Sunday, November 04, 2007

Football Sunday

Hopefully, I'll post a few pictures from our New York trip this past week some time in 2007, but this bit of heartwarming cuteness from a week ago should serve as a nibble.


Lech Lecha/Why Circumcise

Such a tardy poster, am I. Even this is a couple weeks old, but I figure better late than never since I have had a lot of requests for it. Comments welcome.
A friend’s father was born in the Ukraine in the nineteen-forties. After his birth, a mohel traveled over a hundred war torn miles, primarily on foot, to perform his brit milah. When his son was born in the nineteen-seventies, the Soviet regime prohibited circumcision, like the Greeks, Romans, Spaniards and Nazis before them. When the family arrived in the United States during the first big wave of Soviet Jewish emigration, the first thing they did, before finding work or a place to settle, was ensure that their three year old son was circumcised and entered into the brit.

At a bris I recently attended someone was enquiring why we, as modern and enlightened Jews, continue the seemingly antiquated body modification ritual of circumcision. After all the requisite jokes and innuendos, as well as citing virtues both medical and aesthetic, consensus was reached that we undoubtedly should continue, yet the general reasoning offered was intellectually unsatisfying. Reason aside, the suggestion of overturning the rite of circumcision struck me on a visceral level; this wasn’t a public admission of working on Saturday or a taste for Prosciutto, this was anarchy.

Many educated Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries contended that circumcision was a vestige of clannishness that isolated us from enlightened society, so this person was far from the first Jew in history to question the validity of this act. Personally, I was used to fielding questions regarding the barbarity of circumcision from non-Jews. Since answering, “Because God told us to,” does not hold much weight in a secular argument, I typically reverted to touting the medical benefits, with the World Health Organization now in my corner, as well as religious freedom of expression. Arguing the point of circumcision is sanitation or a reduction in sexually transmitted diseases is like claiming the origin of kashrut is a precautionary measure against trichinosis and bad oysters. It may be a fortuitous side-affect that makes us say, “See how smart and prescient we are!” but it certainly misses the point. If we are not backed up by the central idea of the Torah, that God and Jews are connected through a covenantal relationship, our cultural markers, both real and imagined, will fizzle out completely in a few generations. Circumcision is about the covenant between us and God and, without honoring our side of the bargain, there is no covenant. Without a covenant, no Jews.

Throughout our history, circumcision has been a mark of the Jewish will to survive, its discontinuation a signal of assimilation. During the Babylonian exile, circumcision, Shabbat and Passover became the central rituals of Judaism as you can observe these in the home, without a Temple, without a high priest, heck, without even a rabbi. Unlike Shabbat, circumcision is not an innovation of Judaism. It was prevalent in the ancient Near East and performed by the majority of neighboring tribes, excluding the Philistines. It is still practiced by diverse cultures throughout the world. Muslims do it, Coptic Christians do it, even some Pacific Islanders and isolated Aborigines do it. There are three central anthropological approaches to the rite of circumcision: predominantly, as a sexual male rite of passage from childhood into adulthood; second, for those with a psychoanalytical bent, as an expression of the fear of castration; or, in our case, as a rite of child initiation, the initial male experience which a newborn undergoes. Shifting the practice away from adolescence – the predominant practice in Abraham’s time – and into infancy reposits the emphasis from sexual to spiritual.

Judaism does not neglect ascribing sexual meaning to act of circumcision. In his Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides states that one of the goals of circumcision is to limit sexual intercourse, to weaken the organ as far as possible and thus cause man to be moderate. What’s a plus for Maimonides is a minus for those with different priorities. I had an acting teacher, not Jewish, who was still harboring resentment against his parents forty-some years later for circumcising him and potentially reducing his coital pleasure. Scientific research supports both sides of the debate, with most stating little or no effect on enjoyment. Having read my share of Philip Roth, I am really not too concerned about the satisfaction or the sexual repleteness of the Jewish male.

Circumcision functions to perfect man’s moral shortcomings not, as Maimonides suggests, by physically counteracting excessive lust but by acting as a mnemonic device, a spiritual prophylactic. Like the mezuzah, tallit and tefillin, obeying one commandment functions as a synecdoche of all the miztvot. The rabbis assert that circumcision is a reminder of self-control at the very root of sin and tell a midrash of King David at the bathhouse, stripped of all religious accoutrements but guarded from sinning by the seal of God’s covenant in his flesh; circumcision as a last minute warning before leaping into sexual sin. Although Rashi claims that Joseph was on the verge of succumbing to Mrs. Potiphar until the image of Jacob appeared before him, I like to think the sign of the covenant was his buzz kill.

Sexual abandon implies abandonment of morals, not just inhibitions. Sexual urges unchecked, or played outside of the contained environment of a healthy relationship, produce loss of self-control. In a culture that rarely leaves anything to the imagination, the control symbolized by circumcision might feel overly restricting or unfairly limiting. Let’s face it, Judaism is all about control, regulating the divide between the sacred and the profane. Not ignoring the yatzer ha’ra – or we would have a celibate class – but channeling it purposefully. Sometimes we feel the fences may be too high or, in the case of the fundamentalist strains of our religion, lack adequate ingress and egress or fail to provide healthy ventilation, but they are there to create boundaries and order in the universe. The commandment to circumcise and the promise that the covenant will continue through Isaac’s progeny follows the blessing of Ishamael to be a wild ass of a man. The inheritors of God’s law are different, not wild, but tame and lawful. We are to evolve beyond our natural state and submit to a higher ideal than survival and base urges.

Circumcision is Abraham and his descendant’s role in the covenant that enables the promise of fertility, of continuation to this very day. The Hebrew term “orlah/foreskin” represents an obstacle to the proper functioning of an organ: Moses calls his stutter the foreskin on his lips, the Israelites in the desert are asked to remove the foreskin of their hearts, Jeremiah’s audience is unable to receive his prophetic message because of the foreskin on their ears. If circumcision and continuation are inextricably linked then, symbolically, the male foreskin is an impediment to God’s plan for us to be a nation apart, to be partners in God’s work. The act obtains its value not from the physical operation but the meaning and feeling behind it.

Other than diminished sexual pleasure, detractors argue for leaving the body how it is. Asked, “If circumcision is so beloved of God, why was the mark of circumcision not given to Adam at his creation?” Rabbi Judah responded, “Almost everything that was created during the six days of creation needs finishing – even man.” A Roman governor asked Rabbi Akiva why Jews are circumcised. He replied that the works of humans are more beautiful than those of God, and compared the respective beauty of loaves of bread to ears of grain, woven garments to stalks of flax. God gives us the raw materials, it is up to us to make something of them. We are partners with God in creation, entrusted with perfecting the world in which God created us. The world was created in seven days, on the eighth day we take over.

When God appears to Abraham in a vision and promises him the land he asks, “O Lord God, how shall I know I am to possess it?” God answers by requesting a series of sacrifices that mirror a royal land-grant treaty. In it, the sacrifices are cut in two – the first brit in this parsha. Cutting animals in Mesopotamian sources warned that the violator of the treaty would be sliced in half, as criminals were. More metaphorically, those who violate a promise are cut in two emotionally: the half that broke the promise and the half that wishes they never did. By not cutting in good faith, one is cut off from the covenant, the land and the people.

