Posts Tagged ‘ Sonoma ’

Cheap Sonoma

2010.04.20
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SOUNDS LIKE A CONTRADICTION IN terms, especially if you live here in Recently Discovered Paradise. But travel blogger Lisa Mann’s Sonoma On The Cheap goes a long way toward resolving it. The site is frequently updated and covers the entire county, not just the city, of Sonoma (minor quibble: WHEN will people LEARN the %$#@!ing DIFFERENCE?!?). Well organized and bite-sized articles detail cheap-to-free food, events, lodging and more. Check it out at http://sonomaonthecheap.com/.

Note: This is an unsolicited review resulting from chance discovery. Hope you enjoy it!

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Sometimes I Hate This Job

2010.03.21
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I’M PUTTING OFF WRITING A eulogy. Doesn’t everyone?

Linda Tomback is a good friend who used to attend our Saturday morning Torah study[1]. Her death is the eighth in our congregation in the past two years; the first two were also regular members of our study group — a cantankerously proud “old-school Reform Jew” named Larry Giller, and big enthusiastic ba’al teshuvah (returnee to Judaism) Steve Surtshin.

Then Richard Bien, with whom I enjoyed some intense Torah and life discussions but didn’t know as well as I would have liked; Esther Norton, whip-tough and smart and motherly generous; Paul Habas, tall and formal, devastating sense of humor; Margaret Laybourn, cherished by many friends but someone I only saw across the oneg table; and the gentle yet formidable Richard Newman, who taught me why we have principles — and how to live by them.

“Each man’s death diminishes me,” John Donne wrote. True, it’s our common fate — less evitable even than taxes, since we share it with everyone fish or plant or fungus — but when it happens within a small social group within a small historical moment, Donne’s truth rattles rather loudly.

Linda’s funeral is this afternoon. I have not attended any of the above friends’ funerals either due to medical complications (mine), privacy (the family’s), or ignorance (again mine); in fact the last funeral I attended was Jim “Sputnik” Gjerde‘s in 2003. He was about the best friend I had, of 24 years through high school and young manhood and whatever our particular manhood is; as Shakespeare might have said, our lives were seated on the ground telling ribald stories of the lives of kings until we rang the chimes at midnight. His death undid me, and frankly rather soured me on the whole prospect. “Death? Pfffft. What else is on?”

Funnily enough, I said a few words at Sputnik’s funeral too.

Torah study is a lot like golf, in that you can really get to know someone while you’re doing it; it demands openness and honesty and the sort of integrity that’s perhaps better called consistency. I didn’t know Linda long — only two years or somewhat less — but she was a lot like Sputnik: intense, smart, funny, kind, instantly easy to hang out with, generous beyond measure, unselfconscious in her approach to God and Its mysterious ways.

Maybe those ways are less mysterious to her now, and she’s hanging out with Sputnik and Larry and Steve and Richard and Esther and Paul and Margaret and Richard and whoever it is that you miss, when you think of conversations you can’t have. I don’t know; I don’t think I will know until my own death, and perhaps not even then. But I have told you their names because, according to one voice of Jewish tradition, they contain our souls, and thus live on with each mention, and who knows but that might be true, in some sense. May we all partake of this, or similar, immortality, or at least the comfort that pondering it may bring.

[1] Which we began in October 2001 from Ann‘s insistence on more Torah than our part-time rabbi could teach. On the Shabbats he doesn’t, everyone brings a different chumash (book of Torah with commentary) to our Sonoma living room and reads through the weekly portion from 10 a.m. to noon until someone has a question or comment. Then we hash it out. Sometimes our rabbi attends, which is both a tremendous aid and a tremendous compliment (and tremendous fun, since we share a similar perspective but he’s this like yeshiva-trained neo-hasid who’s studied with these just amazing people and incidentally or on purpose witnessed a considerable piece or two of history.

But I digress.

