The Round – a – What?

I had to go somewhere today that I never go. My husband was giving me directions and he said the dreaded words to me: take such and such street until you get to the round-a-bout, veer left so you’re on this street and then make a right on Main. Ugh! Not the round-a-bout! I hate the round-a-bout. Why does my little city even have one?

I think that it got put in about a year or so ago and I can only ask, why? What was wrong with the stop sign? Why not opt for a traffic light? Round-a bouts are so very uncanadian. We are a linear people. Our largest city is a perfect grid. Our homes are linear. You will find very few yurts here.

It’s made of brick. If you kiss it with your car it’s going to hurt. It’s winter here, it’s impossible to see the lines on the streets if they’re even still there. It’s the perfect place for a merging car to plow right in to you. Then there is also the ridiculous thought that like some silly cartoon I’m going to make a mistake and get stuck going around and around for hours. Maybe I should add that I’ve never seen another car there when I’ve been going around. Still, it could happen, I could get stuck.

If I were to tell my American friends that there is a round-a-bout in my city they would spend the next ten minutes laughing and making fun of the way I say about. I’m sorry I may say eh but I don’t say aboot.

Did the roads department have delusions of turning us into a European city? There were so many other things they could have tried. How aboot a town square, or a cobbled street, or a patisserie, or a clock tower or they could have changed the name of Main Street to Somethingplatz? So many possibilities.

My husband just told me that he loves the round-a-bout and he takes it twice a day. He says it’s practical. But then his parents are European. It must be a genetic predisposition.

So Much To Love

There is so much about reading and books that I love.

To begin with I love the promise that a new book holds. The opportunity for me to be somehow touched by another person’s thoughts. I love the feel of a brand new book. The look and the smell of it.

There are some books that I have read that cause me to love a character or a situation. The thing that moved me the most in The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was the very idea that given the opportunity to travel through time we would not choose to visit great moments in history but that we would visit our own past and key people in our lives again and again. In Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese I loved the exploration of relationships and the character of Dr. Ghosh stole my heart. I love the concept of redemption and rebirth in Silas Marner.

If I were asked if there was any one character in literature who defined for me what great fiction is I would have to say that would be Jean Valjean the hero of Les Miserables. I know that this is no brainstorm as he is without doubt a phenomenal character. This in and of itself can be an issue for me. Sometimes when I am reading a book and a remarkable character has been created I only feel indifference. The fact that the character is fictionalized is all too evident to me. The character needs to have a flaw so that he/she can seem possible, like Rochester in Jane Eyre for example. Or the character should be someone who we would like to be a real person like Atticus Finch – we can only hope that there are lawyers out there who display such integrity.

Beyond the characters and the situation sometimes I can read a book and there will be a single sentence or a paragraph in it that makes me think, ‘This is why I read’. The line can be humorous, poignant or meaningful it just has to be something that makes me stop for a moment and think, this is it. I’ve collected a few to share with you and not one of them is, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” So here goes I hope that they will be meaningful when standing alone;

“Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of”
I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

“I had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I”
How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper

“A decent person knows where he belongs now.”
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok

“All I wanted to do was look at her. She was Mr. Potato Head beautiful. Nothing fit right. But somehow this girl in yellow socks, with the small nose and the big ears and the gap-toothed smile, achieved a certain harmony, a beauty greater than the sum of its parts.”
All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison

“Watching Roger date was like watching a toddler in traffic.”
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruisie
(spoiler alert: this book is very racy and not for every one)

“My dad is in a comma and waiting for me to open his eyes. I sent him a second email: I meant coma.”
Come Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
(worth the read for the word play alone)

“Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days – after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide.”
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

“Bela, Bella: Once I was lost in a forest. I was so afraid. My blood pounded in my chest and I knew my heart’s strength would soon be exhausted. I saved myself without thinking. I grasped the two syllables closest to me, and replaced my heartbeat with your name.”
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

