Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The tallit is coming along nicely with special thanks to the expert sewing skills of my awesome stepmother . Her stint sewing costumes for drag queens left her absolutely fearless when it comes to sewing shiny, slippery, silky fabrics. What took me hours and caused tears of frustration she handled with utter aplomb.

All that remains now is a bit more handwork. I've put in quite a few hours already, much of it in front of the TV which is about the only way I can sit still long enough to get anything accomplished. Without that anchor I tend to flit from one thing to another getting exactly nothing done. My child comes by his ADD tendencies quite honestly.'s the thing that I wanted to write about because it was just a brief moment, but it was huge. I was watching a fascinating PBS documentary the other night. The Jewish Americans documents the history of the Jews in the US in classic PBS style with interviews, old photos, music and so on. The episode I was watching covered World War II and the post-war period. I thought a lot about my great uncle, a WWII veteran, when the narrator mentioned WWII being the first experience many American Jews had living among non-Jews.

At one point a veteran began to speak about his experience as a Jewish solider liberating the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945. My great uncle was also a US soldier present at the liberation of Mauthausen and I've never forgotten his haunting stories. With horrifying images floating across the screen I looked down at the work in my hands, the tallit for my son's bar mitzvah, and I became simply overwhelmed.

I'm occasionally struck by the twist of fate that sent my relatives across an ocean while others stayed behind. Many of my Jewish relatives left Europe well before the madness started but I've always wondered about those who remained in Russia, Hungary, and Romania; distant relatives forgotten by the American immigrants. How easily I and my children might have simply never lived or worse, died a horrible death simply because we are Jewish. I don't spend a lot of time entertaining such thoughts but sometimes there they are.

And suddenly it seemed almost miraculous that here we are in 2008, about to celebrate another bar mitzvah in our family. I've gotten caught up in details like invitations and recipes and who's wearing what but there's a whole other facet to this. I don't think I'm putting this into words at all eloquently but the fact that there are still Jewish children coming of age in this world is a huge and wonderful thing.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


With exactly three weeks to go until the bar mitzvah, things have been pretty busy around here. There’s a lot to deal with. Three of the 5 of us are learning Torah readings which is a pretty intense process. I still need to figure out what I’m wearing and there’s little in this world I hate as much as shopping for clothes. Because I have some wonderful friends, I am not personally doing much cooking or even organizing the cooks for the post-service luncheon, yet there’s still plenty to think about. Tablecloths? Napkins? Drinks? I am so not a detail person.

And then there are bigger issues such as The Dreaded Parental Speech (hereafter known as the DPS). This had me in a complete tizzy before The Dark Lord’s bar mitzvah. It’s common practice in our synagogue for the parents to stand up in front of everyone and say Deep and Meaningful things to the bar/bat mitzvah kid. I can get pretty nervous about reading Torah given that both Hebrew and melody are involved and neither are strengths for me. The fact is that 99% of the folks in attendance won’t even know if I make a mistake and there will be people there to help me out of I get stuck.

But the DPS is another matter. It’s in English. It’s emotional and big. There you are, in front of the whole world, trying to say something your kid will remember forever and mostly just wanting to cry. No pressure. None at all. So there's that to think about.

But at least the Torah reading is going relatively well apart from a few freakouts. Thanks to MonkeyBoy’s excellent skills, not only does he have his 12 verses pretty well down, but he can coach me and his brother as well.

With 50 million things to do, wouldn’t you know I’d get hit with piles of ideas for things I want to make. The tallit is coming along but I’m also itching to do lots more sewing. I blame it on this book which has filled me with fantasies of hand sewing a complete, one-of-a-kind, richly embellished wardrobe. I was so excited about the techniques in here that I had to give something a try and decided on a gift for MonkeyBoy (who never reads my blog but if you've dropped byMB, just run along, will you?)

