Spelling Bee Mishegoss

Maybe you have memories of taking your turn in a classroom spelling bee. Chances are, the word that got you eliminated was something really hard like “receive.” (The old “i before e except after c” rule gets them every time!)

If you’re alphabetically talented enough to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, you probably know that you’ll encounter a lot of foreign words. In 2018, 13-year-old Shiva Yeshlur from Wyoming was asked to spell the word cholent. He asked for its meaning: “A Jewish Sabbath-day dish of slow-baked meat and vegetables,” the judge told him. He then asked for the word’s language of origin, because for master spellers, this can reveal important clues. The word is Yiddish, he was told. He spelled it correctly and moved on to the next round. Pretty impressive for a kid who has probably never eaten cholent!

We like spelling bees. After all, we wrote a dictionary! And we like Yiddish words.

printed-chalkboard--mazel-tov-(28cm)

Mazel tov (congratulations) to the winners of the Spelling Bee. We’re kvelling! This sign is available at https://www.sillyjokes.co.uk

But using them in a spelling bee is mishegoss (Yiddish for crazy) because there’s no single correct way to spell a word that didn’t start out as English. The process of changing letters from one language into similar-sounding characters of another language is called transliteration – and it’s not an exact science.

This doesn’t stop the spelling bee mavens from throwing foreign words into the mix. While the large majority of words come from Latin, Middle English and French, the organizers have been known to turn to words in Hindi and Afrikaans – as well as Yiddish and Hebrew – to challenge the smarty-pants contestants. Click here to see a chart of where spelling bee words come from.

Think about the latke-filled, eight-day Jewish holiday that usually falls in December. Do you spell it Hanukah or Chanukah or Hanukkah? How do you spell the four-sided top you spin with the kids? Is that a dreidel, draydle, draidel, or what? Both the holiday and the top are Hebrew words spelled with Hebrew letters. When you sound them out and transliterate them – spell them with As, Bs and Cs – there are several different ways to do it.

So how can the big machers at Scripps declare that a kid spelled a Yiddish word “correctly?”

This issue came to a head in 2013, when a 13-year-old boy of Indian heritage named Arvind Mahankali, who hailed from Queens, New York, won the national title by deli-matzo-ball-soup-restaurant-219131correctly spelling the Yiddish word for matzah ball. He spelled it k-n-a-i-d-e-l. See his win on YouTube.

That’s how we chose to spell it in our Dictionary of Jewish Words, and how the Spelling Bee thought it should be spelled. Their spelling bible is Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, which has some 472,000 words – including many that are transliterated from foreign languages.

But no big win is without controversy. The scholars at the acclaimed YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which considers itself the authority on the standardized spelling of Yiddish words, declared that the correct spelling of the fluffy soup dumpling should be kneydl.

Time magazine thought the debate was worth investigating. They surveyed the use of the word and found that the “knaidel” version was the overwhelming winner – thanks to many mentions of matzah ball soup in American-Jewish cookbooks from the 1950s.

Our favorite Yiddish-in-the-Spelling-Bee story is this one: In 2009, the participants
were asked to spell kichel – those puffy little cookies made with eggs and sugar. We call them bow ties, and we love them. When asked to use the word in a sentence, the spelling bee  moderator said, “The thought of someone kvetching about her kichel gave Meryl the shpilkes.”

Isn’t that ridiculous? The sentence is supposed to give the contestant a clue to the word’s meaning. If you were a kid whose family was from India, would you know kvetch, shpilkes and kichel? You would more likely know the Hindu counterparts: Kvetch (to complain) is shikaayat. Shpilkes (impatience) is adheerata and kichel is cheenee kukee. At least that’s what Google Translate told us.

If the moderator truly wanted to be helpful – or even just be nice – he should have said, “The thought of someone shikaayat about her cheenee kukee gave Prianca adheerata.” Now that’s a sentence the Indian contestants could relate to!

But these kids don’t seem to need a helping hand. In fact, Indian-Americans have won the last 11 national spelling bees!