My last quote I cannot let stand alone. John Irving is one of my favourite authors. No one does weird and wonderful like he does. Also, no one else writes endings like he does. A Prayer For Owen Meany may well be my favourite contemporary novel, neck and neck with A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Owen Meany is a story of a friendship as beautiful as that of King David and Jonathan (I actually teared up in a biblical grammar hebrew class, we were dissecting the grammar in the first book of Samuel and we were at the part where Jonathan and David were saying good bye to each other, who can think of grammar when there is such beauty in a story? But I digress.) At the risk of spoiling the book, which I don’t really think I will, you have to know that Owen is not alive at this point:

“I imagined how Dan would discover my body on the dirt floor at the foot of the stairs – when a small, strong hand (or something like a small, strong hand) guided my own hand to the light switch; a small, strong hand, or something like it, pulled me forward from where I teetered on the top step of the stairs. And his voice – it was unmistakably Owen’s voice – said: “DON’T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU.”

Every time I open a book it’s with the hope that maybe, just maybe I’ll be swept off my feet and find a gem like one of these.

New To Me

You may already have heard this quote but it is new to me and I love it so I’m sharing it with you;

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Albert Einstein

O.K., so maybe not everybody’s a genius. Reality t.v. didn’t exist in Einstein’s day. But, overall I love the general idea behind this.

I’ve Come A Long Way Baby

Saying that I’m not crafty is kind of like saying that Joan Rivers may have had a little work done on her face. While I was always disappointed and even shocked by the works of art that I produced it wasn’t until high school that I came to the realization that somehow the connection from the artistic creative side of my brain to my hands had been severed. I think that my sisters did it to me at some point in my childhood, I just don’t have the evidence. Really, once you know someone who’s connection from their brain to their mouth has been severed my own impairment does not seem so bad.

I’ve mentioned that I knit, but let me clarify. I knit only scarves and afghans, nothing that takes any kind of shaping and if you feel a need to check my tension, well, nuts to you.

My middle sister is very talented artistically. I am mostly just proud of her but there have been times that this put me in an awkward position. Take Chanukah gifts for example. For some reason the crazy thought existed that if she would appreciate a craft kit so would I. A craft kit, wow, an hour of fun for her hours of torture for me. And when it’s all over the joy of ownership of some kind of unrecognizable something.

Take the faux suede purses for example. stitch ’em up (by hand) and then just glue on the heart appliques. Easy for her. Glue for me would not end well. Who knew what I could get stuck to and there would also be the matter of all the glue on the exterior of my beautiful new purse which would never see the outside of my closet. My creative solution was to use gum. That way I could reposition the crooked hearts to a slightly less crooked position and I like the scent of mint.

I failed grade 8 home economics. Not the cooking part, just the sewing part. We were to make a book bag, complete with gussets – is that the right word? I went fabric shopping with my mom. She commented on the beautiful fabrics and asked which one appealed to me. I responded with “Just buy whichever one is on sale and the cheapest. I’ll never be able to use the thing.” We bought brown. I failed and it took up residence at the back of my closet with the purse.

Now picture me married with these words falling from my husband’s lips, “Honey, would you mind sewing on this button for me?” I was a newlywed, was I allowed to snort at him and say, “Ah, not in this lifetime.”? It didn’t feel like a newlyweddish response. So I took the button and the shirt, found a needle (he came to the marriage with a needle, I certainly didn’t) and some dental floss and off I went. Now don’t underestimate the dental floss. It’s strong as can be, that button will never come off and once again that lovely minty smell. I progressed to thread as not every shirt is white and I knew that if the button, shirt and thread didn’t match, well, people could sully my good name.

Fast forward 17 years. The Artiste wants a new duvet cover in brown. Yes, brown again. I can’t find one anywhere in our city but I can find brown sheets. All I need is to put two and two together so to speak and I’ll have my duvet cover. How hard can this be? I just need a sewing machine, preferably a slow one. Now it may seem frivolous to you to buy a sewing machine for one duvet cover but I ask you, what’s your point?

I am happy to report that I did it! It even looked normal. Since then I have even used my machine to cuff pyjamas. You weren’t expecting more were you? And when my younger children asked me if I could make them Halloween costumes I proudly answered, “I sure can, if you want to be a duvet, or a pillow I think I could also do a pillow!”

