Eva's Socks Are Done

I’ve finished Eva’s socks. I don’t have pictures, yet. I know I should, but somehow haven’t gotten around to it. I finished them Saturday afternoon, and they look pretty good…until they actually get worn much.

The problem is one I foresaw, but sort of ignored. They slouch. They don’t stay up adequately well. I know why this is (the spiral pattern of ribbing doesn’t provide the stretchiness that vertical ribbing does), but I’m still somewhat frustrated by it. I’m wondering if it’s too late to add some elastic (I rather suspect it is). Eva says she likes them as slouch socks, but I’m not as satisfied with them as I’d like to be. So it goes. There will be more socks moving forward.

In fact, I’ve just started another sock (this one for me). It’s the second sock of a pair I started back before I started Eva’s. It’s a very similar pattern, but with far more ribbing at the top, and less of the swirling pattern up the leg. We’ll see if that helps it stay up better.

This is the first time I’ve been disappointed with how a big project turned out. I’m not deeply upset by it, but I am aware of a number of things I would do differently if I were doing it over. I’m not going to rip back and re-do it…in large part because the socks took so long to do the first time, I can’t quite face spending that much more time with them again. Instead, I’m trying to focus on this as a learning experience. As disappointments go, this one is fairly minor. It’s something that if it mattered enough to me, I could fix (I think).

What this means, among other things, is that I am now done with one project, and down to 3 active projects on the needles. One of these (a bedspread) is my “in front of the TV” project, and getting some attention. Another, a shawl, is largely languishing at the moment, but I’ll come back to it. Regardless of how I feel about how the socks came out, it feels really good to have finished something. Eva’s socks are the first project I’ve finished since January, which, for me, is a really long time. Just finishing them is an accomplishment, and I’m feeling good about moving forward again.


Scaling Back Aspirations

It happens to all of us as we get older. We look at our goals, and recognize that we simply won’t achieve everything we were hoping to in life. For instance, I have just concluded that my garden this year is going to be somewhat symbolic.

The perennials will probably do okay: I think the raspberries will actually produce quite well, and perhaps the grape vines as well. I have hopes that some of the newly planted perennials will survive (artichoke and rhubarb). But I don’t think the peas I planted this spring are likely to make it, and there is an even largely grouping of things that got seeded, but I suspect won’t make it into the ground, or died before they made it into the ground.

I planted about a dozen sunflowers. I think that 2 are still growing (not very well). The purple pole beans were doing okay, until the plants just weren’t there. I think the squirrels got them.

Basil which I started from seed hasn’t died yet, and I think I will try to get some into the ground (or else Eva will be mightily displeased), but I don’t think it will do particularly well.

Fundamentally, I don’t have time to take care of a garden this summer. And I think I just have to accept that. Gardens require me to be around not only to plant, but to weed and water. And I’m just not around that regularly. So with great regret, I am more or less giving up on the garden. I’ll do a little playing around. I’ll try to keep the yard from becoming completely overgrown. But I am not going to try to produce much in the way of veggies, because I suspect I will fail in the attempt.


Shabbat Sermons & Eva and David Go on a Date

Two completely separate (I think) topics this morning. The first has to do with the sermons I give on Friday evenings. The second, that Eva and I had an actual date!

Once, while in rabbinical school, I was told that Christian ministers spend an average of 8 hours a week working on their Sunday sermons. At the time, I was astounded (I was, at the time, working in a congregation that I served weekly and did prepare a weekly sermon). After all, my sermons tended to be outlines rather than written out, and usually took me between thirty minutes and an hour. Until very recently, I remained astounded by the length of time Christian clergy spent on sermons, and have assumed that maybe they spend so much longer on sermons because it is more of the centerpiece of the service, whereas in Judaism the sermon is a little teaching that gets crammed into the liturgy.

In the last week or two, however, my view has been changing. I realize that while I still only spend half an hour or so working on a sermon, in the sense of putting pen to paper, there is a huge amount of time that gets devoted before that point. I think about what I will say while I shower in the morning or while driving to work. I play with language while I’m walking down the street. I try out ideas as I’m falling asleep at night. All that time begins to add up. I don’t think it comes anywhere near 8 hours, but I begin to see how one could spend eight hours a week working on a sermon (especially if one worked from a finished script, as opposed to notes).

I like working on sermons because it’s an opportunity for me to find new meaning in the text I’m working with (most often the Torah). I like it because it’s an opportunity to figure out what I’m thinking. And I like working on sermons because it’s a challenge to find something to say that is adequately meaningful that I feel like I’m not wasting the time of my congregation by saying it.


