15 April 2014

Giving it up for Easter & Passover

I don't make a big deal of religion.  I think it is a personal decision for each person, no matter how you are raised, and in some ways I consider what people call "spirituality" to be more important than formal religion.  To quote Abraham Lincoln:  "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion."

That said, organized religion can provide one with a community and support group, which I have found important when moving to places where I know nobody, or almost nobody.  It's the main reason I joined congregations when I moved to the Dallas area and then to Hartford.  However, while most people identify me as Jewish, I don't exclusively follow that religion, and when in Dallas I ended up spending more time at a friend's church - which has a stronger social justice streak then the synagogue I joined, and those who know me know how important that is to me - plus interesting adult learning and a really nice pastor.  I haven't found a church I like as well here, so I just participate in the Jewish community, at both the Reform congregation I consider my main home, and a friend's Orthodox congregation, as well as organizer of some of our community events.

It might inform you to know that in addition to being raised with Christian influences (my mother went to Jewish Sunday school, Catholic mass, and a Chicago Bears game every Sunday during the season, so those are the three religions primarily acknowledged in my family) including the Jesuits from whom my mother received one of her degrees and among whom she taught for a couple decades, I had three sets of godparents, none of whom are Jewish - one each of Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist.  My parents chose based upon who would raise us the way they would want us to be raised, which included continuing education and to be good people.  My parents don't see this being limited to one religion.

This explanation is important because every year I give up something for Lent.  I try to make it different every year.  One year it was cookies, which is tough because this is Girl Scout Cooky season.  Another year it was candy, tough because I tend to have some always at hand as a nervous thing (I substituted almonds); another year, it was crackers that I have in my desk for a similar purpose.  And so forth.

This year, I couldn't think of what to give up, and then realized I was almost out of bread, so I decided to give up that.  Also no related baked goods.  This makes it tough at my weekly morning bible study, which usually offers bagels or bread of some kind, with spreads.  (I always take the Passover date, and bring in a noodle kugel made with Passover noodles, which people seem to love because it's not the expected matzoh with spreads.)  It's harder for me because so often when busy I grab a sandwich, and this year I have been quite busy with a play and other activities.  I've eaten a lot of nut/fruit bars and yoghurt!

I did get asked by someone why I gave up bread when you're supposed to give up meat. Part of the reason is that I don't eat a lot of meat on a day-to-day basis, so it wouldn't be a real sacrifice to me.  The reason I do this is almost as a test of myself, to see if I can follow through for the full forty days.  I know some people who take the money they would spend on whatever they give up and give it to charity, and I don't do that (I did give all my Girl Scout Cookies to the troops that year, instead of buying any for myself - usually I do that for most of my order and just get a couple boxes for me), but I do like the mindfulness of having to remember "no, I don't; no, I can't."  It also helps to think about people who have to avoid certain foods all the time, or who don't have certain foods available to them for various reasons.

Now it is Passover, on top of Lent.  This means, if you want to be really observant in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European Jewish) sense, no beans or rice or other whole grains. (Sephardic Jews, from the Mediterranean, can eat them because it's the majority of their diet and their rabbis said it's OK.)  I've heard two reasons for this:  One, that because they swell when cooking, they look leavened, which is forbidden at Passover; and two, because they might have been stored in a warehouse with forbidden items and gotten contaminated. I think the latter is the reason that some won't eat peanut butter - the peanuts might have been in a warehouse with flour.  Since peanut butter didn't exist in 19th-Century Easter Europe, maybe it's just too foreign to their way of observance?

I had a friend who, when I mentioned giving up bread for Lent, asked how I expect to perform the required Passover Seder observances with matzoh?  I said that the small amount required for the ceremonials would be OK to me (to borrow from George Carlin, "my observance, my rules") but I wouldn't eat matzoh otherwise until Easter.  I've done something similar a few years ago, when I had an abscess in my jaw and major surgery with bone grafting just before Passover, and wasn't allowed anything crunchy or crumby.  There are a LOT of ways to cook potatoes, believe me!

