Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Centers of Storms are the Calms

Clarity has extra edges after storms pass. 

All things are sharper than before, broken things are merely broken and no longer dangerous.  

 The peripheries are visible, we can mark the risks.

The air is charged with things that could have been but weren't, dangers or losses that were endured or never suffered. Things smell cleansed and electric.

Old trails are washed away. History gets a small sense of erasure. 

Things look different when light comes. 

Their shape, 
their size 
their age.
Their cracks and crevices, and my own as well.  

Things look True.

In that first cold light of morning, it is hard not to pity the things that need the may-be. 
Now reduced in size and scope, still dangerous 
but not unknown.
Not unmanageable. 
Not unimaginable.
Poor things.

Light is invasive, it is far more unforgiving than the Darkness. Darkness is full of could-be, Light is filled with is.

It takes talent to hide in Light, a trick we have learned here at the House.

Do not mistake the Light for warmth, we use it for what it is. 

Tonight, when the day slips through the cracks of time and night overtakes our patch of land again, it will not have the heaviness of the Darkness, which grinds its gears, perambulating on its way with those who choose to keep it close. It will return to being Somewhen Else, and here it will only be night. 

Tonight we will sing a softer song to offer up to the Universe. I will sing again for the Darkness. I will wish it whatever darkling peace it can be bestowed and honor its elsewhen claim. Someone needs to and the Darkness used to be mine. It still cannot abide here. It has no right to the Now. 

We do not belong to the Darkness.
We do not belong to the Light.

Either one will have to get through me. I will protect those that are mine. I will sometimes waver, but I will win. We are prepared.

Here at the House, we are standing, and we are still our own. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Preparation for a Sadducean Shabbat

Somewhen Elses's Darkness will fall upon the House tonight.

With the million tiny compromises and the thousand intaken breaths.

With the vigilance of waiting. 

With the soundwaves tranquil, waiting to be shattered. 

Tomorrow there will be prayers to gods no one believes in, there will be offerings to tiny gods that need to be appeased. 
The food offering.
The salt offering.
The water offering. 
The tiny chipped off pieces of soul that are offered up so readily.

Tonight, slightly before the Darkness arrives, we will light candles at the House. 

When I sing my offerings tonight to the immensity of the Universe,  I will also sing for the Darkness, because someone needs to. Because there was a time when that Darkness belonged to me.  

How empty, how destitute, when only your sworn enemy will offer you succor? 

How could it not despise me?

I will stare into the chasm of the could-haves and the will-bes and the once-weres. I will protect those that are mine.  And I will wait for the motors to run and the gears to turn until the Darkness recedes its tentacles, back into the homes and hearts and entrails where it is welcomed.

I will not bar the door, but I will not let it reside.

We are prepared. As with any possible storm, it could destroy everything. Again.
Perhaps it will be nothing. 

But if it is not, I promise that we will be here, standing, at the House.

It will still only be Darkness, that belongs somewhen else, and even if it damages and marks us, we will still be our own. 

We do not belong to the Darkness.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tales of the Tiny Alien Episode 8 - Attack of the Meme!

Trouble was coming - E-Ticket Ride Trouble . . . . .

When we last left our Tiny Alien, he was following the Vision Quest, his way having been smoothed by the connections of the Oracle and the Alex from the Land of Tiny Doors. They had travelled to the Wildes of Brooklyn, and there instead of the ship he had expected, he found a Fake Pirate with a raft. He had been warned that there was Trouble, and he was expecting it. As our story continues, we find the Tiny Alien atop the Crows Nest, secure in all he surveys . . . . .

It occurred to the Tiny Alien, once he was safely ensconced in the tiny basket on top the the long pole, that everyone he had encountered so far seemed completely sure of things. The Old Man on the Dock seemed even more sure than the Oracle. The Oracle wasn't always sure, but on reflection he felt that this was more because of her proximity to the Alex. The Alex seemed very sure, but not terribly reassuring, especially with all those odd variations in the laws of physics. 

The Tiny Alien had a lot of time to think about things because he was on Watch, and as everyone knows the problem with being on Watch is that you are waiting for things to change, and they very seldom do. 

Things were in the process of not changing. So he waited, and while he waited he thought and while he thought, the Fake Pirate steered. Things continued not to change. The Tiny Alien then thought about the weaknesses of being on Watch, like waiting for things to stop looking like sky and sea. Then he thought about the fact that he was on a raft and all he could see was sky and sea, and while space was his regular bailiwick he was pretty sure that this was not the way rafts were supposed to travel. He confirmed this observation with the Fake Pirate.

