Being Jewish during the Christmas season is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window of a candy store while all the other kids are inside eating candy. No matter how hard Jewish parents try to jazz up Hanukkah, eight candles can’t hold a candle to the sex appeal of corporate, commercial Christmas in America.

72-Christmas Eve_013

Every year, for two months (or more), everything you see and hear glamorizes the season of joy and giving. It’s all lights and glitter. Since Jesus was Jewish too, maybe we could come up with a holiday celebrating his Bar Mitzvah? Even Bar Mitzvahs are tame and dowdy compared to the hype and excess of Christmas.

Cowboy and Menorah

But then I married a gentile! I could finally — legitimately — participate in Christmas!

The first thing my daughter and I did — a week after my wedding, as soon and as the Thanksgiving dishes were put away — was buy a gigantic, live tree. Then we hit every Christmas tree store in the county. We bought enough ornaments to decorate the tree in Rockefeller Center! We made sure to buy several Dreidels, Jewish stars, and Chai ornaments to remind our tree it was also Jewish.

almost christmas

My husband suggested I might want to join a 12-step program for ornament addicts, but even he had to admit, the result was spectacular. Our sun room is round, with windows on three sides. At night, when the tree was lit, it reflected sparkling colored lights for 180 degrees. It was fairyland.

We kept the tree up until March that first year.

After several years of holiday decorating orgies, the novelty began to wear thin. The effort required to transform the house into (and out of) a winter wonderland felt unreasonable. Unnecessary.

christmas wrapping paper

I began to feel pressured and overwhelmed, like most of my Gentile friends. I decided to go back to my Jewish roots and leave the Christmas responsibilities to my Methodist husband. We now have a small, fake tree that comes up from the basement every year, fully decorated, for 6 weeks of daylight in the kitchen.

Ironically, Hanukkah, in its present incarnation, was also created by Madison Avenue to give Jewish kids their own schtick around Christmas, and to give Jewish adults something to spend money on during the “holiday” season.


These days, I happily light my Hanukkah candles and give, mostly small, gifts to my immediate family. I enjoy the festivities and fun of Christmas, but I’m at peace now with the simple, beautiful “Festival of Lights”.

Now that I’ve experienced how the other 90% live, I no longer covet my Christian neighbors’ holiday.


I know you think you are helping people by trying to get everyone to close on holidays, but it isn’t necessarily the right thing. It might be the right thing for you … but what about me? What about the people next door? Are they just like you? Same holidays? Same available choices? Same kind of family? Same religion?


When you promote a work ban on holidays, consider that many folks don’t have families. These are people who are grateful to be working. Moreover, there are many individuals and families who count on the extra money they can earn by working holidays.


Not everyone is equally enthusiastic or sentimental about traditional celebrations. There are plenty of people for whom Christmas,Thanksgiving, or Columbus Day are non-starters. They have their reasons and they are entitled to them.


Not everyone has someplace to go and a warm, fuzzy family to share with. It’s wonderful to be grateful for what we have. It’s also good to be mindful that not everyone is equally or similarly blessed … and not everyone celebrates the same holidays.


And. Even those who celebrate the same holidays do not necessarily celebrate them the same way you do or on the same dates.


We never discussed it. Not a single conversation. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. We haven’t in the past and don’t now. It’s a fake holiday, designed to sell greeting cards and tacky heart-shaped diamond pendants from jewelry mass marketers.

yellow roses anniversary bouquet

There are plenty of real holidays to celebrate. In any case, we don’t need a special holiday to say “I love you.”

I love Garry. He loves me. We’ve loved each other a long time and I expect we always will. We say so often. At least once every day. Even when we aren’t having a good day. True love survives bad days, even bad months and sometimes, bad decades.

Cupid is stupid.

(That’s a poem. Just a very short one.)


Become a Citizen Scientist. Click the link to read about Project Squirrel and to tell us about squirrels near you. Project Squirrel has been operating since 1997. During this time, over 1000 people have offered their knowledge, provided observations, and filled out the forms. We have been able to learn a great deal about these squirrels, particularly in the Chicago Metropolitan Region. Observations from other parts of the country have also been welcome and interesting.


In honor of National Squirrel Day …. What, you didn’t know? Well, today is National Squirrel Day. Project Squirrel gives you the opportunity to participate in … well … watching squirrels. Taking pictures of squirrels. And sharing your squirrel stuff with other squirrelly people.

Happy National Squirrel Day!

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things


Here we are again somewhere in what’s probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It’s the jolly, holly almost Christmas time.  It’s when we see everything filtered through childhood memories, wrapped in music, movies, and hectic preparations. Ready to greet folks we don’t often see.  We force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills, and family drama. Put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year. 

Old South Church steeple

Old South Church steeple

Emotions are curious things with which the holiday season plays fast and loose. For those of us who tend to internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling isn’t easy. Showing happiness is not instinctive.

It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. I can still produce a professional smile on cue. But now, we’re talking about real life. As time has marched on, I find it harder to get into the Christmas spirit. I miss childhood.

