I Wish You a Jewish Christmas and a Happy New Year

Jewish Christmas. It’s a hashtag on Twitter. @JewishTweets and @JewishConnectiv both asked people about their movie/Chinese food plans. We, of course, had those plans, as we have for years. I can’t even remember when we first did this; certainly I didn’t get it from my parents. In the 1950s-60s Chinese food was still exotic enough that I don’t think I even had some until I was a teen. My mom did buy canned Chung King stuff, though. We also almost never went to the movies when I was little, only drive-ins in the summer.

For many years, when the kids were little, we spent every Christmas vacation in Florida visiting grandparents. There were the weeks when our days completely revolved around the pool and we had such a good time with other young parents and kids similarly visiting their families. Then there were weeks when we bundled up in our winter coats and went to Sea World. Several times the fake waterfall outside my in-laws condo development froze. Even south Florida can get cold in December. But without really knowing that we were on the cutting edge of something that would become A HASHTAG!, we would take the kids to the movies Christmas day because there was nothing else to do, and then we’d eat Chinese food for dinner because no other restaurants were open. The kids loved driving by all the houses with Christmas lights. That was one thing about south Florida: Christmas was obvious in a way it wasn’t necessarily in New York City.

These days my now-adult kids say they never felt deprived around Christmas time. They say the accepted completely that Christmas was a holiday we didn’t celebrate. The year my son was six, his friend Willy confided that he was getting suspicious about Santa Claus because Santa had used the same wrapping paper as his parents. “I think that’s proof,” I overheard my son tell his best friend.

Me, on the other hand, I had horrible Christmas envy. Growing up, the only other Jewish family besides my uncle’s (who lived next to us) in the neighborhood was the rabbi of our synagogue. The Jews in Worcester lived in and around the streets that had once been part of “The Ellis Estate.” We lived on a 1/3 acre that had been part of the “Salisbury Estate.” My parents tended to do things differently. When they finally retired, they went to Sanibel Island and then wondered where all the Jews were.

So there I was on Waconah Road, looking out on Christmas decorations on every house. Friends’ parents invited me to tree-trimming parties, which my parents let me do (though my mom would not let me go to the WASPy “Cotillion” classes when they began). I even went to midnight mass with friends. One of my nicest memories is waking up on a Christmas morning when it had snowed a foot during the night, and all the neighbors, including my father, uncle and brother, were outside to shovel the street so people could get to church. So even though I what I really wanted was a Christmas Tree and a stocking hung up on living room fireplace, what I have carried into my adult life is a good value: help your neighbors, no matter what their religion.

New Years Eve also seemed to pass me by when I was a child. One year we went to a fancy party thrown by my best friend’s parents. Kitty wore a sleeveless green velvet dress with a drop waist that her father had purchased in Paris. I wore a wool skirt. (No wonder I’m always afraid of being dressed incorrectly.) Yeah, my college, post-college New Year’s Eves were filled with drunken revels. But once I was married — the Florida thing. Professors have Christmas vacation. We’d go out to dinner, but we were certainly in bed by midnight. So in the years when friends started their New Years Eve rituals, we were in Florida. A few years back, when there was no longer any reason to hit the tropics, we found we had nothing to do.

Several times Howard and I went outside before midnight and walked to the boat pond gazebo right off Central Park West to see the New York Road Runners Club Midnight Run and fireworks. That was great fun. But then it got crowded; it became a “thing,” like the blowing up of the balloons before the Thanksgiving Parade. Last year we went into Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble play Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This year we’re going again–with our daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. Then it will be back to their house for dinner (the concert ends about 7:30) for Veuve Clicquot. I expect we’ll be home by midnight. But we will have had a wonderful time.

People make a big deal of the holiday season. Considering how short and dark these days are, it’s a good idea. I loved how Hanukkah came so late this year. It gave the candle lighting more joy–menorahs in the window! (The last night, with all those candles going, we set off the fire alarm. Oh well.)

The holiday customs we inherit, those we make ourselves–it’s interesting, especially considering that baby boomers are the largest population cohort ever. You can leave your comments below. I’d love to know:

  • What holiday traditions have you inherited and still keep up.
  • What holiday traditions you have make up.
  • Whether you think holiday customs are important or have anything to do with who we are.