In the covenant with Noah God asks nothing of man. With Abraham going forth, humanity is now ready for a reciprocal partnership and God needs a piece of us to make the covenant manifest. It has to be something dramatic and permanent, but something we ultimately do not need to function properly and healthily. Unlike body modification rituals in other cultures, with tattooing on the lower end of the pain scale on a litany of initiation rites too gruesome even to mention, the emphasis is not on proving faith by withstanding pain. Religious debates and medical studies disagree as to the degree of pain felt by a newborn, pain is an unfortunate side-affect, not the central part of the experience. There is no Talmudic objection should parents wish for a local anesthetic, although it is usually not required as a mohel’s extensive training focuses on exactness, speed and minimizing pain. It is heartbreaking listening to cries during routine shots, yet most parents do not hesitate to vaccinate their children since the pain of a needle is much less than the pain of tuberculosis. If I ever have a son I am sure I will be a bloody wreck at his bris, despite anecdotal evidence of babies who barely peep. Like hundreds of generations before me, I will steel myself knowing this spiritual vaccination is the portal through which my child joins an everlasting covenant.

On the subject of children, the birth of Isaac, through whom God’s part in the pact manifests, is foretold in conjunction with the commandment for circumcision. Although Isaac himself has not yet appeared, let’s flash forward to the akedah. The ambiguity of Abraham’s struggle between religious faith and parental love is a topic for next week; today, I am going to propose that Abraham was testing God as much as God was testing him. In Lech Lecha, God promises to make him a mighty nation through this son, in Vayera God sets the ultimate trial because showing is stronger than telling. The outcome of the sacrifice of Isaac is the proof in the covenantal pudding that God is not going to exact an additional price in worship, other than the one to which both parties agreed. To a certain extent, Jewish circumcision replaces the cult of human sacrifice. When your son's foreskin is removed, you should be thanking God that this is all the sacrifice that is demanded.

I think part of what makes circumcision’s detractors vehement is the involvement of blood. Despite our culture’s predilection for violent entertainment and our willingness to go under the knife merely for cosmetic purposes, the notion that blood is the key element in a holy act is anathema to the modern age – it sounds a bit like voodoo. With all our technological and medical progress, we like to dismiss anything that taps into our primal nature as outmoded, a connection which we fancy we have outgrown, as if something primitive holds no truth, or that its truth is somehow embarrassing. An atheist can view blood from merely a scientific perspective, but for those who believe that there is more to life than the syntax of things know in their hearts that the blood in our veins does more than just carry around oxygen and nutrients and remove waste. For the poets and the pious, blood is the ultimate mystical substance and most religious systems acknowledge this. From the sacrifices and Temple purification rituals we no longer perform to family purity laws and not consuming animal blood that we still practice, these rites focus on blood, the essence of life. Even Christianity which, borrowing our bible, overturned all of these practices, recognized the crucial mystical power of blood rituals and placed the Eucharist and the blood of Christ at the center of their faith. The metaphysical importance of blood is summed up simply by Joss Whedon, “It has always got to be blood. Blood is life. It’s what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you not dead.” Blood brothers, blood oath, signing in blood – these put your heart where your mouth is, open your soul, and seal an unbreakable deal.

A final objection brought up by the provocateur behind this drash was that the exclusion of women was another indication of circumcision’s obsoleteness and, with this, the topic of female circumcision was broached. Frankly, I find the lack of female circumcision in Judaism an expression of divine kindness rather than exclusion. Unlike the male counterpart which, as surgical procedures go, is quite minor and definitely outpatient, female circumcision is excruciating, without any medical benefits and destroys sexual pleasure.

I am sure patriarchy has something to do with this omission, though perhaps not inasmuch that women do not count but in the sense that women do not require a visible sign of the covenant, whether because of the old chestnut that we are closer to God or, staying in the home, we are not in a position necessary to prove it to outsiders. The tangential inclusion via God blessing Sarah so that she shall give rise to nations implies that women enter a covenant through childbirth – a far more bloody affair than circumcision. This would exclude women unable or uninterested in having children and, although childbirth was one of the most spiritual and certainly the most primal experience I have undergone, I can not subscribe to the idea of women as vessels who are only fulfilled and tied to God through their reproductive capacity.

For those who find matrilineal descent or that we all stood at Sinai is not enough, or find the notion that women were keepers of hearth and home anachronistic or offensive, I think creating equality by doing away with male circumcision is not the answer, but rather creating a meaningful ritual that emulates the power, mystery and sentiment of the brit milah, the ultimate expression of our faith in God. When our daughter was born, it was of paramount importance that we held a brit bat for her – not just a naming or a simchat bat, since our joy was not a substitute for entering our child into a covenant, for committing her to the faith of Sarah and Abraham and into a relationship with God.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Limericks Calling

Thanks to Tony for tuning me into the lyrics as limericks contest and the guy who did all of London Calling. This made my day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Summer Sabbatical Cessation

Is my summer sabbatical ceasing? Tune in soon for this and other alliterative adventures of Mila Mommy Magnifica.

Tasty toes


L'shana tova!


Monday, August 20, 2007

You looking at me?/Big hair day


Belated Birthday Beauty


Mommy's busy, you wanna mess?


Monday, July 16, 2007

Gone Bloody Fishing


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

(Far from) Free Parking

Our house now has off-street parking! After a two year battle, the private alley is easemented (love that verbification) and we have a parking pad in our yard. We did a one-car gravel pad -- we wanted to lose as little of our yard as possible and liked the removability of gravel for re-sale value, you know, in case the next owner cares about cars and wants to build a garage or expand the pad.
Now our yard is oddly shaped. We are annexing the end of the private alley into our yard. It is our land and no one needs it for ingress or egress. The fencing contractor will build-in a storage bench, two planters and two short benches to turn the space into a conversation pit or, as I like to call it, a make-out nook. We are also fencing in our front yard, along with our three ajoining neighbors (no return between our houses), to keep out the trash and dog crap.
Most of my free time has been spent gardening these past weekends, hence the hush. That, and our Spring Dance Card has been overbooked. Bloody social whirwind. No room to squeeze in so much as a foxtrot on the blog. We are going up to Michigan for a long weekend, so I'll bring Jasper (my computer. Yeah, I named my computer, wanna mess?!) and write up a gob of stuff -- and perhaps post a slew of glossies of a certain baby doll -- to compensate for my recent poor showing. Promises, promises.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Yelena was successfully babysat twice in May, first when we went to see Arcade Fire and, second, when we went to 2 weddings in one day. (Yup, a veritable Niagra of nachas.) She had different babysitters each time and both declared her an easy sit. We were very concerned about bedtime, since our otherwise highly agreeable child is a tiny but mighty sleep warrior. Her first babysitter -- who sits regularly and for a couple decades -- said that, except for one child who puts his head on the stair and points when he's ready for bed, pretty much every kid she's ever babysat makes a fuss over bedtime and Yelena was on the low end of the fuss zone. Ha! Our second babysitter had a very easy time getting her to sleep, perhaps because he's a yoga teacher and probably wore her out. All he did was cuddle her for a couple minutes and she was out.
I took it all remarkably well (pat, pat), surprising Eli who thought I 'd be a neurotic mess. I spend time away from Yelena and I spend sufficient time with Eli after Yelena's bedtime, but it was great fun to actually go out with my husband and not have to worry about the diaper bag, swearing or drinking.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Not being held hostage

