12/31/14

Favorite Book of the Year . . .


If you include the books I read to/with my daughter, I read nearly 50 books this year. I read 28 for me (slightly beating my goal of 26 and I have four books in the works that I plan to finish in January as I start ticking away at my 2015 reading goal) and that doesn't include the books that I picked up, read enough to decide (one page or 100 pages) it was not for me and put down (I mean that in the euphemistic, killing a family pet way).

I love to read. It is among my favorite activities in the world and something I have always enjoyed and doubt I will ever stop (until my last good-ish eye goes dark, at least). That being said it was very hard for me to pick my favorite book of the year but, in the end, I went with the "value" of the book (I have read dozens of "best of" book lists for 2014 but only one put the rankings in the context of what the reader might get out of/take away from the book vs. the quality of the writing and storytelling and that inspired me) and chose The Beekeeper's Bible by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch (note - there is another book that seems to be very similar (including cover art) called Collins Beekeeper's Bible that was written by Phillip Mccabe but seems, otherwise, to be the same book . . . feel free to investigate or just go with my version and know what you're getting).

The book is not really a "book" in the classic, categorize-able sense of the word because it is a bunch of parts . . . part history of bees and honey, part history of bees and food and mother nature, part history of man, part of how-to on beekeeping and honey making, part education on the types and origins of honey, part recipe/cook book, part doomsday rant, part romance of the nature of man, honey, and bees, part beeswax collection and usage guide, part naturalist meme, part yadda, yadda, yadda.

To say I "read" the book (which was a much-appreciated gift (that came with a Beekeeping 101 lesson that I will gleefully attend int he spring) is a bit of a lie . . . I've read bits and pieces and I've thumbed through other parts and I have dog-earred pages and recipes and I've poured over some of the book and I've ignored bits and pieces. I am not sure that you really should read it cover to cover. It is more of a manual/reference guide.

So WHY is this my favorite book of the year? Because while I'm not a total hippie I am a firm believer that we're putting ourselves and our planet in danger and one of the most obvious ways is in the depletion of bees (colony collapse) and the trickle down to the depletion of food to the depletion of availability of food to the rising prices and false products we'll need to rely on if something as beautiful, majestic, and hardworking as the bee is allowed to disappear. If you don't want to read a book but are curious check out More Than Honey,  Vanishing of the Bees an old NOVA special called All About Bees or even the animated, kid's comedy Bee Movie (that showcases the role bees provided in a fun, non-threatening way).

Also - honey is friggin' DELICIOUS!

Check this book out. I won't guarantee it will have you building a bee box by sundown but I would venture that you'll learn something, get inspired, and pay more attention. Also - you'll remember how friggin' delicious you find honey.

Honorable Mentions . . .

Erik A. Kimmel (Author) and Jon J. Muth (Illustrator). Gershon's Monster - Kimmel has a bit of a gift for telling Jewish stories (his book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is also splendid) and this one is my favorite. It talks about a man who doesn't apologize, doesn't feel remorse, and doesn't much factor others in to his decisions (No. I am not Gershon. But I can relate!) but tries to cast off his transgressions once a year during the high holy days. NOT that simple, clearly. A great read.

Erik Larson (2012). In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - To say I admire Larson's "narrative non-fiction" writing is a grand understatement. My favorite book of ALL TIME is his The Devil in the White City and I'm already willing to bet my favorite book of 2015 will be the long-awaited Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (due in March, 2015, I've already pre-ordered it through Watermark Books) and Laron's recently made my YEAR by responding to a Tweet I sent at him telling me my obsession was fine by him. Anywho - this book talks about America's ambassador to Germany during Hitler's rise and just how much effort and energy the world put in to ignoring Hitler until it no-longer could. A great read.

Beatrice Silverman Weinreich (Editor) Leonard Wolf (Translator) (1988). Yiddish Folktales - I like the original, cut-paper cover of the book better than the current version but the book is a collection of hundreds of Yiddish folktales (as the name clearly illustrates) that give warnings to a life poorly lived. I don't want to give away the book but pretty much every story tells you that greed is bad, spoiled children are worse, and love must be nurtured or it is the worst.

Joshua Ferris (2014). To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - This is also an early favorite for my favorite book of 2015 (I started it just a few weeks ago and, despite the chaos of moving and the holiday season I am tearing through the book and loving every page). It tells the story of a listless man who becomes obsessed with a fake, digital version of himself seems to have a more full and enjoyable life than the New York City dentist's real life.

12/30/14

2014 . . .

Thanks for everything, 2014. You changed us and reminded us that more changes are needed and confirmed that change is hard.

12/29/14

Special Lady Friend . . .

I have had a few people ask, in the last few months, for more information on who "Special Lady Friend" is.

I, always one to understand nuance and charm, immediately begin talking about the "blocking and tackling" parts of her life . . . social security number, family biography, approximated medical history, her tax bracket, etc. only to be met with blank stares, eye rolls, and arm punches.

It turns out the question is, typically, far more simple . . . Who is SHE (vs. Who IS she)? What is her name? Well, dear reader, I've got some bad news for you (if you are in the group of 11 or 12 people in the world who care/are curious). I'll never disclose that information or post any photos of her in this forum.

Two reasons "why". The first is the easiest . . . I don't talk about my positive, happy relationships or the people in this world that bring me direct hope and joy on this blog. Yep. Get in line for telling me how silly that is (even more annoying - listen in on a phone call between my parents and me when I stiff arm even them (evil laugh) on what is actually happening in my life).

The second is far more respectful and appropriate . . . Special Lady Friend is an adult. A full-blown, worked-her-ass-off-started-from-the-bottom-now-she's-hurrr ADULT! Part of that maturity (I'm so jealous I can barely stop myself from replacing her shampoo with Caro syrup every night while she slumbers) is that she has a real job that is sorta public and the people she works with/helps will frequently "Google" her and her employer watches what their people are up to (let's just saw we sat in the car and had a "pep talk" before walking in to her office barbecue this summer) and I don't ever, ever, ever want to do anything to harm or jeopardize her good name and all the hard work she has put in all the respect and opportunity that comes along with it.

