Category Archives: Uncategorized

It was called the Spanish house

A neighborhood icon bites the dust.

A neighborhood icon bites the dust.

Anyone who walks this neighborhood knew which one you were talking about when you mentioned the Spanish house. It was one of the town’s oldest. The one with the red tile roof. The one whose charming arched front door had been treated like a fine painting: matted first with a beautiful arch of stone, then a filet of pale plaster, and then framed with a carved wood surround. It was the one sitting way back on a large swath of land, shaded by maples dating back close to a century. Anyone and everyone knew which one you meant when you sighed over the beauty of the Spanish house. Martin and I dreaded what we knew was coming the day we saw a construction company’s sign on the front lawn and an orange portapotty toward the back.

When we walked by today, the sound of the backhoe’s bucket shattering those beautiful terra-cotta tiles shattered something within me too. I know that I’ve crossed well into middle age because I now ask in the face this change and supposed progress, “Is nothing sacred?”

I guess it’s a sign of a recovering economy that may trickle down to those manufacturing the timber and the wiring, the insulation and the fittings. Another McMansion is about to go up. I can’t help but think it’s also a sign of an appalling lack of appreciation for what once was. I know, I know, this diatribe is a precious lamenting of one era’s manse being replaced by another. There are bigger things to protest. A home demolished in a Michigan neighborhood is nothing in light of the massacre in South Carolina or the deaths from the heat wave in Karachi.

Martin and I walked over to the police officer who was watching the demolition from his patrol car. Perhaps he was required to be there, (un)building codes and all.  Or perhaps he was there as we were, another gray-haired and saddened bystander.  “I hope they leave the Moose House alone,” he said. “The owner died last month.”  I knew instantly the one he meant. The sweet yellow shingled house a few blocks down from here. The one with the kelly green shutters and the huge antlered moose head that hung to the left of the home’s front door. The moose whose antlers were strung with lights at Christmas time. The moose that a friend’s daughter visited on their daily walks, bringing him a handful of Hershey’s kisses. Sometimes, she would even tell the moose stories before leaving her foil-wrapped gifts on the bench beneath her antlered friend.

We’ve been living in this neighborhood for three decades and then some. When we arrived, I was nine months pregnant with my first. Over the years, I’ve watched the block’s nearly two dozen kids take flight. I guess that now qualifies me for geezer status. I hope it also qualifies me for bard or chronicler or storyteller. That way, if a young one overhears the elders talking one day and asks, “What’s the Spanish house?” or “What’s the Moose house?” I’ll be able to answer.

Hopefully saner heads, and a moose head, will prevail.

Hopefully saner heads, and a moose head, will prevail.

Continuing Passover’s Thread

i-hM8DHW4-X3Passover Seder ranks as every Jew’s number one most favorite, most highly attended, most fondly remembered, most eagerly anticipated of any holiday dinner of the year.  OK, you’ll hear good-natured kvetching from the women who spend the weeks cleaning the house for Passover, days to weeks preparing the food, a day or two setting the table(s). But all of that fades away the minute the friends and family arrive, with more food, with other friends, sometimes with a newborn or two about to celebrate their first Seder. It is the most joyously AdobeOLS-X3celebrated Jewish ritual of the calendar, the most open to creativity, the one with the huge mix of pathos, humor, memory, innovation, tradition and more. If Pesach were a magnet, Jews would be the iron filings.

Two years ago I described a special Seder we hosted out here in Sedona. Our kids came in from both coasts. My sister-in-law and her partner joined us. Martin and I created a biblio-drama that included a walk through an actual dry bed replete with horses (living, not drowned) standing at the shoreline, and meaningful and memorable discussions the whole night through. But this year, this year can be summed up with Passover’s defining question: Why is this night different from all other nights?

