Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Last night (Wednesday) marked the first of the 8 nights of Hanukkah. We lit the menorah, and drank a bottle of wine to celebrate.
Our new oil menorah (a wedding present getting its first use)!
That makes today the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, a phenomenon that has only occurred once before and won't occur again for 70,000 years (and its pretty ridiculous to think we'll still be celebrating Thanksgiving in 70,000 years anyways) so the internet got a little crazy about it!
Thanksgivukkah official facebook
Menurkey: Menorah + Turkey 
Thanksgivukkah menu
Thanksgivukkah doughnuts
Thanksgivukkah swag
...and more
We totally bought the Thanksgivukkah cards and mailed them to the family... easy way to sidestep the holiday card conundrum this year!
Monday night we wrote them and mailed them out to relatives, so I hope they make it by the weekend.

Today we are going to my friend's place for Thanksgiving dinner. He's deep frying a turkey (perfect for a Thanksgiving overlapping with the "miracle of the oil" holiday), I'm bringing challah stuffing. For Yom Kippur I made 2 challahs, one to eat and one to freeze. I still hadn't pulled it out of the freezer after 3 months, so I figured stuffing was a good use. I cubed it yesterday and set it out to stale overnight, per the recipe.
I also made Martha Stewart's pumpkin chocolate chip squares for dessert, quickly becoming my go-to fall recipe: I've already made them for 2 other events this fall! They are delicious and pretty easy, but they do need to cool completely before you cut them (or they fall apart and end up on the floor- personal experience) so I made them last night and cut them this morning.
Now I'm chilling on the couch sipping a mimosa and watching the parade... almost time to make the stuffing before heading to my friend's house at 2.

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Thanksgivukkah! 

Edited to add:
Finally the Hanukkah float made its way through the parade. I was waiting for this all day! Yay!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tailgate Time!

Something you may not know about my family: We are a tailgate family. (Yes, that's a thing.)
My parents have season tickets to the UCF football games. They drive the 3ish hours from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando in a Suburban stuffed to the brim with tailgate gear. My mom, a combination of the ultimate Jewish mother (loves to feed people) and the ultimate organizer, throws epic tailgates. I enjoyed many of these wonders in my college career, and several since (sadly all before this blog was started so I don't have any pics for you...).

So a few weeks ago, a coworker who played football for Univ. of Cincinnati rallied the troops to attend the Univ. of Houston-Cincinnati game in Houston this weekend. In grand family tradition, I offered to organize the best damn tailgate they'd ever seen... despite the game starting at a lame 11am, and despite Houston having some even more lame weather.

But we made it work. We got there at 7:45am, set out tent up quickly in the rain, and huddled under it to stay dry.

I made breakfast burritos and mimosas (my mom's traditional morning game fare) while my coworker Melissa and her husband, our carpool buddies, brought hot cocoa and hot buttered rum to keep us warm.
The carnage: camp stove caked in egg, breakfast burrito ingredients scattered about, and a teakettle for boiling water. (Due to the rain we didn't get to really unpack, so stuff was thrown everywhere as needed; and the ground was wet, so the table was a bit crowded)
 Around 9am the rain stopped (right on cue per the weather channel app) and we got to finally emerge from the tent and set up our chairs. No longer wet, but still pretty cold: it's not every day you see gloves and knit caps in Houston!
 The whole crew (minus a couple late-comers) for a self-timer photo. I was rocking my UCF Rally Scarf for the tailgate, but I swapped it out for a Cincinnati sweatshirt for the game.

Below is a full view of our new tailgate tent, and our amazing spread of food and drinks, plus cocoa-chef Brian! If you are looking for a tailgate tent, our new tent is pretty great. Setup was easy (although we were highly motivated, due to the rain) and the curved sides and (removable) back flap helped keep the rain out. It leaked a tiny bit at the top (there's a vent flap to let hot air out- it's more of a warm weather tent) but overall kept us and out stuff dry. I can't say how it holds up over time, but the first outing went well. (I get nothing for saying this, I just liked the tent.)
 Before we knew it, it was game time. Our seats were amazing. First and second row on the sideline- pretty far down to one side of the field, but still a great view. And the Cincinnati cheerleaders and mascot were right in front of us. Sometimes, the Bearcat came to visit...
 Freezing and cheesing!

(Un)fortunately, Cincinnati won, so they are still right behind my UCF Knights in the conference standings. This means we have to win our upcoming games to stay ahead of them and secure the BCS automatic bowl berth for our conference. If UCF makes it to the Sugar Bowl, a mere 6 hours away from here in New Orleans, we are seriously considering making the drive for the game. Fingers crossed and Go Knights!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Pew Report and What Millennials Want

Much cyber-ink has been spilled on the topic of the Pew Center report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to sit down and write about it, but winter break (the end of my first grad school class!) is coming, and I'll try not to neglect this poor blog then! I have lots to say about the study, too!

