Blog: October 2011

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Halloween pot-luck

There was a Halloween pot-luck at work today. Late last week we had a spectacular fridge purge -- things years past their expiration dates and quite a few "science experiments" and containers of green fuzzy...something. These ideas seemed like they should go together, so in a then-locked entry (to maintain the surprise) I asked for suggestions. Thanks to everybody who helped! That entry is now public.

I opted for "cottage-cheese salad way past its sell-by date" as closest to the fridge theme, though several other suggestions nicely fit a "green and/or fuzzy" theme in other ways. (I went for this one because it is clearly abnormal in its green-ness, unlike, say, gaucamole or kiwi.) You can't see it in the picture below, but I altered the sell-by date on the container from 2011 to 2001 -- turning the "1" into a "0" was the only thing I could do after failing to remove the existing ink with chemicals I had on hand. We have a rule that things in the fridge need to be labeled, so this morning I browsed our alumni wiki page to decide on a long-gone coworker to implicate. Ex-coworker, if you're out there, it was all in fun. :-)

The treatment was...evocative, so much so that for a while nobody else ate it. Eventually people got brave. Other offerings included cake with "glass shards" (made from sugar), a couple variations on fingers, a fruit salad with eyeballs, a greenish brain with red highlights (labeled as zombie food), and several comparatively-normal items. I consider it a success.

There is a post-script. A coworker pointed out that the person I implicated didn't work there in 2001. I knew that, but any food actually from 2001 would not have survived the office move in 2005. I was one of the people who prepared the fridges for that move; I know. So I had to choose among inaccuracies -- I could support a 2001 fridge deposit or a fridge deposit that could have occurred in our current location, and opted for the former. If I'd been able to edit the date more effectively I could have done both. I don't think anybody was there in 2001, still there after the move, and gone soon after. Yes, I did over-think this. :-)

Photo: Read moreā€¦

Recipe/idea request: green fuzzy food

There is a Halloween pot-luck at work on Monday. Just yesterday we had a spectacular fridge purge -- things years past their expiration dates and quite a few "science experiments" and containers of green fuzzy...something. These ideas seem like they should go together. What can I make for Monday that would evoke the themes of the fridge purge?

Constraints: - I'll need to keep it at room temperature for a few hours. Or if it's small I can use the fridge. :-) - Cannot require that-day heating. - Kosher parve or dairy (no meat).

I will unlock this post Monday after work if I get any suggestions.

Thanks!

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See comments for some fun suggestions.

Busy

Come Thursday I will have read torah four times in three weeks. Fortunately none of the portions were new to me (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur afternoon, Shabbat during Sukkot, and coming up, creation for Simchat Torah). And I led a good chunk of a service on Yom Kippur, which was nifty but of course required prep.

There has been a great deal of cat-herding surrounding the congregational web site, publicity for an upcoming Shabbat dinner (or rather, the lack of same when it was expected), committee and board meetings, etc.

I'm glad to report that we've had some respite from the rain; I've been able to eat in the sukkah four times so far. The new christmas sukkah lights are working out ok (previous ones were failing).

And, of course, work and household stuff demand their usual attention.

This stretch of fall is hectic, but we're coming into the home stretch now. Sorry if I've seemed to be ignoring anybody.

Not fair!

Tomorrow night begins the week-long festival of Sukkot (aka "Booths"), during which we "dwell" in booths outdoors. ("Dwell" has been interpreted to mean "eat, and if you live in a place where it's safe you should sleep out". This city-dweller declines the latter.) I've been watching the little booths bloom across Squirrel Hill during my commute.

Number of days among the next eight when rain is not forecast: one.

Pbbbtht! Well, we'll see what happens.

The rabbis are very practical. Since Sukkot is called "zman simchateinu", or "season of our rejoicing", and since soggy dining is not very joyous, if it's raining you stay inside (except on the first night when you still should at least go out and have some bread to fulfill the commandment).

