Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sweetness at the Holidays

I received a most unexpected holiday gift in the mail this past week. I will tell you the story, which starts when I was a eleven years old and my family moved to a house on Kingston Avenue in Schenectady. Across the street from us lived a Greek Orthodox family with three children, all younger than I. My little brother befriended their son Emmanuel, whom they called “Manόly,” and the boys played together often. Manόly taught him how to ask “Where is Manόly?” in Greek, because Manόly’s grandmother, who spoke no English, looked after the children a lot of the time and she was always home. The only problem was that when she answered my brother to tell him where Manόly was, she answered in Greek. So he couldn’t understand her.

My brother remained more friendly with this family than any of us. I barely knew them. Last year, I became friends with the eldest daughter in that family, Dena, on Facebook. We had both commented on one of my brother’s posts and we wound up becoming friends. We talk to each other a couple time a week now on Facebook and we share a love for cooking. Here comes my holiday gift.

Last week, Dena posted photos of the luscious baklava that she had made (sheets and sheets of it) for the holidays. I was drooling over the photos on Facebook, even though I don’t eat gluten anymore. (I swiped her photo to attach to this blog.) A few days ago, Dena sent me a message on Facebook to say that she couldn’t resist sharing her baklava with me, knowing that I, too, am a “foodie” (love to cook, love to try new recipes, love to eat healthy food). So two days ago I received a box of homemade authentic Greek baklava via express mail. I really don’t eat gluten, but a gift like this, well one must make an exception. I ate a piece (saving the rest for my children) slowly, savoring it to the last drop of honey.

Dena's baklava and turkey soup cooking on the side.

I love the holiday spirit, that brought me this treat, from this woman whose life has now intersected mine again after all these years. I find it extraordinary the way our lives intertwine and wrap around one another, arcing away and bending back. How can we ever know who will disappear from our lives forever, who will return after years lost, who will enter tomorrow and stay with us through thick and thin? How can we know that homemade baklava is in the mail for us from someone special, someone new, someone generous, someone from our distant past, someone reconnecting?

Have a wonderful holiday season y’all. I’ll be enjoying time with my children – all of them coming home, and this year we have Akili’s fiancée with us for Christmas for the first time. Life is as sweet as baklava.

[Excuse me if I don’t blog next weekend. I might take a week off.]

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cuisine as Peacemaker

I read a review of an extraordinary cookbook called Jerusalem not long ago and out of curiosity I checked this cookbook out of the library. I’m in love. I need my own copy (now high on my Christmas list). Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian business partner and co-chef Sami Tamimi have produced a gorgeous collection of delicious recipes that live in their shared memories of growing up on opposite sides of Jerusalem. In the inspirational opening pages of commentary before they present their recipes, Ottolenghi and Tamimi write that they “imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”

These two chefs own a collection of restaurants in London, where they both relocated while in their teens. In 1968 Tamimi was born in Arab East Jerusalem and Ottolenghi was born in Jewish West Jerusalem. Tamimi is a Muslim and Ottolenghi is, almost improbably, an Italian Jew. They met when Ottolenghi applied for a job in Tamimi’s restaurant. Before long they had become business partners and they are lately the darlings of London. I can see why. The recipes they offer in Jerusalem slay me. I want to cook all of them. I want to cook my way through their book the way Julie Powell cooked her way through Julia Child, (except I’ll have to skip the meat and fish recipes since I’m vegetarian – but not a problem since the book is loaded with vegetable, bean, and grain recipes). An entire section of the book is devoted to condiments, such as dips and sauces. Yes! I remember the night my family arrived in Israel for a visit when I was 16 years old and our cousins took us to eat at a Palestinian restaurant in East Jerusalem, the “Old City.” There must have been at least a dozen different little bowls of these kinds of condiments on the table and my entire heavenly dinner consisted of dipping pita bread into all of them and savoring the different flavors.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi point out that Jerusalem is a city of many cultures. The city is home to Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Hasidic Jews originating in Poland, non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, both religious and secular Jews from Libya, France, Britain, and the U.S., Sephardic Jews who have lived in the Holy Land for generations, Palestinian Muslims, Christian Arabs, Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe (including Germany, Romania, Lithuania, etc.), and newly arriving Sephardic Jews from Morocco, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, Armenian Orthodox, plus Yemini Jews and Ethiopian Jews as well as Ethiopian Copts, Jews from Argentina and India and Uzbekistan. The list goes on and on, with so many faiths, colors, nationalities; and flavors at the dinner table, mouth-watering aromas in the streets.

Some of the recipes that make me drool (and the photographs are to-die-for) are:
  • Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs with chiles and soft goat cheese.
  • Fava bean “kuku” (a sort of frittata -- eggs) with barberries, onion, cream, garlic, dill, and mint.
  • Roasted butternut squash with red onion, tahini, pine nuts, and lemon juice. (I just made this one last night – so yummy.)
  • Artichoke salad with arugula, mint, cilantro and pecorino romano cheese.
  • Swiss chard fritters with cilantro, dill, nutmeg, garlic, eggs, and feta cheese (lemon wedges on the side).
  • Fried cauliflower with tahini.
  • Chermoula eggplant with golden raisins, green olives, almonds, Greek yogurt, and a heap of other ingredients.
  • Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio, dill, chervil, tarragon, and other herbs.

Lentils, eggplant, chickpeas, sesame, olives, tomatoes, goat cheese. Take me there. I dreamed about the Swiss chard fritters last night. I’ve got to start cooking these recipes.

The introductory pages of the cookbook tell a brilliant story of hope, peace, and reconciliation. Jews and Arabs have been known to go into battle over the question of who invented hummus. Hummus is a very emotional issue for our people. The conflict about ownership of ethnic food is often ridiculous, but it runs deep. For instance, a section of the text is devoted to a discussion of za’atar, a key ingredient in Palestinian cooking. (The authors say that it is a form of what the English call hyssop.) It has traditionally grown wild in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem and was at one time easy to find and pick in the wild. The authors explain:  “za’atar has joined the long list of thorny subjects poisoning the fraught relationship between Arabs and Jews because Israel declared the herb an endangered species and banned picking it in the wild.” To read what Ottolenghi and Tamimi write about the shared food of their cultures as well as the many others found in Jerusalem, one would think that if the Israelis and Palestinians would only sit down and eat together then peace would come to the Middle East.

What a lovely concept. I plan to do my part by cooking as many recipes from Jerusalem  as possible in the coming year. At the end of the Passover Seder in the spring we say, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” For me it will be Next Year Face Down in Jerusalem Food.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Experience v. Ownership

A relatively recently coined name for my children’s generation is the “Millennials.” It is apparently used to refer to people born after 1980 who grew up in the digital age. A couple of months ago I read an article in an online journal that tracks changing cultural trends. The article reported that Millennials are less inclined to spend their money buying things than they are to spend it doing things. The reporter cited trends in car ownership among Millennials and claimed that more young people use public transportation than ever before; saving the money they would have spent on car payments, insurance, and maintenance to pay for experiences instead.