As a kid, Christmas was anticipation. I was Ralphie in A Christmas Story. The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But Dad, who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present.

Yes!! It was the deluxe Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight. I never thought we were poor, though Mom frequently reminded us. We nearly always got what we wanted for Christmas. We didn’t feel deprived.

My holiday memories include a whole tribe of relatives who are gone. Our Christmas card list was long. It included aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpa, grandma. I still see them clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.

These days, I am the only one in the family who sends real Christmas cards. I write messages to each person and get writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to nudge myself not to buy or write cards for Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma … and all those aunts and uncles.

I chide myself, “Hey, you’re not a kid anymore.”

I’m Gramps, one of the old people, something our 18-year-old granddaughter likes reminding us. With that reminder comes a sense of loneliness that lingers. Movies are my fix, taking me back in time. Unlike the real world, the movies stay the same.

christmas red door wreath

I grew up a child of the movies. I saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives, during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me. Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming, loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.

I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner, and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it’s back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer.

It was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over the decades, watched those stories and associated me with festive times. The real me chuckles at TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction. Print the legend, they say. Roll everything.


One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who’ve found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.

It’s nearly Christmas again. The big tree has been replaced  this year by small, live trees, but they twinkle with lights. As merry as any tree we’ve had in the best. The gifts are waiting to be wrapped. This evening, we watched “A Christmas Story” and laughed. As we always do.

And as I write this, Bing is singing “White Christmas”. As he always does. Every year, just in time for Christmas.


Share Your World – 2014 Week 50

Do you have a signature dish? If not is there one in your family?

I don’t have a signature dish from my side of the family. However, I have a good one from my first husband’s family. I don’t do holiday cooking anymore. My son cooks . He uses the same recipe which came from his grandmother. Usually, we make quite a lot of it. It feeds a crowd and reheats well. My husband is not as thrilled with beans these days, so although it used to be a staple in the house, now, it’s a holiday and party dish.

Kraus Family Chili Recipe

NOTES 1: There are no precise measurements for this recipe. You can make more or less, depending on how many people you’re feeding, and how much you want leftover. A little more of this or less of that won’t matter. Go easy (gradually) on spices. Add a small amount at a time. Be especially wary of salt. No matter what anyone says, if you add too much salt, you will never get rid of it.  This is a basic recipe. You can double it, triple it, or cut it in half — whatever suits your needs.

2 pounds of good quality minced beef

1 large or 2 small cans diced tomatoes

2 cans (14 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 very small cabbage (or half a larger one), chopped up

A couple of chopped onions

Powdered or chopped garlic



Chili powder (Or fresh chili peppers, chopped fine)




All spices to taste. If you like your chili hot, you’ll use more and hotter chili powder. Standard grocery store chili powder, unless you live in the southwest, is pretty mild. There are many different levels of chili powder from hardly noticeable to able to remove your tonsils without tools. I like it toward the less lethal end, but with a bit of kick to it.


Brown the onions and garlic in a big, deep pan or chili pot (I use black iron)

Add the ground beef. Brown it, then drain off as much fat as you can.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, bring to a boil, then lower to a high simmer. Cook at a simmer for at least an hour until it comes together. The cabbage will cook down to maybe a third of its original size. If you want filler, some people throw in some carrots or celery or other stuff. I don’t, but you can do whatever pleases your palate.

NOTES 3: Don’t slow cook it all day. It will end up completely tasteless. Check the pot regularly to make sure there’s enough liquid. Add spices as you go. Don’t use oregano unless you want it to taste like pasta sauce.


I serve it with rice. My mother-in-law served it with mashed potatoes. My son prefers crackers. A lot of people want bread on the side. Cornbread works nicely too.

february snow 05

Do you have a favorite board game?

Monopoly. We used to play it all summer long on someone’s front or back porch. We made up a lot of rules as we went along. Recently, I found a version for Kindle that’s pretty cool, so I’m playing Monopoly again. It satisfies my inner capitalist.

Is there a household chore that you enjoy?

No. I might love the results, but I always hate the work. Garry sometimes likes washing dishes. He says he likes beating The Dirt. I am happy to let him continue the age-old battle. There is always more dirt where the original dirt came from.

I used to enjoy gardening, at least a little bit. Now, I can’t bend so nope, not that either. Do writing and taking pictures count as household chores? No? Well, then … back to the original answer.

What is one thing you will never care about?

Justin Bieber. Anyone named Kardashian. Paris Hilton. And a whole bunch of people whose names I can never get quite right.


On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 2 TURTLEDOVES!

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 2 TURTLE DOVES!

Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... THREE FRENCH HENS!

On the third day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 3 FRENCH HENS!

In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?

On the 4th day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 4 CALLING BIRDS!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 4 CALLING BIRDS!

And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:


At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.

But I digress.


This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.

When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?

But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.

Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on
Thursday, December 25
and end on Monday, January 5

From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.


In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.

Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide.  Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?


For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.

One day, the diggers arrived.

It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.

During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.

Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.

Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.