In Our Teeny Tiny Matzah House by Bill and Clair Wurtzel

Oh, what an inventive, sweet, creative, delightful, fun Passover picture book! Illustrated with food collages and told from the viewpoint of the family’s cat, In Our Teeny Tiny Matzah House offers a full house of delight, clever language, and inspiration for your own food art.  

The first night of Passover this year is Monday, April 22. Plenty of time to order the Wurtzels’ wonderful book. But don’t wait that long. Head directly to PJ Library and order your copy.  Do not plan your menus (yet.) Do not invite your guests (yet.) Do not pass over the opportunity to begin this year’s Pesach season by shairing the Wurtzels’ wonderful winsome book.  ‘Nuff said?

 

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Ego Won Out

I had every intention of reviewing for you Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North as well as Dr. Laura Kelly and Helen Bryman Kelly’s The Healthy Bones Nutrition Plan and Cookbook. I’m in middle age, the time when body and soul begin some serious conversations. Like many in my circle, I’m facing the older woman’s dilemma  — what am I going to do about the ostepoprosis? In answer to that questoin, I planned to share with you how much I am learning from Healthy Bones. Our bodies are complex and miraculous constructions. I planned to write about bioavailability — pairing and eating nutritious foods so that once they are broken down, they can work together to help the body preserve bone.

The Kellys’ wrote their book for a woman’s body; Mary Pipher penned hers for a woman’s soul. I intended to recount stories of some of Pipher’s interviewees. These women speak frankly about growing older and have they are leaning to mind their elder years for their richness reframed bleak loneliness into enjoyable solitude and moving  through grief to wholeness once again. “My body would age. My soul would expand,” becomes truer for me month by month. I wanted to write abou that, too.

And then the library sent me a note that a book I’d ordered had arrived. That’s when ego elbowed herself to the top of the stack. Back in 2021, author Micheline Maynard interviewed me for her latest book, Satisfaction Guaranteed, How Zingermans Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community. I can’t wait to dive into it. It’s a biography of the celebrated deli after all. Zingerman’s is a foodies’ hero whose story parallels that of The Little Engine That Could.  But instead of starting with Part One, I turned immediately to pages 183 and 184. Some people go for dessert first; I had to see what the author had culled from my interview with her regarding Emma’s and Scott’s 2020 wedding at Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in Dexer, Michigan.

It was not the wedding we’d begun planning. In fact, as Covid progressed we weren’t sure what kind of wedding we would end up having. Zingerman’s Cornman Farms went out of their way and beyond to make the day memorable. More than memorable, epic, when you consider their November date. An outdoor wedding had not been part of the plan when we booked the date the year. Maynard described that we pruned the guest list from 90 guests to 27 and expanded dinner from a simple delicious menu to a more elaborate six-course meal. It was a kick to see Emma’s and Scott’s names in print and to read once again my heartfelt desire to stand by the venue that was standing by us in so many ways. Maynard ended with a quote I don’t even remembr saying, but it remains true today,  “It was more than lemonade [out of lemons.] It was limoncello.”

So, read Women Rowing North for your soul, Healthy Bones for your body and Satisfaction Guaranteed for the sheer delight of learning how one company’s vision and principles enabled them to grow from a college town deli to a global enterprise.

 

photo credits: wedding photo, Lola Grace Photography
stack of books, Debra Darvick

 

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Bess Kalb Channels Her Grandmother

I was talking grandmothering with a new friend who already feels like an old friend. She said I had to read Bess Kalb’s Nobody Will Tell You This But Me. So I did.  Now you have to read it too.

Ms. Kalb, past-writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, current weekly contributor to The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, and all kinds of great creds in between, saved every voice mail her grandmother Bobby ever sent her. The author possesses the aural equivalent of a photographic memory. Armed with this triad of talent and memory, Kalb brings to life her relationship with her grandmother so palpably that were I ever to have tea at the Plaza, I could make my way to their table faster than you could shout, “Taxi.” (I said shout, not get one.)

It took a few pages for me to enter what at first seemed a helter-skelter narrative.  Who is telling the story and to whom? About whom? Who had the meningitis?  Who left Belarus at twelve, alone? Who decided to attend med school after the kibbutz nurse stitched close a gash in her hand? Who was in the first class of women admitted to Brown? Who tells us, “We never said goodbye, always, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’  Three times. Never enough.”? By the second page, I realized that the author’s narrative choice is her storytelling superpower. Instead of helter-skelter, Kalb has crafted a narrative of nesting stories one inside the other. Each one is distinct, yet none would could resonate as vividly as they do absent the context of the others.

That is why you have to read this book.  Why you have to follow the author into this extraordinary relationship and into the world Bess and Bobby built for and with one another,

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The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

I picked up Alka Joshi’s novel at our Little Free Library down the street.  Two pages in I was lost in the protagonist’s world of post-Independence India.

Seventeen-year-old Lakshmi escapes from an abusive marriage, traveling solo to Jaipur of the 1950’s. Drawing on her mother-in-law’s lessons in plant medicine and henna art, Lakshmi becomes a much-in-demand henna artist, confidante to her wealthy clients and Jaipur’s (anonymous) version of Margaret Sanger. 

What stays with me are the novel’s utterly satisfying personal transformations: Lakshmi’s own as well as those of her former husband and her younger sister, a sister whom she never knew existed and whose appearance threatens her carefully constructed professional and personal life. Reading The Henna Artist during the pre-midterm election hooplah, shifted Lakshmi’s expertise with plant medicine from the world of fiction to the realities of women’s lives since, well, since forever.

I promised to keep this short so that’s about it except to say, look into Joshi’s The Henna Artist . Turns out it’s the first in a three-novel series. Happy reading!

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The Turtle’s Guide to Introversion by Ton Mak

 

There’s an unintentional theme this week of animals who carry their homes on their backs.  (See My Turtle Teacher on the Grandlife shelf!) Ton Mak’s A Turtle’s Guide to Introversion is a deep and delightful meditation inviting us to see the world through the eyes and soul of an introvert.

The world has a host of labels (dare I say judgements?) to describe our fellow humans for whom solitude is as necessary as air. For kicks, I looked up synonyms for “introverted” and “extroverted.” Thesaurus.com offered only nine synonyms for extroverted, none of which had a negative connotation. There were 20 synonyms for introverted, at least a quarter of which had a distinctly negative gloss.

Ton Mak’s sweet and charming illustrations (she calls her creatures “flabjacks”) are made all the more poignant by her incisive, insightful, and self-affirming text. Three favorites: “Conversations in the checkout line give me mild anxiety.”   “I find enjoyment in creative, philosophical and spiritual endeavors.” “Confidence doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, it can be expressed in quieter and subtler forms.” 

A Turtle’s Guide to Introversion is one of those treasures small in size and enormous in content, wisdom, and clarity. Gift it to your own beloved introvert. And perhaps to the teacher baffled by her sweet and quiet nautre. Team leaders, office managers and hiring staff — you’d do well to keep this one nearby.  There is much to be learned from a turtle.

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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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