I’m not sure I buy the notion that this generation values experiences over possessions any more than any other youth generation. I think that twenty-somethings have always had a high regard for travel, night life, concerts, events, food, new experiences, and doing things with friends. That sort of goes with the territory of youthfulness. When I was in my twenties I could fit everything I owned in the back of my car until I was about 26 and I bought a piano. Perhaps the Millennials truly are less likely to buy a car or house (or piano) or to saddle themselves with a lot of stuff to haul around than previous generations. This shift probably has a lot to do with the trashed economy.

The economy, my economy, has definitely made me question the wisdom of home ownership, which I’m no longer convinced is all it’s cracked up to be. It seems so excessively expensive to own and maintain a home, pay taxes, insurance, all that ridiculous mess. Moreover, looking around at all the stuff I have accumulated over the years makes me weary. So much of it is just “chotchkes” (a Yiddish word for little trinkets, such as pin dishes, candleholders, souvenirs, and the porcelain elephants on my desk). Lately I find myself longingly remembering those days when I could fit everything I owned in my car. Does anyone want to buy a piano?

My goal for the coming year is to simplify my life by unloading possessions. I have always recognized that my real wealth lies in the web of relationships with friends and family that mean so much to me. I’m sorely tempted to abandon home ownership, but that’s not likely to happen since my husband is adamant that owning a house makes more financial sense than renting. You can count on Ron to keep me from moving into a trailer park, I suppose.

Valuing experiences over possessions sounds good to me, even though I am not a Millennial. I have a childhood friend who has created a family tradition of taking her children on a vacation (often in a foreign country) every year at Christmas. I applaud her for this choice and envy her for having the financial means to do it. We have many sweet old-fashioned traditions in our own family, and Millennial statistics aside, my children say each year that all they really want for Christmas is Dad’s chicken and biscuits. (That’s my biggest Christmas gift right there, thank you.) This holiday season I’m thinking in the direction of experiences as gifts for my Millennial offspring. I have done this in the past, but not as deliberately as this year; not as a concept. Obviously I’m a lousy consumer; and this holiday season I intend to become even worse at it. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Little Help from My Friends

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” a line from a Beatles song. Joe Cocker sang the heck out of it at Woodstock. I was feeling it on Thanksgiving, spent with friends with whom I go way, way back. A touch of relief to lean into conversation with people who know me so well, who love me for all the good in me and who put up with my flaws and failings, which they also know (oh they do know). They have heard my stories and they have listened to me whine about the same stuff for years. And they love me anyway. My homies. My contemporaries, who are going through similar life changes as I.

One couple just sold their house and are almost moved out, preparing to make the transition to their downsized retirement home. They’re exhausted, but so ready for this transition. While undergoing this major upheaval they’re also dealing with the failing health of the mother of one of them. She is in hospice on the other side of the country. They can’t possibly go to be with the family this week because of the move. As I anticipate the upheaval of our impending move from our large house to a downsized retirement house in the coming year, I so sympathize with their situation. Although I am extremely fortunate to have my aging father still in good health at the moment, I have a dear friend in her 80s who is camping out in the hospital with her dying husband halfway across the country. I wish I lived closer to her so I could offer more tangible support. This is the way of me and my friends in this stage of our lives. Transitioning to retirement situations while coping with the loss of friends and parents in their 80s and 90s.

Another friend who was at our Thanksgiving gathering is dealing with the failing health of his mother, now in her 90s. He and his sister on the East Coast speak every day as they work out plans to move his mother into 24-hour care when she leaves the hospital. A third friend is worried about her mother, now in her 80s, who fell and broke her ankle while in the middle of a course of chemotherapy for bladder cancer. Her mother seems stable for now, has finished chemo, and will get her foot out of “the boot” soon. But this mother also lives at some distance from her daughter, my friend. This friend also recently learned that the property on which her rental home sits is going to be put up for sale. Will she have to move? Unknown at this time, but she must face this possibility.

Moving house is major work no matter when it happens or how you approach it, but the older we get the more major work such a move becomes. I can’t lift boxes like I used to. Just remembering where I put things in my current home is challenging, let alone remembering during and after a move. I am facing this challenge once again in the next year. And in the meantime concerned for my friend with the dying husband. Thwarted in offering more support by the distance between us. At the back of all these concerns is always the issue of figuring out how to make our finances work out in retirement. Plus Ron’s health requires constant focused attention by both of us, constant vigilance. So much upheaval. So many transitions. Such uncertainty. The crystal ball is extremely clouded. But, I suppose it was never clear.

I do many things to prevent myself from becoming too stressed out. I walk every day in beautiful Mendocino. Enjoy the gorgeous autumn, the magnificent splendor of the trees. I take a terrific herbal adaptogen. I watch football (that sure takes my mind off everything). Pet the cats. Drink a lovely cup of tea. But stress happens, despite my best efforts. On Thanksgiving, I was reminded of the good medicine of spending time with longtime friends. Hanging with my dear friends, friends who have a history with me, friends who are my contemporaries and are experiencing many of the same challenges and losses that I am, made a difference in my life right now that I had not anticipated. Their companionship was such a comfort. Such a boost. Although I know in my head that my friends are there for me, I felt it in my heart on Thanksgiving. Truly something for which to give thanks. 

In case you didn't catch this photo on Facebook, here it is again, for a chuckle. I sculpted a turkey from veggies to grace our Thanksgiving table. Ron took this pic of it when I did a trial run assembly the night before. Note the latkes on the side.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 22, 1963

Most of us in my generation, who were children when JFK was shot fifty years ago, were at school when we learned of the assassination. For many of us who were very young it was a frightening time because our teachers and other adults at school were so upset that they couldn’t help us children through the experience appropriately. I was in my fourth grade classroom at Zoller Elementary School when our principal made an announcement over the P.A. System. He said that the fire drill scheduled for that day had been canceled. He said that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas. School was to be dismissed in an orderly fashion. My teacher leaned against her desk and wept. I didn’t understand at first. I thought the president of the fire drill company had been killed. It was inconceivable that President Kennedy had been killed.

My family lived across the street from the school, so I had a short walk home. From the driveway, I could see into the house through the large picture window. My mother sat in our living room uncharacteristically watching the TV in the middle of the day. I was too young to comprehend what had happened, but I remember standing at the end of the driveway and not wanting to go into the house. I didn’t want to see the TV. I didn’t want to understand. Once inside, I followed the images on the TV and absorbed the shock and grief of our nation. I was a little girl and so I looked for Caroline. She had lost her daddy. That was a sorrow I could understand. The image that stays with me the most from living through that tragic sequence of events was Dan Farrell’s iconic photo for the Daily News of John-John’s farewell salute to his father’s coffin. That made me cry. It still does.

The assassination of JFK was the defining moment for my generation. Although many others followed (such as the assassinations of MLK, RFK, Malcolm X, etc.), JFK was the beginning. For my children’s generation, the defining moment was the fall of the Twin Towers. How sad that these horrific events have such a powerful ripple effect on our lives. After the assassination of JFK, Malcolm X commented, “The chickens have come home to roost.” He was pulverized in the media for those words. But can we honestly condemn him for that observation? Can a country built on the racism of slavery and the genocide of Native peoples, a country based on violence, a country committed to using violence to solve problems, a country at that time in the grip of the Cold War and barely a step removed from the McCarthy Era, a country obsessed with guns, expect anything other than the violence that took such a promising leader from us so early in the trajectory of his career? After Sandy Hook, Obama could not even round up enough support in Congress to pass the most rudimentary gun control legislation. It seems that the lessons of history are lost on those with power.