Eva and I may have figured out how to go on dates. Yesterday, we went to see a first-run movie for the first time in longer than I remember. It’s certainly been more than a year. We saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

We didn’t go see a movie the way normal people do. No. We went the way business owners do: an IT company rented the theater for a 9AM showing, took about 10 minutes to tell us about their products, promised to call us to set up a time tell us more about their products, and showed us Indiana Jones. Woohoo!

The movie was very good. Not in an art film kind of way, but in an Indiana Jones kind of way. Fast moving action, plot twists, and, of course, the hat and whip. What more could you ask for?

And we had breakfast together, which is pretty much a rarity also. But it means we had a meal and a movie. We call that a date.


Random Post

I’m trying to jumpstart my brain, and you, my unfortunate readers, are the victims of this exercise. The exercise is called: associations I have with pens, because, well, I’ll be listing associations I have with pens.

  1. gifts for bar or bat mitzvah.
  2. coffee stirrers.
  3. dowels to hold table together when you get desperate.
  4. status symbol.
  5. comfort object.
  6. luxury object.
  7. I love the way a smooth pen writes, and seems to just glide over the page. Conversely, I hate the way a low quality pen seems to scratch and catch with each stroke.
  8. Colors!
  9. something to hold pigs.
  10. Usually not particularly useful as a knitting needle, so what good are they anyway.

I do invite you to add any associations or stories of your own in the comments.

I am feeling slightly more awake. Not as much so as if I’d had caffeine (which I may, shortly), but not quite so brain dead as I have been, either. Tune in next time for a philosophical treatise on paper clips!

Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

Life's Not Fair

As part of my rabbinic work, I collaborate (using the term somewhat loosely) with students who are about to become bar or bat mitzvah. They are approaching the age of 13, which means one of the phrases I hear relatively frequently is, “that’s not fair.” This group of kids (of whom I am very fond) is particularly sharp, but also very strong willed. Thus, I am occasionally informed that something is unfair at times that a more timid individual might refrain.

Case in point: I have the students up on the bima with me during services, to help them learn how to lead. This week, I asked them to individually begin to read sections on their own, or to lead the congregation in reading. And I was informed, in the middle of services, nay, in the middle of a specific prayer, that I was unfairly distributing the parts, and that the student who felt this discrimination had already read more than some of her compatriots. My response at the time was, “life’s not fair.”

In thinking about it later, I realized just how true my statement was.

Life’s not fair. My students, and I, are, by virtue of having been born in the United States at the end of the 20th century, afforded a standard of living higher than almost anyone born in any other time or place. We do not need to fear famine. Most disease is treatable. We live in outrageous luxury. Which gives us time to complain about the fairness of life–or the lack thereof.

I fully recognize that this is not the answer to my students’ complaint. Nonetheless, the realization that life isn’t fair, and that I am the beneficiary of the unfairness is uncomfortable for me. It is something to struggle with. It is somehow much more comfortable to say, “life’s not fair” when one is being disadvantaged by that unfairness than when one is benefiting from it. While I am benefiting from the unfairness, I somehow feel obliged to make the world more fair. . .though I am no more to “blame” for my advantage than I would be for my disadvantage. But being advantaged does give me some responsibility.

Because I am unfairly born with a larger proportion of resources than are my due, I do have the ability to effect more change than one born without those resources. I have the education to make my voice heard. I have the opportunity to teach my students that they are in fact, correct, that life isn’t fair, and we all need to work to change that.


Moving Forward on Socks!

I’m finally making progress on Eva’s socks again.

You will note, a completed sock and another sock with the foot finished and me working my way up the leg. I’m finally feeling like I’m making real progress on a knitting project again, which is great after months of not feeling like I was getting anywhere.

I’m on the leg, and the leg is the longest part of this sock (this is sort of a three-quarter calf length). But still. . .I think I finished the foot in about a week, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish up the leg in a week or two more.

I’ve been working on this pair of socks since February, and it was the last project I started. I have 3 other projects that have been getting some attention also, but the bottom line is that nothing has been moving very quickly. So for the last week or so I’ve been concentrating on these socks, and making nice progress on them. I’m not a knitter who needs constant gratification, but it turns out I need to finish something more often than once every 4 months.

