Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Back to Normal?!

You know what they say about good intentions. I started blogging. I even got some incentives in the form of an gift certificate. But life happens, and I have not posted in some time. Part of my challenge was posting pictures and formatting my posts, so a friend (Thank you, Heidi) suggested I try this platform.

So what has happened? The summer went by much too quickly. I resolved my issues with one set of my mother's lawyers. I did some reading, though nothing too memorable. I am looking at the huge pile of books submitted to the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, and I can hardly believe that I kept up with the reading and reviewing for four years. I read all of the illustrated books, and if I can manage, I will be posting my thoughts.

Taslich at Turtle Rock was not one of my favorites. I am not a fan of inventing your own rituals, and this challenged me on two levels. One, the family was doing things on Rosh Hashana that usually aren't done (hiking, writing, erasing). Second, the Tashlich ritual and liturgy and so beautiful and meaningful, that by delving into the actual ceremony, the family could have found something worthwhile without making up their own stuff.

I have to admit that while I did create my own ritual, I have found a way to make it more meaningful for myself. The point is to "cast your sins about the water," and hopefully do better in the coming year. I avoided the social scene of the local crowd in town, and took a day during the week to go to a beautiful, quiet spot, where the water flows down waterfalls. I had the time to say the prayers with real intention, and these lines stood out:

"Grant us the privilage of being divorced from arrogance, anger, irritability and every kind of conceit." "May we eat only to satisfy our souls." "Grant us the privilege of being joyful with regard to Your Torah and Your commandments. May our trust be placed in You always and may we have a heart gladdened by Your serivce. " "Grant us success and achievement in all our studies and in our every handiwork and undertaking. May our homes be full of God's blessing, may our bread satisy us and may we be good."

Now that the Jewish holidays are over and the kids have a somewhat normal school schedule, I am trying to organize the house. Sometimes it can be daunting, but I am slowly making progress. Today's tasks: sew pillowcases, post old electric trains on Ebay, and catch up on some reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Going to See Attle!

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This philosophical riddle raises questions regarding observation and reality (Thank you, Wikipedia). Can something exist without being perceived? I think about this as I write my posts. I am sure that I am not the only one who blogs and wonders how many people are interested in what I have to say or even look at my blog.

Speaking of forests, this serene scene reminded me of Forks, Washington, logging capital of the world and the setting for the Twilight Saga. It's only three hours and thirteen minutes away from Seattle, where the 45th Annual Association of Jewish Libraries Convention will be taking place July 4th through July 7th, 2010. After viewing the trailer for Eclipse, which comes out June 30th, I think I will be bringing my garlic necklace with me! I think I will be very happy staying at the beautiful Fairmont Olympic Hotel and drinking my coffee.

Besides my addiction to coffee, I'm also addicted to Heidi Estrin has become my co-dependent by offering $10 gift certificates for a "convention mention." So here it is: go to and read about Wendy Marcus, the music director at Temple Beth Am. This multi-talented lady will serve as emcee for a musical program on Sunday, and give a presentation on Tuesday about Drash, the literary journal of which she is editor. (I was going to say "give a presentation about Drash, the literary jouranl of which she is editor on Tuesday, but she's editor all the time!).

One more interesting tidbit in relation to my upcoming trip to Seattle: Yahoo recently did a bizarre thing with their weather application for the iPod. They split Jerusalem, so you had to choose whether you wanted the weather from West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem. I don't see that the weather would be that much different, so it was obviously a political decision. So many people complained, that they restored the listing to one Jerusalem - the undivided eternal capital of the Jewish State of Israel. Anyway, the weather in Jerusalem is.....sunny and hot for the rest of the week. The weather in Seattle alternates from partly cloudy to mostly cloudy to few showers to showers with temperatures in the high 60's to low 70's. This will pose a challenge with the sheitl, but I think I am up to it. I will wear my raincoat to get my coffee!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two Jacks and a Margarita

Just 40 days until the Association of Jewish Libraries Convention in Seattle. I’m looking forward to it for many reasons. I’ve never been to Seattle, so I’m anxious to see the city and its beautiful library. I’ll be drinking lots of coffee to compensate for the time difference, and, of course, I will get to spend time with my wonderful colleagues.

This year’s program has a lot to offer, including some of my favorite authors: Jacqueline Jules, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, and Margarita Engle. Jacqueline Jules wrote Once Upon a Shabbos, Unite or Die, The Hardest Word (my favorites from her), as well as many other children’s books. She will be talking about “Biblical Characters” at the AJL Convention. This popular series, published by Kar-Ben and illustrated by Natascia Ungliano, has made the patriarch Abraham (Abraham’s Search for God) and his wife Sarah (Sarah Laughs) accessible to young readers. Benjamin and the Silver Goblet stands out as both author and illustrator capture the anxiousness and excitement of Benjamin’s venture out into the world. All of these were recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee – Abraham as a Notable Book, and Sarah and Benjamin as Honor Books. Miriam in the Desert will be coming out in September, and I can hardly wait!

