Just the Ticket

Today is my mother’s yahrzeit. Today marks the 7th anniversary of my mother’s death. I can’t believe that it was seven years ago. Seven is a significant number for us Jews. We sit shiva for seven days after a person dies.  I’m surprised that there isn’t some ritual or blessing or special thing that one does when a person has been dead for seven years.

Somebody once told me, “When we are grieving, our hearts are open. When our hearts are open, it is a time to receive.” The same person told me you don’t get over grief. It is always there. Some times it is more active than others. Today it is active and today my heart is open and in my heart is where I found the significance.

So here’s the significant story.

My kids think that I am perfect. Or perhaps they think that I think I am perfect and expect the same from them. Alas, it is definitely not true. I am not perfect nor do I expect them to be. Nevertheless, I refrain from regaling them with stories of my not so flawless and somewhat adventurous youth. The mistakes and missteps I made along the way have led me to where I am today and I turned out pretty decent. So I see no need to tell them the nitty-gritty details of the fun I had straying from the path before my frontal lobe was fully formed.

Of the few stories that I have been willing to share, now that my girls are closer to the age I was when these events happened, one became significant this week.

I went to college in west L.A. where parking was at a premium: on campus, in public parking lots and on the street. I got a lot of parking tickets. Some were for expired meters, others were because I forgot to move my car on street cleaning day and a lot were just because I was too lazy to find a legal spot. In this instance I did not learn from experience. Ever the optimist, I continued to challenge the odds on a regular basis and park my car in places where it was not welcome. Of course the odds were ever against me and I collected a series of parking tickets.

Then I would forget to pay them. Yep. I’d put the ticket in a pile of things to take care of and forget about them as I immersed myself in my studies and also driving around L.A. discovering the city and new places to illegally park.

Since the car was registered to my father’s name and address, notices of unpaid fines were mailed to my childhood home in Buena Park. That’s when the phone in my dorm room would ring. My mom would call and tell me that the notice of an unpaid fine came and that she paid the ticket so that my father would not find out. There’d be some scoldings, but not really any threats of punishment. Considering how many tickets I got, it did little to deter me from my wayward parking habits.

I often drove the 40 miles home to visit on the weekends. My parents were always happy to see me. At some point over the weekend, my father would pull me on the side to inform me that a notice came in the mail for a parking ticket. He also let me know that he had kindly paid it on the sly so that it was taken care of before my mother found out about it. He was less likely to scold.

I couldn’t tell you how many times this happened, probably not too many or my parents would have gotten angry at some point. But in later years it became a favorite story that my mom liked to tell. Those parking tickets became a significant memory illustrating both my impetuous ways and my parent’s tolerance for their youngest and somewhat impudent child. On one occasion or more, my mother would cheerfully threaten, “I hope you have one just like you some day!”

Well, I had one, about twenty years ago. I don’t know if she is just like me. Neither of us is perfect, but so far she hasn’t gotten into too much trouble, except for the parking ticket last week. She recently moved to San Jose. Parking is at a premium in her neighborhood.

On Thursday I woke up to a text from her at 6 AM, “I got a parking ticket.”  All I could do was laugh. “Welcome to city life,” I responded. And then I offered to pay it for her, just this once. It seemed like the right thing to do since my parents bailed me out so kindly when I was her age.

I really missed my mom right then. I ached to call her and tell her the story. She would have laughed out loud.

The timing of this event is significant. My mom is always on my mind and in my heart and in my head, for sure. This week, however, she is more. I can feel that the grief is a bit more active and my heart has been a lot more open. They say that paybacks can be a bitch. But this one is a blessing. It is a story that comes full circle, connecting me to my mom and my memories and bringing the past into the present for us to enjoy in a new way.

 

 

 

The Story of My Aunt Shirley

My Aunt Shirley passed away a few weeks ago. She was my father’s sister. My dad died over 25 years ago. It’s just us now. If you think about the family tree, it’s my cousins and sisters and I that are now the living matriarchs and patriarchs on the Gershun side. That’s a lot of responsibility.

My daughter, Malina, and Aunt Shirley from our visit in 2012.

Aunt Shirley was certainly a matriarch and a hero. I am so proud to have been raised in a family of people who stand up for human rights and do the right thing. Please read this great article about how she helped persecuted Jews in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s.