I posted a question on Facebook this week, asking people how old they were at the time of the assassination and what they remember. Here are some edited excerpts from the many responses I received; some of the memories that I found particularly intriguing.

I was in school. DuSable Upper Grade Center, 7th grade. 12 years old. A teacher walked into our room, whispered to my teacher and left. Mr. Staples announced that President Kennedy had been shot. There were a lot of tears that day. I was stunned, I don't even remember what happened right after that, but the world around me was very quiet. – Wanda Sowa

The day President Kennedy was assassinated is one of my most vivid memories as a child. I remember clearly that day being in the school library. I was in 5th grade, and one of the high school students came in to tell everyone that the President had died. She was crying -- this was significant because her parents, along with mine, had been very active in the Civil Rights Movement and had worked hard on the local scene for the Kennedy campaign. After we heard the news, it seemed so surreal. School closed and I remember my Dad coming to pick us up and take us home. A dark day in American history, indeed. – Sheila G. Blake

I was a sophomore in high school in Chicago Heights, Illinois. I was in the school choir in a school with 3,000 students. [We did a concert that day.] At the beginning of the concert, the Principal announced to the auditorium of High School Kids that our President had been assassinated. Students screamed and cried, and we couldn't imagine such a thing happening. We then composed ourselves and sang our hearts out for our fallen President. The audience was very quiet appreciating the time to sit there and listen and reflect on the day's events. Everyone's lives were changed that day and we all knew it. – Tom Montesonti

I was playing kick ball and I think in the third grade. It came over the loud speaker at high volume, so even outside we heard it very crisply. I was running from second to third base. I remember everything, those few days will be forever etched in my mind. I also saw Lee Harvey Oswald LIVE on TV being murdered. That was another first for our country. Seeing someone murdered live on the television. – Divora Stern

I was sitting in junior high Biology class when my teacher announced that our President had been shot. Then he started weeping and so did we. –Sandy Metzler

I was 17, still at school doing A-levels - but at home in Cheshire (north of England) with my mother when the news came. I was reading, my mother watching TV; we were waiting for my father - a policeman - to come home from duty. The television programme was interrupted with the newsflash. I was stunned: couldn't believe it. Kennedy was a hero to most of my generation in England. For me, JFK seemed a new kind of politician, with a wide world view, a scholarly background, a gift for language and for engaging with people - as well as a man with love of family, and a religious faith. In the years since then, we have heard revelations of another side to his personal life - and some people tell me he didn't handle the Bay of Pigs as well as he might have done; but that sense of loss and waste - even grief - have never left me. –Helen May Lawrenson

There was weeping. Our class filed out and got coats on and as we left the building, I noticed one of the teachers weeping. Miss Fine. I'll never forget how I realized "even the adults" were affected. When I got home, the silence was deafening. All of us watched TV and were just flattened by the news. We watched Jack Ruby murder Oswald. It was just unlike anything I'd ever experienced that weekend. My parents couldn't even decode it for me. We all just watched. And cried. I had written a letter to JFK and his family and sent a few drawings to the White House that summer. I wrote to President Kennedy that he and Nikita Khruschev should "make up with one another" and that there should be no war or bombs. In September, I got a letter of reply from the White House staff, and 2 photos. One of JFK and one of Jacqueline and the children. I treasured that manila envelope and the contents for a long time. – Brooke Mackie-Ketcham

I was 22, living & working in NY City, for a Public Relations firm. I heard the news when I was out to lunch, went back to the office and cried with a friend. One of the Account Executives came back and wanted to know why we were crying. We thought he hadn't heard the news and told him. "Is that any reason not to be working?" he asked, and walked away. I left soon after, met up with my brother and we went to St. Patrick's Cathedral to sit quietly for awhile. We spent the next couple of days at my loft watching TV, including the moment Oswald was shot. By the time Bobby was shot, I was so numb from the assassinations (JFK, MLK, other civil rights people), all I could say was, "of course." A deep shattering of my ideals and my innocence. Watching and listening to the 50th anniversary I've choked up each time, still feel the grief and loss. And so appreciative watching how Jackie handled herself and what needed to happen. At 34 she was the essence of grace, strength and fortitude. –Muhasibi Shalom

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lunch with the Old-Timers

Yesterday I attended a Bar-Mitzvah in Santa Rosa at my parents’ former synagogue, the one they belonged to for ten years when they lived in Cali. There are quite a few old-timers there who were good friends of my parents and with whom I have spent time before. My father has told me a little bit about them, their lives.

When I arrived at the synagogue, I was greeted with surprised delight by Bob, who is the gabbai at the synagogue. That means he acts as a sort of sexton who assists in the running of the service. Bob is a warm and welcoming presence, greeting people when they arrive, ushering them to seats, and alerting participants in the service when they must go up to the bimah (altar) to do their part. The story of how Bob met his wife Susy is astonishing. Susy was in a concentration camp and Bob was an American soldier who liberated the camp. Susy was a teenager at the time. She took one look at Bob and turned to her girlfriend and said, “Don’t you go after that one. He’s mine. I’m going to marry him.” I can’t imagine what condition Susy was in after surviving life in a concentration camp. She certainly could not have looked particularly appealing. But she managed to get Bob to dance with her at a party not long after the camp was liberated and the rest is history. She landed her man (clearly on the strength of her personality) and moved to America with him. They are in their 80s. I had a schmooze with Bob as we stood in the doorway during the service.

Another couple in their 80s who are friends of my parents are Alfred and Suzanne. During the service, the rabbi invited Suzanne to read a poem she had written about this week’s Torah portion. Suzanne has written poems for every Torah portion in the book of Genesis and they are published in a book. She read from her book her poem about the story of Jacob returning to reunite with his brother Esau. Her husband Alfred survived the Holocaust as one of the children ferried to safety on the Kindertransport. His parents sent him and his brother to England together to save their lives. As the elders who lived through the Holocaust die out, only those survivors who were children or teenagers remain and soon they too will be gone.

After the service, I chose to sit with Evelyn and Sylvia for lunch. At 101, Sylvia uses a wheelchair. Although she can’t get around very well anymore, her mind is all there and she is lively and witty. Evelyn, at 91, is still spry and active and she helps Sylvia out (brought her to the services and tended to her while there). The last time I saw Evelyn, about a year ago, she cooked a three-course dinner that included homemade cheese blintzes for me and my dad and a small group of friends. She has a few acres of property loaded with blackberries, which she preserves every year by the tons. She, Sylvia, Ron, and I laughed together and swapped stories over lunch, even though Evelyn kept jumping up to help make tea for people or clear plates. That woman is a dynamo.

