Monday, August 30, 2010

Life Lessons and a Side of Fried Butter

Shabbat #30

Guests: Suzanne and Neil and son A. Suzanne went to elementary school with Steve and I know Neil from cycling. Our sons are close in age and had a near miss last fall at the Meramec School carnival ... but things went swimmingly on Friday.

Menu: Sweet Potato Chips and Mango Salsa, Grilled Salmon with Citrus Salsa Verde, Watermelon Salad, Garlic Couscous, Toby's Challah, Cheesecake with Hand Picked Michigan Blueberry Sauce

What I Learned:

Truth be told, we're more country than country club. Especially now.

Suzanne's known Steve since the second grade. She can attest. Attest to the plaid shirts with the mother of pearl snaps and Wrangler jeans that were Steve's uniform before a certain high school girlfriend (we'll call her Ann) convinced him that penny loafers and pink polos were more fitting for a Ladue Ram football player. Next time you catch me in blue jeans check out my belt. It'll probably be a leather one with a silver sundial buckle and S-T-E-V-E etched across the back - a precious relic from Steve's cowboy days.

While the plaid shirts may be long gone, Steve's love (and mine) of the slower life, the outdoors and the simple things isn't. A reminder of years of sweet childhood memories made in Innsbrook, Wickenberg and Colorado. Of western saddles, barrel racing and campfires. And a chance for us to make new memories with our children.

Our Friday shabbat dinner was followed by an overnight trip to Sedalia, Missouri for the Missouri State Fair. It's one of several trips we've made as a family to various fairs, rodeos, tractor pulls, monster truck shows, and ... yes, now even a demolition derby. I love it because it's impossibly low key. My $3 straw cowboy is the only accessory I need. Blending in beats standing out.

But maybe even more important is the opportunity it gives us to teach our children things they might not otherwise learn ... or a least learn as easily ... at home.

I feel enormously lucky to be able to raise my children in a neighborhood where I can walk them to one of the best public schools in the country; and I value the importance that the school and our broader community and congregation places upon diversity and sensitivity on everything from peanuts to birthday parties, but sometimes I wonder whether it paints a realistic expectation for my kids. Is this teaching them about the world outside of our sometimes hyper-sensitive bubble?

Sometimes I need to be reminded that the energy I put into teaching Ben and Sarah about being sensitive to differences is equal to the energy I need to put into teaching them about how to sensitively respond to situations that are not so diverse. Life outside the bubble. To embrace and share those aspects of themselves that make them different. And to respect the differences in others.

The state fair is a great place to teach those lessons and gorge ourselves on all things fried.

Take the Dairy Barn -- more than a place to teach the difference between dairy cows and beef cows. Ben met a boy not much older than himself that had dedicated hours upon hours to raising the cow he so proudly led into Coliseum for the Youth Guernsey Cow Judging. Wearing pristine white jeans, a button up shirt and a look of determination. A little bit different from the select baseball league he's watched cousin Jake play in all summer, but no less impressive.

And then there was the quest for the "Rodeo" ball cap from a kiosk of cowboy hats adorned with crosses prompting Ben's question: Why are there X's on all of those hats? An opportunity to teach him that just how sometimes we, as Jews, identify ourselves with the Star of David, Christians identify themselves with a cross ... saving (but perhaps teeing up) the more complicated explanations of what those symbols signify.

Or the demolition derby ... which by the way is NOT like Wresting At the Chase; these guys in these cars are for real. When the announcer takes to the microphone to bless the drivers and leads the fans in the Lord's prayer it is a moment to coach Ben on paying respect to a different kind of prayer. Just as all of his non-Jewish friends that have shared Shabbat dinner with us this year have paid respect to his prayers over the bread and wine.

Yeah ... gotta love the State Fair. Fried butter. Funnel cakes. Meat on a stick. And a few life lessons thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Judgment Day

Shabbat #29

Guests: The Garveys

Menu: Liberty Chips and Salsa, Tequila Lime Chicken, Sagaponack Corn Pudding, Deconstucted Guacamole Salad, Key Lime Pie Bars

What I Learned:

I've "appeared" before a judge three times. The first time was a proud moment. Judge Dowd swore me into the Eastern District of Missouri shortly after I passed the bar. The second time was the scariest of my life. Sandwiched between my father-in-law and my husband's best friend, I sat frozen waiting for Judge Jackson to announce whether Steve's sentence would involve a separation from our family. And the third was last Friday when Judge Garvey found me "guilty" of cooking up a killer Tequila Lime Chicken and Corn Pudding.

