OyChicago blog

Real world apps

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07/31/2009

The Jewish world has successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) launched projects in the virtual universe to capture the attention and hearts of the next generations of cyberJews. One such application was recently introduced by (disclaimer: I know him) Ron Gejman and his partner at Lost Tribe App, Jacob Andreas. It allows you to search for more than 5,000 synagogues in case you need one in a pinch.

As  educators, Jewish educators and educators of Jews, we are constantly encouraged/pressured to incorporate the latest technology into our teaching. This has made me think about apps that could be or could have been useful in my day-to-day life that I’d like someone to create:

1.  high school paper grader
2.  reverse commuter (will get you from your home to the suburbs and back) in less than a half an hour during rush hour
3.  dream interpreter
4.  cheater detector
5.  health insurer
6.  ‘does he really look like his pic?’ scanner
7.  ‘is this cheap wine going to taste good enough to bring to someone’s home for dinner?’ taster
8.  ‘is the milk still good?’ smeller
9.  ‘are there any single people at this party?’ notifyer
10.  ‘is there actually alcohol in this drink?’ determiner
11.  ‘do I look good in this?’…talking mirror
12.  ‘am I engaging or boring my students right now?’ observer
13.  ‘stop me from eating that cake that isn’t even that good’ alarm
14.  ‘tell my mom I’m safe and not to worry’ communicator
15.  condo cleaner

What would your number 16 be?

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Heirloom or Hairloom Jewelry?

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07/30/2009

From time to time I am reminded of my first pet, that damned hermit crab, and I momentarily yearn for a memento of his short life. Sadly, we don’t even have a picture of him.

It’s too bad LifeGem wasn’t around when he died.

Yesterday I found this article in the Chicago Tribune about the company, which for the low price of $2,199 and up, creates an eponymous “certified, high-quality diamond created from the carbon of your loved one as a memorial to their unique life.”

The testimonials on the site reveal that most LifeGems are sold to spouses who have lost their life partners, adult children who aren’t ready to be parentless yet, and parents who braved the unthinkable task of burying their son or daughter. And then there are the Ludwig van Beethoven LifeGems, sold on eBay a few years ago for $200,000 (proceeds went to charity).

The loved one whose carbon they will be using this time around to create up to 10 half-carat diamonds? None other than the man who popularized sparkly crystal-studded couture himself.

The King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

I was only two years old in 1984, so I don’t recall the (apparently infamous) Pepsi commercial shoot when MJ’s hair caught on fire and had to be put out with a fire extinguisher. But reputable sources confirm it happened. And the MJ carbon that will be used to create these LifeGems comes from none other than a few charred locks of his hair that were preserved by the executive producer of the commercial.

Now, I’m not generally a queasy person.

When I’m eating fast food “chicken” or Combos (neither one happens frequently, but a girl’s gotta treat herself now and again), I don’t mind if a friend asks incredulously, “do you know what’s in that?!” Because of course I do. Of course it’s not all-natural, organic, and hormone-, and preservative- free. But I don’t particularly care. The stuff tastes good.

When a friend is cooking me dinner at their apartment, I don’t ask whether they thoroughly rinsed all of the produce, or made sure to use a new cutting board for the veggies after cutting the animal protein, or washed their hands after handling raw eggs – and they don’t tell me. It wouldn’t bother me either way. Bugs in produce? Extra protein!

But I’m a diamond girl (I might be a lesbian, but I’m still a nice Jewish girl).

And that means if I see a sparkly ring on your finger, I’m going to look at it. And if I like it, I’m going to compliment you on it.

But oh dear God, if I ever compliment someone on their ring and they tell me it was produced from their loved one’s cremated ashes or lock of hair, I will vomit.

And if they tell me it’s a LifeGem from their precious pet (apparently diamonds aren’t just a girl’s best friend anymore, but man’s best friend, too…) I will almost surely drop dead on the spot.

And then you can all make a LifeGem out of me.

Eww.

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Food Fight

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07/29/2009

Food Fight photo

As a rising high school senior I have many different things to occupy my mind: boys, clothes, friends… but sadly, the most prevalent is my weight. I have always been a bit pudgy, but a about a year ago I went over the edge. Immobility caused by ankle surgery turned my love of food into an obsession. After school I would crutch my way into the kitchen, grab some saltines and a diet ginger ale, plop down, prop up my foot and inhale one salty soup cracker after another. With the passing of my grandfather I became a pack-a-day snacker. After his shiva, I braved the scale. At 162 pounds, I was barely fitting into my size 12 jeans, I felt sick and sluggish. Terrified of running and working out, I saw no solution for my bursting waistline. I felt ashamed and guilty, especially because my cousin was struggling to keep weight on as she fought against anorexia for her life; I knew that I should have felt grateful for my health.

But then, what if I didn’t become anorexic, what if I just ate less? There couldn’t be anything wrong with eating less could there? I was eating far too much as it was, what if I just cut the amount of food I ate in half?

The first few days were excruciating. I gave my friends my fruit and chips only allowing myself half a sandwich, no excuses. Later that day, I was certain that my entire chemistry class could hear my groaning belly. I could feel the acid sloshing in my gut and felt very much in danger of throwing up. It was so painful, I wanted to cry, but I was determined. Returning home each day, all I could think about was food; the smell of it, the taste of it. But, I had to prove to myself and my denim jeans that I could do this. I threw myself into my school work and found other ways to distract myself and soon the pounds started to fall off. I ate miniscule breakfasts and lunches, but slightly larger dinners so as not to worry my parents. Soon, it became easy. I found that I wasn’t especially hungry anymore. I felt lighter, I felt powerful and beautiful. Soon my clothes were too big and my confidence was through the roof. I was a size 6.

But this all came at a price. I was terrified of eating out with friends and family. I ordered as healthy as I could and ate almost none of it. I obsessed over portions and I’m sure drove my friends crazy worrying about the handful of potato chips I ate at so-and-so’s birthday party yesterday. My mom was scared that I was anorexic and routinely confronted me about it, but, in my mind I wasn’t. I felt fine, I looked great, and I didn’t see the problem. But one day while I was quietly obsessing over the fact that I’d had a second rice cake at lunch, it hit me. This wasn’t healthy. I may not be anorexic, but a rice cake? Come on! That’s just ridiculous.

I would love to say that I’m cured of my weight obsession, but, I’m not quite there yet. However, I am fighting it with every fiber of my being. I eat a healthy amount now, even though that crazy sophomore in my head freaks out a little bit each time that I do. I work out to burn off calories in place of avoiding them all together. I have gained a few of the pounds back, but I feel that it’s better this way. I am proud of the way I look, but I think it may be awhile before the war is over. Until then, my food fight continues.

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Serving the world, one meal at a time

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07/28/2009

Serving the world photo 1

As I walked from the Wilson Red Line stop to the JUF Uptown Cafe one sunny Sunday morning, four people called to me asking to spare some change. Two of those people were later guests at the JUF Uptown Cafe, Chicago’s first kosher anti-hunger program, where I was volunteering as a server for two hours of Sunday brunch.

Located in the Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center, the JUF Uptown Cafe is neither a soup kitchen nor a cafeteria. Volunteer waiters serve dinner three times a week and Sunday brunch to guests who are seated at tables and order food from a menu, choosing dishes they’d like to receive. Some of the guests are chronically poor, some are homeless; others have only an eighth-grade education. Still others have college degrees and are working, but do not make enough to afford food, housing and medical care. About 40 percent of the guests are Jewish and the rest come from a variety of backgrounds, the Cafe’s manager, Sara Shapiro, told our group of 14 volunteers as we learned how to set the tables, how to take orders and where to get the drinks and the condiments. Most were recruited by JUF’s Russian Jewish Leadership Forum, which builds bridges between the organized Jewish community and Chicago’s Russian-speaking Jews.