As we were eating, my friend Carol came over to visit with me and Ron. Carol sat down and I introduced her to Evelyn and Sylvia. Carol, who is nearly 80, is the president of our congregation. Evelyn and Sylvia wanted to know more about our congregation so Carol and I tried to fill them in. Carol described our membership as including “everyone from delicatessen Jews to orthodox.” It’s true. We are the only game in town and Jews of all persuasions join together at our synagogue. Evelyn asked Carol where she grew up and Carol said, “Brooklyn.” Sylvia was delighted because she grew up there too so they discussed old haunts. “How did you come to California?” Sylvia asked. “In a covered wagon,” I quipped, which elicited some chuckles from our aging lunch companions, including Carol.

When Evelyn boasted to Carol that Sylvia is 101, the oldest member of their congregation, Carol replied, “We have a member in our congregation who is 103 and she’s sitting right over there.” Carol pointed to Lil, who had traveled to the Bar-Mitzvah the one hour from up North with her caretaker to attend. It struck me as hilarious that we were vaguely competing for which congregation had the oldest member! But we are Jews – we know where our wealth lies. These old-timers are so precious to me, to my peeps. Their stories provide the most satisfying nourishment of all. What a terrific lunch.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why I Love Football

The NFL ran a contest that ended this past week. They invited people to send in their story about why they love football. The grand prize was tickets to the Super Bowl. So what the hey, I took an hour and wrote a story to enter in the contest. Unfortunately for me, the online entry system didn’t work when I tried to enter my story. Oh well. It didn’t make it to the contest, but just so as not to waste it, I’m posting it as this week’s blog. If you are not into football I will forgive you if you skip this one. I have seen a lot of anti-football commentary among my leftist friends and acquaintances lately. I’m afraid I’m going to have to be un-PC on this one, folks. Here’s my little story about why I love football.

I am the most unlikely person to love football, but I do. I’m a pacifist vegetarian who never played team sports while growing up. I am hopelessly uncoordinated. I can barely open a bottle of aspirin without banging the back of my hand on a door. My friend Annie could beat me at the fifty-yard dash in elementary school and Annie was in a wheelchair.

How can I explain my passion for football? I have an obsession with the game. I don’t paint myself orange or dress up like a pirate. But I did once sit through a Raiders v. Chiefs game at the Oakland Coliseum in the pouring rain. It took me a year to save up for those tickets and I got to see Rich Gannon throw a touchdown pass to Jerry Rice in person. Usually I watch from the comfort (and economic austerity) of my own couch, curled up with my cats. Cats and football? You betcha. The name of my Fantasy Football Team this year is the Fluffy Kittens. And my cats think Sunday is the best day of the week because they can sit in my lap for long periods of time while I watch. Except for when I jump up and start hollering with excitement, of course. Then they go flying every which way.

I once heard a woman say that football is soap opera for men. Actually there’s some truth in that statement, because a big part of the attraction of football for me (even though I am not a man, ahem) involves getting to know the players, hearing about their career paths, their background, their accomplishments, and their lives. Knowing their personal stories makes their performance on the field even more inspirational. For instance, I imagine the challenges for Jay Cutler and his parents as they managed his diabetes so that he could develop his talent and become a professional athlete. And I admire Michael Oher for overcoming such extreme childhood trauma. When Tony Dungy became the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl, the moment transcended football.

In recent years, with the advent of Fantasy Football, the game has taken on a new dimension for me. Football has become a magnet for fun family time. My children have grown up and left home. My brother and his children live on the opposite side of the country from me. But on Sundays in football season, our family Fantasy Football league, called the Yabbadabbadoo League, is on. Ron and I (in NorCal) talk on the smack board with my kids (in SoCal), my brother and his two young sons (in Pennsylvania), a teenaged friend of one of my nephews (in Massachusetts), and a nephew from my husband’s side of the family (in Baltimore). Football brings our family together across the miles, keeping the cousins close and giving us an opportunity to joke around with our grown children. Life is good, courtesy of football.

Seriously, I find infinite life lessons inherent in football. The game is a phenomenal teacher. As John Madden said, “Football is a game of inches.” In football, as in life, one never knows what hair’s breadth forward movement will tip the balance and take you to your goal. I love the drama of football, the passion that brought the players to the field, the commitment that keeps them there, and the effort that drives them to win. I can’t imagine life without it, but why would I want to do that?

Here is a picture of me at the famous “Concussion Bowl” when Colin Kaepernick started for the 49ers (against Da Bears). Alex Smith and Jay Cutler were both out (concussions) so we got to see the second string QBs and one of them happened to be Kaepernick. So this is a photo of me watching history in the making. I saw him throw his first touchdown pass to Vernon Davis ever live from the stands.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Snapshots from a Wedding

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of the 26-year-old daughter of one of my dearest friends. A wedding is such an old-fashioned event. Even the word “wedding” sounds to me like a word from the Old English language. This wedding was extra-special because the bride and groom have had a challenging journey. They were teen parents.

I remember when my friend called me to tell me that her teenage daughter was pregnant. We were so worried. She was so young to take on this responsibility. We both wished for an easier life for her than what we knew stretched out ahead. She had completed high school, but had barely taken any classes in college. My friend and I both have master’s degrees in English and we shared the hope that our daughters would also earn a college degree. My daughter was well on her way, but for her daughter the baby would present quite an obstacle to that plan. We also didn’t know how committed the baby’s father would be to remaining in the relationship and involved in the child’s life. My friend prepared to have the three of them live with her after the birth of the baby.

When her daughter went into labor, my friend called to let me know. Later, when I called to check up on them, I learned that the baby had been born less than an hour before. I spoke to the teen mom and I could hear the euphoria in her voice. “I’m exhausted,” she said, “but I can’t go to sleep because I can’t stop looking at my new daughter. She’s so incredibly beautiful.” I drove the two hours to their home to see the new arrival a couple of weeks later. After my visit, my friend walked me to the car. “She’s going to be OK,” I told her. “Now that I see her with that baby, I have to say that she has found herself in parenting. Becoming a mother has centered her. That baby has called out her truest and finest self.” My friend agreed. We both saw it. Motherhood was just right for this particular young woman.

Those teen parents weathered some difficult times together and went through a lot of changes and a lot of struggles to form the mature relationship that took them down the aisle last weekend. They had another little girl (a planned pregnancy) two-and-a-half years ago. Both of their daughters are thriving. The older one is a wise old soul, remarkably intuitive and sensitive. She is one of those rare children who regularly says astonishingly insightful things that leave the grown-ups speechless.

If ever the bride and groom wonder if they made the right decision in getting married at this time in the family’s life, the reaction of their 7-year-old daughter to the ceremony will remind them that the wedding was a great idea. The two daughters were the flower girls, of course. As the ceremony progressed, their father stood at the “altar” (the wedding was outdoors in a Redwood grove, not in a church) and the wedding party preceded the bride down the aisle to stand in their positions. The bride stood waiting to walk down the aisle on her father’s arm. The two little girls were supposed to strew flowers before the bride as she walked down the aisle, the older daughter presumably helping the little one figure out what to do. Their cousin, the ring bearer, was to walk with them. But when the time came for the flower girls to walk, the 7-year-old dissolved in tears. Overcome with emotion, she clung to her mom. So the bride walked down the aisle with her older daughter attached to her hip, her face buried in the folds of the wedding dress, sobbing, while the bride attempted to herd the 2-year-old and the ring bearer in front of her. No flowers were strewn. When they reached the “altar,” the bride managed to pass her weeping daughter off to the maid of honor so that her father could give her away to the groom.