"Oh you're quite right, this isn't the way normal rafts are supposed to travel at all, this is a Life Raft, pun intended I'm afraid." The poor little Fake Pirate looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Druids love puns, can't get enough of them I'm afraid. Convinced they are the highest form of humor. So um, yes this is a Life Raft and you're on a  Vision Quest and Oh dear, can we please just leave it there." The Parrot on the Fake Pirate's shoulder chuckled. 

"Is that a Fake Parrot, too?" asked the Tiny Alien politely.

"Oh no, he's a Real Parrot, and rather cynical at that. He does love the puns though."  

And the conversation continued that way for quite a while. Things still refused to change for quite some time and then the conversation stopped for a bit and the raft rocked back and forth attempting to lull the Tiny Alien into a false sense of security and have him go to sleep. 

And it would have worked too, except for the fact that Tiny Aliens didn't sleep having evolved out of it when a baby boom caused a surplus of Teenaged Tiny Aliens that outnumbered the Adult Tiny Aliens 5:1. After the Unlicensed Nuclear Accelerator Parties became all the rage Adult Tiny Aliens just never went to sleep again, and when that crop of Teenaged Tiny Aliens came of age, they all remembered the Trouble they got into and couldn't sleep because they knew there were still more generations of Teenaged Tiny Aliens to come and those Teenagers would be playing with Wormholes. Sleep was just not a valid survival mechanism when someone needed to Keep an Eye on Things.

So here he was was many millennia from the Baby Boom Evolution Events and far away from his Home Planet but still knowing that Sleep = A Nice Game of Global ThermoNuclear War, and thus he was not rocked into a soft dreaming sleep.  Which left boredom, and boredom led to puns. The puns thought of will not be recorded here, but you may use your own imagination and start out with all of the things that you could use a Life Raft for. 

And when the Tiny Alien ran out of puns, he thought of all of the great and not so great Doors he had knocked on and then he moved on to the Honorable Way of the Knocking, and the Assessment of the Doors. And finally he moved on to the ultimately complicated recitations of the Poe. Then his mind was blank and the Horizon still unchanged.

Then finally  . . . . BAM! Trouble!
The Trouble was Epic, The Battle ensued, there were strait swords, and curved swords and shurikans and wire work !!! 

There were ray gun blasts and gymnastics and Parrots throwing around one-liners! 

There was sweeping cinematography and impossible camera tricks and absolutely no computer effects whatsoever. Everyone was doing their own fighting and no insurance company would have covered this!

Then Finally the Tiny Alien and the Fake Pirate were able to see what was causing All the Trouble. It was a Ninja! The Battle ensued in earnest.

Through the cycling of the sun, and the turbulence of the storm, and the announcement of the Puns and the desperate calls of a director Somewhere, yelling "Cut, Cut I tell you - that wasn't in the scene!!! There's no insurance covering this!!"

And did that stop them? No, no it did not. So what pray tell did? 

During the Fight the Parrot landed on the Tiny Alien's shoulder and whispered in his ear, and the Tiny Alien thought about it for a Brief Second and agreed, using the Holographic Projector in his ray gun he summoned an image of a referee on the sail of the Life Raft and the Parrot whistled and the Tiny Alien called out "TIME OUT" and then all was still. 

That was at least partially because the Alien had also used the Time Out Ray and the Life Raft was also in the corner. No one was really sure what corner, since it was the Corner of Sea and Sky, but one thing was sure, no one was going anywhere until they said they were "Sorry".  (The Time Out Ray was how you disciplined Tiny Alien Toddlers, so it was a very powerful ray since it had to be able to override all the tiny training ray guns that Tiny Alien Toddlers had.) 

"What is all this about?" Demanded the Tiny Alien in his best Grown Up Voice.

"It is my honor, to take part in the greatest debate of all debates, and so I have come to test myself and my profession and continue in the Brahman of the Meme." said the Ninja, and he bowed low to the Fake Pirate. 

The Tiny Alien was confused, but the Parrot was laughing uproariously, "Silly Ninja, that's not the Real Pirate, that's just the Fake Pirate."

"And only for the weekend." added the Alien. 

"But isn't he a Fake Ninja?" asked the Fake Pirate. 

The Alien looked carefully, there were signs, but then carefully again he double checked his readings. "I believe he is a Real Ninja, but he is wearing Fake Pants!" 

"Well then, this doesn't really settle anything does it." Hurumphed the Parrot. 

"Honorable Parrot, most assuredly should you and I engage in either combat or reparte, I assure you that we should meet the most stringent interpretations of the Contest that so Honors the Brahman of the Meme, but we are truly here for the Atman of the Alien. So today there will be no resolution to Ninja vs Pirate, Fake or Otherwise"  All of his weapons suddenly were sheathed on his body. "Most Honorable Alien and seeker of the Way of the Treat, for seeing through the veils, I have now been empowered to let you know that the Band would like to meet with you. Having been found worthy I am now to escort you and these gentleman where you can use this Pass. When I take you to the door you will of course be required to give out the ritual phrase"

And in Unison they said the Phrase together, and all the heavens and seas did know that these four individuals really really meant it from the bottom of their sweet, ninja, pirate and alien hearts and the waters rippled with the perfection of the Joyous Call:

"Trick or Treat of Else!"

