Monthly Archives: December 2011

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Apartment house snowball fight; a great Jewish Christmas tradition

Snowball fight #1, December 24, 2011

As a Jewish woman, I have great ambivalence about Christmas.  There are things I love about this time of winter, about the hustle bustle of people getting ready for their holiday, the lights, other things.  At some point in the season, usually Christmas eve day or Christmas day or in the planning for one or the other, I completely fall apart– angry, hurt feelings, lonely– one thing or another, but never good.  It’s situational– which is to say, whenever it happens– when a new day comes along, or sometimes after two new days, I feel different, better, much.  Nonetheless, Christmas seems hard, at times, on each one of us, and I try to plan for things that will work well for us to do and for some down time for us.

One great thing that we’ve found to do, or rather it found us, is our upstairs lesbian neighbors’ annual Christmas Eve open house.  And though it has a number of things to recommend it, for starters, what  could be better for a woman ambivalent about Christmas, than a party which doesn’t involve a coat or parking?  Nothing, that’s what.

My neighbors have a daughter (a stepdaughter to one of the two women) who’s here about half of each week.  She is a grade ahead and about eight months older than my daughter and the two girls are good friends.  Our shared hall and stairwell have meant many impromptu visits– sometimes in pajamas early in the morning or last thing at night– which have been a wonderful part of apartment living.

The two women are good friends and also the kind of neighbors a person dreams of– helpful, generous, welcoming.  R. is a marvelous artist whose actual artwork is interesting and ever evolving, and she brings a love of community art to every event of the social variety.  Several years ago, there was a pretty big pack of kids at the party and somehow they started throwing crumpled paper or packing material at one another– and R. came up with the idea of a “snowball fight”.

The next year R. and her stepdaughter and our daughter worked together making snowballs for the party– there are about 100 snowball sized pieces of wadded up newspaper, spray-painted with white and glittery paint– to about the shape and weight of a snowball.  You don’t get that bitter cold sting when it hits you in the face, nor the wet puddles afterward, and most importantly you don’t have to have snow on the ground to have a great snowball fight.

At some point in the party, we get the signal and all who are up for it– usually a group of younger adults and of young people–head for the hallway and a snowball fight ensues.  With teams.  Last night the way it lined up was girls against boys with about four young adult guys and one 11-year-old boy on the landing between third and fourth floors and with my daughter, our young friend upstairs, me and several other women working together from the 4th floor landing to pelt the guys.  The fight is vigorous and yet the spirit is undeniably sweet and good-natured– but with a killer streak to it too.  No one gets hurt, there is screaming and laughing and yelling, and team spirit though there are no particular rules.  The halls grow noisy, there is no scoring system and everyone has a really good time.

Snowball fight #2

Our opponents

Taking aim

Look Out!!

just a few of the apartment house snowballs, soon to be packed up for another year

Rewrite. My life in music and my old friend I’ve never met. Paul Simon.

I love music.  I think most of us are wired to this language of feeling and memory.  When I was very young my parents had albums of classical music that affected and moved me to unstoppable tears.  I would often ask them not to play that music, because it made me too sad.  Too sad for a five-year old without enough of a venue for the heavy tears I seemed to need to cry.

Later, I discovered my own varied and eclectic musical taste and I chose things I liked and I listened a lot.   Music is  and often the backdrop that allows me to face grief and loss fully and honestly.  But music is often part of the scene when I can really feel that the world is good and that it is good– I mean extraordinarily good– to be alive.  I think I approach each day from the perspective that it is really good to be alive.  But I don’t think I am someone who actually feels that joyful, good-to-be-alive way every day.  Or even most days.

As I see my daughter getting older, facing the struggles of her world– which are big struggles– the struggles of class and race, the struggles of female internalized oppression and the harshness among girls, the struggles to learn and try new things and fit it all in and stay close to us and others and not get discouraged– I have been fighting myself, to be in touch, more and more often with a genuine, hopeful, it’s-great-to-be-alive feeling.  I do it for me and I do it for her.  Listening to music often helps me turn my mind toward the goodness of my life and of the world even with all its harshness and horror.

