is half empty or half full, I ask if someone was pouring or drinking and either way, is that beer and can I have some? I bring up this philosophy of mine for one reason and one reason only. My tallit. I don't wear it enough and shall now question why.


It's possibly the coolest piece of apparel I own, both for its look and significance. So why do I not show it off more? Wear it about town to let all my goyim friends see what they are missing out on. It would perfect in Chicago for the 10 winter months we have each year. It's an Über-scarf, as I like to say. Not to mention a great way to show off some slick Jewish style. It really comes down to one simple yet over-the-top fantasy for me. I'd be riding around in a convertible (blue and white of course), tallit blowing in the wind (blue and white of course), and tzitzit extending like spirit fingers (this time just white, of course). I'd stop alongside some young attractive Jewish women, potentially some of my readers due to their attractiveness, tilt my head to the side, give a small head nod, pause for effect and say, "Shalom".

That's right, I'm a bad-tuchas.


Hurry up and get boring.

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Marcy Nehorai photo 4

Hurry up and get boring.

That’s the advice I would give to new moms and pops everywhere, or what I would name the title of a terribly boring television show detailing the lives of first time parents.

It doesn’t seem too interesting, frankly, to all those people out there who are doing interesting THINGS and going interesting PLACES. I mean, how exciting can a burp be? Or sleeping more than four hours in a row? Or grabbing an object for the first time? Or eating APPLESAUCE? Let’s be honest, how exciting can a SMILE be?

And any parent will tell you, a smile can be terribly, terribly exciting. Blood-stopping, gasping- wait did you see that? Did you see that? And the headlines in the newspaper read CHILD USES FACIAL MUSCLES TO SMILE FOR FIRST TIME; FATHER ALMOST FAINTS. Except that no one’s buying the newspaper except a select few, the grandparents, the sister, the neighbor next door who can’t seem to get enough of your life, pouring over that headline in rapture.

Hurry up and get boring.

Except it’s not boring, not exactly. Maybe to you. Maybe to me. But to them, no, no it’s not boring at all.

It’s something I wasn’t quite prepared for before I had my baby girl. What? I need to stay at home? And give my baby sleep? How many times a day?

How many times a day do I have to stop and feed her? How often can I just have a whole half hour to myself? What do you mean I can’t go out past seven?.... And it hits, the boredom parents blues, as you adjust to your more sedentary lifestyle, as your home becomes the center, as you walk slower, as you slow down to the level of a tiny human being experiencing life for the first time.

From the perspective of the child, how exciting is life? Terribly, terribly exciting. So exciting in fact that, phew, after an hour or so, they’ve got to relax and take a snooze. That’s how exciting their life is to them.

The news of the boring lifestyle of parents may come as a disappointment to those who have spent their lives up until now perfecting their coolness factor.

But there's something beautiful there, because a parent transforms to become the structure, the containers for energy and not just the energy itself. The conduit through which their children's lives gain motion.

You help mold them. You help change them. You help them become who they were meant to be. And maybe you’ll get glory for it, and maybe not. Maybe you’ll have fun doing it, and maybe not. But when you become a vessel, it’s not about fun or boredom anymore. It’s about the contents. And the contents are growing and beautiful and they need you. At seven pm at night, they need you, behind that door, as they slumber. So that when they wake up, that tiny bundle will have a safe home in your arms and all that they need so that they can continue growing and loving, smiling and burping. Pretty soon they'll start speaking and thinking and laughing and wondering. And before you know it, they'll be moving and shaking and going to places you have never been and doing things you never even dreamed of doing.

And changing the world, one footstep at a time. One word at a time. One smile at a time.

All because you took the time when they were younger, to clean them, to watch them, to smile back at them. To print the headlines and post them on the refrigerator door so they would know know exciting their small accomplishments are to a big you.

And there’s nothing boring about that.


Fathering? Now that's funny!

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Paul Wieder photo2

Much has been written about women being stereotyped in popular entertainment. Well, men get stereotyped, too. And one of the most common ways is to laugh at the idea of men… taking care of kids! Ha! Because men are basically just big kids themselves! Am I right? Am I right or what? Men are just big, dumb idiots who have no idea how to handle a baby or kid alone.

So let's take a look back at some of the movies where the basic hilarity is the very idea of men taking care of children and babies by themselves. Somehow, men can run dry cleaning services but can't do laundry. They can be "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef," but can't make dinner. They can clean up toxic waste and nuclear meltdowns, yet can't vacuum a rug. And men can perform brain surgery, but can't change diapers. Amazing.