Who are the Band? Is the Tiny Alien nearing the end of his Vision Quest? Why does the Ninja remind him of the Alex? How does the Band know the Phrase? What is Brahma?

To find out what happens next join us for the next Episode of Tales of the Tiny Alien!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Free At Last . . . .

Break out the Chametz!

Oreos Away . . . . 

OK - That might be a bit over the top . . . . Bread - free for a week isn't really that bad.

However, in the great Tradition of things that bewilder non-religious people the end of Pesach means that everything I did last week I have to undo as soon as it's over. And it wasn't over until 8:17 last night, which is why the modern American tradition is to desperately order pizza and use paper plates to eat it. 

So until I revert the kitchen and switch the Pesadik stuff (kosher for passover in Yiddish) like the pots and pans, silverware, dishes and mixing bowls, I can't cook regular food in the kitchen. Then in the kind of thing that makes observant Jews think that maybe Reform might have had the right idea on some stuff, tonight is Shabbat which means it's time to light things on fire and have another festive meal and indulge in no-commerce for 24 hours. All of which is solemnized with TWO BIG FLUFFY LOAVES OF BREAD! 

Right- so since I am Working Woman we went out for breadsticks and Alfredo sauce at Olive Garden, which I personally capped off with some Tiramisu. Got home by 10, too tired to switch kitchen, send out the Hordes to school and work from 6am - 8am then work for me - Shabbat will start at 8ish tonight so I'll have about an hour and a half to change all the stuff, to make sure I don't contaminate the Passover stuff by accidentally touching it with stuff I shouldn't.

Yetzair Ha-Ra is laughing at me, covered in Oreo Crumbs, because he knows that I will accomplish the wine, fire and probably the kitchen switch and challa ( bread) but tonight's festive meal is gonna most likely be pizza ordered before sundown and paid with a credit card so that I don't exchange money during Shabbat. 

(Burning Man and Shabbat have a lot in common, participation is required, no commerce and fire is mandatory).

It's cool though, Pizza and Red Wine are excellent together, but yeah I can totally see why people who aren't doing this think observant people are nuts. But I get pizza and red wine tonight, and I lost six pounds last week (which means maybe I should eat a few less baked goods out of the work vending machine, because those were six out of ten recent pounds that I was very unhappy about) and no one loves Olive Garden's breadsticks and Alfredo Sauce like Jews who are coming out of Passover. For that moment they are sublime.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who provides the capacity for both chain restaurants and delivery for those of us who are trying find a midway. Blessed are you, who allows us to crack jokes while we are dealing with our Exoduses, large and small, internal and external, whether you are actually there or not. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to sneak in a new Tiny Alien Episode before Shabbat too. What? I've already decided to order Pizza  that knocks an hour off my timeline right there.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whyfore is this Brain Different than all other Brains?

So yesterday, I told the story about how the Poppets learned about Pesach, which is Passover. This is the next part of that story, so if you missed it you, can start here, assuming that you like to read things in order. 

Remember how Question Everything tried to convince Gingerbread that she was Chametz? I realized that Question knew what chametz was by that time but maybe not everyone reading does. The story goes that since the Pharaoh was known for changing his mind very suddenly, even after the really nasty plague with lots of death, everyone was still afraid that Pharaoh wouldn't really let anyone go, so even though they were supposed to have enough time to outfit  500,000 or so people for a journey to no-where Moses got a heads up to leave before the provisions were fully ready, so where bread usually had a chance to rise and most likely they used sourdough type starters, they left ASAP, which means the bread was flat and most likely really dense, like a fallen souffle. 

What it was not was leaven-free.  It had leavening in it that wasn't allowed to do what leavening does. So in remembrance of the speed with which they had to leave we cut out all leavening. So no yeast, baking soda or baking powder, even though baking soda and baking powder are minerals not leaving. Even the rabbis at OU will tell you that you can have baking powder now, but that's kind of freaky after so many years of doing it the other way, even if the other way was wrong so most Jews still eat the edible cardboard we call matzah exclusively.

Clearing the Chametz

This is the day that Choco Poppet arrived at the house, the frosting is a family recipe for Mocha Butter Rum Frosting. She approved and helped us make sure that none was left.    One of the really awesome things about the time leading up to Pesach is that you  bake a lot of cakes and cookies to use up all of the non-Pesadick stuff before the holiday.

