Monday, December 26, 2011

One For Each Night ~ Hanukkah 2011

candles always face the street
No matter what your stripe, the winter holiday season presents its challenges. For me, it’s still hard not having Steve singing the Hanukkah brachot in his perfectly tone deaf manner.  I loved the way he lit the candles; it always made us laugh. But I also happen to know that he really liked lighting the Hannukiah because it was the only time guys lit candles.  He thought that was cool.

This year, I decided that Shabbat Hanukkah would be the big family dinner. I invited the machetunim and planned for a nice table of nine.  Then the junior son called and mentioned the maid-of-honor was in town…and that he invited her to join us. “That’s great! I was hoping you would!” said I.

He wasn’t done. “Well, E and J aren’t doing anything, so I invited them, too. I hope that’s okay.”

“Y’know,” I countered, “if E and J are coming, don’t you think E’s folks should come, too?”

“Uh, yeah.”

So the table of 9 turned into two tables….a grown up table and a kiddie table. I made a vast vat of applesauce, cheated like hell on the latkes and used Ore-Ida shredded potatoes instead of shredding my own, and made sufganiyot and ruggelach. I broke down and used disposable roasting pans for the chicken. The daughter-in-law came to help, and by 6:00, we were ready for cocktails.

The kiddie table
I was so glad I did this. It was fun. I got to see not just one full table, but two, and to hear laughter ringing throughout the house was just the best medicine for me. One of the sweetest moments came before the guests, when the daughter-in-law and I stopped to light Hanukkah candles followed by Shabbat candles right at sunset. Never having had a daughter of my own, standing beside her and reciting brachot together was a blessing all its own.

There were kids, in-laws and close friends. The junior son brought his brand new toy helicopter given to him by his most understanding and indulgent wife, and everyone got to fly it....through my house...around the two chandeliers. I just avoided looking up. 

Of course, two were missing from the kiddie table. Senior son and his lady were in Milwaukee, and heading to her family in Chicago.  This I understand. I cannot count the number of family events we all missed because we lived here and everyone else was on the East Coast. All the same, they were greatly missed…but discussed at great length anyway…especially since senior son is busy in the studio cutting a new free-blues symphony. I’m not completely sure what means “free-blues” but I have a pretty good inkling. Not to worry, I’ll let everyone know when the CD is released. Trust me on this one. You’ll all know.

So as we sail off into the sunrise of a secular new year, I shall reset my opti-meter to full, my bog-o-meter to zero, and my snark-o-meter to just 50%. It just wouldn’t be me if that one is at zero.

May you keep all your resolutions, may congress work and play well with others, and may this year bring good health, good adventures, and a clean, honest, thoughtful, illuminating presidential campaign.*

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Homemade applesauce is always an appropriate party favor, 
especially when paired with gold Hanukkah gelt.

*And yes, for the record, I do believe in Tinkerbell. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union ~ Part 1

All this talk about the economy and who should be doing what to whom misses a fundamental point, and that is, “why do we work?”

You get those high falutin’ answers like, “satisfaction,” “I love what I do,” “helping people is important,” but none of those are honest.  That’s not really why anyone works. People work because they get something in return. Usually it’s money but sometimes there are other forms of remuneration. Whatever that something is, it contributes to the wellbeing of the individual as well as the community. In its most basic form, work provides the necessities and, if you’re lucky, some luxuries.

The simplest formula is that work = pay = prosperity = additional jobs = population growth = more diverse jobs to meet the needs of the population = more pay = more prosperity  …ad infinitum. The workers prosper, they have more money to spend. The more they spend, the better the economy. So therefore one might conclude that the best economic system is one where the workers are well paid for the work they do in an environment where they want to be. The icing on the cake is when they are treated as integral parts of their industries and respected as such.

Understand that I’m not talking about socialism or communism or any other ism here; I’m talking about boring ol’ socioeconomics. You know…the part of economic theory that deals with ethics, morals, worker dignity, et al.

Socioeconomics not a new concept. The roots are at the very beginnings of human time. For the most basic village to survive, it has to be able to support itself and do it as a cooperative. If one guy is a good hunter he gets to hunt. If another guy is good at managing livestock, he gets to do that. Sharing the resources is the beginning of trade. If that wasn’t more practical and productive than doing everything yourself, why bother with the village in the first place?

Fast forward a few thousand years, and you still have population clusters relying on the symbiotic relationship between residents….or at least theoretically. Look at it on the small scale: if a town has a single general store and it folds, the town itself is in the process of actively dying. Without a place to purchase goods, the residents lose a big reason to stay. The jobs lost in the closing of that store HUGELY impacts the town as much as losing the store itself.

