Monday, August 30, 2010

Shabbos In Tannersville

For many years I had a quote on my refrigerator to the effect that one should not go back to a place where one had once been happy.

You might think that this is a contradiction for someone who is very into creating traditions, but a recurring yearly event with the family is not quite the same as returning after an extended absence, to a place filled with childhood memories and expecting to find everything unchanged - because it seldom is....

I spent nearly all my childhood summers upstate in Tannersville, NY and many of them in this home.

(You can see from these photos why, after I had children of my own, I was unable to fathom the allure of going from a cramped city apartment to an even more cramped bungalow for the summer...)
(You can also spot the dilapidated gazebo in the second photo where I spent many a rainy summer afternoon channeling Liesel from The Sound of Music singing "I am sixteen, going on seventeen" while skipping from bench to bench....)

I returned to Tannersville shortly after I was married and it was a painful experience. Time had not stood still. Memories which were still fresh in my mind, led to expectations of moments frozen in time, but the reality was that life had gone on and the "landscape" had changed.

Somehow though, as more time passed and my personal expectations changed, when we received an invitation from Michael and Annette to spend a Shabbos with them in their home, which coincidentally is across the street from the aforementioned house, I was once again eager to revisit familiar ground.

As we progressed up the thruway to the point where the sky seems to get larger and bluer with each passing mile, I could almost feel the stresses of the week dissolving within me.

This is the idyllic view from their backyard.

Michael and Annette are consummate host and hostess and we had a FABULOUS time. We began the weekend by doing a bit of "antiquing" in a neighboring town and then had a relaxing late Friday afternoon sipping coffee on the deck at Point Lookout, where the view encompasses five states. Have you ever known me to relax and sip coffee on a Friday afternoon? I'm still not sure how Annette managed to pull that amazing Shabbos together.....

Shabbos morning had me up early (well... early for me...) and in the shul, which I found quite unchanged, except for the alarm signs in the front yard and the unsightly energy efficient bulbs now gracing the fixtures. It is a strange experience sitting and davening as a grown woman in a pew of a shul that one has only sat in as a child. It was almost an out of body experience.

We enjoyed a "gemutlich" Shalosh Seudos at Samson and Judy's house and stayed until the men returned from maariv, so that we wouldn't have to face the bears (another new and unwanted development since my childhood) alone on our trek home. (I figured that if I let Avram walk in front of me, by the time the bear was done with him, he wouldn't have much of an appetite left for me {grin}).

Motzoei Shabbos found us playing Scattergories and Bananagrams and Sunday had us visiting Olana, the Persian style home of famed Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church. A quick stop at a local farm on the way back to the city, yielded us what seemed like bushels of fresh picked corn, eggplant, zucchini, peaches, pears and plums for this week's zwetschgenkuchen.

All in all, I'd have to say that in the G6's version of the Fodor's Guide to Tannersville, it receives four and a half stars!!! (It lost the half star because of the bears. This is because I lost half my MIND listening to Jennifer clap her hands wildly to scare them away every time we walked outside at night....)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food Photo Friday - Rosh Hashana Prep

Yom Tov prep has started in earnest over here at the G6 household.
Raisin Challah, Honey Orange Spice Cake, quiches, soups and desserts are in full swing. Since the tables have turned this week and the G6s are actually going to be guests this Shabbos, I have had extra time all week to feed the freezer.
I'm always interested in hearing about my readers' Yom Tov favorites.
Feel free to "share with the class".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Wife Knows Everything....


I never would have thought that there was even the slightest chance that I would be posting a horse racing video on my blog, but this gave me a chuckle and I thought it might do the same for you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Food Photo Friday - Russian Vinaigrette

I work with a gentleman named George. George is Russian. George is often giving me recipe ideas, most probably because we all know that I have absolutely no interest in or affinity for cooking (snort). Most of George's recipes involve vodka or large quantities of beef. Some of George's recipes involve vodka AND beef. I seldom even listen to make George's recipes.... until this week.
George told me about a fascinating recipe entitled Russian Vinaigrette. It appealed to me because it is yet another one of those salads that, if served on Friday night, will still remain palatable as leftovers on Shabbos day.

Russian Vinaigrette
  • 1-2 large bunch beets, cooked and cubed small
  • 4-7 red potatoes, cooked and cubed small
  • 3/4 - 1 bag baby carrots, cooked and cubed small
  • several scallions, chopped
  • 1 bag sauerkraut, drained
  • 4-6 pickles, chopped
  • splash of olive oil
  • salt - only if needed... test first (mine needed)

hmm..... I wonder how it would go with a shot of vodka......