Why? As a millennial, intermarried Jew, I feel as if the Pew survey is supposed to be a portrait of me. In some ways it is, and in some ways it really isn't.  For today, let's talk non-denominational Jews.
I have wondered, since the study first came out, how I would answer this question of denomination. I would definitely call myself Jewish by religion (more on Jews of no religion another time) but I don't know what denomination I would say. I go to an "Ultra-Orthodox" synagogue. In fact, I recently set up to automatically donate money to them every month, which is essentially like paying dues, so we could even say I "belong" to that synagogue. But I don't do Orthodox Jew things like keep kosher or observe the sabbath... I would not consider myself an Orthodox Jew by any stretch of the term.
I might consider myself Conservative, since I was raised that way and want to raise my own children that way, but I don't belong to a Conservative synagogue and have written before about my reluctance to join. Because of this, I don't quite fit in that box either.
And while I do certain observances regularly (Yom Kippur and Passover are the big ones), for the rest of the year I'm not very observant. So does that make me "not practicing" or "culturally Jewish?" I would say no... but maybe someone else would say that would be a yes?
Of course, the goal of this survey was how people see themselves, not as defined by someone else. But unless you are a cookie cutter Jew, this answer is really hard to come up with. I would probably answer Non-Denominational/Just Jewish. And that growing non denominational section has scared basically all of the non-Orthodox denominations into thinking that they are about to perish from lack of new blood. Millennials, it seems, just don't want to fit in the boxes our parents' and grandparents' generations set out for us. (Which, yeah, that's kind of our thing...) So how do you reclaim the "lost" generation of non-denominational Jews?

I read an article from Interfaith Family on What Millennials Want from organized Judaism. In the article, the following actions are suggested for creating the Judaism that millenials want:
  1. Go to them. Help infuse Jewish content into their networks.
  2. Stand for something. Help them live within the context of Jewish ideas. (If they are looking for friends, love, work, etc. they will go elsewhere. They come to Jewish institutions for Jewish content!)
  3. Talk about and teach Jewish adulthood.
  4. Organize around Judaism. (Can we have house meetings to ask them what they are looking for and work with them to create programming for them?)
  5. Open our institutions: Create low barriers with high content.
 When I read this list it sounded immediately familiar. But not because it's what I want-- it is what I found. That is the Chabad model, and this really explains why I continue to attend Ultra-Orthodox services despite it not being my brand of Judaism. If a conservative synagogue did this near me, I'd be banging down their door to get in.
What can the rest of the denominations learn from Chabad?
  • Have a functioning website and utilize social media:
    The ultra-orthodox, long beards and black hat Chabad rabbis each maintain a website for their individual synagogue (with mobile version), they have weekly email newsletters, they have facebook pages that they actually use. is a fabulous resource for Jews of every denomination about holidays and practices, and they have the whole Tanach (an acronym name for all the Jewish bible books, pretty much the Old Testament) in Hebrew and English on their site. They have truly embraced the way technology can be used to reach millennial and post-millennial audiences.
    Most conservative/reform synagogues on the other hand? Their websites haven't been updated in years (A few years ago I lived literally next door to a reform synagogue building that I thought was defunct, because their website was 5 years out of date. I found out recently that they are alive and kicking, but their website is still not.). You're doing it wrong. And for God's sake (see what I did there?) get a mobile website!
  • Make all the holidays the center of your calendar:
    Before I went to Chabad, I celebrated what I would deem my "big three." Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Aside from that, I didn't observe most holidays.  Most conservative/ reform synagogues do the high holidays, and maybe Hanukkah, but miss plenty of opportunities for low maintenance but high-fun holidays.
    But for Chabad, every holiday is celebrated as if it were one of the big three. It's hard not to want to join in! I started attending the community Sukkot dinner about 4 years ago. Since then I have fulfilled the mitzvah every year, at least once during the 8 day holiday, of eating a meal in the sukkah. 
    Judaism, with its multitude of distinctive holidays (just about all centered around food, of course) offers a perfect calendar for routine Jewish events. The Sukkot dinner, the menorah lighting in the mall, the Purim party, the Shavuot cheesecake party... there's so many options to make Judaism accessible and fun.
  • Create low barriers with high content:
    I'll just go right ahead and steal their #5 because it's perfect.
    Do you know what it cost me to "join" Chabad? Nothing. I showed up for Saturday services, and they fed me and then invited me back for the holiday dinner the next weekend. I kept showing up and they kept inviting me back. Sure I would donate little bits here and there, usually the suggested donation for a specific event, but never much more than that. After a year of just showing up and hanging out, I did start donating more regularly to do my part for the community. And now I actually give them more money than the conservative synagogue would ask of me in dues.
    But at the outset, I could attend every event, be treated as part of the community (despite, as I said above, my not really fitting their mold) and pay only what I wanted, when I wanted. Within the year they had me hooked, but at the beginning there was the lowest possible barrier for all the content: Just show up.
    And I did. And I stayed.
  • Cut down on your overhead:  (this will probably help create those low barriers... don't need to charge $1000 in membership fee if you don't need to sustain a large overhead)
    Dan and I have this conversation a lot, mostly in the context of the Catholic church by our house, which is really nice and fancy and spent a lot of money on aesthetics and gold plated things, which seems like a waste of money. Some people, I think, really like going to these fancy gold-plated churches or those opulent synagogues with stained glass windows and beautiful carved arks.
    But look at Chabad. All a synagogue needs is a torah scroll (not 5), a cabinet to keep it in, some prayer books, some chairs, and a place to meet. My rabbi operates a shul out of his living room. For high holidays they rent a conference room in a hotel and set up there. I don't know what that costs, but it can't possibly be anywhere near owning a synagogue building that would only fill up three times a year.
    Our running route goes by an elementary school where a church sets up every Sunday. They have a few portable signs, and a couple trailers. Meeting at the elementary school means they have plenty of space and don't have to upkeep it. It's brilliant! Synagogues are flailing because their dues-paying membership is not large enough to sustain their aging buildings. I should know, the synagogue I became Bat Mitzvah in folded before my brother's Bar Mitzvah 6 years later; the core membership still meets in a storefront. Because a house of worship is really a community of people. They can sit anywhere, look at anything, and still pray. My main advice to Conservative synagogues would be to trim the excess, cut back a bit. It'll get them through the lean years, and it'll probably attract more millenials- those kids coming of age in the Great Recession, with tastes to match- than extravagant sanctuaries and shiny things.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy End of DST!

