Archive for December, 2011

And we have reached the final night. I have enjoyed my little experiment in logging my practice of the experience. While I certainly would have loved to share each of the nights with my close friends and family, I simply appreciate the holiday. I am also lucky that there were latkes on Christmas Eve/night #5 because I am not sure if my cousins are going to be available to celebrate at all this week. There has been no attempt to schedule a time.

I will be returning to my randomness of posting soon, but I am thinking of taking a couple days off to do other things with my time over this holiday break. Enjoy the rest of the holiday season!

So the major Christmas extravaganza was the whirlwind I described and now all that is left is the closure to the celebration of Hanukkah. I lit the candles with family for two nights and now am back in my apartment for this seventh night. I don’t have anything bigger to talk about this evening so I will simply post my pic for the seventh night and return tomorrow for the final night.

Today wraps up the overlap between Hanukkah and Christmas. While the day was dominated by the insanity and spirit of Christmas, I still finished the day off with the lighting of the menorah with my family.

It is interesting that when I look at my family, there is a lack of religious or cultural tradition outside of the practices on my Jewish side. While my dad’s family has not shown strong connection to religion in the past several years, they used to be involved in Sunday School and regular attendance at church. I have actually experienced more church services than I have Jewish services at synagogue. I remember in a sense going to those Sunday Schools sessions but I never felt a connection to following the Christian faith. Judaism always felt like more of my identity and therefore became the “religion” and culture I decided to follow.

The Christmas activities today were completely void of any sense of religion. There was no prayer at breakfast, no attendance of a church service and not even one mention of anything but the breakfast and opening of presents. Meanwhile, Hanukkah has been void of any exchange of gifts. Although last night was the first night that most of my family had even lit a menorah this year, they at least participated in the tradition. There is actually no real way to celebrate Hanukkah without having even a hint of the religious element mixed into the festivities.

Only two more nights left. Happy Hanukkah!

 

Tonight brought together two sets of traditions: Christmas Eve dinner and the middle of our Hanukkah celebrations. My stepdad put together a great combination of holiday treats. It is definitely far from kosher but we had latkes and ham. It honestly was excellent so you will get no complaining from me. His parents also joined us and engaged in our typical conversation of sports and pop culture. All of this was preceded by the great fall/winter activity of watching football. My Redskins unfortunately did not fully show up to this game, but I will forgive them this time. Maybe we will get the draft pick I hope can propel the team forward. But I digress…

After dinner came the lighting of the menorahs for the fifth night, but this made the first night with the family for this season. A fun little game we play is to watch the candles burn down and see which one survives the longest. My little sister won this time, but I get another chance tomorrow during round two of the Christmas/Hanukkah celebration. It is interesting to share this holiday with family that come from a Christian background and values, though they are very open to understanding and participating in the festivities. After the candles were lit, we engaged in our traditional Christmas Eve activity of opening our stockings. Mine was a little light, but I just joked about it. I honestly do not care about how many gifts I get or how much money people spend on me. The bigger family gathering and sharing of love and appreciation for each other is what makes the holiday season great.

Happy Hanukkah! And now Merry Christmas!

And we have finally made it to the winter vacation! While work has been extremely tedious and frustrating, I was able to get everything in order so I can start to relax and enjoy the holiday.

Tomorrow begins the tradition that is Christmas and Hanukkah together. Every year, I end up in a whirlwind between the houses. Starting on Christmas Eve, I go to my mom’s house for dinner, which sometimes will include my stepdad’s family. On years like this one, football gets to be included in the festivities. The night culminates with a fantastic dinner and the start of our gift exchange. Though we focus mostly on the stockings, there is sometimes a small exchange between us siblings because they cannot wait to give their gifts. The next day bring the true whirlwind adventure. Starting from my mm’s house, I travel to my dad’s and open gifts with him and the sisters. These leads to the group of us traveling down to my grandmother’s for Christmas breakfast, which includes chipped beef and gravy. While not a big fan, it is one of those family traditions. We head back to be dad’s to then go back to my mom’s. At this point, it is at least 11am, if not 1pm. We do the gift opening there too, but the day already feels long so there is a family napping session. That evening, we head back to my dad’s and have a Christmas dinner (though this year it will be at my sister’s).

This craziness highlights a very important aspect of my family: we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. While only the former is filled with culture and tradition, the latter is in the spirit of the holiday season. I admit to loving the Christmas spirit and the beauty of the symbols but I do not hold any religious connection to the day. The spirit of giving and family are what drives many families to inherit the traditions. For Hanukkah, I feel some of the similar elements of togetherness and family, but I also feel that significance of my culture and its celebration.

Tomorrow begins the excitement, so I should probably get some sleep.

While today was a rough day, I did have my time to enjoy the little things and some of the people in my own little corner of the world. For lunch, I was able to try out a newer place in the area, Busboys & Poets. They have a very open style for the restaurant and a menu that includes a number of more natural and health-conscious meals. The menu had a great selection, but I focused in on the sandwiches, particularly the blackened maui maui with lemon aioli. It was quite good and convinced me that I need to go back and try more of their selections. I went with some of my co-workers to celebrate the end of another semester. Though the work days have been hard and have been testing my patience as a supervisor, I can appreciate some of the common experiences of my peers and the support they provide me.

