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Apr. 29th, 2017 08:57 am
bitterlawngnome: (Default)
[personal profile] bitterlawngnome

Prunus, Vancouver, 2016-04-26; 6479
© Bill Pusztai 2017

Under the Lindens, Vancouver, 2016-04-26; 6555
© Bill Pusztai 2017

Pyrus pyrifolia, Strathcona Community Garden, Vancouver, 2016-04-26; 6681
© Bill Pusztai 2017

Tulips at Roozengaarde, Mt Vernon WA, 2016-04-17; 5234
© Bill Pusztai 2017

Healing and second chances

Apr. 28th, 2017 07:05 am
[syndicated profile] velveteenrabbi_feed

Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

HealingA few days ago we entered into the new month of Iyar. Here's my favorite teaching about the month of Iyar: its name is an acronym for something beautiful. Torah teaches that after the children of Israel crossed through the Sea of Reeds and reached the far shore, they sang and danced -- and then, once they began their journey in the wilderness, they became afraid. What if there were no potable water for them to drink? What if there weren't enough to nourish them in life's journey?

So God instructed Moshe to throw a piece of wood into a stagnant pond, and the water became sweet. And then God offered one of Torah's most beautiful reassurances, saying "I am YHVH your healer." That's the phrase we can see hidden in the name of the month Iyar: אני יה רפאך / I am God, your healer.

In the words of my friend and teacher Rabbi Yael Levy of A Way In:

Iyar is an acronym for this promise the Divine Mystery has made to us: I am your healer. On life’s journeys you will face the seas of struggle, celebration, fear and joy, and whatever comes, I am there to heal and guide you. (Exodus 15:26)

She continues:

Iyar is a month of second chances because the full moon of Iyar provides the opportunity to make up for something that has been missed. During Temple times, it was considered essential for a person’s spiritual and material wellbeing to compete a sacrificial offering for Passover. If circumstances kept someone from someone from making this offering, he/she was given another opportunity to do so on the 15th day of the month of Iyar.

Iyar says it is never too late -- no matter what situation we find ourselves in, no matter how far away we have traveled from our intentions or goals, it is possible to find our way back.

Every life contains missteps and missed opportunities -- times when we look back and realize we wish we'd chosen differently. If only I had reached out to that person then, instead of staying silent. If only I had walked through that door, instead of staying outside. If only I had said "I love you" while I still could. If only, if only.

Part of what it means to me to say that God is our healer is to say that God accompanies us into our second chances. I don't have a time turner; I can't actually go back in time to undo my mistakes, so that I could do then what I wish now that I had done. But Rabbi Levy points out that just as our ancestors were given the opportunity to offer the Pesach sacrifice late, we too can find opportunities to make up for where we missed the mark... and I think that's one way that God can help us to find healing.

Illness and healing are major themes in this week's Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora. Torah's ancient paradigm of tamei and tahor, impure and pure -- or charged-up with the energy of life and death, and absent that psycho-spiritual "electricity" -- may not speak to us. But part of what I relearn from this Torah portion each year is that when one is sick, whether physically or emotionally or spiritually, one may feel exiled from the community. Cut off and isolated. "Outside the camp" in an existential sense: alone even when surrounded by other human beings.

And in those times God comes to us and reminds us אני יה רפאך -- I am God, your healer. I am the One Who is with you in sickness and in health, the One Who accompanies you even when you feel most existentially alone.

When we are sick and feel isolated, the One Who Accompanies is with us. And when we are sick at heart because of the places where we missed the mark, the One Who Accompanies is with us too. May this month of Iyar be a time when our second chances gleam bright before us, so we can find healing in making amends, and making new choices, and remembering that -- as Rabbi Levy teaches -- no matter how far we've strayed from where we meant to be, it's never too late to find our way back. 


