"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Waves Lapping on the Shore, ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Writing this piece, on the eve of Passover, is the last thing most Jews would think is important. As Jewish holidays commence after sundown, the daylight hours before the Passover seder are easily the busiest for many Jews. The house has been searched top to bottom for chametz (i.e., leavened products). Ordinary year-round utensils are stored away and new ones designated for Passover use have been brought out. The whole house is topsy turvy. A yearly chaos, hated yet beloved.

Many preparations need to be performed during the day before the seder: calling friends and family to wish them a happy holiday, making sure the children have matching socks, last minute purchases because yet another guest is coming. And the cooking!

I used to spend the entire day before the seder cooking and preparing. I felt like an artist, carefully selecting my ingredients like colors, figuring quantities like determining to use a fine paintbrush or a trowel. My palate consisted of chicken and vegetables for the golden soup, and tan matzah balls to accompany it. Romaine lettuce provided the green. Red was the beef tongue I prepared, a delicacy saved for twice a year. Wine and grape juice provided rich burgundy and purple colors.

All of the busy-ness gave me so much pleasure. Then sunset would fall and I’d light my holiday candles, singing the ancient blessing. The men would come home from synagogue about an hour later, and we’d start the seder. The children would participate, the youngest saying the mah nishtanah. We’d all groan about the amount of food to eat at midnight and the late hour the seder would finish at. Somebody would retire to the sofa and fall asleep, inevitably. Strangely, I’d look forward to the washing up ritual, making sure the kitchen was in order for the next day’s festive noon meal, although ordinarily I dislike cleanup. I was very much “in the present” at those times in the past, not blindly participating in the ritual, but appreciating the ability to do what I was doing.

Wavelets, © Batya7, JustHavingFun

I’m not preparing a seder this year. I will be a guest. I will not have the same pleasures as previous years; I expect I will have new pleasures. I can enjoy another’s family customs and make new memories. I can be in the moment yet feel the echoes of years past lap against my mind like wavelets upon the shore.

I could choose to dwell on what I don’t have—but rather, I choose to enjoy what the present provides. If I live in the negative shoals I will only bring sorrow and misery to my life. I choose happiness, being present in the current day. I choose to open my eyes to the beauty that is every day and grab at the chances for being open to miracles. For isn’t each day a new miracle?

Redemption is near. Until then, I choose happiness.

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Small Red Hand

Small Toy Hand

Small Red Hand. ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Early one morning I drove to the medical lab to have my blood drawn. A small red hand lay on the curb in the parking lot. Its brilliant color caught my eye in the early morning sun contrasting vividly with the concrete. I paused and knelt to examine it.

Few others would stop to look at detritus on the ground, but I’m a scavenger. I believe that there are things in this world seemingly with no purpose except for that which only I can see in them. Found items, scrounged items, trash-picked items—they excite me. That which was once scorned calls to me. I have the “flea market gene,” and it activates itself when I pass thrift stores. Perhaps it can become “art.” I want to collect it but refrain. The “decluttering” gene kicked in and sense returned to me.

Still I wondered. Where did it come from? An action figure? Superman doesn’t wear gloves and Spiderman’s hands have webs on them. Batman’s gloves are black and Robin’s are green. Did the child cry when he realized his toy’s hand was amputated? How did it come to be precisely here, in this location, in the parking lot of a medical building? Perhaps the wind lofted it here, a particularly strong gust I’d imagine. Only a half inch long, it looked forlorn, abandoned, and incongruous in its strong color.

Brake Pad on Asphalt

Brake Pad on Asphalt. ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

I noticed the texture of the concrete it lay upon: coarse whitish rock fragments embedded in a sandy matrix. Nearby upon the asphalt rested a rusty brake pad, or so I thought then. Now I’m not so sure what it is. A smear of yellow paint limned one edge. The asphalt appeared chunkier than the concrete of the curb, almost sticky. In the strong morning light, deep valleys crowded its surface—deep from the perspective of an ant or a microbe, that is. Were I the size of the red-handed toy, I’d have no trouble walking over that knurled surface though. I’d have sat on the brake pad using it as a bench and admired the view.

I snapped some pictures then went inside for my blood test, forgetting the little red hand and the rusted piece of steel, my odd trip into a land where a red toy hand pointed the direction of my travels. That two-minute pause gave me a moment to think about something different than usual and I cherished it. And here, six months later as I reviewed my old photos, I was brought back to that sunlit morning, the air crisp, and possibilities beckoning.

