Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Memory is Worth a Thousand Words....This Moment

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

*The idea for {this moment} posts was taken from another blog, SouleMama.

I arrived in Boston, MA late last night (by Eastern Time standards) to spend the next 11 days with my family. I spent today restfully recovering from jet lag after a long trip and looking through old photos. I found these old shots of me with my late grandparents. My grandfather's yarhtzeit (Jewish anniversary of his passing) is coming up on the 2nd day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, corresponding to the secular date of January 7th, 2011. My grandparents' presence can still be felt very strongly in my father's home as I am surrounded by photos, other memorabilia, and of course, all the Blustein quirkiness that reminds me of these two amazing people. Although I miss my grandparents, I was blessed to have spent many blissful moments with them during the time they were alive. May they remain in my heart in blessed memory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It IS Easy Being Green

Some of my favorite heroes in life are green. There's Gumby. He's so positive and flexible--even in the face of constantly having to deal with Blockheads. There's Oscar the Grouch. Sure, he's a little cantankerous, but he's really into upcycling and making use of trash. And Kermit, well, we all know I just plain ol' love that little frog!

As you know, I made my first visit to Sun People Dry Goods Co. on Monday. Well, last night they hosted Spokane's monthly Green Drinks meet-up. Green Drinks is an international "self-organizing network" of professionals in the environmental field as well as eco-conscious consumers in the community who all meet up to enjoy each others' company, beverages, some education and conversation. These meet-ups exist in thousands of cities around the world. Spokane's Green Drinks hosts an evening of complimentary, local brews, wines, coffee and munchies at a different eco-minded location each month. Last night was the first time I attended one of the meet-ups. I had previously felt too shy to go since I didn't know anyone who was attending, or didn't feel like I knew enough about being environmentally conscious. I had such a great time, though! It was very low-key and laid back. It was great to see so many people in the shop. There were families with children, adults of all ages, professionals in the growing local Green Scene, and probably even some more folks like me who are interested in greening things up a bit and learning about how to do that in our city.

I was one of the first 75 people to arrive so I got a free reusable tote from Sun People Dry Goods Co., and we all know how much I LOVE freebies! The coffee was provided by a local private-label, sustainable coffee company, Roast House. Appetizers were provided by a local caterer/cafe, One World Spokane. There were local wines by Barili Cellars (the Chardonnay was delicious), and I believe the keg was provided by Northern Lights Brewing Company.
It was refreshing and rejuvenating to be surrounded by so many community-minded, ecologically-focused locals. I did meander back to the book shelf at Sun People Dry Goods and this time splurged and came home with a new book (something to read on my flights to Boston tomorrow). I purchased an autographed copy (didn't even realize it WAS autographed until I got it home!) of It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-friendly Living by Crissy Trask. It is currently on sale for $12.99 at Sun People Dry Goods, but can also be purchased on

I have just started the book as of last night, but so far I am impressed with the fact that it is not preachy and does not propose making drastic and instant changes to our lifestyles. Rather, Trask focuses on the idea that the choices we already make and the ones we could make instead are no more than habits that we form. It is not as time-consuming, expensive, or difficult to create new habits as we sometimes fear (which, at least for me, is one big reason I don't make changes). I look forward to reading more! The added bonus is that the book has a pink cover, so those readers who are greatly dissuaded by seeing books with green covers may accidentally pick this up and at the same time be accidentally motivated to make a few Green changes in their own lives!

As I continue on my path toward leading a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle, I am reminded of my Green Heroes. In creating new habits, we all need a little bit of Gumby's optimism and flexibility. As we make decisions about what we purchase and consume and what we throw away, we can all learn to think a little bit more like Oscar the Grouch and find ways to recycle or upcycle things we might put in the garbage.

After all... even Kermit thinks it's easy being green!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Little Ray of Sun is Shining in Spokane!