This is the d'var Torah I offered at CBI this morning. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)

Friday Foto Fdump

Apr. 28th, 2017 11:51 am
[syndicated profile] amalahblog_feed

Posted by amalah

Most Patient Cat of the Week, Who Knows On Some Level That I Could Put a Stop To All This If I Wanted To:


Photogenic Cat of the Week, Whose Handsomeness Cannot Be Overshadowed By a Nearby Rando Laundry Basket:


And Yet, Counterpoint, This Glorious Idiot:






(Bonus points for Kermit finger puppet that has been claimed as a cat toy seemingly pondering the horror of his new torturous existence.)

And Finally Some Random Non-Ladybug Nature That Happened, Because I Am Sometimes Still Surprised To Realize That I No Longer Live In the City, Even a Full Decade Later: 






Coming to Maine!

Apr. 28th, 2017 04:00 am
[syndicated profile] velveteenrabbi_feed

Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)


The month of May is almost upon us, and with it comes a weekend I've been looking forward to for some time: an opportunity to visit Congregation Bet Ha'Am in Portland, Maine with Rabbi David Evan Markus! We're honored to be this year's Bernstein Scholars-in-Residence there. (Previous years' scholars have included Dr. Nehemia Polen, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, and Rabbi Art Green.)

Over the course of our weekend, we'll be co-leading a Kabbalat Shabbat service, offering Shabbat morning Torah study, offering a Shabbat evening se'udah shlishit ("third meal") and havdalah program with teaching and poetry, and sharing some teaching with their community Hebrew school on Sunday morning. Through song, text, teaching, and experience we'll offer an introduction to Jewish Renewal.

Here's what they've shared about our visit on their website:

Congregation Bet Ha'am, through the Rosalyne S. & Sumner T. Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence Fund, is proud to welcome this year’s Bernstein Scholars-in-Residence, 'The Velveteen Rabbi" Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus, co-chairs of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Mark your calendars and plan to join us for the weekend of May 5-7, 2017.

The weekend marks the halfway point between Passover and Shavuot, exactly halfway between liberation and revelation. Here, the Torah teaches us “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Activities and discussions will focus on the themes of love, community, and holiness through various practical and spiritual lenses. We’ll look at how Jewish Renewal can use themes and motifs to deepen the spiritual experience of public prayer services timed to the Torah cycle and the spiritual flow of the year, how mitzvot are intertwined with ritual, and the support of Jewish community in modern times.

Friday, May 5, 7:30 PM - Kabbalat Shabbat Evening Service: Holiness, Love, and Community - Loving your neighbor in modern times.

Saturday, May 6 9:00 AM - Torah Study: The spiritual and practical of community and renewal.

6:00 PM - Potluck Seudat Shlishit and Havdalah: Havdalah Service with a program on Illness and Healing.

Sunday, May 7 10:30 AM - Adult and Children’s Workshop Mitzvah and Mysticism - Holy Doing and Holy Being.

All are welcome!

Please contact Benjamin Gorelick in the Bet Ha'am office at 879-0028 or benjamin@bethaam.org for more information about this exciting weekend.

If you're in or near Portland Maine, we hope to see you there next weekend.

Dance of the Ladybugs

Apr. 27th, 2017 10:53 am
[syndicated profile] amalahblog_feed

Posted by amalah



Most of the ladybugs that got taken outside are dead now. I don't know how the ones in the container are faring, as I stuck it on top of the fridge and refuse to go near it again. 

Please don't tell my children (who thankfully don't read this blog, because thankfully nobody reads blogs). They were the main reason I didn't just grab the vacuum, as they were all shrieking DON'T KILL THE LADYBUGS MOM! THE LADYBUGS ARE GOOD GUYS!! at me while I stood there, frozen and contemplating the scurrying horror. 


There are a few lucky survivors. 


And a couple VERY GETTIN' LUCKAYYYYYYY ones, boom chicka bow wow.  Look at you, repopulating that species mere inches away from several dozen corpses that you were most likely related to, awwwww yeah. 

