Archive for the 'kvetching, thoughts & important opinions' Category

Rooter’s Dozen

As a sports fan, I find it much more fun to watch a game that includes a team in which I have a vested interest. But any sporting event is more fun to watch if you are rooting for someone. Therefore, I have developed 12 rules by which I choose for whom to root in any given game. In descending order of influence:

1. FOR the team in which I have a legitimate vested interest (team of birth, alma mater, etc.): Yankees, Giants (NY), Penn State; also Knicks, Rangers

2. FOR the team in which a loved one has a legitimate vested interest: University of Virginia, Columbia, Redskins (that one hurts), Fordham, Nationals

3. AGAINST the historic or personal rival of a team from item No. 1 (or, sometimes, 2):
Red Sox, Notre Dame, Pitt, Cowboys, Alabama, Miami, Virginia Tech

4. FOR the team whose win has a negative impact on the Red Sox or Notre Dame

5. AGAINST the team coached by Pork-Faced Satan (Jimmy Johnson), any Holtz, Barry Switzer or Steve Spurrier

6. AGAINST the team with puppy-killers and/or an abundance of criminals on the team, or the team ardently supported by someone I hate

7. FOR the team with more Penn Staters

8. AGAINST the team from Texas

9. FOR the team with seriously die-hard, yet not dangerous, fans: Green Bay

10. AGAINST the team that betrayed its fans by moving to a different city: Dodgers, Ravens (Jeff says the Nationals don’t count here, as they had no fans in Montreal)

11. FOR the underdog or whichever team plays in colder weather

12. (tie) FOR the team of the city in which I currently live/AGAINST the team with the fairest-weather fans (this one can be hard, as it is often the same team: SF Giants, 49ers)

I do hope this is helpful in making your personal rooting decisions.

I say JoePa.








This is my favorite picture of me (as it was the ’80s, I give myself a pass for the glasses). I did not know it had been taken, until it was given to me as a gift by a dear friend (that’s the back of her blond head) many years later. While I know I have felt that much joy at other times, I had never seen what that feeling looks like on my face. Knowing what that looks like is a gift, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for it. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of that feeling of pure unadulterated joy, of belonging, of excitement — of feelings that can not be explained fully with words. Just look at my face.

I credit a single person for creating the place in which I could experience what I felt in that photo. I am deeply, deeply grateful to Joe Paterno for that gift. And that will never change.

I don’t expect non–Penn Staters to understand — even some Penn Staters probably don’t — but Penn State football and Joe Paterno mean much more to me than can be explained fully in words. Just look at my face.


And a Happy Chanukah to you

Please, I beg you, do not wish me a Merry Christmas.

No, really. It will lead to unpleasantness: You will receive a lecture, and I will feel bad. And I’m reasonably sure that was not your intent. I’m pretty sure most of you just don’t know how awful it makes me feel.

Here’s the thing: If you, in fact, celebrate Christmas, I truly, madly, deeply hope you have a very merry one. In your house.

I do not celebrate Christmas. I do not want to celebrate Christmas. Not in my house, not in my lobby, not in your store, not in the office.

Lest you think I am prejudiced or, worse, a buzz kill, consider this: Every time I see a public display of Christmas, I feel bad. It is as if that wreath has a voice that screams: “You are not one of us. You don’t belong. We’re in charge here, and don’t you forget it.”

During December, I come home every night to a lobby that looks like an elf exploded. It upsets me every single time I have to walk through the lobby. Not really how you want to feel entering your own home. The menorah (which takes up about .05% of the space devoted to Christmas) makes me feel ever so slightly better. Ever so slightly, especially since it shares its puny perch with a dwarfing, garish red and green flower arrangement.

Largely, I have turned these bad feelings to anger and resentment. Healthy! The closer we get to the end of December, the larger my Star of David necklace gets, culminating in my 2-inch-high gold dazzler. A friend calls me the Jewish Mr. T. It’s my way of giving people every possible hint of how not to piss me off.

My best friend throughout my teenage years was Catholic (probably still is). I thoroughly enjoyed helping her family trim their tree and celebrate their holiday. In their house. Just as I enjoy having non-Jewish friends come to my house to share in my holiday and traditions (though I certainly don’t expect them to run home and sweep for chametz). I think it’s a lovely way to share and learn.