Passover Pizza

Pizza for Pesach

Passover Pizza and Pizza for Pesach © JustHavingFun

Maybe it’s a symptom of me getting old, but I experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I see “Passover Pizza” on the market shelves. You mean you can’t go 8 days without pizza? Is this a generational thing?

My Mother tells me about what Passover in Philadelphia was like growing up in the waning years of the Depression. They had eggs, fish, matzah, beets, meat, potatoes, nuts, fruit… and more eggs and potatoes. Kosher for Passover milk and dairy products weren’t readily available, and they didn’t have the wealth of prepared foods that we kosher consumers enjoy today whether for year-round or Passover use. Mrs. Hindy Krohn, also a Philadelphia native (and mother of Rabbi Pesach Krohn), describes the situation well in her 1989 memoir The Way It Was: Touching Vignettes About Growing Up Jewish in the Philadelphia of Long Ago.

Passover Pizza

Freezer case with kosher for Passover products. © JustHavingFun

I’m not quite that old but I remember my Bubba Goldie shaping gefilte fish loaves by hand, sliding them out of the oven, and serving them with a perfect circle of cooked carrot. I don’t know where the fish came from. She probably went to a fish man and asked him to grind it. She also had a special basin for the chicken to soak in. She sat in a chair in the breakfast room pulling the pin feathers from the skin before cooking it.

Passover wasn’t a big deal in our family. We were secularized; it was a time for family to gather. I don’t remember the family having Seder dinners, but I sure remember sitting at the big mahogany dining room table with the matching chairs and claw-footed legs.

Bubba Goldie’s chicken soup was the clearest golden broth with little “eyes” of fat on the top, and the matzah balls were light and fluffy. Well, really I can’t remember the matzah balls, but I like to think they were “floaters” because it fits well with the imagery of the golden soup. She’d serve it with a small portion of chicken breast meat. My other grandmother, Bubba Lena, cooked her chicken soup with lots of “junk,” as she called it. Vegetables peeked from a cloudy broth, and chicken chunks were liberally strewn through the bowl. Did she make matzah balls? I can’t remember, but if she did, I bet they were “sinkers.” I inherited her skills in making a fragrant, filling cauldron of soup and I don’t get complaints about my matzah balls.

Welch’s Manischewitz Kosher Concord Grape Juice is kosher for Passover. © Manischewitz

In the 1990s I saw Manischewitz kosher for Passover Quiche Mix (a product fad that didn’t survive); that was when the world changed for me. Now there is Welch’s kosher Grape Juice, too, another world changer. The products keep coming: marshmallows, chocolate chip cookies, mayonnaise, pizza sauce, macaroons (of course), and the list goes on.

I’ll forgo the Passover pizza. I’ll stick with unsalted whipped butter on matzah as the most exotic food choice.  Hooray for eight days of  limited choices!

Purim Costume?

It’s only Tu B’Shvat time, but I’m primed; Purim is coming. I need to think ahead already.

Goodwill provides me with much inspiration. Looking for “normal clothes,” I saw these items separately at Goodwill and immediately thought “PURIM COSTUME!”

Now, I am a white White woman with pinkish skin tones. Chartreuse, acid green, safety yellow—these just are NOT my colors (white girl problems). Certain combinations, however, tickle my funny bone, and the ironic laughter burbles over. This chance combination illustrates my point of view in lush colors.

purim-costume-at-goodwill

This chartreuse skirt, acid green paisley top & tropical print scarf combo with sparkly sneakers screams Purim at me. © JustHavingFun

Purim sheitel (wig)

Purim fun. © JustHavingFun

The Jewish holiday of Purim occurs a month before Passover. It is recorded in the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther. Purim commemorates our people being saved from annihilation in ancient Persia by the hand of Haman, minister of King Ahashueros/Achashveros.  The megillah is read in public, and it is customary to make noise when Haman’s name is mentioned to “blot him out.” We celebrate by bringing gifts of food to our friends and neighbors, having a feast, and rejoicing.  Children dress in costume, and many adults do, too.

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

I don’t do full costumes. I think when I was a kid I had a Queen Esther costume like all girls in that era. One year I made a red fake fur hat and trimmed it with jingle bells, shaking it when Haman’s name. That got me a headache. Other years I wore a rainbow wig for jolliness—paired with totally clashing clothing. Last year I found an outrageous sequined overblouse and hot pink skirt. Paired with stripey socks, that was a wonderfully inspiring bit of frivolity.

So on second thought, I may just go back to Goodwill and see if these items are still available. We all need some hilarity in our lives.

I am so easily entertained. I crack myself up!