But bring some useful endeavor that employs people INTO a town, and the reverse happens. People move there.  Stores open. Services take root, and the town flourishes. You want proof? Go look at Faribault, Minnesota where a couple of guys decided it was worth it to reopen the Faribault Woolen Mills and make blankets there again. They know what they’re up against, but they believe it’s worth it.  People have jobs, people get money, people spend money, more people get jobs, more people get money, more people spend money…and on and on and on.

This is really the time for those who can afford it to bite the bullet and reinvest in our industrial infrastructure. There would be less pushback from the 99% if they saw the 1% actually investing in the economic health of the United States. Maybe it’s time to be brave about the economy. As long as this economy is driven solely by the profit margin, it will never have the loyalty of its workers; management will only have its tolerance. The pay packet is not the be all/end all of the relationship between worker and employer; it is only one part.

So if net profits are slimmer, what do you get in return? A community that is self-sustaining? An economy that is more resilient to the natural flux of the markets? Employees willing to go to the mattresses for their employers because the company has become a part of the modern societal structure?  Yes, this is Pollyanna at it again, but I also know this is not so far-fetched.

If you pay two-bits an hour for some kid to work in a Chinese sweat shop, you may be feeding that family, but the ones here are equally desperate for work. Maybe this economic war really needs to be about paying people here to work so this country can have a multi-leveled economy that supports its own society. Maybe it’s less about fat net profits and more about ensuring there is an American society in which to live.

There comes a time when self-interest must give way to communal responsibility. It would be wonderful if our politicians could figure this out sooner rather than later. 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
 Tomorrow is the first lichtel. 
You need 36 candles plus the shammas.

! חנכה שמח

Monday, December 12, 2011


So we have this thing at work called Bonus Bucks and every time you do something respectable, you get some. Over the course of the year, if you're wise, you can accumulate some serious change. The husband used to tell me any time I got a spiff at work, I had to use it for myself; it could not be 're-gifted," given away, or used for household replacement/repair kinda thing. Nope. It had to be something I wanted for me. And since I totally suck at shopping, (despite 14 years at Dayton's/Marshall Fields) picking something for myself is not easy. In fact, of everyone I ever shop for, I am the most difficult.

Thankfully, one of the places we can use said Bonus Bucks is Amazon. In years past, I've picked up CDs of old muscials long forgotten by everyone but me (ROAR OF THE GREASPAINT, ROBERTA, BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, get the drift) and some pretty obscure books on stuff like midrash and 18th century Brit Lit. Real exciting stuff, y'know. Once, I even ordered a pair of Betula clogs (they're on my feet as I type this) but that was because my old pair was falling apart and I was desperate...and the husband then gave me an argument.

This year, he would not have argued; he would've laughed. I had all manner of books and things ready to go when I saw it. It was just the right price and would leave me enough for all the nifty accessories AND the new Barbra Streisand CD. 

Then again, I wondered if it would be traitorous to buy such a thing, me being a writer and all. But it was oh, so tempting. I could pretend I lived in the 21st century with that thing. And with a red leather case, it would very chic. And it's not like anyone would ever buy one for me, so if I wanted it, I would have to spring for it. And maybe if I had it I would be more inclined to use it for its own special purpose. But there was the Rashi commentary I was ogling. But if I got this, I might be able to also get the Rashi later...electronically........

I shut my eyes and pressed the send button. I ordered a Kindle. Not the cheapo one and not the expensive one, the one in the middle. Of course, there was instant buyer's remorse, but I steeled myself against it. I was going to give myself a Kindle and that was that.

It came. I figured out how it works...pretty much. Got some remedial help from my daughter-in-law who promised me I'm going to love this, especially once I get my library card turn on for ebooks.

So I downloaded a free copy of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I really love that book. I figured if I was going to learn a new way to read stuff, may as well start with something I like and know so that I can pay more attention to how I'm changing my process than than story itself. 

Then I started to wonder if anyone else went through that same examination. I'm not sure. I do know that I am very aware of how we have changed our experiential parameters in the last few years. Earbuds make music private, but then you don't get to hear what kids are listening to these days...or ask questions about it. Does the insular experience of listening to one's own music translate to insulating kids from experiences in the real world?

Trotting along the same line, does the slimness of a Kindle or a Nook change our expectations when it comes to reading a book. Have we now reached a point where size really does not matter? Does reading WAR AND PEACE seem as onerous a task when it's held inside a slender Kindle?  And how can we know what book everyone is reading if we cannot see the book covers? And what about pages? How can one truly dog ear a beloved copy or write notes to oneself in the margins? 