In the ultimate round of the bee in 2016, the co-champion, Jairam Hathwar, a 13-year-old from Corning, New York, was asked to spell chremslach, the Yiddish word for matzah meal pancakes – and he spelled it correctly! It’s a really old-fashioned word that even our Jewish kids don’t know. We just don’t use the word chremslach. When it’s Hanukkah we make our pancakes out of shredded potatoes and call them latkes. When it’s Passover, we use matzah meal and call them pesachdik pancakes.

Next Passover, maybe we should open the door to some of these teenage contestants and invite them to join in our seder so they can see the Yiddish words in action. And then they will surely know how to spell machetunim, kugel and khreyn.

 

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Different Traditions for a Sweet New Year

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we prepare the way most American Jews do: We buy apples and a new jar of honey.  We get a round challah, order a brisket, and bake an apple cake or a honey cake  – foods that incorporate the traditional flavors of a sweet new year into our holiday menu.

RH

These Jewish New Year foods are favorites among Ashkenazic Jews like us. This group, whose ancestors immigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, comprise about 80 percent of American Jews. Living amongst so many of our landsmen (the Yiddish word for “our peeps”), we sometimes forget that Jews around the world have different foods on their Rosh Hashanah dinner tables.

In France, they too love to dip apples in honey to symbolize wishes for a sweet new year. We also read that French Jews like to serve onion quiche for the holiday, but they probably eat onion quiche more often than just on Rosh Hashanah.

In Ethiopia, lamb is the centerpiece of the holiday table. Although we’ve spent $80 for a kosher brisket, in Addis Ababa it’s lamb that breaks the budget for the festive meal.

In India, the holiday chicken isn’t like our Bubbe’s. It’s more like their Dadi’s (Hindi for Grandmom). One popular holiday recipe, chicken mahmoora, is cooked with tomatoes, spices, almonds and raisins. It’s served with rice instead of roasted potatoes. This delicacy is also seen in Israel, where many Indian Jews have emigrated.

For Sephardic Jewish families, pomegranates are a popular Rosh Hashanah treat – and a part of almost every Jewish holiday meal. That’s not a surprise because the fruit – and Sephardic Jews – come from the Mediterranean region, as well as from North Africa, India and the Middle East.

pomPomegranates are one of the traditional “seven species” mentioned in the Talmud – along with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives and dates. Each has a particular attribute, and eating them is thought to enhance spirituality for the holiday. When eating the pomegranate, it’s traditional to say, “May we be as full of mitzvot as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”

In this really interesting article about Greek Jewish traditions for Rosh Hashanah, a Washington Post reporter interviewed Paulette Mourtzoukos, who was born in Volos (near Athens)  in 1933. Her family is descended from Romaniote Jews, some of the earliest Jews on the European continent, with evidence of their existence dating to the 2nd century B.C.E. Through the centuries and after the Inquisition, Romaniote Jews were absorbed by Sephardic communities in several countries.

Along with more familiar treats like twice-baked biscotti and baklava, her Greek family enjoyed other sweets unique to Rosh Hashanah. Homemade apple preserves were given to guests in individual teaspoons with a glass of water, as a wish for a sweet New Year. Neighbors gave each other baskets of pomegranates from their yards with wishes for “chronia polla, kai kali chronia,” or “many years and good years.” To break the Yom Kippur fast a week later, it’s Greek Jewish tradition to eat honey sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, symbolic of wishes for a sweet year of abundance.

These are all different ways to include the seven species on the holiday table. Wheat is found in the round holiday challah that has a place of honor on our table. The round shape is said to symbolize the hope that the coming year will be as perfect as a circle.

date syrupSome families dip apples in date syrup (silan in Hebrew), a sweet liquid extracted from dates, instead of in bee honey. Dates are one of the seven species. Seeds – from pomegranates and sesame seed desserts (so your good deeds are as plentiful as seeds) – are other popular symbolic foods.

On the secular New Year in Cuba, it’s a traditional to eat grapes for good luck. The few Jews left in Cuba have adapted this tradition and now eat grapes on Rosh Hashanah as a wish for a sweet Jewish new year.