Rack Attack

Sometimes I get an urge to buy clothing. Not often, because it’s hard to recover from sticker shock. I keep thinking that I should just buy the fabric and make the little schmatte for a quarter of the cost–not that I do so. It goes against my grain to consider paying $80 for a simple skirt. Ah, but doers do and critics squawk. I dislike the experience of buying clothes so much so I prefer to kvetch instead.

I was at Target and passed the Women’s clothing section. Normally I wouldn’t even stop, my eyes squinting in the distance for Housewares or Pharmacy, but I was in no rush. Every once in a while I open my wallet under that happy fluorescent retail lighting for items other than toilet paper or cough medicine.

Ironic Rack-Mates

Ironic Rack-Mates, © JustHavingFun

[As an aside: For those of you not familiar with female clothes shopping, “Women’s” sizes are also called plus size. This department is usually smallish and tucked behind the more prominent “Misses” (i.e., so-called normal-sized departments). We’re bigger but our retail footprint is smaller. There are more of us than ever before, too. But it doesn’t make clothes shopping a way happier experience for me. More on size acceptance, body-shaming, and “fatshion” at another time.]

Clearance Sign

Clearance” by Damian Gadal, used under CC BY 2.0

I wound my way toward the back: I saw the clearance racks. No new styles for me, no sir. If it’s not on sale, I don’t even look. Thirty percent off! Seventy percent off! Would I strike gold? Is there a bargain waiting for me? I doubted it but expertly strode to my goal.

What I saw struck me in the oddest way.

The white plastic clothing hangers have beautiful, brightly colored tabs on their tops showing the sizes. (Thank you, Target!) That’s an improvement over other stores and a balm for the shopping experience. I know I can ignore all of the green and fuchsia hangers and zero in on the blue or orange ones, say. At this particular Target store the staff is diligent about hanging the correctly sized clothing on their corresponding hangers. Pleasantly tidy racks greeted me instead of them looking like a typhoon raced through the department. (You’ve been there after women shop hard. Things can go flying!) But that was not the case here. No, something more insidious was happening on the racks.

Somebody didn’t think through how the plus-size shopper would be affected seeing size 00 jeggings and skinny pants adjacent to 4XL blouses! Red alert! Ironic rack attack!

Is it just me? Is it that nobody else notices things like this? When did size double zero become a thing? And finally, what the heck are jeggings?

CBS News Feedback

Sick of Israel-bashing. We must speak up when we see wrong being perpetrated. Language cements ideas in peoples’ minds.

If you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes the truth.
The Big Lie

I sent the following note to CBS News after seeing the referenced article. Borrowing language from D. Lubinsky’s letter and CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)  analyst Gilead Ini, I was emboldened to add my voice in protest.

I urge all of you to speak up when you see Israel being maligned in the media. Drop by drop water can wear a hole even in impervious stone. It goes both ways.


To CBS News,
RE: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-jewish-settlement-homes-palestinian-west-bank-trump/

The title of the above-referenced article, “Israel okay’s 2,500 new Jewish homes in Palestinian territory,” unfairly labels land in Israel as belonging to Palestinians. This is biased and inflammatory language. The photo illustration shows the city of Maaleh Adumim, and in the caption identifies it as “the West bank Jewish settlement.”

Why do you refer to “Palestinian territory” rather than “disputed land” or even “occupied West Bank”? Why does the CBS News use such distorted terms against Israel and no other country?

There never was a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Jordan controlled that land until 1967 and did not refer to it as “Palestinian territory.”

Biased language that accepts Palestinian territorial claims as fact while ignoring reasonable arguments to the contrary should be avoided by impartial news sources. Journalists are not judges sitting in international courts. It is not for them to unilaterally solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am ashamed at the lack of objectivity shown by the once august CBS News organization. I hope the article’s title will be edited online to contain less nuanced language.

This type of “reporting” only fans the flames of hate. Be a part of the solution CBS, not the problem.

A copy of this has been sent to CAMERA.


Words can build; words can also create devastation. Let’s be builders rather than destroyers.

Trump Day

Finally, my shoulders can be lowered from up around my ears.

trump-presidential-inauguration-silver-commemorative

President Trump Inaugural Commemorative Coin,” © The Revolutionary Mint.”

On Friday, President Trump manned the helm of the country. Whether you love him or hate him, voted for him or rallied against him, he is the President of the greatest country on earth. Let us at least honor the Office of the President, fer gosh sake, and disrobe Uncle Sam from the clown costume he’s been sewn into. The world is laughing at us. Really. HATRED makes us look stupid and ineffective.