That sensitive little girl cried through the entire ceremony (about ten minutes). She spent most of the time hiding in mortified embarrassment behind the maid of honor. When the bride handed her bouquet to the maid of honor, their daughter strategically placed the bouquet in front of her face so that no one could see her bawling. Once the ceremony ended, the child recovered quickly and was soon tearing around the grounds with her cousins. I found her later and told her that I had cried the whole time too and that it was completely appropriate to cry at weddings, that I always did, and she needn’t feel embarrassed. My words made her start crying again and we had a moment together and a hug. Then she wiped her eyes and gave me a big smile before running off again to play.

As you can probably surmise, the most moving part of the wedding for me was seeing how happy that little girl was that her parents were getting married. Not many people can say they remember their parents’ wedding. What a special memory for this lucky and extraordinary child. This family, that started out as a teen romance, is beating the odds and is a reminder to “never say never.” I feel blessed to be such a special friend to them and to be a part of their lives.

Here is a photo of the trip down the aisle.

Here is a photo of my little friend hiding during the ceremony.

Here you can see her beautiful face.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What You "Should" Eat

Now that I am embarking on my new career as a nutritionist, you will probably see a lot of food, health, and nutrition themes infiltrating my blog. As I study nutrition, I am swiftly developing a pet peeve and I’ve gotta say something about this. I don’t think it’s helpful for health professionals to tell people what they “should eat.” The only person who decides what a person should eat is that person himself/herself. Providing people with information is important so that they can make an informed decision (and that includes information about food items that cause poor health outcomes), but once “should” appears on the scene then an invasion of personal space begins and also a measure of judgment. I hope I’ll be a nutritionist who reserves judgment.

A perfect example is the issue of whether or not agave nectar is a good sugar substitute for diabetics. Agave is low on the glycemic index, so it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Ron uses agave almost exclusively now as his go-to sweetener. As I read more about agave in the context of my studies, I am disappointed to learn that it’s not the wonder sweetener it’s cracked up to be.

Agave is primarily fructose. It has a fructose content of 70%-90%, which is higher than the fructose content of agave’s evil nemesis, high fructose corn syrup (at fructose content of 55%). Ironically, many people use agave to get away from such nasty sweeteners as high fructose corn syrup. The reason why agave is so low on the glycemic index is because it is metabolized in the liver rather in the blood stream and that is why it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. But it can cause other stressors to the body, particularly to the liver. Because it is primarily fructose, it can contribute to weight gain and can inhibit weight loss. Perhaps agave is not such a bad choice for someone with Type 1 Diabetes (which is what Ron has). But, according to some reports, for those with Type 2 Diabetes, agave can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Agave is also a highly refined sweetener (which means it can pick up traces of toxins during manufacture) and it has almost no nutritional value (unlike honey or maple syrup, which are not refined, and contain quality nutrients). Argh. I almost don’t want to know.

But let’s go back to the “should” issue. Should Ron stop eating agave? Absolutely not. There are a number of options for sweeteners touted as good choices for diabetics. One is stevia, which we think has a horribly bitter aftertaste. Perhaps others don’t notice this but Ron and I do. Another is Xylitol, which gives Ron indigestion. Agave works for him. It has helped him reduce his intake of sugar. Because it is low on the glycemic index, he doesn’t have to give himself a lot of insulin to compensate for it when he eats it. He loves the way it tastes. Perhaps most important is the fact that it has helped him lose weight. He buys only organic agave, so it’s top quality and is free of GMOs and toxins found in many sugar products. In short, of the many choices out there, agave remains a good choice for Ron.

In the end, armed with knowledge about health and nutrition, each person needs to develop their own healthy eating meal plan because food is personal. There may be things we know we shouldn’t eat. And I could recommend to people some things to avoid. But what people “should” eat? In the end that’s a decision that belongs to each individual person.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shedding Old Skin (Again)

Periodically I have arrived at places in my life when I shed my old skin and emerge with new skin. Even though they have a bad rep, snakes are superb creatures and I have no problem comparing myself to one. The way they shed their skin and emerge anew from time to time is awesome. As for me, I feel grateful for the shake-up and change of the transitions in my life.

As a young woman I worked as a “techie,” doing scenic art and scenic carpentry in the Bay Area. My career culminated in several years of carving large sculptures out of bead Styrofoam at the San Francisco Opera Association. When I shed that skin, I went into the publishing business. First I wrote a few books for an educational publishing company and then I landed a job as an editorial assistant and later as the managing editor at a magazine. Another huge transition in my life was when my daughter was born and I became a mom. It was a big transformational experience when Ron and I moved our family from the city to the country. I refer to our move to the Ranch as “shooting the moon.” I reinvented myself again, creating an entirely new life of raising children in a forest, growing fruits and vegetables, and living close to nature. For many years I worked a nine-to-five outside the home as an administrator. I eventually shook things up again when I took the leap and became self-employed as a writer. Even though I was mostly writing grants, I still got to put “writer” as my profession on my taxes (and I loved working at home and having flexible hours). I zipped myself into a new skin when I took the plunge and published a book, embarking on the Mount Everest of learning curves as I became an author and publisher.

Now I’m shedding my old skin yet again as I reinvent myself to pursue a new profession. This week I will begin a two-year distance learning course to earn my Holistic Nutritionist Certification through Bauman College. I have had a lifelong passion for healthy eating and I believe I can turn that passion into a retirement profession as a nutritionist. My goal is to establish myself in the healthcare field and provide individual consultations to patients through a clinic or doctor’s office. Bauman’s holistic and visionary approach to nutrition is a perfect fit for me and I can’t wait to start learning.

As ever, football informs my life. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview with the quarterback Peyton Manning, one of football’s giants. For those of you who don’t follow football, Manning was the QB for the Indianapolis Colts for years. He took them to a Super Bowl win. A couple of years ago he suffered a neck injury that took him out of the game for an entire season, during which the team crashed and burned without him. The Colts picked up a terrific young QB for the following year and they cut Manning loose. He resurfaced when his neck had healed and he signed a contract with the Denver Broncos. He had a stupendous season as the Broncos’ QB last year and so far this year he is carrying the team through an undefeated season. He’s obviously back and better than before. In the interview, Manning said that even though it was difficult for him to leave the Colts and make a new life with the Broncos, he is grateful that it happened. He says the change got him out of old habits, challenged him, made him use more of his brain again, and caused him to become “fresh” all over again. It transformed him. He shed his old skin and took on new skin.

I agree with Manning, it’s good to shake things up from time to time. We’ll see who I am when I emerge from this time of transformation in my life. I look forward eagerly to the discovery and to reinventing myself yet again. Farewell old skin.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lighting Candles

Friday night service at our little synagogue here in the small town where I live is not a major event. On an ordinary week, not many people turn up for the short service and vegetarian potluck dinner. The other night we were a handful of older women gathered to say the ancient Hebrew words and to send healing prayers into the world. We lit our Sabbath candles, just as our mothers’ did before us, and sang in celebration while dancing arm-in-arm. We welcomed the Sabbath.

