Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I have let my South Beach diet slide a little over the holidays - and tonight fully intend to throw caution to the winds.  Like pretty much everyone else, party tonight, diet tomorrow!

As for my resolutions: This is pretty good advice for the new year (or anytime, for that matter!)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Now I've seen it!

Just got back from the dealership where Lisa got a demo on how her automatic parallel parking works.  
Amazing technology - but also pretty weird to see the steering wheel turning by itself.  (If you touch the wheel it shuts off the automatic parking.)  Kind of like the first time I went SCUBA diving.  That very first breath underwater was somewhat hard to take as my brain was telling me not to breathe because I was underwater!

I had a fantastic parallel parking instructor when I took Driver's Ed in high school, so parallel parking was never an issue for me.  I just follow the steps he showed me and it's no big deal.  And that reminds me of a parking story...

I also had my college graduation car for my last quarter at college, where there was very limited parking on the street outside the dorm.  One day I got the very last spot on the end, and (not wanting to stick out) pulled up within a couple of inches of the car in front of me.  However, when I came out the next day there was a VW Bug parked (illegally) behind me, with less than an inch of space between us.  Sigh.  It took me at least 5 minutes of inching forward and backward to escape the spot.  When I returned an hour later, 'my' spot - with the same two cars flanking it - was still there.  I knew my camero would fit, and figured I'd at least give it a try.  So I lined myself up with the car in front of me, and breezed right in on my first try!  Found out later that a friend just happened to be watching the entire thing from her dorm room, and of course she was flabbergasted (she didn't know that I knew the car would fit.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last night of Chanukah

Both Lisa and Alex were home for the lighting of the candles tonight.  
We opened the last of the presents.  (I'm still waiting for Alex to model his penguin jammers.) There were several mystery gifts that had been left for me on my porch - so I have NO IDEA whom to thank for two wonderful books and a bag of Chanukah goodies. I got my annual bathroom calendar from Lisa (News Blackout from The Onion) and one final gift from Mom, Island in the Storm, a book on global warming that looks very interesting.

Dinner tonight at Carrabba's, where the four of us feasted well (appetizer, drinks, dessert, etc.)  And as a surprise, at the end there was no check for Tom... Alex had taken care of the bill during a 'trip to the bathroom'!

Last night of Chanukah tonight

Monday, December 26, 2011

7 candles tonight

 This is my old menorah.  If your Hebrew is a little rusty, it says Yisrael.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

6 candles tonight

 The kids had a lot of fun 'lighting' this menorah when they were little.  It was also convenient for taking into the schools for demos.

Alex will finally be around tonight for the lighting of the menorah!  And possibly his friend Aurelio, who has never experienced Chanukah.

I got one of my presents from Lisa this morning when Tom and Alex were opening theirs from her.  What perfect gifts!

Many, many other great gifts this morning.  As usual, Aunt Marilyn sent the 'funnest' one: monkey slingshots.  (Watching us try to figure them out was even funnier!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tonight will be candle #5

Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow!

 Isn't this an alluring house?  I've seen it before, but it wasn't until today that I learned the backstory. 

Except for making tabouli today (for tomorrow) I don't have much on my To Do list today.  Would like to get some quilting in, but I just haven't been in the mood lately.  That's probably because I'm not happy with the sashing, but really resisting taking it all apart.  Frog stitching - rip it, rip it, rip it - is NO fun!
 But until I decide if that's what I need to do, no point in going forward and adding borders, right? Decisions, decisions!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lab results back

My doctor's office just called, and I'm happy to report that my 'bad' cholesterol has dropped 30 points since I started my South Beach diet just under 3 months ago.  And also 3 weeks of 50,000 units of vitamin D raised that to acceptable levels.  Always glad to get good news.

Tonight is Night 4

The more candles we light, the prettier the glow.  :-)

This morning I finished reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  He has an interesting explanation with regard to why some people succeed far more than others.  He has a very readable style of writing, comprised of many examples - with corresponding data - to illustrate his theories.
"The lives of outliers - those people whose achievements fall outside normal experiences - follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in making that logic plain Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential."