Most of the projects in the book use recycled cotton knits from deconstructed T-shirts, which is not only wonderfully soft but makes connections with the author's hometown in cotton country. Many of the projects are embellished with reverse appliqué, a technique that appears fairly simple but actually requires a number of different color choices making for a rich design. Obviously I wasn't going to go with the leafy floral designs in the book, but then it hit me--Hebrew letters would make a lovely design. I quickly hit upon the idea of working with his Hebrew name and made up a freezer paper stencil, painted the design on thrift store T-shirt, pinned on the contrasting fabric from another old T-shirt and had the whole thing stitched up in a couple of hours. I may even get some help from The Spouse with a design for the back. His name means dove in Hebrew so we thought that might be a fitting image but one thing I don't do is draw so that's up to him.I love how it came out (except for the fabric paint that went a little more towards pink than purple, darn it) and I can't wait to spend more time exploring these techniques. But first I guess I'd better focus on what needs to be done in the next few weeks without totally losing my cool.

Tonight as MonkeyBoy was helping me study my Torah reading (in the midst of a massive thunderstorm) I began to despair of ever learning it properly given all I had to do in the coming weeks. He suggested that what I needed to do was to hire a mom to worry about the bar mitzvah details so I could focus on my Torah reading and finishing his tallit. Not a bad idea---any Rent-A-Moms out there?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bengali Inspired Greens

Have you seen this book? While I have no shortage of Indian cookbooks in my collection, this is the one I dream about owning. I haven't bought it because it's huge and expensive and unwieldy and frankly so gorgeous that I'd be hesitant to bring it into my kitchen and slop it up with turmeric and coconut oil. Instead, I check it out from the library in fairly regular rotation, then lie around and the couch, lazily leafing through the pages, gazing at the stunning photographs, and idly wondering what it would be like to tramp around The Great Subcontinent for months on end.

Until today, my ritual with this book hasn't actually included cooking anything. How's that for irony? Despite the clarity of the recipes and the informative descriptions I think I felt somehow intimidated. But after working in the garden yesterday and noticing that we quite suddenly have mountains of rainbow chard about to bolt, the recipe for Bengali Spiced Greens caught my eye today.

I made up a small batch of panch phoron, a Bengali five-spice powder made up of cumin, nigella, mustard, fenugreek, and fennel seeds. Keeping a wide array of spices on hand makes it easy enough for me to make up fresh blends but I keep almost everything tightly sealed in zip-top bags in the freezer where the spices remain fragrant for a good long time, or at least until I can schlep across town to an Indian market and restock. The recipe said to use whole spices, but I gave everything a good bash with the mortar and pestle for good measure.

I cooked the panch phoron in some oil, added onion and garlic and cooked everything gently until good and soft. At the same time, I'd thrown some potatoes in the microwave to bake for a quickie version of the masala potatoes I use to fill dosas. When the potatoes were just about done, I added the greens to the onion and garlic spice paste and and cooked until everything was wilted but not cooked to death. With a bit of basmati rice and mango pickle, this was a delicious 20-minute lunch. The bright green chard and the brilliant turmeric-yellow potatoes looked gorgeous on the plate, making me almost feel OK about the rain starting up. Again.
The farmers markets around here have lots of locally grown greens right now. I think you'll find this a tasty way to prepare them. The recipe is here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In Progress

Thanks to the kindness of a friend with both skills and the patience to fiddle around with Hebrew fonts, I was able to transfer the tallit blessing onto a piece of silk using inkjet transfer paper. How cool is that?

The embroidered text is the Hebrew blessing one says when putting on the tallit. It's kind of silly in a way, because everyone who needs to know it usually gets it down pretty quickly. Like most Hebrew blessings it follows a standard format with a few words tossed in at the end for the particular occasion. Still, it's pretty standard to include the text on the atarah, which is the piece that helps the wearer figure out how to put the tallit on.

I'm not so great with embroidery though it's one of many skills I'd like to improve and use more often in my projects. But I'm really enjoying this part. It's not terribly challenging (other than I really need those bifocals now) but each letter is different and requires an assessment of how to fill the space. It's a little bit meditative and not hard to re-do when I screw up. Oh, and it looks smashing, if I do say so myself.

