Wednesday, July 30, 2014

See Spot Run

"EEEEEEEE!" my nieces squealed in delight as they splashed in.

I watched in delight as the three, Eewok (7), (cousin to) Thing 1 (6), and Thing 2 (4.5), shrieked happily in the shallow surf. 
http://prints.encore-editions.com/500/0/adam-emory-albright-children-at-the-beach-approximate-original-size-20x30.jpg
Via encore-editions.com, Adam Emory Albright "Children at the Beach"
I dipped a tentative toe into the frothing tide, but found it too chilly for my taste. I wriggled my toes in the damp sand, examining a multitude of tiny clams that washed ashore. They swiftly burrowed downward, disappearing from sight. 

I espied a dog heading towards us, off his leash, his owner strolling leisurely behind him. He was a rather adorable terrier, the kind usually featured in pet food commercials, white with one black ear and a black splotch on his back.

As I expected, Eewok ran towards the animal while the Things flung themselves behind the security of my skirts. Due to the vagaries of genetics, I actually inherited Babi's animal-lovingness, so I attempted to (unsuccessfully) soothe them while Eewok frolicked. 

She ran back to me and reported, "His name is Spot," before tearing after him again.

At this point, other children on the beach were also attempting to play with Spot. But their efforts seemed rather one-sided. He kept dodging their adoring hands, scorning their coochy-coos, only grudgingly coming to a stop when a water bottle was offered. 

Thing 2, who was glued to my leg, suddenly piped, "The dog is scared of people!" in the wondrous tone of dawning comprehension.

"Yes," I breathed. 

"Yes!" I repeated, "Yes, exactly!" I ecstatically hugged her. 

What I was excited over was that despite the fact that even though she was frozen in terror, she still possessed the presence of mind to observe the situation and make a conclusion from it. Affectatious Thing 1 couldn't do that, melodramatically burying her face in my robe. I had found it necessary to lecture her on never being so scared of a bug or an animal that one could be driven to do something silly (meaning, dangerous, but I didn't want to be that frightening). 

But I didn't have to tell that to the pint-sized Thing 2. She was watching from a cautious distance and a safe place, and was able to make a call. The right one, yet. 

 Not even a year ago she was a whiny kvetch. It's so nice when they start to grow up. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Be Human With Me

I have been attempting to wage the war upon feeling better when others are unhappy, since it is associated with schadenfareude, that glee when an inncocent bystander slips on a banana peel. 
http://i177.photobucket.com/albums/w233/caturdayskwerl/Not%20Cats/schadenfreude-.jpg
Tim Kreider, however, argues that it is not schadenfreude ("The Feast of Pain"). There is lonesomeness in misery, and to see that others aren't living a honky-dory life grants the lone individual with company and empathy
This isn’t schadenfreude; it’s something more complicated for which, as far as I know, there isn’t a German compound, but if there were it’d be something like mitleidfreude, compassion-joy — compassion in the literal sense of “suffering with.” It is the happiness, or at least consolation, of knowing that Things Are Tough All Over, that everyone else is secretly as wretched as I am . . . 
Often, my Facebook feed nauseates me. The constant stream of posted children's photos actually adds worry to the mix, as I consider what sort of creepy strangers (besides me) could be viewing these offerings. Then there is the snuggly pics of giddy couples, the breezy vacation snaps, and maybe even a puppy or two. 

Even though I know these are simply the carefully culled shots calculatingly released to a disinterested public, it's hard to put a actual gorgeous photo in perspective when there is no counter-frame of the mother screaming at that same kid for coloring the kitchen walls. 

