Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nablopomo and Blog Exchange

Visit NaBloPoMo

Just one post, each day, for the month of November. It's not too late!

Tomorrow, for my first post, I will be involved with The Blog Exchange and the rules are a little different this month, so my post will be here, as usual. Jeri Ann will be my debate partner - for her side of the story, please go here. We've been assigned the issue of public schooling - she's assigned "pro" and I'm assigned "con". It's going to be interesting, because I'm not really con, so you'll just have to see what I come up with! The Blog Exchange is a wonderful network and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good argument! Or even to anyone who likes to think about different issues. In addition, you get to "meet" all sorts of new bloggers.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Reminder

To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create,
you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books,
and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head,
vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders
to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats
upon your crazy heads.

I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse
that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness
upon you.

May you live with hysteria,
and out of it make fine stories - science fiction or otherwise.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day
for the next 20,000 days.
And out of that love, remake a world.

- Ray Bradbury

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - Emily and Ed - part 2

For part one of this not-so-soapy tale, please go here.

But she was late, and she had to get out to her car and over to the puppies. So she looked down again and went on her way.

She thought of Ed, though, as she went about her routines that day, and for several days after, because he didn’t appear at the co-op at their usual time.

And she found she missed the booming voice, the inappropriate comments. She wondered if he was well. Perhaps he was sick? Maybe he would have liked some soup. But she had no way of knowing his preferences and tastes, or even if he was home, or perhaps on some vacation. Maybe with a companion. Maybe with a younger woman. And it certainly wasn’t any of her business in any case.


So she continued to have her coffee and her vegan muffins and to read her paper or whichever mystery she had brought with her that day.

On Saturday, Farmers Market Day, she had her grocery stroller with her when she entered the co-op. It was quite full with her supplies for the week – carrots, apples, turnips and onions from the market, along with a loaf of John’s bread and some eggs from Joan. She’d also bought her co-op supplies – a can of beans mixed with rice, some Bangkok curry noodle soup, lamb sausages and a package of ginger snaps.

She’d wheeled her cart out of the front entrance and into the café, because it seemed like she’d be too disruptive if she took the inside passage by the salad bar. She needed the cart – she just wasn’t strong enough to carry all the bags alone, but it was certainly bulky, and it took up so much room. She wished she were stronger, and could carry the canvas bags that so many of the younger women carried with ease. They certainly seemed to take up less room, and they weren’t in anyone’s way. Not like she was.

The line at the counter of the café was typical for a Saturday – long and slow-moving. And on top of everything, she had that cart. And no matter where she placed herself and her cart, she was sure she was bumping into one of the other patrons. And she was sure that they were annoyed. She muttered, “I’m sorry,” over and over under her breath, the way others might chant a mantra. Or maybe it wasn’t under her breath, because it seemed to her that several people were staring at her.

Be that as it may, she tugged at the cart and made her way slowly to the front of the line, chanting apologies as she did so. She didn’t even notice that Ed was back, sitting in his usual corner and reading his usual paper. She also didn’t see that with each “I’m sorry,” Ed would lower his paper and glare. So totally was she in her own world that she didn’t observe that Ed was becoming increasingly restless, ruffling his paper, and turning the pages with ever sharper snaps, as he tried to concentrate over the noise, the line and the infernal apologies.

As Emily got to the counter, she paused, and quite impulsively ordered a chai latte. Usually she would just have coffee, but it was Saturday and she felt like the sugar and spice of her favorite splurge. But having ordered it, she realized that she was now committed to waiting at the drink pick-up area, and that now she’d be in the way again. She thought about leaving her cart at a table, but it was crowded on Saturdays, and she didn’t think it fair to reserve a table for herself when others might get their drinks before hers was ready. So she kept the cart by her side and tried to keep to herself.

She wondered again about Ed and if he was better, for now she imagined that he had been sick, after all. She turned behind her to look at his table, sure it would be inhabited by a young couple, or a father and toddler, but she was startled to see Ed’s sea green eyes fixed on hers.

She was so startled that she jumped a bit, thrusting her cart into the rear of a large woman waiting in front of her. And the woman turned and certainly glared this time. And Emily imagined that Ed had been glaring, too. And she wanted to shrink down. Shrink down under the table and just disappear. And she said, rather loudly, as she was wont to do when she was nervous, “I’m sorry!” It was a plea to the universe in general. A plea to make herself disappear.

And Ed leapt up from his table and stood by her, put his hands on his hips and roared, “STOP with the ‘I’m sorries!’ I can’t THINK for the ‘I’m sorries!’ I can’t READ for the ‘I’m sorries!’”

At that moment, her chai was called and she grabbed it from the counter and fled. There were tables outside the entrance, and it wasn’t too cold. She’d just sit there, instead.

So she turned quickly and this time, not minding whom it bothered, she threw herself out of the door and over to an outside table and collapsed. She took a deep breath and warmed her hands with her chai. Her eyes searched the Farmers Market crowds. She was deeply ashamed. Embarrassed. Angry. Hurt.

And she didn’t see Ed towering over her.

“I’m sorry,” he said gently, quietly. “I’m sorry.”

She looked up.

“May I sit?” his sea green eyes looked soft. “Please?”

And she nodded. And he sat.

And they’ve been sitting together since that day.

******

Don't forget to read other sudsy tales through Brillig's and Kateastrophe's Soap Opera Sunday - either keep reading or come join us for some writing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Fifteen - How to Go Away for a Day

Friday Fifteen


1. Your child(ren) is/are going on a field trip to the Field Museum in Chicago (or some other place that's about five hours each way from where you live).

2. You realize, the day before said field trip, that your DH has plenty of vacation time left for the year.

3. You call said DH and ask if he can arrange to take the next day off.

4. You cancel your own obligations for that day, including, sadly, updating your blog or reading the blogs of your blogging buddies.

5. You get your child(ren) up on the day of the field trip, feed them a good, hot breakfast, and deliver them to the luxe bus filled with half-awake teens. Said child(ren) is/are happy to have entire day with peers. You are, too.

6. You drive home and gleefully slip back into bed with warm DH, who's never had to leave warm bed.

7. You wake up whenever you both please. You realize the last time you did that may have been before said child(ren) was born.