Another way to taste the seven species is in a Rosh Hashanah stew. We read about “quince stew” and it sounds like the Sephardic version of cholent. It’s made by slowly simmering meat, tomato paste, potatoes, and some sweet fruits like prunes, dates and quince, a yellow Asian fruit that’s similar to a pear. Throw in a few olives and you’ve got most of the species covered.

Some Sephardic Jews place a fish head on the holiday table. It’s a little disconcerting for us to see it amongst the dates, apples and pomegranates, but you can’t deny the symbolism. The custom arose from the holiday name: Rosh Hashanah literally translates as “head of the year.” Like the breaking of the glass, this custom has various meanings: The fish head symbolizes plunging into the new year head first, with strength. The fish suggests that your offspring will multiply like the fish in the seas. And since fish don’t have eyelids, they keep their eyes wide open and can ward off the evil eye.

Sounds fishy to us.

We’ll just go the old-school route and wish you a sweet new year.  Shana Tovah to all our readers, friends and families.

And if you’re feeling ambitious, you can try your hand at making a new sweet: a fancy take on halvah created by an Israeli chef. It’s a mille-feuille napoleon with halvah and silan – and it looks much harder to make than our Grandmom Mary’s Apple Cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ashkenazi, holidays, jewish food, Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Sephardi, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hurry Up and Wait

They say you spend one-third of your life sleeping, but some days we feel like we spend the other two-thirds of our lives waiting – at the airport, in a doctor’s office, and at a restaurant lurking over the hostess stand. Why isn’t it our turn yet?

“Group 6 can now board the plane.”

It’s a given that we’ll have to wait at the airport. In fact, for an international flight they want us to show up three hours before departure, and you know that we follow the rules. But how many packs of $4 gum can we buy? How many bathroom trips can we make? By the time the plane actually takes off, our phones are at 12% because we’ve been waiting around for hours with nothing to do but play around on our phones.

We’d love to be young and carefree and get to the airport with 20 minutes to spare, but we know we’ll get really anxious if we don’t have at least an hour in the plastic seats.

“Please take a seat until we call you.”

At the doctor’s office, we have a specified appointment time. In fact, they called to remind us of our appointment time. So imagine our disappointment as we sit and wait and realize that the appointment time turns out to have just been a suggestion, like when the Comcast repair guy promises to show up between 7 and 10 a.m.

When we sign in, we glance at the names on the list. Do I know any of these people? What is their medical condition? Are HIPAA laws just a suggestion, too?

We pick up a People magazine and settle in to wait, but after about 15 minutes we start to get antsy. We find ourselves being extra vigilant about who else is waiting for the doctor. Did that woman in the red sweater arrive after me? What time could her appointment be if mine is 11:15?  Finally the nurse beckons us to come on back, which just means it’s time to get weighed and sit naked in a paper gown, waiting some more. Now we don’t even have a magazine.

We do tend to forgive our OBGYN. When they’re running late, it’s because they’re busy delivering a baby. We understand that babies butt in line. They don’t know that they have to sign in, and they have no Google calendar.

“Uh, looks like you need new brake pads.”

Sometimes, we actually look forward to waiting – like when we bring our car in for service. We imagine that we’ll have an hour of peace and quiet. We’ll read a magazine. Have a cup of coffee and relax.

It doesn’t turn out that way. In the car repair waiting room, the TV is turned to Fox News at volume 52. The coffee looks tempting, but the pot and paper cups are covered in a layer of dust. We do appreciate the complimentary bag of Fritos and the granola bar.

It’s hard to find a seat, but we don’t want sit anyway. The upholstered chairs haven’t been updated since 1973 and the arms are black with grime. Perhaps if we drove a luxury car the service center waiting room would be more luxurious.

“How many in your party?”

Sometimes we go old school and just walk into a restaurant without a reservation. When they say the wait will be about 15 minutes, we suffer in silence. If the wait is much more, we weigh our options.

Is the hostess underestimating the wait time so we don’t leave and go elsewhere? Is she overestimating because she’s hoping we’ll walk out and not nudge her? How could there be such a long wait at our local taco place? It’s not even that good. But if we leave now we’ll have to put our name at the bottom of the list at another restaurant – after driving 10 minutes to get there. More waiting.