One day, I hope a grandkid will take my Complete Pelican Shakespeare and discover all those notes in peacock blue and jade green fountain pen ink to be useful. And that will be me talking to them from another time. 

These are important questions, society shifting issues yet no one seems to notice it too much. What happens to us as a society when we live inside our heads? Do we lose our ability to interact, communicate, and subsequently compete? Do we stop caring about those outside our immediate circle... and what does that do to the fabric of society?

I have no answers, only more questions. If anyone wants to weigh in on this, please do.

Wifely Person's Tip of the Day
Don't sleep with your mobile device. Ever.

Monday, December 5, 2011

There and Back... Again

Every year, the week after Thanksgiving, I head down to Florida for a few days to celebrate my mother’s birthday. This year, however, shaped up a little differently. Instead of spending Shabbat with the folks, I went down on Tuesday and returned on Friday. Which theoretically should’ve been just fine…except when I woke up Tuesday morning, I could feel a cold coming on like gangbusters. By the time I arrived in Delray Beach, I was ready to cough up a lung.

Instead of the fine time I was expecting to have, especially since Cousin Perdie was joining me for a couple of days, I could barely move. I managed to make it to evening services at shul to mark the 75th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. The highlight was going to swinging Delray Beach downtown with Perdie after dinner on Wednesday, where we sat in an outdoor café actually having a conversation without our parents listening in. What a concept! 

The Birthday Girl   
Thursday, Mom's birthday, was fine…I was still sleeping through everything else but at least stayed awake through dinner. My father was positive I was about to expire any minute, but my mother was just happy to have her daughter under her roof under any condition. The best part was when she would stop by to listen to me cough...and then scratch my back. Oh, to be a little kid again!

Friday morning, I returned the car at 6:30 a.m. and got to the curbside check in where I watched my suitcase, now stuffed with frozen kosher meat from Glick's, slide down the conveyor belt. I got to the gate in plenty of time, then settled in for the first leg to Atlanta.

NOT SO FAST. They lost a megaphone. Yes, a megaphone. Did you know an airplane cannot fly unless they have TWO megaphones on board? True fact. Sometime between the time the plane arrived the night before and it’s scheduled departure at 8 a.m. some scurrilous individual snuck onboard and stole one of the two megaphones. The damn thing doesn't even plug into anything. Maybe they need them to shout encouragement at the chipmunks peddling in the underbelly of the aircraft. Other airlines offered us multiple megaphones, but no, this had a be a special FAA coded-to-that-exact-airplane-battery-powered-megaphone and no other megaphone would do. You think I’m kidding, right?  

THEY FLEW A NEW MEGAPHONE TO US FROM ATLANTA. Yep-a-roo. We sat at the gate for TWO HOURS while they flew in a megaphone. The plane with said megaphone arrived, they hustled that crucial part on board, and off we took. 

Now, being the in travel  biz, I am well acquainted with Atlanta and had planned a two hour layover on the way back. That layover was disappearing rapidly. We landed in Atlanta, and thankfully, I was close to the front of the plane. I ran out, stopped long enough to find out where the next gate was, and started running.

With my Israeli paratrooper bag and my Coach stationmaster’s bag slung over my shoulder, I ran. I should also mention I was wearing a skirt…and elevator sandals. And I still sounded like galloping consumption. And I am running through the airport like OJ in the old Hertz commercials. I run down the escalator just as the tram pulls in…I hop on the tram one stop hacking my lungs out…I hop off and run up the escalator, still hacking. I get to the top and almost run over a lady and a stroller. Dodging artfully around…and still coughing, I run down a concourse and a half to the gate where they are about to close the door. 

I’m about to yell, “NOOOOOOOO!” when the gate agent puts his hand up and says, “STOP!”

I crashed into the counter and proceed to hack up a lung. He smiles benignly. “Catch your breath. We’re not leaving without you.” I hacked up the other lung. I didn’t dare ask about the suitcase; I was just happy to be getting on the plane where the only empty seat was a window and all mine. The woman on the aisle was holding a baby. The guy next to me looked like Dean Stockwell and turned out to be a newly minted evangelical bent on testifying to anyone in earshot. Still playing the consumption card, I hacked a few time, wedged my ear buds in,  and closed my eyes. 

Let’s just say the baby screamed non-stop and I am very thankful that SUNSET BOULEVARD is about the same length as a flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis. Patty LuPone can block out damn near anything.

Thankfully, and most unexpectedly, mine was the very last bag to come down the conveyor belt.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Never believe what they tell you about connecting in Atlanta ~
whatever you think it is, add an hour.