In summary, bugs are gross. 

The Book of Joy

Apr. 26th, 2017 11:51 am
[syndicated profile] velveteenrabbi_feed

Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

9780399185045When a friend told me that she was reading a series of dialogues between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on joy, my first thought was "I need to read that too." Their dialogues are published in a book attributed to the two luminaries along with Douglas Abrams, called The Book of Joy.

Here's the first place in the book that drew forth my impulse to make marginal markings. This is the Archbishop speaking:

Discovering more joy does not, I'm sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.

We may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too -- that feels right to me. Joy is not the antithesis of sorrow. It doesn't cancel sorrow out, or make one less prone to the sorrows that come with human life. But joy can help us face our sorrows in a different way.

Abrams seizes on this, and brings it back to the Archbishop: "The joy that you are talking about," he says, "is not just a feeling. It’s not something that just comes and goes. It’s something much more profound. And it sounds like what you’re saying is that joy is a way of approaching the world." The Archbishop agrees, and adds that as far as he is concerned, our greatest joy arises when we seek to do good for others.

Coming from anyone else, that might sound insincere, but from Desmond Tutu I am inclined to believe it. Reading his words made me aware that I fear I don't spend enough time seeking to do good for others. But then I realized that he could be speaking not only about vocation or community service, but also on a more intimate scale about trying to do good for people I love. Doing something to brighten the day of someone I love brings me intense joy. (Maybe the real work is figuring out how to broaden the sphere of those whom I love.)

The Archbishop also says some things about hope that resonate deeply for me:

"Hope," the Archbishop said, "is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper..."

"I say to people that I'm not an optimist, because that, in a sense is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not in the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable..."

"Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one's chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass."

I love his point that optimism depends on feelings, and it's the nature of feelings to be malleable. Often I know that the way I feel isn't necessarily correlated with how things "actually are" -- intellectually I can see that things aren't so bad, but emotionally I feel as though they are. (Or the other way around.) If my optimism depends on feeling good about the situation at hand, it will necessarily falter sometimes.

Hope, for the Archbishop, is something different. Hope is a choice, a way of being in the world. Hope is an affirmation that whatever challenges, or grief, or sorrow may be arising will pass. Hope says: there is more to life than this, even if we can't see that right now. In a sense, it requires a leap of faith. It asks us to operate on the assumption that there is more to life than whatever we are experiencing right now.

Abrams writes:

We try so hard to separate joy and sorrow into their own boxes, but the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama tell us that they are inevitably fastened together. Neither advocate the kind of fleeting happiness, often called hedonic happiness, that requires only positive states and banishes feelings like sadness to emotional exile. The kind of happiness that they describe is often called eudemonic happiness and is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance, including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief...

"We are meant to live in joy," the Archbishop explained. "This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin."

I'm struck by the Archbishop's assertion that we are meant to live in joy -- and that this doesn't mean that life can be, or even should be, devoid of pain. Joy and sorrow are so often intertwined: at the happy occasion when one remembers a loved one who has died, at the celebration of a joyous milestone when a loved one is struggling. We shatter a glass at every Jewish wedding to remind us that even in our moments of joy there is brokenness. Authentic spiritual life calls us to hold this disjunction all the time.

Archbishop Tutu is right that authentic spiritual life also calls us to begin by recognizing what is, and sometimes what is is painful. But we can hold that painful reality loosely, alongside awareness of the gifts we receive from loving others and aspiring to sweeten their circumstance. As the Archbishop also notes, when we seek to do good for others, we open ourselves to some of life's deepest joy. And that's a joy that is rooted not in what we have, but in what we give away -- in the love and caring that comes through us. And because it comes through us, rather than from us, it has no limits.

The Psalmist wrote, "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning."  The "night" in question may be long. It may be personal, or national, or global. But we can live in hope that morning will come and will bring joy, even if we don't know what that will look like, even if we don't know when or how that will be.