I didn’t think this would be a problem. I thought it would be great for me to have a variety of projects going simultaneously. You know, some that were more complex and took more attention, some that were very simple. Some that were very portable, some that needed me to be sitting unmoving because they were too big to tote around. And while that has been nice, it means that nothing has gotten finished. And that has been more discouraging than I expected.

But now, I am making progress, and feeling good about it. Yes, I have 3 other projects languishing, but I prefer to think of them as “waiting for attention.” And I know that when I dedicated my undivided knitting attention to them, they will begin to proceed more quickly as well.

Want to see my progress over the last week again? Ok:


Raccoons in the Yard

I actually saw this a few weeks back, but haven’t gotten around to posting the picture yet. Two raccoons one after the other, walked on top of the fence alongside our yard, over our shed, across the fence at the back of our yard, and then straight back along our neighbor over the back fences fence to their garage. They then got up on the garage and began to groom and nap.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me while they were walking on the fence, and I wasn’t willing to miss them doing that while I got the camera, so you’ll have to settle for them on top of the neighbor’s garage.

Just a touch of nature in the city.

Rabbinic spirituality

Funeral for a Good Man

After last week’s sadness over the death of someone about to be 22, it’s almost a relief to be doing a funeral today for a 53 year old man. Most of the time, 53 seems very young. This week, a little less so.

I often find that I am doing funerals for someone I didn’t know. Most of the time, I have a little sadness of never having gotten to know this person who is being described to me so lovingly. Occasionally, I’m relieved never to have met a person who sounds like they were particularly difficult. And sometimes, I truly feel a loss of not having know the deceased. Today’s funeral is one of those. He would a truly good man, who made a difference in the world. He used a position as general manager to give people chances, to help them make good lives for themselves. He was a man almost out of another era, who believed in loyalty and integrity.

At times like this, I feel the loss a little more viscerally. A little more painfully, and a little more personally.

The eulogy is easier to write, because there is so much that is wonderful to say, but harder to deliver, because the sense of loss to the world is so palpable. Right now, I am between the writing and the delivery.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Funerals are among the most meaningful work I do. Usually not the easiest. Definitely not the most fun. But deeply meaningful and fulfilling. I always feel privileged to be let into a families feelings for there beloved who has departed. I am humbled to be allowed to speak the depth of their feelings for someone so important, though I did not know him. And I pray that I may be adequate to their trust.

Rabbinic spirituality

A Sad Rabbi

Sometimes, I’m running hard enough that I don’t really have time to emotionally process what I’m doing. This week has been like that.

There was a very difficult death in the community this week. Someone much too young. An unexpected death. Someone about to graduate from college and begin his life.

I knew it was a terrible tragedy, but it wasn’t until this morning, when I had my first opportunity to sit and knit in three days, that I really felt it. I’d felt his mother’s pain, and that of people who knew him, but until this morning, hadn’t really felt any of my own pain.

My pain in nothing compared to those who knew him well, those who loved him. But I can’t ignore it either.

At times like these, I begin to feel like I’m dwelling in the sad section of the universe: the part which is filled with pain, tears, anguish. It’s far removed from the neighborhood where weddings take place, filled with joy and laughter and possibilities. Love is constant in both areas, but in one it brings joy, and in the other sadness.

My role, as rabbi, is at least as important in the sad parts of life. Probably more so. It is fulfilling to be of service. But it is hard. And sometimes, some days, I wonder how I’ll do it. How will I be present the next time I meet with a family who have just lost a loved one. But then, when I do, I’m not meeting with “a family who have just lost a loved one,” but rather, I’m meeting with a specific family, mourning a specific loss. And somehow that specificity, the uniqueness of that family’s loss will draw me into their lives. And I will be their rabbi.

I am a rabbi to be there for people in the hard times as well as the good. The hard times are full of spiritual growth and meaning. But they also take their toll.


Starting the Second Sock

After over a week of searching for the cone of yarn for Eva’s second sock, I gave up and went back to Yarnia. Astonishingly enough, she still had the same yarns that I’d used to make the original yarn, and we were able to reconstruct it. Barely. I completely finished her second to last cone of the green, and she had to split the remaining cone of green between two cones to give me my two strands of the green. But she did it, and I have enough of this yarn, now, to make Eva’s second sock.

I’m really excited to be back to working on these socks. I felt a little stalled for the last week or so. I was making progress on the bedspread, and the shawl, but what I really wanted to be blasting forward on was Eva’s socks. And now I can.

So I’ve been magic looping my way around the toe. And I’m almost done with my increases. And I am finding it very satisfying to be able to work on this sock at last.