In fact I enjoyed his book so much that I've put his other two books (The Tipping Point - about the way we understand the world -  and Blink - about the way we think about thinking - on my 'To Read' list.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Penguins make the best gifts!

Tonight I opened one of Mom's gifts, which turned out to be a penguin bath mat.  Too cute, and just perfect for my blue bathroom.  :-)

And here's a shot of my penguin menorah, taken tonight.

3 candles tonight

Yesterday's party with the Busy Bees was fun, and the food was (as expected) delicious.  I threw caution to the winds and even had a little chocolate cake, plus two pieces of Carol's angel food cake!  A couple of other ladies also brought deviled eggs, so I had plenty of mine leftover to bring home for the family (who, of course, weren't allowed to have any beforehand.)

Sidenote: I still don't know the results of my cholesterol test.  Apparently the vitamin D part of the test takes longer, and the lab will wait and send both results to the doctor at once.  Sure was hoping for some good news. (The results of yesterday's eat-a-thon showed up on the scale this morning.)

The assorted mug rugs were wonderfully original - 
the ladies obviously had fun creating them.  

Wish I'd thought to snap a picture of the table before they were distributed and opened, but they certainly were enticing packages.  I, however, had no trouble deciding which one to 'choose'... mine was the last name drawn from the bowl.

Joni Lancaster (who ended up with my bee-themed mug rug, shown in a previous post) also chose bees for her motif:

Not surprisingly, there were a number of snowmen.  Carol Simpson made this one:
And Joyce Heuett created this one.  Her mug reads "Let me Sew!"  
If you look closely you'll see scissors and 3D spools of thread.

I don't know who made this one, but I'd love to get some of those "I need coffee now!" notes for Tom, who can't find the floor in the morning before coffee.

Joanne Woodfill made mine.  Very much appreciated, because lately it seems it's been patch, patch, patch. 

Betty was especially glad to see me arrive - she needed help working the digital camera she'd borrowed from her daughter.  While showing Betty how to use the camera, I took the best-ever picture of Carol!  It was nice to hear that Betty found my instructions clear and easy to understand (maybe because, as a technology immigrant myself, I know just how she feels - everyone around here just rolls their eyes at me when I ask for help!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tonight's the second candle

Neither Lisa nor Alex were home for candle-lighting last night, so the penguins were all alone.  Still, it made a pretty light.

After dinner I made deviled eggs for today's festivities with the Busy Bees.  
 Later in the evening I watched a tutorial on scalloped edges for quilts.  
She used the same Quilt-in-a-Day ruler that I bought from Pat Knoechel in November (but haven't yet used.)  My plan is to finish up my snowman quilt and scallop those edges, but first I really need to finish up the buttons on my Gingerbread Boys. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

MOST American holiday?

Great quote from Andy Borowitz*:
"Chanukah is the most American holiday 
because it's a celebration of burning oil that we don't have."
 *Andy Borowitz (born January 4, 1958) is a comedian and New York Times bestselling author who won the first National Press Club award for humor. He is best known for creating the satirical website the Borowitz Report, which has an audience in the millions. In a profile on CBS News Sunday Morning he was called "one of the funniest people in America."

Abridged version...

Ok, this is for all my non-Jewish friends, courtesy of Amy's friend Jay. 
Here we go. Feel free to take notes....
So there was this mensch, Judah Maccabee (who was a total badass). He was like a Hebrew Rambo. He just hated King Antiochus who was a royal schmuck because he took away Judah's temple and turned it into some sort of goyim strip mall. (He couldn't have at least turned it into a Chinese Restaurant?) 
Judah led an untrained army (most of them were accountants, doctors and lawyers - little known fact) to defeat the evil king. They were armed with nothing but their faith. (and probably a few rocks and sticks...oh, and their mothers.) Judah kicked butt, and the temple belonged to the Jews again. After cleaning up the place and some tasteful redecorating by Judah's wife (she took an interior decorating class at the local JCC) the menorah was made ready for the temple's dedication. And the Hebrew word for dedication is?? You guessed it! Chanukah!! 
But Oy! There was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day! Someone really dropped the ball on that one. Then something wonderful happened, the lights of the menorah burned for eight days and eight nights! This was way before smart phones so people were easily impressed. It was a miracle! Not as cool as "parting-of-the-sea" but still not too bad. 
And now we celebrate with grateful hearts every year by lighting a candle for each of the eight nights and spinning a small clay block...and eating our weight in latkes.
I hope this helps. Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah starts tonight

