October 31, 2006

Bar Mitzvah Cheer II

For years, I planned parties, art openings and fund raising events professionally, so organizing a modest Bar Mitzvah did not seem daunting. The plans have gone smoothly overall. However, unlike a professional event, where there is another one coming along shortly, this is a one-off deal. Two kids, one Bar Mitzvah celebration. It’s do or die.

I remember my wedding planning days. I worked full-time and had to manage such minutiae as choosing typeface and color for the cocktail napkins. Who cares or remembers the napkins now? Everyone expects a wedding to be fraught with clashing egos, raw nerves and minor catastophes. Part of the fun is the dueling bridesmaids, the drunken guest, the uncooked main course. (A fight broke out in the kitchen during my wedding ceremony. No word if the supervising rabbi [masgiach] was involved.)

By the time one is old enough to have Bar Mitzvah-aged children, that craziness should have been outgrown, too. Still I am having deja vu, being asked to choose the linen colors. Now I worry--what if it is lame, really lame? Of course, the boys will be unpredictable, but what if the food is lousy?


L: Cough, cough, cough . . . . .
J: I know a potion to make you unsick.

October 27, 2006

Spelled like it sounds . . .

I suggested that Jeff look over his week's spelling words while I prepared dinner. Moments later, "What's this 3 doing here?" I looked over his shoulder. "I think the 3 is silent."

October 24, 2006


Complete the sentence to make a cause-effect paragraph.

Last week I spilled a bottle of blue ink in my grandmother's living room. Grandma says, "You are grounded!." I had a fit!

_______________ Hart

October 22, 2006

Encounter with Nature

There is no doubt about it. I am running a personal wildlife refuge. But, what the heck! How agile can a raccoon be?

I stood puzzling over this for a few minutes, until it finally dawned on me. I had left the garage door up, in position horizonal to the ceiling. Still, how the hell did a raccoon get up there? And why didn't he wipe his feet on the "Welcome, Raccoons" mat I so thoughtfully put out?

October 18, 2006

From the desk of . . .

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write up an interview with Ginny and Ron Weasley. I shared it with a few fellow Harry Potter fans who enjoyed it. Having gone to the trouble of writing it, I also posted it to a few major Harry Potter web sites.

For the most part, the Muggle webmasters loved it and most readers were very positive. Almost everyone readily recognized it as an unusual hybrid of journalism and fan fiction. There were, however, a few bewildered readers who didn't get it. Most memorably, one poster wrote, "I would much rather have read an interview with Bonnie Wright and Rupert Grint. Why didn't you do that?"

The truth is I don't know Ms. Wright or Mr. Grint, or their agents, publicists and managers. I do not even know the author J.K. Rowling. That's the whole point: I do know the real Ginny and Ron. I know Harry Potter, too.

I know Count Olaf, Oliver Twist, the March sisters, Tom, Huck and Becky, Willy Wonka, Wendy, Michael and John. I have been party to the innermost thoughts of Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones. My acquaintance with the famous is not limited to humans. I know plenty of witches, fairies, Hobbits, wizards, gods and goddesses and talking animals. I know an ant that types, a spider that spells and a pig that herds sheep!

Some of these are old friends I have had for decades and other are new. I've been gradually introducing my boys to some of these old acquaintances, and along the way I have met many new ones.

I may look like a middle-aged suburban scribbler, but oh, the adventures I have had, the evil and heroism I have witnessed, and the interesting and enchanted lands I have visited . . .

There are plenty other people whose job it is to write about movie actors.

Sorrel Lucent

October 11, 2006

Making comparisons

Complete the sentence to make a comparison paragraph.

As pets, dog are very different from cats. Dogs do not have claws. Dogs take walks and cats like to lounge around.

_______________ Hart

October 8, 2006

Miracle Worker

When Anne Sullivan arrived at the Keller household, she noticed that the family did not hold little Helen to any standard of civilized behavior. Helen ran around the dinner table, yanking food off the adults' plates, among other things. The Kellers tolerated this for two reasons: they felt that Helen was entitled to accommodation because of her "afflictions,” and they had no way of teaching her otherwise.

I am guilty of this mentality, too. Most of the obnoxious conduct in our household is due to "afflictions," too. I am not indulgent, but most of these behaviors are utterly intractable. If I had to mete out discipline for every infraction, I would do nothing else all day and I would issue consequences for the same undesirable behaviors day after day, year after year. (Wait. I do that now.)

Anne Sullivan must have known intuitively that despite her disabilities Helen Keller still existed in sighted and hearing world. It is a harsh truth that I have come to understand, too, as the boys have gotten older. While we have struggled with simple social rules that most 4-year-olds easily have mastered--do not touch other people; wait until others are finished talking before speaking; no screaming indoors; answer when your name is spoken; time has marched on.

