Saturday, December 12, 2009
Story #1 is a story of reaching back in order to move forward. Being able to do both at the same time through the simplicity of ritual.
Story #2 is about taking the light of Chanukah and sharing it with someone who really needs it.
Both stories are about what my father taught me about living in this world. About caring for my family and taking that care back out into the world.
Story #1: Held Together and Almost Smooth
Chanukah is a holiday I have always cherished. As a child, I never felt any yearning for Christmas, or to have a Chanukah bush, like many of my other Jewish friends. I loved all the Jewish holidays, but Chanukahwas a different kind of special because it was my dad's territory. And territory that he lovingly shared with me as his special Chanukah assistant. I don't know why Chanukah was his realm. I also don't know why my brothers weren't involved in the preparations, other than they were probably spending their time looking for where the presents were hidden. I didn't care. Chanukah was about my family, but it was really what went on between my father and I and that made it extraordinary.
The night before the first night he'd go into the attic and get the box that contained all our decorations. They were wrapped in tissue paper, most likely saved from the last year's gift wrapping. Blue and gold wall hangings with menorahs, Judas Maccabee, Stars of David and dreidels. One roll of blue crepe paper, one roll of white. Both rolled up as if they were brand new.
Dad had a specific place for each decoration which we returned to every year. And an order. First the menorahs were taken out and cleaned. Then the wall hangings were put up. Then finally my favorite part. The blue and white rolls of crepe paper. He'd get out the step ladder and some tape and have me stand at one end of the den, holding the blue paper as he slowly unrolled it until it reached diagonally across the room. He'd climb up the ladder and tape it to a pine beam. He take the other end I'd been holding and fold it, then tape it up into the next corner and the next. We'd repeat the same process with the white paper. After he'd taped the last corner, he and I would stand in the middle of the den and look up. A perfectly symmetrical Star of David stretched across the den ceiling. The decorations were simple, not ostentatious - no lights except for the ones we light on our menorahs or eight nights in a row.
And then there were his latkes. In the days before food processors, he'd first peel the potatoes, getting every scrap of peel off, then grating them finely by hand. He chopped the onions, cracked the eggs, added salt, pepper and matzoh meal. I'd stir the mixture for him until it was the consistency he liked - held together and almost smooth. The oil went into the pan and we'd wait until we heard the sizzle. He spooned them gently into the hot oil, four or five at a time and then we'd wait, always the hardest part for me then and now. Before we knew it two, three pans would be full and he'd put them in the oven to stay warm until our extended family would arrive. But not before he'd take the two most perfect ones and dollop some sour cream and applesauce on them and we'd eat them before anyone else had a chance. Just him and me.
I woke up this morning and cried as I drank my coffee. It was my first Chanukah at home without my dad. Last year we spent Chanukah in Costa Rica, lighting the menorah in the tropical breeze. It was Chanukah out of context with the Chanukah of my life and I don't remember if I felt sad. I was happy to be somewhere warm and beautiful with my family and to have left my grief back in Colorado. But this year was different and I could feel it coming even before I took my first sip.
The sadness started earlier in the week when my daughters and I went to our regular market, King Soopers, a normally decent place to get Jewish holiday supplies. But when I walked up and down the promotional aisles stuffed to the gills with Christmas candy, decorations, toys, lights and more, I couldn't find the usual small section dedicated to Chanukah. I strolled over to the "ethnic" food aisle to see what was in the Kosher section. A few boxes of candles and overpriced grape juice, but nothing else. I found a manager and asked him where the Chanukah section was. He looked uncomfortable and responded that he didn't think they had one this year. "Not even chocolate gelt - coins?," one of my girls asked. He looked down at the floor and said, "Let's take a look." We followed him back to the promotional aisle and he did in fact find a few mesh bags of Chanukah gelt. He apologized for not having more and we thanked him. I left the gelt there, feeling miffed at being disregarded by a store in our community.