It's December in Spokane. That means potential for 2 feet of snow one day, rain the next, any combination of the two in between, and a great deal of fog! This afternoon as I was walking toward the downtown area, I passed an old warehouse building on 2nd Avenue, but took a double take when I saw the signs for Sun People Dry Goods Co.. I had read about the upcoming opening of this eco-conscious, locally owned shop a few weeks back and noticed lights on, a grand-opening sign in the parking lot and the flashing "OPEN" sign in the window. I had no idea what to expect, but to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement!

This time of year, I am not in the garden so much and often forget about the composting bins in the yard. It is a season of excess in so many ways. Holiday shopping is in full swing, and sometimes it seems like less of a hassle to just "not worry" about bringing my own bags. Cooking, baking and cleaning the house often seems like less of a hassle if I just use a few paper towels, napkins, tin foil, or disposable plastic containers. In the unpredictable weather conditions, an unpredicted stop at a cafe may find me sipping away at a latte from a paper cup rather than one of my travel mugs. It's frighteningly easy to justify all of these little actions, but they accumulate--and little by little, many of the other little actions I've taken over the last year to become more ecologically conscious in my home and on the go become obsolete.
Walking into Sun People Dry Goods today shed a little ray of refreshing light on just how little energy it really takes to keep some reusable bags in my purse, to use a rag or old towel for those messy home and kitchen projects, or to remember those compost bins out in the yard. It doesn't seem like a lot can come of one person making one choice not to create waste, but seeing a business geared at encouraging those choices on a community level reminds me just how much difference one person with one Green idea really can make.
This locally-owned shop is just starting out but already sports a wide variety of eco-smart hardware materials, small appliances, gardening products, home-care goods, and sustainable gifts for folks of all ages. I think I drooled as I gazed at the shelves of kitchenware that any environmentally-conscious cook can only dream of! (I did walk out with an adorable set of salt & pepper shakers and a stainless steel oil mister that I'd been looking to purchase for while since I avoid using aerosol sprays in my cooking.) I really loved the beautifully crafted cloth napkin sets and was so excited to see that they were selling the same organic cotton prints by the yard as well! It was also really great to see so many environmentally friendly products for children and infants. I loved the handmade Waldorf-style dolls, gardening kits, and selection of literature for children about everything from cooking to gardening to recycling and not wasting. I especially loved the kids' t-shirts that read "I recycle my temper tantrums!" (Now if only they made one in my size...)

I left the shop tonight feeling a renewed sense of motivation to get my Green back on! It is so exciting to see more locally-owned and environmentally conscious businesses sprouting up around Spokane. Sun People Dry Goods Co. is not just a business that is friendly to the environment--the staff are friendly and knowledgeable as well and the prices are friendly on the pocket book. I look forward to stopping in again soon to see the shop evolve and partake in some of the workshops they will be offering to the community.

To see for yourself what's going on at Sun People Dry Goods, click here!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chesed: From the Inside Out and the Outside In