Our rabbi had brought the results of a recent study about American Jewry to share with us and we discussed the data. According to a Pew Study, 2.2% of the population of the U.S. identifies as Jewish because they practice Judaism, were raised Jewish, and/or have at least one Jewish parent. The total number of Jews is estimated at approximately 6.6 million people. Of those American Jews, only 4% live in a rural community. Interestingly, 40% do not belong to a synagogue and about one-third stated they don’t believe in God. Being Jewish is an odd “category” of cultural identity. A person from any ethnic background can be Jewish, since it’s a religion of course. But it’s a distinctive culture; and absolutely, definitely not “white.” Trust me on that. Every one of us at synagogue the other night stated emphatically that we have never thought of ourselves as “white,” even though we have often felt pressured to check the “Caucasian” box on forms. Any group that has been as discriminated against and oppressed as much as we Jews will understand why we have an aversion to being lumped into the same category as the dominant culture. It just doesn’t work like that.

After our discussion of the statistics, and after we said the blessings over wine, hand-washing, and breaking bread, we sat down to our potluck dinner. Since we belong to that 4% of rural Jews, much of our food came from our own gardens. As I looked around at the other women seated at the table, I realized that almost all of us at that table grow food. One of the women keeps poultry. I have an orchard. I love living in a community where people farm and ranch, where people grow what they eat. We choose to live here because we value a life close to the earth, connected to the natural world.

So there we were, on Friday night, a small group of aging Jewish women, sending blessings and healing prayers into this beleaguered world. Dispersing gratitude, love, and light to our dangerous, poisoned, suffering planet. Counteracting the forces of destruction with our positive energy. Singing our Sabbath songs and dancing our little dance. Lighting our candles against the approaching night. Sharing the harvest from our modest gardens. My belief that our gathering for the Sabbath makes a small difference in the grand scheme of things is my leap of faith.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Every summer while our children were growing up we took them to the ocean for a beloved family vacation. We stayed in a “kamping kabin” (don’t know what is up with the kute k’s) at the KOA near Santa Cruz in Watsonville, located less than a mile from one of my personal sacred places:  Manresa Beach. Over the years, we developed a number of routines that our family looked forward to and depended on as part of the vacation. Each of our children invited one friend to come along. We always stayed in the same cabin. (As the children grew up and invited more friends, we had to expand to another cabin or two.) We always went for a big pancake breakfast in Santa Cruz on our last morning before driving home. We always went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for one evening and Ron and the children played Laser Tag at the arcade while I babysat the jackets, backpacks, and handbags. We always made s’mores over the campfire. We flew kites on the beach, bought sandwiches at the deli up the road, rented bikes at the KOA, built sandcastles. We had our rituals and our favorite activities.

For all of us, Manresa Beach, and what we referred to as “Going to Santa Cruz,” took on a magic aura in family lore.

One year, as we prepared to “Go to Santa Cruz,” I called my friend Nan, who at that time was dying of a blood disease. Nan was a deeply spiritual person, who had special connections to many natural living things. I told her we were heading to the beach in a few days and she requested, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I laughed. “I have never seen any dolphins at Manresa,” I told Nan, “but I’ll say hello for you anyway.” “You do that,” she insisted.

Not long after our conversation, I found myself walking along the water’s edge at Manresa while Ron kept an eye on the children. I walked and walked, far down the beach, as I contemplated my life and reflected on new directions to take in the coming year. Then I remembered Nan’s request. I held my arms open to the magnificent day, the brilliant sun, electric blue sky, and sparkling water, and I called out “Hello dolphins! Nan says hello!” There, I thought, I kept my promise.

I must reiterate that I had never previously ever seen a dolphin at Manresa. But later that afternoon, as we lazed on the sand, the children exclaimed, “Mom, Mom, look, dolphins!” Sure enough, a large school of dolphins was swimming past us in the waves, clearly visible as they hopped up in the water. It was such a thrill to see them. I told the children to shout to them that Nan said hello and they did.

When I returned home from the beach, I called Nan to tell her we had seen dolphins and that we had sent them her greetings. By the following summer when we went to Manresa, Nan was no longer living. But we saw the dolphins again and we told them she sent her greetings. I am almost certain that we have seen dolphins at Manresa every year since. One year, when my father, brothers, and family joined us for a family reunion at Santa Cruz, the dolphins came and swam so close to shore that my children and my brother’s children actually swam in among them. The dolphins stayed nearby for a very long time that year. We think they were showing off for us.

Now that the children have grown up and gone off to their own lives, we have not gone to Manresa together for many years. But I make a point of going with Ron or on my own each year to walk again on Manresa Beach. Last weekend, I drove down to Manresa with my dear friend Jessica. She had known Nan, so I told her the remarkable story about the dolphins. Jessica and I walked for several miles. We had a gorgeous, sunny, clear day for it. What terrific luck, since Manresa is often fogged in. After we had walked for quite some time, I commented to Jessica, “I haven’t seen any dolphins today.” She replied, “You didn’t call to them for Nan.” I laughed. “OK, OK,” I said, “I’ll call them.”

We paused in our walk and I flung my arms wide to the ocean and shouted, “Greetings dolphins. Nan says hello.” In a stunning moment of serendipity or harmonic conversion in the universe or miraculous coincidence or perhaps a visitation from the spirit of Nan, several dolphins suddenly appeared right nearby, extremely close to shore, and hopped up out of the water. It happened so quickly and they revealed themselves to us so briefly and so instantly after I had called out that if Jessica had not seen them too I would have thought I was hallucinating. They came and went in a flash and we never saw any more dolphins that day. Although, we did see lots of whales later in the afternoon. We caught sight of them spouting and I grabbed my binoculars. Both with the binoculars and with the naked eye we could see their backs as they surfaced far out among the waves. Wow, dolphins and whales in one day, how cool is that?

Last Saturday was a spectacular day at Manresa. Dolphins. Whales. The clarity of the day. The sunshine and warmth. The crash of the waves, their soothing sound. The diamond-bright glitter of the water. The companionship of my good friend with whom I share such history. Perfection. Keep sending me messages from the deep, oh mysterious universe.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013


I miss the ability to hop up off the floor in one-two-three. What is it about the aging body that makes it so difficult to resist gravity? I am convinced that I can feel every bone and organ in my body settle when I get out of bed in the morning and have to contend with another day of gravity.

My knees are not so great, so I have had difficulty getting up off the floor for quite a while. I remember a few years back when Ron and I stayed with a friend of ours who had a mattress on the floor in her guest room. When I woke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I had to crawl to it and pull myself up on the doorknob. Sad, but true.

My dad, who is 84, told me that he went on a canoe trip this past week. He and his buddies pulled out to shore for lunch. After lunch, Dad, who was sitting on the ground, said to his buddies, “We can to this the easy way or we can do this the hard way.” His buddies reached their hands out to him and pulled him up (the easy way). He could have gotten up off the ground on his own if necessary, but it would have been some work. I identify!