The next day I went to the Super Target in Longmont, also a place I've relied on in the past for a small but well-stocked supply of Chanukah goods and a place I was sure I'd find what I needed. This time I was with just one of my daughters who was home sick from school. She sat in the cart as we headed to the holiday section. Up one aisle and down the next. Nothing. We repeated this seven, eight times. No Chanukah in sight. I could feel my anger boiling up, but I kept a lid on it so not to set a bad example for my daughter. "Let's see if we can find someone to help us," I told her as we headed up to someone in a red employee shirt. "Can you tell me where the Chanukah supplies are?" She asked if we'd looked in the holiday section. I told her yes and that there was nothing. She found a manager and asked her if she knew where the Chanukah section was. The manager got the same uncomfortable look as the one at King Soopers. "We only have one end cap (what the shelf space at the end of an aisle is called) for Hanukkah this year and it's in the food section." I expressed my disappointment and she nicely told me that she'd already spoken with the corporate office to request three sections like they had in Boulder and that I'd not been the first to complain. My daughter looked back at me and asked, "Mama, why don't they like Chanukah?" The woman looked at my daughter, then at me and apologized. She walked me over to the Chanukah end cap and I saw the same pathetic samples as King Soopers. They did have Chanukah candles on sale, so I grabbed the last two packages and headed to the check out line.
I felt so angry, but below that anger was so much sadness. I thought of my dad, a Holocaust survivor, and his quiet pride and happiness at being able to stretch a blue and white Star of David across his own den ceiling, of being able to openly celebrate Chanukah with his family.
I looked at the faces of my three girls and felt so sad that they should still have to carry the pain and the burden of living in a society that insists on one way above all the rest. But I also realized that they had learned a hugely important lesson in being who they are with the same quiet pride and happiness that my father reflected back to me.
So when I woke up this morning of the first night of Chanukah, I woke with the heaviness of the burden and I missed my dad. I looked toward the day with hesitation and not so successfully fought of wave after wave of tears. The biggest hesitation I had was following through on my offer to make apple latkes for the first night gathering at my sister-in-laws. I didn't want to do it. I was afraid to do it. I felt the weight of my entire people, or at least the weight of the Longmont Jewish community, on my shoulders to do it.
When I got home from work, Jack had performed the blessing of peeling and coring the apples and also surprised me with doing the same with some potatoes. I didn't remember saying I was planning on making regular latkes, but when you're faced with a colander of peeled potatoes...
I made the apple latkes first.
But the potatoes were waiting.
I looked for some wine to drink, but could only find a tiny bottle of vodka. I took a couple of swigs and then mixed a small drink of ginger ale and vodka.
I opened the Jewish Cooking Cookbook by Arthur Schwartz and turned to the potato latkes. I put the potatoes in the food process and sliced them thin. Added two eggs, dash of salt, pepper, one diced onion and because I was making these for me, they had to be gluten free. I substituted the matzoh meal for potato starch and mixed. Put it back into the food processor and pulsed until the mixture was the right consistency - held together and almost smooth. I added oil to electric griddle and waited for the sizzle. I ladled small ovals of the mixture onto the griddle. And waited. Every time I was tempted to prematurely turn over a latke, I took a sip from my drink. My dad probably would have been sipping a screwdriver, which was my first choice, but we were out of OJ. The waiting paid off. Latke after latke turned out perfect. Brown, but not charred. Light and like a pancake. At almost 51 years old, I'd finally accomplished recreating my dad's latkes. And even more importantly, I was happy and felt deeply connected to my tradition. The simple ritual of cooking latkes had taken me back in order to move forward.
The front door flew open and the kids ran in. "Can we have a latke?" I put four on a plate and we ate them. I looked at the photo of my dad from a few years ago, taken on a summer Shabbat in Los Angeles and smiled.
But the story doesn't end there. They never do.
