And now for something completely different…

My immune system has been working overtime lately. Flu, followed by a cold (with a cough that still won’t go away) and now a stomach bug. And I am resisting the urge to push through because I have a very important spa weekend in Toronto coming up and I don’t want to be sick for that.

When I’m sick, after being immensely grateful that there are now more tv options for sick days than game shows and soap operas, I usually go for comfort TV like Firefly or some other place in the Whedonverse. But since seeing Rock of Ages last week, I  have not been able to break out of my musical theater mode.  And since you didn’t ask at all, here are some of my favorite clips.

Starting with the classics, A New Argentina with the ever magical Mandy Patinkin, aka Inigo Montoya

And the inevitable Neil Patrick Harris rabbit hole…

And an adorably young Lin Manuel Miranda…

Which obviously led me right to

And then this…

But I couldn’t stop the beat…

And then

I could go on (and I did). And hopefully any one of these will displace the ‘80s hairband loop in my head.

Wakanda Forever

There are several movies that I have served as emotional touchstones in my life. Movies that have become so much of my vernacular that I can (and have) literally had conversations comprised entirely from movie quotes. Movies that I go to when I need comfort or reassurance or even just guaranteed entertainment. But never has a film reached into my core the way that Black Panther did.

It took me long enough to see it that I have had plenty of time to get my expectations built. Although I studiously avoided spoilers, I have seen plenty of references to people’s powerful responses. I walked in expecting an exceptional super hero film. But that was not at all how I experienced it. Instead, I felt like someone reached into my soul and turned on the light. Or at least, those are the best words I can come up with to describe how I experienced it. By the end, I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like it absolutely needed to be mandatory viewing for absolutely everybody. Forever. Full stop.

When the lights came on, David saw the tears streaming down my face and asked what was wrong. I could barely get the words out to say that Black Panther was absolutely the most powerful social justice film experience I have ever had.

Because it was Marvel, we knew enough to stick around through the credits after the lights came on. And while we were waiting for the additional scenes, the guy cleaning the theater started chatting with us about the movie. He talked about how excited he was for Infinity War after seeing Black Panther and I was honestly taken aback for a moment. He had obviously seen the movie, how could he not be describing how bowled over he was and instead was excited about super heroes? This just seemed incomprehensible to me. But I adjusted and we made small talk while I eagerly waited to get David’s response.

But David’s experience was much like this other guy’s. It was just a super hero movie to him. And when David and I tried to talk to each other about the movie on the way home, it became obvious that despite having been sitting next to each other the whole time, we had just seen completely different movies.  This has never happened to us before.

Sure, we have walked away from films with different responses, but never anything as completely different as this. But then again, I have never had such a strong emotional response to a movie. I continue to struggle to describe what had made it so powerful for me. I just can’t find the words (at least not yet) to intellectualize it. They may come with time, but I literally walked in the door, hung up my coat, picked up my laptop and started writing this. Because I wanted to make sure to at least try to capture this feeling before it fades.

Based on the reactions I have seen to this movie thus far, I suspect some of you will just get my reaction. And I am sure there are plenty of you out there who saw the movie that David did. I would love those of you who felt the emotional gut punch to continue the conversation with me. Because I am still me and want to parse the experience.

Ravings of a sleep deprived mind

Last night, while I was trying to convince my brain to shut up and go to sleep, I ended up contemplating how crafting and coding are similar after a recent conversation during Girls Who Code.

To catch people up, I am currently leading the local Girls Who Code group. The group has roughly an even number of middle school girls and young women mentors from SUNY Plattsburgh. I love this combination because the college kids get a kick out of being able to help guide the middle school girls and all I really need to do is facilitate. Well, and revel in watching creative and smart girls solve problems together.

Recently, a small subgroup of us were talking about how learning to code is not as much about knowing the syntax of any given coding language, but rather about developing problem-solving skills. There are plenty of code libraries out there that can pretty much get you to where you want to go. The trick is to be able to locate and vet the ones you want and create the necessary connective tissue. Followed by the real task of the hours, days, weeks and sometimes years of inevitable debugging.

This is where I need to take a moment to thank those who build and maintain color coded text editors. Debugging in monochrome text is a horrible and near-blinding experience. But color-coded text editors are the magically wonderful yellow brick roads of bug hunting. But I digress…

Since breaking my foot this past summer, I have really upped by crochet skills. I went from only being able to crochet a basic kippah in single crochet stitch (I could add words and patterns by changing colors, but that was it), to being a fairly advanced crocheter.  I have also really developed my pattern reading skills, which has helped moved my knitting along as well.

