Sukkah Like a Pro

There’s nothing to make you realize you stink at sukkahs quite like dining in the sukkah of people who have been doing it for years.  Imagine the cringe I felt in my heart as I approached the home of our friends, Dan and Valeri Remark, who, you will recall, also put on one prodigious Passover this past printemps.  But please don’t think for one minute that we weren’t made to feel extremely welcome or that we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

Still, I have to laugh at myself and the thoughts running through my mind as I walked toward the Remarks’ home.  Things like…oh, they have tiki torches lit…how charming…is that wisteria growing over the sukkah frame…please don’t tell me they trained wisteria to grow over the frame…of course they have wisteria growing over the frame—Dan and Valeri are awesome…oh, it’s branches of butterfly bush…yeah, that’s not any less gorgeous.

And don’t get me started on Valeri’s table.  In a word:  Wow.  Each place setting had a different yet perfectly coordinated bowl and plate, there was an eclectic mixture of wine glasses, and candelabras from Don Drumm Studio & Gallery graced the table.  For just a touch of whimsy, chili pepper and shotgun shell lights were strung beneath the branches adding to the glow from the candles.

We dined on Dan’s homemade chicken soup.  Other guests brought cucumber salad and challah bread .  My contribution was a cheeseball and assorted crackers.  I’ve provided my recipe below.  Dessert was extra special because we celebrated the fourth birthday of Dan and Valeri’s grandson, Roman, with a chocolate cake with whipped icing.

My thoughts regarding our soggy sukkah back home (it’s been a very rainy Sukkot this year)  were allayed by stories Dan and Valeri shared with us on their first attempts toward keeping the moedim (appointed times).  We may be eating off a card table and a too-small teak table from a patio set, but our hearts and our motives are in the right place.  As I said before, there is always room for growth with Adonai.

Pineapple Cheese Ball

1 – 8 oz. bar of cream cheese, softened

1 T sweet onion, finely diced

½ c. crushed pineapple, thoroughly drained

1 t sea salt

2 T green pepper, finely diced

1 c whole pecans

Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast at 400° F for exactly five minutes.  Pecans toast quickly, so set an accurate timer.  Set aside to cool for later used.  Drain the crushed pineapple in a fine mesh sieve or colander with small holes and press out the excess liquid with the back of a large spoon.  Place the softened cream cheese, onion, green pepper, drained pineapple, and salt in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly.  Use a spatula to form into a ball.  Coarsely chop the pecans and spread them in a neat pile on a cutting board.  Roll the cheese ball in the nuts, gently patting them in when necessary, until the entire cheese ball is covered.  A spatula helps with this process.  Serve with assorted crackers.

Enjoy!

The Sukkah Experiment

Less than twenty-four hours to Sukkot, and I have no sukkah.  What I have is a cabana frame with no way to attach the Chinese silver grass (and no promise the frame will support the weight) and no way to affix the sheets I plan on using as curtains.  Oh, I also have a mother who says, “You know I like things elaborate,” and “I just ran out of time to make the curtains.”  Funny how we’re back to using the sheets I suggested in the first place and she dismissed as hillbilly.

This is round two of building a sukkah for the Gibson Family.  You’ll recall last year’s efforts (Learning Curve) were redneck at best.  We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things.  Such as sukkahs need four walls and branches still attached to the tree don’t count.  Still, we did our best, and I truly believe Adonai was honored by our efforts.  This year, I’m thinking He might be grading on a tougher curve, and we’re getting points checked off for lack of preparedness.

You see, I had this all planned out on Monday when Mom and I went to buy the PVC pipe, three-way elbows, and the shower curtain clips.  We were on our way to Home Depot and ended up everywhere except Home Depot.  I could have had this finished Monday evening and been peacefully admiring my sukkah in anticipation of sundown Wednesday.  Instead, I’m anticipating watching my mother weave paracord around the top of the frame (at minus five-foot-short, I have no idea how she’s going to reach the top of the ten-foot-plus, peaked cabana frame) probably while standing on a step ladder (I’m not sure we own one anymore) placed on uneven ground.  I’m having flashbacks to Mom and Dad fighting over the set-up of…well, just about everything.

And the grasses still need cut down.  With a reciprocating saw.  I know we own one of those, but I have absolutely no idea what it looks like or where it is.  Dad is supposed to help me with this, but then I wonder who will watch Mom while she’s weaving paracord on a ladder?  This is not going well.  At least Dad should be sufficiently occupied cutting grasses so as not to pick a fight with Mom.  And nobody better pick a fight with me because I have a headache already.  Is it too early in the day for a glass of bourbon?