Sure, sure . . . there are tons of ways we are "connected" in the digital world but you'll have to know one of us to see that tie and connection and - through that simple, easy barrier alone my work here is done.

Now - if you'll excuse me . . . I'm going to go stretch some Saran Wrap (TM) under the toilet seat.

12/28/14

Sunday Funday . . .

So D'Angelo is (wonderfully, thankfully, excitingly, satisfyingly) BACK with his first album in 14 years (nearly to the day) and it is truly amazing (I wish it had come out sooner or early in 2015 so I could have really considered it for my favorite album of the year).

I was SHOCKED to learn that Special Lady Friend not only a) had never heard of D'Angelo but b) Was unaware of his probably best-known song "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" and the rumors of the video and the, um, activities that may/may not have been happening while the (presumably yet obviously not) single-shot video was made (if you don't know what I'm talking about Google it).



And, seriously, if you have never before heard of D'Angelo - fix that. And then go make love to someone special.

12/26/14

Is It Over? . . .

As this post populates I'll be, in theory, wrapping up a walk/run around the hills of Manhattan ( . . . Kansas . . . that's the "Little Apple" to you and me, city slickers) and I'll focusing on three things. First, how much I regret not continuing to run four or five days a week when I had it going. Second, how great my music mixes for running have become. Third, I've made it.

When Special Lady Friend and I started really looking at houses (vs. websites full of them) this fall we talked about timing and opportunity and risks and rewards. We decided that we would just sort of see where things fell with everything that was coming up . . . business travel for me, interview season for her, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, holiday concerts, holiday parties, parents visiting, our first truly shared Christmas, my first "celebrated" Christmas in years, time with her family, time with my ex-wife and her boyfriend (we all get along swimmingly - more on that later),  shopping, gifting, packing, moving, unpacking, sleeping, combining Netflix accounts (yep, we're "that couple" now), etc.

Well . . . you won't know for sure until Monday's post (Sunday's is also pre-written and scheduled to post) but I am presuming that I'm alive and well. I'm presuming we made it through all the chaos. I'm presuming the kiddo is happy and healthy and had a killer holiday season without the opening-wrapped-gifts equivalent to Tennis Elbow. I'm presuming it is all over. I'm focusing on bigger and better things, like working something from "The War on Drugs" in to my next running playlist (a fantastic album I didn't even learn about until some recent "best of the year" album lists), and preparing for 2015.

12/25/14

Merry Christmas . . .

As my child ages and divorce and split homes settle in to the norm . . . I have not really missed much about Christmas (it was always pretty secular in my family anyway) but this year finds me living with a Christian who loves her some Christmas and I might just have to get back in the swing of peppermint-flavored, chocolate-covered everything.

THIS ad - and the spirit of the holidays it seeks to grow - makes me cry every time. EVERY. TIME. If all Christmases were this great and focused we'd all be better off.

You have to watch it all the way through.

Merry Christmas from this Jew to all of you!

12/24/14

Favorite Movie of the Year . . .

I sat through/watched/enjoyed/endured nearly 80 movies this year (if you include Netflix viewing). This has to be some sort of record for me. I'm not sure what caused this sudden explosion in movie watching (my typical M.O. is to binge watch TV shows or just read or surf the web) but, for the most part, I feel pretty good about it and what I watched.

While there were many films I really, really enjoyed this year (including the winner and honorable mentions at the top of the proverbial heap) my FAVORITE movie of the year had to be a little-seen (at least in this part of the world) and littler-discussed (especially in this part of the world) comedy about, well, abortion.

Let me (statistically speaking) introduce you to . . . "Obvious Child"



Now I know . . . I know . . . so I'm going to post a favorable review of an abortion on comedy on Christmas eve? Yep. I am. Because the movie is a comedy about an abortion but it is really much, much more about people and decisions and responsibility and being who you are in the midst of tough decisions.

To say "Obvious Child" is about abortion is to say that Schindler's List is about enamel manufacturing. It is much, much, much more about people and it is really, really well written, made, cast, and acted and it is really, really hilarious and touching in a strange, unexpected way. If you're not familiar with Jenny Slate - get on that. She sorta kills everything she does (I first became smitten with her comedic chops on Kroll Show . . . "I really do hate water . . . like I HATE it.").

Check out "Obvious Child". It is NOT going to make your reconsider your position on abortion or 20-somethings or immature 20-somethings or immature 20-somethings that chose to have abortions after irresponsible sex but it will entertain you and make you realize that, at the end of the day, an abortion is a huge decision that forever changes lives and relationships but it is a decision millions of American women have made and gone on to live those changed lives in changed relationships. If that can happen . . . now tough of an adjustment can the rest of life really be?

Honorable Mentions . . .

Saving Mr. Banks -
It came out in 2013 but I saw it in very early 2014 and adored it. I have not laughed AND cried so much in one movie before (I've done one or the other - for sure - but never both).



Wish I Was Here - 
Everything you need to know about my thoughts on it are here.



Muppets Most Wanted - 
Again, I already reviewed it (and declared it a finalist for this un-coveted prize). 


This Is Where I Leave You -
This one was so very, very close to my favorite because it was so much better than I had feared it might be. 



12/23/14

Two (More) Wrongs Don't Make a Right . . .


We used to have heroes. They were groups of people (we can probably just say "men" because most institutions we held in esteem were all-boy clubs) that we just presumed were full of admirable, professional, responsible members. 

I'm talking about politicians, the military, teachers, the clergy, fire fighters, cops, parents, etc. 

We held them in high regard and no one who wasn't on the inside and who didn't have direct knowledge dared say anything bad about them. We were beyond reproach and besmirch. It was a lovely few hundred years of us simple civilians believing that these groups and collections and forces were all for good and were all for the betterment of us - that they were there to protect and honor us and to keep us safe.

Then something happened. The walls started to fall and the mirror got toothpaste splatter on it and the whispers turned to normal, inside, speaking voices and the number of voices grew until they sounded like outside voices and, before long, we were screaming and yelling like a mother on the beach warning her son of a shark 100 yards out in to the ocean. 