Still kicking, all's well, et cetera. Busy metaphor mixing butterfly will report again soon.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Way overdue

Tomorrow night Eli and I are going out *gasp* together to have dinner and see Arcade Fire. Yelena will have her first past-bedtime babysitter. I'll report back on how she and I did. I'm not worried about Eli.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cicada Romesco

Flurry of brown eyed cuteness below, as promised. Not all my promises are empty.
I just made a scrumptious Romesco sauce to accompany the surfeit of of ramps I bought for tomorrow. (Love them wild and crazy leeks.) Now, there are as many recipes for Romesco as there are Catalan grannies, but I seem to have struck a happy medium in preparation time. Of course, I roasted the peppers, but I didn't bother roasting the garlic or tomatoes, just skinned and half-assedly seeded the latter. I did fry the bread in olive oil which was, oh my God, an insanely delicious thing to do with bread. In fact, when the sauce was complete, I fried up another piece of bread in the remaining oil to sop up the sauce clinging to the blade of the food processor. Eli was mercifully asleep and didn't witness this act of sheer gluttony.
Speaking of cooking seasonal delicacies, I keep coming across recipes for cooking the 17 year cicadas that are about to rise like winged zombies and take over Chicago at the end of the month. Apparently, the boy cicadas don't have enough fat to be worth eating, and one should remove the wings and legs -- not inedible, just not tasty -- from the girls for a crunchy treat. Man, this is one time I'm glad I keep a kosher home. When we were digging up along the deck to plant some clematis, I came across what I swear were some cicada nymphs, although Eli disagreed. I know they're allegedly not harmful, but I smashed those little buggers into a pulp with my shovel. I'm not a squemish girlie girl -- I even talk to my happy earth worms while gardening -- but cicadas really creep me out.
This post is pretty much procrastination, as I've a looming deadline.

All the better to chase the kitties


Full Yelena Asana 1


Hair bandtastic

Yelena was having a big hair day. Combined with the leopard print bib was a photo op I couldn't miss.


Bilateral bling

While working on her bilateral skills last week, Yelena donned three necklaces all by herself.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

CI Induced Vortex

Nope, not sucked into a black hole in the blogosphere, just stuck in the springtime capital improvement zone. I'm trying to finish staining the deck before this weekend's flurry of company (Eli b-day party, a bridal shower I'm co-hosting), deal with the infernal ongoing mishigos of the private alley, write a (paid, woohoo!) article for a friend, squeeze some dancing in, and take care of my bambina.
On the topic of the lovely Yelena, she is well and adorable. I have some pics, but the camera is 2 flights down and I ain't going to get it just now. She's starting to crawl for bits on her own and can hold herself up in quadraped for extended periods of time. She is also transitioning into and out of positions more smoothly, including pulling herself up on stationary objects. She's been able to pull up on people, doing all the work, for a very long time, but something about furniture has eluded her. After experimenting a lot, I found a little sensory input on her hands -- just touching them lightly so she doesn't lift up a hand while pushing with her legs -- does the trick. Go Lele! She also lives to work on standing and practice walking, so the motivation is all there, which is great, since often children with motor planning difficulties get frustrated and don't want to work. She is still a snuggly delightful little koala, without the unpleasant eucalyptus odor, as always.
I promise to be more amusing in the near future or, at the very least, shower you with cuteness, but assurance that we all breathe must suffice for now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007



A Swinging Affair

Yelena spends a lot of time swinging. She needs the input and she loves it. She's really cute when she does it, especially stripped to her diaper in PT, but it's rather difficult to get an even half-way decent picture of her in motion. I could attribute it to the camera, but it's probably my fault for not having the patience to take dozens of pictures.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

High Def Opiate

We have now had our new television for a month. It’s pretty bad ass. Now, bad ass isn’t a term I throw around often or loosely; typical adjectives of praise in my lexicon include brilliant, beautiful, delicious, funky. But our basement is now the site of 56 inches of high definition bad ass.

Let me explain this TV. Those of you who know me, know I am not what one would call a TV person. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child. If it wasn’t on PBS or a movie we all watched together, forget it. (I managed to negotiate for Silver Spoons to avoid ostracization as the only girl in LBUSD not following the trials and tribulations of Ricky Schroder. [I cringe in retrospect; I never even thought he was cute, I was a blonde-loving lemming.] This privilege later morphed into 2 hours of TV per week. Of course, when my parents weren’t around I gulped down MTV and anything else with prurient content I could find, but we’ll discuss that another time.) In college I was too busy studying, working, practicing, acting and drinking to imbibe much pop culture – other than deconstructing Next Generation on Saturday afternoons with a ragtag group of English Ph.D. students I fell in with. There was a brief period of a few years when I lived with my then boyfriend and, courtesy of Nick at Night, caught up on an obscene amount of what I missed as a child and watched a tremendous number of British mysteries. When I moved out, no TV for 5 years.

During those 5 years I probably averaged 8-10 movies a month. I was within a 20 minute walk of both the Landmark and the Music Box, and would catch a Sunday classic matinee every week and just about every worthwhile new release or revival. When I moved in with Eli, my movie pace slowed down but it was still at a decent clip. We watched more movies at home and got sucked into a few shows. When we moved to our house, a dish wasn’t an option due to the massive silver maples and we opted not to get cable, using old fashioned bunny ears for the Oscars and the World Series.

I do hate TV. I hate commercials. I hate the way TV preys on the weak and exhausted and gobbles up evenings at a time so days become indistinguishable. Most of the stuff on TV is complete and utter crap. However, I am not one of those people who think TV is universally evil and movies virtuous. Amongst the muck there are a few gems. At its best, TV can be well-acted, well-written and thrilling. It is an actor’s dream. The potential for character development from show-to-show and season-to-season mirrors life much more than a 120 minute movie ever can. And with the beauty of Netflix or Tivo or whatever new fangled technology is out there, one can consciously and conscientiously choose one’s show and watch without the fucking commercials.

Going to dance class or the gym is pretty much the only time I get out of the house without Yelena. (We do take her with us to friends’ homes and out to dinner and have company over often, so I am only a partial lame ass social recluse.) I kept putting off Eli on the new TV purchase, not wanting to be one of those people with a gargantuan, always running TV as the centerpiece of their home, the locus of all family activity. I finally capitulated, realizing my movie going hiatus wasn't just a factor of Yelena's infancy. And I'm darned glad I did. There’s surround sound. I can read the credits. I can see the zits on actors' foreheads. (My God, don't they get paid enough to afford a dermatologist?) And no one’s cell phone is going off. It’s so bad ass.