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Three Pasta Variations

2010.03.03
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ANN LIKES FETTUCINI, I LIKE angel hair. We compromise, but where she tosses hers with broccoli and cheese I prefer a more piquant accompanage. For the last two nights (and, at this writing and G?d willing, tonight), my preference has been/is to begin with a base of olive oil and garlic. (The secret is to introduce these two with the skill of a shadchan, allowing each to express its inmost soul for at least 10 minutes over low-to-medium heat, rather than frying them to the tarry crisp of the dilletante.) Use whatever amount you like; I usually eyeball about a tablespoon and a half of oil to five or six roughly chopped cloves.) To this I add, respectively:

Pasta Number One

- Five mushrooms, sliced in fours
- Half a tin of anchovies, with the oil
- 2 tsp. nonpareil capers
- Can tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated cheese (I like shredded Parmesan)

Fry the mushrooms before lowering the heat and adding the garlic and anchovies. Once the kitchen smells nice, add the tomatoes and increase heat to maximum, letting it reduce. Add capers, salt and pepper. Toss with pasta and cheese and serve.

Pasta Number Two

- The other half of the anchovy tin, without a lot of oil
- Dried rosemary and thyme (about a tsp. of each)
- Cherry (or other small) tomatoes sliced in half
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated cheese (I also enjoy grated Romano)

Warm the herbs in the oil before adding the garlic and anchovies. About one (1) minute before serving, add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Toss with pasta and cheese and serve.

Pasta Number Three

- Half a tin of anchovies, with the oil
- 2 tsp. nonpareil capers
- Cherry (or other small) tomatoes sliced in half
- Pepper to taste
- Grated cheese (I think we’re out of Romano, though)

Whizz together in a food processor the anchovies and garlic with enough oil to make it more runny than pastey. Warm in a pan over low-to-medium heat until kitchen smells heavenly. About a (one) minute before serving, add tomatoes and capers, pepper. Toss with pasta, top with cheese, and serve.
FOLO: Actually, all I did was toss all ingredients with the pasta. As expected, it turned this into a mouthwateringattheveryMEMORYofit oh my. But heating it might have been nice too.

SHOP SONOMA: Best cheese in this neck of the woods is Vella Cheese. Ig Vella and his family are old Sonoma hands; when you taste his cheese, you’re tasting Sonoma Valley. (Endorsements unsolicited but sincere.)

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Rainy Day Equation

2010.01.21
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SEMI-FERAL CAT, PLUS FORCED CONFINEMENT, divided by ping-pong ball, equals nothing else.

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Modern Manners, Economywise

2009.11.16
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IF THE PERSON AHEAD OF you in the checkout line is stocking up on Meow Mix, don’t ask about their cat.

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And Now, A Word From (One Of) Our Sponsor(s)

2009.08.30
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AS SOME VERY GOOD PEOPLE have been very good to Ann & I during our Long Medical Night, I’d like to partly return the favor – and, hopefully, benefit the 30 or so people who read this blog.

In addition to being gracious hosts, entertaining guests and generally all-around wonderful folk, Marty and Laura Clein run an online company called Conscious Consignment. Based on eBay, CC specializes in Grateful Deadabilia, vintage art, books, CDs, comics, comix, sports and concert/festival merchandise as well as many one-of-a-kind, am-I-dreaming items. Actual quote (by me):

“You guys sell all THIS? COOOOOOOOL.”

With a score of 4765 (100% positive feedback), M&L are also registered eBay Trading Assistants — meaning that, Should The Need Arise, With Times Being What They Are, they can also help you sell your collectibles if you’re new to (or frustrated with) the online consignment game. (And remember — these are my friends, so please introduce yourselves.)

On eBay: http://www.consciousconsignment.com
Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/CONSCIOUS-CONSIGNMENT/83822922423

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Hometown Haiku

2009.08.16
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Sonoma Plaza.
Tree-shaded northwest corner.
…is that a fiddle?

Morris dancers leap
Today! Where a month ago
Two Jews laid tefillin!

Diff’rent traditions
Laughing under the same trees.
My town. Sonoma.

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Interruption, With Muffins

2009.07.09
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THIS IS TO EVERYONE WHO’S been wondering about my ongoing health in light of recent tests thereof. (If you’re not one of them, please read something else):

The good news: Nothing appears seriously wrong with my intestines or either surgical site.

The bad news: The symptoms remain — chronic abdominal pain radiating to my back, with occasional spasms; frequent nausea; movement limited to a couple of hours a day.

The good news: I’m being referred to a pain specialist this week.

The bad news: After eight months, two surgeries and a pile of tests, this isn’t exactly what we’d hoped to hear.

The good news: Strangely, but tentatively, it’s something of a relief to finally know something — even though negative or potentially negative. (For purposes of this discussion, “we don’t know” is negative — even though it’s definite.)