Those we used to put so much faith in fell. Hard. Before long there seemed to be no good in some of them and the incidents where the lesser demons had won out became the benchmark and the accepted standard. Before long every priest was a pedophile, every politician a liar, every soldier and psycho, every cop a racist, etc. 

The voices that defended the individuals or the groups became quieter as they were shouted down and pointed at and mocked. The "obvious" rebuttal being that to defend the collective is to empower the outlier and to do that is tantamount to encouraging bad behavior. A sad day indeed as all the town's stuff and joy had been gathered up by the Grinch. 

I'm going to argue we are better off with the talking and the dialogue. I would never want to live in a world where people do horrible things and are protected and given the "thumbs up" because, well, it is a fluke or it is not something regular or it is presumed to have been provoked.

I lost faith in the Catholic Church at around the age of 24. I was in mass one Sunday and, despite more and more coverage of and confirmation of abuse within the Catholic Church in diocese like Boston, etc. the priest chose to spend his homily/sermon talking about the evils of homosexuality. The hypocrisy of it all drove me out of my pew and out the backdoor of the church and I could still hear his tone-deaf words as I stomped down the stairs to the street. 

I decided I hated the Catholic Church. Then I remembered, on my walk home, all the wonderful things that church had. My parents. My brothers (neither of whom now celebrate but that did). My best friends from college - including my Jewish roommate who went to mass with us every Sunday. My college priest. A priest who was my father's best friend. Other priests who have inspired me over the years. Friends from school. Their families. It took me six city blocks to decide that Catholics were not the trouble - hypocrisy within it was my issue. 

I apply that same logic, to this day, to any scandal that bubbles up. I have to believe there are millions more "good" civil servants with badges, guns, firehoses, election mandates, and commanding officers out there than "bad". I trust that the vast majority of those people chose to do what they do to serve and to improve the lives of the community and its members. I won't accept that the institutions are broken. I won't be so glib as to think there are not changes needed, policies missing, due process being skirted, and horrible acts going unchecked. 

What happened in Brooklyn on Saturday was a true tragedy. No one benefits. A misguided, angry man killed two cops who - as far as I have seen/read - were never even accused of any wrongdoing while behind the badge and then he killed himself. What has happened since those shots were fired is perhaps worse. The shootings - and the protest of them - is being held as an apples-to-apples comparison to incidents were police have killed civilians (there are a million reasons why they are not, in any way, the same crime). The fingers of blame have been pointed. The act, the response, etc. have all been politicized. The response has been, frankly, muted. 

Sure, sure - there are whispers of it. Maybe the timing (the week of Christmas when we chose to focus on happy, upbeat things) played a role. I fear that we have reached a point where people are closing their eyes, covering their ears, and hoping that the violence and the hate and the anger - on every side of the melee - simply stops. 

There is no more benefit in that than the chaos of today that we should wrestle through. Just wishing it all away will take us back to a day when we, errant-ly, presumed that everything was right in the world and that power was never abused - or worse - it will leave us thinking that power, and those who have it, are never used the right way or that we can't admire those who have and hold and use authority. 

12/21/14

Sunday Funday . . .

There is nothing more "Jewish + Pop Culture = Awkward" than the Maccabeats. Seriously. And yet, I love them and their parodies and videos and charm. Happy Hanukkah!

12/19/14

Backing Up My Morning . . .

I'm settling in to home ownership and most of it is great but there is one thing . . . oh there is ONE thing that I'm not sure I'm going to survive . . . getting out of my garage and down my precarious driveway each morning. In reverse. 


12/18/14

Hanukkah Playlist . . .

As we are already 25% of the way through the candle-lighting-ceremony of Hanukkah 5775 I wanted to address one of the great myths of our Holiday.

There are some who believe there are NO good Hanukkah songs (and in their defense - there are not very many) but this is not true.

Sure, sure. We don't have all the awesomeness of the very, very rapey "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and we can't bum you out with "Christmas Shoes".

There are not nearly as many horrible "fun" songs like the Hippopotamus song or the dreadful, misguided 12 Days of Christmas (which I have to presume was dreamed up by some teenager who wanted the holiday party equivalent of "Seven Minutes in Heaven" with his under-aged, special lady friend).

We'll let you Christians have alllllllll that musical wonder. Really. Take it. Please.

But what of Hanukkah music? NO worries. We have dozens if not hundreds of songs that are specific to the occasion and - if you are liberal in your use of "good" and if you take some liberties (like borrowing words like "candle" and "light" and "glow" and "eight") - you can come up with a solid hour of music that will get you long-past candle lighting and gift opening.

The following is a Spotify playlist I put together. Please to enjoy:



And we have tons of random spoofs of songs to "enjoy" including this not-safe-for-work-or-the-faint-at-heart jam from my FAVORITE (if not ONLY) Jewish, woman rapper . . . J.A.P. (yep, as in Jewish American Princess).



Chag Sameach, my fellow Jews! Happy Hanukkah to all!

12/17/14

Favorite Album of the Year . . .

First I told you my favorite song of the year and then my favorite food. Today . . . my favorite ALBUM (as I see it the album is something where the entire collection of music, as packaged and distributed by the artist).

My favorite album this year is, clear and away, Missy Higgins' "OZ".

The album, which was released in September, is really very different. Every track feels like a single (yes, I am one of those people that likes to think I know what songs could stand alone and which could not) but I didn't recognize any of them directly and I found out - weeks after falling in love with it - why . . . the whole album (the Australian Higgins' fifth) is a collection of her doing remakes of hits by other Australian artists.

I have enjoyed Higgins and her music for about seven years. Her 2007 release "On a Clear Night" - made of original content - is also wonderful. If you have never heard Higgins sing she is, for me, a mixture of Sara Bareilles, Sheryl Crow (old school Crow), Norah Jones, KT Tunstall, and a more mature, seasoned Mary Lambert and another favorite of mine, Jann Arden.