Don't Forget to Vote

For those in Oregon, I just wanted to throw out a reminder to vote. Now.

It's too late for the mail, but you can drop your ballot at numerous sites throughout the state until 8 pm on Tuesday, May 20.

I kind of lost interest in the presidential race when my guy dropped out but I'd planned on writing him in on the primary ballot. However I gave up on that idea once Edwards endorsed Obama. I really hoped he would keep his mouth shut and keep working on the progressive issues no one else would touch. Politics as usual, I guess. Obama might get some white guy votes. I wonder what Edwards will get out of it.

At least I got to vote for this guy, a true progressive with a vision for our state that includes universal health care, affordable college for everyone, and a serious attitude towards global warming.

My boys asked me to take them to yesterday's Obama rally here in Portland. I probably should have but the combination of heat and crowds, not to mention my general lack of enthusiasm for Obama made me say "no". I don't think we were missed among 70,000+ people who did show up.

He's OK, I guess. I'll vote for him but I just can't seem to do so with the passion and starry-eyed awe that so many Obama supporters seem to exhibit. What am I not getting?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Silver Linings

One of the exciting things about becoming a bar mitzvah is that it is the first time a young person gets to wear a tallit in public. Most families we know make a big deal out of the tallit. Either one is specially made after much consideration, or perhaps handed down from a relative. With a weaver in the family (my mother), we expected nothing less than handwoven for The Dark Lord's bar mitzvah. MonkeyBoy, on the other hand, was offered weaving lessons from a good friend and the opportunity to make his own which seemed like a very generous and exciting offer at the time though even then I suspected it would be too much given this friend's often poor health.

The weaving lessons began well over a year ago and MonkeyBoy and his teacher have had great times together. To date I've seen exactly one completed project and became understandably worried giving the rapidly approaching event. I was reassured numerous times that all was well and on track. Then, quite suddenly, with exactly 4 weeks to go, I was informed last night that it would be impossible to complete the project on time. Now I find that with approximately 275 things I need to complete before June 14, I have the added obligation of finding Mr Picky a tallit that would satisfy him. This is the boy who hand colored 80+ invitations so it's safe to say he has his aesthetic standards and takes them seriously. Also, Portland is not New York City or even Los Angeles. We don't have nice Judaica shops where we could browse and compare and we've had no interest in risking mail order.So what's a crafty mama to do? I still have most of the bolt of silk I used to make my tallit years ago and MonkeyBoy found that acceptable. We spent quite some time gathering trims and supplies today and I have to say that I was surprised by the colors that drew him. This is a kid who normally goes for crazy bright colors. The yarmulkes we ordered for the bar mitzvah are purple velvet with silver rickrack, of all things. But what really caught him today was some lovely but rather sedate ribbon with a ginkgo design in slightly off greens. We used that as a starting point and chose accent fabrics and trims accordingly.

There aren't a lot of rules about this particular garment's construction except that it must be 4-cornered, with tzitzit at each corner. The tzitzit are sets of strings tied in a precise formula, kind of a Jewish macrame if you will. These four sets of threads on four corners are the only clearly proscribed element and I've seen lovely variations on this basic idea including elegant vintage lace and exuberant Guatemalan ikat.

While I expect to be doing most of the work on this myself, I realized there was no reason why MonkeyBoy couldn't learn to run the sewing machine and make the corner squares through which the tzitzit will be threaded. Tonight we retired to the cool of our basement for sewing lessons and he did well though I did mention that there was little point in my drawing seam lines on the fabric since he seemed to be ignoring them anyway.While I really wish time wasn't a factor, I am delighted that I get to do this for (and with) my son.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


With the help of a little Valium I made it through 3 hours in the dentist's chair yesterday for a root canal and two crowns. While the dentist and his staff are very kind and patient but I think what really made yesterday tolerable (apart from the Valium) was that for the first time ever, a dentist actually listened to me about my sensitivity to epinephrine and used an alternative anesthetic. The alternative's effect is much shorter so I ended up having somewhere around 14 separate injections. My mouth is quite sore today, but it's so minimal compared to not feeling like I'm having a heart attack. I really think all my dental anxieties over the years can be directly traced to this one drug which is bad for me. What a different experience when someone actually listens.