It's just . . . isolating. "I'm HAPPY cause I post so!" I'm not unhappy, but now that there is a show-and-tell depicting what "true happiness" is, one (at least, me) begins to have unsubstantiated sensations of inadequacy. The more I try to ignore those feelings, the more I think I'm fooling myself.
Maybe it’s perverse of me, but I am comforted by the knowledge that we’re all suffering a lot more than we let on. . . I’m not just ghoulishly thriving off others’ pain; I’m happy to offer up my own if it’s any use or consolation.
Humanity rarely exists on a permanent plane of happiness. We don't know how to maintain it, since it is based on internal machinery as opposed to external conditions. "The pursuit of happiness" is an impossible chase. And even if all the "happy" factors line up, sometimes bad days just happen.
A pastor I know, who gets a more privileged vista of human suffering than I do, told me she was sick of the phrase “first-world problems” — not just because it delegitimizes the perfectly real problems of those of us lucky enough to have enough to eat and Internet access, but because it denies the same stupid trivial human worries to people who aren’t. Are you not entitled to existential angst or tedium vitae if you live in Chad — must you always nobly suffer traditional third-world problems like malaria and coups d’état? If we’re lucky, we graduate to increasingly complex and better problems, and once all our material needs are satisfied we get to confront the insoluble problem of being a person in the world.
Even if we someday solve all our societal problems, people will still be unlucky in love, lonesome and bored, lie awake worrying about the future and regretting stupid things they did and wondering whether it’s all even worth it. Utopia will have an unendurable amount of hassles to deal with, endless forms to fill out, apathetic bureaucrats, taxes, ads and bad weather. Time will still pass without mercy. 
OK, but I'll still clean my plate because somewhere in China children are starving.

Mitleid-freude. Me likee.          

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Over. I Think.

"Hi, Lea," he opened nervously. 

I was befuddled. We had already gone out twice; I wasn't particularly excited, nor could I detect any true interest on his side. Yet he seemed to be half-heartedly persisting, much to my annoyance. 

He was talking. Actually, it was more like "mumble mumble mumble." I couldn't understand what he had said, and remained silent, thinking he would continue and I would be able to eventually comprehend his unintelligible vocalizations, based on context. Yet all I heard next was a hurried "G'night" and a distinct click. 

I padded into my parents' room, both breathless with anticipation. 

"I think he 'broke up' with me." 

"You think?" 

"Yeah. There was a 'mumble mumble mumble,' 'G'night,' and a 'click.'" 

"What?" 

We pondered the matter. 

"I think one of the words sounded like 'out,' as in 'It's not going to work out,'" I said in dawning comprehension.

"Are you sure it wasn't 'When do you want to go out?'" Ta asked hopefully. 

"And then he hung up?" 

I was annoyed because this whole rigamarole could have been avoided with a simple text earlier in the week, right after we had last gone out five days ago. I don't know who came up with this mishagaas that verbal communication is needed to break up with someone after a couple of dates—I'll always, happily, ecstatically, prefer the written word! Email, text, messenger pigeon—I embrace them all! This was no grand romance, there was no understanding, there were two anemic outings.

This poor fellow felt that the only "acceptable" way to end an acquaintance is to be so strangled with fear that the message wouldn't even be explicitly delivered?

If only he knew that at the other end of the line was a nonconfrontationalist of the highest caliber, who would endure the most unending of abuses rather than do what he just did. 

With a text, I could ensure I would be clearly understood. Poor boy.    

Friday, July 25, 2014

Guest Post: My Big Brudder

I have mentioned (repeatedly) my sibling (not twin), Luke. He requested if he could piggy-back onto my blog, although not as Luke, but as Eilu v'Eilu. 

Guest Post: Eilu v'Eilu 

We have forgotten the fundamentals of respect. If we can learn these forgotten fundamentals and teach them to our children, then it may go a long way in solving some of the daunting psychological and spiritual challenges (some invented) that we, as a people, face. 

If we all learn fundamental respect for others, then the need to point out the length of someone else’s skirt goes away. If I respect another person, then I will dress appropriately in their presence as I would do at a business meeting, and, likewise, if they aren’t dressed to my standards, I will respect their preference. 

If I respect another person I will not take advantage of them—be it in a business interaction, or social interaction when I have the irresistible urge to say something inappropriate or insulting. 

If I respect another person the only time I am motivated to take action is when they are harming another person or themselves and not feel it necessary to intervene when their spiritual practices are not up to par with my own. 

Yes—it is true that we are responsible for one another. The core of that compulsion is from a fundamental respect that each and every human being in entitled to. At the end of the day, the obligation is respecting our fellow human being, as well as their choices, even if I don’t deem them appropriate. Their choices are their own, and I can only intervene when they harm themselves or others physically or emotionally.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"And This Is Your Final Resolve?"

I love writing. 

It took me some time to realize that it is my hobby, my passion, my conduit to sanity. When I graduated college and no longer had to constantly barf up papers, I didn't realize how lost I had become until I decided to blog, which requires me to tackle my craft on a daily basis.
http://infospace.ischool.syr.edu/files/2014/07/blogging.jpg
I have a fantasy of writing a novel about the frum world, and have it published in the secular realm, as an educational tool for how the observant live their day-to-day lives. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and there are enough shoddy attempts at enlightenment (or vitriol) that I believe this to be a burning need. 