Bad ass brings me to my Jack Bauer obsession. Watching 24 is like a bag of Chips Ahoy. You know you should be eating something nutritious. Heck, if it’s cookies you’re after it doesn’t take all that long to whip up a batch of home made or skedaddle to the bakery. Yet, you open that box and rip open that baggie with your teeth and can’t stop. You can eat them processed cookies with the skim milk of a few good performances, and that entire bag goes so yummy in the tummy and then you feel that slick coating of fat on your teeth and bloating in the gut and ask yourself, “How did I get here?.”

Some of the subplots are ludicrous. Some of the acting sucks. (Some of it is fabulous, but I am on a rampage here, don’t try to stop me.) Questions arise: how can someone as smart as Jack Bauer have a daughter that stupid? How the fuck did he get from one end of LA to the other in 10 minutes?! After school it would take me ½ an hour to get from one end of Long Beach to the other and that was the eighties. People do things totally out of character merely to service the plot. The body count is ridiculous, the torture gratuitous. And yet, and yet, I can’t stop. It’s got a hook. That whole real time thing sucks you in like an anteater’s shnoz. Dinner is eaten in front of the TV and all semblance of bedtime trodden.

We’ve only watched a couple seasons and I’ve enforced a temporary lock-down. We will watch the rest of them *sigh* but I need a break. I’ve started having Jack Bauer dreams. Now, I’ve always liked Kiefer Sutherland as an actor, but he never made my top 50 sexy list. See Ricky Shroder above: blondes rarely do it for me. Before 24, there was something about his menacing vampiric characters that I find attractive when I’m ovulating, but his lips are too thin and his nose too cropped for my taste – although the combination lends to making his angel’s kiss even more leonine than his father’s. Roar. If I didn’t know either of them and celebrity weren’t a factor, and I met Kiefer and Eli at a party I would probably hit on Eli. But the insidiousness of the show – and, frankly, his utter believability in implausible imaginary circumstance -- has made him into a towering figure of sexiness in my subconscious.

Last night I dreamt I was helping him out – along with the wire tapping help of my friend who, in real life, works for Mayor Daley – and made out with Jack Bauer at the end. About a week ago I dreamed I was having dinner with Sutherlands both Kiefer and Donald at Frenchy’s restaurant in Long Beach. Kiefer excused himself to the loo and Donald questioned my intentions toward his son. I told Donald that he needn’t worry, since I intended to marry a Jew and, if Kiefer were serious about me it would take him at least a year to convert, so I wouldn't let him rush into things. In the interstices of dream and awake I thought to myself, “Donald, I’d much rather have you!”

Monday, April 09, 2007

Out of Egypt

From slavery in Egypt to slavery in the kitchen. The irony is thick. The upside is that I would probably never clean, let alone clean out, the fridge if it weren't for this ancient festival of spring cleaning. Grumble, grumble.
Call me a bitter herb, but I'm blaming Passover, and Passover preparation, for not blogging recently. I've been too weak to post. How these freaks on Atkins can get anything done is beyond me. Carbs -- of the complex and simple sort, I'm not so picky -- are my friends. One can only stretch potatoes and cardboard so far. At what point in halacha did some sadistic cabal of ascetic rabbis decide that matzah should be a friggin' cracker? I mean, lavash is pretty flat, cooks for fewer than 18 minutes and is yummy. Filo? Tortilla? C'mon rabbi dudes. I can guarantee the ancient Israelites did not flee Mitzrayim with a box of nasty crackers.
It's bloody cold here. It's really inexcusable.
Adding to our afflictions culinary and temperate, Yelena and I have been ill. We are both better, thanks for asking, but it was a bit of rough going on Saturday. She went to sleep Friday cheerful, woke up at 3 a.m. a little fleece radiator. I had been a bit under the weather for the previous few days so it was considerate of her to wait until the weekend so Daddy could look after us. (Daddy who grounded me and prevented me from attending my final dance classes of the session -- 12 weeks working on the level 3 dance and I'll never know how it ends. Waaaa! [Well, I can get the notes from someone, but that makes it seem less tragic and I'm after a little sympathy here.]) Beaucoup de cuddling and fluids later, her fever broke and her appetite returned today -- it is just so sad seeing my little sweetie all pathetic and sick.
Eli doesn't think the 2 pictures I posted the other day are representative of Yelena's cuteness, so I promise to take a few smiley ones in the next couple of days.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

All Dressed Up & Not at All Excited to Go

Thought bubble: you expect me to smile for matzah?
She looked adorable in her Seder finery, she just refused to smile for, let alone look at, the camera during her brief photo op.


Princessa of Pout


Sunday, March 25, 2007


My tulips are starting to come up!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Those Feisty Ides

I managed to make it through today without any blatant backstabbings, well, at least any readily apparent backstabbings and that's good enough for me. It's much easier to avoid coups and mutinies outside the office, away from the theatre folk and no longer on any synagogue committees. Despina did have a murderous gleam in her eye but I managed to quell it with a packet of ocean fish & tuna in broth. If only the Romans were so appeasable.
I've been a quiet type lately, haven't I? How peculiar. I wish I could report momentous goings on but we've just been mucking about. The wee one is adorable and is transitioning to sit up on her own -- and loves showing off this new skill -- on her right side and almost on her left. I asked Evette if we were "normal" parents with a "typical" child (I'm waxing all quotalicious) would we even notice or care that she always sat up on one side. She said that many children do one-sided skills (always roll to one side, always stand with their the same leg first, etc.) and their parents never notice, but this can really affect coordination later on. Yelena may be taking an eon to master these skills, but her form is impeccable. Tortoises of the world unite! She is also finally staying in quadraped for a while and doing much assisted crawling, but she would much rather butt scoot or practice walking. Her receptive language is growing and she's vocalizing more in play, with a few additional words which she uses intermittently. Before swim last week, one of her classmates toddled up to her in the locker room and Yelena looked at her and, with a huge smile, said, "Hi!" Such a charmer.
I'll post some pictures in the near future.
We had a neurologist appointment Monday, but I am so not in the mood to write about it. It will have to wait.
We are terrible Jews and negligent parents and did not end up taking Yelena to any Purim festivities. I didn't want to deal with the late bedtime Erev Purim and, when it came time to take her Sunday morning to the family Megillah reading I decided to make waffles instead. Baaaaad Mommy, selfish Mommy.
Self-sufficiency is the name of the game for the adults around here this week. Eli fixed our leaky disposal and I fixed the pop-up drain in the upstairs loo. I now know what a clevis rod is. As I gathered up our tax documents to send to the accountant it occurred to me that I have underwritten $50 million loans, I could probably handle our measly tax return. And I did. All filed. All happy.
We also bought a to-be delivered TV. It's big. Not Lawrence of Arabia sunrise big, but pretty friggin' big. Eli wanted bigger, but I capped him at 56". It's the JVC rear projection thingie with lots of pixels and other good stuff. It will be refreshing not to squint at subtitles or credits.
Because we don't have enough to do, we've started watching 24. Netflix can't keep up with our jonesing.
Hail Caesar.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Just give her some wings

Yelena had her 18 month check-up yesterday. Her ears are still looking good, as is the rest of her. She weighed in at 25 pounds and nary an ounce and is just shy of 31 inches. She is around the 50th% for both -- a bit over for weight and a bit under for height. Her head was 48 centimeters, moving her up to the 95th%. That's one big head on one medium body. With her feet finally growing out of the 6-12 month socks (her 6-12 shoes still fit) she looks like a Boticelli cherub, all cute round head.
Last night, after searching 15 minutes for a parking space after dance classes, I came in to find Yelena already asleep. Daddy wasn't even trying -- just holding the fort until I returned -- but managed to get her down in 20 minutes. Go Daddy!


