Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Name That Dog!

If you scroll down, you will see pictures of the new, beloved puppy. As you will see, because none of you stepped up, I had to talk myself out of two dogs all by myself. They were cute and they were wonderful, but the idea of training two dogs slightly terrified me. I had visions of being overwhelmed and outnumbered not only by little boys, and not only by felines, but also of being overwhelmed by two energetic and cute little dogs.

There were two families lined up at the shelter just begging for one of those dogs, so we told a very grateful couple that they could have the lighter of the two dogs. Our dog is a little redder, and we also noticed that of the pair, ours was the one who didn't bark, and in the six and a half hours of dog ownership I have heard her bark only once. A short little bark at that.

She is in the living room with Dereck, but as you might have surmised from these pictures, she came with us to the baseball game (she is great in the car) and the kids loved her.

But they and we cannot figure out a name. Karl says just to wait and let the name present itself, and of course we will, but I thought I'd also put it out there for the blogging community.

Here are the names we like so far:









The children are fighting vehemently between Goldie and Sandy.

What names are we missing? When you look at this dog, what name speaks to you? You will please note that the dog is the picture with the caption beneath that says, "Dog." It is not the picture whose caption reads, "Jenorama."

Look, Ma! No hands!

Happy to Have His First Dog!
Look, Ma! No hands!

Put Down the Gameboy and Look at the Dog!
Look, Ma! No hands!

Cute Doggie!
Look, Ma! No hands!

Cute Child!
Look, Ma! No hands!

The Dog!
Look, Ma! No hands!

Dereck and The Dog
Look, Ma! No hands!


I have been going out to our local shelter every day. After the first night, we talked about the dogs we had seen. I liked a rottweiler/collie mix, but everyone says don't do that. So, after listening to that from various sources (the most compelling argument award goes to: Liza!), I decided against that. And the hounds, still there, still cute, still would hunt the cats, and bay all day.

So, yesterday I bribed Dereck with lunch and dragged him out again. Yesterday there was a retriever puppy, cream, good disposition, but on hold for five days while they wait for the owner to come and find him. That seems incredibly likely, so we thought, we'll come back Monday and see if he's still there, but we weren't holding our breath.

Today, I finished a report, and didn't leave for lunch til most everyone else had gone and returned. I got out there, and there were two copper-colored pups. I told them, "Well, let's go see what you are."

They are pure-bred golden retrievers, with papers and shots. Obviously brought in by breeders, who denied it. The woman at the shelter thought of me immediately, because I've told her what I want (I have three kids and four cats-- some kind of dog who will fit in), and she liked me because I was coming back and taking my time. But I didn't leave my name and number; I had told her I'd be back today, and she believed me. They were brought in maybe ten minutes before I got there, she said.

Technically, they can't be adopted til tomorrow morning (I don't know why, shelter regulations), but she said there was a possibility of it happening today. Regardless, I told her Dereck and I would be back at 3:30.

And naturally, I want them both. So, you have one hour and ten minutes to talk me out of it.

Monday, June 28, 2004

The Dog

I am not sure how I could have forgotten this. Is it a Freudian slip of the mind?

I have become determined to get a dog. I have wanted one ever since we moved into this house, which also coincided with my reading (for the first time) Where the Red Fern Grows with the seventh grade English class I was teaching.

Dereck is the wiser one in this relationship. It is Dereck who understands that we don't need one more cat because we have FIVE. And we don't need a dog because we have three kids, four fish, FIVE cats, and a partridge in a pair tree.

Our house is not that huge. Our yard? Not that huge. Dogs run. They bark. They have loud nails, scratchy nails. They jump.

I want one.

I dragged Dereck to the humane society today. We found a nice dog with a triangle-shaped head. Rottweiler/collie mix. Will eat the children. Next. Two very friendly hound/boxer puppies. Will eat the cats. Next.

Brown dog, don't know what breed. Tortoise shell quiet dog who will match the newly painted jungle room. Some lab puppies made unattractive by the presence of their own poo in the cage, but shouldn't be held against them.

Perhaps our dog isn't among this bunch. Perhaps we should go with a breeder. I tried tonight to cajole our neighbor out of his dog. Nothing doing. Sigh.

Why do I want a dog? They are friendly and loyal and I can talk to it and walk it and pet it-- wait! I have children and cats! Do I need one more thing to love?

Why do I need to defend this so much? I want a freaking dog, bless my heart. Is that so terrible? I want a dog. People want dogs every day. I don't have to defend this or analyze this.

I just want a dog.

The Armpit of America

As the title might suggest, I might be a tad put out to be back.

Now, don't get me wrong. If I could transplant my lovely friends and house to the Northwest, I would. Location, location, location. But as I was driving this morning, I was thinking, "This is not a beautiful area of the country."

And as a result, I have been a mite pissy this evening, so I am hydrating, as surely being dehydrated does not help. And no, I'm not hydrating with alcohol, I am actually hydrating, with water and gatorade.

I got to the airport on Saturday only to discover that when I changed my planet ticket for the trip that wasn't and then changed it back, that the time of my departing flight had changed. And I was using my old itinerary.

Lucky me, the blonde bitch at the airport with the perfect white teeth made me a later ticket with nothing more than a smirk. See, I had been in back of a looooong line, panicking with a woman who later gave me drink coupons for the plane, because we were slightly late. And the blonde woman saw this. So, she was slightly bemused that now I was in fact early.

She was a blonde bitch with perfect teeth, bless her heart.

Those last three words quickly became a joke for us in Seattle. Carol Ann had heard from her niece's mother-in-law, a sweet lady from Texas, that if you add, "Bless his/her heart," to a phrase, you can get away with saying just about anything about anyone.

"She is big as a couch, bless her heart."

"He has a dick the size of a tic tac, bless his heart."

It works particularly well if you say it with a Texas accent (try it, SweetJediMama!).

"That woman just doesn't have an ounce of sense, bless her heart."

All is well, all is forgiven, the terrible thing you just said isn't really so terrible, because you're adding "bless her heart" like you like her anyway.


Liza just came over, which I sorely needed to jolly me out of my foul mood. Then our neighbors came over so we could discuss our New Neighborhood Drama: the Religious Neighbors (hard to explain their beliefs really, have to try sometime later) across the street are selling their house to... a fraternity. So, we are discussing the various ways in which we can block this action, including batting around the idea of buying it ourselves and renting it to married students with families.

"Those weird, religous people across the street from us are fucking insane, bless their hearts."

It is a large house (six bedrooms, three baths) with two and a half lots (asking price, for those of you who don't live in the armpit of America: $129,000). We have a lawyer in the neighborhood, so we are fairly confident that we will win-- all we have to do is convince city council NOT to change the zoning of the neighborhood. Maintain status quo. The President of our premier liberal arts college also lives in the neighborhood, which can't hurt.

Back to the Airport

Well, the airports were airports, the flights were flights, I read, slept, etc., and eventually made it to St. Louis at 11:00 p.m.

The plan had been to scour the decadence of East St. Louis, but everyone was fairly wiped out (I later learned that Dereck was wiped out from making me a While You Were Out Room! He painted and stenciled our television room and it's now our jungle room, half black, half gold, and it's hard to describe here how crisp and clean and gorgeous it looks! I just stood and gaped at it, my mouth opening and closing like a fish). So, we had drinks, hit the hay (the AC went off though, and so we tossed and turned a bit in the heat) and the next morning, Karl and Angela made us a fantastico breakfast of cinnamon rolls, coffee, eggs, bacon (grapefruit juice and vodka for those less concerned with hydration than I).

Then, we headed down to the Gay Pride parade, and we will have pictures posted SOON. That was great fun, as those things are, and it was not too too hot. I wore my gilligan hat. Afterwards, we found margaritas, and Dereck, Karl, Beth and I got our Tarot readings done. The woman who read for me, then Karl, then Dereck was the best we'd ever had. She really nailed each of us. Impressive. Beth was pretty excited about hers too, and I know what hers said, but out of respect for her comments on her blog, I will not repeat it.

Then, we were on a mission to go see Farenheit 911 (and Dereck and I were planning to leave for home at some point, too). We actually got into the show, and helped support it opening weekend. We ate snacks/lunch in the movie theater dark. It is not a popcorn chowing kind of movie (though we started out eating it). There were moments when I felt the appropriate response would have been to sob, but I didn't, I sat there and reigned myself in, but after the movie, we all felt pretty subdued and wiped out.

We went out for very yummy Indian food with Angela and Karl, and I was so tired. I said, "I wish we could just drive home tomorrow." And so we decided to do that.

So, we went to Angela's and I laid on the floor with a toss pillow and we watched Six Feet Under and then My So-Called Life. We hadn't really gotten to spend any amount of time with Angela before, and I liked her more and more and more as the day progressed.

Speaking of liking people, I forgot to tell you that I met Pie in Seattle!!! She and her husband drove 45 minutes to meet me (at Starbucks! Where else?). I felt like I had known them forever, like we had always hung out, and that if we lived near each other, we would hang out. I just liked them immediately, and was sorry to see the evening end. Pie and Rob just sparred off of each other, and Rob is one of those guys who is not shy but joins the conversation, tells interesting stories (in a great British accent) and loves Pie dearly, and she banters with him-- it was fun to watch. How lovely to find out that bloggers are just as cool in real life as they are on their blogs, as I discovered first with Michelle de Seattle, and then Pie. I wonder if they liked me...

Anyway, I think I've really covered the high points. And I know I should link to all the blogs/bloggers I've mentioned here, but I'm feeling a little, wee, tiny bit lazy right now, so I'll go back and do it later.

Bless my heart.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bridget Jones

This morning, you have to picture me with a sassy new haircut, which doesn't look all that different from my hair when I first came out, but it just feels and looks better. In the middle of cutting my hair, Carol Ann exclaimed, "Oh, Jen, you're CUTE!"