To everyone out there: Wishing you the best holiday season. See you on the flip side.

Oh, and here’s a picture from our Hanukkah party. And I’ll give you my latke recipe. This year I made the best latkes ever. Then again, it’s not a recipe I practice a lot. So

8 baking potatoes

2 large onions

1/2 cup flour

4 eggs

salt, pepper

I use one large potato for every person, and adjust the recipe accordingly. Peel and grate the potatoes. I do this in the food processor, although I know latkes taste better when grated by hand. Mix everything together in a large bowl (not metal) so that it’s one big mess. Drain off the extra liquid. There will be more and more of that as the mixture sits. Also, grated potatoes left out in the air turn kind of orange. That doesn’t matter. I use a cast iron skillet with about 4 tbls of oil for each batch. I take out enough grated potato so it’s the size of a small hamburg and press it pretty flat. Each batch has about six pancakes. The flame is medium high because they need to cook through but be really crisp. If necessary turn over more than once. Keep adding oil. Remember: Hanukkah is all about the oil. I then drain them on paper towel that’s on a  baking sheet in the warmer drawer. This way everyone can eat at the same time. Serve the latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. As I make them only once a year, the latkes are the feature of the dinner, and the sides include whitefish salad, marinated vegetables, etc. Most people use them as a side dish with some other “traditional” main dish, like roast brisket.

Always remember you can tweet me @wordwhacker


A Jewish Mother’s Advice to Occupy Wall Street

First of all, all of you in Zuccotti Park or Chicago or wherever–what you’re doing is kind of amazing. As a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement, I look at your protests and think how much the world has changed. I also wish we baby boomers could have provided you with a better world. We certainly tried. But we let the fat cats get away with too much. We let the Republicans get a way with a massive cheat in 2000 and 2004, and when Obama came in 2008, things were a little far gone for a good and quick fix. But a lot of what’s going on with the economy and the job picture, we couldn’t have predicted that. I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. Yes, there are a lot of bad guys. Some good guys let us down. (I’m talking to you Bill Clinton.) So now you, our kids, are using your energy to say, “stop, no more.” At least that’s what I think you’ve been saying. You guys aren’t exactly clear. It’s that “human mic” thing, which I’ll talk about later. Also, you’re not all kids as some studies have shown. (http://nyti.ms/vE8NwV) People my age have been down there every day, sleeping over, showing support. And thus my first bit of advice.

  • Call Your Mother. She Worries. I’m not kidding. And you can substitute any family or friends for “mother” there. Even if people in your life don’t agree with what you are doing, they do want to know you are safe. So far in New York City, Occupy Wall Street people have been pretty safe. But you never know. The protestors in Oakland weren’t expecting a former marine to suffer a brain injury.


  • Think of How What You’re Doing Looks to Others. The chant “The Whole World’s Watching” worked really well at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 when Mayor Daley’s police went after the protestors with billy clubs. Indeed, it was the Democratic Convention, and the whole world was watching.  #OWS has a different kind of coverage–live-streaming, tweets–along with the mainstream media which has been very much on the story despite some complaints. This was The New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir’s tweet about her annoyance with this after Nate Silver’s story on the press coverage on October 7, 2011:A lot of what you’re doing in Zuccotti Park looks a little dumb unless you’re there and caught up with it, like the drumming circle.


  • So Don’t Make Drumming a Priority. Yeah, it’s cool and spiritual, but it looks really silly. And you are bothering people who live and work in the neighborhood. Take a minute to think how important it is to our economy and the eventual easing of unemployment to allow people to get a good night’s sleep and go to their jobs. The more jobs we lose now, the worse it will be. Meeting with the community board and getting porto potties, that was a good thing that showed strength of character.


  • Not So Much What Happened at the DOE Meeting. Since few OWS people went to the small meetings after the large one was broken up, those there looked more interested in disruption than construction. Believe me. I am a long time veteran of dealing with the DOE. I had two kids who went all the way through in public school, and things have gotten worse. But doing “human mic” checks instead of listening and designating a speaker from your group–you–we–lost an opportunity to put stuff out to the DOE.


  • One Thing About the Human Mic. Remember the game telephone. That’s what can happen. So be careful.