Right now I am working on a crocheted blanket of our solar system, but the process at this point is fairly mindless and routine. Perfect for tired evenings spent in front of the tv, but not mentally challenging at all. Having recently finished knitting a pair of socks for David, I started the hunt for another knitting project to occupy myself. But apparently my brain had other plans in mind…

Last night I found a pattern that had some really intriguing aspects, but the overall design was not calling to me. I kept perusing patterns, but I could not get that first pattern out of my mind. So I started contemplating creating what I call a frankenpattern. Taking the overall structure from one pattern, adding features from a second pattern, all in an attempt to be able to showcase the intriguing aspects of that first pattern.

I never fancied myself a pattern designer, but I do know how to build recipes…and code. Why couldn’t I take the structural components from 3 patterns and put them all together? Which is exactly why my brain kept looping back to the conversation about coding. My brain is anything but subtle.

The point of this all is that once I have gotten a good nights sleep and cleared out the fog, it seems like I am ready to tackle creating my first pattern. I know I am in for some mind-bending trial and error (with an emphasis on the error). But I am looking forward to my weekly Girls Who Code sessions where the kids and I can commiserate as we collectively wander outside of our comfort zones in pursuit of challenges and the amazing feelings of accomplishment as we push our projects forward, one step at a time.

Civic engagement

If I have one complaint about our move to Plattsburgh, it is about volunteerism. An odd one to complain about, I know. But one near and dear to my heart.

Volunteerism is just something that is a given in my life. I have no memory of the first time I volunteered, because I was too young and not really given a choice in the matter. But what I do know, is that volunteerism have been a part of my life since I was old enough to plan my own activities. In college, it was volunteerism that directly led to my decision to take a year off and live in Santa Cruz and ultimately the goat farm. It was volunteerism that led to my masters and my career choice. So it should come as no surprise that within a week of my arrival I had volunteered to serve on a City committee and written to the local Planned Parenthood to ask about volunteer activities.

One of the things I spent my summer working on was exploring volunteerism as a way to help alleviate the City’s budget crisis. The local hospital has a thriving volunteer program, with a full time volunteer coordinator. And that is pretty much it for volunteer programs locally. There are some special events with a dedicated volunteer corps, but some of those leaders recently got so burned out that they handed off their event to the City.

The City now has a part-time volunteer coordinator (she is a full-time employee, but the volunteer coordination is only a portion of her responsibilities). But her program is just getting put together.

I mention this because Planned Parenthood took months to respond to my inquiry.  At first they eagerly responded. I filled out their volunteer application and waited. I waited literally for several months. And that was after several emails from me asking what was up. I was finally able to get an interview by sharing my frustrations with someone within the organization. The interview went well. The two women I met with were excited about what I could bring to the organization. And that is the last I heard from them. My one follow-up email has never received a response.

With my mobility limitations from my broken foot, I paused my search for volunteer opportunities for a bit. But recently I read about a new coding program for girls being launched in the area. The program is run through the Peru School District, so I contacted them. They eagerly responded and asked for my contact information to pass on to the person running that program. And as you may have guessed, it has been crickets since then.

The North Country has a long standing issue with brain drain. Yes, lack of jobs are a major contributor to that trend. But in my short time here, I have met 3 natives who left to go to school and launch their careers. But they all wanted to come back, so made choices that allowed them to work their way back to Plattsburgh. The one thing these people all have in common are that they are very active in the community. They serve on commissions and  legislatures.

I am fully aware that volunteers are not free. I understand that their care and feeding takes time and resources. But they are an investment in community, and that is worth a lot. It is not an accident that the one thriving volunteer program is the one that the organization has invested resources into.

I continue to volunteer with the City. And I will happily offer my time to Planned Parenthood and Girls Who Code should they decide to contact me. I just wish things were different here.

 

Life, an update

We’re kind of between two new years (5778 and 2018) so it seemed like a check in might be in order. When last heard from, our heroes had moved across the country and were setting up camp in the actual upstate New York (as opposed to what is considered to be upstate in NYC). Things have not gone as planned (no surprises there as god laughs). I broke 3 metatarsals in my right foot hiking in Maine in early August and have been pretty much hobbled since then. Although I have not been able to explore the region as much as I might have liked, I have been able to keep myself entertained.

