Wednesday, September 30, 2009

is this fast enough?

As I mentioned at Rosh Hashanah, my family has come together to celebrate a Humanist High Holidays this year. For the last few years, we've spent the Days of Awe partly together and partly going separate ways as we traversed our own roads towards non-Zionist Jewish-inspired humanism.

This year we are ready to chart a new course: a holiday season of family connection. Of course, we know that there will always be time when we feel we are in different places on the journey, but it is a blessing to know that we are rowing together.

Many Jews who have left religious Judaism in every other way continue to refrain from work, go to the day-long synagogue services of the High Holidays, and participate in the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur. Since both of the adults in the household have fasted for years (whether or not we believed, and whether or not we attended synagogue), we wondered how we would handle this question this year--at this time when we are trying so hard to reshape our traditions into something that feels true, feels honest, to us.

Although my family feels incredibly tied to many ritual aspects of Judaism, it is only through the study of traditional interpretation and (often) the reshaping of tradition to be in line with our own lights, that we practice anything. Some rituals remain almost exactly, with only the words changed. Some leave their echos as we transform the practice slightly, or significantly. Other rituals (such as the prohibition against shellfish, and the practice of infant circumcision) we have discarded almost completely.

I wondered, could the fast ever begin to feel authentic, real, and honest to us nonbelievers?

We tried to understand Talmudic understandings, the interpretations of Maimonides, the take of current orthodox leaders, the practice of the Reform movement, and everything else we could find. Two basic (and related) interpretations kept arising:

1. The fast is a way to make up for our sins of the past year. It is a way to take our dirty selves and purify ourselves. Some interpreters suggest that the purification process is about reconciling with God. Some stress the mild punishment of our bodies.

2. The fast, joined with other practices such as not bathing and not having sex and not brushing our teeth, emphasize separation from our corporal bodies. Yom Kippur is a time to separate from our animal selves and connect with our spiritual Godly selves. In some theorists' views, fasting shows that the nutrients we need come not from the dirty earth but from God.  Others suggest that the symbolic flirtation with death which fasting represents forces us to focus on what "truly" matters.

I do not feel comfortable with the idea that our highest selves are somehow removed from our most physical, most HUMAN of selves. I turn away from religion because I believe that being human is, in fact, our highest calling.

After some soul searching, some arguing, and some personal pain, we decided that neither of us would fast this year.

But neither David nor I felt comfortable leaving all of the tradition, all of the meaning and lessons, behind.

We chose to eat the food of poverty instead. Every year as we have sat with our annual day of hunger, we've been acutely aware that others are not nourished as they ought to be. And for the vast majority of the world, even those who are not at all hungry do not consume the wide array of luxuries--and resources--that we do.

We packed lentils and barley for lunch. Throughout the morning as we awaited our picnic, we thought about how we would be reminded of the hardships of many people in this world of ours. We would feel gratitude in ways we don't always.

I was amazed at how delicious I found the grains and legumes, and how deeply fulfilled I was by that lunch. That simple meal goes forward with me into the new year.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recipe for a Date

1. Send Son to a friend's birthday sleepover where they plan to have a cookout, sing around the campfire, and sleep in tents.

2. Cook dinner using the amazing Sephardic-inspired or Mediterranean-inspired kosher cookbook, Levana's Table. We made Chicken with Dried Plums (cough, prunes) and Almonds--an utterly delicious "special" dish that was also very easy to make.  Serve with roasted Brussels sprouts.

chicken with dried plums and almonds

3. Set table with beautiful thrifted quilt, which will be discussed in detail in a future post.

dinner for two

4. Light a candle in a hollowed out tree limb decorated by Son many years ago.


Fill a vase with the dessicated "flowers" trimmed from a pot of garlic chives.