8. You eat a small breakfast, anticipating going to your favorite Indian place for lunch. Over breakfast, you discuss vacation plans and other pleasant things. You pointedly do not discuss the garage that needs to be cleaned out, or the paperwork that you really should work on together.

9. You get dressed, go downtown, walk around at your leisure.

10. You spend almost 30 minutes in the Ten Thousand Villages store, just because you can. You also visit the store with the novelties from your youth, that your son finds BO-ring. You go to the library and get mysteries that you have no time to read.

11. You have lunch at the Indian place. It's relaxed and the food is good. You share everything and eat off each other's place.

12. You stop at the Japanese French Bakery (no, I'm really not kidding) and buy one of the two baguettes that are left. You are never able to reach this place normally and they have the best baguettes in town.

13. You stop at Zingerman's, hand them some money and ask them to please put together some small bits of cheese for you - as many different varieties as possible. They do.

14. You go home, set up a blog for DH so he can join in the writing fun, and take a nap, because, you know, shopping, eating and walking downtown are just so exhausting.

15. You have a romantic dinner of wine, bread, cheese and thou, because, again, you can.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stop World Hunger via Vocabulary Building

This is SO cool! I found out about it through Charity's blog, Writing Wrongs.

Free Rice

For each vocabulary word you get right, 10 grains of rice is donated through the United Nations to help end world hunger. The site started on October 7th, and 830 grains were donated that day. Yesterday, 26,881,930 grains of rice were donated.

A pretty good idea, no?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - Emily and Ed

She sat in her corner and he sat in his.

It was like this every day. Or every day since May 12th. That had been the day after she’d last worked for the library and they’d given her that big, fussy party. It had been very nice of everyone, of course, but she’d been unbearably embarrassed with all that attention. And the cake had been something from Kroger’s. Pure sugar and tasting of chemicals.

The only time she indulged in baked goods was here, at the co-op. Here she could be certain of what was in what she ate, and everything tasted better, too. She really didn’t have a taste for refined baked goods anymore.

And now this was part of her routine. While she’d been a member of the co-op for twenty-odd years, she’d never frequented the café much until May 12th, but she found that she liked the young people in their long, colorful skirts and piercings and yearnings. The coffee was strong and the muffins were fresh and packed with fruit, and she could read her paper before going off to volunteer with the puppies.

But he was always, always talking. He might sit in a corner, but he lorded it over everyone. He was big – he filled not only his chair, but it seemed he filled his whole table. Not with flesh, but with his personality. And he flirted with those nice young girls behind the counter. And he had to be at least her age. But at least the girls just laughed him off. And he didn’t seem to mind.

He read a paper, too, but he had to announce every interesting thing he read, in case anyone was listening. As if anyone cared about what he thought about a teacher’s strike in Bloomfield Hills, 45 minutes from their town. And he usually had a brioche. Sometimes two. Not a smart choice for a man of his size.

“You wanna know what it says now? So Bush is calling out Iran for World War III. How many more days left of this asshole?” his voice boomed across the background music, which was vaguely Peruvian.

“Okay, Ed, you figure it out. We all know: 1/20/2009. Today’s the 17th,” Ari, of the pierced nose and blond dreadlocks called back to his corner as she floated behind the counter, mixing lattes and the café’s signature spiced mochas, all made with fair trade coffee.

“Four-hundred and ninety fuckin’ days.” He slammed his hand down on the table. “That’s how many. Four hundred and ninety.”

Emily wanted to shake her head in disapproval. Not that she disagreed with his sentiments on Bush, but she just didn’t need to hear that kind of language before finishing her coffee.

Or even after finishing her coffee, come to think of it.

She looked at her Timex. She liked the security of it, the soft, worn, black leather against her left wrist. And it was time to go. She carefully wrapped up the rest of her muffin and put it in her Guatemalan purse. She was proud of this purse – she’d bought it from Ten Thousand Villages, and not only had she helped a small community of craftsmen, but she felt it looked pretty sharp. It made her feel younger.

As she stood up, her hips twinged a bit, but she knew she’d feel better after taking a few of the pups for their walks. She just wished that the Humane Society wasn’t so far from where she lived – gas was at a premium these days.

She swung her purse up over her shoulder and across her back and walked as quickly as she could towards the entrance. Suddenly, she remembered that she’d left her mystery on the table and turned back for it. She grabbed it off the table, stuck it in her purse and headed for the entrance again, her face down, as she tended to walk when she was embarrassed. And being late made her embarrassed. So she wasn’t looking ahead when she crashed into something solid.

Well, solid-soft.

“Hey, slow down! Stop to smell the roses!” The booming voice was unmistakable.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Emily mumbled. She didn’t want to actually address him, but it would be impolite not to acknowledge him. She looked up.

“Nothing to apologize for, Sister! It was probably big, old me with my big, old body!” And he laughed, his belly shaking like Santa Claus.

And despite this, she couldn’t help noticing what crinkly, happy, sea green eyes he had. And she just had to stop to smile.

****

Don't forget to read other sudsy tales through Brillig's and Kateastrophe's Soap Opera Sunday - either keep reading or come join us for some writing.

And speaking of writing... only one more day to get your writing ideas in. Please join us for the fun! For more information on our little writing game, click here.
Just please send your ideas to me at jenshaines@aol.com.

Only Two More Days!

Only two more days to get your writing ideas in. Please join us for the fun!

I've received ideas from Carol, Soccer Mom in Denial and W. L. Elliott so far, and of course I'm done. I know we had a bunch of folks signed up, so please send your ideas to me at jenshaines@aol.com. For more information on our little writing game, click here.

And speaking of writing fun, don't forget to join Brillig's and Kateastrophe's Soap Opera Sunday - either do some reading or come join us for some writing. My entry will be up later today.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Listeners, Good Readers

No, this isn't a post about kindergartners or other small children. It's not about sitting and listening quietly, or "sounding out" words. Or using whole language approach, phonics or anything of that ilk.

This is about how my high school students amaze me every single day.

Yes, they're uncommonly good listeners in class. In the utopia where I teach, there are virtually no behavior problems.

And yes, certainly my American Literature students are very, very good readers. My co-teacher and I are throwing them, head first, into a huge survey of American literature with only 24 contact sessions for the year. We will cover Hawthorne to Amy Tan, Dickinson to Dorothy Parker, Sojourner Truth to Lorraine Hansberry, the musical Oklahoma, Poe, Fitzgerald, Melville, and well, you get the point. And for those who were amazed about my book meme reading list and how many of these books I've actually read, please remember that I teach this stuff - I have love to read these classics.