So we were doing pretty well with the whole "no-Chametz" thing in the House, and we had reassured Gingerbread that she could stay since she contained no yeast, but it was still the day before, which is the day of the Seder because we're all Lunar like that,  and not only did I have to switch the EVERYTHING, I had to make all the food for the Seder itself.  I couldn't start cooking until the kitchen was switched. And then I had to go back to work because of the Things That Conspire.

The House Reds usually live on the painted chest where Shabbat is celebrated, and hang out in the Shofar, which I'll explain some other time. but they knew that every Friday, we cover two loaves of bread, and light things on fire and sing with some wine.The Poppets really wanted to start ahead of time and the one thing they were pretty sure of is that they could put away the Challah cover.

 The bread was definitely chametz and so they figured they were safe getting started with that.  

I came home in time to see them sizing up the ingredient bowls in the cupbord, they were about to call Spike to go look up the instructions for what had to go and what could stay, but I was able to tell them that the Rabbis felt that glass, being transparent was OK as long as it was mikvahed.  Don't ask, it's another magic spell. Luckily I have a living stream nearby.

But then we got to the more complex part - remember that six set of dishes thing? Yeah. I tie off the dairy dishes, replace the meat and use my good china for the Seder and my other good china for dairy during Pesach. 

All of the regular meat dishes get put away and then out come the Passover dishes and silverware. 
                  When I was growing up we didn't do this.

But we did have special china for the Seder. There are two real world things that happen when you do this. One, your cabinets get fully cleaned once a year. You'd be surprised how you can manage to get dust bunnies even when you use a space every day. I freely admit that I would not have known that if it weren't for Pesach.

The other real life thing is the "religious heritage" one. By changing everything, on a timeline, even though it's not the same thing as our ancestors were doing, it disrupts our lives. It forces us not to relax into systems we take for granted, we have to spend a little more time thinking about how we're going to manage in the world and even in our own kitchen. We might not have everything we need because we didn't switch it in time.

I used to think the Rabbis were interfering nudnicks when they made up these rules, but that was when I didn't have the experience of following some of them. After a year or two, I realized that it was a "body lesson" forcing you to walk the walk of the story, in a small way. It was connected. It was connected to my grandmothers and their mothers, who did this for years, and my mother, who did not do it but still taught me that it could be done. It doesn't mean that the Rabbi's weren't interfering nudnicks, but it does mean that perhaps there is sometimes more value in things than I might recognize immediately.

There are lots of lessons about how to treat others and how to move on from being humiliated in the Exodus story. Some people handled it well, some did not and some, like most humans, did both. I love the fact that Torah does not hide the imperfections of messy humanity in these stories, nor does it claim perfection for God, who is depicted as not being omniscient, but it omnipotent. The modern religions, including mine, have difficulty with that but I respect it. 

We only see the fragments of something that could be a God, we might not be able to understand it, but I can change the dishes and remember that three millennia ago, the people that were there had held on to the idea of freedom after generations of slavery. That amazes me. It was not easy to follow through and they wanted to stay long enough for their bread to rise. Freedom was an abstract, bread was real. Freedom with no land was scary and bread was comfort and safety and health. 

I can change my kitchen for a week.  I am still connected to those terrified people 3 millennia ago who sort of knew what freedom was, but weren't really sure that it could happen for them, or that it should. They asked to go back.

How many times do we ask to go back instead of choose the path that will give us growth or freedom. How many times do we want to stay with the devil we know?

Moses and Pharaoh gave them very little choice. I would not have been Moses or Pharaoh. I'm sure that I would have been one of the women wondering how we were going to feed all these people on the road. God told us to move, and we still wanted to make bread, but God didn't promise us food until he was reminded that we needed it. That's who I would have been, the one reminding the Prophets and Politicians and Divinities that we needed to eat or we would die out there just as surely as Pharaoh would kill us all here.

This is what I think of when I change the dishes. I share some of this with the Poppets, who think it is fascinating and notice that the Passover Dishes are very pretty. We are beautifying the mitzvot again.

Everything seems to be in place, but if you read any of the links from yesterday's post you know it's almost inevitable that I left some chametz in the house by accident. Especially since I didn't vacuum out everywhere like I usually do. So the Rabbis, with whom I frequently disagree, but still respect for what they were trying to do, gave us something to cover our butts just in case.

The Magic Spell

When you do everything right and you follow the whole 4 week plan, the husband comes home on "eruv pesach" with 10 pieces of chametz that he brought in from outside the house. Then he hides them and everyone in the family has to find all 10 of them, they dust them up with a feather into a wooden spoon and burn the whole thing with a special blessing that basically says. "If we missed anything God, please pretend it's not there and we will too. Thanks bunches, really!" 

The Girl of the House, has at least once in her life used the fact that I recite this incantation every year as proof that I am not a Muggle. I continuously reassure her that I am an ordinary wife and mother, just like all the other wives and mothers out there. Then she saw Pippin. Now when I say it she just smirks.