Here’s the kicker:  we have until sundown this evening to complete this, except Mom wants to eats dinner in the sukkah as a family.  My husband, William, leaves for work at 3:30 PM.  So, we have roughly four and a half hours to get this thing ready.  I’m thinking we should have completed the sukkah today, enjoyed some coffee, tea, and cake in it, and then tomorrow when husband’s vacation starts, enjoy dinner as a family.  Am I the only person who sees this spiraling out of control?

Don’t even get me started on dinner.  Mom asked what I planned on making for the first evening.  This is code for “I’m buying the cabana frame, so you make dinner.”  Not a problem at all.  Really.  I figured we’d have the sukkah up by Monday evening anyhow, so I’d be free to prepare food.  Then she texts me with a picture of the marinara sauce she’s making for dinner.  I hadn’t even suggested a menu, and already she nixed it.  Again, not a problem.  We like marinara over spaghetti, and I have back-up sauce in case our teenager snarls his nose at it.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go off.  I know there are a few details we still aren’t going to get right, but like life in general, Adonai gives us time to grow.  It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s His voice or mother’s in my head saying, “Have a little faith.”

Don’t Drive So Fast That You Miss Life

I wish I had listened when people told me to remember these days.  They were speaking of the days when my son, Joshua, was little.  And I did remember quite a lot; I have the scrapbooks and an entire room devoted to the production thereof as proof.

There was a time when I just wanted a few more moments of sleep, to eat my meal while it was still hot, or to sit down and read a book or watch a movie in the silence and peace I used to enjoy prior to a child.  As recently as yesterday when I sent Joshua to the school on his mountain bike to pick up his work permit so I could shower in preparation for taking him for a haircut so he’d look great for the picture on his temps then down to the BMV to get said temps then running home to make lunch before hubby left for work then cleaning up and staying put so Joshua could finish mowing for his dad and using the time to write a thank you note, put in laundry, and type up a synopsis for my current WIP then rushing off to buy pants for the job he started today, I thought to myself how much I want my life back!

Prior to that was all the running to obtain a birth certificate for the job and temps and work permit (I told him to have this stuff finished before school let out for the summer) as well as the three days it took him to get himself in gear to do everything listed above (I’m trying to be a hands-off parent as he matures).  There’s a DVD of Persuasion on my countertop begging to be watched, a book to be finished, and don’t even get me started on how I haven’t written anything toward my current WIP or my blog pretty much since school ended.

This summer has been crazy.  And really, I’m not complaining, but I wish I people who had said remember these days had also warned me that although children become more independent as they get older, in many new ways they are still quite dependent.  What I used to do for Joshua was contained to our little world, our home.  Now I’m pretty sure I’m trekking across America several times a week getting, taking, and doing for this kid.

My joyous internal screams were probably felt as shock waves in most of Ohio when Joshua told me he had job orientation from eight to three on Thursday and Friday.  What?  I’ll have two whole days to write and read?  Thank, Adonai; truly You are merciful.

Josh woke me at seven thirty to take him to work (Recall, he only has his temps since yesterday, and tonight will be the first night of driving lessons).  I asked all the motherly questions from did you take your allergy pill and brush your teeth to do you have your ID badge and lunch packed?  My questions were greeted with one-syllable, monotone affirmations.

I drove him to work and stopped a little way from the front doors so as not to embarrass him.  And then I watched my baby walk away.  And I wanted to jump out of the car and convince him to come home with me where I’d make him all his favorite foods, and we’d watch all his favorite shows, and then go to Kame’s to look at hunting gear, and visit Sweet Frog for yogurt, and if he was still hungry (which teen boys always are) we’d go for burgers or pizza.

Yes, this summer has been crazy.  I’ve hardly written at all since May.  When I pulled into the garage after dropping off Josh, I looked beside me and saw his lunch on the drink holders where he’d forgotten it.  I’ll be taking that to him around noon.  If I’m lucky, tonight after his driving lesson, we’ll go for a drive with me at the wheel.  It’s a habit we started in the evenings as the sun is going down.  We just pick a direction and drive until it gets dark or we’re tired.  Josh and I talk about everything during these drives, and the other day he told me how much he enjoys them.  I don’t believe he realizes that as I drive he places his hand lightly over mine where it rests.

I know things will calm down once school starts at the end of August.  My routine will be restored, and my writing will flourish.  For now I’ll set it aside because I wouldn’t trade publication with the best publishing house in the world or my book selling millions of copies and being made into a movie for the moments I’m collecting and turning into memories.

Mazel Tov!