5. Just as partner pulls into the driveway, turn on Etta James," one of the soundtracks of our seventeen-year romance.

6. Pour wine--preferably a deep luscious Zinfandel from a winery with a name like Folie a Deux--"a madness shared by two." (Doesn't that sound romantic? Unfortunately, it is actually a psychiatric syndrome in which the symptoms of psychosis are transmitted from one individual to another. I do my best.)

7. Talk leisurely, play no board games, don't remind anyone to practice their instruments,

8. Use beautiful pottery "pie-plate built for two" to make a half-sized rhubarb pie (with this excellent free recipe--which makes a full pie). For the pie crust, use the very much-loved and very earthy whole wheat pie crust in Laurel's Kitchen, my most used cookbook ever, full of healthy everyday possibilities for vegetarian meals. Save some pie for Son when he returns home.

pie unfilled

pie plate built for two

9.  Go upstairs with candles...

Friday, September 25, 2009

My 10yo son began taking violin lessons from a Suzuki instructor a few days after his birthday last spring. He is relatively old to begin Suzuki studies.

Sometimes I'm taken aback by the size of some of his peers at lessons! Every time we have a group session--where all of the teacher's students come together both to play together and get to know one another--I can't help but laugh at the absolutely tiny violin cases that the smallest pupils carry.

Suzuki music lessons are predicated on significant involvement by parents. This idea of parental commitment is especially important for the very young children--some of whom are barely 3 years old. For a 10yo student, it is not quite so necessary to have mothers and fathers involved in their practice sessions. However, in a world that de-emphasizes the involvement of parents in their children's learning, the Suzuki expectation is a welcome change.

The Suzuki method also stresses a loving-parent model for the official music teachers as well. As he talks about in his book Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education,the founder of the Suzuki movement stresses that both parents and teachers should strive to acknowledge the child where they are, to celebrate and accept whatever the child does--instead of having some preconceived notion about progress and timeline.

Suzuki's work is in many ways aligned with attachment parenting principles and his book makes an excellent read even for those without children in music lessons.

I'm always inspired by the combination of intensity and love shown between Suzuki parents and their children as they work together:

suzuki parent

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Several months ago we enjoyed a weekend full of wonderful meals, much wine, knitting and weaving, games, dancing with dogs, and hikes and drives in the beautiful countryside--along with the inspiring company of our lovely hosts.

I left the weekend with a deep desire for a salt cellar--like the beautiful wooden swivel-jar (which looked kind of like this)which graced their well-dressed table.

Over the months, David and I have searched in antique stores and at woodworking studios with hopes of finding something similar. No luck.

Last week as we parked our car in front of the house we were visiting, we glanced at the yard sale taking place next door.

salt cellar

When I saw this lidded wooden bowl, I immediately thought of Babe: "That'll do!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Humanist Rosh Hashanah

For quite a while, I've struggled to imagine how our family would celebrate the High Holidays this year.

shofar at beach

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I have great difficulties believing in God. I am a pure atheist at heart and by my early rearing, but Judaism has been very important to me for a long time. Many years ago I converted after working closely with a Reconstructionist rabbi who held closely to traditional practice but interpreted that faith within a liberal theology. My partner David, who grew up Reform (a tradition which emphasizes more liberal practice but more conventional faith), soon adjusted to both my requests for more orthodox ritual and more "discussion" about what we actually believed--that is, what we really didn't believe.

*  *  *

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a holiday when we are asked to consider what we have done right for the world this year, what we have not done right, and how we want to do better in the upcoming year. This is a holiday ripe for a humanist interpretation. Although I became uncomfortable in any synagogue's religious HiHo service, I have always felt great power in the broad call which Rosh Hashanah sounds--for reconciliation with one's loved ones, with the world community at large, and with oneself.

Yom Kippur, though, is one of those holidays that really does not make sense in that kind of metaphorical way--at least for me. The message is that after you get right with the rest of the world during Rosh Hashanah, you get right with God during Yom Kippur. Because Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are in many ways really only one holiday (or at least one season of thought), my discomfort with the second commemoration has made me uncomfortable by default with the whole damn month.