But I'm talking about something else. Something harder to define. It probably has something to do with Howard Gardner's theories about multiple intelligences.

One of my students can "see" literature through music. I believe that literature can be interpreted in many ways, and that writing essays is just one method of showing understanding. I guess I particularly believe this because I was so right-brained as a child, and would do much better if I were given a visual task. I could write stories, I could create pie charts, diagrams, diaramas, collages, booklets, interpret anything, as long as it didn't involve writing essays. I remember in college, I took a cosmology course and for my semester project, I wrote a series of poems explaining the laws of the universe that we had been studying. My professor had been skeptical at first, but then he was intrigued, and finally he ended up loving it. I used a great deal of technical detail, but it was much easier for me to think in images and fragments of words than it would have been for me to write a straightforward research paper.

Anyway, this student has an extraordinary ability to create soundtracks for various novels we have studied. Last year, he created a collection of music that was so on target for Oliver Twist that when my DS and I were driving to boy scouts and listening to this mix, we actually knew, without looking at his write-up, which section of the book each piece of music was for (we'd both read Oliver Twist and knew the book well). My student has done the same thing this year for The Scarlet Letter. During a particularly crazy day yesterday, I was transported, between my meetings, classes, etc., by listening to his simply perfect selections for the novel. This student also picks songs that are dramatic. You truly feel you've listened to a musical score when you've heard one of his mixes. I think he'd have a brilliant career in putting together music for films. To me, he defines a good listener. And... he's obviously a good reader because he can match the music to the very essence and all the significant points of a text.

He truly amazes me.

Then I have this other student. She is fourteen or fifteen and still very much a young girl. This doesn't mean she's immature; she's not. She's just young and naive and she doesn't have any idea how competent she is. She gets embarrassed easily and she is famous for blushing when she's unsure of an answer. A friend asked me to run her class on "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Melville. For those who haven't read it, "Bartleby" is one of the great puzzles of literature. Briefly, it's about a character, The Lawyer, who hires a scrivener, Bartleby, for his law practice. To make a long (really quite long) story short, Bartleby, who starts out as the perfect copy-scribe, ends up refusing to do activities by saying, "I prefer not to" until he finally dies in prison, puzzling The Lawyer, who has tried to help him, and also puzzling Melville readers for well over a century. It is a piece that has universally confused scholars of American literature, and it is a piece that is studied primarily because it's shorter than Moby Dick and Billy Budd, so you can "include" Melville, without really "including" him, if you know what I mean.

Anyway...

This girl walks into class yesterday and we all sit down and my first question to the group is "What are your general impressions of the story?" And the students go around the table and talk about the pathos, the weirdness, the caricatures, and all the regular, general stuff. But then this girl, who's one of the youngest students in the class, pipes up with, "I noticed that there's a lot of references to walls, and death-walls, and The Lawyer refers to Bartleby as 'cadaver-like' and 'an apparition' and his paleness, and windowless rooms. Does that have any significance?"

It does indeed.

And, of course, she blushed furiously, convinced that she'd just uttered nonsense. But what an eye, huh? This was her first time through a very dense text and she managed to pick up all that symbolism as well as some of Melville's use of repetition.

I wish I had eyes and ears for books the way these wonderful kids do. They just surprise me every. single. day.

And now, please come join us for playing the writing game! We already have about eight folks signed up and you can get all the information
here!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wanna Play? Some writing fun!

So, I did something with my short stories students yesterday and I thought, "How fun would this be to do this same exercise with some of my blogging friends?" By the time I woke up this morning, I was convinced that this would be a blast, so even though most of you have way too much on your hands anyway, I decided to see who might bite.

Here's what we'd do:

1. Create a list of things that you'd like to write about (ideas for stories)
2. Create, in a little more depth, three characters
3. Create some sort of conflict(or if you're feeling generous, a couple of conflicts and your victim co-author can choose which one he/she likes)

Once you're done, please e-mail it to me at jenshaines@aol.com (yes, my e-mail is different on my profile and I use that one, too, but the aol address is checked more frequently). Please send out this first step by Monday, October 22nd!

I will then randomly "shuffle" these, and send you someone else's characters, premises, conflicts, etc. Then YOUR job is to write a story based on what you're given.

We'll all be co-authors and have some fun! Since everyone seems to be wildly busy these days, let's shoot for having our stories finished and posted by Monday, November 12th, at the latest. (And for those doing Nanoblopomo - or whatever it's called - this will automatically take care of one entry). It would be more fun to all post on the same day, but I really don't want to be anal about this - just have some writing buddy time.

What do you think? Anyone out there interested?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day!

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is a day for all bloggers to unite and work together to help take action on the environment!

Blog on a favorite environmental project or organization or donate to any of these charities or another favorite environmental charity of your choice (I'm partial to the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others). I also challenge all of you to donate what you can to the fine organizations listed below, or to the environmental organization of your choice. My donation is already in! Another important step is to keep in touch with your state and national representatives about issues that are important to you. Write them a letter or call and let them know how you feel. Soccer Mom in Denial had a great post on the efficacy of taking personal action here.

I was going to write about zebra mussels and the health of our Great Lakes, since I write from Michigan and both of these are pet issues, but instead, I'd like to share some of my favorite environmental sites (along with some information from the Blog Action Day site, except for the NRDC information, which is provided from its site). To find out more about these organizations, please visit their websites:

Greenpeace International is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people

Natural Resources Defense Council works on a broad range of issues as we pursue our mission to safeguard the Earth; its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

National Wildlife Federation inspires Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

The Sierra Club Foundation is a public charity whose mission is to provide financial support to the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations for tax deductible work. "We fund a range of environmental projects which fall into the three general categories of public education, litigation, and training."

