Casting into the Waters: Symbolism, Spiritual Practice and Tashlich

Judaism has interested me for many years, probably due in large part to the fact that I was raised Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) and there’s a correlation between SDAs and Jews in how they observe the Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) and their dietary restrictions (SDAs encourage and promote vegetarianism, but those who do eat meat will typically shun pork and shellfish). When you grow up in a religious tradition that is a bit outside of the box, even among other evangelical Christian groups, it’s nice to feel understood in some small part by another religious group without having to go into long explanations. This is particularly handy when you talk to fellow Gen X’ers about why you are completely unfamiliar with Friday night TV shows and Saturday morning cartoons during the pre-VCR years.

The Chosen, Chaim Potok I also had an English teacher at my SDA high school who was part Jewish and he had us read The Chosen by Chaim Potok, explaining to us about Jewish traditions and holidays. Momcat and I ended up reading all of Potok’s novels and she, too, was very interested in Judaism. Pops had a colleague whose father had been a rabbi, so she would ask him a bunch of questions about what services were like, the reasons for certain traditions (she particularly liked the use of stones on graves as a remembrance).

I think it’s all these things combined that make me very aware when the Jewish high holidays start. Tonight marks the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish new year. I spent this morning reading about Rosh Hashanah traditions: the blowing of the shofar, eating round challah with honey, eating apples with honey, eating part of a fish or ram’s head. Not sure I would be up for that last one, but I do like the symbolism behind it.

It’s the symbolism behind many Jewish traditions that I find the most fascinating. I don’t recall feeling like it was okay to use or wear symbols of my faith or spirituality while growing up SDA. There were baby dedications in church, and full immersion baptism once you’d studied with your pastor, but iconography and talismans weren’t used or encouraged. I don’t remember any other symbolic gestures or rituals, and in hindsight I think I needed those to help me connect to a higher power.

During this morning’s research on Rosh Hashanah, I learned about Tashlich. The basic premise, as I understand it, is to cast your sins into a body of water. After the Tashlich prayer is recited, you shake your clothes as if to shake off the sins.

Tashlich, Tashlich prayer, Rosh Hashanah
Tashlich prayers (Image courtesy

But here’s what really spoke to me about this tradition (taken from

The goal of Tashlich is to cast both our sins and the Heavenly prosecutor (a.k.a. the Satan) into the Heavenly sea. And when we shake our clothes after the Tashlich prayer, this is a tangible act to achieve the spiritual goal of shaking sins from our soul.

Needless to say, the physical motions near the water and fish of Tashlich are not what grant us atonement. But if we pay attention to the symbolism and apply the sincere desire to heal our relationship with G‑d as portrayed in the physical demonstrations of Tashlich, then it serves as a crucial part in the process of repenting and returning to G‑d in purity.

When I lived in Southern California, I often went to the beach to look out at the ocean and have a talk with the universe about what was bothering me. Seeing dark, deep water stretched out in front of me, with no land in sight, was symbolic to me of how vast the soul is, how there is so much going on beneath the surface that I cannot even begin to fathom, but that as I dive down into the depths of my being I can find those parts of myself that need healing, bring them to the surface, then release them back into the water. Going to the beach to process was a huge part of my spiritual growth.

What’s clear to me in this moment is that what I was doing was a form of Tashlich: casting my troubles into the deep sea, letting a higher power help me release them from my soul. I found the symbols I needed and in so doing, I found the spiritual connection and inner peace I craved. And now, every time I go to the ocean, whether the Atlantic or Pacific, I know I can find it again.

Sunset Beach, CA – my favorite place to chat with the universe. (Image courtesy

Shanah Tovah to my Jewish friends, followers and readers.

Road Trippin’

Create Your Own Visited States Map

This interactive map is floating around on the interwebs so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’ve visited way more states than I thought, though a few of these are ones where I didn’t do much beyond stop to pee, have a snack or get gas, as most of my visits were during road trips with Pops and Momcat. We did several drives to New England when I was growing up, as summers in the DC area were humid and uncomfortable. Imagine living in a sweatsock or plastic bag and that’s what mid-Atlantic summers are like, though the beach areas are really nice.

My travels through the southern part of the U.S. were trips down I-95 to see my grandparents in Florida, and all my midwest travels are due to having family in Michigan. In 2008, I went to New Orleans on vacation: I went to Voodoo Experience, a 3-day concert event at City Park, to see a ton of amazing bands & singers, including Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., Thievery Corporation, Erykah Badu, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, etc.; I wandered around the French Quarter; I had a hurricane at Pat O’Briens; I ate beignets and drank coffee at Café du Monde. Great trip.