Now that the boys are teenagers, I realize that not only will I not be around to remind them to make eye contact when speaking to someone, I will not be available forever to cook, do laundry and organize their lives into manageable bits.

Time for a paradigm shift. Even kids like mine, with their limitations, have to exist in this world. Talk of increased privileges and responsibility discourages me. I can't very well say, "Here's $5. Ride your bike over to Jewel, pick up a loaf of bread and box of Rice Krispies."

It recently dawned on me that there are a number of tasks that the boys COULD DO quite competently given an opportunity. I could send someone to the yogurt case to select a few and bring them back to the cart. I could show the boys which half gallon of orange juice is the best buy this week. Jeff announced to me that junior high kids are expected to make their own lunches. Done. Hart wants to select his own clothes to wear each day. Done. Take the garbage to the curb. Done. Learn basic kitchen skills? Do laundry? Select and wrap a gift? Initiate a playdate?

If I waited until the boys learned to use appropriate volume when speaking before demonstrating very basic life skills, I'll be shopping and cooking for them for a long, long time. I learned recently that teaching hair-washing is not that difficult if demonstrated and broken down into basic steps. Wet, shampoo, lather, rinse.


J: When I grow up, I want to be a madman.
L: You are one now!

October 6, 2006

Name Game

My last name is unusual, vaguely ethnic-sounding and has an "x." Although it is a one-syllable name, I am often asked to pronounce it and spell it. "X?" "Yes, with an X at the end. That's it, that's the whole name." These reasons that made me loathe my name when I was growing up. It is a cactus of a name in a flower bed of Smiths and Millers.

Like red hair or a crooked nose, in adulthood, these singular features seem less burdensome. I guess I have gotten used to it. There are a few dozen people with this name in the entire world and we are all somehow related. If someone asks me about another person with that name, invariably, they mean someone in my immediate family.

With one notable exception. Last year, an older man noticed my name on my checkbook and said, "I once knew a guy with that name." Probably my dad, I told him. He attended the University of Chicago. "No, no, in Vienna, before the War." He went on to explain that he dated a woman with that last name and in fact, he met up with her again when they were both inmates in Auschwitz. My interest was piqued, but I had no idea who the woman might be.

When I asked my youngest brother, the keeper of all information genealogical, he told me he knew of this woman, now in her 80s and living in Israel. He was, in fact, corresponding with her grandson, our 4th cousin, twice-removed.


Dear YLJF,

Twenty-four years ago, I wore a "loud" shirt to a family wedding and since then no one has ever let me forget it. At every occasion, someone will say something about it, like, "You look fine today, not like at Sue's wedding, when you wore THAT shirt." Enough, already!

___________________________________ Loud

Dear Loud,

Etiquette dictates that the wedding guests (or their clothes) are not supposed to upstage the bride and groom.

However, you have achieved something every celebrity aspires to . . . an outfit so memorable that folks are still talking about it nearly a quarter century later! What Oscar winner can claim that? If you really want to put the kibosh on the remarks, wear the shirt again. When anyone comments, say, "Everyone has talked so much about this shirt, I thought they might want to see it again."

October 4, 2006

Poetry Homework


At night sometimes after Miss Edna goes to bed I go
up on the roof
Sometimes I sit counting the stars
Maybe one is my mama and
another one is my daddy And maybe that's why
soometimes they flicker a bit
I mean the stars flicker

_____________________ Jacqueline Woodson, Locomotion

Where do you go when you want to have some quiet time to think about things?

I go to my bedroom
or I go somewhere tiny and small
like the closet.
I put the light on
and read.
It is the only place
Hart cannot come in.

_____________________ Jeff

October 2, 2006

New Year

There are traditional Jewish blessings for the most mundane of things: washing hands, eating, putting on new clothes. There are also blessings for unusual events, such as seeing a rainbow, an ocean or a very tall person (No kidding!)

Here's a bit of Jewish trivia. There is a blessing for seeing a great multitude of Jews together. No wonder I did not learn that one: I grew up in a small Ohio city, with a modest Jewish population. Even if they were all in the same place at the same time, it could hardly be called a multitude. Since I have moved to Chicago, I think of that blessing at this time every year.

A long time ago, in Ohio, most people had never seen a bagel, much less gefilte fish or halvah. Here in Chicago, I was surprised to find that grocery stores advertise traditional food for the season. Around here, public schools are closed. It's not unusual to see a backyard Sukkah or kosher food at the store.

Our synagogue holds its holiday services in a huge historic suburban church. Since the congregants must walk or park on the street, there truly is a multitude of Jews all heading towards this enormous church at the same time. Extraordinary. Last night, I sat in the balcony looking down at the crowd of heads below. I don't know most of them personally. Although I often feel isolated and alone in my tiny family of three, it is heartening to remember that I am part of this multitude, not only in my own local community, but in the whole world.