This album, for me, is wonderful for driving around, working, running errands, playing board games and chatting with friends, or trying to relax after a long day. The final track, a cover of Don Walker's "The Way You Look Tonight" is splendid. That is the only word for it. SPLENDID.



Check out the album and it will likely, as it did for me, make you wonder what other great music from "Down Under" you are missing out on.

Honorable mention to . . .

Sam Smith's "In the Lonely Hour". As of early-September this was easily my favorite album of the year and Mr. Smith will likely walk away with several GRAMMYs for the effort. Smith is very young but has a wonderful set of pipes and a unique sound that will likely afford him a long and fruitful career.

Luluc's "Passerby". This album was sorta released in 2013, sorta 2014 but I didn't discover it until this year. Adjectives like "sparse" and "gentle" have been heaped all over it but I would like to describe it as The Civil Wars (sadly they officially called it quits this year) and Peter, Paul, and Mary and even Simon and Garfunkel meets the Yankee Candle store. It is a wonderful album that I have listened while typing out dozens and dozens of 2014 blog posts.

The Gloaming's "The Gloaming". Every damp, dreary, Irish day ever had compressed in to about 45 minutes of beautiful, sad, and hopeful  music. Give it a listen. Or ten.

Taylor Swift's "1989". I have disliked (hated?) Ms. Swift for as long as I can remember. Her music always seemed whiny and her "woe is me" romantic angst creeping in to her music always bugged the crap out of me. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I stood in Best Buy for over an hour to buy the CD on Thanksgiving so the kid and I could listen to it all the way to Kansas City the next morning. And by the "kid and I" I mean . . . well . . . ME. It is fantastic, insipid, indefensible, unbelievably catchy pop music.

12/16/14

Red Bowl . . .

NO. This is not THE bowl. THE bowl has a wider base and steeper walls.
Want (today's) proof that I'm not an emotionally stable, fully-formed adult? I'm currently in an emotional lather over a red, porcelain bowl.

You read that correctly. I'm a father, a professional, a member of a congregation, in a relationship, a homeowner, a car owner, a citizen of the world (where people are being taken hostage in coffee shops, killed in schools, and discovered in mass graves - thanks for the morning pick-me-up, KMUW/Morning Edition), and a bunch of other labels but - for the last 18 hours or so I've been almost solely focused on a red bowl.

Nope. It is not the "perfect" bowl that I want to give for a holiday gift to a special someone. It is not filled with life's secrets yet buried in the chaos of moving and merging households. It is not a bowl I once borrowed who's owner has come calling. It is not part of a scavenger hunt where the person who finds it wins a pony ride.

Nothing cool like that. This is a red bowl that probably came from Target or Walmart. It has sat on the counter near the copy machine at work for months and has been filled with M&Ms (and by "filled" I mean I pour a pound of candy-coated crack cocaine in the bowl and within hours the beloved vultures I work with have made 'em all disappear) ranging from simple chocolate to cherry (that is a real thing - avoid them) to peanut to our favorite . . . peanut butter. The bowl has been moved only long enough to rinse and repeat.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. I returned from a great lunch meeting and found something unexpected awaiting me. M&Ms (the red and green "holiday" bag (yes, because Hanukkah and Kwanza are known for their red and green themes so let's not call them Christmas candy) on the counter with no bowl to contain them.

That's right. That's right. That. Is. Right. Just candy laying on the counter. Bowl GONE, candy THERE.

So I make an inquiry to all within ear-shot (all of East Wichita given my normal, much less excited, vocal volume) as to where the bowl is. Crickets. Technically it was way worse . . . colleagues challenging that the bowl was certainly there and/or that I had mistaken it ever being there.

Now I have a few questions that maybe you, dear reader, can help me with.

  1. Who in the actual f*ck puts unwrapped candy directly on a counter surface?
  2. Who in the actual f*ck takes a candy bowl from their office?
  3. Who in the actual f*ck (beyond me) gets this worked up over a missing bowl?
Forget three . . . let's remember two actual crimes have been committed here. One against common sense and social norms, and one against humanity itself. Seriously. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!

So I stormed around the office for a while and even sent a semi-threatening e-mail (yes - that is a real thing - as though e-mail in the workplace isn't annoying and abused enough I'm using it to issue Amber Alerts for candy dishes).

WHY do I care about this stupid bowl? I don't. I care about its owner. The bowl belonged to a colleague who passed away six weeks ago. It was her bowl. She probably didn't really care about (I doubt it was chosen with love or was a family heirloom) but it was the only thing we kept as I packaged up her personal belongings for her daughters and parents (it was an honest mistake - the bowl was in the dishwasher as I packed her things) and I wanted us to keep it on that counter, filled with candy, as a token reminder of her and how happy she made most of us most of the time and - full disclosure - how much she loved candy when she was not on one of her silly fad diets. 

So - there you go - today's proof that I'm not an emotionally stable person with a lot of rage and a little sentimentality tucked in to keep me mysterious and keep you guessing.

But, seriously, if that bowl is not back and/or accounted for by 12 PM CT today . . . oh chillllld. You don't even want to know. 

12/15/14

Let's ALLLLLLL Relax . . .

This poor bastard got caught up in a firestorm like his Elf-inspiration
might never understand or feel. 
Well, people. You've done it again. You've gotten the American Jewish population all sort of riled up with you "attacks" on us and our holidays and our images and likenesses and our sovereignty. I, for one, will HAPPILY take it sitting down. Why? Because this is all just people making stuff up.

A few disclaimers . . . 1) I was not born Jewish and I don't have a lifetime of Jewish experience that might make me sensitive. I have, however, been overweight my whole life and fat people take their own heat from second to second and I'm Irish and Italian (drunk and pasta-obsessed much?) and I was CATHOLIC for 22 years (insert drunk, pedophile joke here). I have felt slings and arrows. No. bones. broken. 2) Not all Jews are the same and we all have our own sensitivities around our faith and culture (I try to remember that what is most sacred to me might not mean anything to anyone else and the rest falls under context). 3) I have read very strong, articulate arguments why Jews should take recent "slights" seriously that make me understand but not agree. You can go find them. Know that I respect the arguments.