Despite my limited mobility, I have been able to take a deep dive into local government adding my two cents to the most recent City budget process. And come 2018, I intend to continue to poke my nose into the City’s strategic planning initiative. I have also met some of the local policy wonks and built some great connections into the local economic development process. I am looking forward to working with them as the City starts to allocate its $10 million economic development grant.

Our coop is also looking to launch a community commercial kitchen to help foster local food production and I am excited to get on board with that initiative. Speaking of local food, my limited mobility has really put the kabosh on my exploration. I only got to see baby goats once and still have not made it to my absolute favorite goat dairy, Asgaard. But Spring will come again and with it baby goats and maple sugaring. Speaking of which, there is some exemplary local maple syrup to be had in these parts. My favorite is Sacred Roots and if you love maple syrup, you haven’t tried the best until you have tried theirs. But I digress…

Despite having only gotten in a single hike in the Adirondacks this year, I have enjoyed learning a bit about New York’s state environmental issues and legislation. I have barely scratched the surface, but I am feeling a bit more grounded and I am looking forward to continuing my education on the local ecology and related environmental issues. The Environmental Ed program at SUNY Plattsburgh takes an integrated approach to environmental policy with an eye towards environmental justice, which I appreciate. Rural poverty is clearly as issue here and something I need to learn a lot more about.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of my injury is my inability to make it to see my niecelettes, despite living in the same state for the first time ever. It still feels a bit strange to be in the same time zone, but definitely strange in a good way. Hopefully I will be able to see them in person soon.

Speaking of seeing people in person, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of friends whom I have been able to connect with since our move. I expected to feel much more isolated, but our proximity to Montreal and Burlington have been great enticements and much excellent food has been consumed and many laughs shared. And yes, that is a less than subtle hint for our west coast friends.

Looking forward, in addition to continuing to feed my policy wonkiness, I am also embarking on an effort to teach myself web app development. I have taken coding courses in the past and was even vaguely competent in PHP at one time, but without an active need to retain or develop those skills they have mostly gone by the wayside. But I now have a project in mind so I have both the need and motivation to learn Golang to deploy in a Heroku environment (for those in the know, I apologize if that is the incorrect descriptor, but as I said, I am a newbie in this area).

I haven’t even touched on our new congregation or the wonderful people I am getting to know there. But that will have to wait for another post. Until then, don’t panic and may the Force be with you.

The Bagel Chronicles

One of the perks of our new home is the proximity to the two most widely accepted bagels types: New York and Montreal. The primary distinction between the two is that New York bagels are boiled in barley malt and then baked, whereas Montreal bagels are boiled in honey and then baked in a wood-fired oven.

Recently, we found ourselves with a rare opportunity. My mother sent us a couple of dozen bagels from Zabar’s for our anniversary right before I headed to Montreal to meet up with a friend. We made stops at the two oldest and most widely recognized bagel shops, Fairmount Bagels and St. Viateur to give them a try.  Since they were fresh, we did a taste test of the two and the consensus was that Fairmount had the best of the Montreal bagels.

Once we returned home, we could add the Zabar’s bagels into the mix. Zabar’s was clever in framing a bug as a feature by calling their’s “toasting bagels.” By which they mean, that since they are unable to ship truly fresh bagels, they are “designed” for toasting. But beggars cannot be choosers, so we go with it.

Our friend declared the toasted Zabar’s bagel as the best toasted bagel he had ever had, but he still needs to try a toasted version of the Montreal bagels to know that for sure. And as it so happens, we still have some frozen bagels from Kupel’s in Brookline, which are the bagels that David grew up eating. We are still waiting until we get hungry again to add them into the mix.

What about the bagels we can get in Plattsburgh? Our local bagel place, The Bagel Pit, has perfectly acceptable bagels. The texture isn’t quite right (they lack some of the requisite chewiness), but the flavor is excellent. I use pumpernickel as my flavor indicator and they have it just right. In other words, I am not nearly as bagel deprived as I was for so long in Portland.

Speaking of Zabar’s, while my friend and I were in Montreal, we took the opportunity to go see a production of Bad Jews at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts. I had heard very positive reviews of previous productions from friends, and since this production starred Jamie Elmon of YidLife Crisis fame, how could I not go?

Anyway, the play takes place in an apartment on West 84th and Riverside Drive in Manhattan. And I was very excited to see that the set designer of the production we saw had insured that there was the requisite Zabar’s bag on the counter. There were some additional details that I appreciated, including a Camp Ramah sweatshirt and a copy of Moment magazine. This guy really got all of the details just right.