Joy, 2009

[syndicated profile] amalahblog_feed

Posted by amalah

By the time I woke up on Sunday morning, it was technically almost not-morning anymore and Jason had been up for hours. He'd already made a run to the hardware and gardening stores, done a bunch of yardwork, re-potted or transplanted dozens of seedlings and plants, and also brought this disaster waiting to happen into our lives:


So industrious, that husband of mine. 

It was almost exactly 48 hours later, as I stood in the kitchen in my pajamas this morning, blearily making coffee, when the ladybugs -- first moved precipitously towards the counter's edge by Noah to make room for the toaster -- were sent flying off by the brute vibrating force of the nearby coffee grinder. And I watched in horror-movie slow motion as the lid flew off and an absolutely plague-like number of ladybugs spilled out.

I am not proud to admit it, but every single bad word I have ever uttered on this website came out of my mouth in that moment, loud and clear and in front of my children.  

I ran around in a panic, looking for something to...scoop them up with? Something to help me get as many of them back into the container as possible without having to use my bare hands because LOOK I know they're just harmless lil' ladybugs but guuhhhhhh there are so many of them crawling in so many directions and OH SHIT THEY ALSO FLY THAT'S RIGHT.

I made a couple scooping passes using Ezra's homework folder before giving up and just getting the fuck in there with my hands, trying to be as gentle as possible while cursing at the top of my lungs -- no worries about the children's innocent ears, they'd fled the room already and were running around the house shriek-laughing at the strange chaos going down in the kitchen. 

A very interested Finn appeared in the doorway. 

"NOT TODAY, CAT," I hollered at him, "NOT FUCKING TODAY."

He looked startled but obeyed, and backed away from the squirming, tempting pile of delicious floor raisins. 

At this point I realized that as fast as I was scooping the bugs up, the ones still in the container were even faster. I put a bunch in; just as many were crawling up to the container's edge and attempting to take off. It was like my airport anxiety dream (where I need to board but hundreds of Lego are falling out of my luggage) brought to life. Only the Lego have all sprouted legs and wings are completely disgusting, since most of them were too young to be red/orange yet, and really looked more like tiny sentient mouse turds. 

I gave up, put the lid on the container and swept the rest up with our handy broom and dustpan (and hell yeah that's an affiliate link for anyone who still hasn't bought one for their own cereal-challenged children; you'll regret it the next time your spouse's insect hoard hits the ground), then dashed outside to dump them in the flower and strawberry planters on the deck. 

I think, in the end, I got most of them either back in the container or outside, although I'm sure I missed at least a few. Which Jason (after getting this entire recap afterwards over text and in mostly all caps) pointed out isn't a bad thing, since our LAST bug infestation encounter involved those annoying pantry moths and we still occasionally spot one. "The ladybugs eat those," he said, like our house is now some real-life version of the old woman who swallowed a fly. 

And that was my morning. The day can only go slightly downhill from that, right? 


Apr. 24th, 2017 06:26 pm
kore: Captain America waves a giant rainbow flag (lovewins)
[personal profile] kore

ETA A sequel:

Also, people have been linking various "tweetstorms" (augh hate that word) on the topic and this one is good too: https://twitter.com/OhMiaGod/status/856474788101058562


Apr. 24th, 2017 12:07 pm
[syndicated profile] amalahblog_feed

Posted by amalah

Another reason to perma-love this time of year: It's pet adoption anniversary season!!


AKA any excuse to spoil the animals while also eating human cake. 

Beau's officially been with us for just over a year now, and now that he's fully settled in I swear he's pretty much the dictionary definition of A Good Boy. "Who is a good boy?" I ask Google. "Beau is a good boy," says the search results. (While Alexa chimes in her agreement from across the room.) 

I still sometimes wish we had more solid information about his life before us, although when I think about some of the behaviors he had initially I realize it was all probably pretty damn bleak and we're better off not knowing the details. 