And indeed I was.

Yesterday we went to the salon shop and I stocked up on supplies: stuff for coloring, a hot flat iron for my hair, shampoo and conditioner, mousse, spray, mascara, etc. Then, we went to the bead store and spent two hours picking out beads for my necklace. It goes with my amber, and I made it last night while Carol Ann worked on her price list for her salon (Imy haircut would have cost me $42 minus tip). I stayed up (we ran out to get me a decaf chai latte, but they didn't hear the "chai" part, so I'm making up for it by drinking a caffeinated chai latte with cayenne pepper right now before we take six children to the Sheraton Hotel for swimming) so I could type it up for her before bed.

So, this morning, I got up at 6:15, and I guess I was amazingly lazy because instead of making it to the bus at 7:00, I made it at 7:30. Can you imagine me with my new 'do and my sassy little black dress, my pedicured toes, my black sandals, heading down to the bus for downtown Seattle? Can you see it? So very different from the frumpy, harried, humidity-stricken Jen of Kirksville.

It turns out I was on the wrong bus. It did indeed, as the bus driver had said, take me to downtown Seattle, but I realized it was never going to go to the underground station I was expecting, so I saw a part of town near my hotel, and decided to use the brain G-d gave me and GET OFF THE BUS. I made it to the hotel at 8:00 with time to register, get coffee, a plate of fruit and yogurt, and get seated for the first speaker. I ate my breakfast and then nodded off.

The remaining sessions were more interesting. At lunch time, I called Michelle de Seattle and we went to the Wild Ginger for lunch, and the food was very good, and she was nice and funny. It was nice to finally meet her. Tomorrow: Pie.

At five o'clock, I was done and I walked past Ann Taylor, Kenneth Cole, Banana Republic, The Gap, Old Navy, Coldwater Creek, Pottery Barn, Barnes and Noble, Tiffany's, and Nordstrom's. Guess what I bought?

Nothing. There wasn't even enough time to get started.

Then, little suburbanite me got on the right bus and headed back to Mercer Island, indulging in the missing of small children's kisses and soft skin and smooth sunburnt arms as I looked across the water.

And now we are off.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Lake Crescent

We just got back from a lovely day and two nights at Lake Crescent on the peninsula in very Northwestern Washington. We had a lovely Ferry ride and then drive and arrived there very late at night.

I am looking for pictures (have to wait til I get home so I can download my digital pictures, kids, sorry) of where we stayed, but this is where we did not stay, because this is where the beatiful people stay. But we did stop by this morning for coffee and postcards and admired the scenery.

Aha, I found it-- we stayed at Log Cabin Resort. The link will take you to the photo gallery, which does not begin to do it justice.

We got settled in and Carol Ann chose the bed upstairs and I chose downstairs (which I later regretted after seeing the godzilla size ants we had, but I only got bitten once, and I might have imagined it).

We went down and found a big log by the water (which was a mere eight feet away from our door) and sat down and had a smoke (the first of many, I am afraid, from the whole trip).

We actually didn't stay up that night, arriving near midnight. We sat on the couch listening to music for awhile, eating popcorn, and reading bad magazines, but then turned in. I fell asleep pretty quickly, and Carol Ann stayed up reading-- "My indulgence," she called it.

So, what did we do yesterday? As we kept saying, "Whatever the F--- we want!"

And in a nutshell, I would say that we talked all day. We did some other things in the meantime, but mostly we talked.

We talked while having popcorn, chai tea, and water for breakfast, and feeding the ducks who came to our door, and taking photos and having some smokes.

We talked while walking over to settle our bill and hunt down double A batteries for my digital camera (not successful, by the way, with the battery hunt). We talked about taking a paddle boat out, but as Don often notes, I am all talk. They have these crazy paddle boats which are actually bicycle boats, with an actual bike that you sit on and pedal. I thought they looked dangerous.

In the morning, we put on our bathing suits and slathered the sunscreen on. I wore my orange flowered Walmart hat, which Andy (CA's husband) noticed with great glee at Chloe's softball game on Sunday. We hung out in the sun. I brought my book, but I couldn't take my eyes off the scenery, so I talk talk talked to Carol Ann so she couldn't read her book. I drank water all freaking day and had to pee about a million times.

Then, back at the cabin, she started making a beaded necklace for her jazz singing teacher, and I just couldn't bring myself to read or to write. I think I just needed a break from both. Yesterday the only thing I wrote all day was my name on the credit card slip for the room, which I didn't even look at. That is the least I have written in months, weeks, years. So, I gave myself a manicure and we talked about her jazz singing and she played me songs and sang for a me a bit. (Today, by the way, I peeled off all the nail polish on my fingernails at the hot springs, just for fun). Then, back out to the blanket and the water. Carol Ann felt obligated to get into the FREEZING COLD, GLACIER FED, 900 PLUS FOOT DEEP lake, but I felt no such obligation. When I saw the Atlantic Ocean in the dark last fall, I was afraid. I am an excellent swimmer. I was on a swim team. I had private lessons. But for some reason, the depth of that lake just creeped me out. But I have to say that it was quite lovely and clear.

Back to the room to watch Bridget Jones while CA gave me a pedicure. My feet have never known such pampering and they are quite lovely now. She painted my nails bronze, and upon our return this evening, her nine year old daughter approved. The little girl had helped me pick out the polish, and at my enouraging (choose something with a little edge), painted her own toe nails deep blood red. I am clearly a bad influence on the youth of Mercer Island.

Carol Ann wanted to get the last gasp of sun, so we dragged our blanket around several times to get the last little bits of sun, and watched three young adolescent boys slather their bodies in mud and flip each other off, and another set of slightly older boys look longingly at some lightly older teenage girls who were all developing quite nicely and didn't know the boys even existed.

And all this time, we are talking don't you know, about lost innocence, our children, our relationships, the funny things we see, just anything and everything.

You have to understand how lovely CA is, and she doesn't know it. She looks like Demi Moore. And with her current cold, sounds quite a bit like her and like she has a bad smoking habit (not remotely). She is slender and tone and has long hair with gorgeous highlights that she does herself because that is her profession, but which nobody else could afford in a million years. I am definitely the big dumpy other one, but somehow even when I am next to her, she doesn't make me feel less than lovely.

And no, she hasn't done my hair yet, but tomorrow morning she will probably trim it and then we will do color another time (she has to work tomorrow morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the salon right across the hall from my room, so I know I'll be up early tomorrow so I can come and hang out).

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll check into my hotel, and Thursday, work work work. But I traveled all day for my conference Saturday, will again this Saturday, so that is two days of work, and then I have my summer furlough (one day off) and the seminar (two days), so it all comes out in the wash. If I had traveled during the week and taken my furlough, that would have been the same amount of time. Gosh, I guess we are doing color tomorrow afternoon... I don't know, have to ask...

Last night we watched Thirteen which neither of us had seen. But before we watched it, we made some chai tea in the microwave, and then I made Carol Ann put her money where her mouth was: she had said we were going to do facials up at the cabin. And when we saw the boys with the mud, I remembered a time in junior high in which I had to wear mud for a girls camp skit in which I was a twig. My skin has never looked so good.

So, I took one of our empty salad bowls and washed it out, and in the dark, with my fear of the water, went out and got us some mud.

When I brought it into the light, it looked slightly green. It wasn't nice. It was nasty. I smelled it, and it smelled like sulfur, but not anything else.

It was cold, so we microwaved it. Added just a wee bit of water. And then, by golly, we slathered it onto our faces. Yes, I have pictures, so I'll post them next week. And we sat and watched the movie like that for quite some time before we washed it off, and my pores were absolutely fabulous. Today we did masks with pumpkin peel. That smells better.

The movie was good, but honestly, I have heard so many things about Evan Rachel Wood's amazing performance, when she was so clearly outdone by Nikki Reed's complexity. Wood hit about one note, and it got to be annoying. I was disappointed in her performance, but the movie, the direction, and the other performances were all good. It wasn't all that shocking though-- I've seen worse. Requiem For a Dream was worse (and better) and so was Traffic. That's my two cents.

Today we got up, hung out, I wrote a little bit, then CA showered and I wrote more, went out to the log for a last smoke, then I took my shower and we packed up and left.

But we didn't come back to Mercer Island.

We went to a nearby hot springs, and a delightful hike that was just so beautiful beforehand. Oh that I were an Annie Dillard or a Thoreau-- I cannot do it justice (at least not this late at night). Yes, I do feel lucky, privileged, pampered, special, honored, blessed, grateful, etc. It was lovely and amazing. And we just feel terrific.

We were practically the only Americans at the spa, so I pretended I was on the Riviera the whole time I was there. An elderly woman passed out in the locker room just as we were arriving, so I kept thinking, "Do they know to give her aspirin if this is a stroke? Should I tell them?" They clearly didn't want us lurking about though, so I just fretted periodically about, "Grandma," throughout the afternoon.

Then, we showered, got back in the van, and drove the two hours to the ferry, and then got on for the hour ride, ate leftover chicken divan from Chloe's birthday on Friday over couscous we made in the cabin, chatted, and then we were back in Seattle.

And ever since we got back, I've been online catching up, beginning with a gazillion emails from work.

Hope all of your weeks are going well. Do I sound better? I feel better.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Mercer Island

Well, I made it!

Let me begin with last night, actually (was it really only last night?). We went to the rodeo at the NEMO (pronounced like the movie with the cute fish) Fairgrounds! Yeehaw! The kids went out into the extremely muddy field for the calf round up. Tommy, interestingly enough, was actually wearing his farm boots (they are easier to put on than shoes, so he wears them a lot-- might be time to think about flip flops...), so he ran around and actually touched a calf!