Jacqueline Dembar Greene’s books have also been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. One Foot Ashore and Out of Many Waters, both Honor Books, are historical fiction about the Sephardic experience. The American Girl series about Rebecca were notable books this year. Jacqueline’s topic will be “Beyond Rebecca: Ashkenazi and Sephardic History in Juvenile Fiction.” I’m hoping this discussion will also include The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a 2010 Notable Book, where conversos include a shofar in a concert of “New World instruments” on Rosh Hashana, giving the other hidden Jews strength and encouragement.

Margarita Engle uses free verse to bring attention to lesser known aspects of Cuban history. This year’s Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers, Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, uses three voices to give different perspectives of the Jews fleeing Germany hoping to make a new home in the Americas. Daniel’s parents have sent him to Cuba, and he is lonely and worried about his family in Germany. He is befriended by David, a Jewish ice cream seller who had escaped the pogroms of Russia by going to Cuba. Paloma, a Cuban girl whose politician father is using the situation to his advantage, also befriends Daniel. As with Engle’s Newbery Honor Book, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, I learned a lot about history, and I was amazed how her free verse could evoke so many emotions with so few words. In Surrender Tree, it was “Peace is not the paradise I imagined, but it is a chance to dream…” In Tropical Secrets, it was these lines about Kristallnacht: “How can hatred have such a beautiful name? Crystal should be clear, but on that dark night the glass of broken windows did not glitter.” In an interview in Booklist (January 2010), Margarita Engle was asked about putting together history and poetry. She replied, “I love the dreamlike quality of historical novels in verse. I know there are modern critics who dislike the combination of storytelling with poetry, but to me, it seems so natural and ancient, a form that has been rediscovered, not reinvented.” I could not agree more. (Margarita Engle's photograph was taken by Marshall W Johnson.)

Now I must get to work on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Panel Presentation. While many veterans of past conventions look forward to the “Hot/Not” portion of the program, we’ve found it more useful to talk about the Jewish aspects of books submitted for consideration, as well as offering some age appropriate Holocaust book suggestions. This year we added a new round, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Jewish Book.” The committee members will be discussing books, not necessarily recognized by the committee or that have Jewish content, that made an impact during the year of reading (over 120 books!)

See you in Seattle!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Difference Between Quiet and Unspeakable

I just finished two books with distinctly different vibes. The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska, is an adorable picture book. Different animals demonstrate the many kinds of quiet. Some of my favorites on this list of activities are "coloring in the lines quiet," "best friends don't need to talk quiet," and "car ride at night quiet." I like this one because young readers will know the difference between "sleeping sister quiet" and "swimming underwater quiet." I will incorporate this into story hour. It would be a good wind down at the end, but it would work equally well in the middle when some kids are getting a little antsy. It would also be a good one in the classroom and could be used with language arts or science. Students could write there own examples of quiet. They could also arrange the list in order from loudest to softest or vice versa.

On the other hand, An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin left me feeling the opposite of warm and fuzzy. I am still disturbed by this story. I knew the basic facts before I read the book: a young female employee at a pencil factory in Atlanta was found murdered. The murder was pinned on a supervisor at the plant, Leo Frank, who was both a Yankee and a Jew. Alphin skillfully weaves through the evidence and cast of characters to show the mood of the time. The newspapers fed the frenzy as the angry cry of "Justice for Mary Phagan" led to the lynching of an innocent man. Alphin used primary source documents, and many of the front-page newspaper articles are included in the book. Almost 50 years after the Civil War, there was still lingering bitterness. Comparing this with some of the more sensational trials of today, it was quite disturbing to see how the theatrics of the prosecution and the energy of the crowd swayed the jury and judge more than the logic and facts of the defense. This one is for grade ten and up - during the trial the prosecution tried to demonstrate that Leo Frank had certain sexual proclivities which are mentioned in the book. This one will stay with me, and I feel sorrow for Frank and his family.

The difference between quiet and unspeakable is a big one. Quiet denotes a certain calm or anticipatory state. Unspeakable is actually disquieting and so bizarre it leaves one at a loss for words.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ranting in the Rain

After a few days of beautiful sunny weather and temperatures in the sixties (this a week after the "snowicane"), it is now gray and rainy. As I went about my errands, there were many opportunities to rant today. After the post office (we won't even get into the oxymoron of "Postal Service"), I did the recycling because I couldn't stand the accumulation of plastic bottles. I guess I could throw them away, but then I would feel guilty because I was not being environmentally responsible. Which goes to show you can never win. A bigger question is why my city can pick up newspapers and glass at the curb, but not plastic bottles and cardboard. We do not put out glass, but it's interesting to drive around on recycling day and see how much alcohol our neighbors are consuming.