Monday, February 26, 2007

And now for something completely adorable

The only thing cuter than Yelena in a hat is Yelena in my hat.


No whiskers on kittens or warm woolen mittens here

I need a good gripe.
  • About a decade ago, during the dark Luddite ages before I owned a proper ice cream maker, I once made granita. I think it was coffee granita. Every few hours I opened up the freezer, took out the baking pan and scraped away at the layers of ice. Shoveling the walk yesterday was just like that, except on a grand, aerobic scale. Under the wet dog pee slushie, the ice had ice. There were only a couple inches, but it was damn heavy. Stupid snow.
  • People are crappy drivers in the snow. I have adopted Tony's advice of what to do when another car is coming the opposite way down a narrow street. I swing over into their lane heading straight at them, forcing them to move their frigging SUV over. It works. And I like to see the terrified looks on their faces, "Oh my God, I'm going to hit the Camry if I don't actually learn how to control this gas guzzling behemoth." Stupid SUV drivers.
  • I can't wait until the damn municipal election is over. Everyday we average 3 phone calls and 6 pieces of literature. Stupid aldermen.
  • Couldn't they just have given Scorsese a lifetime achievement award, rather than naming The Departed the best picture of the year? At least it's better than much of the winning crap in recent years. (Crash, Chicago [yeah, I love a dance musical where you can't see any of the actors dance -- oh wait, that's because they can't dance], Titanic, Forrest Gump, suck suck suck.) The divine Helen Mirren and Forrest Whitaker are 2 of my favorite actors, so there was happiness there. The Oscars are mostly an excuse to order from Pizza Bubamara (no one makes a pizza like the Bosnians), pick up a tart from Bittersweet, hang out and get tipsy on champers. I even had a wee hang-over this morning. Stupid Oscars.
  • I make fun of the goyim for having Christmas decorations out before Thanksgiving. Can we make a new rule? No Passover shit in the stores until after Purim. The Jewel on Howard has already converted an aisle into Kosher for Passover. Bloody hell, I haven't even made my hamentashen yet. Stupid Passover. Stupid greedy mashgiach mafia.
  • Theo is moaning right now as he tries to hump Cherubino. With his mouth on Cheru's neck, his castrated nether regions only reach midway down Cheru's back. Stupid orange tabby.
I feel so much better now.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


Four boxes of clothes arrived from Auntie Michele today. I couldn't wait to put Yelena in the leopard snow suit. When I was taking the pictures I said, "A leopard says rawr," and each time Yelena answered, "Aawr." The second picture captures her mid-roar.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Snow days

All thawed out here. Last week I became one of those people for whom I have nothing but contempt. Yes, I am one of those selfish bastards who barricaded a parking space. According to Chicago ordinance it is legal, if not ethical. I was going to the opera last Tuesday. After shoveling a foot or so of snow away from the car I just couldn't deal with coming home at midnight and searching for a space, blocks away, and then carrying Yelena there the following morning. (As soon as this weather is finished, we're paving the private alley and the parking search shall be a thing of the past.) When it drops below 10 and the snow reaches higher than a pair of go-go boots I am allowed to rationalize.
Freaky orange tabby. I am typing this while waiting for Eli to get back from yoga. I just squeezed lemon for our dinner (pasta with tuna packed in olive oil, kalamata olives, capers, garlic and said lemon) and Theo is in a citrus induced madness. I must have gotten some on my fleece as he is licking it obsessively. You think he'd be into the tuna, mais non. I could hire him out for a lemony exfoliation treatment and earn enough to put him on the Prozac he so desperately needs. Oh, it tickles!

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Mishpatim 007

The Torah related mischief I was up to last week:
In the interest of full disclosure, I spoke on Mishpatim a couple years ago. When Paul told me last week he had a cancellation I had a difficult time refusing him since, when I had his job, he was my get out of jail free speaker and I owe him big time. I will admit that I considered giving the same talk verbatim; probably 75% of you weren’t here that day and the remaining quarter have either completely forgotten it or were in a Kiddush club induced haze at the time. Although two years is a millisecond compared to the eternity of the Torah, I continue to change and, one can only hope, evolve. Major lifecycle events are obvious catalysts for personal change. But time’s arrow works in more subtle ways, as small things – books, movies, conversations, epiphanies during sleepless nights – also have great affect.

Sometimes one of these ideas or incidents gets stuck on shuffle repeat in my mind. As I mentioned last time around, once Moses ascends Mt. Sinai the Torah undergoes a major genre switch, like changing the channel from HBO to CSPAN. So, do not worry, I plan on addressing the dry legal stuff, but first allow me to wax anecdotal.

I live in, officially, the most diverse ZIP code in the United States. (Obviously, outside the eruv.) Sure, a big factor in our move was that we wanted a relatively affordable house with a yard in a lakefront neighborhood, but we also value heterogeneity. I want my kids playing with children from diverse backgrounds. This does not detract from our Jewish identity, but enhances it. As a diaspora people, the local flavors and philosophies absorbed throughout history meld with our values to create our rich cultural Jewish heritage. Living in an insular community does not make the world a smaller place, it just narrows our view of it.

The downside to living in East Rogers is that it is a shlep to my very few friends who stay home with their children and, although I have not been called shy since I was ten, I typically am not one to initiate friendships, call me old-fashioned, but I need someone else to make the first move. I had heard the myth of the neighborhood park as watering hole and my husband, no doubt feeling I was in need of some socialization last summer, frequently suggested that I go to the park and meet some other stay-at-home moms.

One afternoon, as the barrage of missiles on Northern Israel was winding down, we went over to Pottawatomie Park, a block from our house, to play and meet Daddy after work. I was pushing Yelena on a swing and a tall woman wearing a headscarf was pushing a cute little girl in a lavender dress a couple swings down. She was friendly and spoke to me, typical maternal chitchat. She asked my daughter’s name and, when I asked her in return, she told me, “Maryam. It’s Arabic for Miriam.” I almost said, “I know. My Hebrew name’s Miriam,” but I stopped myself and just smiled. Although we continued to talk, I froze.

I had known immediately from her hijab that she was Arabic. I dance to Arabic music and I have Arab and Muslim friends – friendships which do not contradict my commitment to Israel, thank you very much – admittedly, both my friends and the dance form are pretty secular. In the park, I was wearing an ancient concert t-shirt, basketball shorts and sandals. Compared to Britney Spears or some of the bat mitzvah girls, I was dressed rather modestly. Practicing tzniut, I was certainly not. Yet this woman in a headscarf was willing to overlook that and initiate conversation, which was more than any of the frum women at Indian Boundary Park ever did. Here we were, two first time mothers waiting for our husbands to come home from work, probably both a little lonely and hungry for adult contact. She was friendly and articulate. If she had been, say, Asian or African-American I doubt I would have refused her overtures. I could justify my reticence by the politically charged times and my desire not to get into it, but if it were that simple I would not still reflect on it. Was I upset that I, never one for self-censoring, hesitated from outing myself as a Jew? Warmer, but what I think still bothers me about my behavior was my assumption regarding how she would react She stepped outside her cultural boundaries in search of a universal connection whereas I simply shut down.