Chris was not so lucky. He trotted around valiantly until his shoes were just engulfed in the mud. Then one hand got stuck, his fanny up in the air, and it became clear pretty quickly that he wasn't going anywhere.

Jen's Rodeo Outfit: I was wearing the dress I wore to work and my nice (now muddy) sandals, and I was up in the stands. The announcer is talking about Christian being stuck, when suddenly, I see my Knight In Shining Armor (t-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots) hopping over the fence and into the mud. He went out and got Christian's shoes out, and carried Christian off the field.

Sexiest thing I ever saw. I just about wept.

Last night the kids were up late, and Tommy started getting weepy about my going out of town, though honestly, if I hadn't told him I was going, he wouldn't have known because he'll be at his dad's for two weeks (though I will miss their baseball games this week). This morning, I woke up at 6:20 and Dereck was getting dressed to go to McDonald's after breakfast-- he had woken, and the kids were already up and hungry. Tommy had called for me, and not getting an answer, surmised that I had already gone. When he found out I was still there, he came and jumped on me and kissed me for awhile. The love of little boys....

Yesterday morning, Tommy made Dereck breakfast in bed, cereal with milk and coffee and everything. Astonishing! Dereck said, "It's just like Father's Day," so I thought that was a good time to give him his card that the kids and I had all signed. He has more than earned it.

I worked out, packed, ran to Liza's for a backpack, showered, got baseball uniforms assembled, got the kids off, dried my hair, kissed Dereck, and headed out. Speeding like a bat out of hell, I got to St. Louis in under three and a half hours.

It was very nice to see Karl's friends, all hanging out after a successful rummage sale. Angela had just gone out for pizza, so they fed me pizza, salad, and a Karl-gin-and-tonic, and then we headed off to the airport.

At the airport, there was a long line of women with long hair in long skirts in line for the flight, who really creeped me out. Fundamentalism at work there. I kept thinking, "Why are they going to Las Vegas???" They all looked alike, hair up carelessly, fat, no makeup-- why wear skirts all the time if you just wear them carelessly and look like a sack of potatoes? Did I say that out loud? Ohhhhh, so catttttty... But really.

Well. I soon got the answer to my question (of sorts). I dozed on the flight, and the plane landed and I woke up and thought, "Damn, that was the shortest flight to Las Vegas in the history of man!" No. We had landed in Kansas City! That wasn't on my itinerary. And sure enough, they all filed off. I was happy to see them go.

Then the flight attendant announced Mr. and Mrs. so and so who had just gotten married, and a young couple, the woman replete in wedding splendor, got onto the plane. I think actually I heard later that they were going to Las Vegas to GET married, which makes more sense to me, but anyway, that was kind of fun and interesting.

Las Vegas is always a kick at the airport, slot machines everywhere. I just barely had time to grab some quick tasty airport dinner and get back on the plane, so I didn't gamble (okay, I'm chicken!). I apologized to my seatmates, and then ate my dinner in front of them. By then I was too wired on caffeine to sleep, though I tried, so I just read on both of my flights.

It is now 3:00 a.m. Missouri time. I should go to bed.

Tomorrow, we're off to some cabins by some hot springs for a couple of nights, so I'll be offline for a couple of days.

Cheers from the West Coast!

Friday, June 18, 2004

Feast Days by Annie Dillard



Three things are too wonderful for me;

four I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a serpent on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

and the way of a man with a maiden.

Today I saw a wood duck

in Tinker Creek.

In the fall flood, look

what the creek floats down:

once I glimpsed

round the edge of a bank

a troupe of actors

rained in from Kansas,

dressed for comedy.

The flood left a candelabrum

on the lawn.

With a ten-foot hook

we fished from the creek

a bunch of bananas, a zither,

a casket of antique coins.

This poem goes on for pages, and last night when Liza tossed me the book casually at the park, I had no idea.

There are times when I remember very distinctly that poetry is why I am alive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Phew, CA called tonight and is excited about my pending visit to Seattle. I am staying with her, though I do have a hotel reservation for the nights before my seminar.

We will go and use the hotel gym. I got an email confirmation from the hotel today-- pretty sweet!

I will just knock on wood and say that this has been a very productive week and I'm proud.

We were tired after dinner, and there were kids in our bed watching a video, so we thought, we'll go crawl into Christian's. Well, we found out that he wet his bed last night. So, we crawled onto Tommy's single mattress on the floor and within moments, I was asleep. We woke up in time for practice, dropped them off to practice batting in Ray Miller Elementary gym, and then went to Wal-mart. I got some stuff to try fixing my bathing suit, and three hats (two floppy, one Gilligan, which is orange and flowery, and I am wearing it as I type).

I was so tired and groggy after my nap. We bought some chocolate milk at the store, which I sorely needed. Caloric intake today: slimfast; starbucks cappucino; water; scone from Liza; slimfast; tortilla chips and guacamole before dinner; one piece of pizza and two chicken wings; one half beer. And half the chocolate milk, which got taken over by Tommy, who was crying when we went to pick him up because he thought we'd abandoned him (we weren't even the last ones there!).

Christian latched onto the abandonment idea with glee and planned out staying up all night and hiding from Sam in the morning.

I would have sworn to you that the kids would have played the reverse roles to each other, but they surprised me.

I walked into the kitchen when we got home, and then it happened. I was suddenly AWAKE. Last night I also napped, and at 1:30 in the morning I was hopping around the bedroom chanting, "I'm awake I'm awake I'm awake!" while a drowsy Dereck watched me from the bed.

I can tell that this is probably in our future as well as our past...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Oh, Why Not?

If you people don't start posting on your blogs soon, I'm actually going to write that damn book one of these days... In the meantime, looky what I found at Penguin Drawing... I have a feeling I'm going to look bad after this. Those bolded are the ones I've read (or could fake my way through if I had to teach Freshmen).


Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart

Agee, James - A Death in the Family

Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice

Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain

Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot

Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March

Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre

Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert - The Stranger

Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop (no, but I've taught My Antonia-- does that count for something?)Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales

Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard

Chopin, Kate - The Awakening

Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness

Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans

Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage

Dante - Inferno

de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote

Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities (it was the best of books, it was the worst of books...)

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment

Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (some)Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy

Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers

Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss

Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man

Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays

Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying

Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury (I actually have taught this to Freshmen)

Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones (oh, yes, actually, but I don't remember it very well)

Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby (Tender is the Night is better)

Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary

Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust

Golding, William - Lord of the Flies

Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter

Heller, Joseph - Catch 22

Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms

Homer - The Iliad

Homer - The Odyssey

Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God

Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World

Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House (I'd get beaucoup points if they listed all of Ibsen's plays. I think I've read every one).

James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady

James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw

Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (No, but I have read Finnegan's Wake! I'm going to add stuff to this list).

Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis (of course!)

Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior

Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird

Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt

London, Jack - The Call of the Wild

Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain (no, but I've read other stuff)Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude (ouch!)

Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener

Melville, Herman - Moby Dick

Miller, Arthur - The Crucible

Morrison, Toni - Beloved (ouch ouch!)

O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find (G-d, who hasn't? Taught this one too).

O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night (taught this one too)

Orwell, George - Animal Farm

Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago (great flick, though)

Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar (I make it a personal policy to stay out of the Bell Jar)

Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales

Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way (Never ever going to read more Proust again)Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49

Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front

Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac (GREAT movie)

Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep

Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye (Philip met him!)

Shakespeare, William - Hamlet

Shakespeare, William - Macbeth

Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream (but I might be able to fake it)

Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet

Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion

Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein

Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (might be able to fake it)Sophocles - Antigone

Sophocles - Oedipus Rex

Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath

Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island

Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin

Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels

Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair

Thoreau, Henry David - Walden

Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace

Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons

Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (ouch, I know!)

Voltaire - Candide

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five

Walker, Alice - The Color Purple

Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth

Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories (didn't she write that one about Roman Fever?)Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass (I sing the body electric)

Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray

Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie

Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse (No, but I read The Hours)

Wright, Richard - Native Son

Where the hell is Milan Kundera on that list?????

And what about Sartre? J'ai lit Huis Clos en francais for crying out loud! Ionesco? Guy de Maupassant? Harold Pinter? T.S. Freaking Eliot? Not even a little Prufrock? Oh, come on!

I think this list is faulty.


Last night we watched on DVD an episode of the BBC comedy hit The

. In it there was a scenario in which a secretary asks a

co-worker why he never comes around to talk to her anymore (b/c she

has a boyfriend). He pretends that nothing is wrong. Then she asks

him to go "wind up" an obnoxious co-worker as they often do, and he

acts like he doesn't know what she is talking about and tells her that

he is busy working and she should be too. This is a very direct

change from last season in which they were very chummy (the change has

occurred because she is engaged now).

He walks away, leaving to wonder whether something has happened, whether she can trust her instincts about their previous chumminess and the sudden change, and something has happened, why?

Monday, June 14, 2004

Family Reunions

I just got an invitation to a family reunion. I don't know-- I'll have to think about this.

Oh, who am I kidding. It's in Utah. It's in August. I won't have my kids to show off because they'll be with their dad in Cleveland. I'm not going.

This year, we both have a plane ticket, different airlines. And so we were trying to figure out where to go, what to do.

Well. We started too late. The beaches of North Carolina and Mexico beckon and glisten, but we waited too late.

It's too expensive. We wouldn't be able to use our tickets to go to Mexico. There are things money must be spent on: a new minivan to replace the one whose door persists in coming unstuck while I am driving around with three kids. It doesn't open, but it buzzes at us like an angry hornet, which is very distracting. That can't be good. I need to have the TrashMobile detailed. That is expensive. Then all of savings will have to go to a down-payment on a new one. Sigh.

And all of savings cannot go anywhere yet this summer because my salary is lower because of the summer furlough.

And I cannot have car payments this summer because my salary is lower because of the summer furlough.