*  *  *

This year is the first time my whole family has decided that all of us would not attend formal services at our old synagogue--or anywhere else.  We decided instead to spend the day in the world: in nature, and with each other in conversation..

We went to a nature preserve on the Delmarva peninsula--a place where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic ocean.

We took a picnic of leftovers from our evening feast in our favorite picnic ware.


It was lovely sitting on the sand, having long and quiet conversations--some related to the holiday, and some unrelated.

David and I watched our son slowly make his way into the water. Although we had dressed for a chilly day, the sun made the day quite inviting.

digging in the sand

in the water

As the day began to come to a close, we celebrated tashlikh, a ritual where one tosses breadcrumbs into moving water, symbolically casting one's sins away. Acknowledging our misdeeds is an important part of the High Holidays, but equally important is getting past those imperfections and creating a clean slate for the creation of our better selves.

For years we have tossed our breadcrumbs into a stream running near our house. This is the first time we've gone to the ocean.


It is somewhat disconcerting to have your sins come back to you, as the waves return the crumbs to their starting place.

It is even more disconcerting to have the seagulls eat the crumbs. Does them make them ScapeGulls?

Scape Seagull


Monday, September 21, 2009

Come to the Table

shofar here

We had an unorthodox and delicious celebration of Rosh Hashanah on Friday evening. After our son blew the shofar, we came inside to a beautiful table to enjoy the traditional apples and honey...

apples and honey

...homemade challah--this time with dried cranberries and walnuts, twisted into a round instead of a braid to acknowledge the round-and-round turning of the earth...


...and an incredible dish from that sexiest of cookbooks, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook:

Lamb, okra, and quince

This dish is Moroccan Lamb, Quince, and Baby Okra Tagine on page 224. (You don't think of okra as sexy? Well, try this dish...) Although our okra we really not babies anymore, it was still a wonderful dish. Joining the lamb shoulder and okra are melting red onions, gently-roasted garlic, ginger,paprika and cumin, fresh parsley and cilantro, a little hot pepper, and just a bit of tomato. Served with it are glistening quinces--which we substituted with comice pears since quinces are not yet in season here--slightly candied with butter, cinnamon, and a wee bit of sugar. We chose to serve it over couscous. Incredible!

This cookbook is full of recipes that make my mouth water. How about Lamb Shanks with Almond-Chocolate Picada? Tuscan Quail with Red Grape Sauce? Duck Breast with Chantarelles, Dried Apricots, and Almonds?

I think it is time to start cooking the next feast!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Make of Our Lives What We Will

"This [Rosh Hashanah] provides not just an opportunity for individual renewal and reconciliation, but for families, communities and even nations to heal old divisions, seek new understandings, and come together to build a better world for our children and grandchildren.

"At the dawn of this New Year, let us rededicate ourselves to that work. Let us reject the impulse to harden ourselves to others’ suffering, and instead make a habit of empathy – of recognizing ourselves in each other and extending our compassion to those in need."

Wishing everyone a sweet new year full of peace, justice, and learning!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting Crafty

Walking through the craft booths at the community folk music festival this weekend was inspiring, as it is every year.

Beautiful pottery is always hard to resist.

leaf bowl

I love this salt-versus-pepper chess board:

salty chess

We grew some larger gourds a few years ago and still have them in our basement, waiting to turn into birdhouses. I wonder if we could decorate them this beautifully?

gourd tree

It wouldn't be Takoma Park ("the Berkeley of the East") without some tie-dye:

tie dye

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


My in-laws have been visiting us for the past week. Last night we said our goodbyes and they are now on the train to their home in Florida. It was a long week--full of adventures on occasion, but also a restructuring of our days because of their physical and emotional limitations. Keeping up with an active ten-year-old boy can exhaust anybody!

