Blah Blah Blahg

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fearlessly Joyful & All Ferklempt, Part II

My college graduation is now just over two weeks away, officially concluding this 8 Year Academic Extravaganza.  As is typical to my nature, I am quite contemplative about the whole thing. In addition to that, I am finally taking steps to prepare for a one-way return journey to the east coast, with my eye on the area of upstate New York where I grew up.  These two factors have provided me an opportunity to say many "thank yous" and some challenging "goodbyes."  One of the most significant of these opportunities presented on Tuesday of this week with a connection I established in 2008 right after moving to Washington state to begin at the university. It was a meeting of celebration, some tears, a few laughs, and reflectiveness. In many ways, it was no different than any of the other meetings we had over the past four years; only this time we'd not meet again. Instead of saying "see you in a couple of weeks," she said "I'll see you at graduation," and I responded, "Yeah, I'll be the one in black cap and gown!" All jokes aside, however, I carry three very important messages from my connection with this particular individual:
1. There's No Place Like Home 
In September of 2003, I packed three suitcases, boarded a plane to the inland northwest with a one way ticket, and said if I liked it I'd stay for nine months. That was almost nine years ago. I thought I knew why I was here and what I'd set out to attain. More amusingly, I thought I was in control of that! The most rewarding lesson of the last nine years has been to let go of the burden of needing to be in control all of the time. That is a huge responsibility, and I wholeheartedly trust G-d to take care of it! 
2. Home is not where you unpack your belongings, it's where you unpack your heart.
In the last nine years, I've been told by three non-connected individuals that I remind them of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get home. It always felt like if only I had the right shoes or tools/skills/relationships/materials, etc, I could finally get there. The Truth is that I was there all along; I had everything I needed within me. Home is not the location I live in; it is a state of mind and spirit.
3.  I am a JOYFUL person.
I moved out here because I thought I needed to learn how to subdue my pain. What I learned was that for years, I'd actually been stifling my joy. In fact, contrary to my belief, most people did not see the sadness in me, but rather the joyfulness just waiting to emerge.
In that merit, I will share a poem that was shared with me on Tuesday.  It was written by J. Ruth Gendler in The Book of Qualities.
Joy drinks pure water. She has sat with the dying and attended many births. She denies nothing. She is in love with life, all of it, the sun and the rain and the rainbow. She rides horses at Half Moon Bay under the October moon. She climbs mountains. She sings in the hills. She jumps from the hot spring to the cold stream without hesitation.
Although Joy is spontaneous, she is immensely patient. She does not need to rush. She knows there are obstacles on every path and that every moment is the perfect moment. She is not concerned with success or failure or how to make things permanent.
At times Joy is elusive--she seems to disappear even as we approach her. I see her standing on a ridge covered with oak trees, and suddenly the distance between us feels enormous. I am overwhelmed and wonder if the effort to reach her is worth it. Yet, she waits for us. Her desire to walk with us is as great as our longing to accompany her.

These photos were taken about a decade apart. In the first one, I cried for 45 minutes before the poor, exhausted photographer was somehow able to capture a smile. I don't actually recall when or where the second was taken or even who took it. Now, over a decade after that photo, I'm looking forward to capturing many snapshots of my upcoming celebrations. Nothing at this point can stifle the joyful smile on my face or the amount of gratitude I feel to have had so many incredible people impact my journey thus far.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shabbos & SHAVUOS Schmooze: Not Another Cheesecake Recipe!

Shabbos is just hours away here in the western part of the country with Shavuos beginning tomorrow night; three day chag, here I come! When I was growing up, I knew Shavuos only as 'The Cheesecake Holiday,' and to this day my grandmother's cheesecake is the best I've ever had. While we certainly celebrate the variety of delicious cheesecake recipes out there this time of year, as well as scrumptious blintzes, ice cream and other dairy treats, there is more to Shavous than strategically plotting one's route around the buffet line. We celebrate Shavuos to commemorate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people for the very first time at Mount Sinai. Even though it is hard to imagine our ancestors so long before us, it is said that every Jewish soul was present at the time the Torah was given; past, present, and future. Additionally, by celebrating Shavuos, it is as though we receive the Torah again each and every year.
Dairy products certainly are a significant aspect of the holiday. There are a variety of explanations for this, but the one I am most familiar with is that because the Jews were given the laws of kashrut (dietary laws) for the first time at Mount Sinai, they were not able to access kosher meat right away and instead ate dairy foods in order to keep that mitzvah. Other Shavuos traditions and customs include:
  •  decorating one's home with greenery and flowers to represent the greenery and flowers that G-d adorned Mount Sinai with
  • attending services at synagogue to hear the Aseret Hadibrot, the 10 Commandments
  • for some, staying up all night on the first eve of Shavuos to learn Torah (in some communities only men do this)
  • hearing certain Torah readings and Megillas Rut (The Book of Ruth)
This is a joyous time of year and even as an adult, I still really look forward to the cheesecake. Nonetheless, I will not be posting yet another cheesecake recipe. Instead, I will share with you a cute little project I did this morning with my preschool students.
Since it is customary to decorate our homes and tables with flowers, I wanted the children to have something special to make and take home to their families. I work with a mixed age group and wanted a project they could all do according to their own ability as well as something that might hold their attention on a day when they are all very excited for the upcoming holiday!
I stopped by the craft store yesterday without a whole lot of inspiration and grabbed some materials, but I had no idea how well they would turn out or, more importantly, how much the kids would enjoy it. I wish now that I'd photographed the projects the kids all did as they were so creative and unique. Unfortunately, I only photographed my 2-second hodgepodge of a demo that I made to see if it would work.