Will everything be smooth after this? I’m not buying any bridges in Brooklyn, no siree. However, I hope that the political bashing will cease and let us move on. Time to buck up, soldier on, get over it.

Ever since November—nay, even before the election—this country has been swamped with waves of vitriol and bile like never before. Sure, we’ve had protests in the past—I grew up in the 60s—but few so personal, aimed at an individual. As a contrast, participants in Viet Nam anti-war protests thought they would have an effect on policy and force the United States to end its participation there. There were not enough volunteers to continue to fight a protracted war and young men did not want to be drafted. The War was the enemy. While President Nixon was hated for what he did, unpopular to start with then becoming embroiled in the Watergate fiasco, Trump hasn’t done anything!

Unprecedented hatred targets Trump, the man. Timothy Burke, a professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore College wrote an article entitled “The Anatomy of Anti-Trumpism: Ten Thoughts and Reconsiderations.” Reasons people cite range from “Trump is a liar,” and “Trump is stupid,” to “What is uniquely wrong with America?” and “Now terrible things are going to happen to innocent people.” Trump didn’t help his own image with profligate (Twitter) tweets during the campaign, but he has his own agenda, and keeps people off-balance. That is not worthy of the viciousness aimed at him in my opinion.

obama-coin-new-england-mint-t

President Obama Commemorative Coin” © The New England Mint

Politicians lie (remember something about cigars?), the man is not stupid (he’s attention-seeking), and “welcome to the world after 9/11.” I don’t agree with all Professor Burke says and doubt he was a Trump supporter. He voices some cogent points, however, about how the system is broken. That doesn’t cultivate the best of the best and the most idealistic candidates.

I didn’t drink any Kool-Aid. My eyes aren’t closed. I just want to relax and breathe without being exposed to the ugliness seen in the media this past year. It’s been a long election season. Don’t string up Mr. Trump because of the rhetoric; it was  his best tool and weapon.

May G-d bless this country, its leaders, and its people. Especially its leaders. As much as I like knitting projects, take off the Pussy Hats and go home. And, Mr. Trump, please stop tweeting off the hip.

 

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Invitation

The boys hopped off their bicycles at the corner. Propped on kickstands, the bikes stood like trusty steeds by the watering trough awaiting their riders. One boy fastened his helmet to the handlebars while the other wore his. They strode to the door and entered the Starbucks store. I squinted at the activity from a nearby table on the patio.

Despite it being December, I sat outside the café in shirtsleeves, enjoying the sun shining into my eyes. I tried to write but pages of my notebook flapped like crows in the escalating wind.  I watched the bicycles and traffic and passersby with an increasing sense of urgency: Where are the boys? When are they coming out? The bicycle rims glowed and taunted me.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free. © JustHavingFun

I grew up in cities—not particularly dangerous ones—places where you had to be on the lookout because bad things could happen. Even from an early age I knew if I left my bicycle unattended it might not be there later. I had a chain. I had a lock. I had a quick-release hub for the front wheel. One simply did not leave the bike unattended. To do that would be an invitation for a thief to steal my most prized possession! Why didn’t the boys chain their bikes?

The wind whipped my pages faster and blew over one of the bicycles. Another patio-sitter jumped up and righted it. I cranked my head toward the store. Where were the boys? A nod to the rescuer and I returned to my pages.

I’m a mother. My mothering powers expand and include all within my gaze… and beyond. My mom-sense hackles were bristling. Another gust toppled the same bicycle. The rescuer rose again, righted it, and I gave her a wan smile. Since I couldn’t write, I capped my pen and went inside.

“The wind knocked over your bicycle,” I informed two boys about 13-years old. One wore a helmet and the other was finishing a latte. The boys thanked me, and one went to peek outside. When he returned I turned my mom-powers on him. “Let me ask you a question. I write a blog and I’m curious: how come you didn’t padlock your bikes?”

Their innocence made me smile. “This place is so safe,” the blond one said. “You don’t have to worry about theft.” True, we were in a modern shopping village development, but I wouldn’t believe it. “I live down there,” the helmeted one nodded toward the gated community a quarter mile down the road. “Nobody ever bothers our stuff.” I nodded and listened without judgment. They felt unassailable. They excitedly told me about a Ravens football player they saw while biking to the coffee shop. All was normal in their world.

So precious. So fresh.