That went well

This was a really productive Yom Kippur, from the robo-call on the answering machine Friday afternoon about lashon hara (yeah, really) through Kol Nidrei last night and the whole day today. Parts of the liturgy newly resonated with me, I heard two excellent sermons (maybe more on that later), and the new morning service was a rousing success.

On that last: I was expecting 30-40 people, basically the minyan regulars minus some who'd said they wanted to be in the sanctuary, plus some curious others. We had 80 and had to send out for more prayerbooks twice. The room seats about 100; we may be in trouble next year. Lots of people complimented me on it and my rabbi said many kind things about me for organizing it. We had my rabbi for the first hour and had lots of spirited singing, just like in the minyan. We had only expected to have him for half an hour, so plans about timing went out the window, but it was obvious that he really wanted to be there and of course everybody wanted him to be there, so I think we need to see if we can make that easier next year -- maybe start half an hour earlier? Because of the extra time we spent in the opening section we had to rush to try to catch up with the sanctuary service -- which was complicated by the fact that they were making up for a late start by adjusting and ended up running early. So while we had intended to enter the sanctuary at the beginning of the torah service, we actually missed the first few aliyot. Oops. We'll do better next year.

Even with the responsibility of running things -- it can be challenging to really pray when you're also responsible for watching the clock and tracking the people who might need extra page cues and signaling to your assistant leaders about changes to make and so on -- I was able to really engage with this service, and it was a great way to start a day spent in the synagogue. This ended up being even better than just switching the two morning sanctuary services (my original request) would have been; the new service had a much higher lowest common denominator, in terms of fluency, and that's huge. I carried the high from this service through most of the rest of the day. (My mind always wanders during Yizkor, which is more about the dreary English readings in our machzor than it is about Yizkor itself, but the rest was good.)

I read torah at the afternoon service. I didn't manage to learn the special high-holy-day trope this year either, either for Rosh Hashana or for Yom Kippur (I read on both). Someday... (Nobody else uses it, but I want to try -- and maybe start a trend.)


Fast notes: ("Fast" is a noun, or I suppose a nominal adjective. I'm not talking about speed. :-) )

A few days ago I followed a link to this article about fasting and it was very helpful this year. The stuff about hydration and caffeine I already knew, but the new insights for me were: (1) meal content (more below), and (2) large breakfast, small lunch, large dinner. I usually have little breakfast (usually just a glass of soy milk or kefir), and had found in past years that large lunch plus moderate dinner seemed to work better for me than the reverse. But what the article suggested was even better. As for the meal content, I hadn't previously heard that cheese and tomato sauce were considered problematic; in the past I've often had cheese pasta of some sort for the pre-fast meal. And the advice about de-emphasizing veggies at that meal was new to me, though I'm not clear why that would be good.

For my own future reference:

Breakfast: two servings of cracked wheat with milk and honey.

During the day (not all at once): about half a pound of baby carrots with about a cup of hummus, 24oz orange juice, about a cup of applesauce, and I think there was a high-fiber nutrition bar in there. (I did have one can of Coke Zero during the day to fend off the drowsies. Next year consider taking erev Yom Kippur off from work.)

Dinner: pan-cooked lamb chop (with mint jelly), about 1.25C brown rice, half acorn squash stuffed with chopped apple and baked (and I ate the rest of the apple (that didn't go into Dani's half) while cooking), 24oz orange juice, water.

I had a headache on Friday afternoon (not good) so took ibuprofen with dinner. Last year I learned my lesson about ibuprofen and an empty stomach, so I had one dose of Tylenol with me today but did not need it, yay. (I don't normally take Tylenol, but could find no warnings on the packaging about not taking on an empty stomach. I can't take aspirin, in case you're wondering -- or rather, I can, but historically the results have not been good.)

Daf bit: Yoma

In honor of the season, today's daf bit is an overview of the mishna in Yoma concerning the preparations of the high priest for the Yom Kippur service.

