Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happy Chanukah, Ya'll

One of the topics of conversation while my parents were visiting was around our ancestry. I recently started documenting my family tree and I had lots of questions. Eventually we stumbled upon this question: am I a Jew?

Despite growing up in South Florida, the land to which all New York and Michigan Jews emigrate, I never questioned the heritage of my Christian faith. During my college years, however, my brother and I took a cross-country trip together to move him to California. On the way, we stopped at our "Aunt" Margery's house. I put quotes around "Aunt" because she wasn't really our Aunt--actually more like a second cousin. Aunt Margery and my paternal grandmother Herma-Jean grew up together, my grandmother just a year or so
younger than Aunt Margery. The reality was that Aunt Margery was really my grandmother's niece. Aunt Margery's mother Roselle was my grandmother's sister. Got that?

So the weird thing is that my whole life I never knew of Aunt Margery. Apparently, while Aunt Margery and my grandmother were terribly close for much of their lives, there was a rift before I was born and my grandmother never spoke of Aunt Margery--that is until they reconciled years later. Imagine my surprise when I walked into Aunt Margery's kitchen to find her eating gefilte fish right out of the jar. "Gross, you eat that stuff?!" I half-asked, half-exclaimed. "Of course I do," she said. "I'm Jewish!"


I asked my grandmother about all of this when I got home and she spun a story to the effect that it was her father that was Jewish and you are only considered a Jew if your mother was Jewish. She said that Aunt Margery was raised Jewish by her own father, who was a Jew. I didn't completely buy that story, but it was clear I wasn't going to get a different answer from her so I relented. The question always nagged, though.

Traditional Jewish law describes a Jew as anyone born to a Jewish mother. If Margery's mother, my grandmother's sister, was a Jew, then my grandmother was too. If my paternal grandmother was a Jew, my father is, technically, a Jew. Reform Judaism states that anyone born to a Jewish mother or Jewish father is a Jew and that "once a Jew always a Jew". Do you see where I am going here? By these tenets, I am a Jew.

When the topic came up with my father, he told me that his mother
was Jewish, and that when he was a boy, his parents tried to send him to Hebrew school but he hated it so much that he would skip the bus or refuse to go. I guess his parents eventually gave up. I never knew my "real" paternal (and Jewish) grandfather. My grandmother remarried before I was born and the only paternal grandfather I ever knew was Swedish and decidedly not Jewish.

Okay, I guess the Hebrew school card settles it. How much more Jewish can you get? I am not sure how I feel about all of this information or what, if anything, it means. I am not planning to light a menorah this year, in case you are wondering. My biggest question is why my grandmother felt the need to hide this piece of my heritage. She could celebrate Christmas like a champ, but looking back, I guess I feel a little bit robbed.

Despite my mixed feelings, I pulled this little gem out of the archives because it makes me laugh (click the play button in the image):

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Picture Pages

Here are some photos from our trip to Montana.

Ranch buildings

Proud pups

So this is why they call it Big Sky Country

On the road to Red Lodge Mountain

Don't eat the yellow snow

Rock Creek, Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge, Montana historical marker (click photo to enlarge)


We have had lots of visitors over the past month, and lots of visiting.

My parents came into town for a long weekend. I was very excited for them to visit and hopeful that they would fall in love with Boise. No matter how old I am, I still want to know that my parents think I am capable of making sound decisions. My mom had been to Boise in the summer on an unfruitful trip to find some rental housing. Fortunately for us, the rental market was barren and we settled instead into our little home.

Having sworn off of cold winters since relocation to Florida from Ohio, I was worried that my folks would be terribly uncomfortable in the cool autumn mornings. They fared just fine, though, and I even caught my dad walking around town in just a sweater or long-sleeved shirt. Well, and pants, too. I know I enjoyed their visit very much and I think they did, too.

Overlapping my parents' visit was a visit from Jon's aunt and uncle from central Idaho, as well as cousins from Salt Lake City and Montana. There was a significant birthday event and we surprised the man of the hour with a faux-Halloween 50th birthday party.

Shortly after that, our friends Mike and Caroline came to visit from Raleigh. We met Mike and Caroline through our beloved neighbors Jer and Selina who we miss very dearly. No neighbors or friends will ever replace them--they are that incredible. I feel thankful that we never took our friendship for granted--meeting in between the yards at 5:30 every weekday to share the joys and sorrows of our workdays. We knew then that we would likely never find the same elsewhere and that is just fine.

