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.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Husband's Wedding Speech....Finally!

We have a guest post today.

I was finally successful in my begging and pleading with The Husband, and he has graciously relented to the publishing of the speech he gave at Younger Son's and His B'shert's recent nuptials. His reticence has been based mostly on the fact that he was concerned it would lose impact and import if it is merely read as opposed to actually witnessing the exceptional presentation he gave that evening. I am absolutely convinced that he has nothing to worry about on this account, and that considering the deals I had to make with devil in order for him to agree (you really shouldn't ask for the details on a family-style blog), I know that you will also nod your heads in assent. (This is the part where you all obediently nod your heads vigourously.) So, here it is. A first for this blog. A guest post from The Husband. And....it conveniently strips another day of NaBloPoMo off of the calendar.

Wedding Speech (From the Father of the Groom)

I know what most of you are thinking right now. The answer is... about five minutes. I've been to a lot of weddings in the last year, and despite the heartfelt and passionate nature of all the speeches I've heard, I can't recall a single detail about any of them, so I take great comfort in the fact that none of you will remember this either.

I wasn’t sure where to start when preparing this speech, so I consulted father-of-the-groom-speeches.com. I found there a template for a father-of-the-groom speech that I thought I would follow. In other words, How To Write a Speech in Seven Easy Steps. So here we go.

Step 1: “Start with an inspirational quote, or a short poem”. Upon proofreading this speech, Dawn vetoed my poem. Some nonsense about off-colour limericks not being wedding appropriate. So, I decided to go with an inspirational quote from one of our favourites, Ogden Nash:

“To keep your marriage brimming,
 With love in the loving cup, 
Whenever you're wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you're right, shut up.

Step 2: Next on the father-of-the-groom speech template is welcoming guests. Dawn and I are so incredibly honoured by your presence here tonight. Today is truly momentous, but it is being able to share it with all of you, our friends and family, old and new, that makes it extraordinary. So many of you have travelled great distances in order to be here, and that is a testament as to how important K and L are to you. For that we are grateful and we thank-you all for celebrating with us. At the same time, we can’t help but think of cherished loved ones who are absent this evening. We miss Aunty Marlene deeply and know how much she was looking forward to this day. We are terribly sad that Zaidy Milton is not well enough to be here, but we know that he is thinking of us tonight.

Step 3: The template tells me that it is now mandatory to welcome the bride to the family. This seems a little redundant. L, you are so outgoing, friendly and caring that you fit right into our family, immediate and extended, very quickly. No easy task, given our substantial motley crew. Clearly family is very important to you. We can hardly remember when you were not “one of us”. L, there is no doubt that all that you are and all that you have become is because of your roots. We are so privileged to be able to call John, Robin and Josh family.
We know how hard it was for you to leave home and move north of the border. Canada might not have all of the qualities of the civilized world that you are accustomed to in Aurora, Ohio, but we’re trying. We have Panera, DSW, and, if you give it a chance, Target. Nordstrom is coming next year, and maybe someday DQ will offer chocolate soft serve. Don’t worry about mastering kilometres, celsius, litres and kilograms. We’re bilingual and will understand you when you talk miles, fahrenheit, gallons and pounds. We don’t have a provincial college that we’re all supporters of, but we are determined to make you feel at home, so I want to announce that, henceforth, our family will adopt the Buckeyes as our official team.

Step 4: It says here that I “must compliment the bride”. Now, anyone that knows me will understand, I don’t like being told I must do something. Its pretty much a foolproof way of ensuring that I won’t do it. So, L, you’ll understand that what I am about to say is not because I’m being forced to. You really look so beautiful tonight. You should be so very proud of all the work you did in making this celebration happen beyond just saying “yes” to K. You are gregarious, accomplished, strong-minded, independent, and intuitive. And, on top of all of that, we think your taste in men is impeccable.

Step 5: The instructions are very explicit. I quote: “Congratulate son for choosing such a lovely wife, but be careful not to exaggerate with the compliments. You must be sincere and tell only what you really think, if that doesn’t offend anyone, of course. So, in your father of the groom toast you shouldn’t say what others want to hear from you, if you really don’t feel that way. Because, if you lie, the guests will figure out and you will make a bad impression.” Okay, I’ll be sincere and I hope I won’t offend anyone. K, we want to congratulate you for choosing such a lovely wife! No, really. I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely believe you have found a truly lovely partner. Congratulations. Sincerely.