Chesed is the Hebrew word for loving-kindness, or benevolence. It is a concept that has been on my mind lately. In the Jewish faith, we are commanded to give 10% of our money toward tzedakah (charity). We do not do this, however, because giving charity is a "nice" thing to do, or even because it is the "right" thing to do. The idea behind it is that this money does not belong to us in the first place, that our ability to acquire it is from G-d, and that it already belongs to those less fortunate. In addition, there is a Jewish concept that we are to love our fellow as our self--the "Golden Rule" in essence.
I have to admit, there are times that chesed does not come easily to me. Somebody cuts in front of me in line at the store. I'm waiting in the rain at a crosswalk as I watch car after car pass right through and fail to stop. Such people are not showing kindness or benevolence, why should I? And after I have justified my negative thoughts on that, I go deeper. I have thus and such a struggle in my life right now (fill in the blank); I don't deserve this, in fact it is my right to feel disappointed, angry, even bitter. By this time, I am not feeling particularly benevolent or kind.
This Shabbos in my rabbi's weekly newsletter, he wrote about self-pity. He explained that feeling sorry for oneself is a natural response but not always the most effective one. In fact, feeling self-pity, though justified, may impede personal growth and reaching a solution to a problem.
My 26th birthday is one week from today, and I have my first wrinkle. It's not a smile line or even a laugh line. It is a deepening crevice between my eyebrows from sporting a frown. I would like to blame it on the fact that I am often squinting because I am not often wearing my glasses. However, I notice it most in times when I also notice I have been sporting a frown--just because some person pushed ahead of me on the escalator nearly knocking me over or another person blocked an entire aisle at the grocery store with their cart and failed to notice my subtle hints at needing to get by. So, as I contemplate whether 10% of my earnings should now go toward anti-wrinkle cream for the charity case that is my aging face, I decide instead to focus on creating a few more smile lines and laugh lines. I'll give that stranger the benefit of the doubt--what is going on in their day that may have led them to act inconsiderately? Wouldn't I want that same benefit of the doubt given to me? And when it comes to the pity-party, I refer to a passage in an article I recently read about the late Elizabeth Edwards.

"This woman had so many reasons to be angry, to be bitter and to spend her time feeling sorry for herself and her misfortunes,"
wrote author Sara Esther Crispe. "Elizabeth Edwards did not have an easy life. But she had a meaningful one."

Acting with chesed is not always the easier path. Sometimes we are tired, or sick, or just run down. We feel drained and empty, and how can we be generous when we have nothing to give? But sometimes, a smile is all we need to give in order to reboot our perspective. At the end of the day, our lives may not be easy, but we must ask ourselves, have we had a meaningful and positive effect on those around us? Chesed flows in both directions, after all. It flows from the inside out, but it is not until we allow an openness in ourselves that it can also flow from the outside in.

That being said, I am off to make some phone calls to family and friends I have neglected, to spread a few smiles around town and visit with the daughter of some friends, and to moisturize my face.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

On the Eighth Night of Chanukah...Tradition!

I can't believe eight nights have already come and gone! After Sunday's party, I had two days off from teaching my preschool class and took that time to get a bunch of errands done, some cooking, some rest and relaxation, and of course some enjoyment of my menorah increasingly burning brighter with each night's added candle.
As a child growing up in a Reform home, living in towns that ranged from having no Jewish population to having a relatively fair amount, I most closely associated Chanukah with, well, presents. This is a sentiment shared among many of my peers as well as many children today. Partly, I think it was difficult living in a culture that predominantly celebrated Xmas. It was impossible not to hear about and see the trees and decorations and piles upon piles of neatly wrapped gifts. I know there was many a year I wished I had a dead tree in my living room decorated with fancy glass balls I would inevitably break and a mismatched sock hanging from our fireplace filled with candy I didn't even like. One year I even subtly suggested the initiation of a new tradition: a magical midnight visit from Judah the Maccabee. He would magically appear (aka: get on this one, Mom and Dad) and fill large dreidle-shaped containers with goodies for my sister and me. The idea never caught on. We never had a tree or even a Chanukah bush. Still, Chanukah was a holiday filled with extravagance in my home. I imagine my parents felt the pressure of raising two Jewish children to feel both proud of our heritage but not alienated because of it. I definitely think the piles of presents kept me from having too much time to feel sad about not having a Santa or the associated discomfort of awkwardly sitting on this old guy's lap while some underpaid photographer attempted to get me to smile. More than that, I value that my parents didn't get a tree or stocking for us. I appreciate that we did light the menorah each year and sing the brachas (blessings) and festive songs. I love that somewhere in there, aside from torn wrapping paper and ripped ribbon and bows, the idea of being somewhat different this time of year did not leave me feeling a want for assimilation, but rather a desire for greater immersion into my faith and Jewish practice.
This Chanukah's highlight was realizing that living in a city with a very small Jewish population comes with blessings as well as the challenges. The true gift of Chanukah is that in this challenge of living in a city where I can't just go to the grocery store to pick up an extra box of Chanukah candles for my menorah like I could in Massachusetts and New York, I do feel a stronger connection to my Jewish community than I ever did living amongst larger populations. There is a sense of familiarity and comfort that comes from sharing a game a Dreidle Trivia with women of all ages. There is a feeling of joy that comes from watching kids and kids-at-heart light a giant menorah made of Legos. And there is a great deal of honor in sharing traditions that are thousands of years old with children just a few years old--both Jewish and of other faiths or backgrounds.
Do I remember every present I unwrapped at Chanukah time as a child? No, not exactly. I remember (and hold on dearly) to a few of the very special ones, and more than that, hold on to the gift that is being born Jewish. It is a gift that I can continue to hold on dearly to and nourish with education, community, and the gifts of giving that education to the younger generation.
Tomorrow night I will be sharing my favorite Chanukah traditions with some friends. Chanukah will be over, but why not stretch out the celebration for one more night!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On the Fifth Night of Chanukah...If I Ever eat another latke, it'll be too soon!