God only knows what’ll happen next, and while I wait to see what that is I am perfecting my muffin recipe (a la Betty Crocker‘s “Popular Muffins,” c. 1972):

Oven: 400 @ 25 minutes
Gear: 12 muffin cups
Mixing bowl
2c./1c./tsp. measures

Beat, then mix:
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/4 c. oil or applesauce
-
Add:
2 c. whole-wheat flour
OR 1 c. ww. flour
+1 c. bran/cornmeal/etc.
1/4 c. sugar or honey or brown sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
-
Stir until moistened, spoon equally into muffin cups.
Add fruit/nuts/anything else desired. (Local blueberries rock.)
Wait until fully cooled before peeling.

If nothing else comes of this … at least I learned how to bake.

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A Tip of the Yarmulke to Lou Gehrig

2009.04.15
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In the entire time I covered the Sonoma City Council, I only took the podium thrice: once to ask for clarification, once to offer my then-employer‘s help with disseminating something of civic importance, and once when the mayor declared 1/17/01 as “Neal Ross Day” when I first left the Index-Tribune. (Geeez.) Tonight will be the fourth:

—–

Mr. Mayor, members of the City Council and of the public, thank you. I’m Neal Ross Attinson, 21 France St. #1, perpetual part-time rabbinical student and former full-time reporter.

It’s a busy night, so I won’t take up too much time, and anyway I?m more comfortable sitting over there writing than standing up here talking. But I was told that a few people wanted to know where I’ve been for the past few months, and since most of those people are integral to the city in some way it seemed appropriate to address you tonight.

Many of you know I was covering the city and public-safety beats for the Sonoma Valley Sun until incapacitating abdominal pain took me off the job in December. Without going into details (which are available at my blog, metaphorager.net — for the record, m-e-t-a-p-h-o-r-a-g-e-r), suffice to say that after five months, 40 pounds, two surgeries and six hospitalizations there’s no relief and no clear diagnosis yet. But we haven’t given up.

Last Wednesday, my pharmacist informed me that my health insurance had been canceled, and two days later I learned that I was no longer employed by the Sonoma Valley Sun. That being the case, I wanted to thank some people without whom I wouldn’t be here now.

A Yiddish proverb says, “Life is with people.” A reporter has to be (or pretend to be) the dumbest guy in the room in order to learn as much as he can. If he’s not dumb, he soon learns that everyone he meets is his teacher. I was going to read a list of my teachers during the past eleven years … but instead: If I ever wrote anything with any degree of accuracy, compassion or insight — or if, while talking with you, my eyes (or yours) lit up with an “Ahhh…HA!” gleam — I owe you the shiniest of apples. To those people whose tragedy and privacy I invaded in order to tell the public their stories, I offer my apologies, as well as my gratitude for your trust.

Most of all, I thank Ann, my wife and best friend of 20 years, for not giving up — and for not letting me give up. The Talmud says that a man only lives through the merit of his wife; if that’s true, I should live forever.

Thank you, Sonoma Valley, for letting me write about you — and thank you, Mr. Mayor, for letting me speak. Good night.

———-

I must say that feels very weird to do this. Since a reporter has to know “everyone in town” (as Mark Twain points out to great tragicomic effect near the aft end of Roughing It), it makes sense that people might wonder where he went and why he isn’t coming back. But I don’t usually think in terms of “everyone in town” (rather, the 100 to 200 people who are engaged with it) knowing me. One never knows where the teacher will be next…

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Home Away

2005.10.17
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For me, there are five distinct stages involved in the building of our backyard sukkah:

Denial: “Is it Sukkot again already?”
Rage: “Where did I put the $#@! zip-screws?”
Bargaining: “Please don’t make me go to the hardware store again…”
Sadness: “I don’t think this is going to last the week…”
Acceptance: “It’s beautiful!”