Later in the day, I met up with a good friend and her visiting mother to go to one of my favorite places, Ledo Restaurant. I have grown up on the square pizza and have not found a better pizza anywhere. It was particularly nice because I had a chance to pull myself away from work and enjoy good conversation over dinner.

Afterwards, I finally found my way back to my apartment to set up for the third night of Hanukkah. While I will have to rush through the experience tomorrow with plans in the evening, I will make time for the ceremony, tradition and reflection.

Today was quite a day…Working in Student Affairs is sometimes very rewarding, but it is can be just as tiring at other times. Today was one of those tiring times. Closing a housing program at the end of a semester can be quite challenging, but then add to it the requirement for students to follow a specific set of directions and everything goes out the window.

Still, I found about five minutes to bring my menorah into the office and sit in peace and quiet. I am not always a fan of celebrating Hanukkah by myself. Since I lived away from home for five years and had not found the right Jewish community for me, most of my lighting moments have been in solitude. For today, I was comfortable with getting the moment to sit in peace and watch the flickering of the flame. It was one of those moments that allows me to get a better sense of serenity and spirituality. The simplicity and the calm are extremely soothing and allow me to get a sense of perspective.

Hopefully tomorrow brings a chance to not shove this tradition between work projects and I can truly and fully enjoy my third night.

So tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Though I have talked about some of the shortcomings of our society and the amount of growth we as a people still have ahead of us, I will choose to stay in the positive. While this is not the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar (as it is not even a high holiday), it still gets to be part of this time of year we call the “holiday season.” Among the lights, trees and holly, you will find the occasional menorah and Star of David. It is time to grab the dreidels and make some latkes. Celebrate the Festival of Lights!

One of the traditions of Hanukkah for me and my family is singing Rock of Ages. It is a practice that we have been doing since my grandparents passed it down. Below are the lyrics for the 1st and 3rd verses, which are the ones we sing each night.

Rock of Ages, let our song
praise Thy saving power.
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us,
but Thy arm availed us.
And Thy word, broke their sword,
when our own strength failed us.

Children of the martyr race,
whether free or fettered.
Wake the echos of the songs,
where ye may be scattered.
Yours the message cheering,
that the time is nearing;
which we'll see all men free;
tyrants disappearing.

Amen

One of my favorite movie series of all time is the Star Wars saga. The universe is constantly expanding, but the original three movies are classics with such a great collection of memorable characters, scenes and quotes. When Obi Wan gets struck down in A New Hope, Han drops into the carbonite chamber in The Empire Strikes Backย and Luke battles the Rancor in Return of the Jedi, you can easily get lost in the action. Even the prequels had their shining moments. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace definitely has that cool factor with the red/black-colored skin and double-edge lightsaber. Attack of the Clonesย saw Anakin grow into a whiny teenager but the battle against Jango Fett leads to the creation of the hatred in the young Boba. Then the series finally closes the gap between the original trilogy and prequels with Revenge of the Sithย and the epic battle between Anakin and Obi Wan over the river of fire. There was definitely a slight bit of satisfaction in seeing Hayden Christensen lose the fight and wind up losing an arm and both legs. Sorry, it’s the little things that helped to make his acting bearable to watch.

Though the Star Wars universe has so much to appreciate and enjoy, there are plenty of elements that just don’t make the cut (and I don’t just mean the multiple remakes and re-releases by George Lucas). The prequel trilogy seemed to include a number of elements that were just not that impressive. The entire speeder race helped to push forward the story but was laced with a number of goofy and unnecessary dramatic elements that did nothing to add to the intensity. The battle of the Gungans was extremely lopsided and only seemed to turn out okay because a young Anakin stumbled upon the opportunity to take out the Trade Federation’s command ship. As Anakin struggles with the requirements of becoming a Jedi and the love he develops for Padme, the two share an excruciatingly long stare into space scene as the two struggle with a growing rift between them. And someone explain to me how a bunch of little, cuddly bears in the woods can beat a supposedly well-trained military force with laser weapons…

With some of these scenes listed above, there are particular characters that make them less enjoyable. Below is the list of the most annoying, frustrating and irritating characters of the Star Wars universe, at least those in the two trilogies.

#10: C-3PO – I will start by saying that I am a fan, but C-3PO is kind of a downer throughout the series. He is constantly complaining about R2-D2’s actions and decisions and about the random adventures they find themselves in. Before Jar Jar Binks, he served as the comic relief for a set of films that include a lot of action and drama.

#9: Palpatine/Darth Sidious – As one of the characters that spans all six of the films, you get the greatest exposure to his development. In the prequels, he clearly has a hidden agenda, though no one who surrounds him can even get a sense of his villainous behavior. He acts frail and unable to protect himself to a point that he nearly gets himself killed. Compare the “younger” Palpatine to the Emporer and you find a man who is riddled with poor dialogue and quite the ugly skin complexion. When he gets killed, he somehow cannot stop shooting out lightning from his fingers and lets an injured Darth Vader pick him up and throw him over the railing without putting up a fight. Pathetic… I will give him credit for the fight scene with Yoda in the Senate chamber.