 

 

Namaste

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This is for my Mother-in-Law. She asked me to write a blog post and when the MIL asks, the only appropriate response is to comply to her request.

I haven’t been going to Friday night services much lately. Kind of not much at all. Many excuses: the husband has been traveling, so have I, we are tired at the end of the week and don’t want to drive. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it when we go. I love going to services at the Aloha Jewish Chapel. We used to go almost every week. I guess I’m just a little bit lazy these days. We light the Shabbat candles at home, say Kiddush, eat dinner together and begin our rest ASAP.

I stopped going to Shabbat Torah study with Rabbi Schaktman last year when my youngest stopped her Saturday morning sailing lessons. I don’t prefer to drive into Honolulu on the weekends, but the simultaneous scheduling of her sailing and my Torah study was perfect timing. I didn’t stop because I didn’t enjoy it. Quite the opposite. She  found an alternative passion closer to home and then, so did I.

Yoga.

I discovered a Friday afternoon Restorative Yoga practice session and a Saturday morning Vinyasa session  at the Kroc Center nearby.  I enjoy each one very much. On Friday it isn’t really a choice of one over the other. I could go to yoga, shower and make it to services on time. I’m hoping to make that my routine one day soon. The only problem is that it doesn’t really allow for Shabbat dinner with family and that’s super important to me too.

On Saturday it has to be one or the other because they happen at the same time. Torah study or yoga. I have chosen yoga—for now. Until this weekend I reassured myself that it is a reasonable alternative. My yoga practice brings me peace. Besides the physical benefits, it can be a spiritual practice and definitely inspires me to look inward, or upside down or sideways. Today something happened to confirm the story that I have been telling myself. It opened my perspective to find many connections from yoga to Kabbalat Shabbat services.

Our teacher, Min Soo, starts with one of her teacher’s interpretations of the Yogi’s Creed from the Rig Veda. We recited it together. Well, I kind of mumbled along as I don’t really know it.

May we be protected together
May we be nourished together
May we work together for the greater good
May our practice be enlightening
And may there be no hate amongst us
Creating peace peace peace

Usually I sort of zone out at this point since I started practicing yoga for the benefits to my body and figured I’m not into the, “Mumbo jumbo new age stuff.” I went to my first yoga session about five years ago after I was having trouble water skiing and my brother-in-law, Neil, suggested that yoga might help with my balance. I truly believe he was not addressing my mental state, but over the years the breath and stillness have brought some balance to both my body and my mind. Not exponentially, but enough for me to keep practicing.

At first I wasn’t comfortable with prayer hands and bowing to say “Namaste” at the end. Then I learned that Namaste simply means, “I bow to you.” No harm in that. An interpretation I read on the Urban Dictionary website is also nice, “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.” I can wrap my head around that. We’ve got spirit.

Today I finally listened closely to the words when Min Soo was speaking and it dawned on me that there some strong similarities in these sentiments to my Jewish values. Here are a few of the thoughts that passed through my head with my in and out breath:

  • Yoga is a personal practice, but we do it together. We accept ourselves without judgment. We don’t interfere with the others on their mats, but we soak up the positive energy of our collective practice. Sounds like Shabbat (or any other) services to me—without the Kiddush, Motzi and Oneg. Oh well, nothing’s perfect. We don’t always have to eat.
  • “May we be protected together. May we be nourished together,” sounds to me like the translation of some of our Hebrew prayers.
  • “May we work together for the greater good.” Hello…..Tikun Olam?
  • “Creating peace peace peace.” In Sanskrit: Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. In Heberw: Shalom, Shalom, Shalom. Do I need to explain this one at all?

Talk about finding balance. And at this point it isn’t an act. While I don’t think my engagement in this practice will ever overshadow any aspect of my being Jewish, it can certainly enhance it. These recent observations greatly assuage my Jewish guilt. No judgment there. Baruch Hashem.

Shanti Shanti Shanti
Shalom Shalom Shalom
Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

The story of the unhappy kugel

IMG_3985When Val asked me to make a kugel for this year’s communal Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, I was excited to do so. I immediately thought of the recipe that I have for my mother’s kugel that she served at each of our family’s holiday meals (except Passover) and the memory fueled my excitement.

