The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life

Leave a comment

Tu Bishvat Seder

Last weekend was the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, the “New Year of the Trees” — a Jewish Earth Day, or Arbor Day. It’s not a major holiday, but has some lovely ritual associated with it, especially the seder, which was created by Isaac Luria in 17th century Israel as a mystical, kabbalistic way to celebrate the Tree of Life.

Just for fun — and because we were missing the Tu Bishvat seder his Hebrew school hosts — we had a seder at home, loosely following this outline. Most Tu Bishvat seders eat no fruit with the fourth cup of wine, as this is meant to evoke the realm of God, but I like the idea alluded to in the outline I linked to of choosing as a fourth fruit a “fruit of the Gods.” Chocolate, for example. We also tried to include the seven species, as well as a fruit none of us had eaten recently (papaya), so we could sing the shehechyianu.

Here was our menu:

  • First Cup: Pina Coladas in Coconut Shells
  • First Fruit: Mixed Nuts
  • Second Cup: Pina Colada mixed with a bit of Sparkling Grape Juice
  • Second Fruit: Olives
  • Third Cup: Sparkling Grape Juice mixed with a bit of Pina Colada
  • Third Fruits: Dried Figs, Red Grapes, Strawberries

  • Dinner: My Grandmother’s Special “Orange Mud” Soup (which contains barley, one of the seven species), Bread Drizzled with Honey

  • Fourth Cup: Sparkling Grape Juice
  • Fourth Fruits: Guacamole with Chips
  • Papaya, Kiwi, Pomegranate, Mango, Chocolate

It was really a lovely seder. We’ll definitely do it again next year.


Leave a comment


I love to dance. Dancing is more fun with a crowd, so I’m always trying to convince people to go dancing with me. It’s always kind of a task. Dancing, like singing — this basic, primal, human thing that people have done in all societies since the beginning of time — somehow got turned into this thing that you had to be a certain kind of person to be allowed to do: Young, probably female, definitely beautiful-looking, and with that particular nonchalant, sullen superiority that passes for hip in this broken country. I’m only one out of the four, and most of my friends are also acutely aware of where they fall short on the checklist. It’s a hard sell.

But I’m a great believer in what Morrie Schwartz called “create your own culture,” and I *do* love to dance, so I keep on selling. It’s gotten extra difficult since I moved to the middle of nowhere. Even if I can get willing partners, sometimes there’s nowhere to go. I’ll dance to anything with a beat, honestly, but part of getting people comfortable with dancing is going somewhere they feel comfortable, and the choices  are limited.

Yet, really, what’s not to love? A crowd of people all moving together, arms waving, feet stomping, colored lights flashing, music shaking your veins — if you don’t think about it too hard, you can rise right up off the floor and float until morning.

So I was excited when a friend invited me to a dance party at a quirky local museum. It was in honor of her friend’s birthday, and dancing was the main attraction in a night that also featured meditation, a powerpoint history of social justice, and a potluck. That’s how we do our revolutions in Northern New England in January. We brought the kids and danced to amazing West African music courtesy of Landaya. It was fun to watch the kids — at 10, the boy is on the cusp between heartless adolescent embarrassability and a child’s readiness to get down and boogie. Initially he was all frowns, but he told me later he simply wanted to see “what I was supposed to do.” When he concluded that “dancing is just like airbending” (and somehow telepathically communicated this to his friend), the two of them airbended their way up to the front and center and took it on down to the floor. Talk about rising right off of the ground.

I didn’t airbend — that I know of, anyway — but I did enjoy the music, lights, and being out with friends and family on a Friday night. And I can recommend it: So would you. Create your own culture. Go dancing. And invite me, next time you go.

1 Comment

The Brown Paper Bag Project

A while back Jo Anna Rothman sent me a mysterious little brown paper bag that turned out to have 10 bucks in it — 10 bucks that I was supposed to use for service, in whatever way I saw fit. I puzzled over what to do with that 10 dollars, how to make it bigger, make it expand into something that could really serve the world. Because lately, it seems to me like the entire world is a bucket with thousands of holes in it, and I felt like anywhere I could pour in my 10 dollars it would simply drain right out the bottom of the bucket without doing anything.