If you are even slightly culturally Jewish (just being from New York suffices), I would strongly encourage you to go see it. The production in Montreal runs until November 26th and it is very much worth the shlep.

One last note on the bagels:  Out of some weird sense of obligation, I purchased a single chocolate chip bagel from Fairmont Bagel to try. In part, because it is even more of a shanda than a blueberry bagel, I felt it needed to make the effort to redeem itself.

Unfortunately we didn’t get around to trying it until the following day. Un-toasted, it was just…weird and wrong. Toasted it was described as “at least having a reason for existing.” In my mind that is no where near the redemption necessary to acknowledge their status as an acceptable category of bagel.

What comes after disaster fatigue?

This morning I woke up and like many of us, read about another mass shooting. This news pushed aside the already overwhelming tragedies of millions of people dealing with the aftermath of 3 devastating hurricanes. There are people dealing with toxic filth in Houston and people in desperate need of basic supplies that are sitting in ports in Puerto Rico (although the Teamsters are now on it). But have you forgotten about the horrible cluster of earthquakes in Mexico, or the powerfully destructive floods in South Asia? How well are you tracking the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar?

Despite it all, we still need to find the energy to get through the mundane details of our day to day lives. And heaven forfend there be our own struggles to deal with.

To quote the ever wise Joss Whedon, where do we go from here?

I have no answers. And that is what scares me the most. Marches and protests barely draw the attention of The Powers That Be, except to distract everyone from the whole purpose of the protest. Our congressional delegations, from both houses and both parties, (with few exceptions, thank you Ron Wyden!) are standing by uselessly while millions of children lose health insurance and our administration puts up barriers to prevent adults from signing themselves and their families up for the ACA. Obviously letter and postcards campaigns have failed (but please keep them up anyway!)

I have undergraduates in my class at SUNY that have never seen a congress that focuses on getting anything done. As far as they know, true bipartisanship is a myth. When they finally step into leadership positions of their own, they will have no positive role models, regardless of whether they go into the public or private sectors. We are setting them  (and therefore ourselves) up for ongoing failure.

Almost every pundit and journalist whose integrity I trust has written a version of this post recently. They are well beyond suggesting recommendations for how we move forward as a country. We are all left to bemoaning the horrors to people who are feeling as lost and helpless.

So knowing that these are all useless reminders of a truth we are all too aware of, why did I write this post anyway? Let me assure you, it was not for catharsis. I feel worse than I did when I started typing. Perhaps it is because I feel a need to let future generations who live in the dystopian world we are leaving them that there were people who cared. We wanted to help, we just didn’t know how.

Nature or nurture. Who cares?

I am unquestionably my father’s daughter. My father was an avid reader of pretty much anything he could get his hands on. He loved knowing as much about everything as he could. I don’t ever recall seeing him encounter a topic on which he had zero knowledge. I naturally assumed that this was part of being a parent. So I set out to learn as much about everything as I could for my future child(ren).

I suspect my father picked up his reading habit from his mother, although my grandfather died when I was 7, so I can’t speak to his own reading habits. I don’t recall my grandmother having many books, but she did read magazines. In particular, I have a distinct memory of her reading Smithsonian magazine. At the time, I was very fond of English literature and could not understand how she could possibly survive without fiction. Neither she nor my father were big on watching tv, so reading really was central to keeping themselves entertained.

About a year ago, David and I were in DC for his cousin’s bat mitzvah. While we were there we spent several hours at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is an extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. We found a cool gift for our friends in the gift shop, and I got a significant discount for joining the Smithsonian. One of the perks of membership is a subscription to Smithsonian magazine.

Yesterday I found myself sitting and reading a copy of the Smithsonian and I had a sudden flashback to my grandmother’s house with her copy on the coffee table. How ironic, that all of these years later I would be the one eschewing fiction for the very same magazine. At that moment, I felt such a strong connection to both my father and grandmother. We were bound together through 3 generations with a shared love for knowledge. I could almost feel them kvelling.

 

I *almost* made Dancer’s day

I know I have been fairly quiet since the move, but that is because life continues to be a real whirlwind. After almost 4 years, I left AgileBits in July. I figured so much of my life was already in flux, why not just add a cherry on the top of the chaos. This has left we with plenty of time to put a really significant dent in our boxes.

David and I keep lamenting that we have had so little time to explore this summer, but then we think about how we have been spending our time and realize that we have spent a lot of our time being out and about. Just most of it has not been in Plattsburgh.