We were not so far from the dangerous, crime-ravaged city but we could have been in a different country. Less than 5 miles away houses sit abandoned and the poor abound. Storefronts hide behind barred windows and people meander on mean streets.  Here however, a boy drank coffee in the afternoon with his friend while their bicycles waited on the sidewalk. This verdant, safe suburb we sat in nestles behind an invisible, invincible curtain. These youths were wrapped in a butterscotch coating of safety and security.

You never know who you’ll encounter in a coffee shop. We chatted a bit, the mom-powered lady and the youths too candid to catch the irony of the situation. I bade them goodbye and pondered upon an upbringing so charming and charmed near Charm City. Though I ventured into the suburbs I couldn’t leave the city in me behind.

Cling

Link to the daily prompt

Cling peaches

Don’t cry little fleshlings as you are destined for greatness:
No longer to cleave to that hard, unmoving pit inside your sunny heart.
Slide around my bowl, float in the spoon, and submit to my teeth

Cling wrap

Who would have known you’d stay faithful
when others failed their trials? When the task became urgent
you succeeded in keeping together the good
and excluding the bad. Alas you are expendable and flimsy,
your success being your downfall.

Cling on (sorry!)

furrowed brow and coarse glances
alien guttural growls of a foreign race
an enemy turned ally, warriors
united against a common enemy

Static cling

A spark, a shock, a cat winding around my calves, you
Plaster skirts to hose in an unflattering way. Dry air? Feet dragged across nylon
Rugs? I beg you reveal your origin. Clothes dryer inheritance? Evidence:
Socks hide in sleeves and wrinkles create hills and valleys
Like landscape artifacts as seen from space across my contorted torso.

Now picture this…

Joe Klingon walks across the room and flicks a metal switch. Zap! Static electricity shocks him! His dessert, a small packet jacketed in cling wrap — held against his uniform blouse (which was oddly bunched up from static cling) — jumps from his hand and flies across the room spreading the sunny yellow cling peaches to the carpet. He ironically roared, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!”(1)

*************
1. Translation: “Today is a good day to die.” See: http://www.babylon-software.com/definition/Heghlu’meH_QaQ_jajvam/English. (Retrieved 12 January 2017.)

Knitting Competition

Time to tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Time to Tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Knitting is not a competition. We don’t have to declare we are only crocheters or only knitters. We love creating and the magic synthesis that happens with a few clever, small repetitive motions of our hands and a bit of colored string. Never mind that the string, also part of our obsession, can be lusciously dyed wool or friendly, serviceable acrylic.

Mikey from The Crochet Crowd recently sat knitting in an airport. He’s a novice knitter and remarked upon the comments he received. He also mused upon the differences between knitting and crochet and, while he’s quite skilled at crochet, it doesn’t flow naturally into knitting. He needs to practice.

Knitting disciplines me and allows me to focus in on details that get me into a flow state. I’ve started this lacy shawl project with a lightweight yarn on slippery metal needles. Never having done lace nor shawls, I jumped right in. The pattern uses a starting technique called a garter-stitch tab… for which I became an “instant expert” by watching YouTube videos. Yeah, right. Stitches slid and loops grew at a frantic rate. I started the first row at least 5 times, then read the pattern again. I made novice mistakes, but I finally got one row on the needles.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave... er, knit.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave… er, knit.

I did this in public—well, in a circle of a few knitters—on a dark Sunday night. The others steadily added length to their projects as I diddled and “tinked” (i.e. ripped out stitches, “knit” backwards). But I persevered. After finally getting the base row done, I read on and started Row 1.

I think I figured it out and finally had a small swatch of about 5 rows. But why wasn’t it clear what the pattern was supposed to be? Why couldn’t I “read” the stitches? I still had two stupid stitch markers dangling because I didn’t read the pattern right. I handily did the repeat before the ever important k1 center stitch (highlighted in yellow) because I knew better – you always do the repeat between *s first. I didn’t process the instructions the first, second, or third time. Like walking into a room looking for your glasses when they are on your head, I couldn’t process the evidence until I did it over and again.

shawl-1-instructions

Parsing the Instructions.

The process became my own personal competition, not against myself, but for myself so I could improve my skills. Someone who can read music simply doesn’t just sit down at the piano to play Chopin. There’s practice involved, familiarity with the piece. The work needs to sound melodic and not a mess of clashing dissonant chords.

Sometimes my knitting doesn’t flow naturally. That’s OK; it’s a process. The trip is the fun part. I know what I need to do: start over. Armed with my color-coded instructions which I painfully parsed, I shall restart this shawl. I’m anticipating the magic synthesis that happens when wool comes together with time. And eventually I’ll have a lovely shawl to wear or gift with love.

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