Sunday, 30 November 2014

Another November Happy Dance

Today is the final day of both National Blog Posting Month and, more importantly, of the Rob Ford era. Yay!!! Both are occasions for happy dancing. Congratulations to all who made it through both.

First we posted.

Now we dance!!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Shabbat Music Break

This is the last in my month-long series of women in rock whom I believe have been snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today's entry is Melissa Etheridge

Melissa became eligible for admission last year, but has not yet received a nomination. Male fronted bands who began in the same era as did she, including The Red Hot Chili Peppers (inducted) and Green Day (nominated this year), have already found their way onto the committee's radar.

She is a two time Grammy award winner for for Best Rock Performance female and she has been nominated another thirteen times in various Grammy categories. Her 1993 album Yes I Am spent 138 weeks on the charts and was certified 6x platinum. As a matter of fact, her first five albums went platinum or higher. Her discography boasts of fifteen long play albums, mostly consisting of songs that she herself composed. She also won the Academy Award for Best Song in 2007 for "I Need to Wake Up" from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. 

Melissa has been a fearless social advocate for gay rights, the environment, and breast cancer awareness. Her driving performance of Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart while bald and weak from chemotherapy stopped the 2005 Grammy Awards and is still considered to be one of the all-time greatest live performances. Melissa is still a fixture on tour, hard-rocking it out with both her signature six and twelve-string Ovations, and it is my opinion that her induction into the Rock Hall is only a matter of time.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Secret of Life

I'm often asked if I have a favourite song.

What a ridiculous question. It is a bit like asking if I have a favourite droplet of water or a favourite atom. There are simply too many to count.

But, I do have a special place reserved for certain songs that evoke certain memories and certain emotions. James Taylor's Secret of Life off of his 1977 release JT is one of those passion-fuelling pieces.

** I ask that you please listen to the song before reading on, even if you are well acquainted with it. It will make the rest of this piece make so much more sense. 


The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time....

It seems to me that we so often dwell on trying to maintain the past and focusing on the future, that we forget to live in the present. We need to relish the mundane and see the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to focus on the beauty all around us and treasure those dearest to us.

A year ago at this time I thought that my world was as it always had been. I had no thoughts about loss or pain. Those closest to me were happily going about their lives and we all were enjoying the passage of time. I loved carelessly and I valued less. I never foresaw the change that was coming.

The secret of love is in opening up your heart....

Our loves define us. We are who we are simply because of the people we allow in. Our loves mould us, shape us, and provide us with the clarity and foundation necessary to give us full form.

A year ago at this time my illusions and my childhood were about to come crashing down. I desperately wish she was still here. I desperately long for one more minute, one more hour, one more day. I wish I could have said goodbye, to tell her how much she was loved. But I wouldn't trade the pain of that soul-crushing and devastating loss for never having had her in my life. I love her as earnestly and as fervently today as I ever did. I am acutely aware of the hole that will never be filled.

The thing about time is that time isn't really real....

Time is the great equalizer. It affects us all and there is absolutely nothing we can do to halt its relentless march forward.

Nearly a year ago at this time I wished I could stop the clock. I wished I could erase it all and I wished that I could pretend it wasn't real. I railed at the undeserved, the unmerited, the unjustified. I railed at God. I didn't want to remember. I wanted to forget.

Last spring when we were cleaning out her things, I asked for this.



It's absolutely nothing. A few beads held together by those tiny and ubiquitous pink breast cancer ribbons. Being a survivor, she felt obliged to pay a few dollars for it at a local craft show years ago, and she kept it on one of her purses. I took it from her things and it is now dangling on my purse. I often find myself rubbing it like worry beads or perhaps, a non-religious rosary. It takes me back in time. It allows me to relive memories. It reminds me of who she was and how essential a role she played in me becoming me. As if I could ever forget.

Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race.

As we come oh so close to Yahrezeit, I can now smile a bit through the tears. I am able to recall the joy even as I still acutely feel the sorrow. I am truly a work in progress as I try to remember the Secret of Life.





Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Greatest Fear

Fear of flying?

You have aviophobia.

Fear of spiders?

Arachnophobia.

Are you ailurophobic? Then you have a fear of cats. (Can't say that I blame you for that one. Strange and diffident creatures, perpetually going through life with their middle fingers in the air.)

How about emetophobia? It is a fear of vomiting. Personally, I gave up that particular one a long time ago. When you have puked in front of as many strangers as I have, you tend to just go with the flow.