In July, Ron and I attended one of the free Concerts in the Park in the series offered here. We had a great time, as ever, dancing to the delicious sounds of the band. The bandleader got everyone into it. At one point, during a song, he had everyone waving their hands in the air, then doing the twist, then he said, “OK, get down on the ground.” As the young folks around us hit the grass, Ron and I backed off to the edge of the dance floor laughing. A friend standing nearby asked us why we had fled the dance floor. “We can’t get up off the ground,” I explained. “No way we’re getting down there.” We actually could get off the ground if hard-pressed, but it would not be pretty.

I am not particularly out of shape. I walk a couple of miles every day, run on a treadmill three times a week, and lift weights daily. Even so, I have trouble getting up off the ground or the floor.

My dad and I had a conversation recently about those football players who take huge hits on the field and then just bounce up off the turf. Ah, youth! I do stand amazed at the hits that football players bounce up from so easily. One of those hits would lay me flat for weeks. And last Thursday night, watching the game, I had a good laugh when a commercial for the film “Gravity” played. At the end of the commercial, the narrator said, “Experience Gravity in a theater near you.” I don’t have to go to a theater to experience gravity. At the risk of embarrassing my readers, I can say that I am experiencing gravity right this minute. Even more hilarious than the closing line of the commercial, was the announcer’s comment when they returned us to the game. He said, “Tonight’s football game is brought to you by Gravity.” Seriously, tell those football players to mind the gravity, could wreak havoc. At least they’re young enough to deal with it and bounce up off the ground.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Being Rabbinic + Slogging Thru the Mud

At synagogue on Friday, as we ate dinner in the succah, a friend told me a story. He had attended services for Yom Kippur at a different synagogue where the rabbi spoke to his congregation about what it was like for him to be heckled the previous week during Rosh Hashanah services. Apparently a man stood up and shouted at the rabbi in the middle of the service, calling out things like, “you’re no rabbi, you’re a fraud, you don’t belong up there, you’re not qualified to lead these people, leave now.”

In reflecting on this incident, the rabbi shared that he had found the man’s words painful and disturbing. As the man heckled him, however, he thought, “the most important thing is how I respond in this situation.” The rabbi chose to respond with compassion and forgiveness. He spoke gently and kindly to the heckler and discouraged his congregants from harming the man in any way. I do not know how the heckler was removed.

My friend related this story to me as an example of how that particular rabbi “is so rabbinic” (my friend’s words). I understood exactly what he meant by “being rabbinic.” Being thoughtful and reflective. Considering what we learn from life as it unfolds, while searching for meaning, lessons, and inspiration in our experience. Finding ways of interpreting and appreciating what we see before us rather than letting things pass us by without observing, recognizing, acknowledging, and feeling awe or wonder. Thinking before acting or speaking. I love conversing with people who are rabbinic, who live attentively, intentionally, and contemplatively. I love to hear how they find meaning in an oftentimes chaotic world and to hear their observations; their stories.

Subsequent to the incident, the rabbi learned that the heckler was mentally ill. He had just been released from a psychiatric facility and had failed to follow up on his treatment plan by taking his medication. That is where the few pieces of information I know about the situation end. I can only guess that the man either left the synagogue eventually or was removed by congregants or perhaps the police if they were called. I would guess that the heckler was experiencing hallucinations at the time of the incident. It is reasonable to surmise that many of those present might have considered the possibility that the man was anti-Semitic, violent, and/or dangerous. I wonder how many of those at the service considered that the man was struggling with mental illness. I feel certain that afterward (when he learned about the man’s illness), although shaken up, the rabbi felt gratified that he had responded with compassion rather than anger and that he had weighed his response carefully before acting.

So what does this have to do with slogging through the mud? I’m getting to that.

On Friday night, it rained the first rain of the autumn season. I woke on Saturday morning to the magnificent scent of freshly washed air, the brilliant greeny-green of damp foliage, and a sky filled with fluffy white and gray clouds. I debated whether or not to walk up behind the lake where I usually go in fair weather, because in the rainy season the path I follow dissolves into mud. The problem with the mud on the path is that it accumulates in the soles of my shoes or boots (whatever footwear I choose, doesn’t matter) and makes it difficult to walk. On Saturday I made the mistake of thinking the rain was not enough to turn the path to mud and I went up behind the lake. I had not walked far before the entire length of the bottom of my boots became weighted down with a slippery mud clot an inch thick, smooth as a surf board, dangerous to walk on. I was forced to stop frequently and clear the mud by scraping my boots on rocks, fallen trees, the edges of signposts, and anything I could find to remove the mud. My walk was hijacked by the discomfort of slogging through the mud.

I felt frustrated, but I responded by being rabbinic. I asked myself what I could learn from the experience on a deeper level. I had chosen to walk, despite the chance that there would be mud. Once made, my choice was mine to own and mine to deal with. Would I let the mud define my walk? I thought of the mud in other terms. I have made choices in my life that have provided me with a life’s journey filled with great beauty and satisfaction while at the same time causing me to slog through a lot of mud. But I chose the path, filled with the beauty along with the mud. Like the heckled rabbi, I choose to focus on my response to the mud. During my walk, I accepted the disruption and the discomfort of dealing with the mud while I enjoyed the beauty afforded by the landscape. Mud or no mud, what I value is the being rabbinic. I have been blessed with a life populated with kindred spirits who are rabbinic. 

Manzanita trees brushed with rain, that red red bark, extraordinarily beautiful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Spring of Flowing Waters

I have had a sci-fi novel brewing in my head since 2005. Recently I started writing it, but I can’t seem to concentrate properly. I have difficulty focusing and making good use of the limited time afforded to me to write my own creative material. When my mind wanders, I drift over to the Internet and check out my favorite cyber-watering-holes. Knowing my tendency to do this, I generally steer clear of any vids that people email me or embed in Facebook posts because watching vids eats up a lot of time. Heck, anything on the Internet eats up a lot of time. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. Many thoughts, inspirations, laughs, communications, and informational bites that have added value to my life have found me via the Internet. Yet, as they say, there are only so many hours in the day. My failure to apply myself to the task of getting this new novel out of my head has me contemplating adjustments I should make to rejuvenate my creative process, and one of them is to spend less time on the Internet.

Now, during the High Holidays, is the perfect time of year for such contemplation. Friday night I participated in Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur Eve) services at our small congregation’s synagogue. During the portion of the service when we specifically seek forgiveness for our transgressions (the Al-Chayt), our rabbi suggested that each person take a moment to “look inside” and identify one area for improvement that we want to especially focus on addressing in the coming year. I have a lot of things I would like to improve about myself, but the one I chose to focus on is not using my gift for words, which I cherish (and am grateful for), to the full extent of my ability.

With this in mind, I thought about changes to make in my life to create more time to write this novel and I thought about changes to make in my life to help me focus better on the task at hand, to prioritize this project and not waste so much valuable time on inessentials. At the deepest point of personal reflection in the Kol Nidre service, I reflected on these things and renewed my commitment to my calling, my profession, the passion of my truest self:  using this extraordinary gift of creativity and the ability to shape something beautiful and meaningful with words that has been bestowed upon me. I need to dig deep into the well of my imagination and do the challenging work of crafting something that touches the spirits of others and perhaps has the power to make a difference in someone’s life. Oh creativity, return to me.