Tonight is the first candle. 

Guess I'd better get the menorahs out and the the decorations up!

Alex lights the menorah he made (in kindergarten) from a block of wood and bolts, Lisa lights the Jerusalem menorah I've had 'forever' (although she won't be here with us tonight), and I light the penguin menorah that my brother found for me some years ago.  By the eighth night we always have quite a glow from the three of them. 

Just got back from having my blood drawn - will know tomorrow if my South Beach regimen has lowered my cholesterol or not.  After that I'll be a little more willing to 'cheat' on my diet (and don't forget that tomorrow is the Busy Bee holiday party!)

For those of you who are interested in the history/meaning of Chanukah, here's a little lesson from the Jewish Virtual Library:
Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.  
Chanukah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.
The story of Chanukah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt, and Judea, but allowed the people under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated, adopting much of Hellenistic culture, including the language, customs, dress, etc., in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.
More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean  and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees  (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidim).  They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and theTemple  was rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
Chanukah is not a very important religious holiday.  The holiday's religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu'ot.  It is roughly equivalent to Purim in significance, and you won't find many non-Jews who have even heard of Purim! Chanukah is not mentioned in Jewish scripture; the story is related in the book of the Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture.
The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a Hanukia. Many people refer to the Hanukia incorrectly as a menorah. The name menorah  is used only to describe the seven-branched candelabrum that was housed in the Jewish Temple. The Hanukiah holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shamash candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: l'hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year). The first candle is then lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first).
Because of the law prohibiting the lighting of a fire on Shabbat, Chanukah candles are lit before the Shabbat candles on Friday night, and they are lit after Havdaleh  on Saturday night. The following blessings are said:
prayer Blessed are You,
our God, Creator of time and space,
who enriches our lives with holiness,
commanding us to kinkle the Chanukah lights.
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir shel Chanukah.

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam she'asah
nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baz'man hazeh.
On the first night, the Shecheyanu  is also recited.
Why the shamash candle? The Chanukah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. We keep an extra one around (the shamash), so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we don't accidentally use the Chanukah candles. The shamash candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shamash.
It is traditional to eat fried foods on this holiday, because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazic [Eastern European] Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced “lot-kuhs” or “lot-keys” depending on where your grandmother comes from), or “potato pancakes.”
Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians as a way of dealing with children’s jealousy of their Christian friends. The only traditional gift of the holiday is “gelt,” small amounts of money. Chanukah gelt is a Jewish custom rooted in the Talmud:  “The Talmud  states that even a very poor person must light Chanukah lights, even if he can’t afford it. A person with no money is required to go ‘knocking on doors’ until he collects enough to buy at least one candle for each night of Chanukah. The Torah concept of charity -- tzedakah -- requires us to help the recipient in the most dignified manner possible. Therefore, the custom arose to give gifts of money during Chanukah so that someone who needs extra money for Chanukah candles can receive it in the form of ‘Chanukah Gelt.’”
Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game  played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolat coins. A dreidel is marked with the following four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin. On Israeli dreidels, there is no Shin but rather a Peh, which stands for Po, meaning here.
This supposedly stands for the Hebrew phrase “nes gadol hayah sham,” a great miracle happened there. Actually, it stands for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which is the rules of the game! There are some variations in the way people play the game, but the way I learned it, everyone puts in one coin. A person spins the dreidel. On Nun, nothing happens; on Gimmel (or, as we called it as kids, “gimme!”), you get the whole pot; on Heh, you get half of the pot; and on Shin, you put one in. When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in. Keep playing until one person has everything. Then redivide it, because nobody likes a poor winner.
A traditional song of this holiday is “Maoz Tzur,” better known to Christians as “Rock of Ages” (the tune is the same as one of the more popular ones; the Christian translation takes substantial liberties).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Looks COLD to me!