While I can't honestly say that I would actively court encounters with any of the above, none of them constitute my greatest fear. I'm not even certain that there is a name for that which causes some of my greatest angst.

The thing that I fear most, that thing that sends me into night terrors, that which truly gives me the heebie-jeebies, is the realization that Hollywood is about to transform one of my all-time favourite books or plays into a film. Oh the humanity!!

It is often difficult for me to explain to people the emotions that develop when I am truly moved by great art. When a phenomenal piece is presented to me, either on stage or on the page, I feel as though a part of my soul has been altered. The author or performers have managed to reach deep down into the depths of my being and stir something that has lay dormant for far too long. Those exquisite bits of beauty gifted to me as an audience member are precious, and I become extraordinarily protective of them. And while I appreciate re-interpretation and reimagining of classic creations, I only ask that they be done with dignity, taste, and an understanding of the artist's original intent. Can anybody honestly say that any of those qualities are on regular display in Hollywood adaptations? And so....I worry.

This December's polar vortex of such fretful re-vampings has me quaking in my Uggs. It all begins next Thursday with the live television event showing of Peter Pan, starring that ubiquitous name from musical theatre....Allison Williams.


Who?

Yes, I have watched Girls and yes, I know who she is. I do so want her to smash the role and I hope that she does. I desperately want this type of television programming to be a success. Bringing live musical theatre to millions of people at a time can only increase its waning profile and hopefully its appreciation. But at what cost? The live production of The Sound of Music last year proved fairly conclusively that a pretty voice and a big name does not an actress make. My biggest fear with Ms. Williams is not necessarily in her acting chops, but rather does she have the musical theatre background, that is the voice and choreography skills, to carry it off? Has NBC learned its production lessons from last year's sometimes nightmarish and awkward performance, and can a play that features kids, a dog, and flying through the rafters....all happening in real time on live TV.....overcome those obstacles? I do so want to be pleasantly surprised but....

Next on my December viewing worry list is Lifetime's two day "event" airing of Anita Diamant's brilliant novel/midrash The Red Tent. I read this magnificent book in a single afternoon. I simply could not put it down, and years later it still evokes a myriad of emotion. (One of my biggest regrets in life was forgetting to bring my worn copy of the book to the URJ Biennial in Washington where Ms. Diamant was a keynote speaker. I would have hunted her down for an autograph.) Handing this magnificent bit of feminist Jewish writing over to the hacks at Lifetime is akin to allowing Mickey Ds to cater a White House state dinner. I am honestly getting the dry heaves imagining the strong and virtuous women of Diamant's opus being depicted as Dance Moms or Real Prison Wives. And though it would be easy to suggest that I don't watch the miniseries, I almost feel that it is my obligation to be there to protect the vision; to remind people who don't know better that there is brilliance there. Oh God...please let it be good.



Finally...there is the Christmas Day release of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods, one of my all-time favourite stage musicals. Sondheim's plays have been notoriously difficult to put on film. Just check out the movie versions of Sweeney Todd or the vintage A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His music is extremely challenging for the average musical movie goer's ear, and even more challenging for the average movie actor or actress to pull off and sing well. It's why the best performers of Sondheim's work are not household names to most. They exist almost exclusively within that wonderful bubble of live theatre and are rarely cast in big budget Hollywood extravaganzas. Hello Bernadette Peters. I do admit to seeing some light in the casting tunnel for this movie, however. There are some real voices there amongst the younger set, and anything that has Meryl Streep hamming it up as the Witch can't be all bad, but still there are the nagging worries. I have already been forewarned about changes to the story and song list that include doing away with the character of The Mysterious Man and the elimination of the wonderful song he sings with The Baker, No More. I realize that most people won't care one whit about any of this minutia , but these are the same people that seem to be okay with Cameron Diaz playing Miss Hannigan in the latest iteration of Annie. All I'm saying is that it matters to me.


My new daughter-in-law tells me that I should learn to just enjoy what is presented to me and not analyze everything so much. She is correct, of course. I would probably live longer if I could simply go with the flow about these really trivial matters and just be a regular audience member. But the problem is that I do feel as though greatness is being tampered with. It is a bit like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa or having the cast of the Simpsons sing Carmen. In my mind, it destroys the artists' visions of what they saw and how they originally presented it to their audiences. I am fiercely protective of those images and emotions.

I can only hope that my worst fears aren't realized.










Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

My final Almost Wordless Wednesday image for this year's blogfest is from Rosh Hashana this year. As I explained in yesterday's post, The Husband and I spent the second day of the holiday hiking near our home and finding new ways of connecting with our Judaism. It was a perfect September morning as I blew the shofar.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

When Prayer is No Longer Easy

I used to get paid to pray.

I realize how utterly crass and unappetizing that must sound, and in truth it is a gross oversimplification of what my position as a cantorial soloist was all about, but there is some veracity in the statement. A huge chunk of the job description was all about leading the congregation in prayer, and I took tremendous pride in the sourcing of inspirational liturgical settings, as well as songs from outside of the synagogue, that would aid my community in the facilitation of their personal and collective davening. 

And yet....

Several years ago I began to feel like a fraud. My personal conversation with The Divine Spirit, which had always flowed so freely and unencumbered had, over time, become stale, stilted, and, so very gruelling. There was no specific incident that led to this frustration. No renaissance moment, no lightening bolt. It was a gradual process. The words on the page had become rote, and the music, in which I had previously taken so much comfort, began to seem ordinary and uninteresting. It felt like a huge part of the foundation on which I had built my entire life was crumbling, and I honestly had no idea how to deal with it.

There were times when I wished for atheism. I wondered if lack of belief was more liberating than my  personal struggles. But absence of faith was never my problem. Rather, I had become distressed that the old, comfortable ways of engaging had abandoned me. I questioned my spirituality. Oh, how I loathe that word. To me, it is a catchall phrase designed to offer deistic comfort where none exists, and it fails me miserably.  How could I be an effective leader of prayer if I simply couldn't find the will to engage in my own?

My recent retirement has afforded me some much needed time to ponder the dilemma. I have taken a step back from the established prayer service, and I have attempted to discover new and non-traditional ways to facilitate my personal dialogue with God. It has been frightening to abandon my comfort zone. When The Husband and I took one of the days of Rosh Hashana this year to hike through some trails near our home rather than attend synagogue, I will admit to some deep and profound feelings of guilt. (We Jews are nothing without a good dose of guilt.) But as we blew the shofar in the woods and performed our own personal tashlich (the ritual casting out of sins) in the Don River, I felt my personal connection with The Divine Spirit repair just a wee bit. I knew that God was there that day and we began the slow and painful process of reengaging our conversation.

And so, I will persist in my attempts to rediscover that which has been lost, to repair that which has been damaged, and I will continue the search for meaningful new prayer rituals.  They might include Shabbat walks on the beach when I head south, or they might involve some new practices in yoga or meditation. I haven't yet decided on the path, but I have the freedom now to experiment. I have, however, realized that my personal connection with God hasn't disappeared, it has merely been transformed. It is now up to me and my perseverance to enact the changes necessary to maintain the relationship. To me, it is one worth saving.

Kein Y'hi Ratzon. May this be God's will.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Meatless Monday

We're here! It's the final Meatless Monday of the month. Today I offer you a wonderful vegetarian chili that uses quinoa as it's base.

Dear friends of ours hold a Chili Bowl every March, and this past year I was finally able to attend. The idea is to create a uniquely tasting chili, something that is pleasing to the masses yet different enough to attract attention. This recipe was my spin on a hearty southwestern flavoured dish that used all vegetarian ingredients. Surprisingly enough to this rookie Chili Bowl attendee, it won "Most Trendy Chili" of the evening. It still amuses me because I certainly don't consider quinoa trendy anymore, but apparently my meat-eating friends do. By the way...the cutesy name is an integral part of the contest. Enjoy.

Quinoa Chili (a.k.a Quinoa-n of You Show Me The Way to Santa Fe)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 Onion, diced
2 cups quinoa
2 cans (19ml) fire roasted tomatoes
1 can (19ml) tomato sauce
1 can (4.5 ounce) Chipoltle peppers with Adobo sauce, chopped (use less if smoky and spicy is not your thing)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1-2 teaspoons chipoltle tabasco sauce (more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn kernels
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 avocado, seeded, peeled, and diced
shredded cheese

Directions:

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions become translucent, about 2-3 minutes

2. Stir in quinoa, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chipoltles with adobo sauce, chili powder, cumin, paprika, sugar, tabasco, coriander, and 1-2 cups of water, making sure to cover most of the ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until thickened about 30 minutes. Stir in beans, corn, lime juice, and cilantro. (If it gets too thick, add more water and cook down.)

4. Serve topped with avocado and cheese, if desired.

** I apologize for no photo. I honestly forgot to take one. I promise it looks as good as it tastes.