There’s a good chunk of the southwest I wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for three cross-country drives from Maryland to California with Pops. The first was in the mid ’80s. Pops signed up with a car delivery service and we drove a two-seater Mercedes out to L.A., cutting through the middle of the U.S. I remember watching the speedometer hit 100 a few times in the desert – Pops had a blast driving that car. In 1991, our second cross-country drive took a southern route, and that’s when I first remember seeing the road sign for Galax, Virginia – the setting for my novel in progress (which is close to complete, whoo hoo!). The third cross-country drive was when I moved to California in early 2000, the station wagon loaded down with my computer and clothes.

I also wouldn’t have gotten to see Idaho and Montana if it hadn’t been for a road trip with Pops. Last summer he did what I call Pops’ Poker Tour, driving his car to California and stopping along the way to play Texas Hold ‘Em at various casinos. He spent a few days in CA with me, then we drove to Montana, stopping in Idaho and visiting Yellowstone along the way. Gorgeous drive.

Just looking at the map and thinking about all the places I’ve been gets me all nostalgic for a good road trip. I highly recommend them, especially if you have kids who are old enough to appreciate them. It’s such a fantastic way to learn about the U.S. and how people live in different parts of the country.

Where would you go on a road trip?

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

This afternoon I was walking through Capitol Park and I stopped by this truck.

Sacramento, Christmas tree, Christmas, Washington D.C.
DC or bust!

Turns out that inside this truck is a 65-foot white fir – there were glass panels where visitors could view part of the tree – taken from the Stanislaus National Forest. It got chosen to be the U.S. Capitol Christmas Treeh, which means it’s on its way to my hometown, Washington, D.C.

People were allowed to sign the banner on the side of the truck – the guy in the middle of the picture is adding his signature. I was so tickled to see the truck that I signed it as well.

I wrote: “DC represent!” and signed my name.

A little goofy, yes, but I’m proud to say I’m from the DC area. And I’m proud that a tree from California got chosen to be the Capitol Christmas Tree.

Paper vs. Plastic

plastic bags awaiting recycling, plastic bags, plastic shopping bags
Photo courtesy Evelyn Giggles

On Monday my old stomping grounds, aka Long Beach, outlawed plastic shopping bags. Now shoppers in the LBC need to haul their own bags to the store or fork over 10 cents for a paper bag.

Just down the block from my new stomping grounds in Sacramento, the California Supreme Court ruled that environmental studies aren’t necessary in order to ban plastic bags in smaller cities.

I’m all for recycling and saving the rainforests, polar bears, dolphins, you name it. But banning plastic bags impacts my ability to scoop the poop and clean up puke. And by poop and puke I’m talking about the stuff coming from my cat.

Sure, I could use paper bags when I’m cleaning out the litter box. But I’ve discovered that holding a plastic bag over my hand to pick up cat puke is much less labor intensive than using a paper towel (also bad for the environment, right?). And let me tell you, this cat was puking a LOT over the last month. It was not pleasant. (Hairball problem – she’s doing better now, thank goodness.)

There are also groups that rail against using paper bags, and studies that say paper isn’t much better. Just google “paper bag facts” and you’ll find several articles discussing the paper versus plastic debate, including this one.

I use my fabric shopping bags often, especially for groceries, but on small trips I’ll get the plastic bags, mainly to restock my supply of cat maintenance materials. Maybe stores still offering plastic and paper can start asking whether I want to save the oceans or the trees. That way I can still be environmentally correct. Sort of.

Has your town banned plastic bags?

How has it changed your shopping experiences?

Moxie’s Resolutions for Everyone Else: The 2011 Edition

Holy cannoli, it’s the end of 2010 already? That can only mean one thing: it’s time to pop the cork and enjoy a glass of something bubbly while reading my 2011 resolutions for everyone else. I’ll be sitting here, sipping my Prosecco, while you read.

1. Refuse to take low paying writing gigs. (writers)

It pisses me off to see job postings where the employer, usually a blog or web portal, is paying $5 for a 500-word article and then have the audacity to expect 25-35 posts of that length per week. No wonder we have so much crap all over the Internet, because if you pay me one cent per word there is no way you’re going to get New Yorker-quality writing from me. If you want to make it as a writer and be truly challenged, stop taking piddly-ass assignments. And for the established writers who know good writing, don’t you dare let me catch you doing this.