But it will take a lot of work and time. 

On top of that, it will take a lot of confidence. For instance, there will always be someone who will critique one's work. In one college class, we were instructed to exchange our drafts with classmates and endure their feedback. 

"Your tone is too light, too funny," a nice Asian girl told me politely, as she tucked a gleaming strand of inky hair behind an ear. "These are supposed to be college papers. It should sound a little more . . . professional." 

I nodded acceptingly, my eyes wide and earnest. But I didn't change anything about my paper. As I expected, I got an "A". 

As writers learn, there is no "right" way to write. Writing is an individual art, no different than painting, sculpture, or glass-blowing; forms and styles differ, based on the creator. I don't necessarily appreciate all expressions of self, such as jazz or cubism, but the authors that I enjoy are the ones with a distinct, predictable voice. 

Susan Isaacs, for instance; she posses a tough, humorous style, plus a unique premise: Often, her books will begin with a detailed explanation of the protagonist's heritage, back to great-grandparents. Sometimes that is the only part that I read. In the end, we are the result of generations worth of DNA—inherited personality, and prior experiences. As a history lover, I believe knowledge of one's past is vital; therefore, it this quirky tendency of hers that I revel in. 
http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n11/n58432.jpg
It takes resolve to remain true to one's literary voice, as Karin Gillespie's "A Master's in Chick Lit" illustrates. After already being published five times, Gillespie decides to enter an M.F.A. writing program, where her work is slashed and burned. Over the next two years, she abides by the professor's dictates, only to have her proudly produced manuscript rejected by agents. 
 https://d3myrwj42s63no.cloudfront.net/180/074/325/010/9/0743250109.jpg
After rewriting it in her true-to-self voice, she was pounced on by publishing houses. 
In fact, I gained something invaluable: Each writer enters into the craft with a specific strength. For me it was humor. For another it might be storytelling or the creation of beautiful sentences. As beginners we tend to rely too heavily on our strengths, and sometimes we have to minimize them in order to focus on our weaknesses. Along the way, different styles beckon. Eventually, though, we must embrace the gifts that enticed us into being writers in the first place. 
In many spheres in life, there will be naysayers. Just try dating nowadays. My new favorite: "You should explore your commitment issues." I have the same stuffed animals since infancy; commitment is not my issue.

To follow the inner dialogue, instead of being brow-beaten by the external chatter . . . that's where success lies.         

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Que Sera Sera

"Don't you ever wonder," she asked, "if all the good guys are taken?" 

She's not a frum Jew; heck, she's not even Jewish. So I remember to start from the beginning. 

"Firstly, Natasha, it's not like I went out with such nice guys when I was younger; the ratio of 'nice' to 'not nice' guys hasn't significantly increased over time. Secondly, I'm a Jew. I'm a religious Jew. You know what that means? That means I believe in God.

"We have all sorts of paperwork backing up the belief that God arranges matches, that everything is bashert." I'm hoping she remembers what "bashert" means. "So either I believe in God, or I don't. To say that the 'good guys are all taken' means that I'm saying there is no God. Why should I bother with being religious? I might as well go out and eat a cheeseburger."

As with all the other arguments vis-à-vis the so-called "shidduch crisis" (ugh, just typing the term gives me the willies): 

Impossible mothers of boys? Yes, they do exist, but quite frankly I don't think they are so difficult for God to outmaneuver. What is bashert will be bashert.

References that throw their charges under the bus? I can't control what other people say. I can only control what I say. What is bashert will be bashert. 

Age-gap claptrap? As Orthonomics once said, if there is suddenly now a "crisis" (urgle) then it would have to arise from a new factor, and men have been marrying younger women for thousands of years. What is bashert will be bashert.

When my grandparents went through the Holocaust (CRISIS!), I'm sure the last thing on their minds was "How will this affect shidduchim?" After the war, the survivors tended to marry swiftly in less-than-ideal conditions, as a means to recapture that predictable normalcy that had been robbed them, not because of the six million, now in ash, that had to be restored. But even so, our decimated numbers were rebuilt, and more, in a staggeringly short amount of time.

The Holocaust (CRISIS!) didn't end because of something Jews did. We were liberated by outsiders, not from our own attempts to fight back. I think, today, in our zealousness to prove that we will not be butchered again, we insist we have control over that which we don't. 

