“Twist and … sit!” (Or: “I Saw Her Sitting There”)

25 Feb
This totally would have been me at a Beatles concert had I been alive in the 1960s.

This totally would have been me at a Beatles concert had I been alive in the 1960s.

This past Saturday night, my friend Benjamin and I had the honor and privilege of seeing The Beatles, my favorite band ever, live in concert!

Well, not really, for obvious reasons. But “Let It Be,” a Beatles tribute band playing at the Rosemont Theatre, was the next best thing.

Four mop-topped, guitar-wielding men with Liverpool accents took us on a magical mystery tour through the Fab Four’s top hits, beginning with the “She Loves You” era, continuing through songs like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Yesterday,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolution,” and “Let It Be,” with their costumes becoming more casual as their hair grew longer.

The show was great. The audience, however, was disappointing.

During “Twist and Shout” in the Shea Stadium set, the musicians asked everyone to stand on their feet. Many people on the main floor did so, but in the “cheap seats” where I was, few people stood. Maybe the concert goers missed the instruction (the performers did have obnoxiously overemphasized accents … or was that really what the Beatles sounded like?). Come on, guys! The Beatles told us to stand up!

Benjamin and I stood up and attempted to lead the balcony section in song and dance, twisting, shouting, and shaking it up, baby. But most of our seat-mates still didn’t join in.

Maybe it was the layout of the room — a seated auditorium versus a venue that would allow for standing and dancing. Maybe people were tired at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. Or maybe people just weren’t that excited because many of the concert-goers had once seen the real Beatles in concert and didn’t need to get in the Beatles spirit for these imposters.

Audience, shame on you. You’ll never get to see a real Beatles concert ever again — unless you believe in heaven, in which case, if we all make it there, we better see some amazing reunion concerts — so you might as well enjoy this group. I never got to see the real deal (clearly I was born in the wrong musical generation), so for me, this is historical fiction with a rock beat.

I guess I’ll just have to let it be.

In support of place cards

18 Feb
This isn't mine (I stole this from the Internet), but I love this idea and will definitely copy it for my next Passover meal.

This isn’t mine (I stole this from the Internet), but I love this idea and will definitely copy it for my next Passover meal.

It’s a weird thing to want to shout from the rooftops, but sometimes I feel like I should: I love place cards at dinner parties and events!

They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be printed on fancy cards; they can be written on scraps of paper. When I was a child, my mom had me paint rocks from our backyard with nail polish and she’d neatly write our guests’ names on top of my pre-Picasso designs. They can be printed from computers or handwritten sloppily; they can have fonts that match the decor of the event or — gasp! — they can be in Times New Roman.

All that matters is that they have people’s names on them and they avoid awkwardness.

I love hosting Shabbat dinners and lunches, but even with only eight or 12 people in a room, it can be awkward. Where should we sit? Does the hostess have a specific place she likes to sit? How do we seat couples together and frenemies apart? What about people who are going to want to help in the kitchen — they should sit on the side closest to the kitchen, right? Where do we sit if we don’t want to help in the kitchen?

This is where the beauty of the place card comes in. I, the hostess, will devote some thought into the seating for an optimal event. I’ll write out guests’ names and place them in appropriate spots. Then when the guests arrive, there’s no stress. They just come in, find their name, have a seat, and enjoy the best darn dinner they’ve ever had both in terms of food and conversation. All thanks to some Post-It Notes and a Sharpie.

Some people think it can be too formal for just a casual dinner with friends; but in a world that is filled with truly so much awkwardness, I’ll try to alleviate it wherever I can.

So next time you come over for a Shabbat meal — and if you’re a regular reader of my blog AND you’ve made it to the end of this post, you certainly deserve to come over for a meal! — let me make it easy for you and show you to your seat. But when it comes to making sure I don’t have too much leftover food — that’s all you.

My somewhat failed Chicago wintry day off

11 Feb

I lost the battle. I failed. I can’t believe this happened to me, but yesterday, I let the Chicago weather win.

I have always been a proponent of eating ice cream in the winter and not staying inside like a hibernating bear for half of the year. “It’s not too cold — you’re just not wearing enough layers,” I’ll often quip.

