Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This apple can't fall too far from the tree...

...because he's secured in place with duct tape.

J, displaying the iPod pocket in his duct tape vest

Jonathan, demonstrating the iPod pocket of his duct tape vest

My son likes to make things out of duct tape. As previously mentioned, he wears a duct tape kippah (yarmulke) whenever he can get away with it. (We've set some limits, such as: Not in synagogue.)

He has sold some of his creations to his friends, including few wallets, kippot (yarmulkes), and even a custom-ordered purse. But, he's not in it for the cash. Rather, his art is expressed purely for the love of duct tape.

(By request,) I'd like to share the features of my son's duct tape vest.

He made it a few years ago, and wears it way too often whenever we're not looking frequently.

(Isn't it interesting that, when I want to take his picture he usually refuses, but for this, I've got a willing model?)

As the above picture shows, there is a dedicated iPod pocket, with a flap for the controls on his iPod mini.

Below, please notice the notch at the back of the neck.

This secures the headphone wire so there is just enough slack to move freely without getting tangled. (He usually pulls them more taught, but is showing slack in this photo for demonstration purposes.)

Here is a picture of the iPod pocket with the controls-flap closed.

On the other side, there is an internal pocket designed to hold a matching duct-tape wallet.

Gretta thinks it's quite the ensemble.

At one point, he told me he was disappointed that our high school doesn't have a prom.

Surprised, I asked him what someone who isn't interested in recreational dating or mixed dancing, who doesn't love simcha dancing all that much, would want with a prom.

"Because I want to enter the Stuck at the Prom contest," he explained.

Ah. Makes perfect sense to me.

Here he is, wearing part of his Purim costume, as the "Duct Tape Rabbi". It's a duct tape suit and tie, including a beard and peyot (ritual side-curls) made from black duct tape. (He's standing next to the "Rabbi in Pink", who refuses to be associated with her brother and his duct tape outfits, unless her identity is properly disguised.)

I guess it's not his fault. He comes by it naturally.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gratitude has no expiration date: An invitation to a new blog carnival

This morning, I was moved by a letter written by someone I don't know, addressed to a team of doctors I never met.

The letter itself is poignant and well-written, but that is not what most affected me. What got to me was my own guilty realization that I have such a note to write, and it's sixteen years overdue.

My to-do list is littered with unrealized good intentions. It's less an agenda than a menu. Each morning, I try to choose well from the Activity Buffet. But, inevitably, there's stuff left on my plate at the end of the day. I pack up the leftovers with care, dutifully copying them to tomorrow's list.

A gourmet meal will grow moldy in the back of the refrigerator, given time. And that's what's happened to me. Over time, a gratitude backlog has developed.

Overall, I think an ambitious to-do list is a good thing. Our "reach should exceed our grasp", and all that. But it can also be a psychic drain; emotional clutter gaining cobwebs and casting spooky shadows in one's mind.

If I accomplished one tenth of what I list, I'd be a much better person. I owe a wedding gift to a couple who have had their second child. There is the family that moved here three years ago, whom I keep meaning to invite to welcome to the neighborhood. I have a pile of e-mails and blog comments to answer.

And then there are the thank-you-notes.

I'm not perfect about thank-you-notes for the tangible gifts and favors I receive, but I do try. I do my best to make sure my children do this, and do it well. It's mostly under control.

But, there is a pile of unacknowledged appreciation that festers in the periphery of my consciousness. Sometimes, the most heart-felt and deep thanks are the most difficult to express.

What could be acknowledged in a timely sweet note, swells by neglect into a long letter, perhaps with a few photos, to a token - and then large - and then significant gift to the person, or to a charity in that person's name... It grows from something doable to the chronic ache of failure.

It's possible to wallow in "why haven't I done it" indefinitely. But, let's not.

Instead, it's time to try something ELSE. Then new question is "If not now when?"

And the answer is: The fourth Thursday of the month. (Just like the American Thanksgiving holiday.)


A Carnival of Overdue Thanks

carnival home ¤ submit an article ¤ contact

Carnival of Overdue Thanks logo

Let's collect and share some accomplishment in this area, inspiring and motivating one another to make a dent in the thank-you-note pile.

Here are some rules/guidelines:

  1. Submissions can be about thanking, being thanked, or the delivery of thanks.

  2. The "object" of the gratitude should be a person, or more than one person. Not an object, not an animal, and not an idea or fictional character. (Although, it's within the rules to address the author/creator of ideas and/or characters.) The person can be living or dead.

  3. Humor is welcome, but, please, nothing sarcastic. Real thanks only, not backhanded or snarky insults. Ironic and frivolous thanks are fine. Mean and hateful are not.

  4. Sharing the gratitude with the actual personal, if possible, is optional, but encouraged. It's also okay to post about how it felt to give overdue thanks, or reactions to receiving them.

  5. Let's stipulate that there are plenty of reasons to thank G-d, and leave Him off the recipient list. While it's okay to mention being grateful to the Almighty in passing, the point of this carnival is to work on our relationships with other people, and to work up the courage to express gratitude to people.

  6. Submissions can be in the form of a thank you note, a blog post about thanking someone, a relevant picture, or anything else linkable that fits within the guidelines.

  7. What else? Ideas?

So, what do you think? Will you join in? Let's get this stuff off the back-burner and serve it up!

The first carnival's deadline for submission is Monday, August 25, 2008, with the first edition scheduled for Thursday, August 28, 2008.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום
Weekend commenters, please read this.

