Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Big Car Years

Today we got a new car. We said goodbye to my sweet little hybrid sedan and ushered in a new era in our family: that of the 7 seater. In a world of SUVs, I have truly loved my little car. It was perfectly suited to me and my family as we grew from a family of 3 to 4. It was the first car that was ever truly mine: not my father’s or sister’s or husband’s or in-laws, but just mine. It made me feel grown up in a rather traditional and silly way. It felt little and warm and cozy when we were all tucked inside on cold days, and breezy and sunny with the moon roof on warm days. It shuttled me all sorts of places including back and forth between New Jersey and CT, during the many years that we’ve ping ponged back and forth. I’ve loved how quiet it is, how little gas it takes, how relatively easy it is to park it – even for a shitty parker like myself.

But it’s time to let go. As our family prepares to grow from 4 to 5, we’ve decided my little sedan will just be too cozy and that we are reluctantly somewhat forced to graduate to the land of 3 rows. The car we picked out is lovely as far as cars go. In general, we aren’t car people. I’m excited for it; a bit nostalgic to let my hybrid go. But after all, what is it I’m really nostalgic for? I suppose it isn’t really about cars at all.

Family cars often represent chapters in a family’s life. I vividly remember the day my father came home with his 1985 Delta 88 Oldsmobile. We all piled in and went for a spin around the block. The seats felt fancy and new. It had power windows and a tape deck where we played the special promotional cassette tape that came with the car which sang with passion about the “special feeling in an Oldsmobile.”

It was special indeed. It was the first nice-ish car my father ever entrusted himself with. We had let go of the brown Pontiac without seatbelts, the beat up and sticky Chevy Impala station wagon. We weren’t babies anymore. We were 8, 13, and 14. Our little family was growing up. Our new grown car reflected that. In the end, we’d take many a family vacation in our Oldsmobile; the trip up or back in the car as much a memory as the vacation itself. Who got the middle seat; whose mix tape played next. There was Washington, D.C., and the White Mountains, and Ocean Beach. It was part of our summers and was a prominent character in the story of our lives. And 10 years and considerable wear and tear later, I dragged a far less glamorous version of that car to college with me.

And so it will be with this car. It will help us tell a new story in our lives. We will have three children. I am enormously excited and scared at the same time. You know how some people have a recurring dream that they can’t quite shake? I have one where I am driving and the accelerator is sticking and I can’t get the brake to work. I am hurtling through time and space very fast. As I approach this new place in our lives, it feels a little like this. Even still, I am hopeful and eager to begin this new chapter. There will be potty seats and crushed goldfish and road trips, first dances and soccer games. There will be summer vacations and sandy seats, instruments for early band practice, maybe even first kisses. And someday, we will fold those same seats down to make room for boxes and bags as we move one of those babies into their first dorm or apartment.

Ready or not, foot to the pedal - bring on the big car years!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Traditional

Thanksgiving is coming which has always been my most favorite time of the year. I love the universal everyone and anyone gather around cozy feel of it. Through the years, I’ve collected a series of rituals leading up to the big day. As I complete each one, I feel further tucked into Thanksgiving. Like it is a little pouch that picks me up when I am cold and tired at the end of a long fall, and carries me around in the warmth of stuffing fresh from the oven, and my family’s love.

A few weeks before, I go out and buy my Thanksgiving editions of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. While I cannot cook 98% of what is inside the pages, I am dazzled by the pretty pictures of home and hearth and turkey. Usually I find at least one pie or cornbread recipe that contains less than 5 ingredients and seems manageable for an amateur like myself. I carefully turn down the corners of these pages as my own mother always did for her favorite recipes and articles. While I don’t imagine that one day I will have the fanciest of things to pass down to my own children, I envision handing them a ginormous and well-loved stack of vintage Thanksgiving magazines featuring a collection of recipes that mark the passage of time and evolution of my own tastes and gastronomical culture, which they will either receive with the same wonder and pleasure I had when I first bought them and eagerly turned the pages, or use as fire kindling. Either way, it will be a legacy from me to them of the holiday I so loved.

As we get closer to the big day, I begin washing and chopping cranberries; lots and lots of cranberries. They will be used in the loaves of cranberry bread I’ll bring to our Thanksgiving dinner and also to make bread to share with friends and family and teachers who we love and are grateful for. It is not my recipe, but one passed down from my own memories of many Thanksgivings as a child spent at my aunt’s house. As a grown up, the holiday is not complete without it. I will spend hours making this for us and others. And though I usually tire and bore and get lazy with cooking, I view baking and particularly holiday baking as an entirely different endeavor. Most of my memories of baking and learning to bake as a child were at my mother’s side. Learning how to carefully measure and sift. I will think of her and her green Tupperware measuring containers as I put on the world’s crappiest lifetime Christmas movie and happily chop away. It will feel warm and holiday-ish and special. I will love it.

Which leads me to Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving morning is never complete without the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. This must be watched in my pajamas with all the wonder and simplicity of a child seeing it for the first time. I will marvel at floats and balloons I’ve seen before and enjoy lip synched singing from artists I may or may not know or even like, because just doing so makes me feel little, like I am watching with my mom, like she is watching with my kids and sharing the wonder with them. It will make me feel like we are all watching together. I will not do a Rose Bowl parade or something telecast from California or Florida. This feels wrong. It must by New York. Also, it must be cold. There is nothing worse than a warm Thanksgiving. That feels misplaced; like watching the Price is Right at night or pronouncing New Haven with the emphasis on the New instead of the Haven. You just don’t do it. It feels wrong and weird. It must be cold and New York. And PJs. By G-d on Thanksgiving Day there must be pajamas till noon.