Serving the world photo 3

Jane, left, prepares the tables at JUF Uptown Cafe

As I got their drinks, their bagels, their plates of pancakes, hash browns, eggs and sausage, I got to know the four people who sat at the table assigned to me. Among them was a middle-aged avid Cubs fan, who had heard some of the volunteers talking about the game that day and eagerly interjected stories from his own times at Wrigley Field. He also shared a fascinating take on the 1919 White Sox bribery scandal. Another guest was a former art teacher, who shared her secret aspiration to take up PR work – she said she’d “always been able to sell an idea.” After she finished her dessert – chocolate cake and fruit this time – I told her about my sister’s exceptional skill with portraiture and my utter lack of talent at anything requiring pencils or paints. She told me it’s just about practice and a lack of inhibition. After all, kids can draw anything; they just haven’t gotten discouraged yet.

Serving the world photo 2

A feeling of absolute helplessness washes over me whenever people ask me for money on the street. How do I decide who to give and who to snub? My husband and I have a philanthropic plan we work out every year. We give to community organizations we trust, like JUF and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But sometimes, people on the street tug at my heartstrings, and I can’t help but wish I had more to share.

That’s why the JUF Uptown Cafe and programs like it are such a boost both for the people who use them and for those of us who are lucky enough to volunteer there. The Cafe provides an essential service, satisfying the basic human need for nourishment. But it also gives the guests and the servers the opportunity to interact in a dignified manner. We smiled at each other and we shared stories as I checked to see if the Cafe guests needed anything else. A sense of hope pervaded our encounter, however brief it was. For me, the Cafe also takes away the need to grapple with the choices: should I or shouldn’t I give. Everyone walking through the door receives a meal, period.

JUF’s Tikkun Olam Volunteer (TOV) Network offers plenty of opportunities to do good and give back in a very real way, like the JUF Uptown Cafe and Maot Chitim, which distributes home-delivered meals for Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. For all opportunities, check out TOV’s site or contact the Network directly at 312-357-4762 or tov@juf.org.

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The life of an Oy! Intern…

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07/27/2009

The life of an Oy! Intern photo

So, I was reading the RedEye today on my way in to the office from Evanston (such a long journey!) and I couldn't help but notice that the cover story was about INTERNS.  LIKE ME!  Being that I'm your Oy! Intern, I thought it would be nice to read about my compatriots in the land of proto-employ, my fellow knights in the struggle against the dragon experience.
 
According to the article, in this economy, interns are getting more and more responsibility, filling in for cutbacks in hours and employees, but while some are paying thousands for the experience of an internship, others are getting paid—an average wage of $17.13 per hour!  So, Oy! owes me approximately $582.42—I mean, apparently as an intern I can command an average wage of $17.13.  I'll wait.  Well, actually, I won't because I'd be waiting for ever.  This is the non-profit world after all.

Once I picked my jaw back up, refitting my mandible onto my maxilla and sewing my muscles back together, I wondered how I could get myself a cushy little internship with a salary like that.  I thought it might be a fledgling newsroom intern thing, so I checked with some friends.  No dice.  Sounds like CBS's investigative unit is implementing some New York City Ballet style cost-saving measures.  I figured Catalyst Chicago would probably in a similar boat to us here at Oy!  But Energy BBDO?

I'll agree with RedEye’s featured intern, Derek Moody, that I've got loads to do here, but it can still be a lot of hurry up and wait.  And yet, remember last week's party in Bucktown?  I cut up all those little attendance cards.  With an X-acto knife.  To be fair, Mr. Moody is working directly for his company, and for an established moneymaker.  I'm working in JUF's not-so-secret literary laboratory.

In all, do I think it's worth it?  Yes, and so do my friends—otherwise, we wouldn't stay put.  Oy! took a chance on me—a kid with no journalism experience outside of one opinion column in the Garfield Messenger—and it's been unreal, especially as a film major who gets to fool around on a camera for work.  I just hope this means I'll be getting a spot here in a couple of years…

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Thanks for coming to the EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash!

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07/27/2009

Thanks to everyone who came out for the EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash on Thursday! We hope you had as much fun as we did. Here are some photos from the night. To see more visit the Oy!Chicago group page on Facebook and don’t forget to tag yourself!

EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash photo 2

EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash photo 3

EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash photo 4

EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash photo 5

EnjOy!Chicago Bucktown Bash photo 1

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Cheers! Chicago: A journey through bourbon-land, America’s oldest spirit

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07/24/2009

When was the last time you asked your waiter where the ingredients and dishes on the menu came from, or how the chef chose to cook them? Now, ask yourself the last time you asked a bartender where your recently poured cocktail recipe originated, or even how the clear, tasteless and odorless vodka in your drink was made? You might ask about the year or region of a particular wine on the list, but do you ever ask what month or time of day the grower decided to pluck the grapes, or what they feed the soil?

Not as much, huh? I thought so.

I had the rare opportunity to learn and experience the fine and underappreciated art of making spirits from scratch to barrel to bottle—specifically Maker’s Mark bourbon in Loretto, KY. After witnessing the process, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to what farmers, flower growers, and textile people experience. The attention to detail, the history, the procedure, the variables, all of these qualities were shining through.

We began by going to the source of the spirit and of life itself –water. Just like fresh quality food, everything great begins somewhere. The limestone filters out the iron in the water, making for a great base for the bourbon. Then we saw the corn they grow and bring in specifically for Maker’s Mark, denoted by a little dent on the corn kernels. We watched as all the fresh ingredients were boiled and the yeast was added to convert the sugars in the malt and corn into alcohol and CO2, and saw the alcohol vapors as they condensed down the tall column still. We got to taste the “White Dog”, or pure alcohol, straight of the still. It’s about 130 proof, so watch out! We went to look at the warehouses to see where and how they barrel and store the bourbon. New American oak barrels go through a rigorous stress test to make sure they can withstand the test of time. We tasted bourbon at various stages of maturation, and noted that longer does not always mean better or higher quality when it comes to time spent in the barrel. Finally, we got to go to the labeling and bottling area, where we saw the “dip ladies” dip all the Maker’s Mark bourbon bottles by hand! A couple of us were so pumped by it, that we  had our sunglasses and shoes dipped in the Maker’s Mark red “wax” polymer! Whether it was the bottling or barreling, the trip to Loretto provided all us Chicago bartenders and mixologists a rare opportunity to see how what we pour gets made!

Today’s cocktail selection is a wonderfully balanced and refreshing summer cocktail that uses – you guessed it – bourbon as its base spirit. The name of this cocktail is the Bourbon Beachcomber, and it goes well with practically any BBQ plate or grilled vegetable platter, preferably soaked or basted with the bourbon. Having been a recent visitor, I am recommending Maker’s Mark for your home shelves as well as for this recipe. It’s great for food and cocktail experiments alike.

Bourbon Beachcomber

Ingredients:

Rocks glass
Crushed Ice (hammer + terry cloth towel + BANG x 20 = crushed ice)
1 orange wedge, quartered
½ bar spoon (1/2 teaspoon) fresh grated ginger, or 3-5 small, thin ginger slices
2 bar spoons of raw Demarara sugar
¾ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ oz. Domaine De Canton Ginger Liqueur
1.5-2 oz. Bourbon (Maker’s Mark)
Orange wedge garnish

In the rocks glass, place the sugar, orange quarters and ginger. Muddle gently 6-8 times. Pour in crushed ice above the top of glass, then add, in order, the lemon juice, ginger liqueur and bourbon. Stir and add more crushed ice to top. Garnish with orange wedge and sprinkle a little raw sugar on top to imitate sand and sunset. Sip slowly.