We decide to wait but make a strategy. Every 10 minutes one of us will ask the hostess, “How’s it going? Who are you up to now? How much longer do you think it will be?” But we have to be careful. If we ask too many questions, she’ll slide our name to the bottom of the list and give our table to the family of 8 that’s waiting quietly.

We like it better when they hand us a vibrating coaster that will ring when our table is ready. This innovation comforts us. It lets us know we still have our place in line. They haven’t forgotten us. Entrusted with the coaster, we have something to do while we wait: We watch it to make sure we don’t miss the vibration and the flashing red lights.

“Five more minutes and then I’ll comb the color through.”

At the hair salon, we wait for 30 to 40 minutes with brown goo on our hair, smelling like a chemical experiment, looking like a clown, and waiting for color R564 “ageless honey brown” to take effect. The woman in the chair next to us opted for highlights; she looks like an alien with her head wrapped in foil. We don’t mind waiting here because we know it will be worth it. Our hair will look fabulous when we’re done.

We kvetch about waiting because we’ve been there, done that – er, waited for that –  before. We’re experienced. We’ve learned that sometimes it’s worth the wait and sometimes it’s not.

We say:

Waiting in line at the new small-plates restaurant until the hipster hostess decides to acknowledge us. Not worth it.

Waiting to get off the plane, seat 26C! Going through the customs line, showing our passport, nothing to declare, finding our suitcase and waiting for the shuttle bus to take the 40-minute ride to the white sand beach with palm trees. Worth it.

Fighting the traffic on the day before Thanksgiving, waiting in the pickup line at the airport when our kids fly home. Totally worth it.

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Mandelbread and Kamishbread: Biscotti’s Jewish Cousins

When we walk into a coffee shop and see a glass jar filled with “biscotti,” we think it looks a lot like mandelbread. Why does the sign say biscotti – and why are they $3.75 each?

We’ve written volumes about the difference between rugelach and shnecken. We’ve polled our audiences. We consulted baking mavens like Joan Nathan and Marcy Goldman, but mandelbread? We never researched mandelbread, kamishbread and their Italian cousin biscotti. We just love eating all of them. But Joyce’s recent baking success got us thinking….

All three are dry, crunchy, oblong, twice-baked cookies. The word biscotti comes from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked.” The Italians tell it like it is. In ancient Rome, biscotti were part of the rations for the Roman legions, who munched on them on their way to war.

Who knew he had a biscotti in his pocket?

Jews were never in the Roman legions. In Eastern Europe, Jews were merchants, rabbis and peddlers who wanted something sweet that could travel with them during the week. According to Joan Nathan, kamishbread and mandelbread were favorites because after all, it’s hard to pack a bagel and lox in your bag and not have it smell after a week. Nathan says that mandelbread migrated to America after World War I.

These days, mandelbread and kamishbread are happy to stay home, waiting in a baggie for the kids or until we have the urge for a cookie. Other desserts aren’t as patient. Jewish apple cake will likely be dry and have a spot of green mold on it by the time the kids show up.

“Mandel” is the Yiddish word for almond, so it’s no surprise that original recipes called for adding almonds on the loaf or in it. But what does “kamish” mean? We asked a few Yiddish-speaking Bubbes, but they couldn’t translate the word for us. They all knew that “brodt” is the Yiddish word for bread, so if you want to go old-school all Yiddish you say “mandelbrodt” and “kamishbrodt.”

chocolate chunk, nicely browned

We think that in its original form, kamishbread is nondescript, but delicious. It has no extras – no chocolate chips, no fruits, no nuts mixed in. It’s not showy; the most it boasts is a dusting of cinnamon sugar. It’s mandelbread’s plainer sibling, and we like to imagine our grandparents dunking their kamishbread in a glass of hot tea. It’s ideal for that. When we ask for kamishbread, we’re expecting a plain vanilla cookie. Nothing fancy.