Links that made me think:

Links that made me wink:

Intersection of the real and on-line worlds

  • I'm delighted that two of our favorite shabbat guests in real life have started blogging. I'd like to wish a belated "Welcome to the Blogosphere" to Greg, and a just-in-time welcome to Li Kim Grebnesi.

  • Greg is a maven's maven, connecting foodies, philosophers, families and friends across the the world. His blog, Warm Duck Salad, is as eclectic, delightful and interesting as he is.

  • Li Kim has been a dear friend for decades. We have know him since my husband and I were in high school. He has accomplishments and degrees in physics, philosophy and engineering, and is one of the best-read individuals we have met.

    While, in person, Li Kim can be counted upon for an insightful and incisive, wry and original opinion on just about any political, historic, or philosophical topic (backed up, instantaneously and accurately, by a quote from Will Durant, Winston Churchill*, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer), his blog is devoted to a purely logical analysis of public debate.

    Li Kim's Grebesni's Razor dissects publicly made arguments, isolating and identifying examples of logical fallacies contained therein. He's just getting started, and I'm celebrating his every entry.

  • Crunchy Granola Mom is posting again. Which is good news. But, after moving 20 minutes away a few years ago, she is now attempting to sell her house and move hours away, which is good news for her family, but not for the many here who will miss her.

    This puts me in a contorted and uncomfortable position, wishing the family every success, but not wanting their house to sell for our own selfish reasons. Having lots of empathy and experience with the pains and trials of long-term long-distance work-related family separations, I still find myself whining, "Nooooo! Don't GOOOOO."

    I guess I'm going to have to say goodbye to the local soap delivery, too.

    (To CrunchyGranolaMom: Refuah shelaima. To anyone looking for a great house in the Boston area, in a warm and welcoming observant Jewish community (that has an eruv, offers tuition and camp subsidies, and operates shuttle bus service to all the major Boston-area day schools), I reluctantly suggest you look here.)

Links about my sink:

A number of people in "real life" have asked for links relating to some recent kitchen repairs/renovations we made. I'm listing the products that I used, so I can point people here.

  • This outdoor sink with water-powered retractable hose winderwas my link to sanity during the three weeks we were without water in our kitchen. It attaches to the garden hose, and allows for easy switching between a garden hose and an outdoor faucet/sink.

    We didn't use it for drinking water, and there wasn't any hot water, but it made things so much more civilized to have a way to wash hands and dishes. It took about 10 minutes to assemble, and the retraction mechanism for the hose works beautifully without wasting much water.

    I ran the drain hoses to a barrel under our deck, and recycled them to water the yard. Now that the water in our kitchen is flowing again, we look forward to using this in our sukkah.

  • The outside sink made washing the dishes look fun enough to inspire a volunteer.

  • These are the sink faucets our plumber recommended They're wonderful. My husband, the eternal cynic keeps expecting the kids to use them from across the room to have a milk sink vs. meat sink water fight.

  • We're also very happy with these under-sink water filtration units. They have a once-yearly($60) filter, filter to 0.5 microns, and have an elegant look. Since they work independently from the main faucet, it is possible to fill a glass of drinking water while the spaghetti pot fills.

  • This is the out-of-production ClearTap faucetthat we loved so. (Ours were chrome, not white). It served us well for eight years. I'm still surprised that it is off the market, with no equivalent substitute. All the on-line places that claimed to have these in stock, eventually cancelled our orders. (Anyone out there who needs a case of American Standard F-20 filters, please let me know. I can use the cabinet space.)

Links for future tink(ering):

Crafty projects and DIY tutorials to try

Links that made me blink:

  • Cookie Chip Chocolates made me do a double take!

  • How much chutzpah* is required to removed and publish a person's prayer from The Wall? (* Vered's comment compels me to clarify: I'm referring to the bad "outrageous and obnoxious lack of boundaries and respect for civilization" kind of chutzpah, not the admirable "backbone and moxie" kind.)

  • If this is true, it is an outrage. I can only say that the situation described is totally counter to my experience in any of the Orthodox communities in which we've lived. (More reactions, here.)

  • In a fit of schadenfreude I enjoyed every guilty minute of both Cake wrecks and LovelyListing

Links that prompted ink:

Articles and posts that sparked comments and replies

  • Lion of Zion's preface to a post about leining ("leining" is the ritualized public reading of Torah) reminded me of a recent point made by Seth Godin.

    Earlier this month I finally convinced my husband to listen to Seth's Purple Mooand Free Prize Inside! on a recent road trip*. I have listened to a number of his books, and just as he does with his blog posts, he advances interesting and new arguments using fascinating examples without fillers or repetition.

    (*The road trip was to meet my newest nephew, Baby Newbie. Mazal tov to his parents, my sister Kosher Newbie, her husband Dr. Newbie, and to Young Master Newbie, in his new roll as a big brother.)

  • I ended up deleting my comment in this thread, because I thought it too harshly worded. (Especially during the Three Weeks, when we're advised to be particularly careful to avoid divisive language.)

    Let's just say that if someone demands to be remunerated for attending a social event, I'd recommend the hosts resign themselves to interpreting such a request a a "regret" and resign themselves to giving the caterer a smaller number of attendees. Those who arrange their guests' transportation out of love and with an open hand, rather than as a result of extortion, are generous and praiseworthy, going beyond what anyone should expect, much less demand.

