Hygge: Embracing coziness to make it through the winter

Picture this: It’s snowing outside, but you’re in your living room, surrounded by close friends all snuggling under knit blankets. Everyone is wearing oversized sweaters and fuzzy slippers, and the aroma of chicken stew fills the room. The TV is on and you’re re-watching “Back to the Future” for the hundredth time. And of course, there are candles flickering, turning what could have been a cold and unpleasant night outdoors into a cozy, comfy wonderland.

I bet you just let out an audible sigh there.

We all know this feeling. But did you know it actually has a name? It’s “hygge” and it’s my new obsession.

I don’t know where I first came across this term. It’s possible that my Amazon account knows me so well that after I finished reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” it knew that I needed a little something more. A concept for, when after everything in my home sparked joy, there was something to fill the space with warmth. So I read “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meik Wiking and became hooked.

A Danish word pronounced “hoo-ga,” “hue-ga,” or “huh-ga” (I’ve heard and seen it all of those ways — can someone settle this for me?), it’s supposedly one of the reasons people in Scandinavia are always among the happiest in the world despite their cold weather and lack of sunlight. People there seek hygge all year long, and because everyone knows and lives this concept, it’s part of their culture, their way of life.

Living in Chicago — or really probably anywhere — I want to embody this concept to make it through our dreary winters. Instead of dreading the cold, I will aim to look for the coziness and even create it myself. As my first steps, I bought some candles and fuzzy slippers to make a normal weekday evening just a little more magical.

Last weekend, Adam and I went to Minnesota to visit his family. I was so excited to check out a special coffee shop that embodies this concept — Hygga Lowertown in St. Paul. Filled with comfortable couches and blankets, candles and dim lights, coffee and pastries, and even a screen displaying a fireplace channel, this coffee shop does a great job bringing hygge (they spell it “hygga”) to our side of the ocean.

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Hats, mittens, chilly temperatures, and seeing our breath will be here before we know it. Other than moving to the Caribbean, we have little choice but to live through it. But embracing hygge in our lives might just be the way we can all make it to May without losing our sanity. It just takes soft blankets, candles, good food, and good friends. Won’t you join me?


What’s in your podcast player?

2017-11-15 10.02.59In high school, my beloved newspaper, West Word, had a section where students shared what they were listening to. The section used to be called “What’s in Your Walkman?” and was then later renamed “What’s in Your Discman?” before becoming “What’s in Your iPod?”

I don’t think this section exists anymore — neither does the newspaper, sadly — but if it did, I’m sure eager young reporters would ask students what songs are in their iPhones. But in addition to songs, I’d imagine many would want to share what podcasts they’re listening to as well.

Since I’m sure you’ve been dying to know what podcasts this blogger is listening to, I’ll give you a little taste here.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin: This may be my favorite podcast. Gretchen Rubin is known for “The Happiness Project” and uses her research on happiness and human nature to come up with ways to make us live happier lives. She and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, discuss happiness hacks and tips you can try in your life. Finding an oasis, creating a spot of transition, and scheduling a “power hour” are among their many tips to make life a little more fun.

Note to Self: This is Manoush Zomorodi’s “tech show about being human.” I loved her book “Bored and Brilliant,” which she also discusses extensively on the podcast, about disconnecting from phones and technology to allow space for boredom and creativity. She discusses relationships and dating, parenting, work, and more from the perspective of our new technology that may or may not be making our lives better.

36 Questions: It’s a musical! It’s a podcast! It’s got Jonathan Groff! This musical, based on the study about the 36 questions that can make two strangers fall in love, walks us through the ups and downs of a couple figuring out their relationship. Without visual scenery and costumes, this musical does a great job of taking advantage of the podcast medium, using great sound effects and the amazing voices of Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton.

One Bad Mother: I’m several years behind on this one (to be fair, I’m new to the motherhood game), but it’s a great show that jokes about all things parenting. Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn poke fun at topics like pregnancy, mommy wars, body image, birthday parties, and mom friends. It’s like gossiping with my girlfriends — but don’t tell the babies we’re talking about them!