So, for anyone in the Portland area, needing an excellent mercury-free dentist, do let me know. I get a $20 credit for each patient I refer. Since I still need another $2000 worth of work before my mouth is mercury free, every little bit will help.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bee Pants and the Dark Lord's Face

How's that for a title?

I mentioned The Dark Lord's Mother's Day gift to me in yesterday's post. Wow! Is this kid gorgeous or what?

He asked me why mothers hate long hair. I thought about it and realized I have absolutely nothing against long hair and often find it quite fetching. Except on my boys. It's not about looking respectable or tidy. It's just that I want to see their lovely faces and when their hair is short I don't have to wait for the occasional parting of great drifts of hair to get a glimpse. I know I drove him crazy staring at his face which has changed so much in recent months. I think the girls at school gave him the seal of approval today. What do mothers know anyway?

I spent a few minutes finishing up the promised Bee Pants for The Princess. I can't even begin to describe how delightful I find the bee ribbon which I added around the hem of these loose, comfy, summery linen pants. I think I might need a pair myself.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Many years ago, shortly after The Spouse and I got married, I went to school with "an older woman", the mother of a teenage daughter. I remember her telling me that one her favorite ways to spend time was sitting in a cafe with her daughter, reading, writing, and talking together. My goodness, that sounded like the most idyllic thing in the world but something I doubted I'd ever achieve. Even before having kids I had my doubts about parenting a teenager.
So where does Mother's Day find me? In my favorite cafe with The Dark Lord who is writing a paper for English class. He's a little stressed out, so our cafe interlude hasn't been quite idyllic, but given how many kids refuse to go out in public with their parents, I'm pretty pleased. He's even come up with Mother's Day gift for me. I'll have to pay for it, but I don't mind. He's getting his hair cut!

Now if it's tangible gifts I needed, thank goodness for 5 year old girls. The Princess has been steadily cranking out fabulous, sparkly Mother's Day gifts for me and squirreling them away for the better part of a month. There's a necklace made with glitter and styrofoam, a tiny paper fan that has the word love written all over it, an embroidered bookmark, and a card, all wrapped in a bag Sharpie-printed all over with the word MOM. Am I lucky or what?

I have friends struggling to come to terms with infertility and other friends waiting to adopt. I know today can't be easy for them. I don't know what the future holds for these families, but I know that things often unfold in ways we can't even imagine. I am thinking of them today, too, even as I celebrate my own blessings as a mother.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

As if I have anything to complain about....

My dental woes are pretty small potatoes compared the the devastation of Myanmar by Cyclone Nargis. Now they're predicting over 100,000 dead. 100,000 children, fathers, sisters, grandmothers, farmers, students, babies....I can't even begin to fathom such a number. They're reporting over a million homeless and extensive damage to the Burmese rice crop which could worsen the global food crisis.

Much of the tragedy, as I understand it was avoidable. The cyclone was not a surprise. How many people would still be alive had the government done its job and given evacuation orders?

I made my donation through American Jewish World Service, just one of many worthy organizations doing good work to help in this disaster. The urgent need for food, shelter, drinking water, and medicine is likely to continue for a long time.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Facing Fears

In a remarkable show of bravery, I faced down one of my biggest fears today. I went to the dentist. Over the years my dread of going to the dentist has grown to such epic proportions that anything (rolling naked in broken glass, for example) would be preferable. I'm a good mom, I take my kids regularly but I tend to stay out of the chair unless something really drastic pushes me to go.

I have a broken molar with an exposed filling which has been leaking mercury into mouth for a couple of months. About the amount of time I've been feeling lousy as it happens. My doc suggested I deal with it as soon as possible and after scaring myself silly reading about the effects of mercury on autoimmune diseases I decided maybe I could call the mercury-free dentist nearby. When a $100 coupon for new patients appeared in the neighborhood paper I took it as a sign and made the call.