And I don't want more credit card debt. That's really what this all boils down to. I could slap a week-long trip to the beach on any ol' credit card of my choosing, and then spend the next six months anxious about paying it off.

So, no. No family reunion (even though it's a cheap date). No glistening white sands and cool blue tides. Instead, we will go camping in the sweltering heat and humidity and mosquitoes of western Kentucky. We will drive several hours and apply sunscreen and bug spray and pitch our tent, light our fire. I will sit at a picnic table smoking, drinking beer, and we will cook dinner and wait for the sun to go down. We might find a place to swim or rent a boat and we will bring our books and magazines, and when the stars finally emerge, we will lie quietly and look at them and talk and slap our arms and thighs and pray for sweet breezes. We will not be able to sleep because of the heat for a long long time and will lie on top of the sleeping bags, barely touching because of the heat. The next morning, we will emerge bleary-eyed and bitten and happy and make coffee on the fire and breakfast. We may do this for a couple of days.

And then we will head to St. Louis. Instead of boarding a plane for an exotic destination like Cancun or New Orleans, we will go and join the throngs of other fat, sweaty, sunburnt hillbillies with bad haircuts and colorful tattoos (notice I said "other hillbillies" implying that we are indeed two of them, and yes, we are, bad haircuts, tattoos, sunburns, and all, though we are not fat, and I will have a fabulous haircut after next week)at 6 Flaggs. And we will scream ourselves hoarse on the roller coasters, lie in the rivers of the water park, and eat cotton and candy and funnel cake and drink warm beer until we are feverish with heat stroke and sticky and sweaty and then we will go collapse in some cheap, air-conditioned, questionably clean hotel somewhere in St. Louis, and drink stale hotel coffee in the morning.

Invariably, we will try to get Fulcrum Monkey and his Crew to go with us. And we might even end up on his floor instead of at the hotel. And instead of collapsing after 6 Flaggs, we will end up in East St. Louis, which is actually not in Missouri at all, in a skanky strip club, watching strippers who have more stretch marks than I do. And we will emerge later, cheapened and drunk and smelling of baby powder.

And in the morning, we will hoist our hangovers down Delmar Street, walking past all the great houses along the way, and we will sit outside and eat from a great breakfast buffet, and while away the hours until the heat chases us into a videostore where cheap thrills, a darkened living room, and air conditioning beckon and we stare at the screen until we slowly fall into comatose naps.

Then, we will slowly make our way into the showers, come down refreshed, crack open bottled beer or make gin and tonics, and either grill out in Fulcrum Monkey's back yard (with his new table, complete with umbrella) or we will hie us out to dinner on Thai or Indian, or the best Italian restaurant I've ever seen, complete with tuxedoed waiters, fine red wines, grilled red pepper bruschettas, ah, it haunts my dreams...

All in all, not a bad way to spend a summer vacation.

Harry Potter

The older two kids want to go see Harry Potter again. Tonight. I am badly sunburnt. We spent all day in the sun the past two days.


The Wee Hours of the Morning

It is early Monday morning. I have one kid with a sore throat, another in the tub, and one more with no signs of stirring soon. So, I'm going to work from home this morning (it is not yet time to go to work) until we figure out whether we are dealing with allergies or something else.

This weekend was pretty great, three baseball games not withstanding.

Friday was my furlough day, so we stayed home and I got the challah made. D took the kids to Garfield, so Liza and I went and worked out for an hour (yay for us!).

Then she and the kids came over for a lovely dinner of salmon with asparagus sauce, salad, wild rice, and of course, challah. The children, all six of them ages 4-10, were absolutely silent while they ate. It was that good. They all enjoyed the Shabbat service and I had candles for everyone, even the papa overseas (not in Iraq, studying!).

Then we sat around and talked and the children watched The Wizard of Oz until ten or so. D and I had made noises about staying up later, but we pretty much turned into sleeping people within the half hour.


Saturday went like this. Rise a little too late, hustle kids into uniforms. Ever since Tommy and our adopted daughter from next door cleaned his room, we have had a heck of a time finding baseball uniforms, but we managed.

It wasn't too too hot yet and there were pleasant people to talk with. Tommy hit the ball very well, but it always went foul and he was upset. Christian just doesn't try very hard.

Came home from that game, and even though it wasn't too too hot, I was wiped out and went back to bed for two hours, just in time to get up for the next game, but not in time to feed kids lunch. So, Dereck said he'd bring lunch up separately. Get to game, and it was HOT. It didn't take me long to figure out that the little kids couldn't stay in that heat and then go play their game right after. So, I called D and cancelled lunch, and took the kids home, fed them lunch. I changed into a shirt with sleeves so I wouldn't fry (didn't matter, frying was soon to come anyway) and then I went back to the game and D brought the little ones up later.

We discovered the joys of sitting under an umbrella. It makes an incredible difference.

Sam's team always loses because the ten year olds are just learning how to pitch, but he did a good job at third base anyway.

The little ones won their game-- they always win and are amazing fielders-- and then we all went out to the lake to swim.

We went out to a N.O.W. benefit Saturday night which ended up being too loud, so we went down stairs and chatted with Christine. And then for the second time in my long career at MY watering hole, my ex-spouse came in, so we finished our drinks and left.


Brunch with friends, and then baseball practice (just among ourselves) at the playground nearby. Christian made vast improvements and was good-spirited.

Then, back to the lake, where I fried. Liza and kids met us there for the second day in a row, and then they all came back to our house for dinner after. It was lovely-- these are the days that make me feel like I have a summer vacation-- they stretch out forever involve lots of sun and good friends and little kids and good food.

Then we watched the season premiere of Six Feet Under (eh) and went to bed.

Now it is time to pour some coffee and get started. Cheers.

Friday, June 11, 2004

You knew...

When you sent this that I'd put it on the blog, didn't you?

Whoops! Try it now.


How did my Fridays get so busy?

Well, I guess water seeks its own level...

So today: Make challah, clean the house, go to the grocery store, exercise, feed children lunch...

The kids want to go see Garfield this afternoon (Sam wants to go see Harry Potter again, so I said, "Well, twist my arm...") but I don't think it's going to happen today because the %*^&($ baseball coach called and wants to have batting practice at 3:30 before the 5:15 game. Hello, sun, could you be shining any more brightly today?

I personally think that maybe we will show up for said practice at 4:00. After all, they can't all bat at once at 3:30, now can they? I also think this guy is a little enthusiastic about the 6-7 year old league...

Then, lovely Shabbat dinner planned, must call two folks and see if they are coming...I am getting better at planning ahead for Shabbat, but sleeping in this morning really kind of threw me off kilter. It just means I will have to be more efficient later.

Later, as in when I drag my butt off this chair and get going.

We watched Reality Bites last night. Dereck had never seen it. We were looking at the commentary later and Janeane Garafolo is very thin (how did she do it?), (comma) and Steve Zahn looks fantastic.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Ethan Hawke (despite the fact that he is an idiot, an asshole, and a loser-- explains a lot about my marriage, doesn't it?) but he and Winona? Not looking so hot these days.

Wanna Hear a Joke?

My dad just sent me a book, so I'm stealing the joke from the back for your enjoyment.

A panda bear walks into a bar and orders a sandwich. The panda bear eats the sandwich, and then pulls out a pistol, shoots rapidly into the air, and then turns for the door.

The owner is frozen in shock, but cries out, "Wait!... Why?"

The panda bear tosses him a poorly edited wildlife manual.

"I'm a panda bear."

The owner flips through the manual and finds this description:

Panda Bear: Black and white. Eats, shoots, and leaves.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


This is for you. Thank you, Beth! (And also for validating my feelings about the Alias finale).

Last night we saw In America, which was really tremendous. The little girl actresses were dumbfounding. Is there anything that older girl can't do? But the little one, oh my goodness.

Speaking of which, I impulsively invited our little neighbor girl to go to Harry Potter with us the other night (man, if I were 13, I'd have a serious crush on Daniel Radcliffe-- he is such jailbait, but oh my!). I love our little neighbor girl. Her mom goes out of town for grad school during the week (I love the mom too) and so LG (little girl) comes over often to play. She is Tommy's age, 6. And she had already seen the movie, but she came with us anyway. She was a great barometer for when it was time to tell the kids to close their eyes because I'd hear her little voice say, "Oh, I don't LIKE this part..." And eventually I invited her to sit with me so she could bury her little face in my neck. My kids were unperturbed by the dementors-- they ain't got nothin' on those ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings.

I am the only adult I know who actually liked Danie... er, Harry Potter and it must be because Dan... I haven't read the books for four years...

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

All I Ever Needed to Know I Stole From Pie...

Mind Hump for Hump Day

My excuse is if I wasn't doing this, I'd have to actually fold the laundry. And no one wants that.

01. You are a source of light. What are you and why?

I'm a Shabbat candle, and I'm melting pretty fast because the ceiling fan is on.

02. There's a huge neon sign above your head everywhere you go ... what is it flashing?

Loud and Coarse

03. If you could be anyone's blog, whose would you be and why? (Provide a link to that blog)Pie's because then I would have an original thought.

04. If you could have a vanity phone number, what would it be and what would it spell?


05. Look around you .... name two odd things in your vicinity and explain why they are there.I'm in my kitchen. It's odd to hear children's voices wafting in through the window because they are my children, and they are actually outside playing with other children rather than plugged into electronica.

What else? There is a moss-covered toy tiger in the poor fish tank. The kids never played with it, but they were mad as hell when I drowned it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Do Not Laugh...

I answered 27 questions and I was ruthlessly honest. What on earth does this mean????

Woe is Me

Wow, I actually had the audacity just now to try to out-woe Don Bindner via email.

I don't know if that means that I am really crabby or that he is doing pretty well.

Or maybe we are both just in a stupid funk.

I bet Linda would trade problems with me in a minute-- I can't say the same. So, maybe that is an indication. Just keep my problems, and deal with them.