What am I blathering on about? It seems that Jews are under attack in America in the form or two dastardly maniacal commercial products. What are they? Wrapping paper and a doll. Stop laughing. I (they - not me) are serious in this perceived attack.

Let me introduce you to the "Mensch on a Bench" (a mensch, for the record, is a person you can admire - they (it was once a term used only for men but not applicable to all of G-d's people) typically do great deeds and commit acts of kindness) and Hallmark's least popular wrapping paper since the Shroud of Turin (wrapping paper, for the record, is paper we used to waste money on to hide the gift we were about to give before gift bags and tissue paper became a more expensive and popular waste of money).   

What is the problem? Apparently Mensch on a Bench looks a little too cliche-Jewey for some (that's a real thing - read more here) and apparently this gift wrap has swastikas to intimidate we Chosen.


Yeah. So, uh. That is a real thing that upsets people. I thought about it and they may have a point. I found this swastika in this week's Sunday New York Times.


I also found this one while Driving around Wichita yesterday afternoon. 


Shame on you, Wichita and THE New York Times. Oh - one more thing - the swastika was a positive symbol (meaning "good fortune" and "prosperity") for centuries before Hitler and his regime took it to make it a sign of hate. It is, to this day, still used in some religions and cultures as a positive thing. I am not advocating for the use of it here, there, and everywhere but if someone was to focus on its much longer history and symbolism . . . that is sorta their choice, right?

Which brings me to my issue with people who think the Mensch on a Bench is little more than a trite, cliche, stereotypical view of a Jew and are offended by that.

Yes. Because we've never been boiled down to our big-nosed, curly-haired, base ever before in pop culture or other places. Let me also ask . . . do we know that Elf on the Shelf looks like (or unlike) every other elf? And is anyone in the Secular Christmas Club even remotely upset that this image of an elf is not inclusive? If so - I've not seen the calls and cries in the mainstream media (owned and controlled by the Jews anyway, the stereotyping critics point out). Sidebar . . . Mensch on a Bench really, truly COULD be my beloved Rabbi. I have nothing but respect and admiration for this lookin-like-all-the-other-Jews-Jew.

More over - read the book. The book, much like that horrible atrocity that is "Elf On the Shelf", is about doing good deeds to "deserve" your Hanukkah gifts. If you want to be offended by ANYTHING be offended at the notion that Jewish parents are so focused on keeping up with (secular) Christian parents that they had to run out and purchase a knock-off of their book to put a little more emphasis on what is otherwise a very small, not very consequential Jewish holiday/festival. THAT is the real shame. 

Let's be clear here. There IS Antisemitism (and specifically anti-Jewish sentiment (did you know not all Semites/Semitics are Jews and not all Jews are Semites?)) in the world. It is technically growing - according to a (dated - 2013) Anti-Defamation League survey the rise of "distrust" and "dislike"for Jews is at higher levels than it has been in a long time. There are acts of violence. including murder, committed against people for simply being Jewish. There is vandalism and graffiti and hate speech and eye rolls. 

You know who is probably NOT a Jew hater? The people who design gift wrap. The dude who invented Mensch on the Bench and used his years of expertise on how to make toys as appealing as possible to set the stuffed fella's likeness? 

Come on, American Jewry. Let's keep our proverbial powder dry for the moments where we are under attack, when hate comes our way, and when trouble comes. Fat, (formerly) Catholic, Bale, Irish men will thank you. 

12/14/14

Sunday Funday . . .

My favorite non-carol Christmas song . . . because it is the rare acknowledgement that not everything this time of year is "merry".

12/12/14

Sean's Top 10 "Heynows"of The Moment . . .

I played this deplorable, sexist, and crass game in 2012 and again in 2013 so - let's go again in 2014, shall we? Yes. Yes we shall!

A few disclaimers . . .

  1. Special Lady Friend is fine with this list. She knows she is a very, very close number eleven and that is good enough for her. I kid. We have that "Friends" thing where we get the list of free passes. I kid. She's a fully-grown, emotionally-stable adult that gets that this is just something I "do". I don't kid. She really does. 
  2. Again this year the list is becoming increasingly about mental stimulation than just physical attraction. No. I'm not evolved. If I did a "lust" list you'd all never be able to make eye contact with me again. 
  3. You'll note there are some men on this list. No. This is not a big announcement regarding my orientation or openness therein. Just an acknowledgement that smart, engaging, talented, charismatic, and, well, sexy people come in both genders.
We ready? Of course we are! 


10) Marjorie Ingall

I don't know what Marjorie Ingall looks like (truly - this is the only picture of her I've seen, to the best of memory) but I am obsessed with her writing. She writes a lot about Jewish culture, and books, but also has a thing - like I do - for false/forced apologies that is worth a read, too. I don't care what she looks like. I'm mainly interested in her thinking and her sense of humor and her snark.





9) Idris Elba

I'm going to say this once, out loud, and without regret . . . Idris Elba is a sexy man. If the 12-year-old me said that in front of his 12-year-old friends there would be homophobic slurs lobbed about but I don't care. Elba, who I first admired for his talent in The Wire is fantastic in Luther. I'll even forgive his presence in that p.o.s. Pacific Rim. He's that. damned. good. (looking).
8) Melissa McCarthy

One of only two women to make all three "heynow" lists this one is a crush that is sorta mental and sorta physical. I like that, as the years go on, McCarthy is getting slightly more "emotional" with her acting (taking her back - to those who "knew" her when) to the days of Gilmore Girls when she was funny and sweet and had some depth. I've not (yet) seen it but I hear she is wonderful in St. Vincent. Long live the evolving Ms. McCarthy.





7) Linda Holmes

I did not know what Linda Holmes looked like until I Googled her for this photo (I follow her on Twitter but never really paid attention to her avatar, I guess). Now I'm wondering how old she is (she looks young, right) but not enough to really get too caught up with it because I have a crush on Linda Holmes for her brain and her pop culture chops. She and her podcast friends are the only really tie I have to what the masses are enjoying (spoiler alert - it is the pop culture loves of the NPR masses vs. the, you know, masses that they discuss).