The Conservation Fund is the nation's foremost environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting America's land and water legacy for current and future generations. Seeking innovative conservation solutions for the 21st century, the Fund works to integrate economic and environmental goals.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Meme-ingless week and an SOS disclaimer

For SOS folks - I really confused everyone last week, without meaning to. The Bar Mitzvah story was basically TRUE. The details were exaggerated, made-up and fun to write. The kiss happened pretty much as stated, though, and yes, it was the FIRST kiss. Sorry about the confusion. Also, I'm dry this week, so rather than writing another tale, I leave you with an interesting literary meme, below. I stole it, with permission, from Painted Maypole. If you want REAL stories, though, please check out the other Soap Opera Sunday tales, brought to you by Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. (Sadly, Walking Kateastrophe can NOT play this week - she's without internet at the moment, so just click on Brillig's link). Click on Brillig's link and find the other stories!


106 Books You've Never Read and Probably Should:

The basic premise is that it takes the top 106 unread books from Library Thing, and you mark whether you've read them or not (and various other offshoots on that... see below).

The instructions are: Bold what you have read, italicize those you didn't finish, strikethrough the ones you hated, put *asterisks next to those you’ve read more than once, and put a + cross in front of the books that are on your bookshelf. Underline books that are on your "to read" list.

the list, and my reactions to it:

*Anna Karenina
*Crime and Punishment
Catch-22
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
Madame Bovary
+*The Odyssey
+*Pride and Prejudice
+*Jane Eyre
+A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
+The Iliad
+*Emma
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
+*The Canterbury Tales
The Historian
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
1984
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
*+Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
+*Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
*Dune
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved
*Slaughterhouse-five
*+The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
*The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
*The Catcher in the Rye
*On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
*+The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

If you're interested, go for it! It was kind of fun to do, and reminded me of books I still want to read.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Meme

Rebecca James tagged me for this delightful book meme, so here goes:

Total number of books

Well, the numbers are somewhat shrinking, as I'm trying to utilize our local library more and more often. Of course that means that I end up on the wait line as number 237 of 309 holds for such morsels as Eat, Pray, Love (see Anno's book meme answers), so sometimes I'm impatient. Between my husband and me, we've collected far, far more books than any human beings should. Our favorite activity as a family is to sit around our living room reading harmoniously.

Last book read

Well, I'm still reading it, but my current book is Nightswimming by our very own Rebecca James. And I'm absolutely loving it so far! And I'd highly recommend jumping here and ordering yourself a copy. And no, that's not why she tagged me. ;-) I'm sure she had no idea I would embarrass her like this.

Last book bought

The Art of the Short Story, by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn

5 meaningful books:

Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca - I'm not sure why this book appeals to me so strongly, but it does. Isabel Fonseca writes beautifully and openly about the Roma/Gypsy culture and she is so incredibly thoughtful in her observations. She writes about Roma communities in various parts of the world, and I was absolutely fascinated from start to finish. I'm not a huge nonfiction reader, but I've read this book several times.

A Wrinkle in Time by the late, and very much lamented, Madeleine L'Engle - When I was a terribly misunderstood and miserable third grader, my school librarian kept me distracted with wonderful books. I probably spent as much of my free time during the day either reading in the library or following Mrs. Liss around like a lost puppy. One of the first books she found for me was A Wrinkle in Time. I think finding Meg and realizing there were other confused girls out there gave me strength that I needed at that time. And it's also just such a darned good book!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I came back to this book last year while teaching a section of British Literature. I've decided it must be the greatest love story of all time. I think I'm going to have to read it every couple of years, as I do Pride and Prejudice and Emma. The thing about Jane Eyre is that it's really such a modern book in its own way, and Jane is just a perfect heroine for all time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott - I never thought I'd have two nonfiction books on this list. I read Anne Lamott's story of her son's birth and her best friend's horrific battle with breast cancer in the throws of hormones after giving birth to my son. I have to admit it doesn't wow me as much when I read it now, but it was the perfect book for that perfect time. And it is extraordinarily well-written, as all of her books are, and anyone who is pregnant should probably read it. ;-) How's that for my being bossy and imperious?

Okay, I have to cheat for the last one - I'm going to list authors, rather than books, and I'm not even going to mention specific books - Charlaine Harris (her Sookie Stackhouse series, in this case), Jasper Fforde and Janet Evanovich. These are my "big three" of laughter and just plain fun reading. They gave me the courage to break away from my literary style as a writer (which was never a good fit for me) and move on to the more humorous style that I write in today. They are my "go-to's" for holiday reading and they are better than m&m's. I don't love every single one of their books, but when they're at their best they never fail to make me smile.

Alright... my turn to tag... and I tag Luisa of Novembrance, Goofball of Goofballsworld, Jami of Not THAT different, Carol from Northwest Ladybug, Soccer Mom in Denial - and anyone else who would find this fun! Several others whom I would have tagged have already been... tagged!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tied in to Rituals

I've been pondering rituals lately, along with the meaning they have in my life.

As I was writing the Bar Mitzvah story, I was thinking about my oh-so-complex relationship with both religion and religious institutions.

Having grown up as the daughter of a Jewish atheist father and a somewhat closeted Christian mother, and having gone to a Unitarian "church" where probably 70% of the congregants were interfaith Jews, and having parted ways with that institution around thirteen (and not entirely of my own choosing), I didn't have a strong sense of religious identity as either a child or a young woman.

We embraced a variety of rituals when I was a child - we celebrated Christmas, Easter, birthdays and anniversaries in our home. We lit candles for Chanukah, and I usually went to a temple for Yom Kippur with friends. I sometimes went to "real" church with my Grandma, or to shabbas dinner at our Jewish neighbors'. Once I went to a Catholic church to acknowledge the death of my Jewish grandmother, who attended Quaker meeting.

You can see why I might have been confused.

There were many things about Christmas rituals that I loved - if I think of all the things I loved most about Christmas it was the smell of pine everywhere and how strangers in the City seemed nicer during that time. I also loved listening to Lessons and Carols in the small, Connecticut, Congregationalist church that I visited as a teen and young adult. There were also many Christmas rituals that I hated - chief among them the fury our household flew into in preparation for the season - there were so many "have-tos," beginning with an impossibly long list of Christmas cards to write, the endless preparations for my sister and her family's arrival, listening to my mom go further and further over the edge under pressure as the "day" approached. There was so much to do! So little time! And inevitably, the only things I really cared about were end of the semester tests and exams and my social activities, and I just wanted to be left alone to attend to my younger concerns.

As an adult I embraced other rituals. I rediscovered my Judaism and threw myself into learning the rituals of the Jewish holidays and calendar.