The dentist is kind and quiet and his staff is very friendly. Everyone was sensitive to my tendency to panic in the dentist's chair. I don't think I could have asked for a a better experience. I wish I could say it was one of those cases when all my worry was for nothing but, in fact, my mouth is a mess and I need up to $3000 worth of work immediately, with another $2000 to make my mouth truly mercury free.

That's a lot of money, especially when I'll be paying off my hospital adventure for a couple more years. And MonkeyBoy's bar mitzvah is approaching quickly. It would be easy for me to make excuses and put this off because I can think of many far more exciting ways to spend that money. But I guess I need to be a grownup and deal with it. At least I feel a tiny bit braver about things......


Is there anything in this world that's been more abused and mistreated than the cheesecake? I have come across so many cheesecakes that are overly sugary and flavored with far too heavy a hand. Mocha, grasshopper, raspberry, oreo....I'm sorry, but yuck.

I was raised on my grandmother's cheesecake, a simple thing of understated beauty which no one could top. She would happily make it for us whenever requested and it added something special to many of our family celebrations. But I'm not giving you her recipe. She wrote it out for me once but my results never resembled hers. I always kind of thought she left something major out of either the ingredient list or the directions, but she insists she gave me the very recipe she used. I long ago gave up on that one and have realized that there are some of her dishes whose flavor I'll never be able to duplicate.

But a number of years ago, craving the heavenly flavor of a simple cheesecake, I came across a recipe somewhere on the internet and have been using it ever since. The problem is I have no idea where the recipe came from and who should be praised. I feel terrible about this because this cheesecake is a marvel: simple to make and absolutely heavenly.

For those looking for a heavy crusted chocolate turtle mudslide experience, you'll need to look elsewhere. No crust here--just the simple flavor of sweet dairy with a hint of lemon and vanilla. Fresh strawberries served alongside are all the adornment needed but even they aren't truy necessary.If you've never tried making a cheesecake, this is where you want to start. There's no crust to muddle around with and as long as you can separate eggs you are good to go. Do plan ahead in that you want this cake chilled before unmolding and serving. The recipe is here. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Best Medicine

I spent the weekend trying to not feel as lousy as I've been feeling. My naturopath has me on a a staggering supplement regimen which required a complex grid to keep track of what and when. Downing pills took up much of my time and during the rest I was restless and cranky. I had every excuse in the world to lie around and read but no book held my interest. My current knitting projects were similarly unappealing. Food? Yuck. I'm a bad invalid.

But we've been graced with that most marvelous springtime gift here in Portland: brilliant sunshine. The Princess and I got to spend a couple of absolutely perfect hours in the park today, sprawled out under the newly leafed trees. We had the company of lovely friends, insane squirrels, a stately blue heron, and a very busy flicker. There's not much better than lying on new grass looking up at a jewel blue sky through the leaf lace.
By the time we had to pack up and leave I felt almost 100% restored.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Not such a great day. I've been feeling pretty rotten and today's doctor visit and lab results confirmed my suspicion that my thyroid has been acting up once again. My new doctor is great and I feel like she has a good handle on things. I knew I'd been out of balance for a while but somehow having the professional confirmation and the lab results to back that up just make me feel worse. It's a strange kind of wobbly, wired exhaustion. I'm too hyped up to rest and too brain-fogged to accomplish much of anything.

But here's something absolutely wonderful: my sweet daughter can knit! This child has been dragged to knitting gatherings since she was a babe in arms and has always wanted to join the club. I don't know how many times she's asked me to teach her but the coordination just wasn't there. There's been a lot of effort and frustration as she really, really wanted to become a knitter. We hadn't tried in a while but we had a quiet moment yesterday. We gave it another go and suddenly she's off and running using the same four steps I teach everyone.

In, around, back, off, in around, back, off.....