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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hanukkah at the Elkhorn Inn!

My favorite expression for how we celebrate Hanukkah at the Elkhorn Inn is: "Go Big or Go Home"!
This year, I'm happy to say, we outdid ourselves. LOL Known, by my own self-proclamation, as the "Martha Stewart of Inflatable Decor", over the years, and thanks in great measure to eBay, we have accumulated a rather large collection of humongous inflatable holiday decorations, including Giant New Year's Baby, Valentine "I Love You" Bear, St. Patrick's Day Leprechaun, Easter Bunny on Motorcycle, The Great Big Birthday Cake, Uncle Sam, Scarecrow On Tractor, Hunting Snowman, Thanksgiving Turkey, a whole bunch of Halloween inflatables, a giant 10' snowman, and more Christmas ones than I can count! But, as I have come, sadly, to learn, there are few inflatables available for the Jewish Holidays, and, frankly, Hanukkah Menorahs are basically "it". (I have looked in vain for a giant, inflatable Lulav-Etrog Set for Succot, and a Great Big Seder Plate for Passover, as well as an 8' Kiddush Cup and Candlesticks, but apparently Gemmy- the Inflatable Company of Record- doesn't feel the need to create them...) We've had a series of 6' high blue inflatable Hanukkah Menorahs festooning the Inn for many years, and our Holiday Traditions are Dan's Annual Inflating of the Decorations, and my posting a photo of "Me and the Menorah" in front of the Inn on Facebook! As I'm evidently the only Jew in McDowell County, West Virginia at this time, if we don't celebrate the Jewish Holidays they don't get celebrated, and so we make the effort to celebrate them in style!
When our latest Big Blue Menorah finally needed to be replaced (DIY Dan is great at fixing them, but there comes a point where even he can't repair them! When we finally toss something, trust me: it is absolutely and totally un-fixable!), I broke down and eBayed the ne plus ultra of inflatable Menorahs- the 8' high one! And then, because too much is never enough, I got the dreidle-spinning, yarmulke-wearing Hanukkah Bear, too!  
Hanukkah is the Jewish "Festival of Lights" commemorating the miracle of a single day's worth of oil burning for eight days. The history of the holiday, from In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d. When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Hanukkah. For EVERYTHING you have ever wanted to know about Hanukkah, including the history, traditions, prayers, and traditional foods (fried in oil, of course!), go to:

Dan and I have a collection of Menorahs (or "Hanukiot" as they should be called, as Menorah means "light" in Hebrew, and Hanukkiah is one specifically for Hanukkah), including many from Israel, as well as ones that were given to us as gifts. A Hanukkiah has 9 lights- one for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, plus a "Shammas"- the higher one that is used to light the others. Each night you light the Shammos and say the prayer, and then light the other candles, adding one each night, going from right to left. The Deer Hanukkiah was a candelabra I bought many years ago in NYC- it had 10 tea-light antlers, so I lopped off one and turned it into a Hanukkiah! This year I found a Very clever "Travel Hanukkiah" on Modern Tribe that has a cork bottom that fits into a wine bottle, and I added that to our collection, and then Dan surprised me with a new one he had ordered, along with fancy blue and white and silver candles! I set up my "annual Hanukkah display" of our Hanukkiot,  dreidles, and silver and blue stars on one of the Inn's dining room tables, and lit the lights each night.  The last night (tonight) I even managed to take a "selfie"! And Chef Dan, the "Latke King of Landgraff" made his AbFab sweet-and-purple-potato latkes!
We hope you are having a joyous holiday season, too! Please comment and tell me what special things you do to celebrate!
Chef Dan's yummy latkes (potato pancakes)!
First Night of Hanukkah!
Second Night of Hanukkah!

Third Night of Hanukkah!

Fourth Night of Hanukkah!

Fifth Night of Hanukkah!

Sixth Night of Hanukkah!

Seventh Night of Hanukkah!

Eighth Night of Hanukkah!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Montana: FEMA DR-1996-MT BIllings & Miles City!