AdobeOLSBecause this year we will be with neither beloved friends nor family. This year we will celebrate with fellow Jews most of whom we know only by name and nod; a handful of whom we can call friends, newly minted. This year, at Sedona’s wonderful synagogue in the desert, we will retell Passover’s epic story of liberation with people we will have just met and sing Dayenu by joining our voices to voices we’ve never heard. And we will be and feel perfectly at home. This is the magic of Passover, the magic of Judaism. This is the true staying power of Judaism. We Jews are turtles, carrying our religion, our learning, our memories and our connections on our backs. All we have to do is connect with even one fellow Jew and we are home.

There is a lot to be said for being home for the holidays, for having one’s children fly in, drive in, come and add another thread to the cloth of family traditions. Schedules didn’t permit our kids to be with us for Passover this year. They left yesterday after a wonderful week’s visit. This Friday and Saturday they will be celebrating in their own homes, leading their own Seders, and joining other families at theirs. Will we miss them? Absolutely. But not to distraction.

I want my children to create their own traditions. I want them to weave their own threads into their own fabric of Jewish life. I want them to take the Seder experience into their hearts by making it theirs, coming to know the satisfaction of innovating, of sharing their knowledge with others and putting their own twist on what they loved best from home. I want them to retell the story of liberation with a Hagaddah of their choosing (there are literally hundreds to choose from!) and lead their own discussions on the four children wise, wicked, simple, and the one who didn’t know enough to ask. Through liberation comes return.

And so my children — Elliot, Emma, and now Elizabeth — I bless you in Passover’s spirit. May you come through the high waters of fear and uncertainty unto the shores of safety and triumph. May you come to know your heritage in a new and joyous way. May you make new friends and deepen bonds to old. May you carry your shell wherever you go, find fellow Jews, and be home.


Entering the New Year Freshly Restored

Baylinson beforeThe restoration of a painting is as good a metaphor as any this time of year. Rosh Hashana begins Wednesday evening.  We are in the waning days of the month of Elul, a time given over to introspection as Jews prepare not only for the New Year but for Yom Kippur’s day of atonement ten days hence.

I inherited the painting at the left from my mother. It was done by a Russian emigre painter – A. S. Baylinson – in 1939.  He was an artist of some note in his day, and had shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, here at the Detroit Institue of Art and elsewhere. The Metropolitan in New York has some of his work in their collection. How my grandfather came by this painting, I do not know. Perhaps he bought it outright. Perhaps he took it in trade for medical care. Or maybe his and Baylinson’s connection was personal.  Perhaps they were landsmen, Russian emigres both who came to America early in the 20th century in search of a better life and much distance from murderous Cossacks. Maybe the painting was a gift from one grateful American to another. It hung in my grandparents’ home and then in my mother’s.

By the time the painting came to me the canvas was torn, yellowed with age and discolored by decades of cigarette smoke. It was large, dingy, costly to restore, and I wavered about what to do with it. Relegate it to the basement? Hang it as is? Put it out on trash day? It carried memories of a woman whose mothering ran more to Dali than Cassat. Happily, restoration won.

Ken Katz of Conservation and Museum Services did a masterful job in bringing the Baylinson, as it was always called at home, to life. Carefully, painstakingly, he and his staff worked over the summer removing varnish and nicotine, patching a gash in the canvas, damage that likely occurred during one of my mother’s moves. They matched paint and brushstroke so well that I cannot tell where the canvas had even been torn. It was quite exciting to unwrap the painting when Martin brought it home last week. The dahlias seem to dance in new brilliance, their petalled faces crimson and proud. The marigolds are lively once again, no longer weighted and wan beneath varnish and nicotine. And surprise! The vase on the pie crust table is not green but a silvery white. I wish I could show my mother and ask if this how she remembered the painting growing up? I’m sure it hung in the living room.  Did she read on a couch within its view? The Baylinson now hangs in the entry way of our home. I smile every time I see it. She looks good, this painting, hopefully as beautiful as the moment in 1939 that Mr. Baylinson looked at his work, declared, “It is good,” and laid down his paintbrush.