But just as I don’t send my non-Jewish friends Happy Rosh Hashanah cards (you’d find that at least a bit odd, wouldn’t you?), please don’t send me a Merry Christmas card. It is akin to sending me a note that says, “We don’t care a lick about you, you silly minority.” Do you really want to send me that message? OK, maybe you do. Just know it deeply offends me.

For those people who have told me that Christmas isn’t religious, that a Christmas tree isn’t religious: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Put another way: If the word Christmas precedes your noun (as in tree, lights, party), it’s about Christmas, which is a religious holiday. Notice the root of the word: his name, his holiday. Bet he’d agree.

This country was founded on freedom of religion. But, more importantly, it was founded on the separation of church and state. So why is there a national Christmas tree? Why is Christmas a national holiday? Excellent questions, to which there is no possible decent answer.

We do not all celebrate Christmas (to the lovely woman with whom I worked at Nordstrom one year: “Yes, even if you’re born here”), nor do we all want to. Perhaps we can look to the actually secular holidays (remember Thanksgiving? And New Year’s works even for non-Americans) we ALL celebrate for community gathering and expression.

I read an article recently that says all this better than I do:

So now you know.

The Sliver Palate

I love the work I do as a tourism writer. Telling people where to go and what to do is particularly satisfying. Alas, as I perused the menu of a restaurant for which I was doing a write-up (, I came to the realization that my quirky food issues might be a slight impediment to my career as a restaurant reviewer (rest assured, I do bring along wider-palated foodies when necessary).

I am a very picky eater. You’d think, given all the limitations on what foods I will eat, I would be thin. Petite, even. (OK, never petite.) Alas, again, I eat A LOT of the foods I do like. When I am dining at wonderful restaurants, and I ask them about their house specialties, we run into problems: Lamb yaddyadda? No thanks. Duck ragout over blahblahblah? Um, no again. Innards with special sauce? Not on your life. The official list of foods I won’t eat is long, odd and, well, written in stone:

• anything with a bone or that looks like where it came from or that can look at me (no faces)
• anything that comes from a Disney or similar character (no Donald, Bambi, Kermit, Thumper, Babe [bacon OK])
• any non-vegetable item preceded by the word “baby”
• extra slimy things, such as tofu and escargot
• weird fish, such as octopus
• weird animal body parts, such as kidneys or brains or cheeks
• strong fish, such as tuna (unless in a can with a cartoon on the label)
• lamb
• veal
• sushi (faux sushi, such as California rolls, OK)
• Indian food or spices
• raw onions
• peppers (any color)
• chile peppers or anything too spicy
• walnuts (actual allergy)

The word “bland” is one of my favorite descriptors of food, as it pretty much guarantees I will try it — and probably like it. I am the antithesis of an adventurous eater. I will not try anything unless I know exactly what is in it (and can confirm it’s not on my no-no list). I went to Brussels, the food capital of the world (pipe down, Frenchies!), a few years ago with my best friend, a vegetarian. As neither of us speaks French or Flemish, we ate nothing but lettuce, tomatoes, fries, waffles and chocolate for three days.

Of course, I married a person for whom the weirder, the stinkier, the spicier the food, the better. He’s not satisfied unless his food makes him sweat. I don’t really find this endearing. My marriage would benefit from the invention of armor-plated tupperware, so the hideous stench of his foul cheeses and onions would not permeate my delicate Kraft singles.

I did not grow up with exotic spices or far-flung flavorings. I never had actual Mexican food until I was in college; Thai even later. Chinese was as exotic as we got in suburban New York, and my mother opted for moo goo gai pan, which, I’m fairly certain, doesn’t even exist in China. My mother was a big influence on how my palate developed. She, too, is a bit picky and won’t eat fish or seafood of any kind — unless it comes in a can with a cartoon on the label. This has always led to restaurant-planning conversations that began, “Is there anything on the menu Mom will eat?” and resulted in many steakhouse dinners.

A recent conversation at my parents’ house probably explains everything:

Dad: “These franks (hot dogs) are spicy.”
Mom: “No, they’re just salty.”
Dad: “Well, salt is a spice.”
Lauren: “Only if you’re Jewish.”

Dressing-Room Optimist

I was in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room.

Never mind why I was in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room at 11 am on a work day. Never mind that I came to the mall with the sole and specific purpose of picking up a father’s day gift that was already on hold, with a definite intention of not shopping.

So I was in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room, when another shopper came out of her stall wearing a very pretty new suit jacket, trying to decide, with the help of smiley salesperson Sharon, what she should wear underneath it for a job interview.