Step 6: This is the part of the speech where I’m instructed to tell you all about my son. Anybody who knows K will confirm that he is highly intelligent, creative, fun-loving, and sensitive. I could go on and on about his love of music, movies, theatre, and Maple Leafs hockey. He is a dedicated and loyal friend and a caring and compassionate brother, son and grandson. You know we love you dearly, K, but truly the best word to describe you is....GEEK! Really.... a true fanboy! We always knew that when something excited K he would talk increasingly faster, louder, and ad-nauseum about whatever had caught his interest. He still does. To see this for yourself, just ask Kyle about Batman, Superman, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Video Games, Pokemon, Superhero movies, the new TV season, Super Mario, Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, or the latest release of Unix, iOS, or OSX, or the latest iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. He is our very own, Leonard Hofstadter. L, is it true that K is taking you to Comic-Con for your honeymoon?

Step 7: The final stage of a father-of-the-groom speech is to give some advice for married life. It is suggested that I draw upon my own experience, but that I be careful to not offend anyone, especially my wife. (Don’t look so worried, Dawn.) Well, I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of marriage advice, both serious and funny. There are no shortage of jokes about marriage and a myriad of relationship self- help books published. Everyone has their own advice and you’ll find a lot of conflicting ideas. But we do have some serious advice for you that has served us well for almost thirty years. Mom and I firmly believe that you shouldn’t take anyone’s marriage advice, including ours. This marriage is your’s and L’s. You have to find what works for you and what makes the two of you happy. Keep on talking, keep on loving, keep on enjoying. The rest will take care of itself. We love you both. Mazel Tov!!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Shabbat Music Break

Today's edition of "Women who Should Be in the Rock Hall but Aren't" features the amazing Pat Benatar. Pat has always been a trailblazer and a true original in the rock world. In fact, she didn't even start out singing rock until her early twenties. Classically trained with thoughts about opera and musical theatre, she turned down a spot at Julliard in order to pursue a very different musical dream. Armed with that killer voice, a high kinetic stage presence, and an image of tough sexuality, Pat charged up the charts in the '80s and '90s. She is a four-time Grammy winner for Best Female Rock Vocalist and was nominated three additional times. Two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and 15 top 40 singles, including three Top 10 hits, should have solidified her entrance into the Hall, but sadly she has never once been nominated. What more does see need to do to be considered?

**Note: I really wanted to use a live version for this song so that you could witness Pat's performing prowess. The problem here is that there is a full minute of audience screaming before the song begins. Skip ahead to about 1:03.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Writing Every Day is Hard

Well, here we are almost three full weeks into this blogapalooza and I think that I am hitting the wall. It says a great deal about how scarce good post ideas are when I am sitting here on my couch, examining my toes, and thinking about sermonizing on the need for a quality pedicure. (I really need one, for your information.) The creative process involved in spitting out thirty posts in thirty days is incredibly draining, and I believe it has me acting a bit wacky.  Yesterday I willingly surfed through Buzzfeed and Reddit, searching for any kernel of an idea that could be fittingly converted into a post. When that happens, I know I'm desperate.

I have learned a few things about this writing stuff during this incredibly arduous process however, both about myself and about others who have taken up the challenge. So in no particular order.....