Philip sent me the most awesome email the other day-- damn, I should have asked him if I could post it here.

Maybe I should just start being more like Scarlett O'Hara and thinking about it tomorrow.

As Tommy would say, "Is tomorrow after this day?"

I always say the same thing. "Yes, Tommy, that is the very definition of tomorrow."

The Cutest Thing In the World
Look, Ma! No hands!

Through the looking glass
Look, Ma! No hands!

Monday, June 7, 2004

Stolen From House of Winds

Answer the following questions in the comment box:

1. Who are you?

2. Have we ever met?

3. Give me a nickname and explain why you picked it.

4. Describe me in one word.

5. What reminds you of me?

6. If you could give me anything, what would it be?

7. Ever wanted to tell me something but couldn't?

8. Are you going to put this on your weblog and see what I say about you?

9. What do you love like a fat kid loves cake?

10. What makes you come back here?

Mothering Christian

On the way to summer school, the first day:

Christian: "I'm so excited, I could just cry."

Me (naive): "Oh, good!"

Christian: "I'm not excited. I'm housebroken!"

Christian: "What does housebroken mean?"

Me (covering mouth): "It means you know to go outside to go to the bathroom if you are a dog. You are not housebroken, honey, you are heartbroken."

In The School:

Christian: "I'm so embarrassed."

Christian: "What does embarrassed mean?"

Me: "It means you feel funny."

Christian: "I'm so embarrassed."

At Baseball:

Christian: "We always win! I hate winning! Why do we always have to win!"

Christian (at homeplate): "Do you want me to get a homerun, Mommy?"

Me: "Sure."

Christian: "Well, I'm not going to!"

Christian (at homeplate again): "Do you want me to get a homerun, Mommy?"

Me: "I just want you to have fun, honey."

Christian: "Well, I'm not having fun!"

At Bath Time:

Christian: "Can I go pee, Mommy?"

Me: "Yes."

Christian: "Tommy says he will spank me if I go pee."

Me: "Are you going to go in the bathtub?"

Christian: "No, the potty."

Me: "Go head."

Tommy: "I'm going to spank you Christian!"

Me: "No you are not."

Christian stands in front of the potty and, yes, still manages to pee on my foot.
I hate everything.

Not a good day.

Shamelessly Stolen From Infinitely Pie

Hi Rabbi F,

I told my ex-husband M on Saturday that I am thinking of converting

to Judaism. He looked at me and said, "I'm not anti-semitic, Jen."

He was actually really supportive of it, said it is good that the kids

are exposed to lots of different ideas, and we agreed that they need

to make decisions when they are adults.

He was a little concerned about "the repudiation of Christ," but I

assured him that it just doesn't come up.

He mentioned that Sam at age 13 would be old enough for First

Communion, and I said, "Also Bar Mitzvah," so he laughed and said,

"How about a birthday party?"

I think it would be possible for Sam to do something that could

acknowledge what he is being taught at that time. There is time to

plan, time to think about it.

I read The Chosen yesterday. It was very good, and Dereck is bringing

home The Promise for me. I am starting to understand more and more of

the history of the Jewish people. Wow, you can't say, "I'm converting

to Judaism," any more than you could say, "I'm converting to


Which branch?

I asked Dereck, "How did the hasidim go from opposing the Zionist

movement to controlling everything in Israel?"

He just shrugged.

I can see now why you want me to read more about the history before we

talk further.

I had a little bit of a crisis yesterday because I thought, "I'm not

yet at the point at which it is crucial to me that the boys become

Jewish. What's the point of converting if that isn't the goal, to

raise Jewish children? What kind of a Jew are you?"

And the more I read about the history, the more I think it is

necessary to raise children who will be Jews-- so maybe it's not that

I don't find it important, but that I despair that if I can't have

them convert now that maybe they won't do it as adults.

But then I talked to Dereck and he said, "Look, there are reasons why

it's important personally to you, and also, the boys will have no

chance at becoming Jewish if you don't."

M said something about the Newman Center starting up its classes

again on Wednesday nights (when I have the kids), but I can't take

them to that. You have to draw lines. I can't actively promote their

activity in another religion. He also said that while Catholicism

might be right for him, he doesn't know if he can impose it on the

boys. But he doesn't really like Timber Ridge (the outreach Church he

takes them to) anymore either.

We actually had a very decent chat. I emphasized the Bible stories,

loving G-d, and living an ethical life, and he nodded and agreed that

there are a lot of great stories in the Old Testament (and he added

that there are some crazy things too, and I said, "Oh, come on, look

at Paul! You are no lover of Paul, M." And he isn't-- he hates

Paul. He agreed, and said that is one of his main problems with

Catholicism-- it's based so strongly on Paul's teachings.

He started out by saying, "Oh, Jen, we're not Jews," But I told him I

want a heritage and a tradition to hand down to the boys. And he

concluded the conversation by saying it sounds like a good fit [for

me]. He even knew the name of Reform Judaism, though I don't know how

much he knows about Judaism, period.

But he wasn't opposed. Phew!

I don't know yet what he will say to the boys about it. I guess I'll

find out. But at least it's out in the open now. I told him that our

oldest boy is interested in learning Hebrew and he said, "I'd rather

have him learn French." Oh well. And I told him about our Shabbat

services and blintzes on Shavuot.

So, I'm now reading The Making of the Modern Jew by Steinberg (Chaim

Potok loves Steinberg, it turns out).



Friday, June 4, 2004

Shalom shabbat

I met Barbara for a two hour lunch today to discuss Torah study and lots of other things (including Jewish views on abortion!).

At one point, we were finding in the Torah where to start studying from, and a man approached us and asked if that was a Torah and we started chatting. He asked us what we were doing. We said we were studying the Torah together. He asked us what prompted this and Barbara said, "We're Jewish."

It turns out he is Jewish as well (I figured) and here for graduation (ding ding) and the VP of his temple in Illinois. We had a lovely chat. That was very fun.

My menorahs came from Israel today! I don't know where I will find candles teeny enough for them (Dereck said, "Birthday candles.")

I have been cleaning all afternoon for Shabbat (Believe me the house needed it!). I have some vacuuming to do, and the challah to finish, and then baseball to head to. Where did the day go?

I am staying home tomorrow morning and taking some time for study and me. I just want to sit quietly in my house. Of course, there is also baseball at 9 a.m.

Shalom, Rabbi!

It doesn't look like we're going to be able to come down for services

this week after all.

Some of my Milton Steinberg books have come, so I'll keep reading more

(his nonfiction).

At some point, should we talk about a course of study for conversion,

or just keep doing what we're doing?



I understand your zeal in choosing a Jewish identity for yourself. Enjoy your search and exploration. In time we'll talk about whether this journey of yours is what you really want for you and to impart via personal example to your kids. Better not to rush things too fast. But we'll talk.

Shat Shalom,

" You shall rise before the aged." (Leviticus 19:32)


That was my impression as well, actually, but I thought I would ask

just to find out your thoughts!

Earlier this week I mentioned to a couple of friends that I thought I

should sit with this for a year or so and observe and read. I am

happy to do that.




I understand your zeal in choosing a Jewish identity for yourself.

Enjoy your search and exploration. In time we'll talk about whether

this journey of yours is what you really want for you and to impart

via personal example to your kids. Better not to rush things too

fast. But we'll talk.

Shat Shalom,

" You shall rise before the aged." (Leviticus 19:32)


You are a sincere and thoughtful individual. No "religion police" is preventing you from living as Jewishly as you see fit. In time when the comfort from living in this fashion overcomes the doubts, you'll be ready for "conversion" -- i.e., to assert ceremoniously what you have already embarked on as a way of living. Continue to ask questions, pose "objections" -- a life that is utterly devoid of anything to do w/ Christmas or Easter. This ain't easy. Once it is a part of you -- i.e., life that is guided by the mitzvot -- you'd know that a conversion ceremony is the thing to go through.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi F,

I have been thinking about this all morning, and I am glad you wrote

again because I wanted to assure you that I wasn't just backpedaling.

These are some of the things that Dereck and I have been talking

about. It is much easier for me to live a life without Christmas and

Easter than to ask my children to. Actually, they probably wouldn't

notice the absence of Easter much. And I don't have them every year

at the Christmas Holidays.

I have never liked the idea of the Hanukkah Bush-- don't worry! And I

am not sure really how much the tree means to them, anyway. What my

children really look forward to and participate in is making cookies

for Santa, spreading reindeer food on the lawn, and the anticipation

of presents in the morning.

I think that with Hanukkah, we can find ways to substitute the

ceremony and ritual. And they are approaching ages at which the

discussion of Santa can be dispensed.

But our observances of these holidays has been secular. I used to

read the children a more traditional Christmas story, but have stopped

doing so in the past couple of years.

As for family visits during the holidays, there isn't much I can do if

someone else has a tree up in their home. But I can insist when there

is overlap in dates on lighting my Hanukkah candles. And we can begin

to tailor our family visits around Thanksgiving.

But something you said really resonated with things I have been

thinking of too: When I feel Jewish heart and soul and not any part

of an outsider, then the ceremonious assertion will become just that--

because I will already be Jewish.

And I can't say that I have gotten there in these few weeks.

Last night I started reading The Making of the Modern Jew by

Steinberg. I have a lot more study to do.

And I have not yet had personal experiences with anti-semitism (well,

that is not entirely true. I told my ex-husband years ago that a

friend of ours told me he thought I might be Jewish. My ex-husband

said, "I hope not." I was horrified. I said, "Why?" "Because that

would mean that the children are Jewish.")

Well, even if my biology were Jewish, I would still have to convert,

and the children also because I wasn't raised by Jews. But I still

have not had this discussion with him.

My parents are interested in my Jewish studies and would like to hear more.