Her kugel is sweet and simple and incredibly delicious: pecans, butter, brown sugar, eggs and egg noodles. How can you go wrong? While not difficult to make, it takes a reasonable amount of time and a little bit of patience.

Years ago I looked up the meaning of kugel, confused by the different specimens I’ve tasted. I wondered how my mother’s noodle kugel could relate to the potato one served at Passover and the plethora of versions at other people’s holiday tables. Internet sources describe it as a pudding. I am inclined to suggest the word casserole—but not of the tuna variety.

I planned ahead for this one, buying the ingredients on my weekly trip to the commissary the Sunday before Yom Kippur. I set aside time to make it on Tuesday afternoon, before we went out to dinner and to services for Kol Nidre. There was no way I was going to bake a kugel on Wednesday afternoon, the same day I was fasting. Regardless of the fact that it would be inappropriate to cook on Yom Kippur, I knew that the enticing aroma of all of those delicious ingredients coming together in a spectacular kugel would be more than I could bear in my VERY hungry state before Yiskor and Ne’ilah. It would definitely slow the fast.

I timed it perfectly and it was the most beautiful kugel I had ever created. It felt so good to look at it and see visions of all the kugels that had come before at Gershun celebrations. It truly was my mother’s kugel. I finally had the right combination of ingredients, timing and patience to make this great achievement. I left it on the counter, slightly covered, to cool and would put it in the refrigerator when we returned from Tuesday evening services.

When we returned, before putting it in the ice-box, I decided to take a picture of the kugel next to the flames of the burning yahrtzeit candles lit for my mother and father. Maybe I’d post it on Facebook? Or maybe I’d just send the picture to my sisters so that they could kvell with me on this great achievement. Whatever the intent, perhaps it is my hubris that became a tragic flaw and led to the unhappy conclusion of this almost perfect story.

After I snapped a few shots of the holiday kugel (thank goodness I took a picture). I picked up the glass plate on which it rested, turned to the refrigerator, slipped a bit and dropped the whole thing on our stone tile floor. The glass plate splintered in tiny pieces. spraying across the kitchen floor and into the hallway. The kugel plunked straight down, lying in tact on the floor below my feet. It’s golden top sparkled with shards of the pyrex dish and I reluctantly imagined what lay beneath. It became unfit for any palate, let alone a holiday meal. My dreams of the perfect kugel shattered before my very eyes.

The end isn’t so sad. My husband helped me clean it up. The next day I showed Val the picture and told her the story. She shed a tear for my mother’s kugel, but understood. She suggested mac and cheese. No problem. After morning services, I easily whipped up a pan. No memories were invoked as it did not have the familiar delicious aroma to tease me. Services were nice, not too long. We wished each other G’mar chatimah tovah and broke the fast together as a community.

I’m the only one who really missed the kugel that holds so many memories of my mom and dad and the new years and ends of years that our family shared together.

L’Shanah Tovah.

 

Just my type

When my friend Paula told me that I can send a recipe in the original handwriting of my mother, or grandmother, or other beloved person to be transformed into a dish towel that is a replica of that particular recipe card or scrap of paper, I thought that sounded pretty cool.  I imagined sending my mother’s chopped liver recipe and ordering dish towels for me and my sisters for Chanukkah. My mother’s chopped liver resides in fond memory for us three Gershun girls (more than washing dishes) and I continue the tradition of  “chopping the liver” each year for our holiday celebrations. The dish towels would be a nice gift.

I went digging in my recipe drawer to look for the index card sent by my mother almost 25  years ago, when I first moved to Hawaii and wanted to make chopped liver for my local friends. I knew I would recognize her handwriting in an instant, the long slanted lines, often all capital letters, boldly stating the directions or her purpose. I remember quite distinctly the notes I would find on the kitchen counter after school: “Lorrie, I went to the store. The dishwasher is clean.” Translated: “EMPTY THE DISHWASHER.” My mother was a librarian-back in the days when they had card catalogs. Her notes and To Do lists  usually came with a title, on the back of a discarded catalog card or index card. At least she listed my chores in basic numerical order and not by Dewy decimals or the Library of Congress.