So yesterday, when I took a Tuesday off of work, I thought I’d show the world how it’s done. I bought myself a pair of ice skates and figured I’d carry them around the town, showing off my clearly-I’m-an-amazing-ice-skater-if-I-own-my-own-skates bag, and skip the long skate rental lines at the new Maggie Daley ice rink. I’d go to a museum — or three! — since most of them happened to be free yesterday anyway. I’d attend a free concert at the Chicago Cultural Center. I’d enjoy a macaron and a cup of chai tea while reading a book. I would show Ferris Bueller how to really spend a day off in Chicago.

I started my day with a make-your-own rice bowl lunch at Freshii downtown with two of my dearest friends, Alyssa and Sarah, and we had a great time.

But then, sadly, the weather got the best of me.

I walked to Maggie Daley park, ice skates on my back, ready to show off my skating skills (I can skate forwards and backwards without falling). I arrived at the rink at 2:30 p.m. and saw on a sign that though the ice rink was open from 12-8 p.m. that day, it was closed from 2:30-3:30 p.m. (and a few other hours throughout the day) for Zamboni cleaning. For an hour?

I was too cold and even a bit too tired to go to the nearby Art Institute, so I tried the Chicago Cultural Center. Nothing too interesting there (and their free concerts appear to be offered every day but Tuesdays).

20150210_151145So then I went to a cute little French bakery and treated myself to a few French macarons (raspberry, honey almond, and brownie flavored) while reading my book.

At 3:30 p.m., when the Zamboni supposedly finished its cleaning session / joy ride, I ventured outside. And as much as I love Chicago, as much as I love ice skating, and as much as I wanted to show winter that it’s not the boss of me — I just couldn’t do it. My ears were cold, my fingers were cold, and I swear my bones were cold — so I gave up. I walked a few extra blocks in this cold to a bus and headed home.

I’m not proud of what happened. I wanted to show everyone how great Chicago really is, even in the middle of February, even in weather that matched my age (yup, it was 28 degrees all day), even when you’re by yourself on a day off. But my warm, cozy apartment filled with hot chocolate, a fleece blanket, and 10 unwatched episodes of “New Girl” was calling for me and I answered the call.

Next time, Chicago winter, watch out — my ice stakes and I are coming for you.

Until then, though, my ice skates and I might do some research on public skating times in indoor ice rinks.

The Friet Museum!

4 Feb

friet museumAdam and I are planning a trip to Europe in the spring, and we’re excited to check out London, Amsterdam, and Belgium.

While researching things to do in Bruges, Belgium, I came across this gem: The Friet (French Fry) Museum.

I’m not so interested in visiting a million museums while in Europe, but I think this is a museum I can handle. Learning about the history of potatoes and French fries — perhaps while eating French fries? Does the whole place smell like a McDonald’s? Can I sample steak fries, curly fries, crispy fries, and soggy fries?

I think we should try to plan out our trip to really make the best use of these kinds of museums. Perhaps there’s a Belgian waffle museum for breakfast, a caprese panini museum for lunch, the famous Freit Museum for snack, a pasta museum for dinner, and a chocolate mousse cake museum for dessert?

Sounds good to me.

My audio book’s 2,000-mile journey

28 Jan

2015-01-28 07.30.07My next audio book traveled a long, long way to get to me.

First, some background.

A few months ago, when I found out about the One Book One Community program at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership — where I’m about to get my master’s degree — I thought it would be fun to participate. I like reading, and it could be fun to be in a community-wide book club!

The book they chose was “The Family: A Journey Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin.

A few weeks later, Temple Jeremiah announced that they’d be bringing in the author for a program in February, and the women’s book club would be discussing the book in December. I better reserve the book from the library, I thought.

I reserved the book, but for weeks, it did not come, until finally it did; but in paperback and not my desired audio book. The librarian re-reserved the book for me about a month ago, and yesterday, I got the notice that the audio book arrived.

Here comes the story.

At the library, there was a Post-It Note on the box of 11 CDs. This book arrived from an inter-library loan outside of the Winnetka-Northfield Library’s region, and so I needed to make sure to return the book on time or at least request a renewal well in advance of the due date. Why the fuss?

On the cover of the book, we see “Timberland Regional Library.” Hmm, never heard of Timberland. That must be really far in Illinois, like near Aurora!