For very complicated reasons, I have a ritual feather that was given to me by a Native American engineer, that I use for this ritual, so here's the weirdness, I wasn't going to do the ritual completely correctly this year, so I wouldn't use the purifying feather he gave me, because it wasn't right. God, if concerned at all, was certainly going to be OK with what I was doing, but I didn't want to disrespect the person who had answered me truthfully when I asked a question and made me a gift with that answer. No half-assed rituals with that gift. It would be wrong. (Of course the original practice had you burn the feather too. So my regular version had already modified the version my grandparents did. but hey, it's a living religion. )

My house was not cleaned in time for us to play Hide The Chametz. Which, by the way is a lot of fun when everyone in the family loves each other, but can be a battleground in dysfunctional orthodox families. I always think of that when I perform this ritual too. In the back of my head I am thankful that I can find my own way, with the support of those around me and that at least in my family my beliefs are used to empower me as opposed to disenfranchise me. I am thankful for that, and hopeful that others will be able to escape things that oppress them, even if those things are the religion that I love. 

This year the Yetzairs helped us with the magic spell. Sweet little Babalonyian Rabbis, they knew about the asshole husbands even back in the day, and this was one of the ways that they used to prevent domestic violence and emotional abuse, that's why some things that look really weird on the outside are supported even by extreme Jewish rationalists like Maimondes. 

So complicated, so much to teach. So much more to learn. It's important to know that the reason Rabbis who made the Talmud knew about asshole husbands was that occasionally one of them was the asshole husband. The Talmud doesn't hide that either, but your teacher might. Nobody's perfect, even if they are righteous. 

Now it was time to set the fortune cookie on fire. 

Judaism is all about Food and Fire. Sustenance and Spark and since we just had the spark it was time to move on to the sustenance part.

Cooking the Festive Meal

There is nothing more Jewish in the modern world than chicken soup with matzah balls. I have made them at Burning Man, my matzah balls have risen in the desert. Me and Miriam - we rock the desert lifestyle. Maybe someday I'll dance in the desert with Timbrel. The entire section of Leviticus that deals with the movement of the camp makes so much more sense after my sojourns in Black Rock. My real-life Rabbis are very supportive of my fusion of extreme art experience and Judaism. Once again, I am lucky, I know not everyone finds the support to dance on the edge of heresy in order to get closer to Being.

I made "from scratch" soup. I usually take short cuts. There were none this year. It is my personal penance for rushing everything else this holiday, I even let Whole Foods make the Charoset, which is incredibly obnoxious of me. I needed to make sure I did at least one thing right. And the right thing might as well be delicious.

Setting the Seder Table 

While the soup was cooking, it was time to bring out the things that will be used on the table to perform the Seder. There is a moment when you dip bitter herbs in salt water to remember the tears cried by our ancestors when they were slaves in Egypt and they could not ever imagine being free.
The Shamrock Poppet who came to the House by way of my Perfectly Normal Irish Mother-In-Law, suggested this year that I use another gift she had given me. 

The Tyrone Crystal bowl she had given me from her latest trip to Ireland had never been used for anything else, so we were able to put it's first appearance out on the Seder table. Also I think the Irish know a few things about tears and longing.  It was perfect. 

Winter brought out the Matzah Plate that I had acquired quickly to handle a difficult situation. It reminds me of how far we in the house have come from our own story of Exodus. 
The Kindergarten Poppet throughly approves of our Matzah Cover. Remember the Challah cover that the Reds and Violet put away? This is the same thing, but for Matzah, it was made by the Boy in Kindergarten, it is finer than any silk and more beautiful than any tapestry. Especially now when he's many years older and looking towards the time he will leave. It's captured Time. There will never be another matzah cover on my table. If he has children, they can make one for him. When I'm no longer here they can have this one. But not until then.

It's close enough. 

But I do love my Seder Plate, and I love the fact that it's mine specifically. So now we will get to the part where the Orange Brain saves the Day. 

The Orange on the Seder Plate

That story goes, a Male Rabbi told a woman that a woman belongs on the Bimah like an Orange belongs on the Seder Plate. (Bimahs are where you lead services from/its like a pulpit but it's not). I never heard that story until I read it. 

I had heard a story that went like this, "A Rabbi told one of the student Rabbi's that gays belong in the synagogue like and Orange belongs on a Seder plate." That story was closer. The real story is this. While working to increase the inclusion of Gays and Lesbians in traditional Jewish practice, and activist female rabbi suggested that individuals show their support by putting a crust of bread on the Seder plate. A well known feminist Rabbi thought that this reinforced the idea that being homosexual was like being chametz, unacceptable, a violation of the law. She wanted to do  something that showed that just because the Rabbis who wrote the Talmud hadn't thought of it didn't mean it wasn't kosher.