Me & our summer cottage
I am a humble Jew (as a blogged statement, this may be self-contradictory), so our backyard sukkah is likewise humble:

  • One 4×6-foot Persian rug
  • Eight cinder blocks
  • Four 2×2-inch posts, six feet in length, with two small L-brackets on one side (six inches from on end and 18 inches from the other)
  • Three 6-1/2′ 1×2″ slats
  • Four 4-1/2′ 1×2″ slats
  • One 7′ aluminum javelin
  • One 12×24′ camo (“mossy bark”) tarpaulin
  • Two dozen 6′ slats (1x.25″)
  • One maroon king-sized bedsheet, pole-stitched on one long side
  • Power drill, zipscrews, cable ties

First, I stretch out the rug (making sure it’s under only bare sky) and stack pairs of cinderblocks in each corner. Then I zipscrew two of the 6-1/2′ slats to two of the 2×2″ posts atop the L-brackets, inserting the latter into the cinder blocks (for the back wall frame); the remaining 6-1/2′ slat joins the other two posts, which go into the remaining cinderblock pairs (for the front wall/door frame). Two 4-1/2′ slats are then zipscrewed into place for each sidewall frames. I carefully slide the bedsheet onto the javelin, cable-tying the latter to the front-wall slat; the sheet’s bottom-right corner is then cable-tied to the frame.

Next, I unroll the tarp (which lives under our bed the rest of the year) and fold it sandwich-wise over the frames, securing the tarp’s grommets to each other along the bottom and sides) with cable-ties. Two dozen slats criss-cross the top, supporting whatever garden greenery I can scrounge (usually ivy, but this year some sort of weird ferny plant which sprouted over the summer). Two patio chairs go inside along with a TV-table (for meals and studying), et voila!

And this was how I spent yesterday afternoon. In many ways, Sukkot is my favorite holiday — I like its emphasis on life’s fragility; that it gets me outside to pray; the way the stars look through the sukkah roof; and the way the sukkah looks with my wife inside it. There is nothing quite like building your own sukkah — just like there’s no one else like the one who builds it.

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… And we’re back.

2002.09.25
By

Well, here’s the column. NOW I can go on. ;-)
………………………………………

How I spent my summer vacation

By Neal Ross

Monday night, I told my wife, Ann, “When I go back to work tomorrow, the medical hell of the past three months will be only a memory.”

And so, amazingly, it is.

I?m not trying to minimize it ? two isolating months of cancer (diagnosis, surgery and recovery) followed by an unexpected month of incapacitating, thyroid-related vision problems. But before you ask, I?m fine now. (As fine as any of us can ever be, anyway.) The cancer was treatable, the surgery was successful, and the more horrifying (to me) thyroid condition is, so far, responding to steroid therapy. I?m indebted to the 21st century?s remarkable medical technology, which can often see inside our bodies, find small problems before they mushroom, and occasionally fix them. I?m also indebted to, and grateful for, the unconditional love, support and care I received from so many of the people reading this. But I wouldn?t still be here without Ann, who heroically dealt with everything I dealt with during the last three months ? plus the crushing mixture of helpless frustration common to family caregivers everywhere.

Let?s face it: if you?ve been there (and you might have; the cancer club is getting bigger every day, except for the part that?s getting smaller), you know. If not, I can?t really tell you. And that?s kind of the point of this column.

One of the first things I learned this summer was the power of the unexpected. When Ann and I “got the news” on June 18, her first reaction was emotional. Mine was simultaneously philosophical (“Well, I guess I can use this experience in a few years after I finish rabbinical school”) and absurd (“I wonder if cancer patients get a discount at Denny?s?”).

That sort of floored me; I expected shock, fear, even hopelessness. So the second thing I learned was to pay attention ? for the first time in my 40 years ? to how I actually felt, and why.

Now, as I rejoin the world outside my apartment walls, I feel simultaneously deeper and more shallow. Deeper, because I understand more than I did three months ago. More shallow, because I better understand the limits of my own understanding.

Part of the depth is that I am mostly seeing the whole horrible affair as a gift rather than a curse, since I learned so much from it. And part of the shallowness is that after three months of talking about little else than “How are you feeling today?” I can barely bring myself to write another word about it.

I was terribly lucky ? to have such a loving community to help Ann and I through all this; to have access to competent medical care; and, to put it in firefighters? parlance, that everything was “light smoke showing” instead of “fully involved.” Not everyone is so lucky. Who knows ? I may not be next time, if there is a next time. But luck is only part of the equation.

Four days before my cancer diagnosis, I wrote a column about my two favorite modern Israeli sayings ? “zeh ma yesh (that?s what it is)” and “y?hyeh b?seder (it?ll all be okay).” Back then, I said these phrases were two intertwined halves of a healthy world view ? unsentimental pragmatism and unfounded optimism. Both sayings served me well during the past three months, and I expect them to do so in the future.