Over time, though, I found myself repeating the frenzy that I had witnessed as a child. I grew disenchanted with policies and issues within the Jewish community, and finally I drifted from my enthusiastic start. And living with only my Jewish half, with no acknowledgment of my Christian half, also left me feeling neither here nor there.

Now my family revels in a more informal approach to life. There are three of us and we each have very different ideas about spirituality, although we live a mostly secular life style. And this isn't for lack of trying - it's more where we've all settled over both time and much discussion.

So I hear stories of friends' traditions and activities surrounding various holidays. I celebrate with friends and relatives who've found great comfort and joy from the religious institution of their choice. For me, however, the traditions of rituals were meant to be broken; no religious institutions thus far have had that special fit, and I continue to explore spirituality through long walks, philosophical discussions, much reading and searching.

Our family traditions are a sea of change. What we've taken most from ritual is the joy of being together, eating favorite foods of the season, sitting together and playing a game, sharing a book or a movie, or just watching the guinea pigs playing or the fire crackling. The comfort I take in listening to my husband's and son's breathing, knowing we are all in harmony and at our most relaxed is, for me, the only ritual that has ever truly fit.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - Three Hundred Chanting and Clapping Jews Can’t Be Wrong - the Final chapter!

Please check out the other Soap Opera Sunday tales, brought to you by Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. Click on their links and find the other stories!

Okay, so there are some name changes in characters this week. To protect the innocent AND the guilty, I wanted to make it clear this was FICTION.

If you need to catch up, here is part 1 and here is part 2.

Here's where we left off last week:
I held the Rob-squeezed hand with my other hand. Rob and I had never really touched before. His hand had been sweaty, but I guess that’s what happens when you have to read the Torah in front of a few hundred people. I wiped my hand on my dress and continued on into the ballroom.

And here's where we start off this week:
I walked slowly to my place on the dais. I noted, with longing, that the other kids were all seated at large tables together, and even if my experiences with the girls hadn’t been stellar, I would have given several weeks’ babysitting pay to not be up in the spotlight on that raised platform. Next to a bubbie, no less.

But my mother had raised me to be polite and I hadn’t yet learned to rock the boat (that would come in about six months or so), so I climbed the stairs of the platform and took my appointed seat.

And sure enough, there was the bubbie. It was Grandma Clara, and she introduced herself as Grandma Clara and she insisted that I use that moniker, as well. I told her who I was and how I knew Rob and she looked me up and down and said, “Ooooohhhhhhhhhh.” She managed to draw one word into three.

My other side was blank, but the card read “Marissa.” I knew Marissa was the little sister that Rob complained of with vehemence from time to time. I was usually okay with little kids, so probably Marissa wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

I looked at all my stuff at my place. I had a matchbook with Rob’s name and the date. There was a little blue paper cup, like a muffin wrapper, but decorated with gold designs, and filled with little blue and white candies. There was a psychedelic pen and a pad, with Rob’s name and the date stamped on top. Fancy.

Soon enough the other guests took their seats. Marissa’s seat remained empty. I was finally able to pick her out among the sea of faces below. She had flown the coop and was happily ensconced at one of the kids’ tables. I guess she had more backbone than I.

A short, muscled man in tuxedo pants and a blue and white spangled vest with a ruffled matching blue shirt took his place at a mike stand just below me. He grabbed the mike, music blared, and the lights dimmed. Spotlights began dancing across the floor and a mirror ball started shedding dots of light across everyone in the room.

“Ladies and Gentleman! I’m Shlomo Lieberman, the Davening DJ,* and I’ll be your host for Rob’s Bar Mitzvah! He did a great job up there this morning, didn’t he?” At this he raised his hands to the audience indicating the need for applause.

And applaud they did – the kids and adults alike whooped and clapped. I tried to whoop, too, but I was feeling a little too scared to be very whoop-y.

I also noticed that waiters and waitresses were flying around the room, pouring champagne for the adults and getting cokes and 7-up for the kids.

“And here’s the Man himself – Mr. Rob Schoenfeld! Let’s give him a big hand, shall we?”

And Hava Nagila* started playing, and Rob entered from the back, framed by his mother and dad. And the audience went wild. Folks were clapping, stamping, and whistling. I’d never seen anything like this in my life, other than watching the nuts on Times Square when the ball dropped for New Year’s Eve. Apparently, our New York City Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were just little affairs compared to how they partied on Long Island.

Everyone on the dais stood up and began clapping and hooting and then everyone in the audience followed suit. Needless to say, I joined, too, feeling weirder and weirder by the second.

I looked for routes of escape.

There weren’t any.

Rob shook his hands over his head in a victory sign, like a prize boxer after a fight. He looked goofy and arrogant, and honestly speaking, I was kinda grossed out.

They paraded all through the room, folks shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. All in all, the parade probably lasted a good ten minutes, with Hava Nagila blaring in the background and more and more champagne being poured. And champagne being drunk. Man, this crowd knew its way around a drink.

Finally, Rob made it up to the dais, where we were all expected to make a similar fuss. And we did. And Rob took my hand again. And his was still sweaty. Ewww.

And he sat, in his seat at the center of everything. And the music stopped. And there was instant silence.

Shlomo paused, while an enormous array of thirteen, giant candles was wheeled out in front of him. “Rob, Man, get down here and thank all the people in your life who got you here today.”

I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, but apparently the audience did, because there seemed to be a sense of hushed, if slightly inebriated, anticipation. Rob rose, with exaggerated dignity, and proceeded down below to the table of candles. I couldn’t believe how “into” all this he was. It kind of scared me, and yet, I hadn’t had a Bat Mitzvah, being a half and half kinda girl, and going to Unitarian Sunday School to boot, which I’d recently been kicked out of (another story for another time), so I really had no idea what he was going through. Plus, I had a feeling that today would be the last time I’d ever see him, and in four hours or so, I’d be free.

So, Rob gets down there, to this enormous table; “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof starts playing, relatively softly, in the background; and Shlomo starts reading from cards. The ceremony went like this: Shlomo would read an introduction; Rob would take out a match from a huge, round, gold-sparkled fireplace matches canister; and then Rob would strike it into flame, light the appropriate candle for that particular category of people in his life; and then said person, or persons, who were representing that particular candle would come up; Rob would say something nice to them off a card; and they would say something nice back. Usually off a card, but sometimes not.