Scene Around Town - Rural Washington Heights

It's been a while since I've posted a Scene Around Town piece, but this was just too good to pass up.

I've long contended that Washington Heights is not nearly as urban as the naysayers would have you believe. I just looooove when people from Borough Park (home of not one decent park) say that Washington Heights in not pretty. I live on a lovely tree lined street and Ft. Tryon Park is just a few minutes walk from my door.

But I must admit that I've never seen CORN growing on my neighborhood sidewalks .... that is until now.....

I'll see if my local readers can find this spot themselves. The first person to correctly identify it wins a dinner invite to my house. Hint: It's a mere 0.2 miles from my front door.


After showing Avram these photos, he told me about squash and pumpkins growing on the street near his office (also in Washington Heights). Go forth and locate!
All the best,
Farmer G6

P.S. Check back later... I'm still trying to get a Food Photo Friday up today!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm Invited To Join The P.T.What? For Whom?!?!

They've gotta be kidding me!
When my first child entered pre-school, I'll admit that I donned those rose colored glasses and immersed myself in every parent/teacher/school/class/do good activity I could find.
Everything was so new and exciting.
I started out as "Classmother".
I soon served a stint on the PTA.
I made cold calls to raise funds.
I worked tirelessly on countless chinese auctions.
I attended/set up/cleaned up brunches and performances and graduations (some legitimate... others... well... whether or not nursery warrants a graduation is a whole other post).
I must admit though, that the novelty does wear off to some extent. After 14 years as Classmother, I 'retired' upon Michael's High School graduation and was more than happy to let a "younger" mother wear those pretty pink eyeshades when Jennifer's class was short a pair of hands. I still pitched in here and there - don't get me wrong. But there's just so much "rah rah" one can muster after nearly two decades and the realization that it's pretty much the same thing year after year. SSDK: Same stuff, different kid.

Fast forward to today. Three children have graduated college. My youngest is finishing up middle school. It's been a few years since I've chaperoned a trip to the zoo on the week of Parshas Noach.

Joey received a thick packet from law school this week, with lots of informative paperwork to read and rights to sign away.
I was most fascinated though by the "Family Information Form" which tauts the upcoming "terrific Sunday brunch for you and your parents" (their words, NOT mine) and details what I think is the kicker - the "Parents Council" which "looks forward to including your parents in the Law School community".

PTA for twenty-somethings?

I sure hope I'm not called upon to chaperone any time soon... I've sort of extended my workday hours since the kids were small...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

תקעו בחדש שופר (Repost)

(This timely piece was originally posted on the blog last year, but I am reposting it for all those interested and all those who joined my readership this year)

My father ז''ל was Baal Tokeah in Breuer's from 1958 until he retired in 1987. He was well known for his mastery of the more challenging "yekkish" teruohs, which involve manipulation and control of the diaphragm, as opposed to the tongue. To my mind, these teruohs sound more like actual sobbing than the traditional ones.

I do not have any sound recordings of my father's talents, but if any of his students who read this blog are in possession of such a thing, you know where to find me ;).

I have long maintained though, that every shofar has a "voice" and when my son Michael blows my father's preferred shofar in the same manner in which he was taught - and if I close my eyes, I am transported back in time.

Jnet Users: This video can be accessed on KosherTube here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

School Days

I was talking with some friends yesterday about our collective childhood memories regarding back-to-school supplies shopping. I remember the excitement generated by a pack of crisp, new "five for a dollar" notebooks. I remember the care taken in choosing precisely which colors would be set aside for which subjects. I recall the anticipation of the endless possibilities encapsulated in that one package of filler paper. It was a very enjoyable experience. Some of my friends had other memories. They remember feelings of anxiety and trepidation brought on by these excursions. I'm curious as to what the general consensus of my readership is. What are your memories?

Jennifer went supplies shopping yesterday. I had MAJOR sticker shock!!
I am a very frugal person by nature, and I have done my best to instill these values in my children, but I also know that having supplies handy that lift your spirits can definitely be conducive to a more productive learning/working experience. Finding the right balance between the two can often be tricky. What do you think is an appropriate amount to allocate for school supplies? (I'm not talking graphing calculators and flash drives, by the way...)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Is Chessed A "Girls'" Mitzvah?

The Torah contains 613 mitzvos.
Some are only for men to perform.
Some are more geared towards the women,
I am finding more and more though, that in the desire for limmud Torah, certain mitzvohs that are not gender specific, are being relegated to the "bittul zman" pile. Why? I'm not sure.