So next time you head out on the town, don’t be afraid to talk to your bartender or waiter about  what’s seasonal or pairs well with your food order—or better yet, take a risk and discover for yourself. L’Chaim!

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Biggest Loser Technology!

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Fit With Krit Product Review 
07/23/2009

Do any of you watch the Biggest Loser? My wife loves it, so I watch it. I think it’s great that people lose all that weight, but in my professional opinion it’s too fast and that’s why so many contestants gain the weight right back. Anyway, this article is not about the show, but about a gadget used on the show—the bodybugg.

The bodybugg is the armband contestants wear to track calories burned and the number of steps they take. It’s sold through 24 hour fitness.

The same company, Body Media, also sells the Go Wear Fit, which tracks the same things that the bodybugg does, and the number of hours you sleep. Sleep isn’t always mentioned in diet books but it’s helpful in weight loss. Most people eat more and exercise less when they are fatigued.

I decided to test this technology out for myself, and I have to admit wearing the armband became an obsession. I tracked everything. How many calories did I burn sitting at my desk for an hour? 97. During my lunch workout? 256. Arguing with my wife, 300 calories! It was almost worth it.

You’re probably wondering how this all works. Science, is the answer. Inside the armband are several different instruments that measure body temperature, movement and steps. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s close. The unit has actually been used for years in a clinical setting. Many doctors that perform gastric bypass surgery have their clients use the armband and review the results with the patient. Tracking activity level and sleep is step one in successful weight loss.

Step two of losing weight is tracking calorie intake. The Go Wear Fit user can track his or her calorie intake by logging meals into the software. If the food item is not in the database it can be added. (This happens often with all calorie counters.) After entering in meals, the Go Wear Fit shows calorie intake, a breakdown of proteins, fats, carbohydrates as well as sodium, potassium and other nutritional information. Once calorie intake is calculated, it’s a simple subtraction problem. If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight. If you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.

The Go Wear Fit is a great tool if you’re trying to lose weight or gain weight. But wearing the armband alone will not make the pounds disappear. You have to consistently look at the numbers and make lifestyle adjustments for it to work. I would recommend this tool to athletes that have to be at a certain playing weight and to overweight individuals. For the average Joe trying to cut a few pounds, I’d recommend just eating more veggies, less sugary snacks and exercising consistently five times a week.

If you have used the Fitbit, a competitor to Go Wear Fit, let me know how it went. If you would like information on ordering the Go Wear Fit, send me a note and I will point you in the right direction.

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EVIL FIGS!!

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07/22/2009

EVIL FIGS!! photo 1

A few weeks ago, the JUF staff received a fax informing us of an upcoming protest to be held by people I’ll call the “Voldemort” Baptist Church as a warning to us “contentious, Christ-rejecting Jews.” These same folks, known for protesting at military funerals, said we were, “self-righteous hypocrites who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.”  Their final warning: “God has made you evil figs!” The fax is even adorned with illustrations of little figs.

We were well aware that the composers of this fine piece of literature intended to create shame in our uncircumcised hearts, but we kind of found it hilarious. The night before, I even ran out and bought a package of Fig Newtons to snack on when the big day arrived.

On July 21, as promised, a group of six arrived at 10:50 sharp, adorned with T-shirts, festooned with placards and singing loudly. They appeared to be members of the same family. Their signs preached hatred of: Jews, Obama, gays, Catholics and apparently people who eat their babies. (I didn’t know that was especially common). There were two teenage girls brandishing “God Hates Israel” signs; two older women with anti-Obama, anti-gay, and baby-eater signs; a young boy with a sign declaring that the Jews stole Israel; and the main attraction, the ring-leader of crazy, the mom. She wore blood-splattered Israeli and gay pride flags and sported four huge signs (she must have been a waitress at some point in her career, because it takes a considerable amount of talent to simultaneously bellow hateful songs and balance so many placards). To the tune of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” they sang “Hey Jews” and paced in front of the Jewish Federation.

EVIL FIGS!! photo 2

But, the protest brought a pleasant surprise: the reactions of passers-by. Almost immediately, cabbies honked angrily, motorcyclists flicked off the protestors and business people of all ages yelled at them to go away. Workers of all races booed loudly as they walked by. College students mocked the protestors’ lack of reason, and tourists laughed and snapped pictures. A grandmotherly-looking lady flicked a cigarette butt at them.

 I felt a real unity with the people of Chicago. They refused to tolerate hatred and that made me proud to be a Chicagoan and American. Never have I felt so safe, which was not at all what I was expecting. I now see that if we all embrace our evil figginess, we can make a stand against injustice.

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Barf and babies

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Why I can no longer eat potatoes (and many other things)
07/21/2009

Barf and babies photo

Meet The Winks, baby A and baby B

Morning sickness is a wholly inaccurate term, occurring all day, every day, 24/7. Only sleep provides some relief, and then only until the moment you wake up. (Don’t even think about trying to fall back asleep, you’ll be running to the bathroom in five minutes. And again when you get to work, and again when you get home.)

I was so happily wrapped up in the process of getting pregnant that I did not spend much time thinking about what it would be like when it actually happened. I charted my cycle for months, taking my temperature every single morning before getting out of bed. My partner Mandi and I read through hundreds of anonymous donor profiles. We saved enough cash. And then all of a sudden I didn’t need that thermometer anymore.

For the first week after we found out about our little embryo (aka The Wink), I was really tired - I mean, so completely exhausted that I was napping on my office floor during lunch and going to sleep at 8 pm. Boring, but manageable. The next week, I met with the midwife for the first time, threw up and did not stop throwing up for a month.

I did not expect to have this problem. I have watched several colleagues breeze through their pregnancies with glowing skin, skinny legs and cute little bumps. That was sure to be me, happily anticipating my growing belly and future family filled with adorable children.

So this upchucking thing completely caught me off guard. I asked for advice from everyone I knew. Most people told me stories about how wonderful they felt during pregnancy and how sorry they were that they could not help me. Bitches.

I know what you’re thinking. Ginger ale, hot or iced ginger tea, candied ginger, vitamin B, red raspberry leaf, crackers, watermelon, jell-o, jell-o water, wrist bands with pressure points, eating before you lift your head off the pillow – all of these are great suggestions. None of them worked for me.

But then along came this wonderful thing called western medicine. Drugs. The anti-nausea medicine that would save my life. THANK YOU. The midwife said she would take it herself in a heartbeat. As someone who usually tries everything possible before taking medication, I am so grateful for this wonder drug which has allowed me to work, return phone calls, drink water, and keep those huge prenatal vitamins in my stomach. I still can’t eat most vegetables and cannot imagine ever consuming lettuce or potatoes again, but I can once again give hugs, drive all the way home without having to pull over, and laugh when something is funny.

After the midwife prescribed those amazing pills, we listened to the heartbeat. It took my breath away and I want to hear it again right now.

Because I have a family history of twins, some of my friends had been making comments about The Winks, plural. To put that taunting to rest, I asked the midwife, “There is just one heartbeat, right?”

So she moved the Doppler instrument and the heartbeat went away. She moved it to another spot. The heartbeat came back. Say what? Two heartbeats?