All of which brings me to the work of Elul, Rosh Hashana and restoration. This has been a cataclysmic year.  My mother died. My son married eleven days after her funeral. I was in a car accident two weeks ago (not my fault.) Last week I needed emergency dental work. My jaw still hurts. My heart is mending. My soul still soars at the memory of Elliot’s and Elizabeth’s wedding. As this Jewish year draws to a close, there are hurts to forgive and forgiveness to ask for. There is a patina of pettiness and impatience to wipe away and the hope that the face I show in this new year will project kindness and welcome. Instead of relegating my missteps to my inner basement or sending them to the trash unexamined, I strive for restoration. Even if no one can see where we’ve been patched, the rips remain just beneath the surface. I embrace this month of Elul, for Elul invites us to restore ourselves, to take long walks and think back over the past year. Elul reminds us that restoration is possible. Even if we are torn, even if we have been dragged hither and yon and none too gently, even if our faces are clouded with care and grief, we can do the necessary work and restore our personal canvas.

And so a still life painted by a Russian emigre, owned by another, then his daughter and now his granddaughter, has a new home. She is once again bright and gleaming. May we all be so as we move into this New Year.

Baylinson after



Grateful for Those Openings and Closings

Asher YatsarWe don’t talk about pooping in polite company but boy if you can’t poop, it’s nearly all you can think about.

When I was creating the Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health poster, I knew I wanted one of them to focus on the miracle of the systems of the human body—circulatory, respiration, digestion—all those (usually) silent systems that keep us going by oxygenating our blood and lungs, digesting our food and sending the nutrients where then need to go and sending the waste on its way so we can go.

A couple of years ago I participated in a year-long Jewish education class. One of the requirements was to adopt a new ritual—blessing the Sabbath candles, studying Torah (Hebrew Bible), finding a weekly reading to share with others. I decided to memorize the Hebrew text for what is colloquially called “the bathroom blessing.” Yep. We Jews have a blessing that can be recited after doing one’s business (wash hands, leave the loo, then say the blessing). In Hebrew, the prayer is referred to as “Asher Yatsar,” which references the One Who fashioned our bodies. It is included in the series of daily prayers recited each morning.

“Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and  created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

This blessing encompasses all the working wonders of the human body. It is so simple and yet so profound. Where would any of us be if our openings didn’t open and our closings didn’t close in tandem with one other? Asthma, heart attacks, constipation—all conditions where our openings and hollows are stricken. The blessing also acknowledges the body’s miraculous powers of self-healing, properties which are now being assiduously studied as part of the cure to any number of diseases.

About the time I had memorized the entire Hebrew text, and was pretty good about remembering it each time I needed to recite it, my mother (now of blessed memory) was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Surgery to remove the cancer also removed the God-given openings and many hollows. The miracles of modern science crafted for her new, and permanent, opening and closing. For a while, every time I recited the bathroom blessing, it was with sorrow for what had to be done to my mother’s body and admiration for the equanimity with which she managed this new process.

photo credit: R.H. Hensleigh

How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

Good friend and artist Lynne Avadenka turned to this blessing for inspiration in creating her sculpture How We Know What We Know. Lynne was one of eleven artists invited to create a work based on discussions with scientists and doctors affiliated with the Taubman Cancer Institute in Ann Arbor, MI. The works were auctioned off with proceeds used to benefit the facility.

Her conversations with Dr. Lawrence, who works at the Institute, “ranged from topics of scientific complexity to notions of empathy, the gift and luck of good health, and the awareness of the time we have to do our work.” Avadenka said this led her “to consider a traditional daily prayer of thanks that draws attention to the miracle of the inner workings of our bodies: the openings and closings that allow us to be alive.”


How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

 It’s your turn …

Create an atmosphere of gratitude for your family’s own openings and hollows. Order Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health and maybe even invite your kids to create a version of the bathroom blessing for your own family to memorize.