There are two basic premises. One is the businessman who can't find time for his own kid, and then suddenly finds he has all the time in the world, because he gets fired. This was the set-up for one of the first dumb-dad movies, Mr. Mom (1983). And if one incompetent dad is funny, three are three times funnier! This is the logic behind 3 Men and a Baby (1987) with Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg, and Tom Selleck.

These were followed by Carpool (1996) in which beleaguered businessman David Paymer has his minivan carjacked by a loveable Tom Arnold. The more famous Daddy Day Care (2003) had Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin as laid-off dads opening a daycare center. Daddy Day Camp (2007) with Cuba Gooding, Jr., was the sorta-sequel… but Murphy's own next stab at the idea included a magical element. Imagine That (2009) gave Murphy's daughter the ability to see the future, including financial futures. Cha-ching!

One of the few dramas with this structure is one of the first dad-takes-care-of-kid-alone movies of all: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). This classic has Dustin Hoffman learning to take care of his son after his wife leaves. It's not a comedy, and one of the only times in Hollywood history this plot has been done as a drama, but Hoffman still sucks at dad-hood for much of the run-time.

The other major premise is the action hero playing against type. He can kick bad-guy butt, but he's no match for… diaper-rash butt! Arnold Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop started this version in 1990, and soon many other tough-guy actors had to have their own. Chuck Norris served as inspiration to a 98-pound teen weakling in Sidekicks (1992). Vin Deisel was a Navy SEAL undercover as a nanny— or "manny"— in The Pacifier (2005). Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson played a football player who found out he was a father in The Game Plan (2007). And Jackie Chan was The Spy Next Door (2010).

Sylvester Stallone went the drama route with this pattern in Over the Top (1987) in which he plays a truck driver who earns his kid's respect in an arm-wrestling tournament. (Yes, this was a real movie.) And Bruce Willis protects a young autistic savant who cracked a government code in Mercury Rising (1998). I admit I did not have the patience to sift through all the plots of the Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, so my apologies if I missed their contributions to this subgenre.

Anyway, none of these dads are any good until they apply what they know— management or military skills— to the squishy world of child-raising.

As in Kindergarten Cop, Jack Black takes over a classroom he is not prepared for. But he gives the kids a lesson in rock'n'roll-ology, with minors in "it's OK to be different" and "stand up for what you believe in." Not a bad movie overall, somewhat a sequel to Black's High Fidelity role.

Another musical star, Ice Cube, is the "dad" in Are We There Yet? As in Paper Moon and Carpool, the basic idea is just to get the kids from here to there; a swinging bachelor tries to impress the woman he's interested in by driving them across the country. The kids do extremely dangerous and violent things to try to get rid of him, all because they don't want him ending up with her.

And in Father's Day (1997), we get two-for-one; either button-down Billy Crystal or rambunctious Robin Williams could be the father of a runaway kid, and they have to team up to find him and bring him home.

Then there is the idea of a con man being forced to take care of a girl… who turns out to be really good at manipulating adults herself! The first one was the 1973 Paper Moon, with Ryan O'Neal and his real-life daughter, Tatum. Set in the 1930s, this black-and-white caper is about a grifter who takes on a job of delivering an orphaned girl to her grandparents. He finds that she has an aptitude for cons, though, and takes her on as a sidekick and protégé.  It was sorta-remade as Curley Sue, a 1991 comedy in which Jim Belushi plays a homeless man who runs cons with a girl he takes under his wing. Then in 1994, came Leon: The Professional, a thriller about a hitman who takes a pre-teen girl under his wing (weapon?).

Interestingly, the goofballs and con men are naturals at the whole fathering thing, much better than either businessmen or bruisers, because they are more flexible. They are willing to try something that might work, instead of what should. They respond to reality, and react better to unintended results.

Men sometimes adopt teens not to perpetrate crimes, but to solve them. The Medieval mystery The Name of the Rose (1986) has action star Sean Connery as a wise monk teaching his teenage acolyte how to use logic and science to stop a murder spree. And then there is Batman, who takes a young Robin under his crime-stopping wing in their classic storyline.

Incidentally, I could find just one movie in which a woman is unprepared for child-rearing, only to have an infant thrust upon her: Baby Boom. And what does Diane Keaton do in the movie? Why, she's a businessperson! Evidently, office coffeemakers mix a little testosterone into every cup. This film came out in 1987, the same year as 3 Men and a Baby.