I needed a superhero to help me. So I turned to my daughter, whose present employment involves riding a pegasus, armed with a light saber, defending truth, justice, and liberty everywhere. At least, that’s what my father tells me.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. In July or early August, a pregnancy test told me what I already knew: I was expecting. We were so excited — 10 years of trying had finally paid off. I tried to ignore the *knowing* I had almost from the minute she was conceived: that I was pregnant, that she was a girl, that there was something wrong with her. I told my mom and my husband what I knew, and they told me what you have to say in those situations: You worry too much. She’s fine.

Except she wasn’t fine, as a bitter array of miraculous medical testing was able to show us in painful detail. The pregnancy ended at 16 weeks. I birthed a daughter in late October, but I didn’t get to take her home.

And then my milk came in — a strange, sad gift from my body to my little Amanda who didn’t need it and couldn’t use it. The doctors said this probably wouldn’t happen — my pregnancy ended too early for my body to make milk, they said. If any came in, they advised hot compresses and tight bras and it’ll go away quickly. But I didn’t want it to go away, I wanted it to be used. I thought Amanda would want to share what she didn’t need with other babies like her.

There are premature babies so young that their own mothers can’t make milk for them — and so fragile that without human milk they will die. And — maybe there’s hope for this awful world yet — there are also milk banks that collect human milk, pasteurize it, and give it to those babies. My daughter’s spirit whispered in my ear that her milk belonged to those fragile little babies. So I began to pump my milk.


I didn’t have much — a few ounces a day at most. But the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England generously told me that they would accept whatever I had to give. So I saved and froze my milk from the end of October until now — and finally fed-exed them a box of 120-odd ounces of human breast milk, a check for $100, and JoAnna’s 10 dollar bill.


Hopefully somewhere out there in the stratosphere, a baby ghost in a blue nightgown on a Pegasus with a light saber is smiling, and hopefully some little ones as precious to their mamas as mine was to me, will get the chance to smile because of it.


(You may not have milk to give, but the Mothers’ Milk Bank is a non-profit, and testing, processing, pasteurizing, and delivering milk safely to babies is expensive. I’m sure they’d be happy to have your donation, 10 bucks or otherwise.)

Leave a comment

Playroom: Before and After

If this blog were at all an up-to-date chronicle of our family’s life, I should be showing you pictures of the work we’re doing on the kitchen, because that’s what we spent the weekend on. (Or, to be more accurate, what my husband spent the weekend on, while I took over the things he usually does, like cooking.) But the thing about D-I-Y home improvement is that it is very cheap, but it takes forever. All I could have shown you is the wall that last weekend he removed all the pine paneling from, revealing a structural disaster and an electrical fire waiting to happen. This weekend, he bought lumber to fix the structural disaster, and removed the outlet that I’m amazed had not yet succeeded in burning down the house, and he put in two studs, but none of this makes very thrilling photography. At least not thrilling in a good way. Very likely you’ll get kitchen before-and-after blog posts a year from today.

With home improvement on my mind, though, and needing some light at the end of my tunnel, I figured I’d show you last year’s home improvement project, which was to make over the boy’s playroom. Mostly, I am the queen of home improvement in our house. Being the queen means I make nearly all the fun decisions and do nearly none of the actual work. (My husband is a kind man. Or else he thinks I’d cut off my own arm with the reciprocating saw. I’m not sure which. Probably both. It is a goal of mine to learn these skills, however, so at some point I will put down my reign.) However, when it comes to the boy’s room, he is King of his domain. All your fun decisions are belong to him. And, in typical style, he made a lot of bold decisions and then wasn’t totally sure about them when all was said and done. However, I think his room looks great. What I love most about it is that all we will have to do to make this room suit him through adolescence and then to make it work as a study after he moves out is just to paint one wall.

Here’s how it looked before:

It looks bare because we’d taken out the broken and worn-out and repurposed-from-other-things plastic bins that lined three walls when we were getting ready to demolish it, but it didn’t look a whole lot better than this with the bins in. He had no furniture, terrible worn out brown carpet with decayed tape stuck to it, ugly beige walls he had improved over the years with crayon, pencil, and pen, and toys that simply were everywhere and could not be organized, even with adult help. It was not a happy play space. Here’s pretty much the same view, after:

The boy wanted a cheetah-themed room, because he is obsessed with cheetahs. His heroine is their fiercest protector, Dr. Laurie Marker.