Nope. Timberland Regional Library is in Washington state, about five miles south of Olympia and 65 miles south of Seattle. “The Family” — a book chronicling a family’s journey across oceans and through generations — traveled more than 2,000 miles to get to me.

Was there no library in the Midwest that had this book? Had Spertus and Temple Jeremiah’s focus on the book cleared out every copy above the Mason-Dixon Line? Was this book just yet another hipster trend that, like grunge, started off on the west coast and hasn’t arrived in Chicago?

I could only think of this poor book. Did it travel on a train? A mail truck? Or was it a passenger airplane? I’m imagining the book sitting in a middle seat, 16B, with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on its left and “Abraham Lincoln: A Life” on its right. “So, where are you headed?” my book would ask another. “I hope it’s a big library in a big city,” one would say. “I hope it’s a place where there aren’t too many e-readers,” the other would hope.

“Goodnight Moon,” sitting behind it in 17B, tries to stay calm, secretly hoping for a better life with a more caring foster owner / library patron.

All the books, exhausted from checking their bags, waiting in the security line, and a long, uncomfortable flight, try to get some rest before they’re put to work. Once the plane’s seat belt light turns on, do these books relax by reading themselves?

So, my copy of “The Family”: Thanks for making the trek out to Northfield, Illinois, to spend some time with me. Maybe I’ll stick a postcard with you to take on your way back to the west coast.

A post-capstone exhale

21 Jan

spertuspaper“Lia: Mazel tov, I am very happy to inform you that your MAJPS capstone project has been accepted.”

After months of working on it, my final project for my Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is now officially complete, as of an e-mail this past Friday.

This summer, after our official classes ended, I began working on my final thesis project. After what seems like months of deliberating over a topic — this is my one chance to save the Jewish community in 50 pages so I better make it count! — I decided to focus on chavurah groups in synagogues.

The Hebrew word “chavurah” literally means “group of friends,” and in synagogues, the word has come to mean a small group of like-minded individuals, couples, or families that get together socially or to engage in Jewish learning on a regular basis. I was fascinated by dozens of books on the history and current landscape of secular groups in America as well as specifically Jewish groups, and I loved interviewing a dozen more leaders in the field. Through this research, I learned that these types of groups are on the decline; but if we want our synagogues to be successful, we need to create groups like these to build relationships and connections between congregants.

If you would like to read the 54-page essay, which includes case studies from synagogues and churches, let me know.

I’m excited for a wrap-up capstone seminar in a few weeks, and then a formal graduation later this year; but in the meantime, I can take a deep breath … and exhale.

My TV buddies

14 Jan


I don’t care what the ratings say or what the critics say. All I want to do is hang out with my TV buddies and just find out what they’ve been up to lately.

I hear it all the time: “Season 6 of such-and-such show was really the worst.” “I liked the first four seasons, but halfway through Season 5, the show really went downhill.” “The third movie in the trilogy was awful.”

Maybe I’m not cut out to be a movie or TV show critic; maybe I’m overly optimistic; but I just don’t notice or care about these kinds of things. When it comes to my favorite shows (or movies, books, musicals, and bands), I am extremely forgiving.

I feel like I’ve developed a relationship with the characters in these works. I like them. They’re my friends. If they were real, we would hang out on the weekends or get coffee once a month. They’d be my people I’d invite for a last-minute casual Shabbat dinner.

And so, from week to week, I like hanging out with them. What kind of drama have Kurt and Blaine gotten themselves into on “Glee” this week? What are people going to think about the latest crazy thing that Dr. Lahiri said on “The Mindy Project”? What’s new at school with Manny and Luke on “Modern Family”?

When the critics — both the professional ones and the ones who watch from their couches — insult my shows, I admit I get a little offended. Why are you trash talking my friends? Or the people who produce the shows in which my friends are the stars? I understand that quality is important, but maybe the characters are just at a rough patch in their lives. Don’t they need us now more than ever? If we abandon them now, before the shows has come to an end … well, how would you feel if your friends abandoned you?

So, yes, I have stuck with “Glee” every episode of the way — and when the last episode comes around this year, you better believe there will be waterworks. Same goes for my other shows. These characters are my people, my buddies, no matter what the critics say.

I’m off to hang out with my friends Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston, Coach, and Cece (“New Girl”) — I feel like they live right down the hall.


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