Oh what a difference a day makes! On Saturday I woke up at 5:45 in the pitch black, drove to work (for the day shift in Mission Control) in the pitch black, and finally saw the sun at 3:30 when I left. Then we turned our clocks back. Sunday I woke up at 5:45 (really 6:45 to my body) and there was a little light peeking in the curtains as I got up, got ready, and drove to work in the daylight! Hooray! Not so hooray for a few coworkers who had to suffer an extra hour of their overnight shifts that night so the rest of us could enjoy an extra hour of sleep... but I have been there, done that, so my sympathy is limited.

While I was at work, my wonderful husband was a busy bee around the house:laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning up, and weeding the planter. I don't have a before picture, but our southern grass (St. Augustine) is a terrible weed that grows everywhere. Here's a random grass root growing up around our tree as an example:
Kind of a nasty weed, but it does well in the heat and it's better than a gravel yard! Dan really hates it, but we had the same grass in Florida where I grew up, so its really the only grass I've ever known. (Not-so-funny side story: my brother was allergic to this grass-weed, so as a kid my parents would sometimes take him to the golf course behind my grandparents' house so he could play like a normal kid. Poor guy!)
The planter was very overgrown with these grass shoots and looks a million times better now:
(I promise those spiny brown plants to the left side are much prettier when it's not "winter." They bloom with the prettiest pink flowers for a couple weeks in the spring, too!)

After working the weekend, I took today off in the morning to get ahead on my homework for the week before going into work for a presentation at 2pm.  My initial post in the Discussion Board of the week is due by Thursday night, so I have been trying to follow this pattern: Do my reading for the week on Sunday (even though the week technically starts on Monday) so I can do my initial posting by Monday night while Dan is at Karate. Then if there's a paper or other project due that week, I can wait until the weekend to tackle it. This week that didn't happen because I was on console yesterday, so I did my reading and my my initial post today. Of course I planned to sleep in first, after going to work at 7am the last two days, but between turning the clocks back and worrying about everything that had to get done, I woke up at 6:30 ready to go. Whoops!

After homework, some housework. A Daylight Saving Time PSA for you: Change your smoke detector batteries for DST! I usually swap my batteries once a year, at Fall Back. This has generally prevented any from dying in the middle of the night, which is annoying and leads to sleepy and unsafe ladder operations to shut them up. If you haven't done yours in awhile (or can't remember the last time you did), now is an excellent time! I also swapped out my air filters. After a few summer months of near-constant A/C and before the furnace starts up for winter, its a good idea to get those swapped out too!

All this cleaning and preparing was because my father-in-law is coming to Houston for a week, starting tonight. He's here to help my husband work on "the bug," an old VW beetle someone else turned into a Baja bug and painted in a terrible, pseudo-camouflage fashion, which Dan then purchased on Craigslist less than a month before we started dating. Then a horrible shrew sucked up all his time and he didn't get a lot of work done on it. (Yup, that was me!) My goal for his visit is:
1. Get the bug running so it can be pulled out of the garage if we need to move it out of the way. (That's right, it doesn't run. He towed it here from his old house when we sold it.)
2. Get the bug painted so it can be parked in front of our house without the HOA murderizing us.
See what I mean about the terrible camouflage paint? Gross. But it has potential. Here's hoping next week I can post a much better "after" shot!

Hope you have a great week! I'm off to start some chili in the slow cooker!