(Besides his HASHTAGRUNNING and defensiveness around food and sleeping children, we also had to carefully ration his water. If he saw a full water dish he would desperately and rapidly drink every drop, and then promptly throw it all back up. He wasn't used to having enough water. I'm so sorry, little doggo. That will never happen to you again.)

(He's fine with his water dish now, and doesn't have an aggressive or nippy bone in his adorable floofy body.)

He still occasionally and accidentally gets outside from time to time, but rather than it resulting in a panicked chase we now just go check the front door instead. He'll already be waiting for us there 99% of the time, like "sorry I saw a squirrel but I did not catch the squirrel so I would like to come back to where I am not required to chase my food also I am A Good Boy."

The cats' adoption anniversary is still a couple weeks off, but likewise have settled in so, so well since their confusing first few days of 'round-the-clock hiding and FALLING OUT OF DAMN WINDOWS

Not that they don't regularly inspire heart attacks and/or OH YEAH CAT GO ON I DARE YOU moments:



Here is where I'm going to say things that sound terribly mean, but are coming from a place of genuine, unconditional affection: My cats are idiots. Beautiful, hilarious idiots, but just very...kitten-brained, despite being over two years old. 

Finn is probably the smarter of the two, but that's honestly like comparing the intelligence of a vacuum cleaner vs. a potato. Rey squeaks in panicked confusion every time you pick her up, then immediately starts purring like oh ok remember this now this not terrible ok ok. Finn is fine with being picked up, but then wants to scale your body to the highest vantage point and ends up falling ass-over-teakettle off your shoulder. EVERY TIME.

And while Finn is definitely the Helper Cat to Rey's more baffled-by-how-life-in-general-works Simple Cat (he'll come meow endlessly at us when he can't find her, because she once again got her ass stuck somewhere), Beau is overall the brains of the operation and is routinely cutting them off from being stupid.



I've watched him grab hold of a paper shopping bag and start furiously shaking it, then realized a cat has its head and front leg stuck through the handles. Whether he's genuinely attempting to help vs. YAY CAT MURDER IS A FUN GAME I can't say for certain. But overall he's been excellent at alerting us when the Idiot Twins are being idiots. Again. 

But they are sweet and super affectionate (although I am clearly Rey's favorite human in the house so I get the most snuggles and lap time with her) and all three pets like to curl up around me while I work during the day and keep me company. It is nice. We have nice pets. A+ work on being nice pets, pets. You are all welcome to stay here forever. 

And of course, there's this, which I could listen to on a loop all day: 


A post shared by Amalah (@amalah) on

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Apr. 23rd, 2017 08:23 am
bitterlawngnome: (Default)
[personal profile] bitterlawngnome

Tulipa 'Weber's Parrot Spectrum'; 5571
© Bill Pusztai 2017


Apr. 21st, 2017 02:23 pm
[syndicated profile] velveteenrabbi_feed

Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

When I say I love you
I mean always: when you greet
the day with exultation
and when you wake with tears

when you shine like the skies
and when you're clenched
in despair's grip,
every drop of joy wrung out.

Sometimes you're bare branches,
then chartreuse life bursts free.
Do you imagine I'm with you
only in the springtime?

You are precious to me
when you feel strong
and when you feel broken
and when you can't feel at all.

I'd give you a talisman
to carry in your wallet, a string
to tie around your finger
but I know you:

you'll stop wearing it
or stop remembering what it means.
It means always, even
when you can't see me.

When you push me away
because hope hurts too much.
Even then, what I feel for you
eclipses the light of creation.



I'm working on a new series of poems.

The Texts to the Holy poems (my next collection, coming out from Ben Yehuda later this year ) are in my own voice, spoken to the Beloved (or beloved). These poems are in response -- love poems that you might read as spoken by the Beloved to us.

(Related: God says yes.)

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