These few overlapping days will be tough because often I would eat matzoh for meals when I would usually have rice, or pasta, or cereal.  Not possible until Sunday.  My diet is more limited, but in a way this frees me to be creative with what I do allow myself.  And those who know me know how much I love a cooking challenge!  Luckily I also love fruits and veggies, and I am not obsessive about eating only kosher-for-Passover items.  As long as it doesn't contain the forbidden items - grains, beans, rice - and nothing treyf (pork, shellfish, meat with dairy - I'll eat them the rest of the year, but not during Passover or the High Holy Days) I'm OK to eat it.  My meals may include some less-standard items, such as roasted squash (olive oil, slivered onion, and sage) for breakfast, but there's nothing wrong with that.  Think outside the cereal box.

I've dealt with this conjunction many times in the past.  The most interesting was the time I was asked to cook a meal for a group in Oklahoma, about 100 persons, with a medieval theme.  I knew that even if there were not observant Catholics in the group, some would be very observant as part of the character they played.  So I developed a multi-course meal that included Lent-appropriate vegetarian and vegan items; plenty of meat; and not many baked goods.  We ended up with very little leftover, other than the chicken liver pate that was on the first course platters (silly people!), salad (although all the rainbow assortment of Peeps® bunnies and chicks I'd used to decorate it did manage to vanish), and some of the lamb stew that was the third course.  I actually heard that people were surprised to see multiple meat courses come out given the ticket price, meaning they had not read the menus I'd placed at the tables.  I shopped well and can plan well, which is why the lamb was the third course instead of appearing earlier, so that people were stuffed with chicken cooked with grapes and herbs, and beef brisket with dried fruit and root vegetables, and didn't need to eat as much of it.  Dessert was strawberries with optional almond cream - edible by everybody except those with nut allergies, who had to make do with plain strawberries.  Awww.

I just saw strawberries on sale at the grocery, come to think of it.  As is asparagus, so there will definitely be an omelet or souffle on my menu this week, possibly on Saturday.  Yum!

02 April 2014

Three things for March

I tried to get a post up at the end of March, but the laptop I have been using was not cooperative.  I'll add it in a few days, and then complete a link.  This is just a quick post to tell you the three new things I did in March - as you can see, I'm still working on the "update the blog more often" part of my resolutions.  Still, this has been done more often than in 2013.

The new things I did in March were small:
  • March (really, dance) in a Mardi Gras parade.
  • Go dancing at a local club - really, I cannot remember ever dancing at a club, so even though I have gone out dancing many a time, I count this.  They have a monthly "Zodiac Night" and someone I've met recently teased me into going, and I'm glad I went.
  • Hands-on for silk from cocoon to knitting.
I did have fun with the Mawata class, which was at DFW Fiber Fest.  I got to spend one day in classes and one day shopping and visiting with friends, and then had to come home for the start of tech week.  They yarnbombed the convention centre, here are a few of my favourite pictures:
This one is my absolute favourite.

I want the pattern - and to know what yarn she used!

Someone made a LOT of these butterflies!

More pictures when I write about my adventures.

05 March 2014

Mardi Gras in Hartford

Fat Tuesday in New Orleans was cold (for New Orleans) and raining.  In Hartford, it was cold (starting the day at +3(F) and getting up to a balmy +28-30(F) by evening) and sunny until shortly before parade time.  But we stepped off and had our own, if smaller, carnival:

There are professional photos, of course (a nonprofessional has already posted a set if you want to see more, plus there's a commentary at the FB site which I believe is public); mine are from the start and end, because I was too busy participating in the middle.  I dressed warmly in layers that were either brightly coloured or in Mardi Gras shades of gold, purple, and green.  All the instruments, things to throw, and so on were distributed before I got there (had hoped to get out of work early, but of course not) so I just danced along, waving at people with my bright, woolly mittens, and wearing a glitter mask.  It was cool when a busload of people waved back.

My friend Lauren got there in time to be one of the walking skeletons:

I did get a couple bits of video with my new camera, so the resolution is better and you can even hear sound, although my camera work still leaves a LOT to be desired (and I have to remember not to dance whilst trying to record):
The second one shows something you definitely would not see at the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade!