So here's my pitch: A female action star— say, Gina Carano of Haywire— plays a superspy… who suddenly has to take care of a baby! It's probably the one permutation that hasn't been done yet.

And it would give us dads a break from all these gee-golly diapers! As Keanu Reeves says in the original Parenthood movie: "… you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car— Hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any [expletive] be a father."


This Is Not a Book Report (but you really should read this book)

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This Is Not a Book Report photo 1

So my friend wrote a book and I'm trying to find a way to write an interesting post that lets people know about this book and makes people want to read it without writing a book report. What I really want to write about is how I knew this friend in a past life, so I'm just going to get this book plug in first and then write about that.

Everyone should check out Herself When She's Missing by Sarah Terez Rosenblum. Not only because I had the privilege of portraying the main character in the book trailer (what, that isn't reason enough?), but because it is smart and full of sex while making you question things like obsession and memory. Go get it. Okay, moving on to the part about me.

A few years ago I signed up for a creative writing class to figure out what kind of writing I wanted to do now that I would soon be leaving my job writing grant proposals. Autumn and Violet were nine months old at that point and I needed to find a focus for my intellectual side in my new role as stay-at-home mom.

I sat down to that first class with nervous excitement, looking around the square table at the other people wanting to be better writers. Would I measure up? There was a bunch of awkward silence in which some people talked to their neighbor and the rest of us pretended to be doing something super important on our phones. Finally, the teacher walked in and started the class. Instantly, I had this feeling that Sarah and I had already met. I racked the files of my brain about where our paths may have crossed. Nothing doing.  

I had done my research prior to signing up for the class so I knew a little about her. I read most of her website and did a thorough Google and Facebook search. I didn't think twice about her name or her photo then, but when we were actually in the same room I couldn't stop thinking we had met before. Reverberations from a past life.

This Is Not a Book Report photo 2

A few weeks into the class I found out she lived in my neighborhood, so I started giving her rides home, or at least to the Jewel by her house. For someone who never cooks, she sure goes to the grocery store a lot. Over time I discovered that we carry around a lot of the same labels in life (in no particular order):

1. Jewish
2. Badger (We overlapped at UW-Madison but never met)
3. Lesbian
4. List maker
5. Andersonville dweller
6. Writer (I cringe typing this as she is actually a PUBLISHED author)
7. Yogi

Clearly, we were meant to be friends, especially after we kept running into each other at yoga class. I could list all our differences like the fact that she lives with a werewolf, but that's not the point. The point is, she has become one of my closest friends in a short amount of time and I wonder how that relates to the initial feeling I had that we had already met. Is our intuition ever wrong about these things? If we're paying attention, will it alert us to the people we should have (or not have) in our lives?

Herself When She's Missing made me think about this idea, too. What happens when you don't listen to your intuition about your relationship, or even yourself? Or what happens when you think you're listening to your intuition but in reality your mind is deceiving itself?

I have to admit that I was the teeniest bit nervous about what would happen to our new-ish friendship if I didn't like the book. Would she still go to yoga with me twice a week? I couldn't lie to her, both because I'm a horrible liar and because she can read my mind. So here I do get a little book report-y, but I can't help it because it turns out there was no need to worry – I loved the book. A few reasons why:

1. There is a lot of sex in this book. It was even chosen first in this list of alternatives to reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

2. Without realizing it, suddenly the story has you thinking about memory and perception and wondering if the way you see the world has anything in common with what's actually happening. Where did that come from amid all those steamy pages?

3. Relatable characters. I actually texted Sarah at one point during the book. "I'm disturbed by how much I can relate to Andrea." She responded: "That is a huge compliment." I'm still wondering – is it because I can relate to her or that I'm disturbed by it?

4. With two lesbian main characters you might think it's got a limited audience, but if you've ever lusted after someone, been obsessed with a band, or fallen for someone who's unavailable, there's something in there for you. Check out the advance praise here.

5. The book is full of lists! Clearly, I had to write about it in a series of lists. I love lists, too. You should see our email exchanges.

Hopefully after reading this post, Sarah will still be my friend. As long as she doesn't say that my memory about how we met is all wrong or my intuition is crap, I think it will be okay.  

Come join me at the release party for Herself When She's Missing at Tony Fitzpatrick's Firecat Gallery Tuesday June 12 at 7 p.m. And if you're looking for an inspiring and supportive writing teacher, check Sarah's classes at StoryStudio.