I scheduled an ultrasound and it was confirmed: Twins! “HOLY SHIT!” was the response of choice from family and friends. Well at least that explains the extreme morning sickness. Wow.

As the news sinks in, there are so many new questions, the most important of which is how the hell are two babies going to fit in there?! But like other questions about money and space and time, I’m sure that we’ll figure it out and everything will be fine.

In the meantime, Mandi has been unbelievable. She makes me endless amounts of mac and cheese. She goes to the grocery store every other day for fresh apricots and my favorite soy ice cream. She never complains about how I can’t cook anything or stay up past 9 pm. She says she owes me for life and sends me flowers at work. She was among the “Holy shit!” reactors when we first saw The Winks on the ultrasound monitor.

Now at the dawn of the second trimester, I am hopeful that I will soon be drug-free and eating vegetables again. After all, that farm box keeps on coming and I have a feeling The Winks could benefit from some organic veggies.

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Sorry, I don’t touch men

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True confessions of a celibate dater 
07/20/2009

Any moment now, it’s going to ring.

I’m watching my phone.

My body is preparing itself to receive two words emphatically digitally shrieked from the confines of a New Jersey suburban home: “I’m engaged!!!”

One of my closest friends has flown to the other side of our beloved country to meet the family of the man she has concluded is her beshert (intended match). A long distance relationship, they have only actually met four times, for multiple days each visit, in the last six weeks.

Welcome to the world of frum dating. I’ll be your guide.

For starters, a common term associated with frum dating is shomer negiyah (guarding touch), meaning that the couple desists from any physical activity— including handshakes, hugs, etc— until after the chuppah. Which also means delayed gratification for the impatient among us.

Myself a Baal Teshuva (someone who became observant later in life), I became shomer negiyah five years ago, when I was 20, with curiosity about the way it would change my relationships with men. Growing up, I was ignorant of any Jewish rules regarding sexuality. Not aware there was even an option of anything different— who would agree to a nonphysical, romantic relationship?— I cheerfully chose a lifestyle similar to my peers. Though I had more or less healthy relationships, I am deeply cognizant of the scars these decisions left behind. Now I observe the positive impact physical boundaries can have on the emotional and psychological growth of a couple. I am a walking witness to the workings of both worlds.

I am reminded about a night a few months ago when I attended my friend’s birthday party at a Chicago bar. Explaining that I don’t touch men to one who approached me, I had to reassure him that I was not a victim to the delusions of an oppressive religious doctrine. Motioning to the ladies chatting around us, thin layers of fabric occasionally covering parts of their body, I grinned and assured him that though externally I am more restrained than in my past, internally I am living joyfully the greatest time of my life.

My eyes return to the silent phone, and I text her a simple, concerned “how are you?”. I wonder why the news hasn’t yet hit.

To meet a potential spouse, I might go to a coworker, rabbi, teacher, friend, or anyone who knows anyone in the religious community, and tell them what I am looking for. I have a resume I sometimes send out to shidduch (dating) groups who try to pair up people. The resume includes my personal history, where I stand religiously, what I offer and what I am looking for. The person who does the matchmaking is called the shadchan. Many times, I research into a potential spouse with given references to inquire about the person’s past and compatibility.

With this style of dating, those who enter this focused arena are aware they won’t receive the perks of the noncommittal, let’s- wake- up- in- bed- next- to- each- other- for- two- years- and- then- maybe- we –will- be- ready- for- the- marriage- talk relationship. Thus, the intensity level for men and women on discerning their needs and commitment usually matches. With any confusion, the shadchan can be called, to offer advice or to call the other party to address any concerns. The infamous male/female divide is bridged slightly by the in-between who volunteers his or her services to bring clarity to the situation as quickly and comfortably as possible.

There is no standardization; the number of dates varies by each couple. My previous roommate went on 7 dates over the span of two weeks before deciding to engage. Others will go on 10 dates, 20 dates; no proper measurement exists. Without physical interaction, which often delays cutting off an ill-suited pair, and having a well matched team decide on their future, the process is often quicker.

I will not suggest that frum dating is painless. In fact, it most often is a deeply painful process of feeling judged, being rejected, rejecting others, waiting, trying to smile when others succeed, falling into despair, reminding yourself of who you are, brushing off the debris, standing back up, and re-dialing your shadchan’s phone number to reestablish your availability in the market.

However, the perks of such a system are, without a doubt in my mind, immense. It is impossible to understand the glory of such a system without experiencing it, just as it is impossible to fully know the emptiness of a world until you leave it behind for a more satisfying existence. These days I think about my previous lifestyle and revel in my increased level of calm, joy, and clarity. In a society obsessed with youth, all I can say is thank goodness I have aged.

I glance at the phone still lying silently beside me.

In the system my friend and I have chosen, all we can do is keep our hopes high, be as levelheaded as possible, and hurry up and wait for the Almighty to do what He does best. We are determined not to be left behind as we clamor to participate in this volatile ride. We are convinced that the seats we have chosen to get us to where we need to be are, in the end, the smartest, smoothest, and most enjoyable ones available.

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Blue or pink?

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07/17/2009

Blue or pink? photo 1

Being pregnant with a first child could potentially bring out the worst in a couple.  There are just so many new things to fight about – what to name the baby, how to budget for diapers, who is going to care for the baby.  Joe and I have gotten through most of these issues, and more, unscathed (but please don’t ask us what we’re naming this child, because we’re letting that subject “rest” for awhile).

All that aside, there is one baby-related decision that we can’t seem to agree on.  Joe wants to know the baby’s gender; I do not.

At this point, eight months into the pregnancy, it would seem to be a non-issue.  We had the opportunity to find out the baby’s sex three months ago, and we passed.  Call me old-fashioned, but I really think the baby’s birth will be even more special this way.  I’ve also convinced myself that labor will be just a bit more survivable knowing that I’m that much closer to finding out whether the baby is a he or a she (I know this is not logical, but I have to resort to self-trickery to avoid having nightmares about my rapidly approaching hospital stay).

Unlike many other moms-to-be I’ve come across, I get a kick out of strangers’ predictions, from the shampoo-er at the salon who took one look at me and said, “Oh, you’re expecting a little boy!” to the clerk at Walgreen’s, who asked me when my daughter is due.  The bubbies who lunch with my grandma all put their hands right on my belly before making their guesses, as though by osmosis the gender would suddenly appear before them.

Joe has grudgingly gone along with the plan, mostly, I suspect, out of fear that I will turn into a raging, hormonal lunatic if he dares to voice his objections.  Ever the more pragmatic half of the partnership, he feels that knowing the baby’s gender would help us to plan better for his or her arrival.  That, and he’s just plain dying to know, and doesn’t understand why I’m purposely torturing him.

Blue or pink? photo 2

None of my reasoning has helped to convince him.  “There are so few surprises left in life” prompted him to list a dozen “surprises” we have to look forward to, like what the baby’s first word will be.  “But I think it will make labor easier, since I’ll be so excited to find out” just got me a look that said “you’re insane and delusional.”  And “I’m the one who’s pregnant for nine months, and I say we’re not finding out” didn’t end up working out very well (I’ve since learned when I can and can’t pull the “pregnancy card”).

At one appointment with my doctor, Joe asked if the doctor knew the baby’s gender, because he had decided that he’d find out what it was and just not tell anyone.  The doctor said no, that no one other than the technician who had performed the ultrasound knew.

A few weeks later, at one of our childbirth preparation classes, the teacher mentioned something about the baby’s gender being in our file, and Joe realized he’d been had.  He toyed with the idea of calling the doctor’s office and asking again, but decided that maintaining marital harmony would probably be a better plan.

