Part II: Anxiety from an ice cream cone image

A follow-up to last week’s post:

I swear that I did not do this, but I happened to notice that one of the McDonald’s ice cream cone signs was slightly vandalized this week:


Loyal blog followers, did one of you do this???

I would never condone vandalism or damage of property, but in this case, well, it’s good to know I’m not the only one in this town who was driven crazy staring that messy cone.

Anxiety from an ice cream cone image

On my 18-mile commute to and from work, I drive by a lot of McDonald’s restaurants. I never actually have the urge to stop in one — as someone who keeps some amount of kosher, there isn’t much for me there — but their latest ad makes me feel extremely anxious.

The ad is a full window’s length of a perfect vanilla ice cream cone. And for only 79 cents, such a deal! But the ice cream cone is far from perfect. Here’s the photo they’ve been using:


Why would this make anyone want to buy this cone?! The ice cream is DRIPPING!

I imagine one of the fast food chain’s biggest audiences is commuters — and if I’m driving through the drive-thru and you’re going to hand me a cone that is already melting, well, me and my clean dress are in for a real challenge.

“Treat yourself”? To what, a dry cleaning bill? To a messy face? To using up every napkin in the state?

Is the image supposed to portray freshness? Because to me, this looks like they didn’t get the timing of my order quite right.

I have a very vivid memory of being on vacation in New York while in elementary school and ordering an ice cream cone. I remember having so much trouble with that cone. Ice cream was everywhere, on me and on the street, on my hands, on my face; it was a disaster. Since that moment, I vowed to never again order an ice cream cone — only cups and bowls for me! — at least while in public and not in the privacy of my own home while wearing a smock.

So this McDonald’s ad causes me great anxiety.

What would appeal to me and my fellow haters of sticky hands would be, perhaps, an ice cream cone next to a stack of Wet Wipes. Or an inverted ice cream cone stuck in a bowl with a spoon. Now we’re talking.

My dream grocery store station, in reality

If I were to design my own neighborhood grocery store, this is exactly the first station I would set up:


Ah, Mariano’s! The new Mariano’s in Lakeview, a few blocks from my apartment, has a hot food bar, a cold salad bar, sushi and fish stations, a smoothie station, a pasta station — you know, all the typical things grocery stores now have in 2016 — and, most importantly, a Nutella station. Where did I ever get my Nutella fix before?

Sometimes I write blog posts in the style of “what other stations should exist in this grocery store?”, where I’d list ridiculous items that would be fun and crazy but are so far-fetched they’d never happen … but I actually cannot even brainstorm any ideas I’d like more than this Nutella station (that includes banana-Nutella crepes, cookies, brioche buns, and more).

So instead, I’ll just step back and say, WOW, I can’t believe a new grocery store in my neighborhood has this. And good thing the building next door to Mariano’s is a gym!

A day at the state fair

It was the day I’ve been anticipating ever since I started dating a native Minnesotan — the Minnesota State Fair! I had a blast at the fair with Adam and his family this past weekend. Here are some highlights.

There were a LOT of people there — we later found out it was the busiest Minnesota State Fair attendance day in history.



Everything was deep fried and on a stick, obviously.


And then there were the animals. So many animals.



We even got up close and personal with pigs.


And then for some reason for which I have no explanation, this happened:


Oh yeah, and babies too:


Of course, there were butter carvings:


And my favorite part — the giant singalong:


Art made of corn and seeds:


And a giant slide:


I didn’t take photos of all of the food I ate for fear of judgment, but let me tell you some of the highlights: Fried cookie dough on a stick, smooth “nitro” ice cream (made from liquid nitrogen), deep fried apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, and “more.”

A great time was had by all.



A Jewish wedding … in my car

2016-08-23 17.54.40A crazy thing has happened to me a few times lately. Now that I have a car that was purchased in this century, I have access to this new technology called “BLUETOOTH” — have you ever heard of it??

I am a big fan of audiobooks and a few podcasts, so my car and my phone have a very deep connection. But for some reason, when my car radio plays sounds from my phone, I have to turn the volume way up in order to hear it.