It IS Easy Eating Green

screen shotWhen the kids were little, I planned out the week’s meals every Sunday, organizing my grocery list according to Kroger’s aisles. Nowadays, meals are more ad hoc. If all Cook wants to make is scrambled eggs or oatmeal, then that’s what we eat. On most other nights we eat what Mom’s Seventh Commandment advises — greens and grains, proteins and fruits. But making salads is so involved. There’s all that rinsing, peeling, paring and chopping. For just one salad or dish. Tedious. Repetitive. Ugh. Life was so much easier when we followed the holy triumvirate of nutrition. Meat, veggie, starch, and you were done.

Last week while unloading the groceries, I had an inspiration. Maybe all of you out there have been doing this for decades. If so, why hasn’t anyone suggested that instead of putting it all away, prep it first and THEN put it away?

securedownloadI started with the broccoli, cutting off the stems and peeling them to crunch on while I worked. I rinsed the florets and put them in a container. Then thought, well why not make vegetable soup while you’re at it? And what about making up a pot of rice to have all week? And if you’re going to be here for a while anyway, roast a few yams (one of my favorite breakfasts, peeled and smooshed up with a teeny drizzle of maple syrup.) Out came my soup pot and a box of Imagine vegetable stock. In went the rest of the broccoli stems and a handful of florets and some other veggies that were fresh and feeling lonely : corn off the cob, a handful or two of those baby carrots, a quartered onion, and some frozen mixed stir fry veggies.

While the soup bubbled I turned to the rest: washed and trimmed cauliflower, spinach and pea pods. When I got to the radishes, instead of tossing or composting the green tops I washed and bagged them. Next morning I threw them into a breakfast smoothie.  A bit piquant but a great boost of natural chlorophyl courtesy of Mother Nature’s photosynthesis.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, look into getting one. Greatest little gadget around. Years ago I saw one in a grocery store for under $30 and It’s been my kitchen bestie every since. I used it to whir up some of the veggies to thicken the soup and added a cup of the rice, which by that time was done and ready to be containered for a future meal or two of stir fries.

Usually I try to put away the groceries quickly and get on to (supposedly) more important things. Last week’s experiment was much more pleasurable, creative and in the long run time saving, as I’m still using every bit of what I prepped.

That nifty little poster up there? Mom’s Ten Commandments of Health  is something I created for my kids when they were newly on their own. Order one for yourself, or for someone else whose good health matters to you. They’re available at my new Etsy store, or by contacting me directly.

Since Mom’s Seventh Commandment invites ice cream, here’s a home made recipe. Substitute maple syrup or any of the other sugar substitutes if you don’t want to use sugar.

6 tablespoons Kosher salt
ice to fill 1/2 gallon Ziploc® bag half to three-quarters

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix salt and ice in gallon-sized Ziploc® bag and set aside. Put cream, vanilla, sugar in a quart-sized Ziploc® and nestle it inside the big one. Wrap the bags in a towel and start shaking and rolling them together. Take care not to get frostbite! The bag with the salt and ice will get very cold, so keep the towel around the whole thing. After five or ten minutes carefully check on the ice cream in the smaller bag. If you want it a bit firmer, put it in the freezer for a few minutes and then do the shaking and rolling process all over again.  It won’t get as hard as grocery store ice cream; more like custard in texture. You can add anything you want to it—chocolate bits, sliced bananas, strawberries or blueberries…..


Hours of Devotion

Hours-of-Devotion-Dinah-BerlandA few weeks back I shared with you a chance meeting I had with Dinah Berland. A poet and book editor, she serendipitously happened upon a book of women’s prayers (tkhines) written by Fanny Neuda (1819- 1894).  This book, Hours of Devotion, was the first Jewish prayer book for all occasions written by a woman for women. It was reprinted more than two dozen times in German as well as in English and Yiddish in the years between 1855 and 1918. Although it’s a bit odd to use the word resurrection in discussing a Jewish text, that is exactly what Berland has done  — she has brought Fanny Neuda’s collection of women’s prayers to life once again, adapting them for twenty-first century readers.

