The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Looks Can Be…

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on November 17, 2010

This is a picture of the actual torah we will be reading from on December 18. It is Temple Adat Shalom's Holocaust torah.


It’s just a few short lines. It looks so teeny and simple (piece of cake!) when you look at it in this picture.

But hey, it’s Hebrew, whose written alphabet was jibberish to me just a few months ago, and since these lines are in the Torah scroll, they are written with no vowels and no punctuation.

Our class portion is Vayehei, and we are reading a portion of a portion, really. Then that is further divided into four parts. Louis timed Sybil (our star student) last night and it took her 1:04. Lorraine, who has a very challenging part which she is singing with all of the proper cantillation technique, clocked in at 1:46.

I’m still at “the length of time it takes me to make toast.”


Homemade Chanukah Gelt

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on November 13, 2010

My friend Ani sent us Joan Zoloth’s terrific book Jewish Holiday Treats:  Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family, so the other day we were inspired to make her easy and fun homemade gelt.

The instructions are so simple it’s not even funny, and I made it even easier by using the microwave instead of stovetop.  You melt chocolate (she calls for a double-boiler but I prefer to melt chocolate on half power in the microwave, watching closely and stirring often, for easier clean-up.)  Drop the chocolate into coin-shaped discs onto a wax-paper covered baking sheet and let cool, then wrap the gelt (coins) in foil.

We used Wilton gold foil from Michaels.

Step 1: Melt chocolate and drop into small discs on wax-paper covered baking sheet:

Step 2: Let cool. Wrap in foil. I like the handmade look of varying sizes and shapes slightly. It would be pretty to have a mix of silver and gold foil in the same dish.

Even Nestle semisweet baking chips yield better quality gelt than what is sold commercially. You also might get fancy and make Valrhona or Scharffen-Berger gelt.

I wrapped the larger pieces in a single sheet of foil and for the smaller ones, cut each foil in half diagonally:

Channel your inner Lucy & Ethel and try this fun and easy craft. P.S. Licking the melted chocolate bowl is fun, too.

Incorporating Charm

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on November 13, 2010

Magazines used to be a wonderful source of Rules. They were written in an authoritative word-of-God style that was incredibly reassuring. Do what the editors say, and you will be “in style.”

My girlfriends and I spent hours poring over stacks of Glamours, Mademoiselles (incorporating Charm!), and Vogues.

The Stewardess Diet! (Half-grapefruit and black coffee for breakfast and steak and plain boiled vegetables with more black coffee for lunch and dinner.)

Lane cedar chests! How I wanted a Lane cedar chest as featured in the pages of Seventeen. (Seventeen also had ads for department stores I’d never heard of like Bon Marche in mysterious places I’d never heard of like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and Tysons Corners, Virginia.)

Magazines stopped being authoritative and started being “empowering” which is like telling me, “Anything goes! Wear what you like!”

Argh. Chaos ‘n’ anarchy.

I find reading old magazines strangely comforting. The other day the kids were in school and my car was being serviced by the mechanic, who is only a few blocks from Old Town. I am normally not an “antiquer” but decided on a whim to pop into one of Old Town Temecula’s many antique shops.

I love this Redbook (“The Magazine for YOUNG ADULTS”) from 1952. My favorite part are the ads, like this one for Mums deodorant:

I remember wanting to drink Knox gelatin (gelatine?) for pretty nails:

I take Redbook’s “magazine for young adults” tagline to mean it’s for women in their early 20s or possibly even late teens who are married. The articles focus on things like whether to choose a canister or upright vacuum cleaner, and the short stories are light comic tales of young wives burning the meal the night the boss is coming to dinner.

But looking at this sequence of ads (for denture adhesive, Anacin, and a Dr Scholls corn remedy), either older women were reading Redbook too, or young women had “old” problems back in 1952. I guess once you get married it really is all over.

Grandma would have been on the slightly old end of Redbook’s demographic but she would have liked this ashtray ad. She told me that when you’d go to the doctor, they’d offer you a cigarette. (For relaxation.) And my mother-in-law told me doctors told women smoking would help keep the baby small for an easy delivery.