I rifled carefully through the drawer, but couldn’t find the chopped liver recipe. I came across another that she also sent many years ago. She called it, “RECIPE OF SOUP WITH WHATEVER YOU HAVE HANDY.” It is her directions for using the Manishewitz soup mixes that come in the long packets with barley and beans or peas, another delicious childhood food memory. As soon as I saw it, I was disappointed and thrilled at the same time. The recipe was typed, on an index card of course. It wouldn’t make for a very memorable dish towel, but it served as a reminder  that she used to type EVERYTHING –and brought back so many more memories, making it totally worth leaving the dishes on the rack to dry.

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Not only was she famous in our family for her chopped liver, she was also renowned for her typing prowess. My mother typed fast–over a hundred words a minute…before the electric typewriter. We had one of those  black, cast iron, heavy old things settled on an old metal typing table and the rhythm of the tap, tap, tap of her fingers on the keys and the ding of the carriage return were the late night lullabies after bedtime for much of my childhood.

Untitled-2My father earned his law degree while I was in elementary school and she typed his papers for him late into the night. When I was in the sixth grade, she went back to graduate school. Once again, she typed late into the night, her fingers dancing on the keyboard, as she pursued the master’s degree that led her to become a librarian and plague me with those notes so carefully crafted on the backs of catalog cards. She deftly used correction fluid  and those small slips of powdery white tape to correct her mistakes and carbon paper so that there were duplicates of their work.

Typing was big in our family. During the summer before ninth grade, each Gershun girl took a keyboarding class so that we could appropriately turn in typed essays and term papers during our high school careers. My parents’ Midwestern upbringings influenced their commitment to proper form in our casual Southern California surroundings. Handwriting was fitting for thank you notes and To Do lists, formal communication needed to be typed.

My mother even typed the excuse notes that I’d take to school after an absence. Don’t tell my kids this, but it made it easier for me to cut class once or twice in high school, before I got caught. I typed the note and scribbled her name in cursive and was good to go–or leave–as the case may be, until the excuse slip actually slipped out of my backpack, onto the floor of the dining room at home, and my mother found it. There was no excuse for this kind of behavior. So much for my clever plan.

A lot of kids in my high school senior class received cars or trips to Hawaii for graduation gifts. I got a typewriter–electric. It was a state of the art model that had a correcting tape cartridge that interchanged with the black ribbon cassette for speedy proofreading and editing. Just as college bound kids take laptop computers with them today, I marched off to the dorms with my typewriter in hand, ready to pound out prolific term papers and essays late into the night. It also served as a source of income as I typed others’ papers, charging a dollar a page.

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Over the years, my mother evolved with the technology. She pursued her PhD with an IBM Selectric with that ball instead of type bars, so that she could whiz about the keyboard even faster.

th-3 She kind of slowed down when the word processor was introduced and never quite got the hang of her Apple computer, cursing that *!!$% thing as it posed one challenge too many. Not to mention the #$#@$ printer.

Luckily, by then, her girls had long since graduated from college, women earning their own degrees, well adapted to whatever keyboard might come their way.  She didn’t really need to type very much at this point and had basic email skills. I can’t even imagine what she would say about text messaging.

I wish I could find the original chopped liver recipe on that index card that she sent to me. I’ve done it by heart for so long that I lost track of the directions. I made one last-ditch effort to see if it was nestled in the box that holds the hand-held meat grinder that she also sent for optimal liver chopping. The recipe wasn’t there, but I was cheerfully greeted by her hand writing on the top of the box, true to form, in all caps: “PARTS FOR MEAT GRINDER.”

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I’m sure my sisters won’t mind that I don’t have dishtowels to send them for Chanukkah, as none of us particularly enjoys doing dishes and neither did our mother. We are just not that type. It’s nice that it led me to this memory to share, a holiday greeting from our mom, both handwritten and  in typeface–proofread and edited for perfection–just for us.

 

 

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana

My mother was a bright woman, both figuratively and literally. While it might be impolite to comment on her figure, I intend to discuss an aspect of such–without disregard of how incredibly brilliant she was too.

At some point during my childhood in the late 1960’s, she redecorated the house in which I was raised. While I can’t remember the exact year, the ensuing results among which I lived  until I left for college in 1980, shine like a beacon in my memory.