Story #2: Lighting the Light for a Stranger
It's still the first night of Chanukah. We'd stopped at the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine as a present for my sister and brother-in-law. I waited in the car with the girls, staying warm and giggling at how delicious the latkes smelled. And then I saw her. She looked to be about 75 years old and she stood on the corner in a light blue parka holding a neatly written sign: Disabled. Homeless. Gas. Food. Money. I looked next to her and saw a walker and an oxygen tank. I signed deeply, deeply enough to get the girls' attention. "What, Mama?" Then they all looked out the window and saw the lady. "What does her sign say?" One of them read it and we sat there. I unlocked the door and got out. "Mama, what are you doing?" "I'm giving the lady some latkes." I wrapped up two potato and two apple latkes in some foil. And then I remembered I had a little bit of money in my wallet. I reached back into the car and took out a $5 bill.
"Hi," I said as I tried to approach with respect. She looked up at me as I offered her the foil wrapped package. "It's just some potato pancakes, and here's five dollars."
She smiled. "Thanks, I love potato pancakes."
"Please tell me you have somewhere warm to sleep tonight," I asked her. The temperatures in Colorado have been below zero for the past two weeks. She assured me she'd called her sister. We had no room in the car and family was waiting. She thanked me and I wished her well.
As we drove away, I broke down. All the tears I'd been holding back just came forward. I told Jack we had to do something, that I couldn't bare the idea of that lady being on the street in the cold. I got on my phone and called the local shelter, but their warming center wouldn't be open for another hour. I called the Boulder Homeless Shelter and cried on the phone as a sweet woman tried to figure out how to get this woman to some warm shelter. She finally suggested I call the police and they'd come and get her without making her feel like a criminal. I called the police and told them about this lady. The dispatcher told me it could be someone who makes her living doing this, but when I told her the woman's location and that she had a walker and an oxygen tank, she promised to send a car and see if they could help.
We got to our family gathering and had a beautiful, embracing evening. Presents, lighting the candles, five varieties of latkes, soup and homemade sufganiyot. Playing dreidel and lots of laughter. Everything I remember my first night's of Chanukah always being. And everything I want my children's first nights of Chanukah to be.
As we were driving back home and approached Longmont, we came to a red light. I turned to Jack and asked, "Can we see if she's still there?" Without blinking an eye, he moved into the left lane and started driving in that direction. The girls woke from their car-drive-home sleeping and asked, "Are we going to see if the lady is still there?"
We crossed Main Street, then Hover, turning right. Turned left into the King Soopers parking center and toward the liquor store. None of us said a word.
She was gone.
I took Jack's hand and he turned the car toward home.
"The lady is somewhere warm?"
Yes, my darlings. The lady is somewhere warm.
Chag Sameach, Dad.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
- Holding an Ebay auction of the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County"and let the highest bidder have at it
- Running my own contest to transform this ugly duckling into the swan I know it can be.
- Pitching my story to HGTV
- Taking the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County" on tour
- Letting the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County" have a crack at national and international exposure - why should I limit it's ugliness to just the county level?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I picked up the color laminated charts and explained the concept to the girls. Every morning you can hit a home run by just doing four things without any prompting, nagging or more likely, yelling from Mama. Choose to not do one of the tasks and and you lose the chance to hit a home run. Hit a home run every school day and the team will win a prize.
By the time I picked up the girls from school that afternoon, we were back to our usual selves. We talked about what had gone wrong that morning. I told the girls that while Monday was a high five effort, we had to remember that one game doesn't make a season. What makes a season is showing up for each of the 162 days with the same attitude as the first day of the season. And I realized that besides the immediate need of more order, less chaos and an easier time for me in the morning, the larger lesson I'm trying to impart is how important it is to show up for yourself. In Judaism, the first prayer of the day is one of thanks for the opportunity to have another day to live, make mistakes, love and all the rest: Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom. Another chance to show up and try to get it right for yourself, your loved ones and the world.
By Wednesday morning, we were back on track, just like Rockies' gut-wrenching win after two horrendous losses. No high five line, but when Millie asked me how the morning had gone, the smiles on all our faces was all the answer she needed.
Thank you, Millie - for delivering my kids and all the other kids who've been lucky enough to cross your street to school with safety, love and that watchful, knowing nod, that I realize now is intended more for the parents than the kids. And thank you for your Crossing Guard Therapy, which delivered this all too often over the top Mama back to my day with wisdom and humor.
Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
The pain brought me back to loss. Feeling lost as my body struggles to find it's center, it's foundation. As I lay on my stomach for another massage, my tears fell through the face pillow and all I could think was - I'm lost, I'm lost.
As I drove the other day, I was moved by Lloyd Schwartz's piece on "Rivals in Renaissance Venice," the new exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. He spoke of Titian being the first to use canvass instead of wood and stone, of the sensuality canvas not previously allowed by flatter, more non-absorbing materials.
Mr. Schwartz's words about the weave of fabric, the small square pores serving as an appropriate surface to absorb paint as flesh, as form, brought me some comfort. I thought about my grief as a kind of paint brush, rough bristled and dry, taking many coats to cover the canvas.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I arrived in LA for my mom's 78th birthday a few days ago. It was going to be her first birthday in 55 years without my dad. The first 30 minutes in the house are so odd and very difficult - looking for my dad asleep on the couch, his simple hospital bed in the corner of the dining room, his soft blue eyes opening and saying, "hi sweetheart," as if I hadn't lived outside of LA 25 years ago.
My mom had bought herself fuschia and purple dahlias and put them around the house. She told me she let herself open presents that had arrived early on the day they arrived, instead of waiting until her birthday. "Why not enjoy the presents for as long as possible?"
We take ourselves out to a new French bistro and pretend we’re on the Left Bank, surrounded by handsome waiters joking with each other in French. I tell the waiter it’s my mom’s birthday and she is serenaded in a combination by French and Portuguese.
I wake up the next morning and head to a yoga class with the slight buzz of the wine, the food and the chocolate mousse from the night before. Somewhere in my third downward dog, I remember the real reason for my coming to LA, or the second real reason, since there is usually not just one reason for being in a particular place.
After breakfast and a drop in from my mother's next door neighbor, my mom and I head upstairs to the guest room. It's small room that was briefly my brother Mark's and then my dad's caretaker's, but which, since my dad's death, had been turned into a guest room.
One wall is covered in sliding doors.
My mom sits down on the daybed with a yellow legal pad. I slide open the far right door. His clothes hung waiting, but not for him. I stand in front of the clothes and sigh. My mom says she doesn’t really feel anything since he'd stopped wearing most of them long ago.
We sort through his sweaters first. I choose two for myself, a red wool V-neck and a brown cashmere pullover. I count them out and my mom writes it down, wanting to record what we are giving away. Next are his shirts, and I remember something I always loved about my dad - the way he kept his shirts clean and pressed despite a full and hard day of work. The subtle stripes and tight plaids, the creases that held despite his not wearing them for a number of years. I put aside a small paisley print one in red, brown and green, my mom's favorite. I'm glad I'm the only one his shirts will fit, my brothers too tall, my husband too broad, my nephews too cool. We move onto his short sleeves shirts, the ones he wore most of the time first at the store and then at his watchmaker's station. He liked the open feeling of the short sleeve and also didn't wear a tie or jacket) at work; one of the perks of working for himself.
A rhythm begins - clothes off the hangers and onto the bed. Counted and then moved to another part of the room.We get to his pants. Khakis, wool gabardines, various slacks. Even a pair of cruise ship whites which make my mom and I giggle. All in a perfect folds over steel and plastic hangers, but obviously not worn in a very long time, which I can tell from the line of dust that rested along each crease.
But in the middle of the neat order, a pair of jeans bulk. I push the pants on either side away. His jeans, a pair of Levis, with the belt still in the loops. Somehow the pants seem warm, and the denim very soft, but not worn out. The belt left in the loops was out of place, nothing my father would have done. He would have pulled the belt out and hung it up with the others on the hanger designed for that purpose. The weight of the belt, a black Pierre Cardin one, offers a form that is no longer here, no longer form-able. I run my hands down the jeans and cry.When my father arrived alone in Toronto, after a train, a boat and then another train took him away from the Nazis, he owned one pair of clothing, summer clothing.