I can't control who is redt to me. I can't control who I meet, no matter how many singles events I attend or shadchanim I visit or how many simchas I get invited to. I can't control if a guy will like me that way or not.

Dr. Oz once featured Wyatt Webb, a therapist (there are a few videos in a row). His message comes down to this: You are not in control of anything. Yes, you have choice (bechira), but that is not control. On his list of methods to deal with acceptance of lack of control, number three is: 

Examine your own belief system and not others'. 

That goes even if the person next to you is a fellow Jew. Yes, we are all Jews, but we all stand on varying levels of emunah and bitachon. When I feel stuck or accused or frustrated, I remind myself: What is bashert will be bashert. Whatever anyone else tells me. Yes, I have bechira, but I can't control the outcome.  
            
Penina lost her children because she acted as though Chana had the control to end her barrenness. None of us have control. We have free will. I think that's enough.    

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Slaughterhouse Rules

I found Jonathan Reisman's article, "The Bodies That Guard Our Secrets," to be fascinating.

Did you know that the anatomy between cows and humans are similar? It makes me consider the ban on the gid hanasheh in a new light. 
http://www.haaretz.com/polopoly_fs/1.543323.1377337687!/image/507207152.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/507207152.jpg
Via haaretz.com
Anywho, Reisman, when a doctor in training, visited a kosher slaughterhouse to learn more about the design of the body. 
And this is the heart of the situation: Kashrut’s concept of cleanliness and health relies on the sanctity of the barrier between the inside of the body and the outside world. Maintaining cleanliness means keeping the outside out, much as people in many cultures remove their shoes before entering a house or a place of worship. When we breathe, air enters our lungs and whooshes all the way down to the alveoli — but this is not truly inside the body. The air in the lungs is still continuous with the atmosphere and all of its dust, spores and smoke. The real threshold of the physical self is the lining of those deep alveoli where the body meets the atmosphere. The lungs are like the skin — a boundary with the rest of the world — but outside-in. A hole connecting the inside of the lungs to the pleura is a way for the dirt of the outside world to get in, truly inside, the body, and once that sacred barrier has been breached, innocence and purity are soiled.
It made me consider how spirituality and physicality aren't on separate planes; they are parallel to each other.

Our bodies reflect that which should be a careful mindset: walking the line between external influences and maintaining personal sanctity. I don't even speak of secular generalities; I mean also the "chaver ra," the one who can lead one awry, who can be present even within the religious community. 

As I meet others who relate to the world differently—some who shun any secular exposure, those who identify with it more than I do—I am noticing that it is, as in all things, a personal call on keeping the balance. 
In medical school I learned about how the body is held together and how it falls apart in illness. In the kosher abattoir I learned about the sanctity of those boundaries that keep both humans and animals healthy. The basement membrane protects every organism from the filth and infection of the outside world and the cancerous disease from within. It is the inviolate outline within which a healthy life is lived. Ultimately, every bout of disease — every violation of the basement membrane — leaves a mark and makes up an individual’s medical story. And when the body is opened, whether in the dissection lab or in the kosher abattoir, that story will be read. For what we all hold most strongly in common is precisely that which is most private and personal: our hidden insides and the story they tell.
If our physical challenges leave a mark, so to our spiritual challenges leaves theirs.

While true repentance, it is said, wipes the slate clean, that is how Hashem perceives us. But the echo remains in ourselves.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Brush Maintenance

Most makeup artists boom, "Wash thy brushes regularly!" 

OK, I confess shlakiness on my part there. My bristles tend to accumulate pigment over time, and when I finally wash them I am amazed what comes off. Well, maybe horrified.

My favorite all-around cleaner is Castile soap. Castile soap is formulated from natural oils, meaning it isn't as harsh as other soaps. I even read somewhere that castile soap molecules are round, whereas most soap's are more sharp-edged, making it ideal for non-irritating cleansing. 
http://i.walmartimages.com/i/mp/00/68/91/91/51/0068919151200_P321146_500X500.jpg
I have a large bottle of Castile soap that I use for cleaning pretty much everything. It is great for bathrooms and kitchens, for instance, without getting woozy from ammonia fumes. They also come in a variety of pleasant scents; I'm partial to lavender.

While Michelle Phan (video embedded below) is quite persistent about using antibacterial soap, I have banned that stuff as creators of the future mutant virus that will destroy us all. Regular soap is sufficient. 
She mixes dish soap with olive oil; since Castile soap is derived from natural oils so I use it without any additionally oily help.