But I haven't dealt with anti-semintism in the workplace (yet) and my

children have not come home from Boy Scouts yet with tales of hearing

that Jews killed Jesus (no, they bring this home from another source:

videos they have seen).

Through surfing the internet, I am getting my first tastes of online

discussions between Orthodox and Conservative Jews. I read my first

online debate yesterday between a (converted Conservative Jewish)

woman who was celebrating lesbian marriage and what turned out to be

several Orthodox readers who were quoting Leviticus right and left and

chastising her.

Now. This gives me pause. Yes, there is room for interpretation in

Leviticus. But if homosexuality is truly against the mitzvot, even if

I personally am not gay, then how do I reconcile my support of gay

rights? I cannot just say, "Well, I'm going to ignore that one."

But by the same token, I wear polyester and I don't cover my head either.

So, to some extent, I am picking and choosing among the mitzvot what I

will observe. And some little part of me says, "Well, nobody thinks

we can do it all!" But I recognize that as justification and I am

leary of that little voice.

But yes, before I have studied the Torah with commentary, I can't

really commit to the mitzvot, can I? Fortunately, I have studied and

read the Torah as well as other books in what the Christians call the

"Old" Testament, so I am not coming into this in complete ignorance.

However, I need to read it from a Jewish point of view.

And as for keeping Kosher, I really believe that slow changes over

time that nobody in the household will really notice or object to will

allow us to keep these laws together. It just can't be sudden or

abrupt, or it won't work and we won't sustain it.

I agonized all week about coming down for services this week. Tonight

my son has a baseball game. Some good friends are having a dinner for

the last time before dispersing for summer and it will be our last

chance to see them for several months. I was very torn, but I decided

to have Shabbat at home, and then go and spend time with my sons (who

are with their father for the week) and then our friends.

Last week I really had my first experience with the challenges of

preparing for Shabbat: Fortunately, we got the afternoon off work so

I could shop in the afternoon. Then, we cleaned for Shabbat. And

then I had to run clothes to my sons and watch their baseball game,

and then another friend (the one who had the stroke) had come home to

live from rehabilitatino and wanted to see us.

I was nearly distraught: when would we have Shabbat? How to do all of this?

What we finally decided upon was this: I would take the clothes to

the children, but not stay for the game, so I could come home and we

could have Shabbat at sundown and the go visit our friend.

But even the next morning, dressing for services, I realized I hadn't

ironed. So, I made choices that didn't require it and made a mental

note for next time.

So, I told my friend who invited us for dinner that tonight is Shabbat

and that it was important for us to do that first (they would probably

even be receptive if we brought our candlesticks and kiddush cup and

challah and did it there, but it is not a show I want to perform).

She said she would be happy to see us when we got there.

Shabbat has become absolutely essential to me, to us, and even when I

don't think I can juggle the drive to services, the distance, with my

obligations here, that doesn't mean that I don't observe, that I don't

study here. And tomorrow morning I will study the Torah here, and

work on learning more Hebrew and more prayers.

But I also realize that there will come moments of discouragement and

doubt. My friend Liza said that the book I just read, As A Driven

Leaf, will serve me well during those times. But I was talking about

this with Dereck this morning and he pointed out to me that even as I

may struggle with how to observe, what to observe (my Shabbat services

at home on Friday night do not always coincide with sundown, but they

always occur), that I have found a spiritual home and that is not

easily discounted.

I feel somewhat at a disadvantage being a convert: if I were born

Jewish, then no matter how I observed, people couldn't challenge my

Jewishness. Well, I guess that is not entirely true. The Orthodox

can challenge everyone! But that doesn't really bother me. It isn't

up to people on earth to decide whether or not I'm Jewish or whether

or not I'm Jewish enough. It is up to G-d, and it is up to me to try

to live with as much integrity as I can. And I think that being

Jewish offers me the greatest opportunities to do so. What Dereck

marvels at is the peace I've found and that I'm no longer wondering

what I should be doing. Now, I am doing it.

But I am familiar with converts, and the convert enthusiasm, the

convert zeal, the convert mentality. And I have to laugh at it in

myself, and temper it with the quiet stillness of a lifetime


I would love to say to you right at this moment that I am absolutely

committed and ready to go-- but even if I could say that right now,

neither of us would believe it!

So I just wanted to say that one thing that gives me peace and comfort

is that there is no reason I can see to be in a hurry. I am not ready

to say an aliyah yet-- I am just barely learning Hebrew! And there

are few things that I cannot do until I am a full Jew. And when I

understand the history, the peoplehood, and I am willing to have my

children make sacrifices for my beliefs and the Tradition and the

faith-- when I am fully a Jew, we will know.



Thursday, June 3, 2004

Reasons Not to Go

Well, the reasons for NOT going to Columbia are just piling up. Sam has a baseball game. The peeps are gathering for one last supper before they scatter for summer. Liza's honey is going out of town (tho, she will be busy, she tells me, go, go!).

So, I am leaning toward not going this week. After all, I could still get up and go down early on Saturday. I want to go down tomorrow with Dereck though.

And isn't it going to be like this every week, every time I want to go? Is this a time where I should make a stand and say, "No, this is important"?

But the thing is, I went to services last week. I can still have Shabbat here-- heck, I can make bread, bring candlesticks and challah and wine and have it at Eithne's.

And I can have Torah study here myself on Saturday.

What to do what to do?

Should I stay or should I go now?

I guess I will let you know.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Heart Attacks

You know, when you call the hotel where you have a contract for a retreat, a block of rooms, and everything else in the city has been booked for at least three months, and they tell you that they can't find your contract, and then five minutes later they say, "Oh yes, here it is," that can't be good for your heart.
Rabbi F,

Shalom! I got your email address from Barbara Ma; she couldn't

be sure what the exact spelling was, so I am trying two in hopes that

this will reach you.

I met you briefly at your daughter's bat mitzvah a couple of

weeks ago, which I attended with Dan and Barbara Ma.

I live in Kirksville also.

For many years now, I have been busy pushing my spiritual journey, one

I considered inevitable, into the distant corners of my life. Every

six months or so, I would have an existential crisis, during which

time I would ask myself whether or not the presence I have felt in my

life since I could form words in my head was actually G-d, how could I

know? And what does He want me to do? What will happen to me when I

die? What am I supposed to be doing here and now? How can I make my

life meaningful?

I would wrestle with these questions, without any real solutions, and

then push them away and go about my life again, quietly suppressing

them on a daily basis.

I have three children, all boys, ages ten, seven, and six: Sam,

Christian (I know), and Tommy. Three and a half years ago, I left my

husband, so there seemed quite enough on my plate to deal with without

worrying about my spiritual life.

But the one thing I did know was that when it was time for me to leave

my husband, time for me to go, it was as if G-d had been waiting for

me to make that decision. He could not make it for me, but once I

did, everything fell into place with an ease and grace that felt to me

to be Divine.

I am now living with a man (Dereck) who, although not

officially Jewish, teaches a class on Judaism, and has always said his

worldview is Jewish, although he was raised Lutheran. He studied

Hebrew at the .

And although I thought this was interesting, I did not question him

about it overly.

I was raised as a member of the Church of JC of Latte-Da

Saints. From the time I was eight years old until I was 18 years old,

I believed in it deeply, and I was deeply observant. I attended

Brigham Y U for two years, at which time my critical

thinking skills awakened, and the faith began to unravel.

It took me nearly ten years, but I finally took my name off the

records. And the loss of that religion, that culture, left somewhat

of a gaping hole that I found easy to ignore most of the time.

And yet, how, then, do you begin to rebuild your faith in G-d? I

could never call myself an atheist. There were feelings, a presence,

experiences I could not deny. However, I haven't considered myself to

be a Christian for most of my adult life—since reading the New

Testament and feeling overwhelmingly that it was not true.

I had yet another existential crisis beginning in February 2004, when

a young friend of mine had a profound stroke at the age of 35. I had

a conversation with a Christian man that awoke all of my questions,

and yet I knew that Christianity was not a path I could embrace.

Barbara is of the opinion that it doesn't matter, that I do not need

to explain why I do not consider myself to be Christian. However, it

matters to me, because of the journey I have taken here. And also,

because I want it to be very clear that I do not have claims on any

other faith.

My ex-husband has been taking my children to a Christian outreach

church, and the children sometimes come home and ask me to express

beliefs that I cannot express. So, it became necessary for me, faced

with spiritual children such as I was myself, to find something to

give them which would reassure them that I am going to be okay, and

that we are all going to be okay together.

But what was that to be? Not protestantism. Not Catholicism. In the

meantime, I started talking about spirituality with my friend, Liza,

who is Greek Orthodox. She and I both agreed not Greek Orthodox.

In the backdrop of all of this were these facts about my life:

~ I have always loved Jewish holidays and rituals.

~ I have always had Jewish friends.

~One of the first dates I had with my boyfriend was to go to the

Mandells for Seder, and we have spent every Seder with them since

then, and other holidays like Hanukkah, and Tu Bishvat.

~I have always provided for my children books about Hanukkah and Seder

and read them every year.

~ I have at times felt guilty for not keeping kosher.

~ I have distrusted German Shepherds ever since I learned they were

used in the concentration camps.

~ I have never liked Wagner because of his politics, not to mention

the fact that he was Hitler's favorite composer.

~ I have baked challah and mandel bread for years, and gone out of my

way to learn how to make authentic Jewish bagels.

~After seeing the movie Europa E, I was afraid to circumcise my

children for fear that they would not be able to hide, as the Jewish

protagonist in the movie did, from Nazi's. That is probably the most

irrational thing I've ever thought or done, and now I regret it, but

my reasoning at the time was that this was something they could do

later, but not something that could ever be undone.

~After my friend's stroke, within two weeks, I had organized a

fundraiser for her with two friends and we have raised $12K and

counting. This is part of my tzedukah, of the ways I already act.