And so we wait in anticipation, Joe bemoaning the fact that we can’t paint the nursery walls blue or pink (but in the end really liking the bright green we chose), while I daydream about whether we’re having a son or daughter.

I hope he comes around and realizes that it has been kind of fun not knowing.  And if not, at least the torture is almost over for him.  That is, until we have to decide on the name.

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Ahead by a nose

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07/15/2009

Jenna Cohen photo

My mom always says that she expected a baby with black hair, a big nose, and a wild temper; she likes to say that she got two of the three. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jew, I have tried to find ways to make myself more obviously Jewish on the outside and inside. I tried wearing a Star of David, being a strict observer of Shabbat, and keeping kosher (that one never even made it out of the starting gate; my love for BLTs was simply too powerful). I tried volunteering at my synagogue, attending Jewish summer camp, and Jewish studies programs, and although they were all fun and beneficial, I still felt like I was on the margins of Jewish society. Whenever I saw someone on the street who was obviously a member of the tribe, I hoped to be recognized. I bought Hebrew “Coca-Cola” t-shirts, cut the collars off sweatshirts, and sported a “Chai Maintenance” T-shirt as often as I could, but nothing was working.

But, this past May, as I was taking prom pictures, I caught myself turning my face away from the camera to make my nose less noticeable in the picture. And as I tried to summon my inner beauty queen, I began to wonder how long I had been hiding my face like this. Then, like a hit between the eyes, I realized that all this time I had spent trying to make myself stand out as a Jew, I’d had it in me all along. The nose protruding from my profile was not only there to ruin school pictures and get stuffy in the winter, it was my long sought after connection to my people. It was enormous, beautiful, mine, and most significantly, Jewish. Now I don’t feel the need to prove myself at the grocery store as the woman sporting a large Star of David swipes my bacon strips. I know that racing out ahead of my golden locks and blue eyes is a Jewish nose, big and perfect.

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There’s no place like summer camp

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07/14/2009

There’s no place like summer camp photo

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: “you can’t go home again”. Supporting that point is this bit of great wisdom from that noted philosopher Mike Ditka, “the past is for cowards and losers”. Granted, this came from the same man who once shouted his way through “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” at Wrigley, traded about 52 draft picks for Ricky Williams, and thought stumping for poor Sarah Palin was a good use of his time. (It wasn’t.)

So it is with great pride that I take this opportunity to refute the none-too-prescient words of Da Coach, and hereby proclaim that indeed, you can go home again. Or at least you can go to summer camp again. That’s exactly what I did during a recent July weekend, and if that makes me a coward or a loser, fine. At least I can go to sleep knowing I would have let Walter Payton find the end zone in the Super Bowl, unlike Mr. Ditka.

I should mention that one of my work endeavors is the first all-summer camp social networking websiteMyCampFriends.com. I’ve been a “camp guy” ever since my first of 15 summers at Harand Camp, back when I was 11 in 1985. (Interesting trivia: I was just a few inches shorter than I am now at that time. More interesting trivia: I’ll save future meanderings on my height – or lack thereof – for $150/hr therapy sessions.) I fell in love with camp immediately, a requirement for Jewish kids by most state laws. But Harand was – and thankfully remains – different from your average summer camp: it’s a theater camp. No, not like that creepy theater camp in the movie “Camp” where every camper looks like they’ll spend their lives acting in bad community theater productions of “Rent”. Harand takes a more well-rounded approach to the camp experience, where only part of the day is dedicated to theater, and the rest includes traditional camp activities. That’s not to say the theater training isn’t top notch. Indeed, Harand boasts such alumni as Jeremy Piven, Virginia Madsen, Billy Zane, and “The Fugitive” director Andy Davis. (And, of course, ahem, yours truly.) It’s just that Harand puts far greater stock on developing one’s confidence both onstage and off, which is one of the many things I respect about camp.

Most everyone I grew up with at Harand Camp still loves the place, but given my profession in comedy and music, I’m in the unique position where I can still visit and contribute to the camp’s theater program. Usually I’ll stop by for a day or two every few years, which at this point in my life, seems just about right. Part of the reason I finally left camp back in 1999 at 25 years old was because I just felt I was too old to share a bathroom with 12 year old boys, wake up at 7AM for breakfast, and date women just finishing their freshman year of college. (Legal? Sure! Creepy? You bet.)

This summer is Harand’s 55th anniversary, and after not stopping by in a few years, it seemed like the perfect time to head to Cheesehead territory for a visit. There was one wrinkle this time around which was a bit of an impediment – I severely sprained my ankle the day before I was to leave, and was unable to get around on my own or make the drive to camp. Enter my girlfriend of nearly 18 months, who happily (I think?) not only drove me to camp, but did the unthinkable: stayed with me and experienced camp for the entirety of my visit. That she didn’t dump me after hearing hundreds of stories ranging from, “So, there was this one kid back in ’88 who forgot all the words of his song in “Oklahoma”! to “We had a counselor get fired for showing the 10 year olds  the video of “Hellraiser Two” on a rainy day” is a miracle of the highest proportions.

From the minute I arrived, I was ushered to the theater to sit at the piano – my home for 3 days – and began rehearsing with the kids for the Pageant, the mid-summer show the entire camp does for the parents during the first visiting weekend. Because I’ve known most of these songs since I was a kid (90% of the camp songs don’t change from year to year, another great thing about camp), playing them came back to me immediately. So many of the kids looked familiar; either because I’d seen them at camp before during past years (Haranders, as Harand Campers are affectionately known, tend to come back for many years), or because Jewish kids (like me) from the north shore/Latin/Parker circuit tend to look the same in 2009 as they did in 1987; minus the outrageous hair and Depeche Mode t-shirts.

From the craziness of mealtime, to sharing a twin bed with my girlfriend; from the wild Wisconsin thunderstorm that passed by late one night, to drinking too many shots of Kessler whiskey at the town bar with other camp staff who’d been there for ages, it felt like I’d never left. It’s amazing how walking back into summer camp immediately places you right back into a certain time of your life no matter how much you try and fight it. This is a theory which was proven every time I entered the dining hall, where I ate like a 13-year-old: pancakes & sausage for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, chicken patty sandwiches for dinner, and ice cream cones for dessert. (At one point, I was one brownie away from extending my middle finger to the salad bar. How dare you exist in a world of such high calorie goodness?)

This routine went on for a few days, and then came Saturday, the night of the Pageant. I’d forgotten just how impressive of a feat the Pageant is, especially as it’s rehearsed in three short weeks. The camp, which is still led by the inspiring and ageless Sulie Harand (her sister and Harand’s co-founder, the equally wonderful Pearl Harand, passed away 10 years ago), ends its camp season with traditional musicals for each age group, which many campers prefer. But to me, Pageant captures the spirit of what Harand is all about. The show features every camper in his/her own “section” (usually a tribute to an era, such as the 1960’s, or a notable composer, like George Gershwin), and all the campers come together onstage for the finale. (The final shows are also great. But any high school in the world can put on “Guys and Dolls,” while Pageant remains a uniquely Harand concept.) Harand’s credo of “No Man Is An Island, No Man Stands Alone” could not ring more true than when every camper is assembled onstage singing together, and that, to me, is the defining moment of a Harand season.