So she said, why don't we place an orange on the Seder Plate. It's wonderful and delicious and appropriate and kosher. So I thought that was wonderful. My real life Rabbis taught me about the Orange. I usually use a mandarin orange, or a tangerine. It's been three years since my flavor of Judaism ruled that openly gay clergy could serve without restrictions and I think it's even more important to put the orange down now, so we remember that it wasn't always so. It's an important part of what I want my kids to think about when they are making seders of their own, or visiting other seders if they choose a different path than me. 

It was an hour before the Seder, I did not have an orange, no way of getting one. Then one of the Junior Partners pointed out that he happened to be orange.  

Even better, on all sorts of symbolic levels.  

So that is what happend at Passover at the House this year. Every year we tell the story of what happened in Egypt in the first person "This is what Elohim did for me, when he brought me out if Egypt". But we never tell the story of preparing. We should share it, we prepared in Egypt and we prepare each year and those stories are the stories of our families and ourselves. And it's families and individuals that make up a People. 

Having the Poppets made me think about each object and it's place in our Order, our personal Seder.  That's worth sharing here. Because when years go by, and the kids grow up and might forget why something was important to us, they can always find it here, in the wilderness of the internet. It's where you go after you've been freed. 

The Poppet Haggadah of Preparation for the House.

It's like writing names on the back of pictures. 

I wonder if we'll ever go back to a plain old orange on the Seder plate ever again?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Passover with Poppets

It's Pesach here at the house ,and because of All Of The Things That Conspire Against Me, I have been busy straightening out other people's houses and businesses and things that require bringing forth Order from Chaos.

Interestingly enough the word "Seder" means Order. 

To get to the point where you have Order for the Seder you have about 4 weeks to get your house ready.

I didn't manage to do that in 4 weeks. I actually started about 48 hours before Pesach ( which is the real word for Passover). This is not good. I'm usually much more on top of this but the Things That Conspire were very active this year.

There were no Poppets in my life at this time last year - odd to think about, isn't it? So the little guys were very amused at the sudden spate of ridiculous cleaning and a five hour shopping trip, reported upon by The Most Adventurous Red, who accompanied me on my desperate search for the right gefilte fish jars.  Poppets, at least the ones in my house, don't really seem to have any knowledge of Judaism and while they like to hang around the ritual objects in the house and appreciate that we set things on fire every week, this looked different to them. Some of them wandered around with questions. I couldn't really help them out,since I was trying to compress time and space through frenetic action, so I gave them some books to look at until I was done with the first round of emergency clean up.

The book they started with was the Moss Haggadah which is a beautiful book of art. There were times that observant Jews felt that you couldn't make images of things that were divine, and that included people, because people were divine, but at the same time there is a commandment to beautify the items that you use to fulfill the mitzvot. (Mitzvot means commandment - there are 613 of them so that's a lot of beautifying).

Haggadot ( the plural of Haggadah) were one of the few consistent places in the history of Jewish Visual Arts that were truly reflections of tastes and talent and locality. It was important to make them beautiful and it was heavily influenced by the regions that the calligraphers lived in. The Moss Haggadah is all hand calligraphed by a single artist in that tradition, and it is a wonderful teaching tool for the history of the Haggadot. I thought they might like it.  It belongs to the Boy of the house, because he earned it and it the source of one of my great joys in life when he finds something in it that he thinks is really cool and tells us about it in his out-loud voice.

Question Everything really has a lot of doubt about the whole religion thing and certainly had even more doubts when he noticed me checking the pockets of the coats in the closet for bread crumbs. 

He wondered about all those commandments and why we followed them and why other people didn't and why I was considering vacuuming the keyholes. Since I was in the process of skipping the whole keyhole vacuuming thing I explained to him that there was a whole section of the Haggadah about asking questions and why you should answer questions and taught our children that when they wre old enough to study on their own it was their religious duty to ask questions. So  really, in Judaism that made him the Holiest Poppet of all.  And then I left him to read the whole section while I set the oven on fire. It was on purpose - it's OK.

Question Everything was pretty impressed. Throughout the whole ritual book people were asking questions, and getting answers and disagreeing about the answers, and then asking more questions. He wondered how a religion could function that way, but I was busy reading labels for signs of autolyzed yeast extract to get them out of the cabinets and then scrubbing them down with bleach so I told him to let someone else have a turn with the book. You see very much like Jack Bauer I WAS RUNNING OUT OF TIME!

