To Dye For

I love getting messy with Leah and Olivia. Stomping in rain puddles, playing with finger paint, squeezing Play-Doh® through our fingers…Bring it on!

While I had to be in charge of the messy part of tie dying the      T-shirts, Olivia helped twist the rubber bands and held the “rabbits’ ears” of bunched fabric for me to bind. We dipped the shirts in the bucket of dye, stirred them round and round à la Macbeth’s witches.  What a flashback to my high school years when sleep-overs were prime tie dye time — shirts, shorts, undies, you name it, we tie-dyed it.  We made a (quasi) matching one for Leah and an extra for Olivia to keep or give as a gift. And I have a new night shirt. No matching undies however.


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Wake Up!

This Hebrew month of  Elul is the final stretch before Rosh HaShanah. Jewish mystics gave us the metaphor of the Divine coming down from the heights of the heavens to walk among us, ready to meet up should we reach out.  No simple endeavor this. The sound of the shofar, which is heard at each morning service during Elul, exhorts us to WAKE UP!  Prepare yourself.  Release your grudges. Mend your relationships. Inspect your deeds this year; resolve to do better. Reach deeply within and as far out as you can and reconnect with the Source of All Creation.

The shofar’s call is a shout out to God to remember God’s promise to our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On their merit we pray to be written and sealed  into the Book of Life for the coming year.  It is layered with a lifetime of memories. It is a profound sound, eerie, potent, fillng me with equal parts hope and apprehension. Though my life hangs in the in the balance, the shofar’s sounds ground me. My life may not be in my hands, but my conduct is. My spirtual work can temper whatever might be decreed for me this year.


Here are two examples of the shofar being blown.

The first, from Jerusalem.  I hope I succeeded in excising the rude commercial preceding it. The second, from PJ Library, is more explanatory and each sound and then puts it all together.  What do the shofar’s sounds evoke in you?


Illustration at left, courtesy of Debra Darvick

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An Unlikely Pairing

I’m in the middle of each of these books and noticed one day that they both contain the word “completely.” Initially I might have written that other than that, they have nothing to do with one another. One (Eleanor Oliphant)  is fiction; the other, Rabbi Alan Lew’s High Holiday classic, demands his readers to be fully present, fully attuned to the truth of their lives.

Eleanor first. In Eleanor Oliphant, author Gail Honeyman has created a character whose quirkiness borders on the bizarre. Eleanor recounts her emotional and physical damage in a manner so atonal and separated from self that I don’t know what is more chilling, the incidents themselves or the manner in which she recounts them.  Eleanor is definitely not completely fine. Not by half; nor by a quarter. Her life is carefully circumscribed; her shoes are hideously sensible; her evening meals consist of pizza and vodka. Her dispassionate observations of the world around her hit the bull’s eye time and again. And then there are the weekly calls from Mummy that leave the reader horrified and aching with sorrow for Eleanor.

Enter Raymond, the maladroit IT guy from work. Oblivious to proper manners and appropriate footwear, Raymond has a huge heart; his concern and compassion for Eleanor runs deep.  Bit by bit, Eleanor steps out into the world: first a new haircut, a new outfit, a Bobbi Brown make over, making acquaintance and lunch dates. I imagine that by the final page, Eleanor might just be completely fine for real. And if not, she will fine enough. Considering all that came before, it will be a triumph indeed.

*                     *                    *

The ten-day period between Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are days of serious spiritual introspection. At their very fullest, these days are filled with joy, apprehension, remembering, sorrow, making amends, forgiving and prayer.  We reflect on our missteps of the year past, dearly hoping our atonement and intentions to do better will inspire the Divine to write us into the Book of Life for the coming year.

Considering the preparation one likely does before touring the Grand Canyon, New Zealand, et al, how much more important is it to prepare before entering the spiritual terrain of the ten Days of Awe? Readers of Rabbi Alan Lew’s This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared find themselves on a spirtual journey like no other.

Lew (of blessed memory) starts us off seven weeks before on Tisha B’av, a day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. As the Temples’ walls came down, so too do we begin to dismantle our walls of mistakes, missteps and maltreatment. Chapter by chapter, Rabbi Lew teaches and prods his readers to take personal stock, to summon self-compassion for the work at hand and to gather the courage to face what we have been running from all year, if not for many years.

The older I get, the more I look forward to Yom Kippur. I’ve learned that many of the ancient sages looked at Yom Kippur not as a day of dread but as one of joy. We are given the chance to create a clean slate upon which to write in the coming year. By asking forgiveness from others, we release ourselves from the prison of self-recrimination and suffering. Reading Rabbi Alan Lew’s book gives me hope. I am not in this alone; others have trod this path before me; I can learn from them. I read slowly and make notes, copying certain insights in my journal.

Eleanor will indeed be some version of fine. This is fiction after all. As for being completely unprepared? If we take the full import of this time seriouly, I don’t think anything can prepare us completely. That’s life’s inescapable reality. Nevertheless, Rabbi Lew has left us with a magnificent roadmap to find our way. Again and again and again.

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Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Why am I writing about a movie in this drawer of the curio cabinet? Because Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris will delight you from head to toe, de la tete aux pieds, from your chapeau to your chausures. The film has it all: a determined protagonist, ingenuity, thrills, set backs, despair, friendship, joy. And then there is salon show in which all but three of the dresses are exact replicas of  Dior originals.

Mrs. Harris was the first movie I’d seen in a theater since January 2020.  The theater was close to empty; my spirit, however, was full of delight.


At left: My mother in Paris, 1955

























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What Now?

I don’t know who I was with or how we got on the topic but ashtrays came up. A friend remembered that when she was a child, when company was coming, it was her job to polish the silver ashtrays.

The conversation reminded me that I have one of my grandmother’s ashtrays. It is heavy enough to do some real damage should I drop it on my toe. It doesn’t particularly inspire fond memories, or any memories for that matter.  Like most in their generation, my grandparents were big smokers so I assume this ashtray got plenty of use. No longer. It’s been in the basement for years taking up a small square of space.

Have any of you repurposed an ashtray? How? I can’t exactly imagine using it as a serving dish. I already have a catch-all for the car keys and at this stage of the game I don’t dare change the routine. I could float a single flower blossom in it.  That could look chic. Or maybe a pillar candle? That would have some resonance of its original purpose. I’m not going to take up smoking.  Stay tuned.

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