Paul Simon is one musician of my era, whose work I’ve loved since I was very young.  I was a lot younger and he was a lot younger when I first heard his music.  As I have grown older so has he and so has his work.  His music and something about his Jewish and generous and quirky sensibility all feel like reassuring, old friends to me.

The other day I heard on NPR, a great talk by a pop music critic about some of the critic’s favorite music of 2011.  Among many artists and albums the critic mentioned was a new album of Paul Simon’s– released earlier this year, “So Beautiful or So What”.   I had not heard of it.  (Do people still say “album”? or is that a total anachronism?)  But I digress.

I have always loved Simon’s music and his songwriting;  his interesting, intelligent and sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and often funny, lyrics.  His beautiful melodies, easy to sing along with but unpredictable and complex.  I love his voice, acoustic guitar, his use of whistling and every conceivable instrument.  He has done some remarkable collaborations with other singers and musicians.  Listening to his music makes me happy and the very fact of another human being engaged in the endeavor of making the kind of music he does, makes me happy.  Good-to-be-alive kind of happy.

And Paul Simon is definitely a big commercial success but he has eschewed a the of commercialism that seems less and less possible for younger musicians to eschew and still be heard.  He has pursued for more than 40 years, a kind of artistry that stands out our increasingly commercial, logo’d, PR’d, photoshopped, advertised, bought-and-sold world.

I fell in love with the song that was reviewed, called “Rewrite”.  Then I got curious and learned that Paul Simon turned 70 in October.  I must say there is something fabulous about a still-very- talented- popular singer-songwriter at 70.  And something ironic, poignant, and a little close to home–about his singing “Rewrite”.  After all, if we’re honest, don’t we all, especially as we get older, have parts of the story we’d rewrite if we could?

After “Rewrite” are three videos with Paul Simon, literally half his lifetime ago, on the Graceland tour in Zimbabwe, which was recorded and performed in collaboration with an astounding group of African musicians and singers; including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The recording and tour were set against the backdrop of a turning point in the world’s history– as freedom fighters were on the brink of ending apartheid in South Africa.

Under African Skies

Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes

From the first night of Chanukah– Almost Wordless…

For those of you who don’t read a lot of blogs, there seems to be a convention in blogging– where you do a post entitled, “Wordless _____”.  Most commonly, as I have understood it, it is Wordless Wednesday presumably because of the alliteration and because you want to get some damn thing up there but have run out of time by Wednesday.  This writer, oh yes, often of the 800-2500 word posting, with no pictures at all, has never offered the Wordless post.  And I still don’t do so here.  But I’m getting warmer.  So here it is, closest thing yet to Wordless Wednesday.  Though it is neither Wednesday nor wordless.

I love my daughter’s photographic sensibility.  Happy Chanukah, again.

Happy Chanukah; celebration and two gifts.

It was the first night of Chanukah.  Both my girls are asleep and I’m finally, finally writing.  Weeks have gone by.  Three, to be exact.  Way, way too many weeks without writing for me given the impulse to make this blog and given what I am trying to do here.  I think the last time I wrote was my partner’s birthday, December 1.

Since then there was a trip to Wisconsin for a weekend of something special that we do as a family, a whole lot of math homework and a book report, many shopping trips some of which were a good idea and some of which were definitely not.  There was jury duty, seeing my nephew off to go home for the holidays after completing his first semester as a college student here, a birthday party thrown for my partner and cleaned up (it was a really wonderful party), a car breakdown, and much, much more.  Oh and basketball season has begun which involves my partner (Coach M.), my daughter and a lot of time, heart and driving on my part.

We were at a Chanukah party tonight thrown by a group of Jewish lesbians, old friends of ours– one and all of them.  The group is known as “Jewish group” and except for a few changes of personnel in the earlier years, the group is six women who have met regularly since 1980.

They have a Chanukah party each year and a very few friends who are not part of the group– such as my partner and me along with our daughter– are sometimes invited.  Their group is a small group, a closed group that bears the strengths of a group that has years of love and steadfast loyalty to one another behind it– as well as the flaws and quirks and odd difficulties any family unit has.

It was a really wonderful party, with these old friends and an easy warm feel to it and with latkes, gifts for the two children there–(my daughter and one other), a funny, creative group retelling of the Chanukah story around an outdoor fire and s’mores– marshmallows and chocolate Chanukah gelt melted between graham crackers.  To my great pleasure and surprise, my daughter–who often won’t talk in a setting like this,  created an inventive and longish part of the group Chanukah story.  I was delighted.

