30 April 2012

How Vashti Hosted a Party

Esther opens with a description of the king's party, including all the drinking going on in the courtyard, and then it says (1:9):
Queen Vashti also made a party for women, in the palace of King Achashverosh.

What were they doing there?

The Midrash (the Yalkut Shimoni) explains that women like to know everything, so Vashti gave a tour of the palace, pointing out where the king slept, ate and drank, leading her guests though the painted rooms...

 "for as Rabbi Avin said, a woman would rather look at pretty things than eat fatted calves."

The Baby Clothes Manifesto

Thank you all for your appreciation.
This post, a look at what constitutes good baby clothes, has been removed at the request of the dressmaker who posted it.
Apologies if you've followed a link from elsewhere.

The Sewing with Cats Blog Award

courtesy of Cation Designs, a fellow 1912er.
The award has no rules (ok, it has rules, but she said you don't have to follow them)- feel free to claim it for yourself.

Boring, Oregon

So. I have finally been to Boring, Oregon.

You'd think a place with a name like that would be interesting.
It isn't.

Scenic downtown Boring
There are noteworthy places in Boring, like the Guide Dog Training School. But I expected the town as a whole to have some exceptional je-ne-sais-quoi about it commensurate with the zing of the name.
If it does, I didn't see it.

29 April 2012

What's been happening between patterns nos. 1 and 7

I mentioned earlier that I hope to sew 35 garments by my 35th birthday.
When I was 10, my mother helped me sew an outfit; I have not even hemmed a tablecloth since. The 35 are intended to start with total basics and end with pattern-drafting.
The count is as follows:

1. Baby hat, from a free Voor nop pattern. I'm not posting pictures, because I made it out of an old men's T-shirt: the colorful originals are nicer to look at. She doesn't give instructions, but it was easy enough. My daughtewore this home from the hospital.
2. Baby jumpsuit, from another free Voor nop pattern. The funny-looking piece (the labels are in Dutch) is the raglan sleeve. No pictures, for the same reason as above. Baby patterns are great for beginners, because they go quickly, and babies are forgiving about what you dress them in
3. Teddy bear, from Simplicity 5461, here.
4. Men's tish bekishe, from Simplicity 5931, a bathrobe pattern. Pictures on the way.
5. Baby bloomers with a ruffle, from Simplicity 4709. I made these in violet cotton as a present and sent them off before I could get pictures. It was my first attempt at inserting elastic into a casing and I was surprised by how easy that is, even though I accidentally used a narrow casing and wide elastic. This is an ideal beginners' pattern.
6. Princess dress, from McCall's 5731, size toddler. My daughter was the Queen of Lemons for Purim. Pictures forthcoming. This one had princess seams, an invisible zipper, and a fitting adjustment.
7. Baby shoeshere, from a free PDF pattern.

Does anyone know how to get Blogger to stop inserting an extra line between paragraphs?

Sunday Brunch Lecture

The director of the Portland Kollel gives a delicious class most every Sunday morning. A light brunch is served.
There are even people who skype in from the East Coast and from Jerusalem, it's that fabulous and unusual.

This week we found out the subject ahead of time:

"Holiness: Asceticism or Humanism"

It's free.

Do check it out.
10:00-11:00am this Sunday (today) at the Portland Kollel, located at 6688 SW Capitol Highway.
Directions here: http://portlandkollel.org/location.html 

25 April 2012

Commercial Break

i once had a teacher
whose practice it was
to teach for four minutes
and then do something silly
like put the lectern on his head
because he had found that four minutes
was the attention span of the average
television-watching american

i hope you enjoy this blog
even though we do not provide professional photography
every four minutes

So THAT'S why you do that

ME and MITZVAH OF REMOVING CHAMETZ FROM ONE'S HOME [commandment to remove leavened goods from one’s home for Passover]  are sitting with our feet up, sipping lemonade, on the first day of Chol HaMoed, 2012.

Me: Well! Isn't this lovely!
Mitzvah of Removing Chametz from One's Home: Yes!
Me: You were easy to fulfill this year.
Mitzvah: What do you mean?
Me: There was the year I had one afternoon in which to clean and fulfill you in a three-story house.
Mitzvah: Oh, yeah...
Me: And the year when I had to dash across town at midnight to clean someone else's apartment from start to finish.
Mitzvah: Oh.
Me: But this year, you were easy to fulfill, and I had an especially nice time fulfilling you.
Mitzvah: Thanks.
Me: (sips lemonade companionably)
Mitzvah: (sips lemonade companionably)
Me: What's that sloshing sound?
Mitzvah: (innocently) It sounds like it's coming from the freezer.
Me: Yeah.
Mitzvah: It sounds like your freezer has broken and is flooding your refrigerator with breadcrumbs and clumps of dough from the inner part of the freezer that you were not obligated to clean because you never, ever, ever unbolt it.
Me: Mitzvah. You didn't.
Mitzvah: It sounds like it is pouring out of the refrigerator onto your kitchen floor and flooding the house, bringing bread and bread dough into every room of the apartment. See -- here it comes.
Enter CHAMETZ, stage left.
Me: Oh, Mitzvah! Why did you do this?
Mitzvah: Because I love you to pieces, and I want to spend as much time with you as possible!