On the other hand, mandelbrodt can be fancy. It comes in infinite variations: with chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dates, raisins, or even chopped Heath bar pieces added. Some recipes dress up good old kamishbread, too. But if  you add chocolate chips to kamishbread, how do you know it’s not mandelbread? Even Google confuses the two. When we typed in “kamishbread,” the search came up with recipes for chocolate chip mandelbread!

Traditional mandelbread and kamishbread recipes call for oil, which means the cookies are pareve. Other recipe variations suggest using butter, which makes them dairy and taste a little more like a biscotti.

Ellen has been baking mandelbread for years. She tweaked a biscotti recipe that calls for butter, but she often uses Crisco sticks or a combination of butter and oil. She throws in chocolate chips and craisins, which she always keeps on hand. Her kids aren’t Jewish peddlers, but they do like getting a good package in the mail, and mandelbread is ideal for filling a cardboard box and shipping it across the country! They will be just as delicious when they arrive 3-5 days later.

Joyce made kamishbread for the first time last week for her husband’s birthday. Ted had recently reminisced about his Bubbe’s recipe, and Joyce took the hint. Luckily a cousin had custody of the old recipe and had transposed the “bissels” (“just a little bit”) into teaspoons and cups and her mandelbread turned out great.

We’ve shared our recipes below:

Joyce’s Recipe*
*She started with Bubbe Singer’s Kamishbrodt recipe, which had been a little revised over the years by Cousin Sharon. Joyce then made some changes, too!

Ingredients
¾ cup  butter (oil works as well)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon orange juice

If desired, add in mini chocolate chips, chocolate jimmies or 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Cream oil and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix rest of ingredients in one at a time

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into two loaves, each about 4 inches wide and an inch or so high. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Slice while warm into individual pieces.

Places pieces on their side and bake for 5-7 minutes. Turn over and bake for 5-7 minutes more until nicely browned. Makes about 24 biscotti, which were devoured by 2 people (guess who!) in less than one week.

Cousin Sharon’s recipe for mandelbread

Ellen’s Mandelbread
This is a variation of this recipe for Wendy’s Biscotti from Epicurious.com Ellen usually doubles this recipe, to yield 2-3 logs of dough.

Ingredients
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest – if you have a fresh orange, great! If not, move on!
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extras – use some or all of these
6 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup craisins
1 cup chopped, roasted almonds
1 cup natural shelled pistachios

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Will there be a basket of souvenir fascinators at the royal wedding?

When we came home from a wedding, we added another kippah to our collection. As we stuffed the pale blue satin one into the drawer, it made us think: They won’t be wearing kippot at the royal wedding? So will there be a basket of fascinators at the door to St. George’s Chapel for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding?

There’s a sea of differences between a Jewish wedding and and a royal one, not the least of which is how the guests cover their heads. While our cousin Margie would wear a wire kippah with purple beads to Temple Beth El.

a woman’s wire kippah

​Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, would wear a designer fascinator with a purple ostrich plume to Windsor Castle.

the many fascinators of Princess Kate

Both kippot and fascinators are held on with a clip, but that’s about all they have in common. Here are all the differences:

The History

The fascinator dates to the early 1500s, when English women wore veils and hats in keeping with the latest fashions. Wealthy women bought headpieces adorned with pearls, real jewels and feathers – and these fancy ones became status symbols.

Although the Tanakh includes some references to head covering, the custom of wearing a kippah didn’t become common practice until the 1500s. Whether Jewish men wear a discreet round skullcap or a shtreimel, the fancy fur hats popular among married Hasidic men, it’s meant as a sign of devotion and religious observance – not as a fashion statement. Women began wearing kippot in synagogue around the time they gained equal rights to reading from the Torah, participating in services and other religious observances.

The Purveyors

If you’re not a duchess, countess or princess but are lucky enough to be invited to the royal wedding, you need to get a touch with a milliner to make you a modest veil or pillbox hat. If you think you might land and in Vogue, you’ll probably contact Irish-born milliner Philip Treacy, hat maker to the royals and all their friends. He’ll ask you to send him a fabric sample of your dress. He’ll post you back some sketches, and then you’ll send your butler to his showroom to pick up your one-of-a-kind fascinator. Remember Princess Beatrice’s over-the-top fascinator? Treacy made that – and 35 other amazing hats that were worn to William and Kate’s wedding.