Afterwords, off to String Thing and Origami at the Hartford Makerspace, which due to lack of people other than us turned into a bunch of trigonometry, testing of newly donated projection equipment, and playing a bit with something called SÅND.

I did struggle this year about my commitment for Lent.  A lot of people look on it as a time to give up something, and often I have done that, and didn't feel like giving up something I've given up in the past.  Others look on it as a time to commit to do something spiritual or giving back to the community, which I already do quite a lot.  I thought of committing to read a psalm a day, or a chapter in Exodus, but with rehearsals for a show I'm dubious about having the time.

So my official commitment, which came about serendipitously because I ran out of bread and tortillas on Tuesday, is to not eat breadly items or similar baked goods.  This should provide some interesting opportunities for creative cooking, not to mention whittling down my store of noodly things.

And I realized that for the second year in a row, I missed out on eating a paczki.

03 March 2014

February Resolution Report

Obviously my resolution to update the blog more often didn't get much traction in February, as I just hit the minimum requirement, but that is primarily because of my First Time Activity - I went to Israel!  Not only was I madly busy getting things done before I left (including a couple of business trips and co-hosting a MAJOR community event) but I was mostly offline whilst there.  Although Israel is a very wired country, the hotels had limited Internet capability unless you brought your own device, which I did not.  I rented an Israeli cellphone which was definitely not a smartphone, and I didn't take a laptop or tablet. I wanted to travel light and saw no need (since I had Communion of Dreams on MP3 and a book on actual paper) to bring anything electronic with me.

The trip was marvelous, fascinating, amazing - the last being the byword of the rabbi who led us and became one of the catchwords of the trip - and when I figure out how to get the photos off my new camera I'll write a few posts.  I did take a composition book with me and wrote pages every night, or some mornings, trying to record it all so I could have a reference for blog posts and future writing, and we had a semi-official blog running that my family used to see how I was doing on the trip.  One of the cool things is that we did not focus exclusively on religious locations and activities, but geopolitics, history from an Israeli viewpoint, archaeology, and so forth.
Us in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Us in the stands of the amphitheater at Caesarea.

A friend asked if there was one thing I expect to remember in five years.  How to predict?  But off the top of my head, these things stick in the front of my memory, and in no particular order:

  • Using the rooftops in Jerusalem's Old City to travel more quickly from one place to another.
  • Fresh dates!  Fresh persimmons!  And eating these almost every day if we wanted them.
  • The donkeys used as natural weed control in the date orchards at an organic farm on an Orthodox kibbutz.
  • Hearing the sounds of gunfire and shelling in Syria as we stood on the Golan Heights.
  • Buskers on Ben Yehudah Street.
  • Steam rising on the Jordan River as we went out for a very early morning walk, and the plaques in the walkway containing quotes from the Bible that mention the Jordan.
  • Architecture, from 1,000s of years ago to the early 20th Century.
  • A partially rebuilt building in Yafo, old stones beneath and stark glass walls above.
  • Learning how the Israelis have constructed many of the memorial and historic and museum sites to present a perspective or engage all the senses and emotions, not just as a static "this is here" location.
  • When "The Silver Platter" poem clicked home for me, as we walked down (in reverse of the usual order, due to persons in our group with mobility issues) from Mt. Herzl to Yad Vashem, and I saw this quote from Chaim Weizmann in 1947, not long after the UN’s decision to partition Palestine:  "No state is ever handed on a silver platter... The partition plan does not give the Jews but an opportunity."
Us at Herzl's tomb at the top of Mt. Herzl.

Our guide frequently used the phrase "It's complicated" to explain the history and how Israelis have grappled with the events that shaped the country - both in ancient history and even until today - and that seems to be spot-on for so much of what we saw and learned.

One thing I did take away is the absolute, unshakable belief of any Israeli that if they are invaded, they will repel the invaders.  They know there will be a cost, but as more than one said "when it is your family behind you, you aren't going to move."