Violet found a really pretty page that matched her perfectly but it was all Hebrew, so she asked what it was. I explained that it was the 10 plagues, she was standing on the section of the Haggadah where when we read the plagues that Egypt suffered we remove a drop of wine from our glasses and drop them on to the napkin beside us. They were very pretty purple plagues , but Question Everything wanted to know why, so I did take the time to tell him. Even though the Seder celebrates that we were freed from oppression, many Egyptians suffered and died because of the actions of their ruler, and God and the plauges, so for each plague we remove a drop of wine from our glass to reduce our joy and mourn their lives and suffering. We need to remember that what we accomplished came with a cost, and they need to be respected, mourned and remembered too. 

Violet decided that the plagues were still pretty, even if the whole thing was a little creepy and the Drunken Poppet called out from the mantel that it was a terrible waste of wine, but a stern look from Winter, and he apologized. 

Meanwhile, Question Everything had moved on to another book that explained how to get ready for the Holiday by cleaning in a special way, and when he got to the section that explained why I might have wanted to vacuum out the keyholes, he asked me if I was going to Hell if I skipped it. 

I sighed, and told him Jews don't really have a Hell, and besides there's a magic spell at the end that makes everything OK just in case. I had to leave them alone for a bit while we put away all the things that aren't kosher for Pesach and brought up all the things that were. You see every year we clear out all our cabinets and pots and pans and dishes and silverware that touched things that rise, and replace them with pots and pans and dishes and silverware that never touch things that rise. It's like spring cleaning on steroids. And it leads to a lot of jokes about why in hell a desert God would command us to carry six sets of dishes. But of course it's a joke, because the six sets of dishes are not part of the mitzvot, they're what a bunch of Rabbis decided to agree on after they had asked a whole bunch of questions and argued about a whole bunch of answers, and that desert God wasn't talking to them anymore so they just sort of guessed and Voila! six sets of dishes. Someday I'll talk about me and God but today isn't that day, let's just say I'm sure that God didn't ask us to do a bunch of this but I do a whole bunch of this anyway because there are better reasons than "God says so" but they are complicated so it's easier for people to think that's why I do it. 

Well, I shouldn't have left Question Everything along with the rules for leavened versus unleavened things. Leaven is chametz and you have to have a chametz free house before the Seder. So the next thing I know, I walked past the living room and there was Question Everything reading aloud to the Gingerbread. Silly preoccupied me, I didn't think anything of it until I saw that the House Reds had pulled down my How To Run a Jewish Household book.

It seems that he had wondered aloud if
Gingerbread was allowed to stay in the house because she might be chametz. Since I wasn't around they asked Spike to figure it out. Spike corrected the misconception. He's very educated. Gingerbread was a Poppet, not a cookie, so she was fine to stick around.No one was going to be able to ingest her on a bet. 

Except for maybe Cthulu or something like that, and Spike was pretty sure I wouldn't invite Cthulu to the Seder.  Actually, Spike was a little off base there. If Cthulu comes to the door and asks politely to join us I'm supposed to feed him and make him welcome because he's a stranger here and we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Of course I'm only going to let him in after he promises to behave and tone down the whole causing insanity thing. I'm not obligated to martyr myself for hospitality or anything. So really it's all up to Cthulu, but I digress. I'm sure Question didn't mean to upset her, it was my own fault for leaving them alone with multiple books and no moderator.

They sort of were getting the gist of things now, having split the reading between them, but certainly the ones having the most fun were the Poppets who chose to read the Kosher by Design cookbook. They spent a decent amount of time wondering if you could really have dessert without cake. However since the dessert menu for the Pesach week read " merengue cookies, coconut sorbet, toasted coconut marshmallows, strawberry mousse, chocolate mousse and ice-cream sundaes",  the Pumpkin Spices, Chocos and Coffee Poppets agreed that you weren't really  suffering for desserts during Peasch and you weren't really likely to lose weight during the eight days of the dietary restrictions either. 

Now that they had the gist of things they realized that I was really rather insane trying to get everything that normally took the better part of two weeks accomplished in 24 hours with one full day of regular office work thrown in, and they decided that even if they didn't understand why I felt the need to do it, they would help. They enlisted the aid of the only actively Jewish-like Poppets in the house and began by Kashering the new kitchen that came in recently for Poppetropolis. 

When they were done they waited until I got home from work and helped me with the six hours I had left to set up for the actual seder. 

The Poppets learned alot more about the whole Seder thing then.  And our Orange Brain saved the day - more on that tomorrow.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tales of the Tiny Alien Episode 7- Beyond the Horizon

When we last left the Tiny Alien, he was finally in control of his goals. He had seen a Vision of a tiny bakset on top of a very tall pole, and he knew that he needed to be in that basket to get to where he needed to go. The Alex had hailed a cabbie named Crash to take him to the pirates, and the were soon underway to Sheepshead Bay.

"You do realize that here in New York most of the pirates are riding around on office chairs in cubicals with massive quantities of computer power?" inquired Crash.