Mark your calendar…wedding season is here, part 2

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And I’m in a philosophical mood


Mark your calendar photo

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about entering a new life stage I referred to as “the stage where everyone I know is suddenly growing up and deciding to get married.”

Almost a dozen weddings later, things haven’t changed ...and I can add having babies to this stage.

The past few weeks in particular have been a whirlwind of wedding festivities. With several close friends getting married this summer, there hasn’t been a week free of wedding activities. I just spent the last two weekends celebrating two dear friends’ bachelorette parties in New Orleans and Colorado. Putting aside the serious toll these festivities have been taking on my bank account and all the travel time, I’ve really been enjoying this period in my life.

Who doesn’t want to go on a trip with a dozen girls to NOLA? The saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” very much summarizes my weekend there. That and I finally discovered the best time to get beignets at Café Du Monde: 3:30am. You don’t even have to wait in line for an indoor table!

On the other hand, the Colorado bachelorette party was anything but wild. My friend’s mom and aunt were in attendance and the majority of our time was spent horseback riding, hiking, cooking, eating, playing board games and mainly, chatting.

It was nice to spend a few days out in the gorgeous wilderness with only women. Probably because my girlfriend’s wedding was right around the corner, a lot of the conversations centered on men, life, relationships and marriage. My friend’s mom shared her own marriage story. She dated her husband (of several decades) and actually broke up with him because he wouldn’t propose. In the end, the time apart made him realize how much he needed her and the wedding happened soon after.

In my matchmaking world, I tend to focus on the beginning of relationships— the setting people up part. Even after almost six years into my own relationship, I don’t often think about what it really takes to make a marriage last forever.

So all of this got me thinking about why people get married these days. Is marriage for that feeling of long-term commitment? For love? To have kids? Is it for legal reasons like equality? Is it for religious reasons? Or is it simply because it’s something we all are supposed to do and it’s fun to plan and throw a big party for friends and family?

I don’t know what led me down this philosophical path, and I’m not sure I’m asking for marriage advice—  Sharna's post already did a nice job with that.

I saw an article earlier this week on The Huffington Post in which the author states that marriage before 25 should be illegal. The author got married at 24 and divorced soon after. While I don’t agree with the legality part of her argument, I have to admit I do think marriage before 25 can seem premature and not surprisingly, often short-lived.

But what even defines a successful marriage? Is it length of time? Being together “forever”?

My best friend’s parents recently announced they were divorcing after 41 years of marriage. They raised a family together and saw their kids into adulthood. They obviously shared a huge part of their lives together and now they are going their separate ways. Does that mean their marriage should be deemed a failure? Or in actuality, was it a great success?

Just some thoughts…feel free to share your own below. I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on this subject.

Next month I promise to be a bit lighter, and hopefully, I will have some good news to share on the doggy matchmaking front!


Bialy and me

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Bialy and me photo 1

“Bialy…is that Italian?” Um…not so much. “Bialy…that’s like a bagel without a whole in it, right?” Yes, random girl on the street, that’s close enough.

Bialy is also the name of my 13-week-old five-pounds-big Bichon poodle puppy. She is the cutest dog to ever walk the earth (move over, Boo) so these days I spend a lot of my time talking to random people on the street as they ooh and aah over my puppy, while she assaults her new best friend with puppy kisses and love. Bialy gives freely of her love to pretty much anyone who’ll have it, especially to humans under two-feet tall. And don’t you dare walk by without stopping to admire her cuteness. She’ll stop in her tracks and look longingly at you like the crazy, heartless person you are, because, well, look at her!

Bialy and me photo 2

 Bialy Bregman, a regular Cindy Pawford.

Bialy Bregman came home with us a mere three weeks ago, and already she has changed our lives for good. Suddenly, my living room is covered in toys, I pop out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and most of what my husband Mike and I talk about is when Bialy last went potty. Much to Mike’s simultaneous surprise, joy and dismay, it turns out she is, in fact, the great love of my life. (Just kidding, Mike. I love you both equally.)

Most people who’ve known me my whole life were shocked to hear we’d gotten a dog. You see, I was never really a dog person. As a kid, I was the girl who couldn’t come to your birthday party if you had a dog. I was t-e-r-r-i-f-i-e-d of dogs. Don’t come near me—I don’t want to pet you, I don’t want you to lick me, and I definitely don’t want you to pee on me. As I grew older, I grew out of this a bit, but I never really thought a dog was in the cards for me. Plus, big dogs still scare me.