Our first week here with cats, we were committing to Lake Placid. Then, not too long ago we joined the synagogue from Saratoga Springs in an outdoor service near Schroon Lake. That was significant because it was both our first hike in the Adirondacks this year and when we knew it was time to get serious about acquiring a car with all-wheel drive and higher clearance than our Prius.

We also had an unexpected trip to Burlington to have lunch with an out-of-town friend and his boyfriend. Lunch turned into a walk to the waterfront where we were introduced to Maple creemees (which is simply a higher fat version of soft serve). We also stopped in to the Echo, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain where we had a fun time geeking out. I think I confused the person working in the Resource Room when I asked for a handful of information on the local watersheds and invasive species. When I explained that I was new to the area, she gave me her card in case I had any questions.

David’s and stepmother finagled a second week at the camp in Lake Placid and spent a couple of nights in Plattsburgh. They joined us for a shabbat service and then we all went to Montreal to the art museum. The museum was excellent, but we only got a tiny taste of the collections. The good news is that their memberships are very reasonably priced so we will definitely be back. We then sat in traffic for a while trying to get into the old part of the city before giving up and going to the botanical gardens.

Last weekend we joined several other North Country congregations at the historical synagogue in Tupper Lake.  The following day we headed off for 4 days in South harbor, Maine with David’s mother’s side of the family.

I got a good hike and a half in before doing something painful to my foot while clambering down some rocks. I hobbled, hopped and slid on my butt for the remaining mile and a half back to the car. My x-rays showed was was likely hairline fractures on 2 or 3 metatarsals. I got a CAT scan the following day, but I was told not to expect results before early next week. But they did give me both my x-rays and CAT scans on a CD to bring back.

We drove home yesterday (which was the original plan anyway) where I confirmed that the back seat of the new car (Named Mabelline, May for short) is quite comfortable. This morning I sent one of David’s congregants off the with scans to see if he can dig up a radiologist to review them.

Meanwhile, I am sitting on the couch with my foot up typing this on my tablet. My laptop is within reach, but the cord is not and the battery is basically toast. Hopefully I will be back up and mobile soon so I can get back to unpacking at least to a good pausing place (or ideally done) before the high holidays hit. If not, I will at least get through the bulk of the adoption paperwork and a good head start on my reading for the Environmental Law and Policy class I am taking this term.

Frozen, but unable to Let it Go

Let me preface this post by saying that we are making good, discernible progress on the unpacking front. That being said, I am being challenged daily with considerations about what should go where. I don’t think any of these issues are specific to this house. Any time one moves from one space to another, these types of questions will arise. Unfortunately for me, this is not my strong suit. But hey, what is life without the occasional spacial challenge, right?

Speaking of challenges, I am beginning to wonder if I will ever again be able to listen to public radio for extended periods without wanting to poke my eyes out. Unrelenting news about mean and vile behavior is more than I can handle right now. Thank goodness for NPR One and podcasts of my favorite shows to remind me that there are still good people in the world.

I have always said that local government is where the rubber meets the road, so I have decided to direct my frustration-driven energies there. Plattsburgh is facing some challenging financial times driven by the Common Council’s ongoing unwillingness to make the difficult decisions. I saw a note in the local paper asking for people to join the Citizen Finance Committee. Of course, I volunteered. Our first meeting was last night and I am pleased to report that there was some good discourse. But we still have a long way to go.

My favorite small town moment was when someone asked to see the full city budget. The council member running the meeting explained that the full budget was about 40 pages long and that might be too much for most people. He offered the 2 page summary instead. I tried hard not to laugh because I have yet to encounter a city’s departmental budget in either Portland or Philly that was that short. I requested the full version, obviously.

One of the perks(?) of leaving Oregon is having a congressional rep (Elise Stefanik) whom I can try to encourage to change her mind about destroying the ACA. I have made my opinion known to her office, but that is of limited use. As I am beyond angry about the blood-pressure raising perpetuation of the health care debacle I needed somewhere to direct that energy. Which is why I have also submitted an application to volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood.

This weekend we met Tedra Cobb who is one of Stefanik’s potential challengers for the house seat in 2018. Her heart is clearly in the right place and she has held municipal office. However, I really need to see some of her policy positions before I can throw my support behind her.

This is where I admit that writing this post was little more than an excuse to avoid the boxes surrounding me. The guilt is beginning to reach critical mass, so I will sign off now and go slay some more box dragons.