  • Don’t Antagonize the Police. @OccupyWallStNYC made a good point yesterday in the tweet:Document, don’t fight, unless you’re ready to be arrested and maybe beat up a little. Tear gas is painful (I’ve been tear-gassed).


  • But Count Your Blessings. This is not Tahir. You are not fighting in Syria. Thank your lucky stars for that. In Egypt protestors get horribly tortured (as the US has tortured and still may those they suspect of being terrorists). They die. We do live in democracy with a free press (even Fox is a free press, sort of). You can say a lot of things in the USA that people can’t say elsewhere without being in fear of their lives. Which reminds me:


  • Occupy a Voting Booth. Democracy is really slow, and that can be frustrating. But voting generally has an impact. (Look what has happened since people voted all those right wingers and Tea Party supporters into office last year.)


  • Back to the Police. Every since 9/11 Americans have had lots of nice things to say about police. They are generally brave people. But people willing to put their lives on the line often have a toughness that with a slight shove moves over to bullying. Most of the police don’t see themselves as part of the 99%. They see themselves as guys who can legally walk around with clubs and guns–and use them. Did you notice the turnout in the Bronx of off-duty police supporting the police indicted of ticket-fixing schemes? If a guy has a night stick, try not to come into contact with it.


  • And Don’t Be Naive. This from an article in today’s Times (http://nyti.ms/vE8NwV):  Sonny Singh, 31, a Sikh musician from Brooklyn who joined Occupy Wall Street early on, recounted the scene in Zuccotti Park the day the general assembly drafted its “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” — the closest thing to a political manifesto the protesters have put out thus far.Mr. Singh said that he and a few other “brown” people at the assembly were appalled by what was going to become the first paragraph of the declaration: “As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin,” the document began, “we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race.”

    “That was obviously not written by a person of color,” Mr. Singh said, calling the statement naïve. “Race is a reality in the lives of people of color, you can’t put out a statement like that without alienating them.”

You don’t want to sound stupid.

  • And If It Gets Too Cold . . . Go Home. Yes, the protestors who are staying there all the time are admirable in their determination. But New York City gets cold in the winter. Soldiers manage to stay camped out in tents during frigid weather, but not everyone is supposed to be a soldier. At this point the Occupy Wall Street movement has changed the way Americans think about protest. It’s not clear that anything can be changed by these protests–except our way of thinking about things. So if you have to leave, you haven’t lost. In many ways you’re winning every day.

I’d love to hear from everyone what they think, those in favor of the demonstrations, those against. Use the comment box as a forum. And in the meanwhile, stay safe.

Life Guidance for Gen Y

It’s a good thing I checked my Twitter feed yesterday morning before I put up a different version of this blog post because there was a tweet from Jenny Blake, author of Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want (Running Press, 2011), saying she just quit her job at Google. Yes, that’s right. She quit her job at Google, where since 2006 she has been Career Development Program Manager and internal coach. Yes, that Google. The one with gourmet food, a gym, nap rooms; the one that fosters “white space”—that is, time for employees to think about things besides their current project; a top ranking employer-of-choice for college grads (see http://aol.it/iqwdto. Note: AOL classifies this article under “Weird News.” Oh, OK, AOL. You the boss.) Judging by the book, and yesterday’s blog, http://bit.ly/iZZkKd, she did the right thing. For her. And that’s what ultimately important.

If either of my kids ever quit a six-figure job with an amazing employer, you can bet that I’d morph straightaway into Jewish Mother Mode (JMM). I can see the texts I’d be pounding out on my phone, the IMs I’d be sending, and I can hear the silence with which they’d be met. Yup, my kids know how to tune out the nag. But being that I’m not Jenny’s mother, I can be a bit more objective. Jenny’s book, speaking tour, and blog have become her consuming passion, and she’s a big on living your passion.

Life After College, in fact, steers Gen Y to career paths and life journeys that will make them happy, and not—IMPORTANT—necessarily rich. It’s a big debate these days, whether colleges (and advisors and parents) should be steering young people to the careers that will put them on the path to an assured income. Going for the bucks is OK for some. Indeed, for many 20-somethings I speak with $$$$$ and lots of it is their goal in life. They focus early on in college and as soon as they graduate (or finish a professional program) they pounce. Satisfaction with self? Sure, they measure that in dollars.