I was surprised how nervous I was before the show began. As I mentioned, I’d played these songs for years. And in the ensuing years, I’ve played piano for some pretty high-level shows, including ones with Bill Murray and Martin Short. (Yes, I’m name- dropping. You would too if you got to play the Saturday Night Live, lounge version of “Star Wars” while Bill Murray sang along.) Yet something about playing at camp made me particularly nervous. Luckily, they were nerves I’d felt many times in that same environment, and once the show began and my fingers found their way to the right notes on the piano, I was instantly at ease. (OK, so perhaps the pain meds for my ankle had something to do with that. This may also explain why I slipped an occasional Pink Floyd reference into my scoring.)

Two hours and 10 minutes later - a record for anyone who’s ever sat through Pageant - the show was over. I caught my girlfriend’s eye in the audience, and could tell how impressed and surprised she was with what she saw. I became unexpectedly emotional as I watched the parents give the kids a much deserved ovation. Perhaps it was because I was genuinely happy for the kids, and knew exactly how they were feeling at that moment. But more likely, it was because in those kids, I saw part of myself from days past; a time in my life I thought would never end.

Of course, like most things, those days did end. Kind of. Because as long as Harand Camp exists, I know I’ll have a place to stop by for a few days each summer, play a little  piano, do my part to make a great group of kids feel good about themselves, and re-connect with a group of people who have always felt like family. And kids from all over the country will have an amazingly unique place to grow their own memories year after year. For those of you who might be too old for camp, MyCampFriends.com is there to help you re-live all those great camp memories. For me, I’ll continue to re-live all those great camp memories, and make new ones, in a way few others ever could: at camp.

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Creating New Ritual

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07/13/2009

As Jews of the modern age, we have the ability to create for ourselves traditions which speak to us personally and fit the times we live in. I see this more and more these days, especially as a cantor. Even some rituals which now seem commonplace were once new and unexplored—like bat mitzvahs and baby naming and the addition of an orange to the Seder plate!

I have been incredibly drawn to this idea in the past, and I spoke about a new ritual I helped create in my post "Twice Blessed." I am also excited that two new prayer books have recently been published—one from Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York and the other from Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco. Both are now available to the public, and open new doors into how prayers can be utilized with translations that are incredibly inviting. A recent article on Jewcy.com reviews the new siddur from Sha'ar Zahav and shares some of its offerings.

The Reform movement in particular has chosen to apply great sensitivity to its word choices and the language it uses in its prayers. This is apparent in its newest siddur, Mishkan Tefillah. Over the past two decades, much thought and energy has been given to replacing masculine imagery of God with gender neutral language where possible, as well as including the names of female counterparts to the traditional and original male references. For example, all of the imahot (mothers) have been a part of the avot (fathers) prayer for quite some time, while a new addition is the name of Miriam alongside Moses in the Mi Chamocha.

I must add that creating new ritual is not always a serious effort. My family and good family friends have rarely missed a chance to give thanks to Maxwell House for sponsoring our free Haggadahs during Passover! I am sure that our Seder would feel somewhat lacking if we didn't make mention of this personal tradition.

I am curious to know what type of personal rituals you have created, and how do you relate to them? Perhaps you wrote your own vows for your wedding or maybe you have your own specific family traditions. Just think, if you share, there is a good chance that someone else would love to make your tradition their own!

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Wedding crashers

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Celebrating a bit of our heritage on vacation
07/10/2009

Wedding crashers photo 1

Believe me, we didn’t look like this at the Russian wedding ...

We tried. We really tried to get away. But even at the southernmost tip of the Dominican Republic we ran into people who know someone who knows someone who probably knows us.

The “we” in question includes me, my husband and six friends who planned to lounge on the beach together for seven glorious worry-free days.

The people who probably know someone who knows us not only spoke Russian, but they are also Jewish and almost from Chicago. Well actually, they live in Milwaukee, but it’s close enough considering that the clientele at the resort included what seemed like the entire population of a small Serbian town, some snarky Irish kids and about a zillion honeymooners from all over the world. The Russian-speakers were Masha (a leggy blonde) and Dima (the bearer of a prominent eagle-beak nose) and they chose Dreams Punta Cana for their destination wedding.

The sunset ceremony at the marble rotunda must have been beautiful. But we were at dinner and at the moment weren’t even aware of Dima and Masha’s existence. Our ears perked up when Russian-language pop music suddenly began blasting from a second-floor ballroom balcony. The group – seven of us were born in the former Soviet Union – couldn’t believe that we had run into a bit of our own lives in this remote location.

We got even more excited when we spotted a kippah and realized the rabbi must have come from Milwaukee to officiate at this wedding. Yeah, I admit it, we’re Jewish nerds. After all, our hotel wasn’t exactly the JCC’s Perlstein resort. No mezuzahs on the doorposts and definitely no kosher food. Not that the group really cared all that much – the relaxing atmosphere and whole days spent in the water were enough.

Wedding crashers photo 2

Pretending to be exhausted after a day in the sun

(On a side note, turns out, Masha and Dima could have hired a rabbi from the Dominican Jewish community. About 400 Jews live on the Dominican half of the island, worshipping at three synagogues in two cities.)

In any case, what could we do but join the happy couple for a bit of their celebration? The temptation was simply too much. We weren’t quite in full-on wedding crasher mode– with only 20 guests at this wedding, we decided we wouldn’t be able to blend in. So we didn’t drink their champagne or eat their cake or loudly toast to long years of marriage and a bunch of kids. But we did briefly meet the bride and groom, wish them all the best and dance to the Russian pop.

This vacation was everything we wanted – peace, quiet, the ocean. Turns out, it left us with more memories than we expected. The instant sense of kinship we felt with the just-marrieds made it even more memorable. We don’t know much about them except their names, that they speak the language we speak with our families and that they made sure to include some Jewish ritual into their celebration. And yet, here I am, recalling this one episode from among the many exciting moments of our week in Dominican.

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A tribute to the klutzes of the world

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07/09/2009

A tribute to the klutzes of the world photo

Ouch

You know that feeling you get when you know you’re about to trip, but if you’re lucky, you can still “catch” yourself in time to save yourself from embarrassment and pain?  I thought I had “caught” myself yesterday morning as I hurried down Southport to catch the brown line for work.  So. didn’t. catch. self.  What broke my fall instead, was my mouth and big nose hitting the cement pavement.  OUCH!

Let’s back up a second here.  I’m a klutz.  I know this and I do my very best to take this into account during my daily life.  I carefully get on escalators for fear I’ll fall or worse get caught, I always hold the railing on a staircase— I’ve crashed enough times to know better.  I’ve been known to trip over X and knock into Y more times than I’d like to admit.  But really?  I tripped over myself, yes, just myself, not a hole in the pavement, not  those metal grates in the sidewalk, just tripped over myself and wiped out so bad that I now sit here with cuts and bruises covering my nose, mouth, chin, shoulder, hand, and both knees.  My lip is the size of a blimp.  I made an emergency trip to the dentist to make sure my teeth aren’t going to fall out—they’re not.  And a face that could scare young children.  Not kidding.  Yeah, even for me, this is pretty impressive work.

I know Jews don’t believe in karma, that’s for Buddhists and Hindus and whomever else, but I must have done something pretty bad to someone to deserve this kind of a fall.  Seriously.  Can I use Oy! to take a moment to apologize to anyone whom I may have harmed recently?  I’m very sorry.  I know Yom Kippur is still a few months down the road, but it may as well today be for me.

This has been very therapeutic.  Thank you Oy!sters.  Hopefully, some of you can relate a little.  Although, I really hope no one else has tried to pick a fight with the sidewalk.  You will lose.

 I’m really not quite ready to laugh yet, not while my face can be described as a) a third world child with a really bad cleft palate, b) bad lip injections gone very wrong, c) a domestic abuse victim or d) (my personal favorite) a really bad case of herpes.