When I was in high school the back pages of Cosmo were filled with ads for “pep pills.” This 50s cold remedy looks like it has plenty of ephedrine in it. The name (“Tabacin”) is straight out of The Simpsons:

Sometimes at garage sales I get lucky and find a stack of old Erle Stanley Gardner mysteries like these. I love the titles – very salacious:

Many of the “career college” ads say “qualifies for Veteran’s programs” but not this one for United Airlines. Must be under 135 pounds, between 5’2″ and 5’7″, and attractive, please!

What Do YOU Wear to Church or Synagogue?

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on November 12, 2010

[First, catch up here and here.]

In Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel, an aging Miss Marple returns to a hotel she remembers from her younger days. (Bertram’s, the hotel in the novel, was modeled after Brown’s in London, where Agatha Christie wrote many of her mysteries.)

Reflecting on her life, Miss Marple realizes that feeling like a relic is part of the greater cycle of things. She remembers going to Bertram’s Hotel as a young woman with an elderly relative who looks around and realizes she’s the only woman in a bonnet.

It’s a little like that.

And it’s not even like I’m looking for “rules” per se so much as guidelines for being appropriate in any given situation. What, for example, about heels at a swimming pool? Stripper/hooker? Or suburban thirtysomething/fortysomething moms who found a great way to elongate short legs?

I have never had any type of actual, real dress code imposed on me. I went to high school in Santa Cruz, after all. Anything goes.

I guess you could say I’m looking for the unwritten dress code, not anything official. Official dress codes are usually ineffective anyway. You wind up with a situation like a middle schooler I recently saw at Eva’s orthodontist’s office. This girl has a sporty, tomboyish look. She told me the biggest difference between elementary school and middle school is that she regularly gets “dress coded” now for things like her fingertips stretching beyond the bottom hem of her shorts or her tank top straps being too narrow.

Now to me, this girl is more in the spirit of what an 11 year old should look like, vs a girl decked out in head to toe Forever 21 who is within the confines of the code but just looks inappropriate for the age (junior high) and occasion (school.)

People say things like, “Anything goes!” or “Be creative!” or “The sky’s the limit!” and that freaks me out because I just want it to be easy. I dont’ want to have to think about it too much. I want to know this is a “skirt suit and heels” occasion then find the particular skirt suit and heels that looks best on me. I don’t want swingy A-line dresses or miniskirts or jeans or leggings/jeggings thrown into the mix to bedevil me.

So what do YOU have to say? I threw the question, “What do YOU wear to church or synagogue?” out to a random assortment of friends, and here is what I heard:

Andrea, a San Diegan who recently moved from Temecula back to Orange County, where she went to college, said:

Hats, pantyhose, no way. My church is a come-as-you-are church. However, people that I have met (outside of the church) refer to it as a foo foo church. It is casual, but in a high fashion sort of way. There are a lot of high heels, a lot of accessories, a split of 50/50 pants to skirts, and a lot of flashy labels….but of course, I live in Orange County now. That being said, there are people who are not high fashion, of course (myself included). Probably an 80/20, accurate stereotype of the foo foo, casual, high fashion, at 80 percent.

Freda, who lives on the East Coast, writes:

My children attend a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school which also boasts the largest modern Orthodox congregation in the US. When I attend the preschool services with my kids, I usually wear either a skirt and jacket or a dressy suit. I am 40 and grew up Orthodox, so I tend to wear more modest dress, my skirts will cover my knees, my shirts/tops will cover my collar bones, etc.. I do wear hose, and tend to wear black, navy, gray, tan when I go to shul. No open toe shoes either.

When Freda saw the words St John on Facebook she added:

St John suits are too matronly for you! I have an amazingly beautiful Kay Unger suit I wore to my nephew’ bar mitzvah that I can lend you!

Ann, who lives in Riverside and grew up in Orange County, begs to differ:

Maybe it is because I am older than you, (closer to 80), but I get the St. John thing. St. John is so elegant and classy.

And Mom, who I can’t even imagine in St John OR pantyhose, reminded me:

Aunt Lee also loves St. John, & she always looks pretty snazzy & young in whatever she wears.