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, Samuel Feldman married the love of his life, Abigail Cohen, in May of 1935. His two best friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby, stood for Sam as his best men. The occasion brought the three friends together after a long separation due to emotional trauma Claude had endured during their college years. John and Claude had enjoyed Sam’s Jewish heritage during Chanukkah, but their participation in Sam and Babby’s wedding would draw them in even closer. It was unlike anything John and Claude had ever experienced.

Historical Ketubah

The signing of the ketubah was the first ritual to involve John and Claude. An ancient document, the ketubah is a marriage contract of sorts that specifies the groom’s commitments to the bride. It is signed by two appointed Jewish witnesses who must not be family members related to the bride and groom by blood. Scandal of scandals: neither John nor Sam was Jewish. As readers will find upon publication of my novel, the lovely Abigail Cohen was one for breaking tradition. She knew how much Sam’s two best friends meant to him. In the eyes of the bride and groom, they were family, and therefore they had the honor of signing the marriage contract. This small detail would make the newlyweds ketubah, a work of art in itself to be framed and hung in their new home, that much more meaningful.

The second ritual, called the badeken, happens right after the witnesses sign the ketubah. The badeken is when the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. Different sources cite different accounts in the Bible as the reason for this with one explanation claiming it had to do with Rivkah (Rebecca) veiling herself when she first saw Yitzchak (Isaac), another said it was in reference to the heavily veiled Leah during her marriage to Yaakov (Jacob), and another said it was a combination of both incidents. The badeken ceremony can be quite emotional as the bride and groom may not have seen each other for twenty-four hours or as long as one week until this moment.

At this point, the wedding party enters the main ceremony where all the guests are seated. They proceed toward the focal point of the ceremony: the chuppah. I’ll direct you to The Hoopla About Chuppahs to find out how they figure in the Jewish wedding ceremony.

While beneath the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times. This beautiful ritual is reminiscent of the Israelites seven trips around the walls of Jericho. On completing the seventh lap, a miracle occurred when the walls of the city tumbled down, and the Israelites were able to capture the city. Every man is like the city of Jericho with a wall built around his heart. Men are often taught to hide their feelings, portray an exterior of impenetrability, and appear as if they have it all figured out. These elaborate defenses hide any sign of weakness or vulnerability as well as guard their deepest secret: they are sensitive and humble, simple and soft inside.

Along comes the wise woman who can pierce this defensive wall by surrounding her husband with the protective atmosphere of her love. She envelops him with affection, reassures him that he is her anchor, her center, and the focal point of her life. By doing so, he feels safe and comfortable, and the walls protecting his heart tumble down for her.

Two cups of wine are used during the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings and is recited by the rabbi. Afterward the reciting, the couple drinks from the cup. The betrothal blessings express the resolve of the groom and bride to create a Jewish home dedicated to Adonai and the wellbeing of all humanity.

A Jewish marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value to the bride. Traditionally, this is done with a ring that is totally plain without stones or marks. It is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty the same as the ring. This is another place where I had my characters break with tradition ever so slightly. Sam’s father, Ezra, was a jeweler of unparalleled skill, and for the wedding of his youngest son, he created a wedding band with his blessing hand carved into the gold.

Upon exchanging of the rings, the couple declares their betrothal to each other. The words “by this ring you are consecrated to me according to the Law of Moses and Israel” form the essence of the marriage service. The ring, an unbroken circle, symbolizes the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. Then the ketubah is read and given to the groom to hand to his bride. She holds on to it for all the days of their marriage as it is her property and has the standing of a legally binding agreement.

The Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, are then recited over the second cup of wine by the rabbi, cantor, or other people wishing to honor the happy couple. These ancient blessings place the bride and groom into a wider social and sacred setting. After these blessings, the bride and groom share a second cup of wine.

The most familiar tradition in a Jewish wedding is the breaking of a glass by the groom. This act concludes the ceremony and signals the guests to shout Mazel Tov, cheer, dance, and start partying. Some of the explanations behind the smashing of the glass include:

  1. To show that life holds sorrow as well as joy
  2. A reminder that marriage will change your life forever
  3. Symbolizes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem approximately 2000 years ago
  4. It’s a break with the past, and the marriage will last as long as the glass remains broken
  5. Symbolizes what is broken in society
  6. A superstition that the loud noise will drive away evil spirits
  7. It’s a time to focus prayers and energies on a specific brokenness that needs repaired
  8. A hope that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass or their children as numerous as the shards of glass
  9. It’s a representation of the fragility of human relationships

The last part of the service occurs when the newlyweds separate from where the ceremony took place. During the yichud, one of the most intimate and private parts of the day, the bride and groom are required to have time alone away from family and guests to reflect on their marriage. In times past, the marriage would have been consummated during the yichud. Afterward, the new couple would join the party.

Mazel Tov!

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