I have just begun to dip into the book and find myself swept away in the current of Neuda’s openhearted love of God. Her prayers are mine; they are yours; they are the prayers of any woman who has loved, worried, hoped, dreamed, suffered.  Berland goes into great detail about how she came to edit this book, poignantly sharing the coincidences and personal heartache that paved the path to its inception.

There are prayers to be recited upon entering the synagogue, prayers whose focus is the cycle of holidays and the Sabbath. The chapter titled Prayers Especially for Women is timeless. Neuda wrote prayers for the new bride, for an expectant mother, prayers for a childless wife and for an unhappy one. There are prayers for rain, and for thanksgiving for a safe journey.  Each one a humble plea, each one raw and resonant.

I’d read reviews of this book but never sought it out. Berland and I met the week before my son married and so I did not have her book until after his wedding. Else, I might have recited Fanny Neuda’s beautiful prayer for the mother of the groom. Who of us cannot relate? These words are upon all our hearts, even if we have never uttered them. Fanny Neuda’s prayer reads in part:

Almighty God, you have proclaimed that
A man should leave his father and mother
And cleave to his wife

Thanks to you for this day—
This solemn day on which my son shall enter
Into a sacred covenant with the wife of his heart….
Bless the union of love he pledges before you today
That he may find the blessing he hopes for ––
A wife who will create joy for him,
A companion who will persevere with him
Through all of life’s changes and opportunities…

All-Gracious benefactor, One more thing
I ask of you, in whose hands our hearts rest
And who directs them as streams of water—
Grant that although my child shall leave his parents’ house,
Filial love may never leave his heart.
Grant that…he may continue to be our joy and delight,
And that the love and reverence in his soul
Be preserved for a long life here on earth…

Hours of Devotion is not a book to be read quickly but savored. There are some pages we may pray never to read; there are others that one is grateful for and will turn to again and again. For whatever reason, I delayed in getting this wonderful book when it came out. Serendipity brought it, and its lovely author, my way at just the right time. Which is appropriate, since serendipity is exactly how Dinah Berland’s superb edition of these masterful prayers written in the nineteenth century, came to be translated and brought to light once again in the twenty first.


On Air: Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health!

On air with Kam Carman.

On air with Kam Carman.

Lights! Camera! Action! And there I was on air talking with Fox 2’s Kam Carman about Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health.  A never-before-had experience but enjoyable just the same. In advance of Mother’s Day, Kam invited me on to talk about the inception of my Mom’s 10 Commandments poster (lovingly and privately called the mobile-mom-app reminder to my adult kids to eat well, get adequate rest, exercise, and treasure the blessing of their good health.)  Was I nervous? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Did I appreciate the opportunity to talk about issues we all want to instill in our kids whether they are 8, 18,  or 28? Yes!

Mothering kids of any age has its blessings and challenges. Infants may keep you up all night but you know where they are 24/7. Toddlers learn to say no, but they also hit you with jewels such as “Look, Mom, don’t the snowflakes make you think of God?” (my son’s stunning observation). When our kids are young we have great influence over their health and nutrition, playing a big role in establishing lifelong good health habits. And if we’re a bit challenged in this arena, having kids is great incentive to begin modeling such habits. Mother’s Day, and forward, is as good a time as any to start, or start again. It’s a lifelong process — never too early and never too late to make good health choices, to eat nutritious food, to exercise, get the rest we all know we are short on.

A four-minute TV segment flies by, but I hope even our few sound bytes will encourage those who were watching to consider the silent, perpetual miracles of the human body (Commandment III) and add even one good-health ritual to the family.  Or to start a family tradition of weekly walks or other physical exercise (Commandment VIII).

A big shout out to Lynne Golodner of Your: People for connecting me with Kam. And to Kam Carman for hosting me on Kam’s Corner.  Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health poster is now available for purchase on my new Etsy shop. Gift yourself; gift your mom; gift anyone whose good health is important to you.  Catch the segment here.  Enjoy!


All quiet on the set!

All quiet on the set!