It was Mike’s dream to have a dog—he always wanted one as a kid—and it became our dream to raise one together. We had been talking about it for years, but the timing just wasn’t quite right. Then, about a month ago, Mike decided to contact the puppy website we had been visiting/stalking for the past four years. He explained our situation, and we learned that a bichon poo would be the best fit for us—I have asthma, we work full-time and live in the city, and bichon poos are sweet, smart, small-ish dogs that are completely hypoallergenic.

That Saturday, as we drove to the outer burbs to meet two bichon poodle sisters, I defiantly said to Mike, “Under no circumstances are we to come home with a puppy today. We are just here to look.”

But then we met Bialy, who immediately crawled into Mike’s lap to take a nap, and it was all over. She was our little girl.

We are all still getting used to each other, but Bialy has already brought so much happiness into our lives. Like any good Jewish mother, I worry she’s not eating enough, I watch her every move, and I spoil her rotten with toys. And Bialy fit right in to her new role as a Jewish puppy, aiming to please her parents and already at the top of her class at puppy school.

Bialy and me photo 3

The day Bialy came home.

Now don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been puppy kisses and roses. We had a very challenging first few days—potty training a puppy is no fun at all. But Bialy brought out a maternal instinct in me I didn’t even know I had. And Mike, he has turned out to be the amazing, loving and dedicated puppy daddy I always knew he would be. It took a lot of teamwork, patience and very little sleep, but after only a few days, Bialy got used to things around the Bregman household and all was right with the world.

So if you see us walking on the street, be sure to stop and say hello. You might just meet your new best friend.


The Great Rabbino takes on Jewish owners of sports teams

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Jeremy Fine photo

It’s not just the Jewish athletes making news these days (at least good news), the Jewish owners have emerged into the spotlight. The Great Rabbino takes a look at the top Jewish owners in sports (the three majors sports...I would've included the NHL, but I do not have confirmation on Jeremy Jacobs or Stu Siegel). I might be missing some so feel free to help us out.

Dan Snyder, Washington Redskins— Snyder has tried to make moves over the years but most have bombed. But now he has RGIII, this could be the big move that he has coveted for so long.

Jeffrey Laurie, Philadelphia Eagles— The dream team never lived up to the hype (at least in year one). The Eagles still have a solid team led by Michael Vick. During Laurie's tenure the team has competed and been looked at as a team willing to make the moves to win.

Stuart Sternberg, Tampa Bay Rays— Sternberg is the principal shareholder in the team. More importantly he has created not only a team, but a culture of winning in a division with the big boys. For the last five years he has given the Yankees and Red Sox all they can handle and often coming out on top.

Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavilers— Gilbert makes the list because of how much pride he has in his team. He hated, not just for himself but for his city, when Lebron abandoned them. Gilbert has made it his personal mission to overcome that loss. Great start by drafting Kyrie Irving, a star in the making.

Lerner Family, Washington Nationals— It has taken some time but the Nationals are a force to reckon with. Jayson Werth's injury (and contract) will hurt them, but how can you not be psyched about Bryce Harper. Kid's got game.

Zygi Wilf, Minnesota Vikings— Sure the Vikings were not so great this past year, but anyone else read about Wilf's desire and will to keep the Vikings in Minnesota? I would want to play for an owner like that.

Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls/White Sox— Reinsdrof owns two major sports teams. He has seven championships (six with the Bulls and one with the White Sox). The Sox have made major moves almost every offseason over the last 10 years, not always panning out. The Bulls should have been title contenders this year but...well...that whole Derrick Rose injury you might have heard about.

Micky Arison , Miami Heat— I hate that he is on this list. But we need to give credit where credit is due. Last year he inked Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James. They are still playing and winning.

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks— No owner in sports cares about their team more. Cuban would do anything to win. He will go after Deron Williams this offseason and he will go after him hard. Cuban is a fans’ owner, that's why we love him.

Robert Kraft, New England Patriots— If no owner cares more about their team than Cuban, no team cares more about their owner than the Pats do for Robert Kraft. Kraft has put the people in place for the Pats to always be contenders. Oh yeah, and he has Tom Brady.