View of Israel from a former Jordanian fort.

Our guide is a tank commander, so of course we went to Latrun.

More about the trip when I have time to compose the entries and include my own photos.  I appear in several of these photos because they are from the blog I mentioned above, and were taken by others.  I had some other almost-firsts in February, will talk more about the non-trip February in another post.

02 February 2014

How my resolutions did in January

Of the three resolutions I posted for 2014, one needs to wait for warmer weather, not to mention more time, so I am reporting on the other two.  I haven't updated the blog since early January, but I did three updates then, so while I am not doing as well as I would like for the second resolution I will consider it met.  I should have done an update later in the month, if only to miss on having to do so many catching up now.

The harder one is the first resolution, to do a new thing that isn't a variation on an old thing.  For January I am counting the "Get a Clue!" tour of the Mark Twain House & Museum, because I've never done a proper tour of the house, and I've never done a mystery tour like that.  My partner and I didn't win, technically, since she was sure the culprit was a different character (it came down on our chart to two, and she picked) but we had a lot of fun.

I did some new things that were variations on old ones, and a lot of fun too:
  1. Dancing at the Creative Cocktail Hour at Real Art Ways.  I've gone dancing before - for several years was notorious at Chicago-area cons for wearing out a series of partners, since I love dancing and have good stamina - and I've been to CCH before, but never dancing there.  A large part of that is that I am shy about going out on a dance floor solo, although I am willing to stay there if my partner dances off.  The nice thing about RAW is that nobody cares if you dance solo, or in a pair, or a group, and the gender makeups of any of them.
  2. Taking a class from Franklin Habit at Vogue Knitting Live! in New York.  Again, done plenty of classes at fiber conferences, but never that one and never from Franklin.  It was on tessellations and a lot of fun, and I got a bonus because in the "work on this for a while" part of the class Franklin discussed something he figured out about charting a different technique, and all of a sudden the penny dropped and I figured out why I couldn't get that technique when I'd tried it before.  I had felt very stupid about it but Franklin's mind works the way mine does on this topic and now it makes sense!  I am going to tell him so when I sent a picture of the piece I am knitting from my classwork.

Also in the variation-on-themes items, I have joined the Make Hartford makerspace and participated in an event there other than the Grand Opening; and I am now the "Leader of Logistics and Exchequery" for Welcome to Bohemia! shows (and related ones such as last weekend's Studio N111 fundraiser), which mostly means I make sure the stuff needed onsite is ready to go, especially at the front desk, and run the door; and keep track of things so the artsy people can have fun.

Stuff like this:

02 January 2014

My grandmother's vests - Holidays 2013

As promised in my last post (which I have now updated with the totals of items I knit and crocheted for charity in 2013), in this one I tell about the vests I made for my grandmother.

This is a longstanding tradition.  I am not sure for how many years I have given her a vest for Christmas.  We see her for Thanksgiving (Christmas celebrated with my SIL's family) and leave her Christmas gifts, wrapped, for her to open when appropriate.  One year, I wrapped the vest with a big book of crossword puzzles, which my grandmother loves to work, and she was disappointed that the gift I left was clearly too heavy to be a vest.  Another year, I asked in the fall what she wanted, and my grandmother said that she didn't need a vest, she had plenty.........then in November she whether I was giving her a vest that year because she was "cold" (I think it was in the mid- to high 60's(F)), and when I protested that she had told me in September that she didn't need one and I wasn't sure I had time to make one, my grandmother said that I should not listen to what she says in September because it's not yet cold enough for vests!  Of course I hadn't listened to her, and she did get a vest that year.