Confessions of a Farb: some thoughts on historical reenactment

From Wikipedia:

Farb is a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity.

It is downright creepy how seriously people take this issue. There are articles out there on how to convert the poor benighted farbs to authenticity.

Nearly all of the effort for authenticity is centered on the externals.
In a way, the farbs are more historically accurate: they order clothes that look to them like the fashions they've seen the governor wearing, and go about their business. I assure you no 18th century gentleman spent hours online researching what type of seam to use in his outfit.

It seems to me that the point of trying to live in the 18th century is to get in touch with what it felt like to live then, not what it looked like -- which is only a means. The reenactor knows this subconsciously: although he has just spent more time determining what to wear than he will ever spend in the clothes, he endeavors to assume the identity of a person in touch with all the inspiring ideas of the age, not a fop.

There is living an authentic 18th century life for a day... and it is so, so tempting to go down that road... and then there is looking at what constituted an upright life in the 18th century, and endeavoring to follow the good example of any 18th century figure who set one.

Confession. If I call myself a farb, it is only because there is no getting around the farbiness of living in the 21st century. Were I actually a historical reenactor, I'd probably be up there hand-spinning with the worst of them... only, it is not my top priority.
I have only one life, and it is in this farby century, but no one else will take responsibility for it. I am not going to spend it beating up wool in a washtub until it turns into felt.
"If they had had it, they would have used it" is a bad rule for reenactment, but not necessarily for life.

Sometimes you have to visit another century in order to appreciate the potential of your own.
I believe that is the point of historical reenactment... of any fantasy, really. 

Sewing challenge no. 7: baby shoes

OK. I tested this pattern for baby shoes. Pictures below.

I think it is fair to say that this is not a beginners’ pattern: it involves sewing smoothly around sharp angles; and, the shape of certain pieces makes them impossible to pin in place: you have to ease them in while stitching round an ovaland hope for the best.

I have just reached the point at which the puddle of fabric takes on the shape of a garment: I can see the embryonic shoes. I can also see so many puckers that I’m laying the project aside until I can consult the dressmaker in the family.

To learn to sew, you have to have either an engineering mind, or the humility to follow rules you don't understand until you come out at the end and realize why the engineers were right. I have neither.

So, please don’t judge the pattern by my shoes. The lady who created the pattern got sweet little shoes out of it.

Here’s what I got out of her pattern instead:
1. A sound lesson in shoe engineering
2. Mussar
3. Confirmation of my suspicion that making shoes is incredibly satisfying.

There is a man by the name of Elik in an alley off Yaffo who makes beautiful leather shoes by hand. His shop was closed last time I tried to visit, with a note I didn’t quite catch on the door; please comment if you know what’s up.

I once asked the local cobbler, an elderly Russian in a shop the size of a shoebox, to teach me how to cobble;  he declined, but now whenever I go in there he bumps my shoes to the end of the line so he can show me how he fixes everyone else's.
Recently I came across this site: cordwaining for dummies.

The Midrash says that Chanoch (in Genesis) was a shoemaker who was meyached yichudim - 'unifying unities' - in making shoes. Rav Dessler says this means not that his mind was on kabbalistic matters, but that he did upright work: he focused intently on making shoes that would serve their wearerwell.

Here’s what my undisciplined experiment looks like at the moment.
One shoe is farther along than t'other

23 April 2012

A most wonderful person

My all-time favorite vignette in Rabbi Bechhofer's biography of Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan, who has been quoted here before, is this:

When Rabbi Aharon Kotler married Reb Isser Zalman's daughter, Reb Aharon delivered an extraordinarily profound pilpul [intricate Torah discourse]. None of those present fully comprehended its contents. Up stood Reb Avraham Elya with a smile, and repeated the entire pilpul clearly - in rhyme! 

...which still makes me laugh over breakfast, 98 years later.

Technical Difficulties

Ou keyboad is boken.
Amazing hau the lack of only too lettes can inhibit you ability to expess youself.... hau had it is to think clealy hen you kno you iting looks this funny.
The Kotzke ebbe 9among othes0 is quoted as saying, 'I am hat I think you think I am';  people live up o don to hau they believe othes peceive them.

e'll be back soon, iy'H... eithe because the laptop ill dy out, o because e'll have found a ay to live ithout the lettes  and .
Have a good eek.

16 April 2012


This is 100% unaltered from the way it fell out of the camera

Wedding out-of-town

This is Part II of the This is for the New Yorkers series.