The mishpatim of this parsha are not theoretical legislation, externally imposed from outside the narrative, they are an integral part of the story of the Jewish people. The Exodus was not just the escape from the arbitrary and unjust institution of slavery, but the constant exodus into a righteous way of life. The litany of laws, the sefer ha’brit, do not merely delineate parameters for a just and equitable society, to avoid and resolve sticky situations. We follow these rules to become holier.

Interspersed among legislation regarding slavery, lest the Israelites repeat the mistakes of their Egyptian captors, and criminal and civil law, there is a subset of laws describing how to treat marginalized members of society: the widow and orphan, the stranger, and one’s personal enemy. All the laws in Mishpatim deal with how we are to conduct ourselves in order not to be bad, but these rules offer specific instructions in how to be good. Some mitzot are the bare minimum, following them diligently is a bit like being a B student, you care enough to do the work but are not willing to put forth extra effort. Some commandments are straightforward: don’t eat pig, don’t plow the corners of your field, don’t gather wood on Shabbat. Other commandments are abstract and require improvisation.

The most comprehensible of these four laws is the injunction not to abuse a widow or orphan. Orphans, and widows back in the unfortunate days when women were not socially independent, are alone in the world and lack status and power. Outside the umbrella of a family unit, they are unprotected and defenseless. They may appear to have no one to notice or avenge their maltreatment, but God assures us that although the orphan and the widow may be without the protection of man they are under the protection of God. In wronging them one wrongs God as well. Mistreating someone vulnerable, like a child or the sick, is vile and inexcusable. Yet it is not sufficient to refrain from abusing the widow and the orphan, one must actively help them. Abravanel states that whoever sees a person afflicted and does not help them is accounted an afflictor, those who have the power to protest or take action and do not are an accessory to a crime.

Unless you are completely heartless, the orphan and the widow are inherently sympathetic characters. But what about those with whom we do not naturally empathize, people we simply do not like or those who are strange to us? Rabbi Elezer the Great points out that thirty-six times the Torah directs us in the treatment of the stranger. This mitzvot is phrased both positively and negatively, addressing the message to the optimist and pessimist alike. Thirty-six times is more than any other mitzvot, including all the laws on kashrut. Yet how much more do many Jews obsess over hecshures than consider the welfare of the stranger? Now, I am not advocating eating traffe, I am suggesting that we are more inclined to follow these commandments because they are explicit. Putting ourselves in the position of the stranger, walking the proverbial mile in another’s moccasins, requires personal adjustment, a lot more demanding mentally and emotionally than minding a checklist of what not to eat.

These commandments remind us that the Israelites’ experience of slavery forms the core of our moral obligations to other people, Jews and non-Jews alike. We were strangers in the land of Egypt and we know the feelings of the stranger. Jews have all too often felt the pain of being far from home and having no champion. Nachama Leibowtiz suggests that the Torah reiterates this commandment so often to prevent us from acting out on any feelings of humiliation over our bondage and exile, thus mistreating others because we have been mistreated. As former slaves we must empathize with those who are now in a tight place, rather than feel claustrophobia and shame in identification with them. God redeemed us from slavery and we learn holiness from God’s example; we have responsibility toward all victims.

This mitzvot is also a preventative measure against xenophobia and prejudice. Many commentators employ this directive to ensure fair conduct toward converts. In a lawsuit between a convert and a born Israelite, one is not to assume wrong on account of idolatrous origins. The Talmud states that, “Should a proselyte come to study Torah do not say to him, ‘The mouth that has consumed forbidden meats… has the audacity to study Torah given from the mouth of the Almighty.’” Converts to Judaism are likened to newborn children, at conversion their souls are renewed as perfect. Reading the Torah and prophetic writings, we see that the Israelites have participated in their fair share of idol worship as well, but God does not hold that perpetually against them.

Through showing compassion to those who are displaced on any scale we merit the compassion of God. How Jews treat the stranger has far reaching implications, from the personal to the political, from the smallest gesture to public policy. This mitzvah goes further and encourages us to reserve judgment on things that we find unfamiliar, not just people, but ideas or experiences we find strange or threatening. We are to give the benefit of the doubt, to imaginatively put ourselves in the position of others. As long as we do not violate other mitzvot, we can follow this most frequently repeated commandment and keep an open mind.

It is difficult to keep an open mind toward someone who has wronged you or with whom you do not see eye to eye. Inserted in the middle of the section dealing with the proper administration of justice are two incongruous mitzvot that spell out how to behave toward one’s enemy. Just as we are prohibited from perverting justice for the needy, Cassuto implores us not to pervert justice against one’s enemy. As with the orphan and the stranger, avoiding evil alone is not enough; doing good demands we lend an enemy a helping hand. These mitzvot direct a person to return an enemy’s animal that has gone astray and, if the animal of an enemy is struggling under its burden, to help release it. On one level, these laws ensure that an animal, an innocent party, does not suffer for the wrongs of its owner. Back in my days of apartment dwelling, my horrid downstairs neighbors played the crappiest garage music late at night, but when their locked-out cat showed up at our doorstep mewing, I still returned him to his owners.

On a higher level, these mitzvot have the potential to initiate a transformation in behavior. Sometimes the smallest gesture triggers a change of heart. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that the Aramaic translation of “you shall surely release his burden” is “you shall let go of the hate you have in your heart toward him.” The physical act of releasing the beast’s burden leads to the psychological act of letting go the burden of animosity. Temporarily uniting in a common purpose with someone you dislike shows there is potential for cooperation on other issues and a chance at reconciliation, like Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential.

As the proverb goes, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread, if thirsty, give him water to drink.” These two commandments acknowledge the difficulty of “not hating your brother in your heart,” but give direction in how to overcome a grudge and open one’s mind. Jews do not have two codes of behavior: one for our friend and one for our enemy; one for the Jew and one for the stranger. Ethical behavior is the application of consistent standards to all equally and equitably.