OY! No more latkes!!! least until tomorrow!

It has been a long day! I can feel myself slipping into that restful bliss that only occurs after eating too many latkes and having too much fun at Chabad of Spokane's Annual Chanukah Party. The party was fabulous this year! A giant menorah was built out of Legos and lit with the help of Spokane's Mayor, Mary Verner. Two local news stations attended the event today and I tried VERY hard (and hopefully successfully) to stay behind the cameras. There were crafts for the kids and kids-at-heart, candle-making, a live appearance by Judah the Maccabee, doughnut decorating, and (of course) no shortage of food to eat! It was so wonderful to be around so many dear friends and to meet some new ones. I am beyond exhausted, but will leave off tonight's post with a few photos of today's event:
Chanukah menorahs were set out at all of the tables so guests could join in the lighting ceremony. Some of the littler hands need assistance!

Here is the Lego Menorah in all its glory! I didn't even bump into it OR knock it down!

And at last I am home, in front of my lit menorah feeling grateful for the abundance of warmth and light this community shares, even though we are small. The true message of Chanukah is that it doesn't take a lot of people to make a community strong. It only takes the smallest flame to light a whole menorah!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Most "Likeable" Menorah Contest on Facebook on Facebook is hosting a "Most 'Likeable' Menorah Contest" this year. Anyone can enter a photo of a kosher menorah* before 10:00AM ET (7:00AM for my local friends on Pacific Time) on December 20th, when the first and second place winners will be selected. The first prize, going to the photographer whose photo received the most "likes" is a GPS (kindly hold all your jokes about my sense of direction or lack-thereof), and the second prize winner will receive a year's subscription to Think Jewish Magazine.
To review the contest guidelines and enter your own photo, click here.
My photo is the 18th photo in the album, or you can just click here to "like" it. You will need to first "like" the Facebook page in order to "like" and/or submit any photos.

I had a surprise visitor captured in my photo tonight. I took a photo of my menorah lit in my window and did not notice until I uploaded it onto my computer to submit to the Facebook contest that there was a cat peeking inside! I hope my surprise Chanukah guest enjoyed a little light in this cold, snowy darkness!

*click here to see what criteria need to be met in order for a menorah to be kosher and eligible for the contest

On the Fourth Night of Chanukah...I Have a Little Dreidel

I have a little dreidel...
Actually, I have exactly 653 dreidels in the above photo. There will be a contest tomorrow to guess how many dreidels are in a large dreidel-shaped container at my Chabad Center's Chanukah Party. Don't, however, assume you now know the magical number, because that was only the figure for the dreidels I counted!