I was deployed by FEMA to Montana following a disaster declaration for spring floods as the Community Relations Field Specialist Lead for Yellowstone County, based in Billings. If you've ever wondered what a FEMA Community Relations Field Specialist does, we're essentially the "eyes and ears" of FEMA in the field, meeting with disaster survivors, Emergency Managers, elected and appointed officials, and representatives of schools, religious organizations, community based organizations, and businesses, explaining how disaster assistance works and how to apply. I began working for FEMA in 1998, in Region 2 (NY, NJ, PR & VI), when I lived in NYC, and I now work in Region 3, which includes West Virginia, as we moved to WV in 2002. I've worked in a lot of places, including PR (Hurricane Georges & floods), VI (Hurricane Lenny), LA (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), New York (upstate and in NYC after 9/11), Michigan, Indiana, and Florida, but I'd never spent any time in Montana before, and this deployment gave me the opportunity to discover at least a bit of the magic and grandeur of that incredible state! I flew into Helena and then drove to Billings, and the scenery on the way was so incredible that I literally pulled the car over repeatedly to snap photos with my Blackberry! (I also pulled over because I am not used to driving straight-as-an-arrow roads for hours at a stretch, and I get "glazed"!) As readers of this blog know, unlike my husband, I was not "born to drive". I got my license at the ripe old age of 42, and while I drive as little as possible at home, when I'm on the road for FEMA as a Community Relations Field Specialist I essentially live in my car for weeks on end! When I turn on the ignition- EVERY time I turn on the ignition- I make a little prayer, for G-d to please, B"H, get me safely through my deployment, and home, safe and healthy, into to the arms of my husband! I do NOT take driving lightly! Happily for me, Montana has lots of nice, wide roads with roomy "shoulders" to pull off onto!
It took me 17 hours of flights to get to Helena, Montana, and I went right to work the next day. Once I got to Billings, I spent two weeks living and working out of my room at the Super 8, and while not the snazziest place in town, the staff was very helpful and very nice, and that makes a HUGE difference! Our hours were 7-7, and on my first day off I literally didn't leave the motel room- I was That pooped! My next day off, a week later, coincided with the last day of the "Crow PowWow" on the Crow Agency, and I had to go! "Crow County" is famous for having more teepees than anywhere else, and it is a pretty fabulous thing to see! It was 110 degrees in the shade, but there was ice-cold lemonade and ice coffee to be had, as well as "Indian Tacos" on fry bread, and the dancing, drum circles, singing and fabulous costumes made it well worthwhile! A special event at the PowWow was a ceremony to honor women US millitary veterans, and their very special guest of honor was a US Navy NCO just back from her tour in Afghanistan. 
Crow Drum Circle

Honor Guard

Crow Indian dancing...

Crow Indian dancing...

Crow Indian PowWow

Crow Festival Dancing

Crow Honor Guard

Crow Agency Teepees

Custer Museum, Garryown, MT
I then drove to Garryowen and found the amazing Custer Museum, which has an incredible collection of Custer and Indian artifacts, uniforms, memorabilia, and paintings, AND adjoins a gas station and store serving gourmet French Roast coffee!

From there I drove to the Little Big Horn Battlefield, and while I didn't have time to really explore it, as I wanted to be back at the hotel before dark (lest I hit a deer on the highway...), at least I got to see the Veterans Cemetery, and wander among the tombstones, many of which mark the graves of Indian Scouts and their wives- a poignant and fascinating slice of history, in a beautiful place... I got caught in a bit of an electrical storm out on the prairie that was a bit spooky, but I got back to the Super 8 at dusk- bone tired!- but SO glad I went! The one thing that made me blue was that Dan wasn't with me to enjoy it all and share it and teach me stuff about what I was looking at! US Army Retired, he is a history buff of the first stripe, and everything I saw would have been 100000% more interesting and meaningful if he had been with me!
Indian Scout, buried with his wife...

Indian Scout, buried with his wife...

Little Big Horn Veteran's Cemetery

The Western Heritage Center in downtown Billings is a truly great museum; oral history is its forte, and it's fascinating to sit and listen to the stories of Montana's settlers...

Montana Beer!


Clark's Graffiti...

Custer camped here!

Horse that I love...

Supper Club, Miles City

Livestock at the Livestock Center

Painting a watercolor somewhere in Montana..