I watched the ceremony with some boredom, tried not to let my stomach start growling (it was probably 1:30 by this time), and waited for this ceremony thingy to be over. The first two candles were for his mom and dad, then he had candles for his bubbies, then for his dead grandfathers, then for aunts, cousins, uncles, etc., etc. I think there may have been one for leaving the Viet Nam War, and finally, I heard my name being called out over the microphone.

“Jennifer? Where is she? Jennifer, special friend in Rob’s life, come on down and represent all the wonderful friends Rob’s had over the years.”

Crap.

Did I tell you I hate any sort of spotlight?

Okay, so I get up and walk to the end of the dais, down the stairs and around back to where the table with the candles is. The candles are hotter than I expect them to be. Thirteen mega candles can throw off quite a light, and mine was the last one to be lit. The strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” play over and over on some maniacal tape loop. My hands are sweating so much that I feel that they’ll start dripping on the floor and I’m hoping that my spritz of Right Guard that morning really did do what the advertising campaign claimed.

I bet you all want to know what Rob said about me, and what I said back.

Honestly, I have no idea.

None.

But somehow I got through it, and must have said something nice enough because all the adults sighed a chorus of “aweeeee” and then everyone began cheering. I remember staring out at the masses and feeling like a wooden puppet. I was frozen. Rob finally whispered in my ear that it was time for me to go back up to the dais. I smiled at him gratefully and complied.

The table was wheeled away, candles all creating torches. I wondered if the place was going to catch fire.

The music changed. Some kind of waltzy stuff came on. I sat at my place and sipped my coke. I could now smell the scents of matzoh ball soup and brisket coming from the kitchen. I could see the untouched appetizer tables surrounding the edges of the room. I had no thoughts for anything other than being hungry and wanting out of there, each in equal measure.

Rob was still down below.

“And now, Ladies and Gentleman, and those that aren’t ‘Ladies,’” Shlomo paused, “Or ‘Gentlemen’,” and here everyone broke into uproarious laughter. I swear. This crowd was easy. “… the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The dance that will sweep Rob the rest of the way from childhood to manhood!” And everyone assumed that same, earlier demeanor of quiet waiting.

And again, I had no idea what they were waiting for.

But what it turned out to be, was a quite creditable waltz between Rob and his mom. And cameras flashed everywhere, and I saw various women wiping away tears, and everyone seemed happy. And the smells of food grew stronger, which made me happy.

And then Rob’s dad got up from the dais, and made his way below. The music faded out. Shlomo took his spot. “Now we have the changing of the guard, so to speak. Rob’s father will take his rightful place with Rob’s mother for the next dance, and Jennifer, Rob’s special friend, will come down and dance with Rob.”

Excuse me?

Jennifer, Rob’s special friend . Me? Is he kidding?

All of a sudden, a spotlight glared in my face. I stood up, amazed that my knees didn’t give out from under me. The audience began a rhythmic clapping. I prayed for Hava Nagila and a group dancefest, but it wasn’t to be.

The stupid spotlight followed me all the way across the dais, down the stairs and over to Rob. The waltz music started up again. Rob took me in his arms in that awkward way that only thirteen-year-old boys who’ve had maybe two or three waltz lessons can. On the other hand, I’d had exactly zero waltz lessons.

The music played, and we sort of spun around the room, and managed not to trip and/or fall. I assume that Mr. and Mrs. Schoenfeld looked just fine – I was too scared to look anywhere other than at Rob. We made some small talk. Something about his dancing lessons, I think.

Finally, the music stopped, and I believed my torture to be over.

But oh no. Not a chance.

“And now, Ladies and Gentleman, should Rob seal his transition to manhood by giving a kiss to his ‘special friend’?” The audience went wild. People started stomping and clapping and generally carrying on with great alacrity.

Um, so my first kiss was going to be up for a vote? I was stuck in position. My feet wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I’d tried.

The damned spotlight hit us in the face again. The waltz music was cued one more time, but basically drowned out by the crowd, which was still egging us on. Rob grabbed my upper arms and drew me to him, a bit roughly and very definitely awkwardly.

Not knowing what else to do, I closed my eyes.

And then… and then… I felt a brush of soft and wet across my lower lip, the cheering and screaming went up exponentially, and then it was all over. And I felt my arms being released. And I opened my eyes. And Rob was looking at me with wonder. And I felt sick.

And Rob was clearly happy. He was now a man. He was now THE man. And the crowd was happy. They’d gotten two scared kids to kiss in front of them. And Rob’s friends were happy – they’d have good gossip fodder for at least a week. And all of those three hundred or so chanting, clapping Jews were sure we were a couple of basherts - soulmates.

And my lip still felt, well, gross.

And you know what? Three hundred chanting, clapping Jews can be wrong.

Glossary (again):

To daven means, roughly, to pray so our "Davening DJ" was making an alliterative joke of sorts.

bashert means soulmate. The one that you are predestined for.

bubbie means grandma.

You can find a clip of Hava Nagila here. Just scroll down until you see it on the list.

You can find a clip of Sunrise, Sunset here. Just press the "preview" button.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Some Buzz about the Buzz

Twas Brillig wrote some weeks ago about Cr8buzz, a new social networking platform. Curious, I joined.

It's a wonderful, growing community and is filled with different smaller communities such as "women," "moms," "artists," and my own niche - "fiction." It's been great fun to meet other writers in this way, and to meet many folks who aspire to write.

Novembrance's DH referred to Cr8buzz as "Facebook for grownups" - which is very much the way I've been thinking of it as well.

My heart belongs to blogging here. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the site there. But I have to say that it's a great way to easily connect with people with similar interests from all over the world. And if you're a writer, artist, musician, cook, or in any other area where you want to promote your work, it's a wonderful way to get some great exposure and from what I've seen of the fiction community, support.

Cr8buzz is still in beta, but it goes public tomorrow, Sunday the 7th. It will remain invitation only for a bit, but if you're at all interested, just give me a "buzz" (sorry, couldn't resist), and I'll send you an invite.

Happy Saturday and keep on buzzing!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen observations about starting a child in high school

These are fairly random thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Each school has its own culture and you have to learn the underlying culture.