I Knew Stuff Once

The other day I noticed one of my old university textbooks on a shelf and it got me thinking about all of the things that I once knew. I say knew and not know because the sad truth is that I have probably forgotten more than I remember. Facts are gone and mere essences remain. It’s more of a case where I can remember that there is a theory that explains this situation and I think it kinda’ goes like this… than remembering the name of the theory and who thought it up. Sometimes I’m only left with the thought that, I think I once learned about this.

I really want to talk about one course and one professor that I had. In all of the courses that I took and all of the professors that I had nothing was as fascinating and no one was as intimidating and memorable as this course and this professor.

After my second year at university I decided to take a year off. I travelled to Israel, did an ulpan on a kibbutz and fell in love with the country. I returned home certain that I would make aliyah. Before I left my mother told me that she knew that once I left university I would never go back and I would not get my degree. I assured her otherwise and she of course did not believe me. I had no choice but to finish my degree. I absolutely knew that I would go back but the added bonus of proving my mom wrong was irresistible. I decided that I would change my major to help me on my road to aliyah. I switched to Jewish studies and started studying hebrew. My second year in to the programme I decided to take a course on Jewish mysticism. This was not to study mystical texts but to study the study of mysticism. It was a fascinating course taught by a brilliant man.

I had been warned about Professor Talmage in the past. He was known to be as demanding and as cantankerous as he was brilliant. He was very sick at the time and due to his illness we had the occasional class in his apartment as he could not always make it down to class. His appearance was other-worldly, slight, wizened with piercing blue eyes. He would impart information to us and tantalize us with mystical concepts. I could feel my mind stretch in front of him. We understood that mysticism was not something to be taken lightly. Not just a matter of red strings and chanting gibberish. This was something only to be attempted by the truly learned, after years of preparation. If successful the ultimate achievement was unity with the Divine.

One class he asked each of us what our majors were. When I stated ‘Jewish Studies’ he responded with, “You know that’s like going into a restaurant, looking at the dessert menu, seeing ‘assorted pies’ listed and saying O.K. I’ll have a piece of one.” Professor Talmage was not to be trifled with. He taught us how to look at information critically, how to judge someone’s credentials. He taught us how to think.

I can no longer remember the techniques of mysticism, much of anything about the Zohar or the Likutei Amarim. I don’t even remember all ten of the Sefirot or any of their attributes. But I do know, in this day and age of Wikipedia, that knowing the source of your information is as important as the actual information itself.

I think I did alright in the course, I don’t remember my final grade. What I do remember, and this was the highlight of my years at university, was that on the final exam in a comment on one of my responses to an essay question he wrote, “I laughed so hard at your answer that I was in tears. I’m glad that you have that sense of humour it will come in handy.” You know, that one comment means more to me than my actual degree.

I believe that we were the last class that he taught. He passed away not long after. I will always be grateful that I took his class and that I got to have the quintessential experience of a being taught by Frank Ephraim Talmage.

What’s Their Name?

The Artiste came to me excited with the following news:

Him: The second day we’re in Toronto for Passover Gogo Bordello is performing. Can I go see them?
Me: That means it’s the second seder.
Him: Oh, shoot (not really shoot, but that’s what I’m typing). O.K.
Me: Who is this group?
Him: They’re an indie band (of course) from Russia.
Me: Wow, that’s some name. As if a bordello isn’t bad enough it has to be a gogo bordello?
Him: Not gogo, Gogol.
Me: OMG, as in NIcolai Gogol the famous Russian writer? Now I really don’t know what to make of the name. (Time to read the collected works of Gogol that is waiting for me on my IPad.)
Him: Who?
Me: Gogol, he was a great Russian writer.
Him: Cool.

O.K., so now my curiosity was piqued. Could there be something to this group? In general I like the Artiste’s taste in music. Time to check it out. Over to Youtube, enter search for Gogol Bordello (I can’t believe I’m typing those words.) A few videos come up, I choose ‘Wonderlust King”. I look at the tags it reads: gypsy, punk, indie, rock. Hmm, this should be interesting. I hit play. Suddenly I feel like I’m watching Borat’s Russian cousin. Is this a send up? I keep watching. No, it’s for real.