2. Stop telling my GPS system how to do its job. (anyone who gets in my car)

Ever since I got a Garmin GPS for my birthday this year, I have had to deal with riders who argue with the navigator or who want to tell me, “Oh, I’ll tell you how to get there.” Inevitably they make the drive more difficult than if they had just let the GPS do its job. I bought the GPS for two reasons: a) I like cool gadgets; and b)I don’t have to listen to someone argue with me about the best route to take. If you don’t like GPS systems THEN DRIVE YOUR OWN DAMN CAR.

3. Shop more often at local, independently owned stores. (everyone)

Yes, there are great deals to be had at big-box stores. But the little guys really need our help right now. The 3/50 Project has an excellent solution: spend $50 a month at 3 locally owned, independent businesses. In the grand scheme of things, $50 isn’t that much – you were going to buy that book or shampoo anyway, right? So why not at a local shop? And if you’re looking for something truly unusual and fun to give as a gift, shopping in a neighborhood with several quirky little boutiques is the way to go.

4. Learn the rules of the road and follow them. (California bicycle riders)

This summer I lived in Davis, the City of Bikes, and I saw many bike riders who were very good about using hand signals (not the one where you use one finger), putting lights on their bikes when riding at night, and being respectful of cars and pedestrians. However, I also saw many bike riders who were arrogant little brats, nearly mowing me down on sidewalks (Side note: Get off the sidewalk, asshole! It’s a sideWALK, not a sideRIDE!) and ignoring stop signs and traffic lights. As soon as you put your body on top of a wheeled contraption you became a car, so behave like one. And if you aren’t sure of the rules of the road for bicycles, go study them.

5. Stop when I see a pedestrian in the crosswalk. (California drivers)

I have seen so many people plow through intersections, not even bothering to look and see if anyone is crossing the street or just beginning to cross. I have yelled curses and insults at them, but of course they can’t hear me because they are driving 45 miles an hour through a 30 zone. Having seen a pedestrian get hit by a car, I try to be particularly careful when driving through areas with a lot of foot traffic. Slow down, Speed Racer, and save your road rage for the freeway. Oh, and pedestrians, you’re not helping when you wave a car through. You’re in the crosswalk, so WALK, dammit. It’s called having the right of way.

6. Install an automated postal service center. (US Post Office on Broadway in Sacramento)

I love the automated postal service centers because they make life so much easier when I need to mail out packages and I can use the machine even if the counter is closed. Sadly my favorite local post office doesn’t have one of these machines. Please put one in, Mr. Postman! I promise I will still come to see you at the counter and crack my usual stupid jokes!

7. Hire a maid and a personal assistant. (T-Wizzle)

T-Wizzle is a brilliant woman and also extremely busy. For the last year she has been complaining about how hard it is to keep up with everything she needs to do and still have a clean house. I have repeatedly told her to hire a housekeeper but for some unknown reason she still hasn’t done it. Same with the personal assistant. So I am now resorting to calling her out on the blog in the hope she will finally hire someone and give herself a much needed break from the anxiety and frustration that comes from not having her home looking the way she wants, or from feeling overwhelmed by to-do lists.

8. Stop bothering Jesus. (Ippie the Tech Wizard Kitten)

This resolution is best explained with visual aids.

This is Jesus.

This painting is more than 60 years old and once hung in my great-grandparents’ farmhouse.

This is Ippie the Tech Wizard Kitten.

Ippie sitting on top of her scratching post. She’s a climber, that Ippie.

See the shelving unit behind Ippie? It’s currently sitting underneath where the Jesus painting is hanging in my bedroom. When Ippie is feeling rambunctious – which is damn near all the time because she is a young cat with delusions of being a monkey – she will jump onto the top shelf. When she’s feeling particularly feisty, she reaches up and starts batting at Jesus with her paws. My neighbors must be very puzzled by my shouts of “Leave Jesus alone!” and “Stop messing with Jesus!” They may even be tickled by my cries of “You can look at Jesus but you CANNOT TOUCH HIM!” I get that people would touch Jesus’ robes to be healed of their leprosy and whatnot, but this is ridiculous.