As long as I have known Dereck, he has not worked on Saturdays,

setting one day aside for no work and encouraging me to do the same.

A few years ago, I was in a Jewish bookstore on Devon Avenue in

Chicago. I told Dereck that although I was attracted to the mezuzahs

and the Hebrew keyrings, I felt like I couldn't just be a tourist and

buy things that didn't belong to me. I couldn't be an interloper. I

said, "I have such strong respect for Judaism, I can't do it."

I have no idea why it has taken me this long to put it all together.

So, in the midst of my existential crisis, I was just about ready to

sweep it all back under the rug again, when I mentioned to Barbara at

a playgroup what I had been thinking about and started asking her some

questions about Judaism.

1) Why did G-d create us?

Because of a creative urge.

2) What are we supposed to do?

Keep the mitzvot (commandments in the Torah) and continue the creative process.

3) Do I have to love G-d more than I love my children?

You love G-d by loving your children.

I started getting very excited about the answers she was giving me

because I had not known this before. Our conversation was longer than

that, but these things stand out to me.

I started reading. Dereck gave me Jewish Literacy by Telushkin (and I

have mainly been reading the parts I wanted to read); Being Jewish by

Ari G (I read all of it); books on Jewish symbols and customs.

Barbara and I decided that Saturday to start having Torah study with

our little boys on Shabbat, and this Shabbat will be our first. That

afternoon, from, we ordered some books: I Have Some

Questions About G-d, and Being Torah. Barbara asked us to join her

family for Shabbat dinner, and by that night, the books had arrived.

I made challah for the meal. After the candles, the kiddush, the

blessing on the challah, we ate, and talked and talked. The next day

was the bat mitzvah.

My ex-husband has our children every other weekend, but during the

week, I started reading to them from I Have Some Questions About G-d

and saying nightly prayers. A few Fridays ago, we had our first Shabbat.

Due to scheduling, I didn't have the children two weekends in a row,

so it was Dereck, me, and a non-Jewish friend. We went slowly, and by

this time, I had received from Amazon Choosing a Jewish Life and

Living a Jewish Life, both by Anita .

We went through the Shabbat ceremony in Living… and explained to our

friend what we were doing. Barbara had gotten me Shabbat candles the

week before. Afterwards we just talked and watched the candles.

Since then, we have had two Shabbats with the children, who loved it.

Dereck, who, as I mentioned, teaches Judaism here at Truman State

University, and I have had many many conversations and he teaches me

about Judaism. For Shabbat, we have agreed to keep kashrut as a

household, and also to have a policy of no computer use Friday night.

I do not use the internet during Shabbat. We will have Friday

evenings together as a family.

As you can probably tell, I am interested in formally converting to

Judaism. Judaism contains all the tenets I have already been living:

treat others well. There is a G-d. Teach your children. Have

traditions and rituals you can pass on to your children.

It has been right here in front of me, and I never knew it. Years

ago, my friend Joe used to tell me, "You know, Jen, I think you're

Jewish." I am adopted, so that may be the case.

But whether I was actually born Jewish or not, I am Jewish in my soul.

I would love to speak to you more about this and find out what I need

to do formally to convert. In the meantime, I am already observing

Shabbat, and the holidays, and teaching my children.

My oldest son and I are learning the Sh'ma in Hebrew, and I am

starting to memorize some of the Shabbat prayers.

I have questions: my children are not circumcised. My ex-husband

will probably not allow them to convert. He will not like the fact

that I am converting. At all. When I mentioned to him once during

our marriage that my biological heritage could be Jewish, he replied,

"I wouldn't like to find out you are Jewish."

"Why not?"

"Because that would mean that the children are Jewish."

These are the only things that trouble me. The more I read, the more

I feel joy. I am not tormented by the questions that have tormented

me for years. Dereck said, "If I had known that you would find your

answers in Judaism…" So ironic because it has been right here all the


Dereck is very supportive of my desire to convert. I suppose that I

will let him speak about his own feelings for himself.

My contact information is this:


More options May 25

Dear Jen,

I enjoyed reading your letter. I am not going to try and address the many points or aspects you have raised in it in this very quick and short reply. Just 2 address these points would necessitate a long coversation. Keep doing what you have already been doing -- study and learn -- I can c that your study is also leading you to many actions, not the least of which is your Tsedakah project.

Try and see whether u can find James Michner's THE SOURCE. This bk. will give you an idea of Jewish history. Indeed, Judaism is not only a religion, it's a peoplehood, hence Ruth -- funny that I mention her on the eve of Shavuot -- says to Naomi: "Your people will be my people and your God, my God." "People" came first -- she got it right. This gentile woman would hence become King David's Grandmother.

Try a find works by Milton S; tho he has been dead for 50 yrs. his works

are very impressive.

When I find more time -- but before long -- I'll take on your many questions.



" You shall rise before the aged." (Leviticus 19:32)

Just a quick sound byte:

~ I have at times felt guilty for not keeping kosher.

Non-Orthodox Jews have an array of Kosher levels -- all the way 2 none, exactly as Paul preached 4 . . .

As for me and my family vegetarianism works just fine and I believe that God intended humans, if nol all animals, 2 be so.

Let me recommend a site: I luv his Jewish tapes but don't always care for his politics.

Stay well,


Hi Rabbi F,

I have ordered the following books by Rabbi Steinberg:

Believing Jew: The Selected Writings [Hardcover] by Steinberg, Milton

Basic Judaism; and The Making of the Modern Jew. I also got The Source.

Last week I ordered:

1 of Does God Have a Big Toe? : Stories About Stories in the Bible

1 of The Chosen

1 of The Bedside Torah : Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams

1 of Where Does God Live?

1 of The Story of Religion

(Don't worry, I read a lot).

Do you like any of Prager's tapes in particular? A lot of the titles

are very compelling-- one surprised me, Why Jews Must Seek Converts.

That makes me feel better!

Thank you again for your recommendations.


P.S. I had to chuckle when you recommended vegetarianism-- I often eat

vegetarian on my own. Trying to get my family to adopt the same is a

little tricker! But we are keeping Kosher on Shabbat, which is a BIG

step for the men in my life!


Good luck - let me know how it goes.

good letter back from the Rabbi - I see I had his email address

slightly wrong, I'm glad you figured out the right one.

We should also read something from Ruth tonight (maybe read

beforehand so we can discuss if we want). I found some neat stuff on

a website called You might want to subscribe

(it's free) they have lots of good info. and discussion groups.

So, can you eat dairy stuff? I was going to get some dairy stuff for

tonight, since it's Shavuot.



Jen to Barbara

More options May 25

Hey there,

Well, I don't know whether I can or not-- so I'll try :)!

I'll check out the website. I subscribed to too.


But we are keeping Kosher on Shabbat

As Dennis Prager teaches somewhere the reasons 4 keepin' K -- other than Torah's subjecting one's desires to God, thus imparting a measure of holiness to her life -- R the following:

1. Distinguish bet. the human and the animal (who cannot discipline h.s. when it kums 2 food). To wit, I keep K, I am in control of my decision-makin' process -- a characterstic the animal does not have.

2. Distinguish bet. life and death; Judaism prohibits -- besides other types -- the flesh of animals that kill other animals, & milk(life) tog. w/ meat (death).

3. Prohibit gratuitous suffering to the animal; hence prohibiting all types of killing animals -- particularly thru huntin' that may not be "clean" kill -- and limiting it to Shchitah -- a humane method that limits measurably the suffering of the animal. Still, Vegetarianism rules them all (and if u know what to eat, it is the healthiest, tho Torah is concerned w/ the health of the soul and is NOT 2 be read as a Physician's Desk Reference.

Hag Sameach (A Joyous Holiday),


I agree that vegetarianism is a safe bet. We have been eating more and

more fish in our household, because that helps us to be healthier, and

it also makes keeping Kosher easier.

Last night I made challah in the shape of a seven-rung ladder and

blintzes, all with my children, and explained Shavuot. Then, we went

over to Barbara and Dan Mandell's house for study.

Making the blintzes with my children made me feel more connected to

traditions and rituals than even lighting the Shabbat candles.

We made plans last night for Sukkot and shelter building.

Back to Kosher-- can I distinguish what I do from my family's needs at

this point? If I am not living in a completely Kosher household, how

will that affect my conversion?


Back to Kosher-- can I distinguish what I do from my family's needs at

this point?

You R not "committed" (or pledged) yet to follow the Mitzvot.

If I am not living in a completely Kosher household, how

will that affect my conversion?

DEpending on the Rabbi w/ whom you'll convert. Orth. and Cons. Rabbis will want to see evidence or hear from you that you adhere to K laws. Reform rabbis represent a movement that allows personal autonomy. You want, you keep. You don't want, you don't keep. REform unlike the other two is non-halachik (bound 2 J. Law) in relation to rituals or mitzvot bet. God and man. Yet whatever u do should philosophically be based on knowledge rather than on ignorance. In principle ANY educated course of action is leg. in Reform (in the domain of the ritual). Orth. and Cons. are bound 2 J. Law, yet even there one may find different interpretions or gradations.

Incidentally, I don't eat anything that has a face of a living creature, fish included.



Well, it is an interesting question, and one I had to study more

before I could make my answer.

For me, it seems absurd to convert to anything if you don't want to

observe its history, customs, practices, and rituals. Also, it would

be ridiculous for me to convert at all if I did not want to be bound

by the covenant; if I did not want a heritage to belong to, to pass on

to my children.

If I did not want a Jewish identity, then I could simply observe what

I want to observe at home and not convert. For that matter, I could

keep covenants and not convert.

However, I do want the belonging, the covenant, the peoplehood.