    And the idea, suggested in the comments and perhaps culturally acceptable elsewhere, of separate tiers of (adult) guests, with some meriting the "first class" meal and others offered the "steerage" treatment, makes me cringe. I see no problem with the "kids' buffet" that offers pizza or hamburgers to minor children (and a few stow-away husbands) saving them from the trauma of cuisine. However, treating single adults as children is beyond objectionable.)

    There is a Jewish custom called "Sheva Brachot", which fills the new couple's first week with casual ritual meals. A requirement for each of these meals is a "new face", someone who hasn't eaten with the couple that week. This provides an opportunity to celebrate with those who didn't attend the wedding. These meals needn't be lavish or expensive.

    After the financial issues are addressed, there is plenty else to negotiate.

    (I penned and then deleted about a dozen responses to this heartbreaking post, without submitting any of them. Some conversations should not be held electronically. I can't help thinking (hoping?) that if father and daughter were in the same room together, or even on the telephone, the result would have been healthier.

    I doubt the resulting on-line analysis-by-committee has made the situation better.)

  • Both The Rebbetzin's Husband's discussion of "Dress Codes and Dress-up Judaism" (Part I and Part II) and this thread about talking during davening at Hirhurim prompted me to comment and read replies obsessively all week.

    While I haven't changed my mind (quick summary: "dress up and shut up" ) I've gained a better perspective and appreciation for contrary opinions on both of these issues.

Links that made me link:

Worthwhile links and items I've recently forwarded to others

Links for food or drink:


Links that made me pink:

Aw, shucks! Thank you for linking to Juggling Frogs

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Note to weekend commenters:

Weekend commenters, please note:

Juggling Frogs runs unattended from Friday afternoon until late Saturday night (ET), in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and on certain Jewish holidays.

Comments entered during this time will be held in a queue, to be moderated after Shabbat. Thank you for your understanding and patience.

Current time in Boston, MA, U.S.A.

I love your comments and your input. Checking the comment queue is something I look forward to every Saturday night. It's like a room full of birthday presents to open every weekend.

So please, keep the conversation going and don't get frustrated. I'll be back. Thank you!

All the best,

P.S. Sometimes, the "Shabbat Shalom" message stays up just a bit longer than 25 hours. It won't drop from the top position until I post something new. If it's not Shabbat (or a Jewish Holiday), the comments are likely being moderated, even if the message at the top of the blog seems to indicate otherwise.

I try to keep the signal-to-noise ratio of this blog high, avoiding filling your feed readers with "I hope to post soon" messages. Please don't worry. (I feel guilty when you worry.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wordle has a way with words

I've been wasting time having too much fun with this new, (free) on-line toy: Wordle. It takes text (cut-and-paste, from RSS, or from del.ici.ous) and creates configurable word pictures based on word frequency.

Here's one from the English translation of Pirkei Avot (the Talmud tractate Avot, commonly called "Ethics of the Fathers".) (Click on the picture to see a larger version.)

Here's Hamlet, from this on-line text:

...and (l'havdil) here's the first page of this blog, as of today:

Don't miss reading the FAQ, to get all sorts of ideas for other uses. (I'm thinking spiffing up birthday invitations, community newsletters, fliers, t-shirts, party favors, blog posts, presentations, etc.)

(Thanks/Hat tip to Scott Berkun's blog. See this post for the picture that resulted when he typed in the first chapter of his excellent book. For a great video presentation of Scott's ideas, see this video he made for GoogleTalks last year.)

UPDATE: It's contagious! Here's Jack's. If you caught it from me, let me know and I'll link to it.
UPDATE: Uh oh. I think Jack is getting carried away. Here's BlogaG's. And from the comments, here's another of hers, in Hebrew. I think it's Haim Nachman Bialik's first poem, "To the Bird אל הצפור " (awaiting confirmation on that.)

Here's an interesting comparison of the Obama and McCain campaign websites using wordle:
McCain and Obama as piles of words

Here's the English translation by Jessie Sampter (1883–1938), of the poem mentioned above, which was published in Odessa in 1891:

To the Bird, by Haim Nachman Bialik (Taken from page 11 of this Arza pamphlet)

Greetings! Peace to you, returning
Lovely bird, unto my window
From a warmer clime!
How my soul for songs was yearning
When my dwelling you deserted in the winter-time!

Chirping, singing, dearest birdling,
Tell the wonders of that distant
Land from which you came
In that fairer, warmer climate
Are the troubles and the trials
Multiplied the same?

Do you bring me friendly greetings
From my brothers there in Zion,
Brothers far yet near?
O the happy! O the blessed!
Do they guess what heavy sorrows
I must suffer here?

Do they know and could they picture
How the many rise against me,
How their hatred swells?
Singing, singing, O my birdling,
Sing the wonders of the land where
Spring forever dwells.

And the laborers, my brothers—
Have not these who sowed with weeping
Reaped with song and psalm?
Oh, that I had wings to fly with,
Fly unto the land where flourish
Almond tree and palm!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shooting fish in a barrel

Or, at least I tried to shoot a picture of the goldfish that live in our rain barrel.

I bought this rain barrel at the beginning of the Summer, to collect water for our vegetable garden.

Although excited to have a source of chlorine-free, neutral pH (well, neutral-ish) free water that is close to the garden, I was concerned about breeding mosquitoes.