The front of the house was painted half black and half goldenrod. The front door was bright orange. That’s how we’d tell people to find our house, “5081 Somerset Street–with the orange front door.”  Neighbors called it “The Halloween House,” not ‘cuz it was spooky, but because of the thematic colors. It certainly was not because they thought that any of us resembled witches or pumpkins or ghouls.

Gershun girls with ma in front of somerset house2

A favorite spot for family photos, our orange front door is the backdrop for this portrait of me and my sisters posed with our paternal grandmother, Selma Gershun.

 

What became increasingly apparent  upon  entry into our humble abode is that my mother loved the color orange. The wallpaper in the front entry could only be described as a refined version of some far out, stained glass pattern in bright oranges and amber tones with black borders.

entry way

Further inside, above the bookcase that held the beginnings of her nutcracker collection, along the far wall of the  family room, next to the T.V.,  was a poster that said, “Peanut Butter is Love. Spread Some Around Today.” The font was that groovy, bell bottoms 60’s style and the letters were browns and tans and (you guessed it) orange.

Peanut Butter is Love

Beckoning from the center of the room was the main attraction,  the piece d’resistance, the family room couches. These famous, orange vinyl sofas flashed prominently right in the middle of the parlor as well as sparkle somewhere in the center of my childhood memories.

As I hinted earlier, my mother was smart. As a decorator she was able to combine practicality and style.  She liked to keep a reasonably orderly and clean-ish home. She had three children who trooped in and out of the house with neighborhood friends on a daily basis. Our small hairy dog was a beloved family member, allowed on the furniture and in our beds. Vinyl was the perfect answer to her sofa decorating needs. If we spilled milk, smeared peanut butter or left cracker crumbs, she could wipe down the couch in an instant with no stain left behind to tell the tale.

Kelly, our dog

Kelly, our dog, on the famous orange vinyl couch.

When the dog did her circus trick by walking along the upper edge of the back of the couch, perfectly balanced on the narrow edge, it was no big deal. My mother’s carefully appointed decorating scheme was designed to be comfortable, easy to clean as well as an expression of  her original and lively spirit. Orange was her spoken color.

table cloth

Notice the orange table-cloth!

Little Lorrie

She even picked orange for our clothes!

Her habit of applying lipstick at the end of every meal that used to try my patience and annoy me to no perceivable end has transformed into a fond memory, a family joke between me and my sisters. Even as adults, long finished with our own meals, her daughters were expected to wait until she was done with hers. We knew that the meal was finally over when she took a last sip of coffee, opened her purse and pulled out the orange lipstick. She applied it with careful precision, readying her otherwise clean aspect to be seen in public.

Gloria

While not in color, you can see that from a young age her bright smile lit up her beaming countenance.

My mother didn’t wear make-up, but she did not step outside of the house with bare lips. Her bright smile was the shining feature of her open and cheerful face and the lipstick outlined her vivacious and animated grin.

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My teenage rebellion appeared in many forms, my refusal to wear lipstick among them. Instead, I experimented with eyeshadow and foundation, mascara and eyeliner, but left my lips bare–much to my mother’s chagrin.

As most young, impetuous women of my generation, I was determined not to be like my mother. Of course we all know how that story goes, famous last words. Little did I know that I was kind of putting my foot in my mouth, or maybe hers.

I did not see even a faint resemblance to her in my penchant for choosing bright colors when I decorated my own room, painting the walls “Lemon yellow and lime green,” later picking bedding and curtains with rainbows and wearing my favorite red, cowl neck sweater as often as possible. I couldn’t help being outgoing and animated, just like her.

Little did I know that it was the beginning of my inevitable transformation. I have become another version of my  mother in many way. Lately you can spell it just like the color: O R A N G E!

It started innocently enough. I went to Target to get a bath mat to match one of the colors in our shower curtain and there it was-bright orange and fluffy and soft. Perfect. After that, orange hand towels appeared on each of the racks in both the master and guest bathrooms.

It has spiraled from there. If you take a peek into my closet, it seems that I have adopted the phrase from that Netflix show “Orange is the New Black.” Many of my dresses and shirts and shoes and even purses have a touch of orange. My iPhone case is orange as is the sleeve in which my Kindle rests. I did not do this on purpose. I swear. It just seems to have happened that orange has become my “Go To” color.