I've always thought that being a judge had to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. Making decisions that forever change a person's life. (Not to mention all of the people associated with that person.) Basing a conclusion on precedent and argument, even when that conclusion does not reflect your personal convictions. Forever being held to a higher standard in the communty. By my assessment, the only consolation was the black robe that all but eliminated those ill-conceived fashion days.

But now I'm not so sure whether judging is the hardest job. Maybe not judging is even harder.

Having been on the "judged" side of judgment, both formally in a court of law and informally in the court of public opinion I can report that it's not a fun place to be. A federal sentence brings a slew of complications that most people don't plan for. At least we didn't. And while the court of public opinion (and all of its anonymous bloggers) don't quite have the same lifelong impact, their punches still sting.

Prior to 2009, I was guilty of passing my own judgments. I'm not particularly proud of it, though I do think its probably part of human nature. Something about assessing someone else -- judging them as a worse mother, wife, employee, friend -- somehow made me feel a little bit better in all of those departments. Temporarily anyway until I inevitably ended up feeling worse for judging. And making no progress in becoming better in any of the aforementioned departments.

Since 2009 I've change my tune and tried to focus on taking something positive from the situation, because, really, what else can you do when life serves up a crappy hand. I've tried to judge less and improve more. When I feel judgment creeping up, I step back and search for it's source. If the source is a desire to find a weakness in someone else I consider whether I might really be the one with the weakness. And then I spend my energy trying to be a little better. If the judgment is motivated by "sport" or gossip, I hold my tongue and try to redirect my energy to my long (and growing) "to do" list. And if I conclude that my judgment is fair I try my best to share it fairly and offer support and solutions rather than idle criticism. And I own it.

That takes a lot of energy. Which most days I'm short on. Fortunately, it's proving to be productive. And contagious. And generally makes me feel like the road to wherever we are going is somehow a little more tolerable. And less scary.

I hope that my children will learn from me by example and try to do the same. I plan to teach them to leave the judging of others for the folks in black robes. I've already started telling Ben that the only judgment he needs to be worrying about is his own ... good judgment.

Because last Friday's "guilty" ruling on my Tequelia Chicken is the last time I ever want to find myself (or anyone in this family) waiting for a judge's ruling.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Steve's Debut - Guest Blog

Shabbat #28

Guests: Don and Sarah Jane and son Cal Jr. and Jason and Becca. Hosted by Steve and Sarah while Ben and Rebecca were traveling.

Menu: Flank Steak, Roasted Potatoes, Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah, Angel Food Cake ... all prepared by Steve

What I Learned:


Share and Share Alike

Shabbat #27

Guests: Stacy, Greg and children Molly, Sam and Ben. They live down the block and around the corner. Our girls go to preschool together. Our boys will start kindergarten together. And we belong to the same congregation. Now that's a lot of togetherness.

Menu: Black & Blue Sliders, Confetti Couscous, Peach & Blueberry Spinach Salad, Sliced Watermelon, Princess Cupcakes

What I Learned:

Stacy and I have more than a few things in common. We both have boys. Named Ben. Born on the same day.

I remember when Steve told me this. I had a stomach full of stitches, itching so badly from the morphine that I wanted to peel myself like an orange, but out of my mind happy to be holding my brand new baby boy. Stacy was laying in a hospital bed down the hall probably doing the same. My reaction to Steve's announcement? Blissful indifference. I was in the midst of those precious newborn days, not thinking about the experiences my Ben would share with the boy down the hall with whom he already shared a name.

Turns out they will he sharing more than just a name. And a birthday.

They'll be sharing a school. And Mrs. Fallstrom, the kindergarten teacher. And all of the firsts that kindergarten, elementary and high school will bring. Reading. Writing. Swapping lunches. Playing sports. Dances. Chasing girls -- though hopefully not one another's sisters.

And a neighborhood. Where they'll walk to school. Ride bikes. Play baseball in the Glenridge field. And (sooner than I can bare) be a part of that mob of highschoolers meandering down the street at 3:15 to hang out at Starbucks.

And a synagogue. Where they'll go (and sometimes complain about going) to Shabbat School. And Hebrew School. Study for their bar mitzvahs. And celebrate the coming of age of all of their Jewish friends.

And a friendship that will start with kindergarten and potentially last a lifetime.

Who knows what the future holds. Whether they will be lifelong friends. Confidants. Partners in crime.

But one thing is certain. They'll always share a name. And they'll never forget each other's birthday.