We started by removing that carpet and replacing it with hardwood. This is the wood we used:

It’s oak flooring from Home Depot, in a color inexplicably called “Marsh.” We bought it five years ago to refinish our main floor, because it was insanely cheap, and we had nearly enough to redo the boy’s room leftover. We ended up paying $60 this go ’round for one additional box. We painted the walls a deep metallic gold which I think might have been from Ralph Lauren (or maybe Martha Stewart? Can’t remember or find it online, but I remember it was fancy-pants expensive paint because the shiny gold is not available in normal paint lines.) I had imagined painting the one wall as a savannah mural, with Robin and the cheetah running across it, but Robin nixed that idea. He wanted cheetah spots all across that wall with he and the cheetah running in the foreground “like a comic book.” (Did I mention he’s the king?) So that’s what we did. Here’s how it turned out:

Those cheetah spots on the wall were my contribution to this room. The boy painted a few, and my husband painted a few, but I painted 95% of them myself. Pretty happy with how they turned out, since painting walls is the last thing anyone ought to trust me to do, much less with fancy spots. I had Shutterfly make me a wall decal from a photo of the boy running a race. Finding a cheetah decal turned out to be surprisingly difficult, but I ended up buying this decal, and cutting it out. Both of the decals are removable when the boy gets tired of them, and can be moved around, so that’s cool.

My biggest goal with this room was to make it well-organized and easy for the boy to keep clean (one bin out for play at a time; each bin has its own toys), and also to create a natural limit on how many toys he could acquire in the future. (If it doesn’t fit in the furniture, something has to go to make room for it.) For that, we made the pilgrimage to Ikea. We bought deep brown Besta cabinets with glass door fronts, a long and simple Besta desk, and red bins for putting toys in. He also chose a red chair for his desk. Here’s how the desk looks:

He had the lamp already. The peace lily was a gift when his beloved horse Star died in early 2012, and that gorgeous drum was a gift our friend Dave made for him. On the wall at the left is a prized possession — a poster signed by Dr. Laurie Marker when we went to see her talk at her last visit to Dartmouth. Yes, that is a knitting basket on the floor. Here’s how the storage looks:

Months later, it still makes me happy to see all that order out of chaos. We finished things off with a fuzzy cheetah-print bean bag chairand a leopard print rug that I got for free with a free gift card. And voila: Here’s a happy kid in his happy new playroom.

Now, someday, let’s hope I can show you similar pictures of the kitchen.


Leave a comment

The Artist’s Way and What God’s Got

I have mixed feelings about The Artist’s Way.

On the one hand, I know lots of people who have found it instrumental in developing their own creativity and careers. On the other hand, I don’t believe in anything like the spiritual power of positive thinking. I just don’t believe that God provides gifts, help, or aid to people who are on the right spiritual path, at least not on consistent basis. My belief in God is a tenuous thing on the best of days, but as my rabbi said when I asked him about his own personal faith, “The question is not, ‘Do you believe in God?’ Of course I believe in God. But how much God? Clearly, not enough.”

To look around at a world full of believers, full of people trying hard to do the right thing, full of people with rich faith throwing their entire hearts into the enterprise of making this world a better place, and to know that despite all their efforts and all their creativity, the world is in terrible peril, is to know that there is not enough God to go ’round. What else can we conclude? Humans have wrecked the planet using their God-given free will (and therefore deserve what we get)? God wants us to suffer as part of some grand, mysterious plan? We’re just not praying hard enough, or doing the right things, to make God help us? I don’t believe any of that. I know that good people can try hard to do the right thing their entire lives in this unfair, unequal world, and not get any heavenly help to escape their situations. I know that powerful people motivated by greed may very well wreck my home, and yours too, and God may not show up to stop them. Unlike Jesus, I’m not surprised anymore that God has forsaken me.

So when Julia Cameron claims that all I need to do is say what my creative dreams are, begin to act on them, write about them, treat myself with kindness, and pray for divine assistance in my creative work, God will help me, I don’t entirely believe her. I do believe her a little. I believe in God, a little. And the God I believe in, or want to believe in, is indeed a creator. My God has abundance and blessings to share. My God doesn’t want me to suffer, or to struggle. My God wants all good things for me, and will add fuel to my fire — if I build it — the way sparks burst out of a log: inconsistently but explosively. That’s how God works. That’s all God’s got: everything you need, but only some of the time.