It's the fourth night of Chanukah. After spending a restful and lovely Shabbat with friends, I returned home to fry up some latkes for dinner and light my menorah. I had some batter left over from the latkes I made on Thursday. After about the 10th latke came out of the pan that night, I realized I was going to have a lot of leftovers to eat cold or microwave, and I decided to try refrigerating the batter. I knew it would change color once it oxidized, and wasn't sure how it would work for frying up latkes after a few days, but it was a total success! Freshly fried latkes are always so much tastier than microwaved leftovers.
I decided before Shabbat that my menorah's light would be made even more bright and beautiful if it were accompanied by some additional Chanukah decorations. Even simple accents like hanging a scrap of Chanukah-themed fabric in the window and displaying my candles in glass jars added some pizazz.

A simple strand of yarn and some blue and white paperclips made a perfect display for the greeting cards I've received from friends and family.
The classic Chanukah song tells of a dreidel made out of clay. A crafter's imagination runs wild with that, though! What other materials could be used to make dreidels, menorahs, and Chanukah decorations? I turned to various online sources to see what other bloggers are creating and crafting to celebrate Chanukah in their homes.
I have a lot of colorful felt scraps that would make a wonderful dreidel garland, like the one shown on this blog, called Upper West Side Mom: A (Jewish) Parenting, Cooking, and Crafting Blog.
To GREEN up your Chanukah celebration a bit (especially after using so many paper napkins to soak up excess oil from the latkes!), I found a great craft idea to make with recycled paper bags. In the above author's guest post on this blog, Bringing Chesed (Hebrew: kindness) Home. The author shows how to make recycled dreidel "paper dolls" using, or rather reusing paper bags, crayons, and various embellishments. It is a great idea for a preschool classroom or child's project as depicted here, and promotes the importance of recycling and reusing things we already have around the house. This time of year, kids are often bombarded by advertisements and promotions for all kinds of toys and treats; what better way to reign it in a bit than to enjoy some time together doing something fun with items already in your home. For the kid-at-heart, this project could still be fun. I thought of decorating the dreidels with glitter, rubber stamps, sequins, or buttons instead of making them into dolls.
Speaking of kids, the preschoolers in my classroom have been making a lot of Chanukah crafts using construction paper frames in Chanukah themed shapes that are covered on one side with clear contact paper. The kids take pieces of tissue paper and stick them to the already-sticky contact paper. Another sheet of contact paper is then placed on the other side, sealing the project and making a lovely "stained glass" window decoration. I saw this similar idea for a "stained glass" menorah.
Here is an idea for making nesting dreidel Chanukah mobile, and here is a cute idea for making a menorah out of clothespins.
Well, my original plan was to start crafting tonight...but, alas, my Chanukah candles have burned out, it is late, and I'll need a good night's sleep to (wo)man the kids' craft table at tomorrow's Chanukah party!

Crafting with kids and creating homemade gifts for loved ones is a great way to spread a little light this time of year and all year round. For all of the fancy gadgets and gizmos to be found out there, some of my favorite Chanukah decorations year after year are still those that began with something as simple as a scrap of yarn and paperclips hung as a garland to show off the thoughtful greetings I've received from family and friends. You don't need a huge budget or massive variety of tools to craft; you need only a spark of an idea, perhaps a pair of helping hands (small hands count!), and someone to share in the joy of your creations.

Friday, December 03, 2010

On the Third Night of Chanukah...This Moment

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

We're entering the third night of Chanukah and Shabbat. In the tradition of my Friday posts, I have added a photo for my supposed-to-be weekly "this moment" post. This photo is, however, not from this week, but from the Chabad of Spokane's Chanukah party last year. At our party last year, guests built a menorah entirely out of cans of food. After the party, the cans were then donated to a local food bank.

Here are some photos of the truck being filled with our donations and hauled off to be allocated to local food banks. And yes, that is a real, light-up menorah atop my rabbi's family minivan.

Happy 3rd Night of Chanukah & Shabbat Shalom!