9. Cut my toenails inside my apartment. (my next door neighbor)

Twice now I have overheard this strange metallic click-click-click coming from outside my door. The first time I looked out the window to see my neighbor sitting at the top of the stairs, clipping his toenails. I was grossed out. On Christmas Eve, I heard the sound again. What is wrong with you, dude? Is your bathroom not good enough for your precious toenail clippings? And even more disgusting, it’s been over two months since I last heard you clip them – unless you took advantage of the stairs at the building across the street, that’s poor hygiene, man. Just really, really poor hygiene.

10. Put my shopping cart in the cart corral in the parking lot, or make sure it’s out of the way of other cars. (shoppers everywhere)

Few things annoy me more than finding a parking space and pulling in about 3/4 of the way, only to discover that some moron has left their empty shopping cart right at the front of the space. Actually, here’s what annoys me more: people who were obviously parked right next to the cart corral, or two spaces down, and they couldn’t be bothered to push their empty cart into the corral. Some businesses have opted not to have these cart corrals in the lots, so I can understand some of the stranded carts. But could you at least move the cart away so it’s not hitting my car? Or anyone else’s, for that matter?

What are your resolutions for other people for 2011?

There’s gold in Sacramento!

Saw an article at Treehugger about renewed interest in gold mining in California. The Sutter Creek mines, only45 miles from where I live in Sacramento, are a possibility.

I get there’s an environmental impact and that it will take time before mining can actually begin, but damn, it would be fun to have gold mines open. Maybe it will revitalize many a native Californian’s pioneering spirit. Maybe people struggling with debt and unemployment will be excited by the prospect of, well, prospecting.

Or maybe it will turn out to be a complete waste of time and money.

Veteran’s Day at Capitol Park

It was a nice afternoon here in Sacramento so I decided to wander through Capitol Park and take pictures. Here’s a little slideshow from the photos I took. There’s a couple shots of the 2010 State Christmas Tree, which was delivered earlier this week and is now in place in front of the State Capitol Building. From the looks of things the tree is in the process of being decorated for the big tree lighting ceremony in early December.

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Community Building and the DavisWiki

A couple of months ago I moved to Davis, a small college town in northern California. I didn’t know anyone here and while that didn’t freak me out too much, it was hard to leave behind all the people and places I loved down in Long Beach. Yelp is great for finding local reviews of places, but in smaller communities such as Davis, the reviews may be few.

Enter Davis Wiki, the world’s largest community wiki.* Started by two UC Davis students, the Davis Wiki is a compendium of information on all things Davis. Looking for free wifi? Check the wiki. Need information on the apartment complex where you’ll be living for a year? Go to the wiki. According to their figures, 1 in 6 Davis residents use DavisWiki, which, for a town of more than 60,000 people, is impressive. Even more impressive is that 1 in 7 Davisites contribute content to the wiki.

Personally, I’m amazed by the wealth of knowledge that’s available on the DavisWiki. I have used it to find businesses, community centers, gossipy items and general information about the town. In June the wiki got nationwide press for its coverage of the “Crying Girl” scam artist who has been conning locals for nearly a year. I think I spotted the girl recently, but I wouldn’t have known about her if it wasn’t for DavisWiki.

What’s really exciting is what the DavisWiki has started: a movement to encourage communities to set up their own wikis, allowing them to pool their knowledge into an online resource. Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov, founders of the DavisWiki, have started LocalWiki, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization. Their mission is to “create the specialized open-source software that makes the new media possible, establish and guide deployment in several “pilot” communities, and experiment with models for replicating and sustaining many more successful local wikis.” They recently received a grant of $350,000 to help them achieve this mission, which is pretty freakin’ awesome. But they still need $25,000 to get trainers and coordinators into the communities that need help setting up wikis of their very own.

It used to be you could go to the corner store or the barber shop to hear the latest neighborhood news. It was easy to ask the kindly lady across the street what veterinarian she preferred for her ten cats. Nowadays, it can be very hard to connect with others, especially when you’re new in town.

That’s why building community wikis is so important. Yes, Yelp is great – I’m a huge fan – but a wiki goes beyond what Yelp can do and does it all for free. There aren’t any ads or paid sponsors – just good ol’ fashioned helpful information. And all of that helpful information is written by the people who live there.

Pledge to LocalWiki if you can. Or just go find out about a wiki in your own neighborhood, and contribute something – maybe your opinion of the recreation center, a review of a new restaurant, or your insights on local politics. It’s a whole new way to give back to your community.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “wiki” is a website that allows multiple users to collaborate in creating the site. This collaboration covers everything from navigation to content, but in most instances the main focus is on adding and editing the site’s content. The name wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”.