  • Writing every day is HARD! Writing well every day is next to impossible. Yesterday I was watching an interview with the brilliant and pithy Aaron Sorkin, writer and creator of the West Wing, The American President, The Newsroom and so much more. (Oh why can't I be brilliant and pithy?) To me, he is the gold standard of superstar scribes. Sorkin described his bad writing days as his "resting pulse", meaning that on most days his work just bites the big one. Now I think most of us would open a vein to experience just one of Aaron Sorkin's worst writing days, but the message is loud and clear. Most writing is crap and should never be shared with the world. (This blogpost notwithstanding of course, because I need it to fill a day for NaBloPoMo.)
  • A writer's best and worst friend can be a thesaurus. I have read far too many items this month where it was so blatantly obvious the author had his/her face buried in Roget's. Mr. Wall, my high school English teacher was right all those years ago when he said "Just keep it simple." The best pieces are the easiest to read. 
  • I get my best ideas in the shower. Truth. That is my alone time with no distractions. It is weird how thoughts just clarify while the hot water is cascading down. The problem is I have spent far too much time in the shower this month. My fingers are in a perpetual state of prunage. 
  • When Edmund Kean allegedly uttered "Tragedy is easy; comedy is hard" all those years ago, I believe that he may have been foreshadowing a blogging extravaganza like NaBloPoMo. I desperately want to write fun and droll pieces that will entertain. The problem is, is that I am not Nora Ephron nor am I Tina Fey. Finding one's own voice and sometimes making it humorous is perhaps the most difficult thing that I continue to struggle with throughout this process. Bear with me. I am learning.
  • The best posts are those that are true. My blog is a non-fiction chronicle. I am not attempting a fictitious account of life's aggravating moments. Maybe someday I will get to that point, but for now, what you see is what you get. The readers can tell if I am bullshitting them and they love to call me out on it, so telling the stories in a straightforward and honest manner is always the most prudent path. 
  • Here are my apologies for the month. We Jews call them the Al Cheyts. (It's a Yom Kippur thing.) I'm sorry if my grammar has been less than stellar. I'm sorry if I haven't been diligent enough in my proofreading. I'm sorry if I have been pedantic or worse yet, boring. I'm sorry if I have relied too heavily on pop culture or internet memes for my posts. (I really do hate that stuff, but I've been desperate for ideas.) I'm sorry if I've sounded preachy. (I'm working on that.) I'm sorry if I have repeated myself. (I honestly can't remember many of the posts I wrote for NaBloPoMos of years past.) I'm sorry if I have flooded your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram feeds with notices of my posts. It's coming to an end, I promise.

So here we are. I'm still standing and hacking away after twenty-one days. If you are one of my three to five diligent followers, I thank you. I will try and keep it interesting for the final week. Or....you might get an up close and personal look at my new toenail colour.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

His Legacy

For the last month or so, The Husband and I have been watching a new series from Showtime called The Affair. (Here in Canada it airs on TMN.) This is not a show for everybody's tastes. It is a provocative program that is all at once brilliantly maddening, gut-wrenching, difficult to watch at times, and certainly not for the lackadaisical TV viewer who might find entertainment value in Lifetime's nauseating Prison Wives Club. The Affair is one of those rare pieces viewed on television that actually elevates the medium to an art form. It demonstrates what can be accomplished when true skill is applied and performed. Those moments are rare in an industry that these days makes a star out of somebody as talentless as Kim Kardashian. It is my belief that because we so desperately seek diversion and amusement from all the crap in our everyday lives, we have forgotten how infrequent an occurrence genuine craftsmanship is in the entertainment world, and how touched we are when those authentic moments of artistry actually do happen.

We have become lazy audiences. We have accepted dross because we are either too exhausted or too voyeuristic to insist on better. We haven't allowed ourselves to be moved by those authentic voices and instead we are taken in by the hucksters that desperately seek fame at all costs. We have become junk food consumers when it comes to entertainment, and our intellectual capacities are being atrophied by the continual barrage of crap.

We tend to apply the term genius far too liberally in the performing art world. Winning an Oscar or a Tony does not make one a genius, nor does recording a video that millions watch on YouTube. Rather, I would submit, that genius can be found in discovering an authentic voice and being able to reinvent that voice time and again in a variety of media. Not every painter is Picasso, nor is every actor Meryl Streep. But when that bit of brilliance shines through, even for a moment, we are transformed and transported into a morass of emotion.

Mike Nichols was a genius. A true genius. The fact that one doesn't even have to recognize his name to know and appreciate his work speaks to his genius. Mike Nichols imparted in his audiences an ability to contemplate that transcended the piece being performed. We saw a generosity of comedic spirit in his work with Elaine May. There was the extreme pathos he wanted us to envision in Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, and there was the loving camaraderie he encouraged out of Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple. He saw brilliance in the raw talents of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and so many others, and he mentored them to greatness. Mike Nichols never played to the lazy audience. His work required a certain level of attention and engagement. In a 1965 interview with The National Observer he stated:
“I’ve always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another, and wishing they were doing a third. The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That’s what interests me most.”
The legacy of Mike Nichols shouldn't be our regurgitation of crap from reality television, nor should it be plunking down the price of a movie ticket on junk. We the audience owe it to Mike Nichols to be far more demanding in our viewing habits. I'm not saying that we should all like or appreciate the same performance. Art is certainly subjective. But perhaps we can attempt to step outside our comfort zones for a bit, and give real attention to something as difficult to digest as The Affair.