But for all the others out there, the ones who graduate and ask, “now what?” the questions Jenny poses and the marvelous exercises she includes seem to me great tools for directing choices. I like how Jenny invites people to write in her book, kind of like Dr. Seuss’s My Book About Me (which my daughter owned and revised many times). This really is a “workbook.” Jenny uses icons to demarcate various sections: two pens for the “coaching sessions,” a diver for “deep dives,” i.e. more in-depth examinations random topics, such as clean sinks.  The “Two Cents From Twitter” pages (headed with a red version of the blue Twitter bird) come off as a bit of a gimmick, but crowd-sourcing is a big thing now, and James Suroweicki has certainly convinced me about the wisdom of crowds. So maybe she’s right to include snippets of ideas gleaned from her audience. I also wasn’t crazy about the inspirational quotes, but that’s me. I’m not an inspiration quote person. (I can tell from my Twitter feed that I’m in the minority.)

I would give Jenny’s book to any Gen Yer, perhaps as a companion to What Color Is Your Parachute (Ten Speed Press, in its umpteenth edition, and now a great reference for kinds of careers). Jenny is practical, upbeat and full of belief in herself, an attitude that becomes quite contagious, and I would recommend that my fellow baby boomers make sure their kids have copies. Read it yourself first, though, because many pages could turn into “conversation starters.” And read it for yourself too. Yes, Jenny is our kids’ peer. She is nevertheless a born life coach whose advice cum way-of-thinking suits any age group. We could all pause to take our “quality of life” temperatures (see pp. 234-35) or fill in the blanks about our “ideal day” (pp. 241-243). You might have to purchase two copies.

Yeah, that’s one thing I love about Jenny’s book. It works better on paper. Sure, you could complete the exercises on an iPad ebook, but typing ebook notes is still a cumbersome task. With a book like this, “easy” is an important quality. This book reminded me that some things are best in older formats. Like us, our kids’ parents.

  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy: I wouldn’t recommend coaching over, say, seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist if one is truly depressed or stressed. But for those crossroads we reach, whether at age 22 or 59 . . .? Life-coaching definitely has its appeal. It’s short, direct, proactive.
  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy, redux: To my mind, a lot of life coaches are bullshit artists who prey on the insecure and needy. So are a lot of psychotherapists. Still I trust psychotherapists who have had years of verifiable and quantifiable training over coaches, who generally go through some kind of training program that lacks an overarching authority to set standards.
  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy, one more observation: It isn’t either/or.
  • Finding help for your kids: Let them lead you to what they need. You probably have better connections for doctors and even life coaches than they do, so have some contacts ready in case they ask.
  • Finding help for your kids redux: Jenny’s book costs $14.86 on BarnesandNoble.com. That’s a small investment for a tool that might help your Gen Yer discover his or her mooring.

So good luck to Jenny, who’s already something of a rock star. If you’re looking for an inspirational speaker for an event, you can contact her on her blog: LifeAfterCollege.org. Clicking on the book cover will take you to BarnesandNoble.com.

As always, please leave comments. I prefer them on the blog, but, as always, I like your communications on Facebook and Twitter and by email.

This is Jenny Blake

Baby Boomer Mothers Go Tiger. Sort Of.

“Why don’t you write about the Chinese mother?” friends asked. That seemed like a good idea for a few minutes. But the buzz was getting too loud for my own voice to be heard in the blogosphere. What more could I possibly add to what thousands, yes, thousands of others were saying? By the weekend Lisa Chua had splattered herself all over the Internet explaining that her Wall Street Journal blog, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (http://tinyurl.com/2v8fg3k), was supposed to be “ironic.” Thus she maybe removed herself from contention for Worst Mother Ever. But, wow, had she hit a nerve: over 3000 comments to the original blog, plus the TV appearances. Then came Lisa Miller’s article in The Daily Beast (http://tinyurl.com/4o4o3gl). And, OK, I get it, Lisa Chua. The Tiger Mother was not trying to make her kids’ existences living hells. She was searching for balance.

Also, Lisa: great pr for your new memoir! Way to go.