Days of rain also kept us indoors more than we would like--but a stash of favorite games kept us entertained. Fundamentally, I am not much of a game person. I don't like games based primarily on luck, and I don't like those that stress competition or the importance of winning. When the two combined, I am likely to whine quite a bit.

One game I really love, though, is SET. The object of the game is to identify sets of three cards. Each card has four features: color (red, green or blue/purple), symbol (diamond, squiggle or oval), shading (solid, striped or open), and number (1, 2 or 3). A "set" consists of three cards on which each feature is either the same on all of the cards, or different on all of the cards. For example, you could have a set with 3 cards where all are red, all are squiggles, there is one of each type of shading, and there is one of each number.

Set game

What games do you play with your family? We'd love to be introduced to some new ones!

Monday, September 14, 2009

RW herbs

We had a lovely evening Saturday at our CSA's celebration dinner and silent auction. Red Wiggler is an incredible place--where gorgeous organic vegetables are grown by growers with developemental disabilities. Check out their website for more details on their mission.

RW big tent

My family donated a tiny jar of our dandelion jelly--which sold for $23! I also donated a lace shawl I knit with hemp yarn. It was lovely getting to meet the woman who bought it. She is a knitter herself!

There were so many wonderful items up for bid. Someone had donated a very cute Baby Surprise sweater with adorable buttons in the shape of farm animals. There were handmade aprons, babysitting services, an incredible restored dollhouse, bottles of honey made on-site, a green cleaning basket, handmade jewelry, and quilts for raffle.

RW auction

RW quilt

A gorgeous pottery vase called my name. A Halloween-costume development consult called my son's name. My mother-in-law bid on an antique doll, which she was very pleased to win. Although we bid on many things, we left with some handrolled beeswax candles and a coupon for a weekend in Berkeley Springs, a nearby town with hot springs. I'm dreaming of a healing escape sometime in the late winter....

RW music

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rainy Day

I woke up this morning to steady rain, very cool temperatures, and trees bending lightly in the wind. Our 10yo son is still in bed, trying to sleep off the dregs of a cold. The house is so quiet and calm this morning, unlike the running-around-with-our-heads-cut-off that we were all doing yesterday.

Here I am, ready to make whole-wheat muffins and sweet black tea, pull out my
knitting, and spend an hour or so sitting in our barely-lighted living room remembering that morning a few years ago where the sun was shining brightly, the air was crisp, and the world changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life, Up Close

life 1

* * *

Anybody know what this one is exactly?

life 2

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fermenting Revolution

This weekend, some of our neighbors put on a backyard show. Rather than being a circus or a community play, it was a fermentation festival--complete with tastings and demonstrations.

fermentation festival

The "fermaments" were incredible--crisp and flavorful (unlike the mushy fermented vegetables that came out of my first attempt at making sauerkraut).


Not everyone realizes that homebrewing is the same basic process--but thank goodness it is, because that fact let us have beer with our sauerkraut:


There were other beverages, including pomegranate kefir, coconut water kefir, kombucha, and even a demonstration of making sake:

making sake

This is definitely on our to-try list, along with making mead.

My favorite demonstration was of speed-slicing cabbage using a kraut board and a protective kitchen glove (filled with metal meshing to prevent cuts):

sauerkraut 2

and then smooshing that cabbage for ten minutes to make sauerkraut:

sauerkraut 1

The lovely, sharp taste of the crunchy vegetables--along with the fabulous company-- made this an inspiring afternoon.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

birthdays and fairies

gold lame gloves

When we found these long, sparkly gold lame gloves at an antique/thrift store in North Carolina, we immediately thought of our young fairy-obsessed friend Z., about to turn eight years old.

Our 10yo son wrote an incredibly sweet birthday story for her,  We then figured out how to print it out as a little booklet and bind it with a simple 3-hole tie bind.  (If anyone is interested, we might be able to put together a tutorial.)

son's book 1

son's book 2

son's book 3

The birthday girl enjoyed her presents very much, but perhaps not as much as my son did putting them together!


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