Ok, that’s kind of funny.  Ha! Ow!  It hurts too much to laugh.

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My Goodness, My Guinness!

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07/08/2009

I’d never given much thought to what record I’d want to break in order to end up in the Guinness Book of World Records. Until this morning, that is.

That’s when I came across this little snippet about a 42-year-old Russian woman who gained a spot on the honor roll of bizarre talents and collections for having the world’s strongest… vagina?!

Seriously?!

Apparently so. And it’s not her first time at this rodeo, either: Tatiata Kozhevnikova recently broke her own previous world record by lifting a 14 kg (30.8 lb) glass ball with her hoo-ha muscles.

Now, I knew that you could hold the record for having made the world’s largest sandwich. I knew you could be measured as the shortest or tallest person alive. Thanks to David Blaine, I knew that there are people out there who are willing to risk their lives trying to see how long they can hold their breath underwater.

Those are, I suppose, normal enough records to try to break. As is the record for the world’s largest flag, which was unveiled on November 25, 2007, at Masada Airfield in Israel, between two other record locations: the Dead Sea (the lowest exposed body of water on Earth) and Masada, where some 960 Jewish zealots committed the largest mass suicide of ancient times by cutting each others' throats during a siege by the Romans in AD 73.

But how do you wake up one morning and decide that you think you just might have the world’s strongest Kegels, and dammit, you want the world to know it?

For that matter, under what circumstances did Jackie Bibby find himself with a live rattlesnake in his mouth – and what could possibly have prompted him to see just how many more he could cram in there at once? Mr. Bibby’s parents must be so proud of their son, who holds the record for Most Live Rattlesnakes Held in the Mouth.

How bored could the students at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University possibly have been in order to decide that they needed to get peers from as many nationalities as possible into a sauna?

I could go on.

I could tell you that Niek Vermeulen of the Netherlands holds the largest collection of airline barf bags – and that he apparently wears a smashingly elegant baseball cap emblazoned with “Barf Bags Wanted” when he leaves his home.

Or that the world’s highest ranking law enforcement camel is named Bert, and that in 2003 he became a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in San Dimas.

But frankly, I’m still a bit distracted by Tatiata’s superhuman special lady flower.

I’m still not certain what world record I’d like to hold. Those who have seen my office might nominate me for largest stress ball and plastic dreidel collection. And I went through a phase not long ago where I probably could have won Most Consecutive Meals That Included at Least One Bowl of Cheerios. But I’m not quite ready to submit my application just yet.

What about you, Oy!sters? What records would you want to hold?

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Exploring Jewish Chicago, one neighborhood at a time

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07/07/2009

Want to know more about Chicago’s Jews before Oy? Here’s a history lesson of the past 150 years: Irving Cutler, a professor emeritus at Chicago State University has published an updated edition of his "The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb.” The update adds another 13 years worth of Jewish Chicago history to the opus, first published in 1996. Cutler uses his expertise on Chicago-area neighborhood demographics and Jewish institutions as he explores the movement of Chicago’s Jews from the city to the suburbs. He also published a photo compilation, “Jewish Chicago: a Pictorial History.

The Jerusalem Post reviews the book, noting that Cutler also presents brief biographical sketches of the people who contributed to the vitality of the Chicago Jewish community. So if you’d like to keep up on your Jewish geography – literally – here’s your chance.

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You may now refer to me as Reverend Lindsey Bissett

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07/06/2009

You may now refer to me as Reverend Lindsey Bissett photo 1

Two blonde Reverend Lindseys that pray together stay together

I have a very good friend whose name is also Lindsey and she also happens to have blonde hair. Two blonde Lindseys, you could say. We like to do most things together. We have mourned the decaffeination of Sparks together, planned parties together, stayed out way past our bed times drinking way too many PBRs together, and most recently we became ordained ministers together. Two blonde Reverend Lindseys.

On Friday night we were hanging out at my place waiting to go to the Lupe Fiasco show and, I have no idea why, but we decided to look into becoming ordained so we could someday perform a wedding or two. We stumbled upon this Web site of the Universal Ministries where we could “Follow our calling by becoming a minister!” and “Become an ordained minister and start your own church today.” The Web site assured us that Universal Ministries will ordain anyone, at no charge and women are welcome and have the same right as men to ordination. (This made me wonder, are there Web sites offering ordinations that don’t allow women the same rights?)

Turns out Universal Ministries will welcome you “whether you worship God above, Our Dollars in Denver, or Nature's beauty.” Uh… what’s Our Dollars in Denver? “However, if you are a true soldier of the faith, we request you check your weapons with the man behind the curtain before proceeding.” Aren’t they clever?

The only information you have to give to become ordained is:

Your full name
Your full address
Your e-mail address
Your birthday
Your phone number
Your religion or faith of choice
Your gender

This is all optional, too. It seems harder to sign up for Twitter (are you following Oy! on Twitter?) than to be ordained. Although by filling out the form you do have to promise that you won’t marry any pets. My poor hamster. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

You may now refer to me as Reverend Lindsey Bissett photo 2

Wednesday on her would-be wedding day

So, Saturday rolls around and I’ve completely forgotten that we filled out those applications, because I actually didn’t even fill mine out, the other Lindsey did it for me. But I have an e-mail from “Doug” with my proclamation of ordination. It says:

“Thank you Reverend Lindsey Maurine Bissett. Please understand that IF this is not your LEGAL name, this is not a valid ordination. If it is, there’s no need to worry. We are referring to everything after the “Reverend” part above. We ordain you as a member/minister of the Universal Ministries in a service on your behalf at the Milford church, not just through an online registration. You are now a minister of this church within the Doctrines and articles of Association of the church, with all rights and obligations thereof. You are now legally able to use “Reverend” as part of your name if you wish.”

And I DO wish.

The e-mail goes on to tell me that earlier in the day, Doug, along with the rest of Universal Ministries held a real service on my behalf to ordain, anoint, appoint and select me for placement into their Registry of Ministry as a minister. OMFG! It’s real. I don’t even need a certificate, although I could get one if I wanted for $10, and if I want it extra fancy it’s $20. What a deal! I can now officially start my own church, perform weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. I hope the etc doesn’t mean I could do a bris. Yikes.

They also have an online store to get all your reverend clothing needs. Two blonde Reverend Lindseys would look so stylin' in these robes.

Oh man, if Lindsey and I started a church together each wedding would begin, and end, with a dance party. We’d have Gregg Gillis there every time and special performances by R. Kelly. I’d like to be Lindsey’s hype man for the actual ceremony part and just back up everything she says.

I could daydream about that for hours. Maybe the next time Lupe Fiasco comes to town we’ll begin planning the foundation for a Two Blonde Reverend Lindseys Cathedral. Wouldn’t you be a member?

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Reach out for a big Jewish hug

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07/02/2009

As the saying goes: “It’s a small Jewish world.”

I say, “Use it.”

I was on the phone with a friend the other day, recapping a funny Saturday night we’d had at a party. The hosts were from Deerfield and she and I are from Highland Park.  We knew the hosts and a few of their friends. After playing some serious, Jewish geography that evening, it wasn’t long until about 50 of us discovered we were mishpuchah.

My friend recalled the theory of six degrees of separation when meeting people, and pointed out that in the Jewish world, it’s two degrees. I would argue that with anyone you meet from north suburban Chicago, it’s one degree.

In leaving the North Shore, going off to college in the Midwest and returning to Chicago, I never, for a moment, lost sight of my Jewish suburban neighbors. 

While it’s fun to wax nostalgic at a party or out at a bar, I never imagined how useful these networks could actually be.