They both looked at me. Despite the fact that I was in a hurry — it being 11 am on a work day and all — I stopped to consult. “What type of job? Where? First interview? Crisp white blouse, definitely, but change the buttons, and you need some signature piece of jewelry, so they’ll remember you. Bright color, chunky. Really, that’s the key. Good luck.”

Smiley Sharon showed me to my stall and looked at me with a mixture of admiration and surprise (really). I said, “Well, we’re all in this together.”

Smiley Sharon looked at me again, this time adding awe to the mix (really). “That’s a really nice way of looking at things,” she said.

“I suppose it is,” I said, thinking about it with a mixture of admiration and surprise. As I consider myself a pretty judgmental pessimist, I was pleased to find my humanity in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room. Perhaps I need to go there more often.

I’m Happy: Hooray!

I love Virgin America Airlines.

I like the perky crew, the satellite TV, the under-seat plugs, the non-Unitedness. But like turned to love today, when I was perusing their music offerings and discovered one of the playlist options is “Best of Schoolhouse Rock.”

They had me at Schoolhouse.

I learned everything I truly needed to know in the 1970s, on Saturday mornings, in 3-minute intervals between cartoons and Sid and Marty Kroft shows.

I am an editor today because of Grammar Rock. I can unpack my adjectives with ease, hook up words and phrases and clauses, and insert an interjection for excitement or emotion on a moment’s notice.

I learned to spell words by singing them. What grade were we in when, during a weekly spelling test, the tapping of little fingers on 30-odd desks was perfectly in sync: “electricity, e-lec-tric-ity”?

I know about the Revolutionary minutemen who were ready on the move, that taxation without representation is not fair, and how a bill becomes a law. And I’ve known these things and more since I was, like, 3. When I was lucky enough to have dinner with the president of the ACLU a few years ago, I was able to sing her the preamble to the US constitution. She was impressed.

Seriously, Schoolhouse Rock had more impact on my life than any other single thing. And now I can brush up on language and history at 30,000 feet. I’m excited: Wow! And glad: Hey!

Kitchen Accidental

I cook twice a year: once for Rosh Hashanah and once for my husband’s birthday party every January. While three sit-down dinners in three days is exhausting, millennia-old recipes and limited attendees make the Jewish New Year manageable. Plus, if I really screw up, I can repent the very next week and, truth be told, my father usually does a fair amount of the cooking and hauls it in from New York or Arizona.

It’s the annual party that gets me. Cooking for 40-something people is doubly overwhelming for me, as I hate to cook. And I’m not very good at it. While I can multitask the life out of nearly anything else on earth, I cannot multitask cooking. I must pay very, very close and exact attention, or all hell breaks loose. I generally start cooking the weekend before the party and cook every day until it’s over. Then I plop on the couch until I feel fully recovered. That can take days.

People often ask if they can help or why in the world I don’t have the party catered. Honestly, it’s a labor of love. Not of cooking, but of Jeff. Other than the city in which we live, pretty much everything else we do is about me; this is the time when I want everything to be about him, so I cook my little brains out. Jeff, bless him, has learned much in 17 years of marriage, and he is quite good at knowing when to stay out of sight and when to come bursting into the kitchen with the first-aid kit.

This year, I have had some particularly fun snafus.

First, I was making my now-famous macaroni and cheese. You start off with what I now know is called a roux (don’t know why). I melted my stick of butter, then added the flour. The recipe calls for three-eighths of a cup of flour. Alas, there is no measuring cup for that (um, why?), so I figured I’d just use three one-eighth cups. Alas, again: Eights look a lot like threes. I used three one-third cups of flour. Instead of a roux, I accidentally made dough. Who knew that’s how you make dough? So I smushed it in a pan, baked it and realized it tasted like crust. I ate it with creamed honey. Delicious.

Later, as I was stirring polenta, I dislocated my whisk. Jeff came running. My whisk, not my wrist, I explained.

Then there was the makeshift standing mixer I made by balancing an electric hand-mixer in a batter bowl. Brilliant, until it launched itself and the bowl full of dressing off the counter and splatted all over the kitchen and me.

Which reminds me of a Weight Watchers meeting: Everyone was sharing recipes, and I lamented that none of it was helpful to me since I don’t cook at all. A woman sitting next to me said, “I don’t understand how you can like to eat so much and not cook.” I looked at her with pity, as I try to do with idiots, and responded, “I like to wear clothes, but I sure as hell don’t sew them myself.”