You know those odd moments with your teenagers where you have to remember the actual birth of this person so that you are reminded that yes, in fact he really is my offspring. I don’t believe in aliens, but something not quite human must be influencing my son’s musical choices.

I love ya baby, but there is no way that their CD is going in my van.
Oh yeah, for there to be a CD they would have to be mainstream and that would be so uncool. Sometimes I guess I do appreciate the obscurity of indie bands.

Family Day and Heart Palpitations

So this weekend we celebrated Family Day. This is a government mandated holiday that has been around for about three years now. It’s an opportunity for families to spend more time together. Thank you for the opportunity, but no thank you. I get pa-lenty of time with my kids. I am always with my kids and they are always with me. I think what we would appreciate is a little take a break from each other day. Didn’t we just have Christmas and New Year’s holidays together? Not to mention every single evening of the week and Saturdays and Sundays?

It seems to me that every mom that I know who has expressed a love for this holiday is someone who works outside of the house.

Not that I don’t love being with my kids, believe me I do, mostly. I just don’t like being told by my government that I need to spend more time doing what I do each and every day. Maybe you guys should spend more time in the Parliament buildings doing your jobs. Has every budget been balanced? Is there nothing else that you guys could have accomplished today?

We took our kids to Toronto for the weekend and spent our time together driving them to various friends’ houses. It was a true bonding experience. We also took them to Costco. Don’t all kids love that? We needed more kosher meat and that’s where we buy it. While we were there I think I may have had heart palpitations. Can you guess what gave them to me?

Matzah.

Costco already has Matzah on display. Matzah! As in Passover. Who can think of Passover in February? I saw the Matzah and immediately an outrageous amount of work flashed before my eyes. Come on, we haven’t even had March break or Purim yet. I’m not even that observant. I change all of my dishes, pots, utensils etc., I clean out my pantry and closets and you know what? That’s enough for me. I’ve read the blogs. I know what some of you ladies do and I want you to know that if I had medals I would give one to each and every one of you. Why is it that the one holiday in which we are supposed to celebrate our deliverance from freedom I feel more like an indentured servant than any other time of the year?

So tell me ladies, when do you begin to prepare for the holiday? Do you manage to do it with a smile on your face? Every year I vow not to complain and to try to be happy about the holiday so that I can impart the right sentiment to my children but somehow I always end up pretty cranky. Does it stress you out as well?

Are Sheitels Comfortable?

I grew up in Toronto in a Conservative Jewish household. My father was raised Orthodox my mother Reform or less. Orthodox Judaism has always been intriguing to me. It is both a part of my history and unapproachable.

I remember going with my father to a Lubavitch boys choir concert as a child. The music was vibrant, the joy was obvious. At the end of the concert the men and the boys in the audience would get on the stage and dance with such vivacity. I wanted to dance up there as well. But, I was a girl, a girl in pants. I did not belong on that stage. I saw my dad spot a friend of his dancing with his sons on the stage. I felt badly for my dad because I knew that he couldn’t dance either, he had to stay with me.

That to me summed up my relationship with orthodoxy, it looked so enticing, but I didn’t belong.

Later, in university, I did a degree in Jewish Studies. There were many orthodox kids in my classes. The girls were not friendly, the guys looked scared of me. I felt as though I was wearing a cloak of bacon. A few guys were pleasant, they would say hello or discuss a test question. I had a couple of girlfriends who were Baal Teshuvaniks. They accepted me. I even spent a Shabbos or two with them. Again, I felt as though I didn’t belong. it seemed like a very warm, comforting lifestyle. One that would be possible to slip into as it seemed that all behaviour is laid out for you. There is someone to answer your every question. I think that if one of those orthodox boys had been interested in me I could have made the transformation, but on my own my devotion was not strong enough. The girls who became Baal Teshuva either had very accepting families or were willing to battle familial disapproval. That was not me. I comfortably moved within and understood the boundaries of my conservative judaism.