The Longest Shortest Time: This is another show about parenting, but the complete opposite of One Bad Mother. It’s a sympathetic, understanding show in which host Hillary Frank explores struggles of all kinds in early parenthood — breastfeeding, labor, adoption, and all sorts of hopes and dreams that parents share. The stories are interesting and the show helps me look at my own experience under a new light.

Precious Little Sleep: For those of us parents too tired to read the sleep books, this podcast is a good summary of what to do and what not to do to help your little human get as much good sleep as possible, learning from host Alexis Dubief.

Other honorable mentions: Pregnancy Confidential (each week of pregnancy comes with an informative episode), Radical Candor (tips on being and working with bosses at work), A Slob Comes Clean (organizing and decluttering!), and Taking Note (keeping organized and staying creative, with the help of Evernote).

Let me know what podcasts you’re enjoying. As of now, I’m about 200 episodes behind in One Bad Mother and about 100 episodes behind in The Longest Shortest Time, so I best be getting to work!

Chicago parking garages: Gain some confidence in your themes!

A few weeks ago, Adam and I parked in a downtown parking garage (thanks, SpotHero!) near our friends’ wedding venue. The parking experience was easy, convenient, and affordable, and a nearly perfect experience. The missing piece? The parking garage didn’t have enough confidence in itself.

Parking garages seem to be self-aware enough to know that it’s hard to remember what level you parked on. We all have a lot to keep track of, and remembering if we’re in 2 East or Level 5 might leave us wandering all night looking for our car (hmm, that would make a good “Seinfeld” episode). The parking garages have come up with two solutions: 1) A QR code that you can scan into your phone and then will help you reunite with your car (this is very cool, but not the topic of my rant today), and 2) Naming the floors after more memorable things.

Calder_FlamingoThe day of the wedding, we parked on the floor called Calder’s Flamingo. Each floor was named for a different piece of Chicago art — or maybe just sculptures? — I can’t remember because I only paid attention to our car level’s artwork. But the only reference to this piece of art was in the elevator, so it was quite a subtle reference.

I bet you know where I’m going with this. If I were designing this parking garage structure …

You’d drive onto our floor and everything would be red, like Calder’s Flamingo. There would be photos, paintings, drawings, and mosaics from local artists depicting the sculpture. There would be signs with fun facts about the sculpture and the artist. “Did you know that Calder’s Flamingo weighs 50 tons and is called a ‘stabile’ (as opposed to Calder’s famous ‘mobiles’) because it is completely stationary?” “Did you know that Alexander Calder was commissioned in 1972 to paint a full-size airplane?”

And of course there would be an actual miniature replica of the Flamingo, near the elevator. During non-peak parking garage hours, art students would be stationed near the replica to answer questions about the sculpture, Calder, and Chicago art and architecture.

I bet you’d never forget your parking spot again, and you’d have learned something great.

Same goes for the parking garage I’ve used next to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where each floor is named for a singer. It’s nice to park on the Frank Sinatra floor and hear his music playing in the garage, but who really was he? What were his major contributions to our culture? Are there no local Frank Sinatra impersonators who could spend time on that floor giving mini-concerts to parkers?

And the Evanston Hospital parking garage does a great job playing the theme song to Big Ten schools on each floor (if I get there at the right time, I can get a spot on the first floor, the coveted Northwestern University floor! GO ‘CATS!); but how hard would it be to have each school’s marching band make periodic appearances, and have admissions officers on-hand to answer prospective students’ questions?

Parking garages — you’re so close to being so great, just amp up your confidence level and really own your themes.

With love, a Chicago driver

Candlestick holder designers: You had one job!

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It has taken us many, many years, but Adam and I have finally made an important purchase: Our Shabbat candlestick holders.

We got them while on a trip to Minneapolis this past weekend, in a little boutique shop. We loved their uniqueness and look forward to the sparkle they will add to our Shabbat table.