Anne, who lives here in town, writes:

People at our church wear whatever they want. Jeans, tshirts, dresses, skirts… you see it all. Hats are sometimes worn by the occasional older woman, as are panty hose! 🙂

Stacy joined the conversation via Facebook, specifically about work dress:

A decade ago my workplace decided to make nylons mandatory dress code. I went out that day and bought myself a wardrobe of pant suits. The rules are what you make them… shoot I even wear white after labor day if the mood strikes. If you walk with dignity and pride, most any outfit blends in.

She added:

Dress codes have changed dramatically. We went to a Sunday matinée of Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages so we wore dresses and heels and you’d be surprised at how many people came in jeans! There are no SoCal dress codes any more.

Shelly, a Sacramento-area lawyer, writes:

I still wear pantyhose to court… No way I’d show up at the 9th circuit bare legged!

Lisa, a law school friend and former Riverside Public Defender’s Office colleague who now lives in Orange County and is an attorney in private practice, agrees:

I am that attorney… I always wear stockings, unless I’m wearing a pantsuit. I usually buy at least 20 pairs at a time. The closet place I can find them is a 45 minute drive from my house. If I’m lucky, if I can wear a pair twice!

Also, …no open-toed shoes for me. I won’t wear them with stockings, so they are a (personal) no-no for court. I guess I’m just old school…

She adds:

I wear matched suits, never separates. Suit with stockings every day, unless I wear a pantsuit. I used to rarely wear pantsuits, but usuallly wear one 2-3 days per week now.

What do YOU wear?

Born to Be Old

Posted in philosophizing, synagogue life by Juliet on November 9, 2010

[Missed Part I? Check it out here.]

The other day I had time to kill between appointments so I popped into Starbucks. (And yes, I am aware that for someone who claims to “not even like Starbucks very much,” I seem to go there an awful lot. Ubiquity.)

I sat facing the room and soon noticed an older gent in a cowboy hat. He was probably in his late 70s or possibly even early 80s. He caught my eye because of his order: oatmeal and an ice water.

But what kept me watching was that it soon became clear we were separated at birth twins.

He pulled a crossword out of his pocket and started working it. I was doing the exact same crossword (Wednesday New York Times syndicated) in the exact same paper (The Californian) with the exact same type of pen (retractable Sharpie.)

NOBODY does a crossword puzzle with a Sharpie. Separated at birth is obviously the only explanation.

Then he pulled out a book and began to read, and it was the exact same new release I’d just picked up from the library and was excited about (the latest M.C. Beaton Agatha Raisin mystery.)

Eerie, no?

So at heart I am 80 years old, which is probably why I’m having such a hard time dressing for events these days. And why I want to wear pantyhose to everything. (In my defense, sheer black pantyhose! Not suntan! Not taupe! Sheer black only. But yes, I know, the argument is a dead one. It’s 2010.)

What better for an 80 year old to wear to a daytime wedding, funeral, baptism, christening, baby naming, graduation, or other formal event than a St John suit, right?

I can’t explain my fascination with St John. And hey, by the time I can actually afford one, I’ll probably be old enough for it to look okay, actually. But even St John is changing. (Mostly) gone are the knits and signature buttons. (Mostly) gone are the Chanel-style suits with boucle jackets. They are trying to youth it up.

I floated the St John idea to the same group of women friends with whom I have the ongoing Great Pantyhose Debate, and opinions ran the gamut from: no; to NO; to HELL NOOOOOO!!!!!

So I can’t wear a St John knit suit with oversized gold buttons and panythose and cap-toed pumps. What can I wear?


Frustratingly, there is no answer. None. Absolutely none. I live in the land of the megachurch. And yet, I can’t get an answer. Everyone seems to be going casual. There are churches where you can wear shorts and flip flops. Churches where women have tattoos peeking out from their tank tops. My Catholic friends mostly wear dresses or skirts and sweaters with tops (but NO pantyhose.)

And synagogue? It’s an absolute mixed bag. A grab bag.

So I am back to NO RULES.

I am making it my mission to find my Bat Mitzvah outfit this week. It will be:

* dressy daytime-appropriate
* dress or skirt (no pants)
* in a color or colors but no patterns, and not a boring color like black, grey, or navy
* youthful and flattering

If I find this holy grail, you will be the first to hear all about it. Or rather, the second. I need to tell the Pantyhose Mafia first.

Next time: (un)scientifically selected experts weigh in

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