This year, I found some really fun brown self-striping yarn, and tried to make a zig-zag with it that was just not cooperating.  The weekend before Thanksgiving, I realized I needed to do something else or there would be no vest.  A quick search and I found a pattern for an afghan square that was done in three colours, which I translated into (trust me, the camera doesn't take quality pictures, and yes, I'm replacing it) just two - peach and rust:

I made up the rest of the vest around it.  Then I wrapped it and left it for Chanukah, which overlapped with Thanksgiving this year.  My SIL and I agreed to give my grandmother one gift for each night of Chanukah, since we would be there for several and she loves getting gifts.  The best item she opened while we were there was a one-pound Snickers® bar.  My grandmother didn't open the package with the vest before we left, but I heard several times about how wonderful it was after she did, even to the point that she had to completely change the outfit she planned to wear to supper that night so she could show off the vest.
The full-length picture has colours that are closer to actual, and the sides are straight despite what you see in this photograph:

When I got home, after finishing some of the other items I needed to get done, I returned to the original vest and decided to do a pattern I have done before, which is simply columns, and straight across on the back.  I like both ways the yarn worked out:

This close-up shows how interesting the yarn is in shorter stitch counts.  The above photos are truer to the colours, which are warm browns; the one below is rather cool and a bit washed out.  Yes, I did the front as intarsia, rather than having to sew together columns:
My grandmother sometimes wears the backs as the front, I wonder if she will do it with this vest?  This one went out just after Christmas (I'd left a gift for my grandmother to open for Christmas, never fear, and as expected she opened it on Christmas Eve - it is a scarf out of a ruffle yarn, which made me nuts trying to get it to work out properly) and I guess will be an Epiphany gift or something.  With it is a print of our family Thanksgiving portrait in a glam frame, and a note explaining that the vest was just included as padding in the package.  ;)

I really like the yarn and am sad it is a nameless millend so I cannot get more for another project.  I do have some that will probably turn into hat and mittens.  Since I tend to make both as seamless tubes, it will be interesting to see how differently the colour patterns turn out in those items.

01 January 2014

20 Hats and a Blanket

Those who know me will not be surprised that in the last days of 2013, I finished a bunch of items for various charities.  OK, I know that in the past I have designated the week between Christmas and New Year's for "selfish knitting" = something for me, and I did mostly finish a crocheted bolero for myself while on my Christmas trip to North Carolina.  But I had a number of items OTN/OTH and decided to fill a box and.........

For the Children's Comfort Tote Project, which gives a lidded plastic tote to kids in shelters and going into foster care in Maine, each of which contains new pajamas, hat, mittens, scarf, and blanket, plus toiletries and a stuffed animal, I made an afghan:

I'd had ideas about making several, but time ran short for assorted reasons.  It's a simple granny ripple done in a multicoloured yarn.

I didn't find the chemo caps dropoff point at Stitches East (where I'd received a very soft ball of orange yarn, that they asked us to use to make chemo caps, last year) earlier this fall, so I decided to send the caps to my usual recipient, PatPat's Hats.  Then with one thing and another, hats being handy for carry-around knitting, I ended up filling a box:

It contains twenty hats, mostly knit but also crocheted.  There are five pairs, where a skein or ball had enough yarn for two hats:
The two orange ones are from the yarn I received last Stitches East.  I also have ten "singles," with just one hat of a particular yarn:

Here is a closeup of the two crocheted hats with ribbons.  I did the purple one second and made the row of stitches in which I wove the ribbon taller than on the orange one, where I learned that it needs extra height to not scrunch the ribbon as much:

This is the top of the other orange hat.  I did a random cabled pattern that I made up on the fly, and I really like how it came out.  Unfortunately the light orange didn't photograph well, this is the only one I have that shows off the cabling:

The packages are received, and I am taking a bit of a break from charity items so that I can finish the bolero and work on a couple other items.  My mother loved the crocheted vest I gave my grandmother for Hanukah so much, I think I will make one for her.  I'll post a picture of it and my grandmother's Christmas vest (this year, she received a bonus) in another blog post because I have to track it down.

Update:  I thought about adding the totals of items I have knit and crocheted for various charities this year.  These are my records, there might have been more because one record just said "wool hats" but not how many:
  • 11 Sweaters
  • 3 scarfs (and I finished one more but didn't get it mailed in 2013)
  • 2 pairs mittens
  • 2 pairs socks
  • 39 hats
  • 3 shawls
  • One afghan