They are absolutely perfect — except for one thing. We bought them with full knowledge of this, but we were surprised by the candlestick holders’ warning label: “Caution: Do not allow the candle to burn within one inch (25.4 mm) of the candle holder otherwise this may result in damage to the candle holder.”

I know this is not unique to these candlesticks holders — many have that same warning. But why oh why do candlestick holder makers make products that do not successfully perform their one task? As the internet likes to say, you had ONE job.

I understand when pajamas say that they are not fire resistant; they are designed to be sleepwear for babies who sleep in cribs and do not double as firefighters. But candlestick holders have no other purpose. There’s no other reason you buy them. They are made for you to put candles inside of them and let them flicker and sizzle and burn. Is there some kind of dark magic that engineers haven’t yet been able to crack that would allow for candlestick holders to do this one thing?

And yes, I know about those little inserts that go inside of the holders to be our little Shabbat heroes, and I will be collecting those for us to use. I just think that some inventor somewhere along the line overlooked one crucial functionality detail.

Well, anyway, end of rant, and I wish everyone a Shabbat filled with light and very little damage to your candlestick holders.

What does my jaw line even look like?

IMG_7999I am definitely enjoying parenthood more than I enjoyed being pregnant. While pregnant I had to deal with fun things like nausea, acne, food aversions, and gestational diabetes, and my body definitely was not my own.

Now, being a parent, my new little creature is on the outside of me! This is great because, well, I can keep my food down, but also because I am spared from the comments from friends, family, and strangers who loved to comment about my body size. “You look so small!” “You’re getting so big!” “You’re carrying low/high/big/small/an alien!”

Instead, people admire and compliment my obviously gorgeous, ready-to-be-a-Baby-Gap-model baby. “Serena is so beautiful!” “Look at that hair!” “Love her little toes.”

Once the initial once-over is completed, everyone wants to comment on who she looks like. Does she look like me? Maybe like Adam? Or a little bit of both?

And then … back to the weird stares at my face and body.

“Well, I think she definitely has your jaw line.” “I think she’s all Adam from the forehead up.” “Her nose sort of reminds me of her great-grandmother’s nose.”

Never in my life have I had so many people stare at me to determine the shape of my lower lip. In fact, in my 30 years of living I don’t think I’ve ever even paid attention to the shape of any of my facial features. I don’t even know what I look like!

I look forward to seeing you all in person, dear readers, and having you analyze mine and Serena’s nostrils.


Checking out other parents

2017-07-26 15.53.12When our new little family of three walks down the street in our neighborhood, we get lots of nice reactions from passersby. Children see us and say “baby!” and peek into the bassinet. Little old ladies say, “Oh, so lovely! What a blessing!” Even a group of skateboarding teenagers nicely moved away from the sidewalk so my stroller and I could pass by.

But the parents? They check us out in a different way.

“Oooh, that’s the Uppababy Cruz stroller, honey. We were thinking about getting that one.”

“Oh look, Mark, do you see the brand of carrier they’re using?”

“I didn’t know you could fit that carseat with that stroller and top it off with that toy on top of the toddler skateboard in the lime green version with the extra large wheels and the calming lavender scent that continuously plays ‘It’s a Small World.’ We should have gotten that one!”

It’s so fascinating, because we all clearly did a lot of research (or copied a trusted friend who did a lot of research) onto what gear to buy. Seeing it pass us by in person tends to be way more interesting to us parents than the actual living human inside of the devices.

Except for our little human. She’s obviously the most interesting.


UPDATE: I wrote this blog yesterday (Tuesday) and posted it Wednesday morning. Just a few hours after I posted it, I went to brunch with a friend, and an expectant mother awkwardly approached me at the table. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said, “but can you tell me if you are happy with your stroller and carseat combo? I was thinking about buying the same one.” I seriously cannot make this stuff up. Here’s to you, parents and parents-to-be who love to talk to strangers about baby gear!