After recycling, I went to a Childrenswear Centre in Clifton. People come from all over the area to shop at this place for the prices. I'm thinking we graduated from this store. I used to do really well on clothes size 4T and under. They do have a good selection of uniform stuff, so I got my DD (darling daughter) some new white shirts (Peter Pan collar, no embellishments). I really wanted to get son #2 some pants, but they did not have one pair of size 8 pants in the store. They had tons and tons of size 18, but not size 8. Can you tell this bothered me?! I also wanted to get DD a spring jacket, but they did not have any. I saw a Rothschild fuschia raincoat, but it brought back memories of my mother buying me things she like that I hated, so I passed that one by, even though it was a bargain and very cute. After my annoyance at the store, I went to see my mother in the nursing home. She was doing pretty well, and it was nice to sit for a while and talk with her. Then it was on to Shoprite to pick up a few last minute items for Shabbat.

For Shabbat, I must always serve the same thing or the natives get very restless: chicken soup with vegetables, baked chicken, potato kugel, steamed vegetables. The only thing that can vary is the dessert. This week is "secret recipe pie." The family knows by now that anything with a "secret recipe" is made with a mix and incredibly easy. So I got a shortbread crust and filled it with vanilla pudding, on top of which I added sprinkles. Anything with sprinkles or on a stick is always a big hit, too.

Then onto the bane of my existence: carpool. Dismissal is at 12:45 PM on Friday, so I have to get there by 12:35 PM to get a good spot. I usually bring a book or cross-stitch, or I call friends, so I don't mind the wait. It's the other drivers. People stop in the middle of the street, block you so you cannot pull out, cut you off, park facing the wrong way, park illegally on a corner so you cannot see oncoming traffic, etc. The irony of this situation is that I am picking up from yeshiva. As we pay through the nose so that our children can learn how to be good Jews, we are setting a poor example of consideration and respect for others. We'll leave it at that because I could write a mini-series about the dichotomy between theory and practice here.

My last shopping event was online at This website sells remainders, and I've gotten great bargains, including beautiful journals and autographed copies. I always check out the Jewish books, and I was kind of torn as I spotted these bargains:

Runaway Dreidel by Leslea Newman - $6.99
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman - $6.99
New Year at the Pier by April Halperin Wayland - $6.99
Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen - $6.99
Across the Alley by Rich Michelson - $7.99
Raizel's Riddle (softcover) - $2.99
Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky - $7.99
Kibitzers and Fools by Simms Taback - $7.99
Letters from Rivka (paperback) - $2.99

Also Goy Crazy, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, and Penina Levine Is a Potato Pancake.

As I saw these books, I remembered when I first read them, and how much I enjoyed them. I can't believe that New Year at the Pier is on the list, and I'm very surprised about Hanukkah at Valley Forge and Across the Alley because I think both books have universal themes and great illustrations. So I'm conflicted. I'm not so happy that these books are remaindered or overstocked, but they make excellent gifts and prizes!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The First Day of the Rest of My Blog

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a long time, but did not start for a few reasons. First, I wanted a catchy title, and they all seemed to be taken. Today's Gift from Hazelden started with this quote, and I thought it was perfect. Besides being a librarian, my life falls into different categories or classifications. Not in a Dewey kind of way, but more like Ranganathan's system, where topics on the same subject are inter-related. For example, as I librarian a look at books in one way, as a mother in another way. I'm hoping to include book reviews, recipes, shopping tips, and my observations as I go about my day, which can be that of a typical suburban housewife or a working mother, or a "trained professional." These contrasts were most evident in my tenure as chairperson of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing authors and publishers like Karen Hesse, Katherine Paterson, and Jean Feiwel. Then I would return home and do the laundry.

Today's thoughts are rather sad. I found out my cousin Harold died on February 19th. He was my second cousin once removed, but he was the only relative I knew on my father's side of the family. Besides the sorrow for his family and friends, it also means I have one less relative in an incredibly small family. It means I have one less connection in the world. Although we were not close, in age or proximity, there was a certain comfort knowing I had a cousin in Virginia, that I could pick up a phone and hear that lovely drawl. As the years progress, there are more addresses in my book that are no longer valid, and although there are new ones being added, they are not exactly replacements. So today life really is like a library. This chapter is finished, and although there are more chapters ahead, as with a good book, I need to pause and reflect before moving on.

I've been trying to edit the MTS Taxi Guide, but technical problems have stymied my progress. I used to think I had some technical and computer savvy, but the pace of technology has passed me by, and I often feel like a Luddite, very content with my "primitive" cell phone and basic computer functions. Anyway, I could not receive the files I needed, so I am going to having to retype a lot of stuff. I finally figured everything out with the printing company, so I have no more excuses (although I could probably find some without too much thought).

Passover preparations are moving along nicely. The small pantry is almost empty, and the dry goods shopping is done. So far, my family will be eating potato chips and hearts of palm and drinking Coke and seltzer. It seems like every year we trim down the menu, which consists mainly of the above and chicken and potatoes, lots of potatoes.