Vanity Fair magazine called this one “the fascinator that will go down in infamy”

To buy kippot for a wedding, you go online to see your choices. You ask your daughter, “Are you sure you want ivory satin? Then you click “add 10 dozen to cart.” A month before the event you find yourself on the phone yelling at Moishe in the Bronx. “Where’s my order? It was supposed to be here two weeks ago.” He informs you that the factory was closed for the holiday but “they’ll be there in plenty of time.” While Moishe is not a famous milliner, he can trace his lineage to a long line of shmatte traders. 

The Materials

Too small to be a hat and (usually) too crazy to be cool, with a fascinator, the sky’s the limit – literally. It can incorporate ribbons and ostrich plumes, silk roses and plastic strawberries, or butterflies and birds to complement your outfit and add inches to your height.

A kippah comes in satin or leather, suede or velvet, crocheted or beaded. You can choose basic black or a rainbow of colors and get it trimmed in silver braid or embossed with palm trees or zebras. Your kippah can trumpet your sports team loyalty or political affiliation.

 

Like a fascinator, a kippah can announce your personal style to the world – albeit in a smaller, flatter kind of way. You can stash an extra kippah into your tallit bag or purse, but you can’t do that with your fascinator.

The Cost

Harrods, the venerable London department store, carries Philip Treacy’s fascinators. For $1,700 you can make a statement (that you’re elegant and fashion-forward) in his black Ribbon Disc Headpiece. The Floral Veil Headpiece with hints of fuschia goes for $5,500. That royal sum would get you 229 dozen fuschia satin kippot, shipping included.

Like fascinators, kippot can be custom-made originals. But if you order a suede one for your wedding that’s embossed with the bride and groom’s names, wedding date and flowers that match the wedding colors, expect it to cost 10 times as much as a plain kippah. It will set you back about $20.

We amassed our kippah collection over a lifetime of celebrating b’nai mitzvot, simchas and weddings. Our drawer is filled to the brim with happy memories along with the headgear.

 

When we pick out a kippah on Friday night and read the name of a friend’s daughter, we remember how beautiful her wedding was. The one with our son’s Bar Mitzvah date stamped inside brings back memories of his middle-school friends, how he read Torah and how wonderful it was that Grandmom was able to be there that day.

 

When everyone leaves the royal wedding, they’ll go home to their castles and they’ll have their memories, too. We hope that will include a fascinator that says, stamped on the inside, “Wedding of Harry and Meghan, Windsor Castle, 19 May 2018.”

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You Give Us a Bad Name

A few weeks ago, a friend sent us a link to an article about a porn site. She was upset to see the name of our writers group – Playpen – in the news and not in a good way.

“We need to change the name of our group,” she exclaimed.

The article was referring to a child pornography website named Playpen that the FBI had shut down. The porn site made headlines because one of its users was fighting back – charging that the evidence against him was gathered illegally. But we think it’s tough to prove you’re innocent when your online name is “thepervert.” (True fact. Thepervert is theplantiff)

There’s no perverts in our group. We’re a bunch of moms who write. We started when our kids were little, gathering around the kitchen table to exchange writing and editing advice while our kids played together in a playpen. And writers use a “pen,” get it? That’s how we got our name.

We have 15 members. The porn site had 215,000. We can’t host that many people for breakfast.

We asked a legal expert what to do.

Who used the name first? Well, we did. We’ve been meeting for 25 years – almost before computers and computer porn were invented. They launched their site in 2014. Their illegal activities are high up on the heinous scale. We get nervous when we realize we accidentally took the pen from the bank.

Who registered the name first? We didn’t bother. We didn’t think we had to trademark eight women eating muffins and discussing the merits of the Oxford comma. The other Playpen never registered their name either – because they didn’t want the FBI to find them.

We’re writers and editors, so we think the fact that we spell our name with two capital Ps – PlayPen – is enough to separate us from the illegal, immoral, lowercase version of our name. We’re not expecting G men to subpoena our notes from our interview with the local baker. All they’d learn is the secret ingredients in her apple cake.