As Kol Nidre came to a close, the rabbi pointed to a basket on a table by the door. She said that she had printed out various lines from the Haftorah portion from Isaiah that we would read on Yom Kippur the following day and she had put them into the basket. She invited us to take a slip of paper randomly (without reading it first) from the basket as we left the service to see what it would give us. Perhaps we would receive an insight, a message that meant something to us, embedded in the random snippet from Isaiah. As I exited, I reached into the basket, pulled out a slip of paper, and put it in my pocket. Later, at home, I took out the Isaiah quote that I had pulled and read it.

“You will become like a watered garden, a never ending spring of flowing waters.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Year of Living Fearlessly with Delight

Thursday was Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), which is a time to step out of my ordinary life and reflect; a time for making change -- what we call in Hebrew t’shuvah or “turning/returning.” Turning to something new, returning to our truest self. This Rosh Hashanah I resolve to live in fearless delight for one year. I can explain.

Rewind to last weekend, which found me in Chicago with Ron’s peeps at the Grant Family Reunion. From the moment we arrived, we were embraced by Ron’s large and loving family and found ourselves up to our eyeballs in an avalanche of food, laughter, and music. We stayed with one of Ron’s cousins and he and his wife and two daughters were the warmest, most generous hosts you could imagine. The night before the reunion, many relatives converged on their house to cook, eat, dance, sing, and enjoy one another’s company.

On the day of the reunion it poured rain. Undaunted, Ron’s family unloaded a sound system, BBQ grills, food, drinks, and everything needed to party at a “pavilion” (sheltered area with picnic tables) in the park. Despite the thunder, lightning, and torrential downpour, we were family, at least a hundred strong, and we were there for a good time and we sure had it. The rain cleared after a couple of hours and the day blossomed into a beauty. Once again we ate, danced, laughed, talked, joked, sang, and had a blast.

I returned home to Cali a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah. As I sat in synagogue, contemplating my life, and considering what change I wanted to make, I thought about Ron’s cousins who hosted us in Chicago. What fine and loving people they are. They are always looking for ways to help others, to do a good deed. I don’t think they focus much on the larger ills of the world, such as environmental disaster and what country the U.S. is threatening to bomb next. They don’t live under a rock, they know what goes on in the world, but their priority concerns are family, church, and adding positive value to the lives of those they touch. They are concerned with the health and wellbeing of those they love and those in their community and they are generous with their time and their resources. They are helpers and healers. They are joyful. They celebrate life. I saw this again and again in Ron’s family throughout our stay. Many of his people have very little material wealth. A lot of them are in poor health. Yet they are astonishingly grateful for the blessings they have and admirably generous.

I want to be more like them. More celebratory, less apprehensive. I have become too anxious. I didn’t used to be like this. Once upon a time I rushed forward headlong, unafraid to shoot the moon. Lately I worry. I worry about money. What if I have a health crisis and can’t work, then how will we pay our bills? How can we pay off the debt we incurred putting our children through college? How can I afford to retire? I worry about my husband’s health. Is his blood pressure to high? Blood sugar too low? Feet OK? What if his health issues escalate into a crisis? I worry about insurance, car maintenance, taxes. I worry about my children. My son lives in Oakland, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. I worry for his safety. Even with her college degree, my daughter (who has a fulltime job that does not adequately compensate her for her work) can’t land a job in her chosen profession, which is in many ways still a man’s world. I worry about the planet and about the survival of the human race, about the radiation spill at Fukushima and the poisonous glyphosates lacing our food (thanks to Monsanto). I worry that my son who lives in SoCal, and who just got engaged, will one day present me with extraordinary grandchildren who will die of thyroid cancer as the radiation from Fukushima spreads. I have worried about the destruction of our environment for as long as I can remember. Sheesh. What is wrong with me? I need to stop this. I am sure that Ron’s Chicago family does not worry about the Fukushima radiation spill.

So this is it. For one year I will decline to worry. I will live as if the world will never end, as if we are safe and secure, as if a personal financial meltdown is not even remotely possible. It will be my year of living fearlessly with delight. I will spend one year unafraid. One year committed to delight, joy, wonder, celebration. I don’t want to become oblivious to the dangers and horrors that lurk in the world so I will continue to stay informed (and to work at making good decisions about managing my life). Because I am informed, I will go forth courageously. I want to remain fearless despite what I know to be true about the fragility of life.

This is my resolution, my project, my challenge. I vow to banish my anxiety and to live from now until next Rosh Hashanah, in fearless delight and wonder. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Anniversary of the March on Wash. for Jobs and Freedom

August 28th was the 50-year anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech. I don’t remember the first march, in 1963, when I was nine years old. My mother belonged to the NAACP so I expect we watched the march on our old black-and-white TV. Even though I don’t remember the march when it occurred, I vividly remember images from it that I saw later; and it had a lifelong impact on me. I continue to grieve for Dr. King.

I recently read an article about the making of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. He and his speech writers stayed up most of the night before the march crafting that speech. He began with the text they had crafted. He got to the paragraph that ended, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” and he paused, overwhelmed with emotion by the weight of the moment. Before he continued, Mahalia Jackson, who stood just behind him, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Dr. King picked up the speech notes, set them aside, grabbed the sides of the lectern, and continued extemporaneously with, “I say to you today my friends, though even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” From there on out, he preached for all he was worth as only Dr. King could preach. He told it.

The dream he articulated, that even in Alabama, black children and white children would one day hold hands as sisters and brothers, touches the core of my being; for my children are in fact both those black children and those white children combined. They are the product of a multicultural marriage that would have been difficult to pursue back in 1963. In 1954, when I was born, miscegenation was illegal in 16 of the (then) 48 states. Miscegenation means “the mixing of different racial groups, that is, marrying, cohabiting, having sexual relations, and having children with a partner from outside of one’s racially or ethnically defined group.” Historically, the term miscegenation has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and interracial sex, so-called “anti-miscegenation laws,” and is a derogatory term used to refer to interracial relationships. Until 1948, 30 of the (then) 48 states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. The U.S. Supreme Court finally declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case Loving v. Virginia in 1967, four years after the March on Washington. Dr. King’s dream is manifested in my marriage, my family, my children.

Today, as I look back at the March, I think it is extremely important to remember the full name of that event. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We must hear that name in the context of the obscene inequity of distribution of wealth in this country, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the poor and the rich, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the struggling, sinking Middle Class and the wealthy, and the evaporation of decent jobs for decent folks. Statisticians say the recession is ending and the unemployment rate is going down. Don’t believe it. That rate is down because so many chronically unemployed are no longer counted. So many people are wallowing in that valley of despair that King spoke of, having given up hope of ever finding a job again. So many people are wearing the shackles of inequity and continued oppression built into the system; a system that undermines the very concept of freedom by preventing people from having real control over their lives. We lack control over the food we eat; the water we drink; the work we do; the opportunity we want for our children; our safety and security; the actions of our leaders.

Mahalia knew. More than anything, we needed to hear about the dream in 1963; and we desperately need to hear about Martin’s dream again now because there remains a long struggle ahead with much work left to do. We must renew our efforts, rededicate ourselves to the task, and hope again.

I love the joy on Dr. King's face.