But the thing that always wraps it all up with a big bow is the people that fill the table. Through the years and the evolution of my own, my sisters’, and even my father’s family, our table has grown to include many new faces, both young and old. There are a few important ones missing too. I remember vividly my first Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the only time in my life I can remember the holiday not fitting me. It felt uncomfortable and forced. It felt joy less. It seemed unimaginable to spend the day I loved so much with the people I loved and have her not be there, yelling at my brother in law to start cooking the bird, hugging the kids and wearing her apron. It felt like a hole in the holiday. Like someone chopped off the first part. And had made it just another day that we foisted upon ourselves with strange traditions filled with turkey and sweet potatoes that no one really wanted.

It was at least another year or two before time and space healed that hole enough to help me realize she was still with us. That in all of those little traditions that led up to and defined the day at least for me, in some small way she was tucked inside each one, re-infusing the warmth back into my favorite day. As I gear up for all of my favorite traditions this year, I look forward to finding her there again.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings, filled with all the people and traditions that make your holiday a day of joy, reflection, sweetness and thanks. And by G-d, let there be PJs till noon!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The True Meaning of Thanksgivingakkuh

Halloween is done and no sooner have we finished our last Kit Kat, the holiday season is thrust upon us. This year, it’s an epic one with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling at the same time on the calendar to make one monstrous super holiday: Thanksgivingakkuh. It is the perfect combination of thanksgiving blessings and gratitude with Hanukkah miracles. Visions of latke stuffed turkeys dance in my head. I am thankful for the blessings of food that will surely cover our table; more humbled by the simple gift of being able to feed the hungry mouths of family and friends that will fill our hearts and homes. Yet as American Jews prepare for this once in a lifetime season of starchy gluttony, I am struggling with the sharp contrast of how much we have in the face of how many have so little.

Indeed, the ability to put food on a table nowadays seems, in and of itself, something of a miracle. Who among us has a job, keeps their job, or whose partner suddenly falls ill, often seems arbitrarily determined in the largely randomized sequence of events that comprise life. And from this randomness the thin line is drawn between those who know where their next meal is coming from, and those who do not. In many ways, it reminds me of that favorite Hanukkah game we play each year. With each spin, the dreidel arbitrarily determines the haves and have nots; who gets some, who must share. In real life, there is slightly more control over our fates and fortunes and yet often, you can make all of the best choices, play all of the best cards dealt to you, and still get the wrong roll of the dice, the bad spin of the dreidel. You could end up with none. This year, the number of children and families struggling with little or no food is at critical levels, and the need to share seems more imperative than ever.
This November, Congress’ deep and devastating cuts to the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) went into effect. To be SNAP eligible, you must be living at or significantly below the federal poverty level. According to their own data, nearly 50% of all SNAP recipients are children. More than 75% of all SNAP households include at least one child. As of 2011, more than 48.5 million sought and received benefits[1]. In these difficult economic times, arguably the number of hungry mouths is going up, the cost of food is going up, and the federal assistance available to buy it is going down. I’ve been never been very good at math, but I can tell you that sure sounds a lot like a lot of hungry children this holiday season; kids no different from mine or yours. This Thanksgivingakkuh, there just won’t be enough latkes to go around.

I tried explaining all of this this past weekend, or at least the cliff notes version to my son. I know as parents we spend an awful lot of time talking about the silly and the frustrating and ridiculous things that come out of our children’s mouths, but just once in a great while they teach us.  After our conversation, Dylan got up and wrote a note that said this: “Because they need it and they are hungry. This is all of the money in my piggy bank.” And then he dumped the entire contents of his piggy bank out ($34.06) and put it with his letter in the mail. I have never been so humbled and inspired by a 5 year old before. He literally gave it all. I suspect because he gets at the tender age of 5 what so many of us grown-ups in the business of our lives and the holiday season seem to so quickly forget: the real miracle of the holidays is found when you celebrate your own commitment to love and honor your neighbor more than yourself.
And so this year, in this epic holiday season of both thankfulness and miracles, in a world and community that is deeply in need of repair, let’s make a few new miracles of our own. This year, let’s stand together and lead by example. Regardless of who you are, what you have, or what you celebrate, let’s make this the warmest and brightest Thanksgivingakkuh ever. Because what better way to commemorate a season of gratitude and miracles, than by standing together to share, heal, and nourish.

Below are some resources for folks nationally and as well as local to the Hartford, CT area who want to help feed hungry families this holiday season and all year round:

http://www.scarymommy.com/thanksgiving-2013/ (This is where Dylan sent his money. There are money families still waiting to be adopted for the holiday season!)

http://site.foodshare.org/site/TR/Thanksgiving/General?sid=1060&type=fr_informational&pg=informational&fr_id=1270#westhartford (Help support Foodshare’s Turkey and $30 campaign. Give a turkey for the holiday season plus $30 to support their efforts to feed our hungry neighbors all year round)

http://www.jfshartford.org/support_foodpantry.list.htm (Make a donation to Central Connecticut’s only Kosher Food Pantry, located within Jewish Family Services in West Hartford. This link will list the items they are most in need of)

http://www.hartfordfood.org/get-involved/ (Donate your time and/or money to Hartford Food System, working to find a sustainable way to help fight hunger and improve nutrition for Hartford’s poorest residents)

http://www.westhartford.org/living_here/town_departments/human_(social)_services/food_pantry/index.php (West Hartford’s local food pantry has seen a dramatic surge in the number of residents it serves. Click here for a list of what they need the most in their pantry. All donations can be brought to town hall)

 




[1] http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/#who