Names carry great weight. We remember when we were trying to think of names for our children. Every possible name made us recall a person with that name. Stuart? No way. He was the big bully in our fifth grade class. Not Marcia. She was the grumpy next-door neighbor who turns off her porch light on Halloween.

And now that we know there is a disreputable “Playpen,” we can’t help thinking about it. No one will confuse us with them, but we’re still annoyed. We can’t help thinking they owe us a handwritten apology note. We’re expecting one – right after they make bail.Organizations change their names for lots of reasons. To make the corporate name more contemporary. For wider appeal. When they’ve been bought by another entity.  When the old name has a bad connotation.

The old-fashioned playpen – the kind we used to put our kids in to keep them out of trouble when we wanted to cook dinner – is a good example of the latter.

The word playpen connotates a pen, a cage, a contraption to corral your pet. Nowadays the structure for your precious tot is called a play-yard, which conveys green grass and a free-range child who can explore, learn and grow while you take a shower.

We’re not the only organization whose name has lost its appeal. Before Google was Google, its founders named it BackRub in reference to their new computer algorithm that analyzed “back links” to get you your information. They were geniuses, but they missed the creepy connotation. Early on in their fame, they changed their name to better reflect their mission.

We don’t have to send a cease and desist letter from our big important lawyer. The porn website is out of business. Thank you, FBI. We don’t even have to change our name.

We like PlayPen. Even though our kids are grown and we long ago donated our playpens, we’re used to the name. But the recent news got us thinking, perhaps it is time to change our group’s name to one that better describes our purpose.

“Pay Us More Than $100 for This Article” will meet next Thursday.

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We’re Expecting: A New Book About Bubbies

Happy post-Passover to all our family, friends and fans. We enjoyed our seders this year, although it was sort of an “off- year” for both of us. We were glad to see and feed (some) of our children. Grateful to eat matzah for the first few days – and then happy to donate the leftover matzah, farfel and matzah cake meal.

we always buy too much!

Now that Passover is over, you’d think that we would be getting back to our same-old, same-old. We are, sort of. We’re happy to report that we do have a bunch of speaking dates coming up. Check out our calendar of upcoming dates  to see if we’re coming to your neighborhood. We’d love for you to join us and hear our presentation. It will bring back lots of great memories about growing up Jewish, your favorite foods and holiday hijinks.

But on to our big news: A few weeks ago, an editor at Quirk Books sent us an email. We had met the editor a few years ago at the Philadelphia Writers Conference when we pitched her the idea of a book of dating and relationship advice from your Bubbe. She liked that idea but it wasn’t in their budget, but somehow we got stuck in her brain as two writers who know the inside scoop on being a grandmother.

When she contacted us recently, she had a proposal: Would we be interested in writing a book for them, titled Stuff Every Grandmother Should Know? It would be part of their series of gift books around the theme of “stuff you should know,” as in Stuff Every Mother Should Know. Other books in their series offer advice to college students, gardeners, brides and grooms and vegetarians. They’re handy, pocket-sized guides to life and hobbies that make fun and funny little gifts.

The editor told us we have exactly the kind of fun-yet-knowledgeable voice she was looking for. First, we were flattered. Then we moaned,” Neither of us is a grandmother – yet!” But we were intrigued, and we do love a good Bubbe story. So we said yes.

a busy Bubbe by our favorite cartoonist Terry LaBan

The “stuff books” are packed with facts, organized in bullets of information, and an easy, fun read. You can find them in the racks near the checkout counter at Barnes & Noble and in lots of other “gifty” locations. So now we’re busy organizing our thoughts on things like “out-of-town grandmothers,” “how to spoil the grandkids,” and “how to make a safe play space at your place.”  We’ve taken to stopping women on the street and asking them about their grandchildren!

It’s shaping up to be a fun project and we’ll keep you in the loop. In fact, if you’d want to share a nugget of wisdom about being a Bubbe – your favorite activities to do with grandchildren or stories about your role as a grandmother in relation to the parents of your beloved babies, you can send us an email at info@thewordmavens.com or you can write it as a comment below.

 

 

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