That said, my experience of the Artist’s Way is mostly that it is a helpful experience. Talking about, writing about, acting on, and being kind to yourself about your creative dreams is a good thing. I’ve been through the book twice on my own, and right now I’m working through it again in a group. I have some thoughts about why it might be helpful from a scientific, rather than spiritual, perspective, but I’ll save that for another day.

Leave a comment

Homeschooling: Physics for Entertainment

Our homeschool science text right now is delightfully nostalgic. And perhaps woefully outdated. Originally published in pre-Soviet Russia, and then updated throughout the 1930s,  it’s called Physics for Entertainment, and it is wonderful, and freely available. Me teaching the boy physics is a case of the blind leading the blind, and this is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that I’m not sure I would even recognize any scientific advances that have rendered the 100-year-old text no longer accurate, but the experiments are still fun, and I figure the scientific method as applied to experimentation is a learning experience that transcends the content, thankfully. (Amusingly, the experiments are designed to use everyday materials, but everyday materials circa 1913 are not always so everyday in 2013. When the text directed me to obtain a “lamp glass,” for an experiment, for example, first we had to figure out what that meant, and then whether we had one.  In that case, we had one, but the text demanded several, of different shapes and sizes, yet.)

Here we are, doing an experiment to explore the natural (spherical) shape of a liquid: 

If you want to follow along at home, this experiment is on page 81 of the text (and does not require a lamp glass).

We didn’t have quite enough alcohol in our mixture to make a perfect sphere, but we got close enough and enjoyed experimenting with the proportions of alcohol, oil, and water. Sometimes the boy finds Perelman too dry or a little over his head, but he got a big kick out of this series of experiments and was very sad to stop. (Also a big hit: the experiments making homemade cardboard boomerangs on page 57. As someone who was always frustrated with the toy boomerangs you can buy at the store which never work, I was very surprised that we easily made functional little boomerangs out of cardboard that flew and returned just fine, using Perelman’s instructions. And we’re no handiwork geniuses over here, so I am confident you could replicate the trick if you wanted.)

Leave a comment

From Entitlement to Patience

I’ve been home from work on vacation for the past two weeks. For the first time in many years, we neither went anywhere for vacation nor had major obligations at home to discharge. My folks came for Christmas, but stayed for only a few days, leaving lots of uninterrupted, unstructured family time for us at home. That was just what I wanted, and it came with some surprising lessons.

Being home for a long stretch of ordinary time gave me a chance to see my husband, who makes our home, at work. It gave me a chance to participate in that work in a meaningful way, which I don’t ordinarily get. I spent time planning and making meals, cleaning, and helping him prepare for a home improvement project. None of these are things I ever get to do, although for a while many years ago they were my main job in our marriage, and (except the home improvement), they are things I am good at doing and mostly enjoy.

Doing that work together put me in touch with the fact that I apparently have a curious sense of entitlement. Now, I’ve never been the type of person to try to talk a professor out of a poor grade, or a cop out of a ticket, or to assume that I was owed rewards of any kind, from anyone. I’m not talking about that kind of entitlement. But I realized that I tend to assume — on some level anyway — that I’m a good, intelligent, person who ought to be able to achieve things easily. I make the same tacit assumption about the people I love.

I don’t take into account just how difficult most of life is, and how time-consuming even simple tasks can be done well. Then, when things are difficult, tedious, boring, I have a low frustration tolerance. When I’m bad at a task either from lack of training and experience, or lack of physical strength — removing a wall, let’s say, as we worked on this week — I tend to give up before I even have a chance to learn or grow strong. I sometimes rush through tedious tasks and end up doing them badly, when going slowly was all that was needed to make them go well.

I sometimes find myself surfing, shopping, reading, daydreaming — instant gratification activities, that require neither effort nor skill — when I meant to be making or creating. Then I find that I’ve run out of what little time I have for the things that really matter to me, because they were more difficult than I felt they were entitled to be for me.

Worse yet, I’m just as impatient with my family. I underestimate how long it “should” take my husband to do his work, and get angry when it takes “too long.” I’m even impatient with my son, when he has difficulty with things I remember finding just as difficult when I was his age!

Some people like to choose a word in January to guide the year ahead. I’m not sure whether that is an idea for me or not, but if it were, I think PATIENCE had better be my watchword for 2013. Patience with myself and the vagaries of life, patience with my family and son, patience with the timeline for every good thing.

Making Pine and Balsam Garland

What about you? Do you have a problem with entitlement? Do you have a watchword for 2013?