The neighboring town has already had two cases of West Nile Virus, and I don't want to contribute to the count.

A lot of people use "BT" (also called "mosquito dunks"), which is supposed to be safe for people and pets. I'm a bit squeamish about the unknown side-effects of chemicals in general, so I was hesitant to pour this all over the vegetables. Also, I'm cheap, and the chemicals would be an on-going expense.

So, instead, I bought three 28-cent "feeder" goldfish at the local Wal-Mart, and hoped they'd munch up any mosquito larvae in the barrel. I also picked up a $1.51 container of fish food, almost twice the price of the fish. (Ever hear the expression, "the cheapest part of owning a horse is the horse"?)

This has worked really well. The fish, which were previously designated as food for larger pet fish, have 55 gallons of space, both fresh bugs and dried fish food for dinner, and no predators. It's a bit boring in there, but I'm guessing it's suitable for a fish-style attention span. They've grown appreciably in the past couple of months. I think they're happy. At least they haven't complained. Or died. Yet.

Their waste makes the water in the rain barrel even more effective in the garden, as a weak fertilizer. ("Fish emulsion" for free!)

I've read that some people take the fish in for the Winter, and keep them as indoor pets until the Spring.

I also read (but am not sure I believe) an account of someone who forgot to do this, resulting in the fish frozen in a barrel full of ice (like flies in amber, or herbs in ice cubes for punch) . According to the story, the fish lived to see two more years (!) after the thaw. Apparently, some (all?) goldfish hibernate (or the aquatic equivalent) in the cold. (Do I *need* to write a disclaimer on this one?)

There are many sites on-line that give easy instructions for constructing a home-made rain barrel, but this is the one we have. I checked the price today, and it is 50% more than we paid (from the same source) at the beginning of the Summer! I'm not sure if that is due to seasonal demand fluctuations, or because the price of everything is on the rise, and this is a way (long term) to reduce the on-going expense of the water bill.

(Gretta is wearing gloves in these pictures because we fed the fish on our way to work in the garden this morning. She doesn't like to get her fingernails dirty. )

Monday, July 21, 2008

How not to fix a broken doll. And why.

Two years ago, my mother took one of my children out for a whole day to celebrate the child's birthday.

(Let's call this particular child "X", to protect the innocent guilty privacy of all involved. )

That shopping trip is a precious and treasured memory for X. It included a trip to the library, an ice cream cone, one very long shopping trip to multiple stores in which she was allowed to choose her own birthday present, and most valuable: time alone with Grandma to discuss anything and everything, without the interruptions or audience of X's siblings.

The present-choosing took *hours*. Even Grandma, a paragon of patience and a vetran shopper, used the word "angonizing" to describe it. As is her loving and indulgent way, Grandma gave full attention to X's detailed discourse on the merits and features of each candidate as it was considered for the role of Birthday Present.

With Grandma's enthusiastic encouragement, a choice was finally made: A porcelain doll with clear hazel-green eyes ("just like yours, Grandma!"), a peach ribbon bow in her golden hair, and pearl earrings. Her pale buttercup satin dress was covered with a peach and white pinnafore, was finished with a delicate lace trim that matched the long bloomers that modestly peeked out from the dress' hem.

X loved that doll.

The doll never received a proper name, other than "The Special Doll That I Picked Out On My Special Day with Grandma." (Hereafter I'll refer to it as "TSDTIPOOMSDWG", but the reader should note that X never omitted a syllable from that name.)

TSDTIPOOMSDWG accompanied X to bed for the first few nights. But, shortly thereafter, she was relocated to the nightstand, because, as X explained "It's hard to sleep with her because I don't want to mess up her hair. This way, if I wake up at night from a bad dream, I can look at her and then I'll have a happy dream."

So, you get the idea. TSDTIPOOMSDWG meant a lot to X, and not for purely materialistic reasons.


About a month later, after school, a paint-stripping wail of agony came from X's room, piercing my standard-issue Maternal Background Noise Filter from two floors away. I was in her room, awash in adrenaline before the first neurons of conscious thought could fire. I heard that scream with the ears of a mother bear whose cub is caught in a hunter's trap.

I yanked open the door of her room. All I could think, as I saw her standing with her back to me, was, "She's standing. Thank G-d, thank G-d, thank G-d. Whatever happened, she is well enough to stand. Thank G-d, thank G-d." I took a breath, while flipping through my mental file cabinet for all the possible injuries that would still allow a person to stand upright. (The software for randomly accessing potential catastrophies is also standard maternal issue.)

She turned around. In her hands was TSDTIPOOMSDWG, in pieces, her dress cut to shreds.

It was that moment, that I noticed X's youngest sister, then a toddler, eyes wide and cowering in the corner of the room.

I turned away, willing myself to take a breath before reacting, and used this time to survey the room. That was when I saw the pair of scissors on the floor, near TSDTIPOOMSDWG's nightstand.

Somehow, the toddler got into X's room with a pair of scissors and cut up the TSDTIPOOMSDWG's dress and broke off her arms, all while X was in school for the day.

What followed is a blur of recriminations, guilt, consolation, accusations, and regret. I know I did my best, in reaction to that tableau that remains a tear smeared memory.

I still ache from the emotional whirlwind of that incident. If it were just any doll, I would have understood the violation, comforted X, and punished the toddler, eventually finding some way to point out, however delicately and after an appropriate delay, that the doll was, after all, just an object, however valued, and not a person, a relationship, etc. I would have guided the toddler to repentance, and X to forgiveness, and done my best to catalyze healing between them.