In the end, this is the list, a list of my dad's clothing:
- 5 sweaters, 2 sweater vests
- 8 pair of shoes, one pair of slippers
- 3 pairs of pajamas
- 12 short sleeved shirts
- 10 long sleeved shorts
- 22 pair of pants, one pair of Levi jeans
- 15 ties and 8 belts, two pairs of suspenders
- 3 sweatshirts and 3 zip up jackets
- 10 sports jackets and 5 suits, including the suit he wore to my wedding
I chose a tie for my husband, with my dad's knot still in it.
The clothes are all out. I proceed to pull down an old slide projector. Endless travel bags. Shoe polish kits. Old perfume and faded yarmulkes. Empty watch repair envelopes, the ones I used to carefully log into my dad's record book when I was old enough to be trusted with the task.Two hours later, the closet is empty. I tell my mom I’ll take care of the rest, not wanting her to have to watch the clothes get placed into black garbage bags.
I fold the clothes and put them inside the bags, six in all. Before I close up the bags, I put my head close to the opening and take in one last deep breath. I carry the bags down and place them neatly in a corner of the garage, which will be picked up some time next week.
We wear clothes for many reasons: to keep us warm or cool, to communicate to the world a story of who we are. I'm happy that as I slip my arms into the few pieces traveling home with me, I will feel the memory of his arms having entered in and out of these same clothes many times. I will wear my dad's story in the form of a red v-neck sweater, a brown cashmere pull over and a paisley raw silk shirt, as another way of keeping his story going.
But I have to wonder, wow long will it take for the form of his life that is in every piece of clothing, to take the shape of another? If I was walking down the street in Los Angeles, or in Longmont, would I recognize a shirt, a sweater, his softly worn Levis on someone else's body? Will I look for them? For him in them? How far will his clothes travel? And what will I feel toward that person lucky enough to wear my dad’s clothes - kinship?
I hope I will and to that I add: Amen.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Dedicated to Leonard Trank
October 22, 1911 – October 19, 2008
April 3, 2009
I just realized baseball season starts this week. This is usually a time of excitement for me. I love the game, have loved it since I was a little kid. But this year will be different. And so different, that I don't know if I'll be able to partake in my favorite sport. What makes it different this year? Not A-Rod, Manny, the overblown egos and new Yankee Stadium. What makes it different this year is my dad. For the first time since the 1930s, when he first came to this country, he won't be watching baseball. My father died on October 19, 2008, three days short of 97 years old, and it has taken me these many months to muster the strength to write these words.
I left California in 1977 and went to college in the Midwest. Homesick, I watched the 1977 World Series by myself in the dorm entertainment room and cringed at the Dodgers humiliation by the Yankees. The only person I could call who understood was my dad. He just said, “There’s always next year.” That spring, I played on the co-ed IM team and one particularly muddy Saturday, I went running to catch a hard hit center field ball. My shoe stuck in the mud and my foot kept going. When I got back to the dorm room after a trip to the ER with my foot in a soft cast and a badly sprained ankle, I called my dad. After making sure I was all right, he asked one other question. “Did I catch the ball?” I could hear him smile when I told him, yes.
I've switched teams since then and am now a Colorado Rockies fan. We live in Colorado, I love Coors Field and the scrappiness and heart the team plays with. In 2007, the miracle year, I watched every game with my kids and was thrilled they knew all the players names, and now love the game as much as I do.
This past October, my second oldest brother and I sat in the hospital room and watch the Series while my dad lay sleeping. His respirator had been removed earlier that day. My oldest brother, my sister-in-law and my mom had gone out to eat, but my brother Mark and I stayed with Dad. The game was on and we knew there would be no more World Series to share with him. The Red Sox and the Florida Marlins played, the sound turned down low. I don't remember much about the game other than the movement of the players, the ball's arc and the sound turned down low. I don't even remember who won.
I love baseball because of the hopeful and eternal optimism of the game. The contained embrace of a baseball diamond and the sound, the sound of the bat hitting the ball and then the shared waiting. I love the game because my dad taught me how to love it, what to love about it and why it was worth loving.