The wedding was held in the JCC event hall with all of its partitions removed. The couple had planned to use our (plain cotton on PVC pipes) chuppah, but a tulle confection materialized from somewhere. The bride's co-worker sewed her wedding dress.
Unlike us, they did not forget to bring the wine. (At our wedding, we were rescued by the founder of the local Moishe House, who keeps a bottle in her trunk for emergencies.)

Both bride and groom are vegan, so the only kosher caterer in town made a vegan seuda, plus fish for the halacha.
(The bride and groom, who have a good sense of humor, cheerfully put up with a lot of vegan jokes over the week of sheva-brachos, as one family after another carefully prepared almost-vegan sheva-brachos.)

The JCC put out a floor mat better suited than the carpeting to dancing, and a crew of tummling NCSY boys brought over the mechitza from the shul. A CD player provided the dance music. We performed schtick with signs, table napkins, an umbrella, and some NCSY in-jokes -- not that the bride or groom ever attended NCSY, but the community is small enough that everyone is part of everything Jewish that happens in town. The non-Jewish guests from other states also got into performing antics to amuse the bride and groom.

The dancing in circles lasted for hours, and then the music ran out just when things were naturally winding down, at which point there was some more schtick with the gentlemen of the community singing into the microphone; and everyone went home, exclaiming to each other that they had never seen such a beautiful wedding.

Again, this is not so different from the way things are done in New York; but I suspect there are enough small differences that some will find it interesting.

Shabbos out-of-town

This post is for the New Yorkers.

Once, when I was living in a large and bustling Jewish community, I explained to a Shabbos host that I did not intend to stay forever. The conversation moved on to where I was living and what I was doing, and we were both a bit shocked by what a wonderful life I had.
"Why do you want to leave, then?" he asked.
"I miss having a kehilla," I said -- and he agreed that there was no answer to that one.

Here is what a Shabbos is like in a small kehilla (community) where everyone knows everyone else.
My toddler and I arrived in shul; all the women immediately pounced on us, and the little girls took turns clamoring for the privilege of distracting the toddler. The one-man "Announcement Committee" announced after services that we were in town.

It was a Shabbos aufruf, on which everyone throws candy at the groom-to-be. His bride - who is not supposed to see him all this week - was also in shul, to everyone's amusement (as we carefully hid her), because she had to hear Parshas Zachor.

After davening we went to someone's house for the seudah; and then we went to a Shabbos kallah -- where all the women and girls of the community sat in a circle, together with the bride (wearing a plastic tiara) -- and passed round a bag of toys; each woman or girl had to draw out a toy and make a pun on it to give the bride advice, and then there was singing &c.

The teenage girls repaired to their weekly hangout at the house of one of the Torah scholars of the community; a couple of women went back to shul for Mincha, which is followed by a communal shalosh seudos meal (in the ezras nashim, or in the courtyard if the weather is nice), Maariv, and Havdala; and then after Shabbos two of us walked to someone's house to call home for rides, because we live a bit far out - one of us lives three miles through a forest from shul, but that's nothing on the teenagers who walk nine miles from home every Shabbos.

I am not sure how to convey the sense of familial warmth that pervades a small Torah community. If you have never experienced it, it is worth checking out.

(like through Shabbat.com)

(This post comes late because I proofread it while still out-of-town, and set it aside, thinking, "Well, duh, Shabbos everywhere is like that." But I am posting anyway just in case it is not.)

01 April 2012

Springtime for Cynics

When I was a terribly cynical middle-schooler, the choir director taught us a song in four-part harmony, which I could never sing like I meant it:
Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing, fa la la la la la la la lano, they're not, they're either in math class or doing its homework -
...a-dancing on the grass - what grass? we live in a city, where open spaces are rationed and landscaped,
fa la la la la la la la la. The Spring clad all in gladness/doth laugh at winter's sadness - Spring? Winter? I haven't noticed a change in seasons. I think I need to get out more,
and to the bagpipe's sound/ the nymphs tread out the ground - What era was this composed in, that people had time to frolic in unspoilt meadows, and the peace of mind to do so wholeheartedly?
fa la la la la, fa la la la la la la, la la la la la. Where is that legendary Spring?

And every Pesach, I get my answer.

The air warms up, the earth bursts into bloom, and where are the Jewish people?
Indoors or in the courtyard, scrubbing all the winter's crumbs out of the house, until G-d drags us by the ear out of Egypt, and says, "This month is for you!"
This month is for you the origin of all the months: you are a Spring nation, a people repeatedly revived from the dead.
Go and tell everyone, go demonstrate to all the despairing middle-schoolers (of any age or stage in life), that just as the earth is led each year out of winter, just as the Jewish nation was led out of the slavery of its body, mind, heart and soul in Egypt, so too humanity as a whole, and every individual, are given the Spring.
This month is not the exclusive provenance of things that bloom, creep, or fly; no matter how oppressive your circumstances, this Spring is for you!