So it was no surprise that we also became fast friends with Mike and Caroline. Mike and I both happen to be Scorpios, our birthdays two days apart. What good fortune that we were able to celebrate Mike's birthday here in Boise. I felt so blessed to have them here with us, and to celebrate the event I made, what else? Carolina pork barbecue. We talked and ate and laughed and while I miss them terribly now that they are gone, I am thankful for the blessing of their friendship.

The day that Mike and Caroline left for Raleigh, Jon and I also left for Billings. Unfriendly weather was on the horizon and as Jon has already recounted, we drove through a gnarly snowstorm. Having never driven in falling snow, I teetered between complete trust in Jon's judgement and driving abilities and a complete freak-out. It's a fine line, folks.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I felt lucky to have arrived in Billings safely. We spent several days visiting and eating with family. For the first time in my memory, I didn't have to lift a finger for Thanksgiving dinner; I just showed up and ate. We even made time for the downtown Billings annual holiday parade. While I am still puzzled at this idea of dragging the entire town outdoors for a parade in 24 degrees on icy streets, I have to admit that it
was fun.

Too lengthy too have shared at the Thanksgiving table, this is my grace.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Sorry for the delinquent nature of our blog posts, there really is no excuse even though much has happened in the past few weeks. We've had family and friends visit our new home in Boise. The last two weekends we've made trips to Bonneville Hot Springs to soak ourselves in the soothing mineral water of central Idaho. We forgot to take pictures the second weekend but here are a couple of shots from the first weekend.

The hot springs are a great time and they are sure to be a hit with all of our visitors!

We had our first North Carolina visitors last weekend! We hit the Hot Springs, explored downtown Boise, chilled out on the couch watching football, and celebrated birthdays. Great times, we can't wait for the next visit!

Monday we drove from Boise to Billings in a blizzard. The drive isn't bad at all in normal weather, typically it takes less than 9 hours. It took us 12 hours this trip, 6 hours of slow driving in 4 wheel drive on the I-90. We sure were glad to pull into Billings! There are about 6 inches of snow on the ground from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There will be no plum jelly parties on this trip!

Happy Thanksgiving from snowy Montana!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Squirreling, or, a New Law of Physics

Fall is the time of year that you find holes in your garden beds and your potted plants, presumably because squirrels are busily burying their winter stores and hence the title of this post. (Although, I must say that I think the holes are their digging efforts to find loot to bury, because otherwise why is there nothing in the holes and why are the holes not covered back up? At any rate, that theory negates my title so let's dismiss it. Moving on...)

A few months ago Jon and I bought a chest freezer. We debated over what size to buy: for our needs now or big enough to store our future garden haul? Should it be self-defrosting? How important is it to have a drain? Is it Energy-Star compliant? We finally settled on one and once we had it home, I learned a new law of physics: if it is empty, it will be filled.

Partly because the empty freezer stared back at me with the same hollow loneliness that I sometimes feel since moving, and partly because I have nothing better to do than to spend my evenings in the kitchen, the freezer has begun to fill. Every recipe I make is in triplicate and the leftovers are vacuum-packed in Food Saver bags. I'm barely halfway to a full freezer, but not for lack of trying.

Tonight I made French Lentil Soup, but to the recipe I added chopped fresh parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, and a dash of soy sauce. Each bowl was garnished with a dollop of sour cream.

Earlier this week I made massive amounts of Black Bean Chili. The recipe has been in development for the past 10 plus years I have been making it.

Black Bean Chili
Serves 4 - 6

1 cup dry black beans
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 TBSP chili powder
2 tsp each of cumin, paprika, cilantro, oregano
½ tsp red pepper (more or less to adjust heat)
½ tsp salt
¼ cup red wine or red wine vinegar
1 cup macaroni noodles, al dente
1 28 oz can of high quality chopped tomatoes (Muir Glen, Parmalat)

Cover black beans with several inches of water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until barely tender, about 1½ to 2 hours. Check often. Do not overcook.

In separate pot, saute onions, peppers, and garlic until tender. Add spices and saute for 1 minute. Add red wine or red wine vinegar and saute for one minute. Add tomatoes and cooked beans. If consistency is too thick, you can add some more tomatoes, tomato sauce, or black bean cooking liquid. Simmer for ½ hour or until beans are fully cooked. Meanwhile, cook noodles until al dente. Add to chili, adjust spices if necessary. Serve with grated cheese and crushed crackers or cheddar Goldfish on top. Sour cream optional.

Like freezers, empty hearts must too abide the laws of physics. Eventually, mine will fill again.

**This post is dedicated to my friend Tricia, from whom I received a pointed email this morning titled "Two Questions". It said: 1) Have you read A Primate's Memoir? 2) When are you going to post on your blog? (Incidentally, I think the original version of this recipe came from one of Tricia's cookbooks!)