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As cheerful and smiley as I tend to be, I still don’t wear lipstick, except for on special occasions. I rarely reapply. But it’s been years since I’ve gone without a pedicure. My toenails are always decorated. In Hawaii, we wear sandals all year long. One simply must put her best foot forward. For the longest time I only used a natural color, but lately I’ve changed. You guessed it, I choose a bright orange polish, kind of making me like my mom from head to toe.

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While writing this blog post I did a quick search of the internet for what a favorite color choice says about a person. What does orange say about me? my mom? I was pleased to read the descriptions and found myself comfortable with the adjectives: social, adventurous, warm and cheerful, outgoing and kind. Sounds good to me.

If it is inevitable that I am going to be like my mother, at least it turns out to be generally bright and sunny. Orange you glad? I certainly am.

I am thankful for Thanksgivukkah

My sister and brother-in-law were featured on one of Kansas City’s news shows for their family’s “Thansgivukkah” celebration. Click here to see the story.

My husband and I watched the clip together. We like what she said about the connection between the two holidays in terms of religious freedom and thankfullness. We talked about how much we agree with her–and not just because she is my sister.  I mentioned how much I appreciate that this year Chanukkah is connected with Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. The two seem to have so much more in common for us.

My husband suggested that if Chanukkah fell near Thanksgiving on a regular basis, in America, the Jewish holiday would take on traditions more associated with Thanksgiving instead of how, for many families, it has morphed into another version of a secular Christmas. Instead of Chanukkah bushes we’d have menurkeys, instead of giving presents, we’d give thanks.

As did my family last night, like most of the Jewish families we know, we’d serve latkes with our Thanksgiving feast and add jelly donuts to our dessert selection. We’d offer a cornucopia of fried foods.

Instead of every few hundred years, we’d do it every year. And we’d keep doing it for hundreds and thousands more.

It wouldn’t require a complete Thaksgivukkah, starting exactly on Thanksgiving every year. That would be way too contrived (American?). It could simply be in the same vicinity on the calendar to develop a strong relationship between the two holidays. Granted, Thanksgiving is an US holiday which would probably cause the traditions to develop only in American related culture. But I’m thinking that it’s pretty much also in America where Chanukkah has taken on such a gentile charm, including the extreme materialism so closely associated with capitalism.

If only we could rewrite history.

Meanwhile, I have to say that I am very thankful that Chanukkah and Thanksgiving very politely collided to transform into Thanksgivukkah this year. For me, it was perfect timing, gently uplifting me out of what can only be described as a holiday slump, delivering a pleasant resolution to my conflicting feelings that began with the early arrival of Rosh Hashanah in September.

Until I was preparing and actually cooking for this holiday, I was not comfortable with the early schedule our lunar calendar served up in 5774 . On September 5,  I was just putting away my white clothes after Labor Day, barely finished rejoicing in my favorite season, the summer and not even near ready to embrace my least favorite, the fall.

It was way to soon to think about new year’s resolutions and reflection and atonement. It sent me into a state of shock, perhaps inertia. Thrust upon me way before I was ready, my process was a bit delayed.

Thank goodness for the process, even if a bit slow. I wasn’t ready in September or October, but in Thanksgivukkah I found pleasure and connection, emerging renewed and refreshed. I feel very thankful for the amazing blessings we share, too many to count or list, and more than enough to rejuvenate, revitalize and stimulate my languishing spirit.

I am glad this holiday came so early. It was perfect timing. Another perk being that we are done. I find myself fortified for the onslaught to come, the commercialism that grows and threatens to overtake even the spirit of Thanksgiving if we let it. December will come to me and my family without the frantic anticipation and preparation that begins earlier and earlier each year.

I, for one, will remain placidly disengaged next month, avoiding the malls, their parking lots and surrounding traffic. My usual annoyance that retail stores have been displaying Christmas decorations since before Halloween and the blatant ignorance for the next 25 days or so and that there is more to some people’s lives than this one enormous holiday, will not emerge.

It has been replaced. Instead, I will let the wonderful grace of this special Thanksgivukkah fill me with patience and serenity. I will wish others a happy holiday, knowing that mine was supremely wonderful.

Thank goodness the holiday came early this year. For Thanksgivukkah, I am truly Thankful.

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