Alex texts that he "had the best day snowboarding ever!" and sent this picture to my e-mail.  Looks way too wintery for me to want to spend any time outdoors there!
Nothing like little ones to put a smile on your face.  Lynette called again this afternoon, asking if I could come read her some books.  Worked for me - although I'd forgotten that her big brother Danny would be off from school and there also.  Here we are reading Animals, Animals.
Danny is 6 and in 1st grade; he has a great Sight Word vocabulary and helped read The Little Puppy.  Lynette just turned 3 around Thanksgiving and her vocabulary is increasing steadily.  Isn't she a cutie?

Rich food

Saw another new low number on the scale yesterday morning, so even though I got very little else 'accomplished' yesterday, I was rewarded with dinner at Carrabba's.  At Alex's suggestion I tried something new, Spiedino Di Mare (shrimp and sea scallops coated with Italian breadcrumbs, grilled and topped with lemon butter sauce)
It was delicious, and I would order it again - although it was so rich that even before we had left the restaurant I had stomach cramps (and I'll spare you a description of my first few minutes at home.)  Tomorrow I have my blood tested to check how my cholesterol has done on this new diet, so today I'll be behaving myself in the culinary department!

Tomorrow is the first night of Chanukah, which means I really do have to get busy and wrap the presents.  And that reminds me - as we were leaving the restaurant last night, Alex was talking with the hostess up front, and asked me if I remembered Michaela G. from his 1st-grade class.  I volunteered in the classroom every week so I knew the name - although of course I never would have recognized her as she's changed 'just a little' since then! But she brought up the fact that she still remembers me from when I brought the dreidls and menorah in for a Chanukah show-and-tell that year.  Obviously it made an impression with her.

Looks cold outside, and also like it's trying to rain.  Would love to veg out again at home, but places to go and things to do.  Lisa's on her way to Disneyland, so hope she has nice weather tomorrow.  Alex is in Flagstaff for another day of snowboarding, so 'bad' weather could be a plus if it's making more snow!  He just arrived, and says that down at the base of the mountain it's not bad, but of course he'll know more after he gets to the top.  On Friday, they were above the clouds at the top, and he experienced temps he never knew existed. <G>  Tried to board again on Saturday, but the winds were high and kept the ski lifts from operating.
Alex got his Chanukah present early - a turquoise ski jacket that he tried out on Friday.  It wasn't cheap, but obviously well designed since it kept him warm and toasty, so it was a worthwhile choice.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thought for today...

Yesterday was my day as the Walking Dictionary in the 5th grade.  None of the kids were able to stump me, although they did have some good words. 
We always give the other kids a chance to provide the definition first, and both Diane and I got a chuckle out of one girl's stab at 'upscale': when you keep gaining weight!  Diane, however, had a few stumpers for me: ankus, halberd, trass.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I am reading The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.
 "Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.  In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.  Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.... The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.  All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets - about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love."

Throughout the book are scattered transliterated Hebrew phrases (with their translations), with which most I am familiar.  But this one surprised me: Abra k'dabra: I will create something from the word.  And this is what I found on Wikipedia:  Abracadabra is an incantation used as a magic word in stage magic tricks, and historically was believed to have healing powers when inscribed on an amulet. The word is thought to have its origin in the Aramaic language, in which ibra (אברא) means "I have created" and k'dibra (כדברא) which means "I created through my speech", providing a translation of abracadabra as "created as I say", thus its use in magic.
 I'd always thought it was just a made-up word.  You learn something every day!