The Tiny Alien was hardly taken aback by this news. He needed the type of pirate that buckled swash and complained about the lack of rum. He was quite glad to be sure of something for a change, since he had been rather disoriented since coming to the land of Tiny Doors. 

"I do not care about the kind of pirates that raid bank accounts, I need the kind that sail, and none of those cruise ship types either. I need the old fashioned, campy versions. And then I need to sail. " 

"OK, but you know that trans-dimensional trips can get a person motion sick. You should take some Dramamine" and Crash stepped on the gas. Now the Tiny Alien had never been to Sheepshead Bay, so he couldn't tell that anything was out of the ordinary. If you had been to Sheepshead Bay, you would have known that it looked pretty close to the original, and it smelled a lot like the original, but there was an odd Spider Robinson kind of vibe to the one that Crash took the Tiny Alien to. Of course if you've been to the real Sheepshead Bay, you'd also know that any of the things that tipped you off to the change would not have raised a single eyebrow if they had shown up at the real deal, because well, it is Brooklyn and it is a dock, and that's really just the way things are. (Except for Park Slope where they are trying too hard). 

The Tiny Alien noticed that he and Crash were a little small while they were speeding under the human sized cars and such down a long black ribbon with many vehicles called Kings Highway, but when they got to the Port of the Fisher King at Sheepshead Bay everything seemed to be just the right size, and Crash let the Tiny Alien off in front of the dock gate.

The Tiny Alien knew some sort of payment was involved, and tried to pay his way with the candy coins of his home planet, but Crash assured him that with the Vision Quest Service all payments that were due to him would show up in their own time. He did accept a roll of "Smarties" as a tip.

An Old Man waited at the end of the dock, looking the Tiny Alien up and down. The poor little traveller suddenly realized that he didn't know the appropriate greeting for Old Men At The End of Docks. He though about it and realized that perhaps it was the same as the appropriate form of address for off-duty witches. "Hail and well met- Please don't kill me in my sleep." he said, formally.

"I see, you're looking for the Ultimate Treat, and you've been affected by the Indies instead of the Indians for the whole Vision Quest Tour Package." the Old Man rummaged around in his bag that seemed to be full of something active. "Of course they're not really Indians are they, and Native Americans is wrong too, since no one's really native anywhere and there are over 280 recognized tribes most of whom hated each other's guts in various combinations. It would have been like the Israeli Knesset if they'd formed their own government, Indian Nation indeed! Except instead of 30 political parties you probably would have had to invent some new algorithms in order to get a majority government HA! The Mayans would have kicked everyone's butt if you had to form coalition government through math. That would have shown those Apaches . . . . found it, here you go kid." and with that the Old Man hand the Tiny Alien a stick with batteries and some sort of long thing with lights. The Old Man showed the Tiny Alien how to turn it on and make it rotate with a continuous wrist movement. The Tiny Alien concluded that he had made a proper greeting based on the enthusiasm of the OLd Man's Response.

The Tiny Alien made the horizontal bar spin and from random patterns the spinning created letters and words in glowing red dots. It read, "I know why the rum is always Gone".

"You'll have to spin this for a while, probably about eighteen minutes or so, because it's more elegant that way. But your ride will show up and you'll be able to continue on to the Trouble."

"Crash, the cabbie, did warn me that there might be Trouble." The Tiny Alien braced himself and looked steely eyed to warn the Trouble that he was prepared.

The Old Man found that pretty impressive, and they passed some time discussing the various types of Trouble that people on Quests of one sort or another usually got into. With time pleasantly passing, the Tiny Alien never saw the raft with the sharks head and the basket on the pole show up. The Old Man, however, did not miss a beat. 

"You're not the regular pirate."

"Oh no," remarked the rather sweet-faced pirate with the patch."I'm not the Real Pirate at all. I'm just the Fake Pirate and only for the weekend." He pulled expertly to the dock. "I hope that will be OK. Truth be told I really don't even like rum, so if we could pass on the formalities, I'll just be taking the passenger on his way."

The Old Man sniffed the air around his head. "Well you smell legit, so I suppose that's what you are. Off with you, " He patted the Tiny Alien on the back, and whispered into where his ear might be if he had one. "Be careful, he smells of E-Ticket ride, there's Trouble ahead for sure." and he lowered the rope ladder from the dock down to the sailing raft. 

The Fake Pirate showed him around and invited him to climb up to the basket called a "Crow's Nest" for the ride if he liked. The Tiny Alien settled in, ray gun at the ready for the next part of his adventure. As they pulled away from the dock, he could hear the Old Man singing a familiar tune.

"You can't see which way you're going
 Or Which way that Time is flowing . . . ."

What is the Trouble Ahead? Stay tuned and find out in the Next Episode of Tales of the Tiny Alien!