The materials used were:
  • a small plastic planting pot
  • wooden flower shaped craft sticks (available at Joann Fabrics & Crafts, though you could create your own as well)
  • Crayola Model Magic Clay in green (again, you could also make your own clay that air dries)
  • Flower themed foam shapes with adhesive backing (purchased at Joann's as well)
  • crayons
  • construction paper
  • wooden craft sticks
  • white glue
In terms of encouraging a great deal of imagination on the little artists' part, this project isn't ideal. However, in terms of easy clean-up and supervision (or having something for the little ones to do while you're scrambling to get food into the oven and prepare for three days of holiday!), this is a real winner. Plus, the kids all felt very proud of what they got to bring home. I had them start by picking out a couple flower shaped craft sticks. They used crayon to color them and when they seemed to be getting a bit bored with that, I added some sticky foam flower shapes to the table. I also gave each child a small plastic planting pot. Older children (or grown-ups) could certainly use a clay pot, but for this age group, plastic was definitely safer. One student had the idea that he'd like to write "Happy Shavuos" on his project, and so came the idea to get out some extra wooden craft sticks, construction paper and glue in order to make a little flag (or tag) for the kids to write a Shavuos greeting. After the flowers and flag were all complete and the pots decorated to each little artists' liking, I gave each student a ball of green Model Magic and let them enjoy playing with it for a bit before putting it into the bottom of their pot and sticking the flowers and greeting inside. The Model Magic air dries after a while, thus securing the flowers in place.

I wish my Jewish friends and family a Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach. May you have a meaningful and sweet Shavuos. I hope everyone has a great extra long Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What's Cookin': Cinco de Mayo Shabbat Menu

Yes, it feels entirely necessary to begin this post with a photo of a guinea pig wearing a tiny sombrero!

Cinco de Mayo falls on Shabbos day this weekend, and I thought it might be fun to let that add some inspiration to my Saturday Kiddush lunch menu. I'm still coming up with and searching for unique recipes, but here's a glance at my Shabbat day menu thus far:

 Breakfast Treat: I made the most incredible breakfast cheesecake recipe last week. Yes, you read that correctly--breakfast cheesecake! I may very well share the recipe at a later date, and I modified it to make it gluten-free and less fattening. Nonetheless, it will make a wonderful treat served with some fresh mango slices.

Kiddush Lunch
First course: 
  • Gluten-free oat challah 
  • Mexican style green salad with creamy salsa dressing and crunchy corn chips
  • Black bean & corn salad
Main course:
  • Crock pot vegetarian burritos: my family has a favorite recipe a friend shared with us in the early 90s for a Mexican Lasagna (pictured to the left). My mom has actually made this in her crock pot so it is ready when she gets home. My crock pot is much smaller than my mom's and I use it for meat/parve dishes. I definitely want to keep the tradition of having something hot on Shabbos afternoon even with my non-traditional menu this week, so I'm going to cook my vegetarian "burrito" filling on a low setting overnight and then warm some corn tortillas on top of the crock pot before I'm ready to eat on Shabbos afternoon.
  • I might make a batch of Mexican Rice to add to the burritos.

If I am feeling incredibly ambitious tomorrow afternoon when I get home from work, I may alter my gluten-free brownie recipe to create a gluten-free Mexican brownie cake. If not, I do plan to cut up some fresh fruit for a fruit salad that will make a lovely dessert.
Seudah Shlishis (Third Meal)
I am (understandably) almost never hungry by the time seudah shlishis rolls around. It is a mitzvah to eat three special meals on Shabbat, so when I am at home I try to partake in a smaller third meal of salads and (when I have it) gluten-free oat challah and dips. This Shabbos, I'll probably enjoy some challah with hummus, pesto, and babaganoosh (middle eastern eggplant dip). I've got hummus in the fridge and some homemade pesto that thawed quite nicely. And, it's just about time to take my roasting eggplants out of the oven!