I can't say I'll be able to watch baseball this year without a lot of tears. I've already started crying and it's a long season. But as I watch each game, I'll feel that hopeful suspension of that seamed ball moving through air and how it makes me feel. Alive with hope and possibility. Alive with the love of what can happen, if you just keep your eye on the ball.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Melanie's Webby-award winning website provides all sorts of resources for being the coolest auntie and as a former really cool auntie, I would have loved to have this site when my older nephews and nieces were younger, but that was B4TI (Before the Internet).
Here's to all the wonderful aunties, great aunties, godmothers and women who love kids in the world! And check out SA's cool Sephora contest - I know this former Savvy Auntie could use some new makeup, since my three DDs have used my current stash on their American Girl dolls.
I'll be reminiscing about my own about my pre-Boobies Savvy Auntie days, but have to ask my oldest nephew and niece, who have surpassed all of us with their coolness, for permission to relate some fine examples of my auntie-hood. All I can say that the reason I became a mom is because I loved being an auntie so damn much.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
But you only turn 50 once, so I figured what did I have to lose? As it turns out, nothing and more than I imagined to gain. It's been two months and while I know it's pat to say this and I can see the eyes rolling as I write it, but yoga is changing my life. Besides my body returning to some sense of flexibility and strength that it hasn't known in more than a decade, the more I sweat, the more I learn about myself.
Monday, January 26, 2009
As the song goes, "you can't always get what you waaannt, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need..." As I was wandering on Facebook, my virtual favorite place to be these days, a dear friend and colleague, Carmen Cool (how cool is that name), who runs the Boulder Youth Body Alliance, an organization dedicated to creating generations of young women and leaders who feel good about themselves and their bodies, posted her Chinese New Year horoscope. I was excited to find out that mine would be just as cool as Carmen's, but when I got to mine, this is what I read:
"2009 will present the Dog with a number of challenges. Your patience will certainly be tested in more than one instance. You may not necessarily gain the notoriety you desire in your career, but certain advancement opportunities will surface throughout the year. You will find comfort with your family and solidify bonds that are necessary for your well being. You may have issues juggling your family life with your work schedule, but you will make great strides in both areas by the end of the year."
It's Monday and snowing, snowing hard and densely enough to make me turn around and work from home. This seems a perfect horoscope for me in 2009 because it is about staying power and that staying power being centered in myself. I especially love that I will find comfort with my family and will solidify bonds necessary to my well being. I've become a new dedicant to Bikram Yoga, 26 poses geared to solidifying (and melting) that well-being for 90 minutes in 90+ degrees.
I'm in this for the long run, as I just crossed the threshhold of my 50th year. Patience is good. Afterall, Mick Jagger is in his 60s and just hitting his stride.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
And right now, I'm very focused on making a different kind of life for myself and my family. After losing my second job in a year, I want to be free of the constant anxiety of keeping a roof over my family's head, the modest, but new car I worked so hard to make affordable payments on parked safely in front of my house, to be able to roam the grocery aisles without keeping a running tab in my head. I want to be able to spend a relaxed night with my spouse, without the ongoing subtitle of money running along side us. We're doing a great job holding it together during this time, but it's hard to relax and be in the Now when the Now is so filled with uncertainty. I don't know how this will all work out, but I do know I am ready to make some changes that put me much more in charge of my financial destiny.
What worry woke me up from an almost certain sleep? I woke up to check that the car payment had been received. It has. The money is in the bank and the check will most likely be cashed tomorrow. Blessings on the US postal service and Blessings on my new job that allowed me to make that payment on time.
As I sit in this space of Worry, in the very nowness of my worry, I wonder, how many other people out there are doing the same thing? How many other mothers are scouring 'consignment shops' for their growing children's clothing needs, reheating yesterday's coffee? Staring into space, talking to the unknown, asking the same question - how did I get here? How did we all get here?
Blessings on us all as we enter into this new phase of hope, even if it is circled with worry. Hoe is as constant as worry and for me, they often go hand in hand. I'm only human, right? I worry, therefore I am. Are you too?
I feel better. Thanks for listening.