Those with better things to read than this blog will recognize that this post is not original material - thank you Rav Hirsch.
And Rabbi Estuary, we'll see if I ever forgive the rav for making me try to paraphrase that :P

Kenneth Grahame on Cleaning for Pesach

Every Spring when I face the prospect of cleaning this apartment for Passover, the opening of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows comes to mind:

THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said, "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring-cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow....

...but once we crack out the pails of suds and set to work, I take exception to Mole.

The first step to Springtime liberation is to finish the whitewashing -- not only to begin, but also to finish, and then we can toss the buckets in the air, yell Hang Whitewashing! and run out of Egypt. I have been thinking this over, and I believe spring-cleaning is a universal instinct, not to hamper us from getting out into the Spring, but as an integral part of how we participate in it. Spring has got to reach into every corner of this house; it is not enough to fling the brush on the floor and leave it.

Rebbe Nachman miBreslov says to take the troubling feeling of not having quite finished preparing for Pesach and turn it into a yearning for the Divine -- that this, too, is an integral part of Pesach -- nun bau dein Tempel schiere!

So, no fair quitting in the middle of whitewashing.

Rav Scheinberg

I wish I knew a story about Rav Scheinberg's righteousness, but the only story that comes to mind is a spooky one.

A girl - I'll call her Bridget - had met a young man and wished to marry him. "Don't," said all her teachers. "Don't," said all his teachers -- which tells you something. But Bridget went ahead and married the fellow, and soon realized his true nature, and they divorced.
Every time Bridget looked in the mirror, she hated seeing her head covered, because it reminded her of her unfortunate decision. She asked Rebbetzin H. to take her to ask a rav whether it was really necessary for her to cover her hair now that she was divorced.
Rebbetzin H. (who told us this story) took her to a rav who spoke English: Rav Scheinberg.
"Why did you bring her to me?" asked Rav Scheinberg. "You know how I pasken."
He told Bridget that she did have to cover her hair. Bridget was displeased.
He suggested a way that she could do it prettily. Bridget would have none of it.
Ultimately, he gave her a blessing - what it was I can't remember; I think it was something like that her covering her hair should lead her to good things.
While in the Scheinbergs' apartment, Bridget struck up a conversation with Rebbetzin Shain, his sister-in-law, and in the end she wound up a regular companion of the Rebbetzin.

Fast forward.

A mother and a son - I'll call him Yitzchak - were sitting on a bus, having a conversation.
"You've met so many nice girls," said Yitzchak's mother. "Why can't you settle down and get married?"
"I want a very special girl," said Yitzchak. "See that married woman helping Rebbetzin Shain - how solicitous she is of the elderly rebbetzin's needs. I would like to marry a girl like that." This story takes place in a society in which Yitzchak would never look at an unmarried girl on a bus - he referenced the stranger only because her covered hair indicated that she was married.

"Rebbetzin?" asked Yitzchak's mother, some hours later. "That woman who accompanied you on the bus today -- does she have, perchance, a younger sister?"
"Why do you ask?" asked Rebbetzin Shain.

...and a few months later, there was a wedding.
And they all lived happily ever after.

The 1912 Project, Titanic Fascination, Numenor, Murasaki, a Niggun and a Sigh.

One hundred years ago, 1,514 people drowned in the Atlantic, and many others were ruined financially.
In commemoration of this event, 400 dressmakers around the world are sewing themselves new outfits.

Does this strike anyone else as an odd memorial for the dead?

Titanic fascination is a very odd phenomenon, when you stop to think about it. It's not enough to say, "We love the glamour of the era." No -- you love the glamour of the era that sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
It is glamour, depth, and tragedy all at once - like an opera! The clashier Western version of, the next best thing to, the sweet pain of NĂșmenor (Where now are the DĂșnedain, Elessar, Elessar?), or Elvish mourning over the swiftness of time, or the Japanese mono no aware (defined here)- which are subtler.

I have been trying to work out whether there is any similar idea in Judaism - that there is something lovely, lyrical, about entropy, the falling of the leaves, the passing of the generations. Sorrow is obviously not the same thing as depression, but I haven't found that we celebrate it in any way, any more than we celebrate any other characteristic of our relationship with the Eternal, knowing that it will eventually be turned inside-out to reveal joy.

Galus, galus, vie lang bist du...

The Vintage Pattern Lending Library has recruited 400 volunteer dressmakers to test vintage 1912 patterns. And all we have to do is sew and blog.
Although I doubt that this post is what they had in mind.
Free Edwardian patterns? Really? SIGN ME UP!

Thank you to the VPLL for coordinating the project.

That's My Stumptown