6) Debra Monk

I have such a little "thing" for Debra Monk. From her days as Mrs. Sipowicz on NYPD Blue to her turn in this fall's "This is Where I Leave You" she seems to always be the woman no one pays much attention to until the realize they should really be paying attention to her. She plays that role very well in film. I doubt that is her real life problem.






5) Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow (who seems happy in every aspect of her life) is beyond bright and hilarious and assertive and generous. I have listened to the podcast of her MSNBC show for many years and, if I am being honest, watching her show is one of the only things I miss about cable. I have read her book (learned a lot from it) and I would dare say that if I could be as bright, calm, and focused as her . . . I'd be happier.





4) Connie Britton

PROOF that this list is not just about beauty . . . Connie Britton (who - for almost a decade has been the hottest woman on the face of the planet to my perverted little brain) slipped from one to FOUR on this year's rankings. She's still beautiful. She's still talented. She's still up there. It is not you, Connie. It is me.






3) Fionnula Flanagan

Okay. Okay. CALM DOWN. 1) Ms. Flanagan is not even the oldest woman I've had on this list over the years. 2) I can/will explain - this woman is beautiful and she always plays these parts where her emotions are just sort of missing. She was so creepy in "The Others" and "Nip/Tuck" and, be honest, you were not really sure what she was really up to on "Lost" but she is simply striking. Sidebar - she's on this list because she guest stars in a charming episode of - my kid's favorite online show of the moment.




2) Hillary Clinton

Just run. Please!? Put down your guard, do real media interviews, address the lingering questions, and prove that your 30-some-years of public service as a first lady of Arkansas and the United States and then your turn as, oh, I don't know, SENATOR, and your years as, um, SECRETARY OF STATE are more about your brains and savvy and political talents than the jokes and critique. Or do not run. Go join your husband's institute (or start your own) and just put that brain of yours to work for the world outside of politics. Either way, we win!



1) Mike Pesca

I know very, very little (blissfully) about sports but most of what I once knew came from NPR reporter Mike Pesca. He left NPR and joined Slate and hosts two of my FAVORITE podcasts (The Gist and Hang Up and Listen - now my main source of sports knowledge) and tickles me daily. I laugh, I learn, I build my vocabulary. He's fun, bright, and fantastic. I just want to hang out with him . . . and I sorta do. Close enough.

12/11/14

Home vs. House . . .

Just short of two years after I wrote this post . . . I'm thrilled to say that I'm getting another chance to take a building (a house) and turn it in to a happy, warm, and wonderful place (home).

I'm getting another chance at loving and being loved. I'm getting another shot at having the life that "they" sell you as the packaging of a happy, healthy life.

I hope to grow old in the company of family, friends, and enough material possessions to keep it interesting.



12/10/14

Favorite Food of the Year . . .

After eating my way, hardcore, through the first 335-ish days of 2014 I am proud to say that I've finally decided on my "Food of the Year".

My favorite food of 2014 is, as the picture might suggest, challah. The sweet, braided bread that Jews eat on Shabbat (and throughout the year including the High Holy Days) to symbolize the manna G-d gave the wandering children of Israel during the exodus.

Think only Jews enjoy challah. Think again. And again. And again. This sweet bread is popular among and can/should be enjoyed by all of G-d's people. It is great for tearing and eating between services and oneg, it is great, sliced, as toast, it is splendid with a touch of honey on it, you can use it for bread pudding, and it, with some preserves, makes a great host(ess) gift (that you can secretly hope will be served with the meal being host(ess)ed.

There are dozens of ways to make a challah. Three-strand, six-strand, with seeds, without. You can put fruit in it. Fruit on it. Chocolate in it. mini-candy bars on it. You can make rainbow challah. You can make loaves, rounds, circles, or buns. Challah is your bread, people.

So why is this the food of the year for me? Because this, the year that I officially joined The Tribe, is a good time to acknowledge that one of the first things I loved about the Jewish faith is the culture - specifically the food - specifically the challah my college roommate's parents would bring him from a Jewish bakery in the Boston suburbs

A few honorable mentions for other foods I ate entirely too much of this last year . . .


  • Hummus - the best thing I've ever had in my life. Truly. It will always be in the conversation.
  • Mozzarella Sticks - Cuhhbawwwwn, son. Come. On.
  • LARABARs - The Peanut Butter & Jelly is still the BEST but the Snickerdoodle (seasonal flavor -get them while they are at room temperature) are pretty delicious, too.
  • Rotisserie Chicken - Like Brittany Murphy in Girl, Interrupted . . . I'm CRAZY for the bird. I'll buy one on a Monday and eat it, in all sort of ways and varieties and recipes, throughout the week. Or Monday. Whenever I run out. 

12/9/14

Wisdom . . .


I'm currently reading four books. A NIGHTMARE for my unfocused brain but that is exactly why I am doing it . . . to try to test my brain and my comprehension and retention. One of them is Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's "Jewish Wisdom".

While not the most entertaining book on my nightstand it is the most educational. Which brings me to my point . . . wisdom is something very different than smarts or knowledge. Wisdom is a sorta hybrid of those things but it is really about the context of experience.

You can be told something and you might learn it. You can sit in a class and maybe absorb a lesson. You can sit through a sermon and maybe take away some understanding. You can read a parable and capture the moral.

NONE of that is as important as the eventual wisdom that will develop, after time and experience, from the initial learning.

Just be patient. Be observant. Use the facts and figures and gleanings as grease on the tracks that line your path. Eventually - it will all turn in to something great.

12/8/14

Let It Go . . .

The song that won't go away.
I have a confession to make. I've never actually seen the movie Frozen. I know, I know. SCANDAL and HORROR.

That being said, I have read and heard enough about it to have a pretty good idea of what it is about (spoiler alert - the movie is actually a symbolic fictionalization of how WASPy families in the 60s dealt with teen pregnancy) and I sort of appreciate the idea.