I got, from the grab bag, a set of scissors– about which I said, after opening the package– “Oh, I love scissors”.  It is true, I do like scissors and I didn’t find it a particularly odd gift, though by something she said I got the feeling the giver was beginning to think it was.

But the biggest gift of the evening was the fact that my teacher and old friend, E. was there.  My Jewish teacher, literature scholar, lesbian sister, folk dancer and now friend for more than 30 years.  I’ve referred to her often in this blog, and she is one of my most loyal readers and one of the most consistent cheerers-on of my writing endeavors.  She said to me, almost as soon as I walked through the door, “you haven’t been writing lately”.  I laughed and said, “I know, but now I will– it always helps me to remember that you are waiting to read what comes next”.   She then gave me what is now a talk she’s given me before, about not wanting to pressure me, but…

I definitely wouldn’t call it pressure.  I think I’d call it something along the lines of the magic elixir for a writer.  And pouf…  Here I am home, at the computer.  Writing.

So in addition to scissors and my daughter’s great contribution to the Chanukah story, I got the gift every writer wants.  My appreciative, encouraging reader and coach, right there in person, to talk to and to tell me– get back to it, get back down to work, I’m waiting for more.

So to E, thank you for the encouragement and for the great, lively Yiddish rendition of the Chanukah song.  And for reminding me that you always light all eight candles, all eight nights.  Just because they are beautiful.

And to all of you, Happy Chanukah, season of light.  I hope you get at least one  gift like mine– the perfect encouragement, just the right word of love or advice or support.

Sampler; Week of November 28 and Happy Birthday

Today is my wonderful partner’s birthday.  We have an unbelievable number of very usual, and very important things to manage this week and the past few.  Lots of schoolwork for my daughter, a school play, lines to learn (my daughter’s) and complicated costumes to pull together– the play happened yesterday.  (My daughter played President James K. Polk.  She was absolutely awesome, awesome I tell you!)

Daughter-- as President Polk, up front on darkened stage. November 30, 2011

My partner’s mother who is 87 had knee surgery earlier this month after one false start and setback last and my partner has returned home and her mother has been in a rehab facility in her home state of Indiana for the past two weeks. Now my partner has a boatload of work to do– talking to social workers and home care providers to arrange her mother’s discharge and return to her own home.   Today.

Monday night and then again last night after the school play we skipped Hebrew school to spend time with our friend/ partly-a-daughter F. (I’ve written about her.  She lived with us for a year when she was 18 and was having a tough time in life, a very tough time.)  She is like a daughter to us and pulled through those hard times.  She and her husband and baby were visiting from their home in England and we all stayed up way too late visiting them after the play yesterday.  Too late to wake up rested, but what’s a pair of mothers and a daughter-auntie to do but visit?  Which of course, we wanted.

We’re in the thick of getting ready for a trip for which we leave tomorrow morning and the trip involves some complex planning o make it all work this weekend and oh did I mention that I am helping my own mother with some very detailed, time-consuming paperwork, co-hosting a political fundraiser tonight at which I was asked to introduce Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin who is running for the Senate in Wisconsin, 2012?  And that I have a pile of laundry the size of a VW bug to do?  There are other issues, real issues, about how my daughter really wants, on a regular basis, not to go to school but that deserves its own post.

It’s interesting, all of it.  And good things are happening amidst the hard.  But I wouldn’t say it’s going easily.   I mean it’s not just all good-natured- laughing- cheery- too-busy.

It’s not smooth sailing here lately.  And it wasn’t this morning, that’s for sure.  But we did start with birthday presents, birthday wishes and oatmeal.  For my girl– my partner– my daughter’s beloved mommy.  With candles.

Happy Birthday oatmeal. December 1, 2011

The girl and the birthday girl.

And to my dear, good partner– my sweetheart, I say this;  Wait ’til next week or maybe the next when I have time to catch my breath and I’ll probably write you a post about at least 10 things that I absolutely love about you for all to read.  They’re all right there in my mind, and right on the tip of my tongue but I don’t have time to say.  In the meantime, I love you.  xo