Bais Yaakov schools around the country send their female students out to hospitals and nursing homes to visit the elderly and infirm. Yet many men languish in these facilities and in their homes, craving a young man's face - wishing a yeshiva boy would come and learn with them or merely talk to them. But the boys never come. It's "bittul zman".

Chessed in general, has become in the Yeshiva system, something to be thought of as a waste of time at worst or a "girls' mitzvah" at best. The Yeshivish crowd on the whole is far too busy learning to take time out and actually perform some of the mitzvohs that they learn about.

Is the Torah not meant to be a blueprint by which we go out and LIVE our lives? Why don't the Yeshivos stress chessed for boys as much as for girls?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Senior Trip - Day Two

Seniors have more stamina than you might think.
After a restful night in our luxurious accommodations (had I known in advance about the pool and the gym, I'd have packed accordingly....), the men were up bright and early for shacharis minyan and the ladies weren't far behind (if you're up before 7 am, can you still call it a vacation?).

The Shabbos House was once again ready and waiting for our arrival with a hot breakfast, offering up eggs, bagels, rolls, lox, whitefish, fruit platters, vegetable platters, cereals, yogurts and an assortment of danishes in quantities suitable for a small country. We had a sociable breakfast, which in itself is a vacation for people like myself, whose workday breakfast consists of a coffee alone at my desk at 10 am.... and then prepared our lunches for the road.

We set off, with a short detour through the verdant hillsides of Vermont, to the Clark Museum, which describes itself as housing "outstanding collections of European and American art in an intimate setting of profound natural beauty". They're not kidding. The lush gardens, open floor plan and wall to wall windows that let Hakodosh Boruch Hu's art juxtapose with the art of Renoir, Monet and Pissaro makes for a truly stunning experience. One of my personal favorites was this Renoir entitled, Studies of the Berard Children.

After viewing the collection, we had our lunch outdoors on their manicured grounds and headed off for the Norman Rockwell Museum. The museum displayed many of Rockwell's famous paintings, along with lesser known works and every Saturday Evening Post cover (over 300!) that he illustrated. It might be interesting to note that Norman Rockwell's art is a very accurate depiction of turbulent times, capturing both nostalgic elements along with the very real social issues of the time. Rockwell's studio has been transported and installed on the museum grounds as well and it is very interesting to see how the man who chronicled a time period lived and worked.

We were one short of a mincha minyan (since leaving Rabbi Rubin back at his home in Albany) and a fun discussion ensued as to which rest stop would likely have the most "tenth man" prospects. Our bus driver insisted that the New Baltimore rest area was a 'can't miss'. He wasn't off the bus for even 10 seconds before he saw an approaching tenth man... followed in short order by an eleventh and twelfth. An iPhone app for this can't be far behind.....

We stopped one more time for dinner and as the sun set on our mini vacation, we were in for a rare treat. During a brain storming session as to where our next trip would be headed, our driver decided to perform for us his ultimate destination. What a way to end the day.....

The Jnet users: This video can be accessed on KosherTube here.

Wednesday's Wacky Ads

4 year old Morah available!!! Whoa! A child prodigy.

I suppose that I should be glad that she's only offering her services as an aleph beis tutor and not as a grammar tutor.

(Spotted in the Lakewood Shopper by blog reader Dovid B.
Keep sending in your photos, everybody.)

Now, I myself spotted this next ad in The Jewish Press this past week.

I'm not quite sure what kind of business they are really running over there, but maybe when the 4 year old morah grows up, she can work for them.....

(I like massages as much as the next person, but I don't really think that this is the best way to get them...)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Senior Trip - Day One

You might be wondering why Avram and I went on a trip with a group consisting largely of senior citizens.

The answer is many-fold. To begin with, in my neighborhood there are precious few group activities in which married couples can participate without the utter separation of the sexes. For some reason, senior citizens get a "pass" on these restrictions. I guess they feel that they are too old to "get into trouble" anyway.

Secondly, Avram was dying to go to Tanglewood. Thirdly, I was dying to go to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Lucky for us, we don't think of aging as a contagious disease....

We started our journey on Sunday and I was thrilled to discover that the bus had an internet connection (who me? addicted??). Our first stop was a surprise (only to me) stop at an outlet mall.

Getting off the bus each time reminded me of what happens when one's plane taxis to a stop at the gate - hurry up and wait - much fussing with the overhead compartments, punctuated with a bit of marital bickering ("What? What do you need to take along your NEWSPAPER for?") while everybody stands impatiently for an interminable amount of time wondering what exactly is going on up front that the line isn't moving one inch.