2. All of the Freshman are just as confused as you are.

3. There is more to life than grades, but doing your work has to be a priority.

4. OTOH, doing your work should not become your LIFE.

5. PTSOs, PTAs, etc., etc. should be about more than serving food and should have activities that can include both SAHMs/SAHDs and working parents. We need BOTH types of parents involved in our schools. (See Soccer Mom in Denial's post on this - it got my blood boiling).

6. Teachers are not gods. They need to remember this when dealing with their students and the parents of those students.

7. Parents are not gods, either, and should remember this especially when discussing sensitive issues with teachers.

8. Good teachers work far, far harder than most people give them credit for. And for those lucky teachers who actually CAN take the summers off - they usually deserve/need it.

9. Every school should have some good "mama" (or papa) figure that the kids can go to when they're feeling lost. Often that's someone in the front office. They're jobs are very, very hard. Be kind to them! (And our very own Jenn in Holland is one of those folks, among the many other hats she wears).

10. Just because they're teens doesn't mean they still don't need lots of help/guidance from mom and dad. In fact, there is research out there (which of course, I can't find right now) that support parents staying home for high school students, even more than for elementary students, particularly if you have boys.

11. First romances can be joyous times to live through, but also some of the most devastating.

12. Whatever obnoxious thing your child is saying, try to remember what it was like to be that age. It was very confusing, wasn't it? If you want a perfect portrait of 14-year-old boythink, read The Buckets.

13. Stay involved, even when your son/daughter claims they want you out of their stuff, heads, business, whatever.

14. Yes, they probably CAN handle it, but double check anyway (whatever it is).

15. Breathe. And keep whatever your drink/drug/extracurricular activity of choice is handy... and remember this mantra: it's only 10 months, it's only 10 months, it's only 10 months.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Two small words

I heard two of the best words yesterday: "My friends."

These words are always great. They hold the connotation of support and happiness and warmth and good dinners and shopping trips and playing games and just plain having fun. They can hold happy memories of climbing trees or whispering about boys or working on murals or running down the beach in your bare feet. Birthday parties, riding your bikes, talking and talking and talking on the phone. Or nowadays, texting and texting.

But the reason these two words were so particularly great yesterday was because they were uttered by my son.

My son who has been in high school for four weeks after homeschooling for six years. My son who has not shared lunch, even once, with another student (by his own choice). My son who needs to "sniff" things out ad nauseum until he's ready to commit to another human being. My son who has a great group of homeschooled friends but who had incredible trauma the last time he set foot in public school.

Once those two words had entered his vocabulary, shortly after picking him up at school yesterday, they continued to follow him throughout the evening and into this morning. It started with his talking to me about how he couldn't get his 3'X4' project over to the car because his "friends" kept trying to knock it out of his hands - but in a good way. Then his "friend," K ran up to him and said,"Badger," which I guess is some private joke they have going, because C cracked up. Then he got in the car and told me about the "friend" who'd asked him to join his D&D group, and that he'd met another member of the group. And then this morning he talked about his friend "S," who was in three classes with C and is really small but has a loud voice and is just a riot. All of a sudden, friends are sprinkling his universe.

C buzzed about all night. He used a funny voice, the way some teens do when they're playing around with a new identity. It's just a silly voice - he's not changing from who he is. He got kudos for a presentation he made in class - the kids all laughed at the right places. A couple told him afterwards he was "awesome."

And I can now breathe a sigh of relief. C has something else to hold him at school other than the hours and hours he's been putting into homework. Something other than grades will hold him there.

He's getting friends.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Soap Opera MONDAY - Three Hundred Chanting and Clapping Jews Can’t Be Wrong - pt. 2

Welcome to Soap Opera Sunday - a day late! Please check out the other Soap Opera Sunday tales, brought to you by Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. Click on their links and find the other stories!

I have to issue an apology here... This story is just a slow kind of tale to tell. The characters just aren't letting me tell it any more quickly, so I'm afraid there will be another part after this one. But if you feel the courage and stamina to keep reading, and need more background, here is part 1. Oh, and one more disclaimer. Although I've used some real names and places, this story is FICTION. It's based on some things, but whoooooboy, do things change over the perspective of years. So the folks, events, etc. are FICTIONAL.

And now, for part 2:

Immediately after services, I was picked up by the same Aunt Ellen and taken off to the country club where the reception would be held. And that was when the fun began.

Aunt Ellen had her two daughters with her this time – Marian and Joellyn. They were probably seniors in high school, or maybe even freshman in college and they were too much older and too elegant to be bothered with me. Aunt Ellen kept craning her neck around to ask me how everything had gone. Did I have any questions? She took her role as my guardian very seriously.

“No,” I said, “I don’t have any questions. I’m Jewish.”

“You are?” she turned and stared at me so long I thought we were going to have an accident. “Well, thank God!”

“Well, half-Jewish,” I responded.

“Which half?” she made it sound almost too casual.

“My dad.” Well, that would make me not Jewish, probably. “But I go to synagogue. Sometimes. And we do the holidays.”

She nodded, but didn’t turn around this time.

After what seemed like three hours, but was probably only three minutes, we arrived at said country club – by far the biggest and fanciest that I’d ever seen. Not that I’d seen many, mind you – there just aren’t country clubs in The City.

Aunt Ellen dropped us off by the front entrance and then disappeared into the mammoth parking lot and out of my life.

I wandered into a huge foyer, with rich, maroon carpeting, matching velvet chairs and an enormous chandelier. The same giggling girls stood around in their party dresses. I stood around in my long gown. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I wondered when I could go back to Manhattan. And I still hadn’t seen Rob.

Finally, I felt a tap on my back. I turned around and there was Steve. I felt relief flood my face and probably genuinely smiled for the first time since I’d gotten off the train.

“Hi!”

“Hi Jen! Don’t we look weird?” Steve was in a suit. I guess I wanted him to tell me I looked pretty, not pretty weird, but he was right. The last time we’d seen each other we were in shorts.

“Yeah.” I grinned. I was just so happy to see him.

He shook my hand in greeting. Steve was like that. Pretty formal.

“Look, I’m supposed to take you to meet Rob’s mom, and show you to your seat and stuff. They’ve got things pretty organized.”

“Um, okay.” Nerves covered me again like a shroud.

“You look nice, even if it’s weird.” Steve smiled at me. That made me feel good again, really good. I could meet Rob’s mom now.