But TSDTIPOOMSDWG was not just a thing. TSDTIPOOMSDWG was a symbol of X's indepencence, her special time with Grandma, her own space in a sometimes crowded family.

So, while I did get around to all those things mentioned above, I first spent some time wallowing with X in her pain. And then dived into my own pool of guilt. How could this have happened on my watch? Why wasn't I watching her better? Was this an act of malice on the part of the toddler? What kind of mother am I, if my toddler is capable of targeting and destroying her sister's beloved posession?

And so, before healing, before forgiveness, before perspective, awash in guilt, before even a time-out for the toddler, I took a sobbing X and broken TSDTIPOOMSDWG to our craft and sewing shelves looking for some solution, any solution, anything that would just Make It All Better. The toddler followed behind at a safe distance and watched us, thumb in mouth.

I scoured my fabric stash and pulled out every bit of lace from my copious supply, asking X if she to help me choose an acceptable substitute. Nothing satisfied. Whenever irritation sprouted in me, I'd look, in turn, from X's eyes, red-rimmed and burning from injustice, to the fearful and stunned expression from the toddler in the background, to TSDTIPOOMSDWG, armless and stoically staring at the wall.

Sniffling, X resigned herself, and agreed to a few bits of lace that would make a dress. "But what about the arms?" she sniffled. I had no idea. "Let me think about it a bit. We'll figure something out."


Over the next few days, a partial healing began. I kept the broken doll in my room, and attempted to make a new dress for TSDTIPOOMSDWG, while secretly searching the internet for either an exact replacement for the doll, or a good tutorial for repairing her arms. I found neither.

Time passed, and TSDTIPOOMSDWG became a permanent temporary resident of the bookshelf over my desk. I turned her face away from me, so I wouldn't have to make eye contact. Her presence was a testimony to my many failures.

More time passed, and, like all clutter, she started to become transparent to me. She blended into the background chorus of unfinished tasks, misplaced items, and other detritus of procrastination that hum a white noise of regret in my bedroom.

Over the past two years, every so often, X would look up at TSDTIPOOMSDWG, sigh, and then look at me, biting her lip, but never asking when they'd be reunited. Twice, I moved TSDTIPOOMSDWG to a higher shelf, cowardly hoping to avoid this. Once, I put it in the garbage can, only to retrieve it within the hour.

Why was I keeping this terrible reminder on my shelf? What was the point of having this painful totem of strife within daily view? Why couldn't I just throw the stupid thing away? Wouldn't that be best for everyone involved?


Two days ago, on Saturday afternoon, X came to my room, in tears, and stared pointedly up at the bottoms of TSDTIPOOMSDWG's patent leather shoes, just barely visible from their high shelf.

I braced myself.

"I have to tell you something, but I'm afraid you're going to be really mad at me," she said.

"Okay, I'm ready. Tell me."

"You know that doll? The Special Doll That I Picked Out On My Special Day with Grandma a long time ago? The one that [sister] ruined?" she started.

Hanging my head, expecting her to ask for a repair status report, justifiable after a two year delay with no progress on my part, I told her, "I remember it."

"Well, I told you a lie. " Eyes both flaming and wet, she explained, "I was the one who broke the arms. [sister] cut up the dress, and when I saw it, I was so angry at her that I broke TSDTIPOOMSDWG's arms to make sure she'd get in even more trouble. I was afraid you'd only be a little bit mad at her and not understand if you saw the dress cut up, so I broke the arms off and said she did it," she sobbed.

I grabbed her in a big hug. "Did you tell your sister? Did you apologize?"

She nodded, and moaned "but I feel so BAD. "

I told her, "I'm really proud of you for telling the truth. That was really, really hard to do. You feel bad because you did something wrong. Good people feel bad when they do the wrong thing, and you're a good person."

And, many hugs and earnest discussions later, relief spread between the sisters, from me, and over the entire episode.


Yesterday was the 17th of Tamuz on the Jewish calendar; a fast day that ushers in a three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. The 17th of Tamuz commemorates the date when the walls of Jerusalem fell.

This is the same Temple whose destruction is recalled at Jewish weddings with the smashing of a glass. Some people have the custom to have a hole in a wall, or leave one wall of their house unfinished, in its memory.

It is said that in the Time of Redemption (for which Jews hope and pray daily) , these Three Weeks will be turned from a time of fasting and mourning into holidays of feasting and joy.

Tradition tells us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. I've always liked Rav Kook zt"l's response*** to this, that redemption will therefore come through baseless love.

However, "baseless love" is one of many psychological ideals that are easier to demand than achieve. (How many times have you been cut off in traffic by a car sporting a "Practice random acts of kindness" bumper sticker?) Other than holding a placard and campaigning for it, how is it to be achieved?


The saga of TSDTIPOOMSDWG gave me a better understanding the value of the Three Weeks.

Just as we tear a hole in the wall of our house to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, just as mourners ritually tear their garments, we tear open these three weeks of the calendar to expose and remember our grief.

X's broken toy was a painful reminder for all of us. But, had I buried it in the garbage, or had I been able to find a quick replacement on-line, or even if I had been able to figure out how to make a passable repair, the pain would have remained forever buried, like shrapnel in a wound.

X's confession gives me hope and a potential recipe for baseless love.