#8: Luke Skywalker – You wouldn’t expect that the hero of the original trilogy would make this list, but like father like son. Luke is a whiny child while he lives on the surface of Tatooine and clearly has to go through some growth to eventually take on his father and the Empire. When training with the great Yoda, he is nothing but disrespectful and ungracious for the assistance with his development. When Jedi Knights used to be trained from a young age, this extremely old former leader of the Jedi Council is doing this undeveloped Jedi apprentice a favor. He then gets a confidence between the capture of Han in carbonite and his recovery from Jabba’s palace that never seems to get explained. And talk about incest with that passionate kiss with his sister…

#7: Padme – I am a fan of Natalie Portman, but this was clearly not one of her best performances. The young woman goes from a Queen of the planet Naboo to a girlfriend of an untested Jedi. How does someone who is at least several years older seem to make such a creepy connection with a young child then whiny teenager. The most heart-wrenching scene happens when she starts crying out from a broken heart. Sigh…

#6:ย Fode & Beed – These may not be well-known characters, but you may remember that the pod race included a set of announcers to give the play-by-play of the race. They are not the worst characters of the series, but as members of one of the most pointless scenes in the movies, they only help to push you to want their part to finish. I am a fan of Greg Proops as a comedian and a vocal talent, but it just does not work for the flow of the film.

#5: Jabba the Hut – With all of the power he has over the beings on Tatooine, he seems to leave himself very vulnerable to attack. Though Leia fails in her attempt to get Han back, she gets revenge by strangling him with the chain he uses to keep her locked up. Though he is this large creature, without the gaggle of flunkies he would be nothing. If he had not been so greedy with Han’s bounty and not waited so long to take out a clearly talented Jedi, he could have stayed in business and lived his days out comfortably.

#4: The Viceroy – While I certainly can (and probably will) go into the stereotypical and discriminatory elements of the ‘races’ of the Star Wars universe, the Viceroy and Neimoidians come off as an unfortunate attempt to make a statement about the eastern countries, possibly the Chinese or North Koreans. Considering their ability to take out large populations with their even larger collection of powerful droids, how do they come off as so horribly uncoordinated and defenseless?

#3: Salacious Crumb – Who? This is a character that appears in Jabba’s Palace and has no significance to the story at all. The only thing this character does is laugh in an excruciatingly loud way. He does not even seem to laugh at moments of actual humor.

#2: Anakin Skywalker– As Darth Vader, he is one of the most memorable characters. As a boy and a teenager, it begs the question of how did this kid become one of the strongest beings in the universe? As a boy, he acts incredibly smart for his age but also seems to shout for joy way too much for being a slave and stuck in a war. The entire scene where he takes out the command ship just makes his character appear way more powerful than he should be for an untrained child. As a teenager, Christensen exaggerates Anakin’s angst to a level that is painful. For someone who is supposed to balance the force, how could the entire Jedi Council ignore his blatant stupidity. Where did all of that intelligence go from his childhood without exposure to the world outside of Tatooine?

#1: Jar Jar Binks – This cannot be a surprise, can it? Jar Jar is a bumbling fool who is more of a jester than an actual helpful character. To make him more entertaining, Lucas allowed this character to stumble into beneficial actions (like taking out droids by flopping around on the ground) and exponentially acts more ridiculous than any single character in the entire series. If someone can explain how a bumbling fool can go from general of a ragtag group of natives from the planet Naboo to a senator, I would love to understand that decision.

Dishonorable Mentions: Mace Windu (If Samuel L Jackson is supposed to be such a badass, how does he get defeated so easily), Boss Nass (though he is better than Jar Jar, he is not that much better), Joh Yowza (one of Lucas’s additions to Jabba’s Palace, he and Greeata serve to make the band go from grooving to ear-splitting), the Tuscan Raiders (you know the scream when you hear it), the Stormtroopers (though cloned and possibly continued through incest breeding, they seem to be the most trained/untrained military force ever) and the Ewoks (though cute and cuddly, how do they take out the Empire).

Virginia Tech is known for many great things, including a competitive football team, being a top-100 public university, strong business and engineering programs and a wonderful campus atmosphere. Shadowing the achievements and positive qualities of the institution has been the tragedy of 2007 when a student unleashed a rampage on the school before taking his own life. The events in Blacksburg brought the nation together to pray for the friends, family and university community affected by the horrible event. On December 8, 2011, Virginia Tech was taken hostage again by violence and despair.

Though not the same magnitude as the 2007 incident, the actions of a man have shocked the nation again. On a routine traffic stop, an officer was ambushed ย and gunned down. The gunman fled the scene on foot. Witnesses reported the event, sending the campus into a lockdown. After additional emergency personnel arrived on scene, a second body was found and later identified as the gunman.

Rather than breaking into a whole discussion unpacking the event, I will simply say that my heart goes out to the campus community and the family of the officer. Stay strong and stay safe.