I don’t want to be mistaken for an opportunist—these networks have often found me. However, you can seek them out.

This year, I began working for the Chicago Tribune’s Triblocal, a hyper-local niche publication that focuses on Chicago’s surrounding suburbs. Ironically, I was assigned to report on the North Shore. 

As time goes on, more and more of my mishpuchah have been coming out of the woodwork. Some have become great sources for story ideas, but others are actively looking for employment during these difficult economic times.

To all of you 20- or 30- something displaced suburban refugees living in Chicago, I have a couple helpful hints: Don’t forget your roots and never stop networking, whether you’re employed or not. Jews are not only notoriously charitable, but they also love to schmooze. There are even Jewish networking events throughout the city.

But, your own network is bigger than you think. If you’re already in the practice of spying on old high school friends on Facebook, spy wisely—check out where they’re working and whether there are any openings. That’s how many have contacted me, and I try to help when I can.

If you haven’t visited the Twitter-verse yet, check it out. You may find that tweeting with fellow Jews will give you some unexpected leads. What is Twitter, but a big virtual handshake—or in our case, a big Jewish hug?

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How to be Summer Style Savvy (on a Non-Profit Salary)

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07/01/2009

How to be Summer Style Savvy photo 1

Abby, shopping on the Mag Mile

In the winter I dream of tank tops and exposed toes.  I crave short dresses and new bikinis.  I long for the warmth of the sun’s rays on my back in my skimpy summer attire, turning my shoulders a delicious shade of golden brown.  I anxiously await the day that my pale pink nail polish goes into summer hibernation, to be replaced by a brighter, eye-catching shade of magenta, coral, or bright purple, and I live for the excitement of purchasing the latest summer fashions in vibrant, stimulating hues.

While not all of you love summer style as much as I do, I’m sure you can at least commiserate, as fellow Chicagoans, about how long we have to wait until summer arrives.

It’s not fair that I see pictures of Kate Hudson walking around LA all year long in her maxi dresses and gladiator sandals.  It’s not fair that summer styles appear on fashion websites in February, as I sit shivering in my bulky parka, trying not to cry out of jealousy, for fear that my tears may freeze on my cheeks.  And, it’s definitely not fair that fall fashions hit the runway in late May, as we Chicagoans are still waiting for our summer to come.

Typically, I go a little nuts when it comes to shopping for summer clothing.  You couldn’t have guessed that from reading the last few paragraphs, would you?  HA!  However, this year is a little different.  Not only does the schmuckonomy suck, but I also happen to work for a non-profit.  Bad schmuckonomy, plus non-profit salary, equals, yep, you got it, not a lot of spending money.  The plus side of the horrible economy, and as a friend endearingly calls it, my “breadcrumb winner” salary, is that it has forced me to take a step back and assess my summer fashion purchases.  I decided to sit down and make a list of everything I “absolutely needed” for the warm months ahead.  My list, after every boho maxi, boyfriend jean, ombre sunglasses, one-shoulder top, leather jacket, statement necklace, and gladiator sandal was added, resembled a Torah much more than a shopping list.  My list needed major re-evaluating.  I started thinking about what I truly needed.  I crossed off items that were “one time wear” trendy items.  I crossed off the items that in reality only look good on the models, and make normal people look silly, and I crossed off items that I knew in my heart of hearts that I just didn’t need.  I kept crossing off and kept crossing off.  Eventually, my list looked like less of a Torah, and more like a small (chapter) book.  All joking aside, it was comprised of much more practical, realistic items, sprinkled with a few fun/trendy pieces that I decided to treat myself to throughout the summer.

After looking at my list, I realized a few things.  One of the most important realizations I had was that I really don’t make a list this big for other seasons.  Maybe it’s because winter is so cold that I lose all motivation to shop.  Who knows.  Either way, it’s a fact that I live in Chicago.  And, unfortunately (or fortunately, for my wallet) it’s a fact that it is too cold for summer clothes nine months out of the year.  So why was I spending all of this money on clothes I could only wear three months out of the year?  After thinking about it more, I realized that of those three months, I can really only wear my fun summer clothes on weekends, away from work.  That leaves me with thirteen weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Let’s figure in three rainy weekends to be realistic, and I can only wear these summer clothes for ten weekends!  Ten weekends!  Depressing!  Awful!  Yet, liberating!  Liberating, because it made me realize how ridiculous I’ve been in the past with my shopping habits.

Even if I do spend nine months of the year dreaming of the clothes I can wear for ten weekends, I am proud to report that my summer shopping was much more controlled this year.  I’ve learned that I can salivate over the summer trends on websites like shopbop.com, without giving in to every “ammmaaaazing” item I see.  Though I’d love to be able to buy more and give in to the urge of every summer trend, I know I’m fortunate for what I have, and if you ask my friends, I still have more than enough clothes.

How to be Summer Style Savvy photo 2

Oy’s resident fashionista sporting some of this summer’s latest trends; bright colors (top, Banana Republic- on sale $60, leather jacket (Gap, on sale, $200), and statement necklace (Street fair in California, $10)

As a reformed summer-shopaholic, I want to conclude my very deep, highly intellectual article by sharing a few tips with my fellow fashionistas on a budget:

1.  Make a list of what you REALLY need vs. what you want.  Buy yourself what you truly need (hopefully on sale because of the schmuckonomy) and treat yourself to a few key pieces for special occasions (birthday, raise, big date, breakup, etc.) and try to find those special items on sale!

2.  Invite your friends over for clothing swap parties.  Pop open an (inexpensive) bottle of champagne, and invite your friends to bring over several items of clothing (must be cute and in good condition) that they would be willing to swap for something else.  You can swap permanently, or just borrow each other’s clothes temporarily, to increase your wardrobe.  It is a fun (and inexpensive) activity to do with your girlfriends on a Friday night!

3.  Look for trendy items in places you wouldn’t expect.  Don’t empty your wallet buying a statement necklace at Neiman’s that you’ll only wear this summer - take advantage of the many street fairs in Chicago and maybe you’ll find an awesome beaded tribal necklace like I did, for less than $15.

4.  When it comes to the big items, shop around for the best price.  Resist the urge to be impulsive, because you never know, maybe something else will come along that you like better, and you can’t afford both.  Tip: put big items on a list for one month.  If that month passes and you still feel like you can’t live without it, then maybe that will be your summer treat to yourself.  If the month passes and your eye has already moved on to something else, you’ll be glad you didn’t spend your money on the first item.

5.  Remember the weather!  We live in Chicago (i.e. the tundra), and summer colors might be fun, but they won’t go far.  As amazing as the bright pink Foley and Corinna leather cross-body bag is, remember, you can only wear it ten weekends a year, so it makes a lot more sense to buy a more neutral color that you can use all year.

6.  Visit places like Borrow a Dress Couture where you can rent high-end dresses for as low as fifty dollars.  So often we spend big bucks on that one dress for that one occasion, and then we can’t wear it again because we just wore it (you know how it is) so spend a fraction of the price, and rent a dress!

7.  If you are going to spend a lot of money on a purse/clothing item, make sure it is an “investment piece”.  That black, studded, “rocker glam” purse may be cute now, but are you really going to wear it next year?  Invest instead in neutral colored bags and classic, well made clothing that doesn’t go out of style.  Leather jackets are in style now, but make sure you find one that isn’t too trendy, that can carry you into fall, and many seasons to come!

Remember, you can be fashionable and still not spend a fortune.  Maybe some of that money you save can be used to go on a vacation this winter to give yourself one more week of sizzling summer style!

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