Our healing was possible because the reminder didn't disappear, and when she was ready, she was able to break down her own walls of denial, fear, and guilt, and discovered within the courage to repent.

We keep the Three Weeks, painful as they are, as a reminder of our relentless and human tendency for failure in judging others favorably, for holding grudges, for tearing the arms off our relationships in retaliation for grievances real and imaginary.

The Three Weeks sit on our shelf, recurring every year, to remind us that we have work to do, and that the potential for healing is possible.

May this year be the year we find our way to a true healing.

* If it weren't refering to idolatry and all, I'd be tempted to draw a comparison between TSDTIPOOMSDWG, who has become a personal icon, now, of love and healing, and the Venus de Milo, a goddess of love and beauty. Watch me exercise restraint.

** I want points, also, for leaving out any reference to Tehilim/Psalms 137:5. You're welcome.

*** I've also seen this attributed to the Besht, and others. It's in Rav Kook's Orot Hakodes, but may also be elsewhere. If someone has a definitive citiation, please let me know. I'd like to get it right.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I believe our children are the future... (What energy crisis?)

How many times after chasing an active toddler, or watching a teenage boy absent-mindedly doing chin-ups on any available door frame, have we sighed, "If only all that energy could be used for Good..."

How long before this technology can be adapted from floor to mattress? Future generations of parents will insist that their kids continue to jump on their beds.

Tools for managing helping others deal with Cancer

A post from last night, by RivkA about how and why she started her blog to handle sharing information about her condition reminded me of something I've been asked to share a number of times on this blog.

One of the many difficult aspects of dealing with chemotherapy is that, often, when the person is first diagnosed, there is almost too much support, but, then, as the treatment continues for many months thereafter, the support dwindles, while the patient is left to cope with the enormous emotional, logistical and physical effects of treatment.

Here are a couple of tools to help manage the help and offers of help, so that it can be helpful:

LotsaHelpingHands is a (free) site I've used extensively in the past, (thank G-d, not in the past year), to help coordinate the wonderful and welcome, but overwhelming and time-consuming onslaught of offers to help someone deal with a long-term illness.

Processing these offers can often be as time-consuming as a part-time job, an added burden for the person with cancer and his/her family.

LotsaHelpingHands allows a person (preferably someone close to the family, but not an immediate family member) to become a "coordinator" who can transform the windstorm of people asking "how can I help?" and offering "call me if you need ANYTHING!" into actual meals, rides, babysitting, etc that meet the family's needs and schedule, without requiring the family to deal with the logistics.

The family gives the coordinator the guidelines, almost like a "gift registry" of help that would be welcome. Then, when people want to help, they are given the website, and can choose to offer something specific from the list of available needs. Details can be provided, such as dietary requirements, carpool issues, whatever.

The list can be kept totally private, and shared only with those that have been invited.

It can take a bit to set up correctly, and (maybe this has been fixed since last I used it:) there is a learning curve in the beginning that can result in an avalanche of e-mails until the coordinator learns the result of certain actions. But overall, it is a remarkably helpful tool.

It allows people from all the different social circles of a family's life to work together with minimal overhead. This tool prevents the typical situations of 17 kugels on Tuesday, with no meals for the rest of the week; exhausted patient having to explain and keep a complicated carpool organized while sitting in the waiting room for radiology when the helper can't run carpool because her own child was sent home from school with the flu; or a beautiful 4 course dinner waiting on the front step when the family planned to be away, just that one evening.

It worked best for me as a coordinator when I was given everyone in the family's home, work, and cell phone numbers, and when I sprung for domain name for our given site. This is not something available within the LotsaHelpingHands system, but I highly recommend it for being able to give out the website easily over the telephone, both for the coordinator's convenience, but especially for the family's convenience.

(Having an easy-to-remember domain is particularly helpful for sharing the site with large private networks of people. For example, if a teacher at a school is undergoing treatment, the website can be shared (with his/her permission) with the school staff and/or parents, allowing even those who don't feel close enough to call, to make a side dish for a shabbat meal, or offer an hour of babysitting. In this way, a coodinator who knows the family in one way, can help knit together help from all the different social networks that touch the famiy.)

This way, when someone asks, "How can I help?" they can be thanked, and directed to the website for followup. The person offering can then later look for something that meets his/her schedule and ability, and the person receiving can then use that time with the offerer to talk about larger (or lighter) things, rather than handling logistics or (more likely) declining by default.

I also found it most helpful, as a coordinator, to hold back, and sign up for the minimum necessary of the rides, meals, etc. in order to allow for others to fill these positions first. Coordinating this can be like a part-time job, and there may be times when there isn't time to call to find replacements when offers fall through or are retracted. Although it is tempting for a coordinator to fill in all the missing holes in the schedule, it is important not to get stretched too thin, because the coordinator will likely be the "pinch hitter", filling in for more last-minute things.

Being a coordinator is a major undertaking, but the website makes it feasible.

If it seems like too much for one person, it is also possible to have one person coordinate for meals, another for rides, another for babysitting, etc. These "co-coordinators" must all be able to communicate well with one another, because there will be inevitable crossover of offers.

Another organization that I have worked with and recommend highly is ChemoAngels.

(Warning: A first look at their site might make a non-Christian think it is a Christian-only site, but that is not the case. I have done this, and worked exclusively with Jewish, atheist, and non-religious patients. I have specifically avoided working with those who do celebrate non-Jewish holidays, as I wouldn't be able to help them celebrate their holidays appropriately, and it would probably be a let-down for them. Besides, there are many people within this program who are capable of meeting this need.)