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


Dressing for a beach vacation

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Dressing for a beach vacation photo

Last month I wrote about the popularity of the nautical trend, so it's only fitting that this month, as we progress firmly into summer, I write about dressing for the beach (beach fashion goes way beyond the suit and flip-flops!) and packing for a warm-weather trip. As a fashionista, this subject intrigues me and inspires me every summer; and since I'm a Leo, the warmth and excitement of summer naturally runs through my blood.

I have found that a combination of trendy and classic pieces in both neutrals and bright patterns make for the most attractive and versatile summer looks. Also, I'm partial to a combination of Boho and preppy pieces.

This season, I'm all about beach cover-ups that do not look like obvious cover-ups. Laid back and loose-fitting dresses and caftans are, in my opinion, the best way to cover up a suit. They transition nicely from the beach to dinner out, and take up very little room in a suitcase, as they are light weight and serve more than one purpose. I am in love with this quirky green printed number from Diane von Furstenberg.

I was at Bloomingdales doing Mother's Day shopping when this dress caught my eye. It's brilliant because it can be dressed up or dressed down and covers up a suit nicely. You will definitely stand out poolside!

Calypso St. Barth is a summer go-to store for me. It tends to be pricey, but the pieces are timeless and worth every penny. It has been a favorite of mine since I first stumbled upon the store on a college visit to Boston when I was in high school. Now, I visit the Oak Street location about twice a year. I love this simple white jeweled caftan. The color and the slits on the sides make it very ethereal and beachy, but it can be perfect for an evening out when paired with a dangly pair of rose gold earrings.

Do you ever struggle with deciding on the right shoes to wear on a boat or by the pool when you don't want to wear flip flops, but you also don't want to ruin your regular shoes? I just received a Daily Candy email featuring these gems made by Swims.

Lastly, over-sized summer scarves are a MUST have accessory. They're great for adding an extra touch to an outfit or for use as a light shawl in the evening. Definitely throw one in your suitcase on your summer trip— you will wear it a ton. I purchased mine eight years ago from a street vendor in Paris. Eileen Fisher makes a lovely option that I bought my mom. It's shown here on Bloomingdales.com in Sapphire but I also saw it at the Bloomingdale's store in sky blue and gold.

I have only included a sampling of my favorite pieces for women this summer season. If you would like more suggestions, or would like help pulling together some summer looks for upcoming occasions or vacations (for women or men), please reach out to me in the comments below! I would be happy to offer my styling advice.


Cate Edwards

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Cate Edwards photo

I have been following former U.S. Senator, Vice Presidential nominee and presidential hopeful John Edwards’ trial until its conclusion on May 31 when he was found not guilty of one charge and the jury deadlocked on the other five. Edwards’ charges were based on his alleged misuse of campaign dollars.

Edwards’ life reads somewhere in between a Greek tragedy and Telenovella. However, the sordid details are not what fascinated me, rather the steadfastness of his daughter, Cate Edwards, who has stood by her father throughout the entire trial.

Cate, age 30, is the daughter of Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her life to metastatic breast cancer. Her parents separated soon after Elizabeth found out about her husband’s affair with a woman with whom he has a daughter who he initially denied fathering.

Cate has been through more tragedy in her young life than most people experience over a lifetime. Besides her father’s epic, humiliating and public fall from grace, her mother died in 2010 and her brother, Wade, died in a car accident in 1996. If John Edwards had gone to jail, Cate would have taken custody of her two younger siblings.
The question begs to be asked, why would Cate sit by her father every day during the trial (and pre-trial hearings)? How could she stand listening to the gross details of his confirmed and alleged transgressions? Before the verdict, Cate leaned on her father’s shoulder and told her dad that she loved him. After the verdict, Edwards thanked Cate for sitting through the trial and sitting through the testimony of the terrible details of infidelity.

How and why does she still love him?

It doesn’t seem to be for opportunist reasons. Cate is a married, Harvard Law School graduate, who now runs the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation. She doesn’t need the Edwards name— especially now that it’s so tarnished.

Cate was able to do something that I don’t think many people could. She was able to still love her father by seemingly compartmentalizing his misdeeds. Whatever anger or hurt she must have felt towards him; somehow her love transcended those emotions and propelled her to play the leading lady role at the trial. Perhaps after suffering so much loss, she decided that despite his flaws, she was not willing to also lose her father, even though no one would have blamed her for abandoning him.

I can only think that while John Edwards has no future in public service (maybe one of the networks will hire him in a year or so to host a talk show), his personal life remains intact and strong due to the seemingly unconditional love of his daughter.

He is a lucky man.

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