Maybe the reason why I don't wash my brushes enough is because I'm not sure what to do with them while they dry, and I know they shouldn't be left upright. Michelle suggests the Brush Guard, so I purchased them
http://bunbunmakeuptips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/The-Brush-Guard-Review-For-Makeup-Brushes_1.jpg
Via bunbunmakeuptips.com
They really are fun; wash brush, slide the thingamabob on, chuck it upside down into a cup, and let it dry.

The Guards are also ideal for travel, since they prevent the bristles from being bent misshapenly while bouncing along in my carry-on.

Now I actually clean my liquid makeup brush every time I use it; I don't bother with the plate that Phan suggests. A little squirt of Castile in my palm, rub the bristles into it, rinse it clean, wipe off the excess water, pop on a Guard, chuck it into my neigel vaaser cup, and there you go. It's usually dry the next morning.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you guys: I made my peace with liquid foundation. Post still in the works!    

Friday, July 18, 2014

Take One For the Team

Oh, bother, I thought tiredly, as he squawked on the phone. He's one of those

The man-child in question was very obviously attempting to manipulate the situation that I should say no to a date, so that way he can go back to his sister and say, "It's not my fault. She didn't want to go out with me."

My dear boy, I'm better at this game than you. 

His sister and my brother are neighbors, and over a shared Shabbos meal she cooked up the idea that we should go out. My brother, stumped as to how to turn her down yet simultaneously maintain the family friendship, unconvincingly "sold" this Tuskan Raider to me. For the sake of keeping things pleasant along the borders, I agreed. 

Instead of being permitted to fall elegantly on my light saber, I had to grant this Sand Person all the accoutrements of being a stalked eligible. But no way was I going to get blamed with turning him down, so I feigned dimness as he tried every which way to get me to nix a date. Eventually, he set a reluctant day and time for our outing. 

I told myself to enjoy this from the elevated position of wry amusement. That was made slightly more difficult as he texted his arrival from his car. 

In my driveway. 

With no intention of coming to the door.

Older singles aren't "jaded." We're traumatized. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Welcome to the Dark Side (of Chocolate)

I know there are a lot of jokes out there about girls and chocolate, although I don't quite understand how is became a gender-specific pastime. How many guys out there turn up their noses at chocolate? 
http://bowendragon1.com/zencart/images/d_8388-01.jpg
Milk chocolate, once, to me, was the only true heaven. If I was ever offered anything dark, I would gag. Dark chocolate? Who would ever eat dark chocolate? 

I'm not sure which is responsible; adulthood, which means the body no longer craves such copious amounts of calories to feed a growing body, or the fact that I eat better than I used to, readjusting my palate accordingly. But in any case, I find myself actually enjoying the bittersweetness of a high-percentage cacao chocolate. 

Unheard of! Absurd!

When I heard how the high-percentage cacao chocolate was healthy (specifically over 70%) I took a tentative nibble. If consumed right after anything sugary, it will be a letdown, but as a "mouth-straightener" following a meal, it is pleasantly satisfying.

Modern science has proclaimed (I'll take it while it lasts) the healthiness of dark chocolate: "Why Chocolate Is Good for Us." The article mentions unsweetened cocoa powder and cacao nibs, but I wouldn't suggest the latter. It really doesn't taste like anything, and I'm not crazy about the consistency. It really is amazing how much of the flavor in chocolate as I knew it was sugar and oil. 

When there is a sale in my local Jewish supermarket, I stock up on months' worth of Schmerling's 72% Cacao Chocolate. These are the only bars I can find, with the minimum percentage requirement, that are pareve. 
http://www.hatov.com/image/cache/data/MCH41-500x500.jpg
I then discovered Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Midnight Reverie 86% Cacao Bar at my local drugstore. But they seem to sell out fast, especially when I have a coupon. It is, however, milchig. Also available on Amazon, thankfully. 
http://d3v6k1pcwywj8s.cloudfront.net/store/cdn/5528/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/602f0fa2c1f0d1ba5e241f914e856ff9/b/a/bar_id_86_600x.jpg  
This stuff is now my means of staying sane yet healthy during the week, when sugar is a no-no. 
http://cdn1.bigcommerce.com/server3000/86d67/products/2351/images/2677/t5124_1__52152.1312922113.600.600.jpg?c=2