It was after we all emptied our wallets to the nice outlet employees and sat down for lunch that I got my first inkling that I was on a senior trip. Along with the beautifully packed lunch bags (sandwiches, drinks, danishes, fruit cups, salad containers, chips, wafers and bananas) emerged an assortment of pill boxes in a spectrum of colors. Yes, yes, I know one of them was Avram's.... shhhhh!

Shortly thereafter, following a scenic ride through the Berkshire Mountains and some quaint towns (antique shops and homes with lovely wrap-around porches) we arrived at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Upon entering the park gates we were greeted by kaleidoscope of beach umbrellas peppering the lawns. A convivial picnic atmosphere preceded the concert, but the moment the music swelled, you could have heard a pin drop (NOT my experience at similar concerts in New York's Central Park). We were seated by kindly volunteer ushers, in the fourth row of the main shed and prepared to enjoy a stellar program. There is an indescribable feeling of calm that overcomes you when listening to a Beethoven violin concerto in a verdant outdoor setting with the breeze gently rustling the leaves in the trees and lifting the hair off the back of your neck. The feeling stays with you the rest of the day.

When the concert ended, we made our way to Albany, where we were scheduled to have dinner and spend the night. (Another nice thing about my neighborhood's senior trips is that accommodations and amenities are always beyond top notch)

Dinner was pre-arranged at the Shabbos House, an amazing enterprise run by Rabbi Mendel & Raizy Rubin, serving the Jewish student population of SUNY Albany. In addition to all their amazing contributions to Jewish life all week long, the Rubins feed Shabbos meals to in the vicinity of 150 college students, running the spectrum from being raised in observant homes to those with barely any Jewish identity at all. Their seasonal newsletter entitled, "What's Cooking? at Shabbos House", reminded me of the title of this blog - only the Rubins raise it to a whole new level.

The Rubins served us as dear guests, with cloth tablecloths, beautiful table settings, fresh flowers on every table and warm smiles & delicious food. When Rebbetzin Rubin discovered that a couple in our group were celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary, they put sparkling grape juice in the freezer and even managed to BAKE AND DECORATE a cake in their honor, in time for dessert!! I can easily see why they see so much success from their kiruv efforts.

All in all a relaxing and enjoyable first day. Stay tuned for Day Two.....

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Joey Returns - A Guest Post

(Despite his utter disdain for the blogging community, my son Joey decided to take me up on my standing offer to guest post on this blog following his recent vacation. Be sure not to miss the heart-stopping video at the end.)

The Grand Canyon

About a week before I was due to arrive at the Grand Canyon, my brother and I discussed whether or not to make a brocho on this natural wonder. We both found rabbonim who discussed the issue and held that a brocho should be made, but a definitive source could not be found. And so the question of making a brocho on the Grand Canyon remained somewhat up in the air.

Until I saw it.

The day started with a lengthy bus drive out to the desert. A stop at the Hoover Dam, no small sight in its own right, helped alleviate some of the boredom. On the way, we were shown a video of the formation and history of the Grand Canyon. The attempts made by the narrator to make the Canyon's development sound like a natural and scientific process seemed almost laughable. The complexity and sheer beauty of almost the entire landmark was shouting that something bigger than science was at work here. And that was only after seeing just video and pictures.

There's an old saying - "There are no atheists in foxholes." I think that there are no atheists at the Grand Canyon either, so long as you're willing to open your eyes.

We arrived in Grand Canyon National Park around midday. Dropped off at a lodge inside the park, we were told to go through the back where we would find one of the most popular vistas for viewing the canyon; a wonderful place to see it for the first time.

I will never forget how I felt walking out that back door. I have seen the Swiss Alps, the New York Skyscrapers, the wildlife of California and the beaches of Florida. None of it can compare to the awe inspiring and majestic Canyon. I've heard and read many times about people's breath catching in their throat but I've never had it happen to me like it did at that moment. The question of making a brocho was answered in my mind in the blink of an eye, and I didn't hesitate to
take advantage. Words, like pictures and video, cannot come close to doing the Grand Canyon justice. Every color, cliff, crevice and light shift brought a new view and a new perspective. It is impossible to have "seen" the Grand Canyon because there are an infinite amount of ways to see it. Nothing made by man can ever compare. It is a gift from above and a peek into the wonder that Hashem can bestow on us.