Now, if one of my kids had demonstrated that she was a musical prodigy, maybe I, like Tiger Mother, would have ripped up the birthday cards she made me, just so she’d strive harder for perfection. Actually, I doubt it. I still have the puzzle the reads, “Happy Birthday Mom,” which my daughter sent from camp when she was like 12. And rather than making my kids stand outside in frigid weather to punish them, I’d be like, “Do you need another sweater? Where are your gloves?” I am a Jewish mother through and through. Basically, Ayelet Waldman has covered all the western mother vs. Tiger mother ground in her blog (http://tinyurl.com/4rm4pgu) in the Wall Street Journal, and in a generous way, I must add. (Yeah, this is the same Ayelet Waldman who once electrified the parenting world by putting her shit on blast about loving her husband more than she loved her kids). Ms. Waldman is a bit younger than I am, and, yeah, most of my Baby Boomer readers are, too, but what she says about parenting still resonates: we turn into the kind of tigresses our children need. (No, not mama grizzlies, who, out there in the wilderness are actually quite bad mothers by any human standard.)

(I must digress for a moment for an encomium to Ethel Mama, my sister-in-law’s late mother. The quintessential Jewish mother, Ethel Mama had a single response to anything her grandchildren, her friend’s grandchildren, my kids, etc. did: “Wonderful. Just wonderful.” If the A was a B or even a D, she was always there: “Next time you’ll study harder; next time you’ll get more help from the teacher.)

So instead of the Chinese mother, I’m going to write about the eyebrow-waxing-mom from Toddlers & Tiaras. Watch this clip via the Huffington Post: http://tinyurl.com/6fc2hcw. The bottle-blond mom actually says to the camera, “they’re called beauty pageants for a reason” as her six-year-old screams, “don’t tear it, don’t tear it.” Our candidate for “monster mother of the century” even informs the audience, reality-show style, that her little girl had a “bad experience” with eyebrow waxing. The wax was too hot and her skin tore off. Both the stylist and the mother lie to the child—“you’re done”—when they still have the second side to tear off. Curiously, they bribe her with candy, for which the child pants. The kid actually sticks out her tongue and pants like a dog. So maybe this child is regularly deprived of candy to maintain he svelte five-year-old figure. Or maybe she just really likes candy. She’s still crying at the end of the clip, in pain. Getting your eyebrows waxed HURTS. The sting continues for several moments after. I know that from experience. I would never expect a little kid to endure an eyebrow wax, even if he or she suffered from Tajikistan unibrow syndrome (http://tinyurl.com/6j5uogs).

OK, eyebrow-wax-mom—even if you haven’t been there and done that—shouldn’t you be moved by your child’s tears? Isn’t that why this video has gone viral? It’s not that there’s anyone (except for fellow Toddlers & Tiaras adult female competitors, i.e., the mothers) rooting you on in the comments section. You are no Tiger Mother with those sick of Western permissiveness in your corner. You are one of those animals who eat her young.

Yes, I am old enough to be eyebrow-wax-mom’s mother, and note how worked up I am still. That’s because I am a baby-boomer mother, as I have written time and time again. I worry. Sure I expend some energy over other people’s kids. But a lot is over my own, more than they know, more than they are comfortable.

So here are some things my adult children of a Generation B-Squared (Jewish) mother are never allowed to do.

Never pick up furniture from the street. That gorgeous armoire may be crawling with bedbugs. And how do you expect to see them at night when you come across it in the gutter?

Never buy a used carpet. It may harbor carpet bugs. Yes, carpet bugs are real and they take real exterminators to get rid of and that costs more money than you can afford.

Never use the argument that picking up items in second hand shops is “sustainable” living. It’s a bug invitation.

Never complain that I’m nagging if you don’t take the above advice. Yes, I will nag. In fact, I will get upset.

And then, we’ll move on, the way we always do. I worry. But I trust them. Sort of. Well, a lot. But I would never have made them stand out in bad weather for bad grades or let a drop of eye-brow wax mar their preschool brows. So, for that, why not a promise: no used furniture, no used clothes. And eat some vegetables and fruit.

[An addendum here on 5/12/11. Please see this wonderful blog from Betty Ming Liu on the Amy Chua's strange lack of believability, let alone gravitas. http://bettymingliu.com/2011/05/amy-chua-cant-be-trusted/]