Lately, I’ve been getting in the car, and all of a sudden, I’m transported to the horah at a Jewish wedding. “Od Yishama” comes on the car radio through Spotify, very loudly, and there I am, blasting festive Jewish music on the car’s highest volume.

I almost never use Spotify, but maybe the last time I did I was searching for Jewish wedding songs around the time of my wedding planning — almost a year ago. Since then, I have not listened to that music or even used that app.

But, nonetheless, even when I meant to be listening to the latest Alice Hoffman novel, Od Yishama comes on in my car.

I have no idea why this is happening and what unusual setting I must have turned on (is there a “play Jewish wedding music at random times” setting), but weirdly, I’m actually sort of okay with it. Maybe I was in a hurry, or maybe I was stressed out, but then that music takes me back to a happier time. A loud, crazy, festive, happy Jewish celebration.

And who wouldn’t want that in rush-hour traffic?

Stolen mezuzot and the comfort they provide

This past Shabbat, I had the honor of delivering the D’var Torah (sermon) at Beth Hillel Congregation B’nai Emunah in Wilmette, the synagogue where I grew up and am now a member. 

I thought I’d use my blog this week to share the sermon with all of you.

D’var Torah for Va-etchanan – Aug. 20, 2016

Almost exactly a year ago, while at work, I received a text message from my friend Alyssa. She asked if my mezuzah was still on my door that morning.

Alyssa is one of several friends who also lives in Hawthorne House, my apartment building on Lake Shore Drive in Lakeview. That morning, the mezuzah on her apartment door and that of our friend Debi were taken. It turns out our three front door mezuzahs were among several that were taken that morning from our building.

It was a bit unsettling, especially because it is the only instance in my entire life where I’d knowingly been a target of anti-Semitism. My friends and I contacted the local synagogues, the ADL, the building management, and the police. The thief was never found, and it didn’t bother me too much after that. There are some bad people in this world who do mean things, but I can’t let it get to me. We all hung up new mezuzahs and continued being proud Jews, inviting other Jewish friends for dozens of Shabbat meals and services since then.

I had almost forgotten about this story until I read through this week’s Torah portion, Va-etchanan. Va-etchanan is almost like a greatest hits collection of Jewish text — we read the 10 Commandments, the Shema, and the V’ahavta. As we read in the V’ahavta this morning, our portion reminds us that we should “take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

These words are so important to our people that we should literally affix them to our bodies (in the form of tefillin) and to our homes (in the form of mezuzot).

I’m sure that many of us in this room have mezuzot on our door posts, but how often do we really notice them, or remember what they say? Inside of most mezuzot is the text from this week’s Torah portion — the Shema and V’ahavta, plus a section from next week’s portion, the “V’haya im shamoah” paragraph taken from Parashat Eikev.

Through the Shema, we are reminded to listen, to hear, to affirm our faith in the one and only God. V’ahavta reminds us to love God, with our hearts and our souls (little-known fact that the first song we all learn to play on the piano, “Heart and Soul,” is actually a piece of Torah!). We are reminded to teach this to our children. And if we obey these laws, we will be rewarded.

These words, of course, are so important to the Jewish people, but it is nice to have a reminder.

The funny thing to me about the custom of mezuzot is that it is not enough to have a reminder on our front door. It is our custom to have that reminder on every door in the house. It’s as if Judaism requires us to put up little Post-It Notes throughout our house. Good morning! You’ve made it to another day, waking up in your bedroom. Have you remembered to thank God yet? Time for breakfast in the kitchen! Don’t forget to think about your Judaism. Want to spend time with your family in the living room? Here’s a friendly reminder to follow God’s laws and be grateful we’re Jewish.

We all know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but the excessive number of mezuzot a Jew might run across in any given week makes me think that it’s what’s on the outside that counts, too.

Mezuzot are like a secret code that we “members of the tribe” can use to tell each other that we’re here for each other. I love to go on neighborhood walks in the city with my husband, Adam, and we always get a kick of counting the mezuzot — especially when they’re on old, elegant, magnificent Lincoln Park mansions. It’s exciting to feel that those homeowners and us have something in common — we’re part of the same team. Even though I don’t know them, we are connected in an unspoken way. It’s comforting.