No, not the teen pregnancy part (seriously, kids, use condoms and learn how cycles work and please allow relations to be special vs. casual) but the idea that we all have talents and powers that we some might not understand and that might not always be appreciated. It can lead to torment and heartache and general misery. But they are our gifts and they must be used and others must respect them.

I'm 38 and (almost) a half years old. I've spent far, far too much of my life and energy getting hung up on other people and their gifts. Some might label it "jealousy" (I would go more envy - jealousy, technically, is an emotion you feel when you think someone else is going to take what is or might otherwise be yours - and I don't think that most people's gifts are otherwise mine for the taking/use). Some would call it "pettiness" (I would probably agree with that). Others might imply it is based on my brain's wiring to focus on things that don't really matter to me on a personal, direct level. That is completely truly.

Yet. Here I am. Greying, balding, fat, and distracted. I've got so many great things in my life with so many reasons to be happy and content and engaged and focused and that has given me pause (if only because I am working on my 2015 goals and this is a big one) and had me realizing that I need to let it all go. So - as of this post - here are a list of 15 things I will never again give my mental energy or focus to.
  1. Instagram, throw-back Thursdays, and other obsessive sharing of photos past and present
  2. The conscious decision to fake/presume an allergy or other digestive and bodily issue
  3. Bakeries (or bakery) on West Douglas
  4. Flip Flops, Crocs, and other "casual" shoes where plastics and polymers are the number one material
  5. Why adults celebrate their birthdays
  6. The notion that politicians can/should act with true leadership and character as their guides
  7. People who dismiss pennies as not being real, valuable money
  8. Mindy Kaling's career and fans
  9. Poetry and its fans
  10. Pop culture "icons" and their power and influence
  11. Adults who are so fragile that profanity "offends" them and critique "overwhelms" them
  12. Math, science, and logic
  13. Wichita ad agencies, their leadership, or their rises and falls (unless I eventually, and unlikely-ly go back to working for one)
  14. People who identify green as their favorite color
  15. Single-issue voters

So - there you have it. Live your lives. Use your gifts. Be who you are and know that I'm just fine with it. 

12/7/14

Sunday Funday . . .

Don't you hate when a perfectly-good group photos is ruined by dog butts, distracted Grandparents, and kids not looking at the camera? 


12/5/14

Favorite Song of the Year . . .

Calm down, buddy. Act like you've been the title of a song before.
It is December and that means that the "best"- and "worst"- of lists have started (I saw one in OCTOBER) and the world will soon swim (drown?) in recaps of the year that was/is/might/should/would/could have been. Who am I to judge? No one. To that end - I'll be posting my favorites of the year throughout the month. I skip the "worst" - I try to appreciate vs. hate.

Let's start with song of the year (note - I, like the folks at the Grammy's, separate out song and album (they spread song and record but that is something totally different and still sorta confusing) so let me clarify - this is my favorite TRACK. I'll spotlight my favorite collection of tracks later in the month).

Without additional delay or clarification . . . My FAVORITE song of this year  was the acoustic version of "Detlef Schrempf" by Band of Horses. Who also recorded one of my favorite songs of all time ("The Funeral"). The song itself, before you start calling me out, was released in 2007 but this version (which is not that terribly different from but, in my mind, superior to, was released this year). It is also worth noting that my favorite book of 2013 came out in 2010 so . . . I'm my own man.

This was a terrific year for music. I am now believing in the notion that the digitization of music levels the playing field for smaller artists to be discovered and to build followings and for the algorithms of the digital providers/streamers to help you find stuff you will like. I loved hundreds of new songs this year many by people I had never before heard of. I may rank the top ten at some point (we'll see how hard up I become for posts this month).



I digress . . . my favorite . . . yeah. Odd title. I've never really bothered to really figure out why the song is called Delbert Schrempf (there are lots of versions of on the web - ain't you gots no Googles?) but from what I can gather Mr. Scrempf was an NBA journeyman who spent years with many teams including the Seattle (the band's home) (Super)sonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder).

The GOOD news? The song has nothing to do with basketball or dudes known for being gangly, and mulleted, in my never humble opinion. Instead, it is about the notion that you people come and go and you gain and lose them and the key is how you treat them and they you and you, mutually, treat "every living soul".

Anywho, give it a listen and let me know what you think. Also - what was your favorite song of the year? Maybe you listened to something I never even got a chance to enjoy.

12/4/14

The District Sleeps (Alone) Tonight . . .

Definitive proof that my phone camera sucks. Hard.
In February, 2003, The Postal Service (as in "Such Great Heights" vs. Such Slow Delivery) released their debut album "Give Up". It was one of those CDs that I just sort of "had" to own. It had some good buzz about it and all that stuff but there was a track on it ("The District Sleeps Alone Tonight") that I simply loved .

If you listen to it now (go ahead - the name above will link to the video) it feels really dated but, at the time, it was really "fresh" and wonderful (it is still, in its defense, pretty wonderful). It told the story of a boy who's girlfriend had left him to move to The District (or DC, or Washington, DC, or the city, or Crazy Town (depending on which vernacular you like - I always preferred "DC" (personally))).

How could I relate to that? Because I was so in love with The District in 1997 that I left my friends at college a semester early (that is as close as I come to being "the girl" leaving "the boy") for DC. The politics, the history, the art, the culture, the food, the wonderful, eclectic city. It was - and remains - truly amazing.

I will probably never forget my first night in town.

It was January, 1998. I was with my parents and we drove down to find confusion awaiting me at the dorms at The George Washington University and I was not sure I should stay at all (they had no idea who I was much less where to put me and I was not sure if I wanted to figure that out AFTER my parents left (I was an adult in age - not maturity)). Anywho . . . we went to dinner with my father's cousin (who worked for THE Washington Post) and she drove us around after and told me of a thing called "Potomac Fever".

Now I have never met anyone else in/around DC that has ever even heard of Potomac Fever but here is how it played in her mind - it is a "sickness" that comes over people drawn to DC.