Effective... :-)


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Art at the Women's Prison

The other thing I like to do when I get deployed someplace new is go shopping- especially thrift shopping! Dan and I always find cool things in thrift shops, and we feel good about "repurposing" stuff and having our money do good things for the charities that run them. Among my Billings "scores":  5 new-with-tag $30+ Bali, Olga, and Vanity Fair bras for $2 each, a fabulous new Land's End winter coat for $9, and a Gorgeous pair of new Joneswear violet suede slacks for $2!
Among my fave thrift shops in Billings:
Family Services, Inc.: 1824 1st Ave. North
Society of St. Vincent dePaul:
MRM Bargain Center: 21 S. 29 St.
I love pawn shops, antique, and resale shops, too, and these are some of my Billings faves:
Yellowstone Pawn and Trade (2111 Grand Ave.) Crow beadwork, Indian silver, teepees- this place is part store and part museum!
                   another great pawn shop-cum-museum in Downtown Billings
                   a Great clothing resale place
Yesteryears Antiques (102 N 29th St.) is amazing- tons of fabulous, vintage Western things from ceramics to glassware, to quilts, to toys, to cowboy hats! If you can't find something you want badly in there, there's no hope! LOL (I found a 1917 postcard of Gen. Pershing, Pancho Villa & Patton for my history buff hubs, and a 1950s Billings hotel ashtray with a peeing dog that made me laugh!)
I love "real" stores, too, and because I live in Extremely Rural West Virginia where there aren't any, I only get to shop in them when I'm deployed!  My friend Sue (who I know from 'another life' decades ago when we both lived in Germany) lives in Wyoming- a "mere" two hours' drive from from Billings- and she drove up with her daughter and we did that thing friends do when they get together: go to the mall! I hadn't been in a "real" mall with "real" stores in a LONG time, and I must have seemed like a real country bumpkin as I fondled fabulous and fancy Steve Madden stilettos (this season's shoes, as opposed to last year's on eBay! LOL) and oohed-and-ahhed over bras in Victoria's Secret!
My fave Billings shops:
Lou Taubert A staple of Billings since 1919 for Western gear, Taubert's has THE most fabulous Western clothes and boots... and great sales! (I scored a gorgeous Pendleton "blanket edged" skirt for $30!)
Praire Blossom sells made-in-Montana art, craft, gifts, jewelry, and yummy jams and sauces- I scored a horn-handled steak flipper & fishing lure tietack for Dan, and Montana "flattop cherry" and huckleberry jam & syrups which should be Great with vodka! :-)
Barjon's Books has a great selection of books on alternative medicine, as well as herbs, oils, incense, candles, crystals, and art. And yes, I hit TJMaxx, too, and Hobby Lobby for watercolors, so I could go out and paint the prairie!

I also love, as you know, to eat:
THE absolute BEST restaurant I ate at in Billings was, without a doubt Cafe DeCamp : 1404 6th Ave. N, Billings, MT 59101  Tel: 406.256.7285 I like them on Facebook and you should, too! Their Emu Picatta Crepe is a totally delicious thing of which foodie dreams are made, and I drool at the mere thought of it! It was SO good that I took photos with my cell phone and emailed them to Chef Dan!! Everything they make is not only totally gourmet-delicious, it's locally sourced, natural and organic,  from the bison to the emu to the wild mushrooms to the wine, and I had lunch there as often as I could!
Emu Picatta Crepe- SO WONDERFUL!

Other yummy places to enjoy in Billings:
The Farmers Market in downtown Billings every summer Friday from 8 - noon is Great fun- music, food, coffee, fresh lemonade, fabulous, farm-fresh veggies and ranch-raised meats, homemade jams, sauces, and honey...

Hudderite Girls at the Market

McCormick Cafe 2419 Montana Ave., in downtown Billings (they make a Great hamburger with avocado slices and thick, crispy bacon!)
Siam Thai 3210 Henesta Drive (Excellent soft shell crab!)
Asian Sea Grill 1911 King Ave West (Expensive but Very good sushi)
Lemongrass 2695 King Ave East (delicious and very reasonably priced Thai food, in a lovely, elegant setting)

After several weeks in Billings I was deployed to Miles City, and had the great good fortune to stay at Yellowstone Bluffs Bed-and-Breakfast.
Not only were Dick and Pat Wiseman wonderful hosts who truly made me welcome in their beautiful "Beach Suite" guest room (with a magnificent view) and delicious breakfasts each morning, but their patio overlooking the Yellowstone River was SO gorgeous that on my day off I didn't go anywhere- I simply sat on their patio with my watercolors and an endless cup of coffee and painted the view all day long until it was too dark to see! 
The "Beach Suite"

My "Beach Suite" view!
While in Miles City, my coworker and I got to enjoy some GREAT steaks in several classic, Montana steak Houses: Montana Rib and Chop House (GREAT USA Kobe beef steaks!), The Iron Horse Supper Club (excellent steaks, and right on the tracks of the old train station), Club 519 in the historic 1910 First National Bank building, and The Montana Bar downtown on 612 Main Street!