When Theodore Roosevelt saw the Canyon, he ordered that nothing was to be done to improve it. This is one creation that cannot be improved and it would be folly to even contemplate trying.

There was something about that place that makes one want to experience as much of it as one can. And so I climbed. Every cliff and edge had a better view than the last. Hopefully you can see some of the pictures and video I took on some of the more precarious places. Let's just say that if my mom knew just how close to the edge I was getting she would not be thrilled. But I couldn't help it. Being out on those edges in those surroundings was an unimaginable rush. I just had to make sure not to shake too much when I got nervous.

An old Native American poet once wrote "We can embrace that which we know to be beautiful even if we cannot understand what makes it so." But we do know. We do understand. We can appreciate the Grand Canyon knowing that it was the work of Heaven and Heaven alone.

That's the true brocho of the Grand Canyon.

(G6 talking: .... and just in case anybody out there doesn't know where mother's gray hairs come from.........)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dinner Guests - The Next Installment

My landlady appreciates the enviroment of hachnosas orchim that we try to create in and around our home and happily offers me the names and phone numbers of new neighbors who move in to our building.

We had one such lovely young couple on Friday night and it only took until some time between aishes chayil and kiddush to establish the fact that we are distantly related (aren't we all?)...

Shabbos day we were privileged to have "Michael Westin" and family for lunch. L'il Westin #1 made Avram's day when he commented that our white striped tablecloth reminded him of a Yom Kippur tallis - - - something Avram sheepishly admitted that he had thought himself on ocassion. L'il Westin #2 had me wrapped around her finger the minute she set up the tea set we'd given her to play with in perfect color coordinated fashion. She cemented the deal when she told me that she already has her Purim costume for next year planned out. I must say that all the L'il Westins behaved better than many ADULTS we've had at our table (as Rav Breuer zt"l once said in one of his mussar shmoozes, "I don't mean ANYBODY in particular, but if you think I mean you, then I do...."). Conversation with the adults was lively and interesting as well and once again the lights went out too early on a perfectly lovely Shabbos meal.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday's Wacky Signs

Ever vigilant blog reader S.L. spotted this scene, snapped a quick photo and sent it in - THANKS! Of course, Mr. S.L. said he'd have stuck a quarter in the machine first.... ;)
Who doesn't want to recapture their childhood?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hashem's Creatures - Up Close and Personal

There's really no reason that I'm posting these pics at this time.
I took them.
I like them.
End of story......

(I suppose the eyes could count for a Ruby Tuesday.... What do you think?)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Are People So AFRAID?

Is it my imagination, or is the klal becoming increasingly hesitant of speaking out against errant ways they feel the tide (definitely no relation to T.I.D.E.) is turning? The need to fit in, or more correctly, the fear of expressing a minority (or perhaps silent majority) opinion overrides their personal beliefs.

Have the religious leaders and the men appointed by them to carry out their wishes, begun instituting and relying upon a culture of 'control through fear'?

I see this time and time again. People who are very upset about one issue or another in the Jewish community, but are fearful of speaking out. Fearful that their children will not be admitted into the "right" schools, fearful that their daughters will not be offered the "right" shidduchim, fearful of being labelled a trouble maker and being subsequently ostracized.

When did honest and open dialogue L'shem Shomayim (and I do believe that the majority of people on all sides of the issues are working L'shem Shomayim) become taboo? When did all but the most right wing opinion become something to be only whispered in darkened rooms? Why are people so afraid?

Case in point #1: Kindly respectable gentleman who has been wearing a white straw hat to shul in the summer for the past 30 years or so suddenly stops. Why? When asked privately, he admits that he is concerned that it may be affecting his 22 year old daughter's shidduch prospects (TRUE story).

Case in point #2: Recent, ongoing issue with overpriced chickens in my neighborhood. Many people come over to me and solicitously tell me where they buy their chickens and how much they pay. I ask them if they addressed the issue with anybody in a position to correct the problem. Sheepishly, though they admit to not paying those prices and taking their business elsewhere, they affirm that they haven't spoken out.

Case in point #3: Working and learning father of a large brood dutifully sends all of his sons off to Lakewood. As they marry in quick succession, with no secular education or training, the father is forced to take on more and more jobs, barely sleeping, in order to support his growing list of dependents. Finances are quickly spiraling out of control and eventually the community must bear the responsibility. But he feels he MUST follow this path without question.

People admit to wishing things were different but feel they have no power to affect change and are unwilling to paint what they perceive will be a target on their backs. Whether the threat is real or imagined, they are afraid.

How did this begin?
Where will it end?
What can we do about it?