The kohein gadol (high priest) performs his most important duty on Yom Kippur, when he enters the holy of holies and makes expiation for the people. (Well, did when the temple stood.) It's really important to get it right. But remember that the position of kohein gadol is based on lineage, not individual merit. The position calls for respect but not a presumption of expertise.

Seven days before Yom Kippur the kohein gadol was taken from his home to a special chamber with counselors, and a backup priest was made ready in case anything happened to the kohein gadol. They brought elders who spent the week reviewing or teaching him the order of the service. On the eve of Yom Kippur they placed him at the gate so he could watch the animals being brought and see how they are offered. During the week they did not withhold food and drink from him, but near nightfall on the last day they would not let him eat lest it make him sleepy. They then took him to the place of the service and respectfully pleaded with him to not change anything of what they had taught him. If he was a sage he would expound and if not the disciples present would do so, and then he or the disciples (depending on his ability) would read scripture: Job, Ezra, and Chronicles. If he started to nod off they would wake him and keep him amused until it was time for the morning offering. (2a, 18a, 18b, 19b)

Women and role-playing games

Elsewhere, in a locked entry, a game designer asked what game designers ought to be doing to market role-playing games to women. (Women gamers are definitely a minority.) I wanted to record my (slightly-edited) reply to him. (If this post generates discussion, I'll probably point the original poster at it. This post is public.)

What got me into RPGs, in high school, was that it was a natural outgrowth of the books I was reading. SF&F nerd ostracized by the "cool" kids was the right basis, as it turned out. I, not the guys around me, was the instigator.

Once I got to college I found games to play in, all run by men, and I played rather than running for many years. (As a self-taught GM I was pretty terrible at it.) I was often the only woman in the group despite trying to draw female friends in. I didn't try to analyze it much then; I chalked it up to geek/non-geek rather than male/female. (I didn't know too many female geeks.) There wasn't much "R" in the RPGs I was playing at the time, by the way. More about that later.

More recently, I've seen the "associate" effect [that somebody else wrote about] dominate -- a woman who plays in the game because her husband does, etc. I don't think it's a new trend; I think it's just that I'm now in a position to run into it more. The most recent campaign I played in started with three women (among seven players): one was a not-very-interested wife of a gamer and both of them drifted away after one session; one was the wife of the GM and she was very interested but had a low threshold for rules-geeking; and I was the third. The two women who stuck around both engaged most with (1) storytelling and (2) interesting magic (not just direct-damage spells, though we used those too). I should note that I personally detest games like "Once Upon a Time", but I love the cooperative storytelling of a campaign with a plot and an arc through it. (What's the difference? Maybe the pace? Dunno.) I liked pure-hack-and-slash games when I was in college, but now they don't draw me. I want to craft a three-dimensional character who shares an interesting world with other non-cardboard characters.

To market to women like the two of us, then, emphasize the power of the system to tell interesting stories, to allow character development that isn't pure-optimization stat-wrangling, and throw in some interesting magic. Oh, and don't make the rules so complicated that they get in the way of the story; D&D 3.0/3.5 had its flaws but combat was smooth and spell effects were easy to calculate, and that's huge. I walked out of the only game of Traveller I ever played an hour into character creation because the whole thing was just too complicated. (Bookkeeping is fine -- RuneQuest! was one of my favorite RPGs, back in the day -- but it has to stay in the background.)

So that's one woman's view, for what that's worth.

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There's lots of discussion in the comments.

Something new for Yom Kippur

For several years our congregation has had double services for the high holy days (fire codes, y'know...). Since there are two services, they don't have to be identical; all the prayers are the same, of course, as are the torah reading and sermon, but the music is different. One keeps the long-standing "classical Reform" style that only comes out (in our congregation) on the high holy days -- operatic-style choir, organ, music you can only listen to and not join -- and the other uses more-accessible melodies where you can understand the words, led by a cantorial soloist. Guess which one I prefer. :-)

The first year we did this, the earlier service got the less-formal music. The next year I suggested switching (thinking we could take turns, because everybody prefers the time of the later service), but it didn't happen, and hasn't in the years since (people keep asking).