ChemoAngels targets both those actively undergoing Chemotherapy (and/or radiation) and those who are elderly and shut-in, and matches them with a vetted and committed stranger, who sends letters, cards, gifts, trinkets, and cheer in the mail. Nothing is expected of the recipient in terms of communication, none of the gifts or cards need be acknowledged or reciprocated.

The recipient has to sign up for this. Getting someone to do so is the hardest part! Once signed up, the recipient fills out a form indicating personal preferences. One of my patients had a thing for penguins, tea, and lupines. Another preferred hand lotion and magazines.

It might seem corny to get support from strangers, but by all accounts it really works. Many of those who sign up to become "chemoangels" are cancer survivors, or family members of a cancer survivor. Often, when a patient "graduates" from being a recipient, she signs up to become a "chemoangel" for someone else.

Even if this program isn't your cup of tea, I recommend reading some of the material on the site that offers suggestions about how to be helpful and supportive to someone undergoing chemotherapy. (Hint: Don't send "get well cards" or offer unsolicited medical advice. Do send "thinking of you" letters/cards/notes and make up "waiting room survival kits".)

If this post doesn't apply to you, may you and the ones you love never need this information. If it does, may you and/or your loved one have a complete and speedy healing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shabbat Shalom!

Please note that on Friday afternoons until Saturday evening, the author of this blog is unavailable, in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

Comments made during this time will be held in a queue, to be moderated afterward.

Thank you for your patience.

(Baking is an extra credit project this week, because our kitchen is topsy-turvy with construction/repairs.

Everything has been remvoed from sink cabinets and from off the counters, and we have been without running water or functioning sink drains in the kitchen for a week - with at least another week predicted.

All drinking and cooking water is coming from little bottles and washing water is from an outdoor sink hooked up to a garden hose!

It feels like Pesach sans the aluminum foil and the fixed schedule.

Let's just say that we're very thirsty for this project to be OVER.)

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We're having oysters for dinner tonight! (*)

I'm excited to share the fruits of my first mushroom harvest: A plate of oyster mushrooms!
A few weeks ago, we received a mushroom growing kit from gmushrooms.com, and today we harvested the first flush from the oyster mushrooms!

The kit I got had four types of mushrooms spoors. Three of them were in "log" form, with a compressed cylinder of growing medium (maybe barley?) that is already colonized by the different mushrooms' mycelium, ready to fruit, given the right environmental conditions.

The fourth, the Morel mushroom spores, required its own dedicated outdoor compost heap, so (as the instructions indicated) I put it in the back of our refrigerator to hold it until I was ready to provide the environment for it.

These are the three 'logs' as they came out of the shipping box. From left to right, they are Shiitake, Pom Pom Blanc, and Oyster-type mushrooms.

Each of the different types had a very clear sheet with instructions for how to set up the right conditions of moisture, light and heat. None of them required darkness, but they couldn't be in direct sunlight. Indirect sunlight is best.

The kit came with these big sponges and plastic vented funnel bags for tenting the spore log on top of the moistened sponge, in order to maintain humidity.

The shiitake mushrooms are still drying out, which is the first step in their preparation. The oyster and pom pom blanc mushrooms could get humid immediately.

Set up was really easy. A 2" X is cut on either side, through the plastic enclosure. The mushrooms fruit and pop out from this opening.

I supplied the foil pans. I used rainwater for this project, although there was nothing in the instructions that mentioned this. It just seemed, that it would be better to use non-chlorinated, neutral water, rather than tap water.

This is a corner of our entrance hall that doesn't get direct sunlight.

I put up a sign saying "Welcome to our Fungus Garden!" (I did this mostly because it doesn't really look like much of a 'garden', and I didn't want anyone using the bookcase for other things, disturbing the set up.)

The first "pinheads" formed on the oyster mushrooms about a week after I set this up, and we were able to harvest them about 4 days after that.

The first fruit of the Pom Poms is just beginning to emerge today. I hope to have pictures soon. (There's not a lot to see yet.) The Shiitake log is still drying out, and will probably be set in water in a couple of days.)

Here are the oysters. Kosher oysters!

They looked so beautiful and exotic growing in place, it was hard to cut them off the log!

UPDATE: Here's the last of the oyster mushrooms, served raw with grilled tuna and greens from our garden. The sprouts in the upper left-hand corner are garlic chive sprouts, which take about two weeks to grow, but are worth the wait:

FURTHER UPDATE: The Pom Pom Blanc mushroom log failed to produce, and eventually was covered with mold. Harumph. I'm trying to grow *fungus* , not *mold*!! I had to discard it (in our compost heap.) The jury's still out on the shiitake and morel kits. I'll update when we know the results.

*This title is provocative because shellfish aren't kosher. Mushrooms are.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My knife block overfloweth

Recently, I acquired a few more knives than my narrow (and infamous) knife block could hold. One of them is a 10"chef's knive, which didn't fit in any of the slots of the existing block. I shopped a bit for a bigger block, but all those that held 10" blades were very big, and/or very expensive.

With children in the kitchen, I wasn't comfortable with installing a big knife magnet. (I'm also not thrilled with the aesthetics of these. I think they make a home kitchen look a little angry and dangerous.)