And boy, do we need comfort sometimes. This week is also known as Shabbat Nachamu the first Shabbat after Tisha B’av. This Shabbat, we read the first Haftarah of consolation, the first of seven leading up from Tisha B’av to Rosh HaShanah. Like a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy night, these Haftarot take us from our darkest times of tragedy recounted on Tisha B’av to our yearly opportunity for a fresh beginning, the chance to start anew. “Nachamu, nachamu, ami.” “Comfort my people, comfort them!” God says to the prophets, instructing them to comfort us with words of hope in this week’s Haftarah portion.

I feel that comfort when I see mezuzot. In a world with so much persecution — both in the times of the destruction of the temples and even now — it is inspiring to see mezuzot on doorposts. We are telling the world that we are here, we are strong, we are united as a community. We are proud of our identity and will show it on the outside of our homes. What could be more comforting?

As I think about mezuzot as ritual items that go on the outside of our structures, I think about other items on the outside of our structures. As a Jewish professional, my passion is building community, and specifically making everyone feel welcomed. Our Jewish institutions all have mezuzot on our exteriors, but how big are our proverbial welcome mats?

BHCBE is probably one of the most welcoming congregations I’ve seen, doing an excellent job at making newcomers feel at home. But I often like to remind members of any community that our work as welcomers is never complete.

On our synagogues, our community centers, even on secular places — how easy is it for people to find us? Is the name of our congregation clearly labeled? Where is the front entrance? How easy is it for people to find a parking spot? Many of you I’m sure will recall fondly BHCBE’s quirky parking lot sign — “No right turn; right turn permitted on Shabbat and holidays.”

Once inside, are newcomers greeted by a friendly face, a security guard, or no one? Upon entering the sanctuary, will they know what is happening in the service? I absolutely love our congregation’s new laminated seat cards explaining the most mysterious parts of our service, and I hope that other congregations follow this model too.

Sometimes even a synagogue building can be intimidating to someone who is not an integrated member of the community. Can we as a Jewish community do better at rolling out the welcome mat when we’re at the grocery store or on the soccer field?

Thinking about mezuzot, I hope that together, we can think about other kinds of symbols we can put on our physical building that send a message of welcome and comfort.

After the Great Hawthorne House Mezuzah Incident of 2015, I felt a little uneasy and a little unsafe. But the overwhelming emotions I felt were those of comfort and support. With the support system of my neighbors and the Jewish community at large, it felt nice to know that Jews stand up for each other. And every time I see a new mezuzah go up in my apartment building, I get a little twinge of excitement. A new neighbor has moved in, and my community — OUR community — has gotten even wider. Shabbat Shalom.


glutenI’ve noticed that many restaurant menus indicate that certain foods are “gluten-friendly.” It is so wonderful that these places are trying to be inclusive of people of all allergy and intolerance levels — welcome to 2016! — but I just have to correct these menus. You do not mean “gluten-friendly.” You mean “gluten-free.”

Gluten is the item that these people cannot eat. So if the item is gluten-friendly, then celiacs should run as far as they can away from this food!

The term “gluten-friendly” would be more appropriate to describe, well, ME! I am very gluten-friendly because my favorite foods are pizza, pasta, and grilled cheese. I am the FRIENDLIEST to gluten! Gluten and I are more than friendly, we are besties! We hang out all the time!

Are the restaurants trying to indicate that their menus, their staff, their philosophies are friendly to people who cannot tolerate gluten? I love the warm, cheerful attitude conveyed by the word “friendly.” It just makes everyone smile. Who doesn’t want a friend?? But, come on, restaurants, let’s at least write, “gluten-free-friendly.” Or, “These items are friendly to people who are gluten-free.”

Some websites are showing me that the term is sometimes used to mean that items do not have gluten in them, but may have come in contact with gluten. Well, for someone intolerant of this substance, it does not seem very friendly to me at all. Maybe a better term might be “gluten-almost-free” or simply “may have come in contact with gluten.” Personally, when I open a restaurant someday, I may even list it as “gluten-frenemy,” frenemy being the word that describes a friend who is also sort of an enemy.