I wish I had a satisfying resolution to my story, that Yelena and Maryam stack blocks together in an idyllic vision of the daughters of Isaac and Ishmael, while their mothers sip tea – perhaps peaceably debating centuries of contention or politely avoiding the subject altogether. I have seen Maryam and her mother at a distance a few times since then and have always felt a twinge of something, maybe regret, a multi-layered regret conflating so many personal and political emotions. I guess the true test of my following these mitzvot is what I do if Yelena and Maryam ever find themselves sitting next to each other on the swings.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yelena's Amazing Therapeutic Adventures

This is the time of year I usually slip off to California for a week since, as you can surmise from the post below, I begin to go a little stir crazy. My blood just isn't made for this unrelenting single degree torment. Even though I will eventually need a vacation or I will be checked into a sanitorium, Yelena and I need to stick around Chicago for the next few months and keep up a steady routine of therapy. OT seems to be going really well and her therapist told me she has made tremendous strides since her evaluation, which was about 6 weeks ago. PT progress steadily (slow for the average baby, but big leaps for her). She has sat up entirely on her own on the right side with verbal cueing, which is a huge milestone. Her cross-reaching is fabulous and she is actually trying to transit down. Some days she can stay on her hands and knees for a bit and do some assisted crawling, and even a tiny bit on her own, other days it seems more difficult. She is pivoting on her tushie quite willfully and is doing some butt-scooting, which is a mixed bag. It's good that she is learning that she can self-locomote, but Evette really wants her to be able to crawl. ST is still nebulous. Yelena will chat the whole drive over there and in the waiting room but, as soon as she sees Shannon, does not make a peep until we're back in the car. She talks during PT and OT, so the irony is thick. Even silently, she is working on receptive language so it's not a complete loss and she is responding well to the nuk brush and chewy tube.
We're doing OT, PT and ST through Children's Memorial, with all the therapists certified though Early Intervention, so we can continue to see them once the EI stuff is all sorted out. It's a damned good thing we didn't wait for EI to set everything up since, after calling the first week of December, we finally had the at home evaluation a couple weeks ago and the Developmental Therapist isn't even coming for her first meeting until next Tuesday. EI once was a free program but, now that our tax dollars are being diverted elsewhere (ahem), it's income based and we have to pay the maximum amount, which is $200. They first bill our insurance and EI covers everything else. If we were only doing one therapy, it wouldn't be worth it, but our share of 3-4 therapies is much higher than $200, so it's a good deal. Plus, the coordinator told us, EI typically doesn't start billing for a few months.
The EI home evalution was awful and I couldn't bring myself to re-live it by reporting about it any sooner. Yelena did fine -- as fine as you can with 4 therapists and a social worker watching your every move -- but I didn't. After all the evaluations at Children's and the neurologist and the pediatrician, I had just hit the point where I could not deal with one more person telling me what's wrong with my daughter. And then I had to deal with the annoying developmental therapist, who will not be Yelena's DT, with her cat allergies and generic Tiffany heart bracelet, "Well, she'll be getting cognitive work through the occupational and speech therapy, so you probably don't want to do developmental, too."
"Do you think developmental will help?"
"Well, you're already taking her to so much."
"Yes, but will it help?"
"I'm not sure you want to take her to another thing."
"Please answer yes or no, do you think will she benefit from developmental therapy?"
"Yes, but..."
"Then we're doing it." The neurologist said specifically that he wants her receive DT. It was like this woman had decided I was the kind of mother who didn't want to go to any more trouble than necessary. As if we weren't going to do everything in our power to help our child. Bitch. It's one thing to have these evaluations in a clinical setting, but having them in your home with strangers looking over your DVDs and obsessing over the cat hairs woven into the rumpus room sofa is too invasive.
Thankfully, all that is over. Yelena's OT said that listening to these people talk about x percentage and y percentage delay will just make you crazy and take the focus off what matters, and that's the day to day progress. And Yelena is the hardest working baby I know. It's very difficult to see kids in Yelena's music class or wherever to go from wobbily standing to fully walking in a few weeks without even a thought, while she tries so hard and is barely moving. And I see the looks on parents' faces when they look at Yelena like she is deficient. Even if they try to hide it behind kindness (and not all of them do, mind you), I see the pity, the judgment, the smug satisfaction that their kid is normal, or just relief that their child doesn't have special needs. (Years of acting training has made me pretty proficient in reading faces, so don't even try to convince I'm imagining it.) It hurts that none of them want to have Yelena join their children's playgroups, as if her brain disorder were contagious.
This may suck, but Yelena is still the sweetest, loveliest and most fascinating little person I've ever met. It's going to take a while, maybe years, but I am convinced she will catch up to all these annoying statistics and leave them in the dust.


Freezing Association

This crazy cold is making the rest of my household sleepy and me listless and a little freaky. No one is up to play with me and I can't quite bring myself to start a new book or do something useful, and I certainly can't muster up the energy to get ready for bed, so I'm going to post, rather than read every NYT and Guardian article or surf Friendster. (Thanks to Tony for sending me a link last week to someone we knew in college who was both crazy and majorly closeted. It turns out he is now out but just as insane. Well, at least we know his sexual orientation wasn't causing his insanity, he is just now a little more free to be his crazy-assed self. The point, if there ever were a point, is, Tony, you forced me to return to the socially obsolete network that is Friendster, look around at profiles and then realize that I am not searching in cloaked anonymity and now am outed as someone who has nothing better to do at 1 a.m. than look at profiles of erstwhile friends and acquaintances. I have much better things to do, but instead I surf and lurk and watch Buffy in French. Which is, oh my God, beyond hilarious.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

All's clear

There is officially no more fluid in Yelena's ears. Thus, no ear tubes. Yay.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Go Bears!

Even Yelena's cheering couldn't help.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Brideshead Revisited Revisited

Reading Brideshead Revisited was a bit odd. I hadn't read it before but I saw the mini-series when it first aired in America on Great Performances, not Masterpiece Theatre, mind you, at a very tender age. It was a highly formative experience. Retrospective kudos to my parents for letting me, although it probably damaged me for life, sparking Anglophilia and yearning for the mysteries of adulthood. While other kids were watching Silver Spoons, I was learning about homosexuality, Roman Catholicism, alcoholism and adultery. For years after, my father did a creepy imitation of Kurt lisping the word, "pus," and I wanted to name a bear Aloysius.
I think I must have watched it again in high school, as I could not read the novel without hearing Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Claire Bloom, John Gielgud, et. al. uttering the lines. Down to every inflection. Typically, reading something after I've seen it dramatized is a dreadful experience, but I have to say I found Charles Ryder as played by Jeremy Irons infinitely more sympathetic than how Waugh wrote him. (And what's with the Brits naming boys Evelyn?) I also don't remember all the Divine Grace bit at the end being so heavy handed, but perhaps it flew right over my secular Jewish head.
I found the Et In Arcadia Ego half much more appealing. The nostalgia for university days was quite contagious and I think a number of beautifully written truths were contained within. I also found that Charles' love (that dare not speak its name) for Sebastian was much more vivid and poignant than Charles' love for Julia in the second half, which rang very hollow and like a lost soul looking for an echo of past love. I also enjoyed the rapturous descriptions of meals, keeping in mind that it was written in 1944 and that no one in England had had anything delightful to eat in years.
It will be peculiar discussing BR tomorrow with a bunch of Jews. I think -- and this is one of the points made in the novel itself -- if one is secular it is easy to dismiss the inherent religiosity of the faith. But how can one of faith, albeit a different faith, dismiss it without being hypocritical? From an anthropologic or literary perspective, how dissimilar is the catechism from yigdal? (Yes, Talmud is inherently more interactive, and thorough, but that's why the study part of Judaism is much easier than the prayer/faith part.)
Shifting gears, I haven't been reading as much as I like, or books that I would particularly recommend these past few months, so I won't bother with a complete litany. I loved Michael Malone's The Last Noel, never mind I predicted how it would end, I still had tears cascading down my face when I finished it at 3:00 a.m., after picking it up the prior day (I typically only read once everyone else is in bed). There's Murakami's latest story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; I had read about a third of the stories elsewhere, but they're certainly worth re-reading. I didn't really care for Sarah Waters' The Nightwatch; I think critics admired its historical accuracy and backwards chronology, but a little style and research a great book doth not make. Yehoshua's A Woman in Jerusalem was worth a read, but my least favorite of his books. Oh, and I truly enjoyed Mieville's Perdido Street Station, great SF.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Town Called Malice