Jealous of my counter space, I wasn't enthusiastic about trading a perfectly good block and folding money for something bulkier, I managed to come up with something that works really well for me:

I used high intensity magnets glued (via hot glue gun) to the top of the existing block. These magnets each have a 12 lb. pulling capacity, so the knives are securely held to the wood.

knife block to be expanded For each knife, I put two magnets: one for where the base of the blade meets the handle, and another for the tip. Since I used the actual knives as a guide, the result is a custom fit.

knife block with magnets to expand capacity These are my two most used knives, so it's convenient that they are the most accessible and easiest to put away.

knife block in situI'm really pleased with this setup. It cost $4.50 in magnets (half of the $9 package), works very well, and takes up no extra counter space. (Since it's so hard for me to throw stuff away, not having a leftover knife block to discard is a psychological plus, too.)

By the way, while browsing around for knife blocks on-line, I came across a great idea on one of the forums for substituting the "laxative" mineral oil from the supermarket for the mineral oil that is sold specifically to care for wood chopping blocks.

It's the same stuff, but more readily available, and $2/16 oz. bottle, rather than $8.95/8 oz.

(If the bottle comes with too descriptive a label, discretion might warrant decanting or a homemade label announcing "for the cutting board" - to avoid embarrassing situations with guests in the kitchen.)

cheaper mineral oil for wood cutting board

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cold brew coffee

A while back, I stumbled upon a passionate discussion of a cold brew coffee making device, and became intrigued with this method. However, I'm notoriously cheap thrifty, and couldn't see the sense* in paying $30 for a device that will hold a gallon of liquid at room temperature for a day, before filtering.

In fact, I happened to have a pound of ground coffee, a standard glass gallon jar and a manual coffeemaker** at home. Risking only wasted coffee and wasted time, I gave it a try.

It was wonderful! The coffee developed a beautiful crema as it brewed without gadgetry, without electricity, and without contrivance, overnight on the kitchen counter. The next morning, I filtered the result, using a regular paper coffee filter, and then diluted a bit of the result with hot water.

It was a great cup of coffee, without any bitterness or acidity.

This method yields many advantages:

  • no electricity required

  • no device required

  • the "coffee sense" stores for weeks in the refrigerator (or can be frozen in ice cube trays for longer term storage and/or use with iced coffee and/or flavoring other drinks***)

  • once a few varieties are made, different types of coffee can be served to different individuals simultaneously

  • each person can make his own cup to the strength of his own liking

  • once made, it is virtually instant coffee (that doesn't taste like instant coffee)

  • for iced coffee, it doesn't need to cool down

  • observant Jews can enjoy it on Shabbat (If you're an observant Jew and a coffee snob lover, Saturday mornings can be a bit of a challenge...)

  • the kitchen gets messy one time for a week (or two)'s worth of coffee drinking

  • less coffee is wasted because there is no need to brew an entire pot; each cup is brewed as needed

  • the big lump of coffee grounds can be dumped in the compost heap in one trip

Here's what I did:

I put a pound of ground coffee in a glass gallon container, and added enough water (about 10 cups) to fill the container. (Perhaps any non-reactive container would do, but I was hesitant to use plastic because it often changes flavors.)

I waited a day. Other websites suggested a minimum of 12 hours. I like my coffee strong, and wanted to experiment to see if a whole day would be too long. I didn't taste any bitterness or staleness after more than 24 hours.

I filtered it through the large manual coffee filter, lined with a standard paper filter. This needs to sit, unmolested, on the counter for a long time, up to an hour, to extract every drop... of extract. I use either a large measuring bowl or the decanter from the manual coffee maker to collect the result. I'm sure this can be done with any filtering method, including a big strainer lined with cheesecloth, "gold" coffee filters, etc.

Depending on the drinker's preference, dilute 4:1 (water:extract) 3:1 or 2:1. Enjoy!

Here are some others' approach and appreciation of this method:

Index of Recipes on Juggling Frogs

* note: Apologies for the obscure and terrible pun. Some observant Jews, in preparation for Shabbat, will make something mentioned in the Mishna Berurah called "tea sense" (or "tea essence") which is a brewed tea concentrate, that can be diluted on Shabbat with hot water to make tea. For some, this is the only legal and practical way to have hot tea on the Sabbath.

Others allow tea bags to be used on Shabbat if in the "second" or "third" cup.

The cold brew method of making coffee is the equivalent of brewing a "coffee sense" which, to my knowledge, is not mentioned in any sacred text... yet.

** I hope to post soon about why I travel with part of this device

*** Some favorites include adding the "coffeecicles" to soy milk, milk, or cream for instant iced "lattes". Since the coffee cubes are very concentrated, they impart more and more flavor as they melt and the amount of other liquid decreases. This is the opposite effect of adding ice to a cold drink, which dilutes the flavor as it melts.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Zero excuses, no promises, a million reasons, and one big apology

It has been six months (!) since I last wrote, and I am so sorry not to have kept this site up to date.

In November, this blog suffered from a "perfect storm" of unrelated circumstances that made it unwise, impractical, and beyond my capability to post. Thank G-d, most of these circumstances are happy ones.

I'm relieved to say that the need to stay silent no longer applies.

With your permission, I hope to resume regular posting immediately.

I apologize for any e-mail messages and comments that have not yet been answered. If you are waiting for a reply to a comment from an old message or post, please let me know that it is still active.

Thank you for your enduring patience, your readership, and understanding.

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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