Perhaps eight years ago I went to Montreal to take part in a seminar to learn a method of teaching hebrew. Our community was in need of a teacher. My children were in need of a teacher. I met a wonderful group of women who had come from around the world to learn this method. Most of the women were orthodox, they all taught at Day Schools. I was the only exception. The entire seminar was taught in hebrew, it was gruelling for me. The days were 12 hours long, I had not been away from my children for this amount of time and my hebrew was not up to snuff. One very hot day I was talking to a lovely woman from New York. I believe that her husband was a rabbi and that she ran the girls’ school. We were chatting about different things. I mentioned her sheitel. I said that it seemed to me that sheitels must be liberating. She asked how so. I explained that in my mind, women are slaves to our hair. A good or a bad hair day can affect us far more than it would a man. With a sheitel you always have a good hair day without the obsession. She responded with a smile and a simple ‘Ha, really?’ She didn’t elaborate any further. I felt as though I had made some sort of faux pas.

So, now with the world wide web at my disposal I ask you ladies out there who can answer my questions if you don’t mind, is a sheitel comfortable? Are they easy? Are they hot, itchy, liberating or confining? Do you feel like yourself when you put it on or do you feel different?

I wish you all a peaceful shabbat and hope to hear back from you after.

Sorry Dear, You’re an Amateur

The other day I was checking out the wordpress title page for some reading. I spotted a blog under the humour section that intrigued me. The topic of the blog was the most embarrassing date ever. O.K. I was game, so I read it. The long and the short of it was that after a good night kiss the poor woman on the date had a horrible allergic reaction to some orange juice that her date had consumed in the morning. Now I know that suddenly being covered in hives when you want to look your best can be seen as embarrassing but, this was the end of the date, she looked good the rest of the evening and this was a potentially dangerous situation. Really, as I see it there was nothing to be embarrassed about.

What would embarrass me and constitute a bad date in my mind would be the following type of scenario:
Let’s say that a young woman (we can call her Lola) and a young man (we can call him LFH, short for Lola’s Future Husband) decide that for their fourth date they will go away on vacation together. Separate rooms because they’re not that kind of guy/girl. All is going well. They decide to be adventurous and go mopeding together. It’s her first time on a moped. All is going well. What’s that up ahead? Cattle crossing the road? OK, stop let them cross, go slowly, don’t want to wipe out in any manure. Phew that went well. Why has LFH slowed down so much again? There’s no cattle, only a very black stretch of road. Ha, ha, ha I can pass him. Hey!! That road’s black because it’s fresh tar!!! Look at me slide…. Flat on my ass… No pain, no injury just a lot of black tar all down my backside. LFH is not laughing. Thank you for that. A very kind man witnessed the whole thing and called Lola over to his hut where he gave her a manicure set and gasoline to clean off her hands (such kindness can only be imagined, because of course this never really happened). The mopeds get walked back to the hotel. The young couple return to their rooms to get tidied up and go for a swim. Lola’s shorts are history, Lola’s undies are history. Oh my G-d Lola’s behind is history. How can she possibly clean the tar off back there on her own and how will she get the gasoline to do it? She doesn’t. She has to ask for help. She dies a thousand deaths while being de-tarred (yes, she’s a de-tarred) and becomes that old joke; What’s black and white and red all over? Lola wants the ground to swallow her up, she can’t make eye contact with LFH. LFH is handling this well, no teasing just taking care of the task at hand. He finishes and suggests a fun swim in the ocean. Lola, to hide her mortification must be a good sport. They change, each in his/her own room of course and head out into the ocean. Lola trying to pretend that the tarring never happened. She jumps into the waves only to feel searing pain and she swears like a sailor. Jellyfish! She’s just been stung. Out of the ocean, the life guard rubs her leg with a combination of lime juice and sand. She’s OK, back into the ocean. Once again, unbelievable pain. More jellyfish. Only Lola gets stung, why is that? More lime juice and sand.

Lola looks at LFH and states, “I think I need to go to bed and pretend today never happened.”
LFH looks at her and smiles, puts his arm around her and says – Honestly I don’t know what he said that part is eclipsed by the rest of the day that never actually happened to me.

If it had happened to me, I would have to say that, that has got to be the most embarrassing date ever. I dare you, go ahead top me with a worse story. I bet you can’t do it.

Also, if the above were true I would add that our first date was to see the movie Fatal Attraction. Not an auspicious beginning.