You know you have it, she explained, when you drive by the Capitol rotunda at night and feel awe and power and might and want. She was sure - and I agree - it was the best disease in the world (next to Lupus - I kid. Eff Lupus). She said that the interesting twist to Potomac Fever is that the minute you don't have it (you are not impressed by our seat of power under the flood lights) you should up and leave town. IMMEDIATELY.

I am traveling for business and I drove and walked around DC last night and I can assure you I am still deep in the throws of the ailment.

It was an odd night. I drove by the restaurant where I met my first DC crush (we dated for a few months but I was never really sure if she actually cared about me or not - it didn't matter much. I was very taken by her wit, charm, intelligence, and how she kissed et al) and the places we had our first few dates. I walked by the place where I first met my ex-wife. We all know how that worked out but what a heady evening it was. I walked around GW's campus. I walked by the White House and then by the building where I used to work and around Chinatown where I had so much fun and drove through Eastern Market where I lived.

DC has become a place for me to visit. A place no-longer "mine" but a place I borrow. A place I share with other tourists and, several times the last few years, my daughter. Makes sense that I share it with her. I've shared DC with just about all the other special women in my life.

I ended up in the front of our Capitol (it belongs to you and me, folks). I stood there, and stared up at the dome (covered, again, in ugly scaffolding) and did the only thing that made sense . . . snapped a photo to send to Special Lady Friend. We promised to plan a trip soon.

I lived in the DC for nearly seven years and the Baltimore 'burbs (still working in DC) for another two. I never shook Potomac Fever. I doubt I ever will. Too much wonderful stuff in my life started there.

12/3/14

Close to Home . . .

I posted, the other day, about the tragic (as I saw it) miscarriage of justice and I - perhaps in my own wanton naivety - said that I was grateful that the shooting of Michael Brown and the failure to prosecute Darren Wilson.

As is often the case . . . I was gently reminded that I was wrong.

While tragedies happen in every city in America every day, here are two things that have happened in Wichita that equally tragic to what happened near St. Louis.

The brutal assault, rape, burning, and murder of Letita "Tish" Davis. I won't post the details here (I try to keep the blog light and fluffy but the link will take you to details) and the shooting of veteran-Marine Icarus Randolph (an equally crushing incident of police shooting a man who was perceived to be a threat.

There is no "point" to this  post. I can't pretend to be soft enough to say something calm and reassuring or poignant. I don't understand guns. I don't like them. I DO understand the adrenaline that goes in to law enforcement when chaos starts and charging follows. I get it. I won't even pretend to be able to wrap my brain around the absolute absence of humanity that lead to the attack of Tish Davis (and, to be clear, I do NOT think these two incidents have any more in common than the loss of a life). That is something my brain is not - even with my cynical, dark nature - capable of processing.

I say the Hashkivenu (almost) every night before I go to sleep. My Hebrew is horrible but, for some reason, saying a prayer every night reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents would say prayers with us every night at bedtime. We would say an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary" and then do this sort of laundry list of who's who "G-d bless mom, dad, my two brothers, my aunts, and uncles, and all my cousins and friends and Grandpa Amore and Grandpa Coyle who are home, in heaven, with you."

It seemed simple. It was. As was the presumption that just asking for a prayer and a watchful eye and some grace that nothing bad would happen to those I loved the most. Of course - 35 years from the days I probably first said those words - nothing bad (knock on wood) has happened to any of those people.

I'm blessed. Sure tragedy has happened much closer to home than St. Louis/Ferguson but it is still far enough removed that I can mourn loss, shake my head, and pretend to understand it while - quietly - being grateful it is not something any closer to home.

12/1/14

Amazon Originals for Kids . . .

I blissfully cut the (cable) cord in the late-fall of 2011. I stopped watching the boob tube and all its conventions and trappings before you escaped your father's groin, kiddo. And I'm happy to say I did it. I am not even sure if I watch any less TV now than I did then but I watch TV more on my terms.

I don't even mean that in the buh-bye commercials way (but, seriously, I can't watch regular TV anymore . . . the ad breaks make me insane) but more in the quality/content/context way.

The most violent things I've seen in the last few years on TV are knocks over the head on Murder She Wrote, a handful of whackings and gang-land killings on The Wire, and the slaughter of animals and people on The Bible (seriously - WAY more violent, per capita, than The Wire).

One of the other things that I love about not having cable is TV for my daughter. Now. I'm not going to pretend to be some holier-than-thou that won't let my kid watch any junk (she is obsessed with My Little Pony and these annoying dudes from the UK that play video games all day (I actually believe it is a profession/job for them) and post them to YouTube). I mean that more in the sense of I could not stand MOST of the programming on Nick Jr. or Disney Channel or the various offshoots, re-brands, and age-appropriate-sub categories of each. Just horrible crap.

So now we have the PBS app. The "Kids" section of Netflix (they have some great Disney movies and some TV shows that don't make me nutty to watch (or to let her watch)) and - my favorite - Amazon Originals for Kids.

They have this great mix of shows for kids in that 8 - 12 range (those very few 'tween years when cartoons about letters and numbers and before shows about sex and drugs are appropriate) and they all have good stories and casts (as kid-filled casts go) and they have science or storytelling artistry and they are charming.

The kiddo's current favorites are Annedroids and Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street. Annedroids is about a trio of 11-year-olds including an awkward girl who lives with her Grandmother, a kid who is new in town with his single-TV-reporter mother and a genius who lives with her always-home-but-never-around father (also a genius) and the androids the girl has made and the science and technology adventures the three kids have. The other is about a trio of 11-ish-year-olds who lives on a street of eccentric characters with his two best friends (including one who is trying to cut back on profanity (a kid after my own heart) by using the names of vegetables in their place and the adventures they have on and around the block.

All you need to enjoy either show is Amazon Prime (or the free month of preview you can get just for asking). My daughter has binge watched both seasons of both shows - a few times (for Annedroids).

Check them out if you are tired of Miley Cyrus and Phineas and Ferb or Good Luck Charlie on Netlfix.