Serena’s baby naming

We were honored to host a baby naming for our daughter, Serena, this past weekend. If you weren’t able to be there, please enjoy this video of the ceremony (20 minutes).

Many thanks to Rabbi Tucker for leading a beautiful ceremony, and to our family members for participating. And thanks to Serena for being so calm the entire time!



My pre-baby ‘adventure’ instinct

First of all, to answer your most burning question, I’ll send you here: http://haveyouhadthatbabyyet.com/

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ve been learning that there are many physical signs that labor is coming, including lower back pain, nausea, and cramping — as of this writing, I don’t believe I’ve experienced those yet. There are also some emotional warning signs, like the “nesting” instinct. Either I have been in labor for the past two years or this new, more intense feeling of nesting hasn’t yet hit me.

But there is another feeling that certainly has kicked in, though I haven’t seen it on any of my “early signs of labor” lists — my adventure instinct.

With my baby’s due date approaching this Sunday, I would have thought I’d be spending this last pre-baby stretch of time being exhausted, needing naps all the time, resting after walking a block. And sometimes I do feel that way. But the most overwhelming urge I’ve been feeling is — “I need to do fun things now, while I still can!”

So, over the last week, I’ve enjoyed brunches with friends (Batter & Berries, Southport Grocery and Cafe), fancy desserts around the city (Lickity Split, caramel pie at Beatrix), long walks in the beautiful weather, a Cirque du Soleil-style show with horses (Cavalia’s Odysseo), and, as all pregnant women do at 39 weeks, an architectural boat tour of Chicago. And, if Baby wants to stay in a few more days, I’ve got more dinners and friend gatherings scheduled.


When, God-willing, our baby comes, of course our lives will change forever. It will be a whole new kind of adventure — as some would say, the adventure of a lifetime. But I am grateful for these last few days, for the opportunity to enjoy just a bit more time peacefully enjoying the weather, quietly going to restaurants, wearing a person on the inside rather than on the outside, and just lingering.

Because any day now, when the nesting instinct kicks in, I’ll be baking 100 lasagnas, frantically cleaning the house, getting ready for a new roommate, and, most crazily of all, getting ready to be someone’s mom.

It should be quite the adventure!

Praying out of a suitcase

I gave this D’var Torah (sermon) at Windy City Minyan on April 21, 2017 — my last minyan as an official member of the steering committee. Read on for my thoughts on what this group has meant to me over the last six years.


If you’ve ever come to Windy City Minyan a little early, or stayed until the end to help clean up, you may have noticed a unique prop – a special suitcase. This suitcase contains everything we need to make our minyan possible, items like siddurim, kippot, a Kiddush cup, plates, napkins, signs, dry erase markers, painters tape, and doorstoppers. Wherever our minyan takes place, this suitcase comes with us; and in the weeks between minyans, it lives in the apartment of one of our generous committee members.

It’s sort of a like a community-in-a-box, a community on wheels. Instant minyan, just add singing.

This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, describes Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons and their burnt offering to God. We also learn about the laws of keeping kosher – verse after verse of which animals we can and cannot eat. But it was the Haftarah portion for Shemini that most reminded me of our little third Friday of the month gatherings.

The Haftarah portion comes from Second Samuel and describes David transporting the Ark from place to place. Chapter 6, verses 3-5: “They loaded the Ark of God onto a new cart and conveyed it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Abinadab’s sons, Uzza and Ahio, guided the new cart. They conveyed it from Abinadab’s house on the hill, Uzza walking alongside the Ark of God and Ahio walking in front of the Ark. Meanwhile, David and all the House of Israel danced before the Lord to the sound of all kinds of cypress wood instruments, with lyres, harps, timbrels, sistrums, and cymbals.”

Over the course of the Haftarah, the Ark is moved from place to place, and David hopes that it will soon have a permanent home in Jerusalem.

This Haftarah portion – and being a regular at Windy City Minyan – makes me think about the location of a community and if location even matters.