Don't get me wrong, I love Chicago. I think it's such a fabulous city that, if it were only a little warmer or a little more topographically diverse nearby, everyone would want to live here. I'm praying for the 2016 Olympics, I'm pushing for Obama '08 (I'm an early and true believer, as I worked for him in his Senate primary against the Illinois Democratic machine -- if he can beat that, he can beat anything.) and the miniscule part of me that actually gives a hoot-and-a-half about football is rooting for the Bears this Sunday. But sometimes I feel I truly live in a secondary city, the third coast.
I feel this way whenever a movie plays first in New York and Los Angeles. Sure, it'll eventually show up here, unlike if I lived in, say, Butte or Memphis, but I hate not being primary. This second-class status hurts especially this week. Monday through Wednesday Paul Weller played 3 shows in NYC and this weekend he'll do 3 in LA -- dedicating the first night of each set to The Jam, the best band to never make in in America. He hasn't performed this material in over 20 years. Growl. If I weren't a nursing mother and if Yelena weren't in therapy a few days a week, don't think I wouldn't have jumped on Jet Blue and flown out. Shit, I would have flown to NYC last weekend and LA this.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A little shampoo is a dangerous thing

Sorry about the post fast. This little tidbit of benign parental sadism should tide you over until I finish reading Brideshead Revisited for book group.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Another earful

My poor little bambina has another ear infection. I have been concerned about ongoing fluid in her ears since December. Her last infection resolved quickly, but a tympanogram in mid-December showed that she still had some fluid: it wasn't flat, but it was more foothill than Mt. Everest. The audiologist said it was probably residual from the ear infection and to postpone her audiology exam for a month. Two weeks ago, Yelena and I visited Ari and he had his audiologist check her out. She passed the hearing screening, but her tympanogram was still not spiky and Ari said she did have fluid in her ears. I was just going to bring it up at her 18 month check-up but Monday night she woke up crabby and, when I was cuddling her, she kept digging her thumb around in her ear. She's doing better now, but am sick of all this fluid and made an appointment with an ENT doctor for when she's completed this course of antibiotic and am thinking ear tubes to help drain her tiny little ears. She passed the hearing screening, but the fluid could still be dulling her hearing or even affecting her balance. At this point, even if ear tubes were to help only 5-10% it'd be worth it.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


My least favorite aspect of parenting is aspirating. It's really awful. You know you have to do this invasive procedure, first the saline and then the slurping of snot, so your child can breathe better, avoid festering mucus triggering an ear infection and not wake herself up in the night with a burble of snot -- but it just causes misery. Like vaccinations. They're just too young to understand the nasty needle is nothing compared to tuberculosis. Unlike most kids, Yelena doesn't mind me wipping her nose and even welcomes the warm washcloth, she just wails the second the drops go in her nose and sobs for a few minutes after the lines of goo are sucked out. Today the only thing that distracted her afterwards was going on the bouncy ball while listening the Jimmy Smith's The Cat. Thank God for Jimmy Smith.
Last Wednesday in music class a girl, who must have been making up from another class, was covered in nasal secretions. You know, the lava trickle of technicolor snot running between the crusted crags of booggers all down her face. Because it is just our luck, she seemed to like Yelena and kept waddling up to her. I thought, "Oh shit. We're in for it." Unfortunately, I am clarvoyant and Yelena had a very rough night of it Thursday and has been a bit congested ever since. I, too, have been just a bit out of sorts and now Eli is as well. Nothing dramatic, able to make it through the day and all, just not enough energy to go see the midnight showing of the Buffy musical Saturday night or muster the energy to sit through Die Fledermaus tonight. And last night I was out of it enough that when I was cleaning my Stack splint it fell down the drain. I even took out the sink trap (Super hero ID: Handy Girl. Or, perhaps: Klutz Girl?) but it had already gone to swim with the gators. Ugh.
Sleep now.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Music Together

Finding a music class up to Yelena's parents' exacting standards in this here mega-major city has been more challenging than one might think. When she was about 6 months, we started her at the Suzuki-Orff school. She enjoyed it, it had a good pedagogic foundation and the teacher was very good at engaging the children. Next session, we were reminded of the first precept of education: it's all about the teacher. The new teacher was so terrible -- all fake bubbly and mispronouncing words that rhymed or screwing up the order of words in songs so they no longer rhymed -- that Eli physically couldn't bring himself to go after a few classes. There was also a father in the class whose sense of rhythm and pitch were so abstract, and always fortissimo, that it took all my restraint not to beat him over the head with an egg shaker while Eli strangled him with a scarf. I switched to a weekday. This teacher wasn't annoying, but she seemed to have a perpetual headcold. I have been told on more than one occasion that I sing like a Muppet (in tune, no oomph), but compared to her I am Renee Flemming. Also, I was sick of driving down to West Town.
Next we tried Wiggleworms at Old Town School of Folk Music. It was ok and for the right parent and child I would recommend it, depending on the teacher. Yelena enjoyed it, but I thought the teacher was way too lenient with the parents, allowing them to kibbitz too much and participate too little. The other problem is that when we made up classes with other teachers, they sang totally different songs. At this age, the point of a weekly class is to build some familiarity and routine, not throw the babies for a loop. Wiggleworms doesn't seem to have any system behind it other than to play guitar and have the kids move around -- which is fun, but I like something a little more formal. There were also way too many children in the class and it was always crowded and too chaotic.
I tried to get her into a Kindermusik class, but at two different places they had stopped teaching the 6-18 month class and at a third the weekday class was full for the entire year.
Finally, I decided to check out Music Together. Yelena started at Music Together of Lincoln Square in December and we are both very happy. The teacher is engaging without being fake or irritating and she has a lovely singing voice. One of the things I love is that the class is for all ages under 4; it's a more natural way to learn, operating under the theory that older kids learn from teaching younger ones and the younger ones learn from watching the older ones. (Also helpful if you have more than one little one.) This also works well for Yelena, since she's not the only kid who isn't walking. I'm not sure if she's self-conscious about it, but I get concerned. There is definitely a method, including a book on how to foster musical development, and the course materials included sheet music and a CD which is, surprisingly, one of the least irritating children's CDs I've ever heard. And there are songs in minor keys and time signatures other than 4/4! (There is even a song in 7/8. No, not Sting's.) Each 10 week session, there is a new CD and book, so we should get a pretty decent repertoire in a couple years. The class size is also reasonable, about 5-7 kids, and the other parents are friendly and involved, not like the Trixie horrors at that Gymboree class I checked out.