The problem on Yom Kippur is that we've set things up so that you can stay at the synagogue all day -- morning service, afternoon service, study sessions, dramatic presentation of the book of Jonah, end-of-day service... staying all day really helps to focus on the day and away from the fast and the world outside. But, the people who actually stay all day, rather than leaving after the morning service and coming back at the end, are, overwhelmingly, the people who want the less-formal music. I can't speak for anybody else, but for me this is not mere preference; the "classical Reform" style actively interferes with my kavanah, my spiritual intention. I've tried really hard, but I just can't do it. So people like that have a choice come early, find something to do for two and a half hours, and then continue with the rest of the day, or suck it up and go to the late service.

But we have an opportunity this year. After some renovations completed about a month ago, we have a suitable space in which we can have a service in the style of our Shabbat morning minyan, to run concurrently with the late service. We'll do that until it's time for the torah service and sermon, and at that point we'll all go to the sanctuary. So we're having 2.5 services this year. I wonder what this will do to the early (sanctuary) service, but I've heard enough people say that they want to be in the sanctuary (even if it's early) and not in the chapel with the minyan that I don't think it will be a problem. Y'see, both the new service and the early service offer more-accessible music, but there are other differences: the new service, arising out of the minyan, will likely attract a crowd that is more fluent in the service and more interested in achieving that kavanah I spoke of. You can do that in the sanctuary services, but it may be a little harder with the addition of more English responsive readings and the like.

I'd be excited about the new service anyway, but I'm especially excited because I will be helping to lead it. My rabbi can't be absent from the sanctuary service for the whole time, so he'll come to the start of ours, then join the other one already in progress later, at which point lay leaders will take over. I got the t'filah. The t'filah for Yom Kippur has extra stuff that's not in there the rest of the year, but I've practiced and I think I'm ready. While the responsibility is palpable (more on that general theme in tomorrow's daf bit), it's also exciting. I often reach my best kavanah when I'm leading like-minded people, and I'm looking forward to seeing what this will be like on the holiest day of the year.

The challenge of self-improvement

Teshuvah was easier when my sins were harder nicely captures how I've been feeling during the high holy days this year. I have plenty of big flaws to work on, of course, some pretty basic, but as we attack the more-accessible ones it can feel like an uphill climb to tackle the others. Food for thought.

It's like clearing a rockslide. It's easy to find the large rocks, and though they may be heavy, you get a sense of accomplishment with each one you get out of the way --- by rolling, by lifting, it doesn't matter. Then you get to the pebbles and it starts to get tedious, but you know it needs to be done. And then you get to the sand and no matter how hard or often you sweep, there's still some left behind --- so you get discouraged and wonder what's the point; maybe you've done enough, so you stop for a while.

(Wayback machine link in case Russian-controlled Livejournal disappears.)

A brief shofar thought

My rabbi asked me to write something (brief) to read during the shofar service on Rosh Hashana, specifically the "shofarot" section. (The shofar service is in three parts: "malchuyot', in which we acknowledge God's sovereignty; "zichronot", in which we acknowledge God's role in our history; and "shofarot", in which we recall revelation.) This is what I wrote:

The shofar blasted from the top of a mountain wreathed in smoke, and we stood at the mountain's foot and trembled in fear and awe, anticipating divine revelation. We knew little of God then but yet were ready to say na'aseh v'nishma, we will do and we will hear.

The shofar blasts today, and I wonder how I will react. Will I stand and tremble again, in fear or awe or anticipation of the judgment to come? Or will I just hear the sound of a ram's horn, a part of our ritual and nothing more?

The shofar blast invites me back to Sinai, to the uncertainty and fear but also the awe and wonder. I pray that I am open to it enough to follow that lead, to experience the smoking mountain and divine revelation anew. Today is not just Rosh Hashana; it is an encounter with God, if we permit it.