Many synagogues and other religious institutions are well-known for beautifully designed sanctuaries, lovingly named for the families who donated thousands of dollars to create such spaces. I work at one such synagogue, and prospective congregants marvel at the grandeur of the sanctuary and chapel. To me, a spiritual community is about so much more than a physical space. It’s about the people, the melodies, the food, the schmoozing, the networking. The smiles, the laughter, the friendships, and please oh please can some of you seriously start dating each other already?

This month, we celebrate the sixth “minyan-niversary” of Windy City Minyan. I am honored to have been there from the beginning as one of the minyan’s co-founders, and I am so proud to see it continue to be so successful today. I am sad to step down from my role as one of the minyan’s steering committee members, but I am so incredibly happy to know that this little girl in my tummy soon will be born into a world where Windy City Minyan exists.

In our Torah portion, in Leviticus chapter 11, after God describes the animals we can and cannot eat (for the record, some of the impure animals mentioned in the portion are moles, mice, great lizards of every variety, geckos, land crocodiles, and chameleons), God says: “For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.”

To me, this minyan has meant holiness.

It’s odd, because for those of us on the steering committee, the work that we put into this minyan doesn’t always feel very holy. We paid the room rental for tonight’s minyan. We made sure we had enough yards of tablecloth on our tablecloth roll. What’s the menu for tonight? Did we run out of garbage bags at last month’s minyan? Did someone find a host for next month’s service? Who can lead Kabbalat Shabbat? This minyan has taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about marketing, social media, room rental contracts, Shabbat worship melodies, other Jewish organizations, apartment layouts, acoustics, and logistics.

But at least for me, when I leave these gatherings on the third Friday of every month, I’m on such a high. My feet hurt, I usually have had only cookies for dinner, and I had to cut short my pre-Shabbat nap, but I could stay here with a smile on my face all night long (much to the chagrin of my husband, Adam).

Our group has brought together people from all walks of life, from all Jewish backgrounds, from all parts of the world, a range of ages. For a few hours on a Friday night, we transform a party room, or a living room, or even that one time we met in an art gallery, into a kehilah kedosha, a holy community. Our voices come together in song, we learn from one another in our Divrei Torah and Shabbat Nuggets, and we celebrate the magic of Shabbat together.

Next month, the suitcase will travel to a new location (and if you’re willing to let that location be your living room, please talk to one of the committee members!), just like David’s Ark moved from place to place in our Haftarah. Will Windy City Minyan ever have a permanent home, as David hopes the Ark will have in Jerusalem? Probably not a permanent physical home; but definitely a permanent spiritual home that lives within all of us in this room.

I’m sad my committee involvement is coming to an end, less time with all of you hanging up welcome signs, passing out siddurim, and creating Facebook events, but I’ll definitely come back to visit often with the youngest and cutest little davener coming along with me. Because I hope Windy City Minyan and other groups like ours will continue to flourish for her and for all future generations.

I would like to thank our many past and present Windy City Minyan steering committee members for making this minyan what it is today – Lani Schrank, Seth Schrank, Anne Robbin, David Schwartz, Adam Davis, Devorah Matkowsky, Benjamin Singer, Heidi Simons, Stefanie Groner, Rebecca Resnick, Talia Schlamowitz, Melanie Axelrod, Nathan Redisch, Ariel Katz, Marisa Briefman, Joey Becker, and Richard Brener.

L’hitraot – see you soon! – and Shabbat Shalom.

Revealing our baby’s name … Just kidding!

As Adam and I get approach the expected arrival of our little one (coming soon to a hospital near you), we’re often asked about what baby names we’re considering. We have a few names that we like, and about a million that we don’t like, but I think it’s more fun to share our joke names.

Joke name #1: Katie Penny Margaret Goldfarb — aka “KPMG,” where Adam works. Think he’d get a raise for this?

Joke name #2: First name: Eliza. Two middle names: “Ann Peggy.” (Any Hamilton fans out there?)

Don’t worry, folks, we’ll let you know what the “real” name is eventually!

Thanks for all the well wishes.