Steve waved me in front of him and we made our way through the crowds of people. Again, I noticed that I was one of the few girls, or women for that matter, in a full-length anything. Weird. And I looked weird – not nice – weird. I couldn’t wait to get back on the train. I thought about running from Steve, but realized my mother would ream me if I tried to escape.

Finally we came to two, enormous, padded doors. They were gold metal with the same maroon-colored fabric on them. I remember fingering the velvet, amazed that someone would put that much care into a door.

Steve started to push one open.

I pulled him back. “Are we allowed in there?” I whispered.

“Sure - where do you think the party’s going to be held?” Steve had already jerked the door open and I could see past his shoulder to a cavernous, dark ballroom filled with tables draped with gold tablecloths, gold streamers, party favors, etc. Finger foods burst from long, covered tables along the edges of the room. A huge dance floor took up the center. A large dais towered above the room, with a billboard-sized, blue and white “MAZEL TOV” sign rising above it. A tall, lanky woman was fussing around the dais. She was dressed in black and pink crepe and I’d seen her down at the bima blessing Rob. His mom. In the flesh. And I was going to meet her.

“Hey, Mrs. Schoenfeld!” Steve waved to her enthusiastically. His pace quickened across the room and I seemed to fly in his wake, despite my inclination to hold onto the door frame.

The woman turned, look at me, and frowned. I immediately looked down at my dress, wondered if my carefully-chosen lipstick matched, or made me look like, you know, one of those girls. Then I realized she was only squinting.

And suddenly she smiled, and it was the same smile as Rob’s smile. And that smile was so familiar, even after our months apart, that I couldn’t help but relax.

“Ah, Jennifer, come up here, darling, where I can finally see you!” She gestured at us impatiently and I climbed up the steps of the dais and came as quickly as I could to where she stood under one of the mini-spotlights that had been used to light both the dais and the dance floor. She took my outstretched hand in both of hers. Her fingers were warm but dry. I could tell she was a fine person, just from those hands.

“What a lovely dress! Perfect! And what a looker you are. My Rob has perfect taste, doesn’t he, Steve?” She was beaming, and by extension, so was I. I mean how many tomboys could fail to be charmed by an elegant woman telling them they’d gotten it “right” for a change?

Steve could only nod. What else could he do without being rude? “I’m going back, now,” Steve announced. “Jen, come find me when you’re done.”

Done? What was I going to be done with? I waved at Steve, who was almost out the door, and I turned back to Mrs. Rob. Er, Mrs. Schoenfeld.

“Okay, Bubbela, now Rob sits here. She pointed to the center spot with a long fingernail that was just the right length and painted a pale shade of pink that matched her dress. “And you, you sit there.” I was two seats down from Rob. But, wait, I was on the dias? Why? “Rob needs to sit between his Bubbies. Capiche?” I nodded. So I guessed I’d sit next to a grandma, too. Okay, old ladies were usually less confusing than Valley Stream teens who whispered and pointed at me. “Okay, so go – play with the other girls.” Mrs. Schoenfeld shooed me away and went back to arranging favors, cards, etc. I guess all this was to show me where to sit. Weird.

So, I left her to her fussing, and I ran back across the ballroom and through the big doors. And if anything, the lobby had gotten even more crowded. There were now women and men passing trays of tiny glasses of wine and a table had been carried out with what looked like a six-foot challah with “Mazel Tov” braided into the surface. The rabbi from the synagogue stood by the table, in an aspect of waiting.

Suddenly, the room hushed, and Rob and his dad came down the staircase that rose above the Kiddush table. By some unknown signal, Rob’s mother came racing from the party room, and now she was dragging a smallish girl wearing a dress that sort of matched hers. When they were all arranged near the rabbi, two older women came up to the group. One was tall and lanky, like Rob’s mom, and the other was stoop-shouldered, like Rob and his dad. And while all this familial presence was gathering, Rob saw me. And his face lit up like sunshine. And he waved frantically.

And the whole crowd turned and stared at me. And I wanted to throw up, but I tried my best to smile and wave just as enthusiastically back, because after all, it was his Bar Mitzvah.

And yeah, it was good to see him, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on foreign soil.

So the family was properly arranged, and the rabbi said Kiddush and we all drank our little glass of wine, and sang, “Simen Tov u Mazel Tov” which I always secretly thought of as “cinnamon cloves and Mazel Tov,” and did the usual clapping thing along with it, and then the doors of the ballroom were flung open and a voice over a PA system called us all over to “eat, drink, dance and celebrate Rob’s special day!”

I started to join the hordes rushing to the ballroom, when I felt another tap on my shoulder. I was sure it was Steve and turned to face Rob.

“Hi!” He stood closer than he ever had before.

“Hi!” I smiled at him and took a step back.

“So you met my mom, huh? You look pretty. She said you did,” Rob was grinning and grinning at me.

I tried to show the same enthusiasm. After all, I was his guest and this was his special day. I was embarrassed, though. “Um, thanks. You look nice, too.”

Rob fingered his tallit. “Yeah, it’s kind of cool wearing this suit and stuff. Man, I’m so glad the reading and speech are over!”

“You read nicely, and I liked what you had to say about the tabernacle as a metaphor for the sheltering of souls. That was pretty cool.” It was easier just talking about stuff, and not about how we looked.

“Yeah, it was hard to write, but I’m glad I did it. Were you Bat Mitzvah?”

I shook my head.

“Too bad. It’s kind of cool.”

“Cool.”

“Okay, well, Dad said I couldn’t talk to you too long – I’m supposed to go in and shake everyone’s hand, but just sit down and I’ll see you soon.” Rob took my hand, squeezed it, and walked with purpose to the waiting crowds. After all, now he was a man.

I held the Rob-squeezed hand with my other hand. Rob and I had never really touched before. His hand had been sweaty, but I guess that’s what happens when you have to read the Torah in front of a few hundred people. I wiped my hand on my dress and continued on into the ballroom.


PS - a glossary for the uninitiated:

Mazel Tov - Good Luck (used to mean "Congratulations!")
Bubbela - term of endearment
Bubbies - grandmothers
Kiddush - ceremony blessing bread and wine - the precursor to a meal
Simen Tov u Mazel Tov - a song of congratulations sung at Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, etc.