That could change at any moment. Meanwhile, I?m keeping my eyes and heart open to what this moment looks like. And I guess I?ll see what the next moment looks like when I get there.

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Two Towers, Two Tasks

2002.09.20
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FOR SOME REASON, THREE SIGNIFICANT dates fell out fairly close together recently: Sonoma’s first (?) 9/11 commemoration, Simchat Torah and the autumnal equinox. The first marks the end of American innocence; the second, the annual restarting of the synagogic Torah cycle; the third goes on regardless of human observation (unless, of course, Time only exists for those of us who count it). I was privileged to say something public about this in the pieces which follow; the first at Sonoma’s first 9/11 commemoration, the second at a service I led not long after:

D’var 9/11 – Open, Closed, Open (title borrowed from Yehuda Amichai)

I’m Neal Ross Attinson, a lay leader at Congregation Shir Shalom, and first I’d like to ask for a show of hands – On this day last year, how many people felt somewhat unable to get through the day, let alone the coming year?

On that Tuesday afternoon, I put an American flag on my car antenna as a sign of mourning. I’m removing it tomorrow, and I’d like to tell you why.

Jewish tradition recognizes the first year of mourning as an important stage of grief. During that year, we say a special memorial prayer every day. But at the close of the year, we stop – and only say it on each anniversary of the death thereafter.

This doesn’t mean we stop thinking about the person who has died – just as none of us here tonight will stop thinking about what happened a year ago. It means that we have integrated the person’s death, and our own grief, into our lives. We have not put the person behind us. What we have put behind us is the first year of grieving. In effect, we have closed one door and are ready to open another.

The central statement of Jewish faith, which the Torah commands us to say twice daily, is called the Sh’ma. The word “Sh’ma” means “listen,” and the first six words in Hebrew are “Sh’ma Yisroel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.” My favorite interpretation is, “Listen, you who wrestle with the Divine and with yourselves. G-d is simply G-d. G-d is One.”

I’m going to recite the first six words of the Shema, just as we recite it in synagogue – feel free to join me if you know it. As the echoes of this Shema die away, let’s take a few moments to listen – to our hearts, to the sound of our own breathing and that of those here with us – listen to the sound of the future through the open door before us all.

“Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad…”


Dvar Haazinu 5763

An old rabbi once said to a young scholar, “Sogt mir a posek – give me a verse of Torah – tell me what you know.” “But Rabbi,” the student said. “I only know a little Torah.” The rabbi replied, “That is all anyone knows of Torah.”

This week’s Torah portion finds Moses about to die, exhorting the Jews not to forget their heritage when they pass into the Land. “For this is not a trifling thing for you,” Moses says. “It is your very life; through it you shall long endure.”

It’s a fitting portion for this Shabbat – Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shuvah means return, and on this Shabbat Shuvah I’d like to challenge us all to do just that.

Sunday, September 29 is Simchat Torah. We reach the end of the Torah and immediately begin again at the beginning, just as we’ve done for more than 2,000 years. We’ll then read a little bit each week until October 19, 2003, when we start all over again. We do this because the Torah is THE core document of Judaism – it’s not the only one, but it is why we have all the others.

Here’s the challenge: On September 29, why not come along for the ride?

If you accept this challenge, I personally and absolutely guarantee that three things will happen: You will be profoundly bored by some of what you read. You will be profoundly moved, maybe shocked, by some of it. But most importantly, you yourself will know what the Torah actually says. And using Torah as a door, you may travel a little further down the road to understanding Judaism – and maybe also yourself.

Some things to remember: Don’t get hung up on the “right” way to read the weekly portion. Many people like to read a little every day. Others read the whole portion a couple of times during the week, or on Saturday morning. You also don’t need to agree with or even believe what you’re reading – in fact, you probably won’t – you just have to believe it’s important.

Obviously, you also need a good translation of the text and a schedule of readings. If you don’t have the text, or – worse – if you only have the King James version (a notoriously bad translation), talk to me after the oneg; it’ll be easy to get one before the 29th. There’s a schedule of readings in each temple bulletin, but I will also post them weekly on our congregational email list – and give you any other help you ask for.

So there’s the challenge: Read one book, over the course of a year, a little at a time. What have you got to lose?

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