Gluten-free people, sorry that you have to deal with all of this! But, dear, gluten, I love you so so so much and I hope that I will never have to worry about eating you. You wouldn’t want to miss me, your friendliest friend!

Hosting the Olympics

Olympic-logoI have this really great opinion about a topic, but somebody else already wrote it.

So I’ll just share it here.

There is no reason that Olympic host cities should have to spend billions of dollars to create structures that will only be used once. Remember when Chicago almost got the 2016 Olympics? We were all devastated, but in hindsight, it seems that we actually dodged a bullet in terms of having to deal with the finances and the aftermath of hosting the games.

“What If the Olympics Were Always Held in the Same City?” asks Uri Friedman in The Atlantic. Read his full article here.

And even though Chicago isn’t hosting the games this year, you should still come visit us! I wrote an open invitation to the world back in 2009, check it out here.

Standing up taller

lumo_I have been standing up much straighter lately.

It’s all thanks to my new obsession, my Lumo Lift, which has finally helped me achieve the better posture I know I need.

The Lumo Lift is like a Fitbit for posture. The small device slightly bigger than a quarter gets attached to a shirt or bra clasp, and you press the button when standing up straight. When you’ve been slouching for two minutes (or any amount of time you choose between 10 seconds and 10 minutes), it buzzes at you.

It’s like a little version of my mom in my head all the time. “Sit up straight, Lia!” “You’re slouching!” “You’d look so much more confident if you had better posture.”

When it vibrates at me, I often didn’t even realize I was slouching, but a quick glance in the mirror shows me that I was. The goal, eventually, would be to live normally without the device, but until then, I am training my body and my brain on how to stand properly.

It comes at a good time, too. The Chicago Tribune published an article yesterday about the effects of “text neck,” where phone users develop back and shoulder pains from staring at our phones. I am sure I am guilty of this, too.

This post isn’t intended to be an advertisement and Lumo Lift is not paying me to write this, though I should really look into how I could make that happen! But I’m excited about it and I thought you might be, too.

So now I have my Fitbit monitoring my steps, my Varidesk monitoring when I sit and stand at work, and my Lumo Lift telling me to stand and sit up straight. Any other recommendations for devices that will tell me what to do?

The long way home from NYC with “lemonade”

Coming home from a fun weekend in New York took a bit longer than planned for Adam and me.

What should have been a brainless 100-minute flight turned into 24 hours of flight after flight being delayed, delayed, canceled, rebooked, canceled, rebooked, rebooked, and delayed. Did you follow all of that?

Travel troubles make most people very cranky, and I don’t think there’s enough money in the world you could pay me to work as an airline customer service representative. Oh, the horror!

But lately, I’ve been consciously trying to be present in every moment and to be grateful for everything. So, I made up my mind to be okay with our flight being canceled and all the trouble that caused.


Instead of being sulky, frustrated, and angry, I decided to make the most of our situation. We were stuck in New York, frowny face, became, WE ARE STUCK IN NEW YORK, happy face! The city that never sleeps! And yet, we can sleep if we want to!

So, we started off our extra evening by enjoying delicious burgers at a kosher restaurant. Then, I remembered Broadway. Many shows are “dark” on Monday nights but some weren’t, so I called the theater. It was 6 p.m. and The Phantom of the Opera was playing at 8 p.m. with tickets available. I snagged them.


After an amazing show, we took the opportunity to, together with our cousins and wonderful hosts, watch history being made on TV with Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. We went to bed, slept ’til 9 a.m. (a rare luxury for me), and took a nice walk to a diner for brunch.

I’ll never be able to explain why our rebooked flight had us flying from Newark to Minneapolis and then to O’Hare, but it did. We didn’t have enough of a layover for us to leave the airport and visit Adam’s Minnesota family, unfortunately, but we did have time for me to grab my favorite hot chocolate from Caribou Coffee (the closest location to Chicago is more than 50 miles away!).

And we made it home safely.

I keep thinking of how many things COULD have gone wrong. But for the most part, it worked out okay. Mostly because I decided that it would be.

Please join in with me — and help remind me when I need to be reminded — that life is going to happen as it happens, but it’s much more enjoyable when you look on the bright side and make lemonade out of life’s lemons.