And I am aware enough that Jewish numbers are dropping, particularly

the numbers of observant Jews, so it makes sense to enter the Covenant

for practical, political reasons. And not the least of which, it is

covenant to read the Torah during service throughout the year. I

cannot help to keep this covenant, I cannot help to make a minyan in

Kirksville either, if I have not entered the convenant.

I know that politically speaking, I am not prepared to become an

Orthodox Jew (if I were, I would have to move to St. Louis and live

within walking distance of a Synagogue), and that if I convert to

Reform, there will be some Orthodox who question my conversion, and

particularly that of my children unless they undergo circumcision

someday. And if we go to Israel or my sons want to marry Orthodox

women, they will have to (and maybe I will as well) convert to


However, given my political views, I think that Reform is the most

sympatico: I would not have to compromise my political views to

become Reform. Specifically, I refer to gay rights.

Also, I am not currently married, and have no specific plans to become

married. This would, to my knowledge, specifically rule out

Conservative and Orthodoxy.

So, although I believe the Torah to be divinely inspired; I believe

the Sabbath should continue to be observed on Friday-Saturday; I

believe that all of the holidays should be observed; I believe that

the services should continue in Hebrew; I am teaching my children the

Sh'ma and saying it with them daily-- all of these actions should

suggest Conservative. However, from what I have read about Reform, it

is more possible to be Reform and to navigate through the rituals and

observances, than to be Conservative and be in favor of gay rights.

Also, I am aware that in Judaism, it is less important what I believe

than what I DO.

But metaphorically speaking, I think the intent, the trying to

observe, has merit.

In reference to keeping Kosher, if I were single, had no children, no

partner, then none of the laws of Kosher would be an issue for me at

all. I would be vegetarian and that would be it.

However, since family meals are an important part of our lives, and I

live with a group of dedicated carnivores, one of whom is not ready to

convert to Judaism, and three of whom cannot convert because of

custody issues, I don't think I can issue proclamations for the family

about Kosher.

But Dereck and I have daily conversations about it. Yesterday, I told

him that I was going to keep Kosher for myself. He mentioned some

feelings of loss that there were foods that we enjoy together than now

we cannot have together. I said, "Well, these foods (sausage,

spareribs) are not good for my digestive system, in addition to not

beind kosher. And isn't it enough that I am there? Do I have to be

eating the same dish?"

He had to admit that these foods are not good for me (or really, for

anyone) and that maybe, yes, that would be enough.

I can see a point in my household where we eventually have separate

meat and milk dishes, and I can see us moving slowly toward observing

the laws of Kosher. If we lived in an area in which it were easier to

obtain Kosher meats, I would feel better, and I am willing to come to

Columbia for them as much as I can (I get parve for Challah in


I realize that I am in the rather unusual position of being a woman

among non-Jews in a household who wants to convert.

I don't know whether or how I should mention this next part: But

since we are talking about covenants and keeping them and conversion,

I will share this with you:

Last night I was at baseball game for my son, and talking with my best

friend. She was telling me, as she often does, about her sister, who

is unbearably poor, raising three children, has a husband who drives a

truck whose back is out so he can't work, they have mounting medical

bills, and this poor woman just sounds so much like Job with all she

has had to bear in her adult life.

Yesterday I could not hear this story without great discomfort (I

never can) thinking about my own significant blessings, the money I

have been spending on beautiful tableclothes for Shabbat and Kiddush

cup, and candleholders, while this woman is trying to stretch a dollar

to feed and clothe her children.

So, I wrote my friend a check for $100 and told her to use it for her

sister-- in the way she felt best, whether it be to buy her something

she needs, just give her the money, or to give it to her slowly over

time. I asked her not to tell her sister where it came from.

It is not out of my nature, or unique to my studies of Judaism to to

do this. Several years ago, I gave two friends $1500 because they

needed it desperately and I had it to give. I have always told Dereck

that this is part and parcel of who I am: I cannot enjoy what I have

if there are those who are suffering and I can somehow ease their

suffering, even in small ways.

And yesterday when my friend was thanking me, I said, "It's a mitzvot.

It's a commandment. I'm keeping it."



DEar Jen,

I have only read about one half of your "Megillah" and addressing its issues would take us a long conversation.

Be it as it may -- and till u hear from again (soon) let me say this: you may not be a Jew (yet), but you do sound like a sound one!



I have today read about half (more than half) of Milton Steinberg's As

A Driven Leaf. It has left me a little sad tonight. I have

experienced doubt as he has, left only tremulously with faith in G-d.

And I find it somewhat ironic to be reading about a great Rabbi

Master in the throes of a deep existential despair about the Tradition

which for me as provided answers and great joy.

Reading about his tribulations has not caused any of my own answers to

be questioned or troubled, but instead, I find myself deeply

sympathetic that he cannot find the peace that I have found.

And this is a somewhat new position for me to be in.

I have memorized the Hebrew alphabet, and am writing it over and over

again so I can learn it thoroughly. The vowels still confuse me, but

I am just beginning.

I also have my own Torah and commentaries now. It is beautiful. We

had a tornado warning today, so I took to my basement my Torah, my

prayer book, my kiddush cup and candlesticks (my children were not


It felt good to have these things to protect and care for. The

tornado dissipated over K, and then reformed to the North.



And this is a somewhat new position for me to be in.



I also have my own Torah and commentaries now. It is beautiful.



The Torah says on its binding "A Modern Commentary" and is edited by

W. G. Plaut. It is an issue of the Union of American Hebrew

Congregations. Dan and Barbara recommended it. They said that Eliot

Fox (is that right?) is the best, but I had a hard time finding his.

I can see now, coming in the last 100 pages of the Steinberg book,

that what Elisha will come to understand is that he cannot reason his

way to some undeniable truth-- that he path he started on is the path

to which he must return.

But I suspect it will not be as simple as all that for our Elisha.

I'll write more when I have finished.


The Torah says on its binding "A Modern Commentary" and is edited by

W. G. Plaut.

Tho not the "last word" -- you'll never 've the "last word" on anything let alone on Torah commentary-- this commentary is fine. I use it as my text bk. for my MU class on the Torah. When you "graduate" from this book in 'bout 10 yrs. you'd find other commentaries awaiting 4 your perusal. Everet Fox's book is not necessarily a commentary; only a very fine translation.


Well, having finished As A Driven Leaf on Monday, I thought I would

reflect on it for you. I will say that it is a very compelling read,

even though I anticipated its events and outcome along the way. That

did not prevent the journey itself from being masterful.

And I will also say that the existential crisis therein makes any that

I have had look like a toddler's temper tantrums.

One of the things that is particularly fascinating in the book is the

education Steinberg himself must have had in order to have written it.

He must have studied the Greeks: Aristotle, Plato, and Euclid at the

very least.

I have studies Plato and Aristotle, but not Euclid (though I have had

some rudimentary geometry), so I was able to follow the book very


I have never thought myself that I could determine through ration and

reasoning what the Truth about the universe was, though I have at

times thought that perhaps it was possible to unearth some kind of

indisputable Truth during this life.

The relativists are also very appealing to me. Although I believe

that one sole Universal Truth guides the Universe, I have also read

Borges and find his postulates about the imagination very compelling.

But I digress.

Because I have never shared Elisha's own surety of where his path

would lead him (and ultimately did not, could not lead him), I was

able to step outside of his crisis a little more than I would have

been able to if he had taken a path that would have seemed to me to

produce more results.

In the past few months, I have read some interesting books: Rational

Mysticism, The Search for the Contemplative Life, In Search of Grace.

It is interesting that the one component they all seem to share is

community. Love for our fellow humans. That seems to be the one

thing we can do and say and know with some surety.

But they also, these books, reflect on the necessity for faith into

action. And to me, this is the biggest message of As A Driven Leaf.

Elishah comes to realize that the only way he can comfort the woman he

loves as she is dying is through offering her the tenets of his own

forsaken faith, the psalms and Hebrew prayers. And he comes to

realize that his own life in study has been utterly wasted because the

conclusions led him only to confusion and chaos. His life would have

been better spent loving his fellow men than alienating and betraying

his people.

One of the things I have had to come to is that instead of waiting to

find out definitively what to believe, how to act, that I had to take

that leap of faith and start doing something.

It makes sense to me, it resonates with me, that by keeping the

mitzvot, I am loving G-d. And that by loving my children, by

preparing their meals, by cleaning up after them, I am loving G-d, and

keeping his commandments.

And this, therefore, also gives meaning and honor to the most

seemingly menial tasks. The constant household maintenance, meal

preparation, that once was very tedious to me (not unlike Elishah, I

would rather read a book), now has a specific meaning besides the

endlessness of Sysyphus pushing his rock: Yes, the dishes will always

have to be done. The work of life has to be done. We need to continue

G-d's work, and to love and take care of each other and the earth.

I was reminded the other day of an anecdote from my college days: It

was approaching Earth Day in April, and I was still attending the

Mormon Church. I stood up and spoke of how important it is to take

care of the earth and to recycle, etc. etc.

After I had finished, the minister stood up right after me and said

that Earth Day and recycling were distractions of the Devil, to keep

us from our priorities, and that if we had faith in G-d and kept the

commandments, the earth would take care of itself.

I was stunned. I could not believe my ears. Not only had he just

completely flattened me publicly, but the complete absurdity of what

he was saying just stupefied me.

So, when I saw the recycling bins at Beth Shalom, I smiled to myself.

I like the emphasis on what we do in Judaism, but I also appreciate

the context the beliefs bring to it too.

Barbara and I are going to start studying the Torah in conjunction

with the cycles that are being read with the congregation. And we are

going to discuss it via email, as well as lunch once a week (it's too

much to try to do adult study on Shabbat and study with the kids).

Dereck, my beloved, teaches Judaism at Truman State University (I may

have told you this already) and has studied Hebrew for years. He is

helping me with my Hebrew studies.

We are coming down for services Friday night, so you can meet him then.