Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Thankful Year

Rabbi Glatstein said in a Rosh Hashana shiur that we cannot ask for a good year until we have thanked Hashem for the past one. 
 https://goodmotherdiet.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/apple-honey-challah20.jpg?w=625
In that theme of gratitude, I can link a Thanksgiving article, I think: Frank Bruni's "One Holiday, and Countless Ways to Say Thanks." 
Someone, usually my Uncle Jim, says a grace of greater length and intensity than the ones at other holidays. He speaks of God and gratitude, demonstrating that if we look at our lives through the right lens, we see blessings everywhere, and they outnumber obstacles.
Gratitude is a feat of perspective. When I talked with other people recently about their ways and whys of giving thanks, I was most struck by how often their rituals arose from travails, not triumphs. Hardship was handmaiden to an examination of all that remained good, all that they should cling tight to.
I'm speaking from experience here: One can find hakoras hatov even when everything goes to hell in a handbasket. It can be done when one sees the Hand of Hashem in all things. Hashgocha pratis, not hashgocha klalis. The Eibishter is in your life as much as you allow Him in.   

Monday, September 18, 2017

Give Them CASH

I have um, a bit of a backlog of fascinating articles. So, er, bear with me as I link, um, holiday-themed pieces. 
 
The subject of these two are regarding gift-giving, that thankless job. It's sort of like shidduch dating; the majority of results are "Gee, thanks for thinking of me, but—" 
http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/11/09/18/2E46C33400000578-0-image-a-37_1447095231318.jpg
Sridhar Puppu's article about the misery males experience trying to select gifts for their significant others ("Why Are Some Men Such Awkward Gift Givers") is quite entertaining. Even when their spouses are fine with it, they still feel the pressure. 
 
John Tierney went to the experts, as in actual research ("The Perfect Gift? It's the One They Asked For"). Often, gift-givers get so worked up over how amazed the receivers will be, they don't take into consideration that the receivers would rather have something that's useful, instead of something awesome that becomes irritating clutter. 
 
If buying for a lot of people at once (although, is that an issue for non-Christmas observers?), don't make a point of getting something different for everyone, especially if they wouldn't know anyway. My aunt throws a Chanuka party every year, and she sticks to the same gift for a specific age group. She has to keep her sanity too. 
 
And it's cool to regift, apparently. Also, people know what they want. ASK. They'll tell you. If not opting for deliciously welcome cash, don't give a restrictive gift card, like to a candle shop. That's not fair. 

Last but not least: The thought does not count. I'm speaking from experience, here: If I am stuck with something I have to pretend to love and takes up space, I am annoyed, not touched. In Judaism, "the ends don't justify the means." So if you shvitzed to get me what you thought I would like and I didn't like it, I'm not really going to care about the effort. According to research.

Friday, September 15, 2017

TGIF

  • Behind every crazy woman is a man sitting very quietly, saying, "What? I'm not doing anything."—Jade Sharma;
  • Brené has a new book! Here's a CBS interview; and 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Age Like Iris?

I learned, a long long time ago, to never say, "Well, I would never—!" 

A number of women have that about-face when skin starts to sag. In one's bouncy youth, the idea of surgical intervention for shallow reasons is repulsive; yet, perhaps, when actually confronting the signs in the mirror, the concept becomes less abhorrent.

Who knows what I will be tempted by if my neck goes all turkey despite my nightly creams? 

Debora Spar mulls over the issue in "Aging, and My Beauty Dilemma." 
Then my friend Elise pushed me toward the exit, where our husbands were waiting. Elise is about a decade younger than me; she is also Nordic, smooth-skinned and built like a ballerina. “Did you see that room?” she asked, smiling and rolling her eyes. “Every other woman there was over 60 and yet there wasn’t a wrinkle to be found. They all looked great,” she acknowledged, “but so similar!”
We ducked into the car and started heading back to the West Side. In the darkness, she grabbed my arm. “Promise me that we’ll never do that,” she said.
“Do what?” I asked, pulling my own black dress more tightly around me.
“That plastic surgery thing,” she said. “Fillers, Botox, all that stuff.”
I demurred, mumbling quietly, “Come back and see me when you’re 50.”
That's why we can't judge. If we haven't been in those identical shoes, who knows what we would do?

As for dressing, Julia Baird proclaims, "Don't Dress Your Age." I find it awesome when I see older women in bright, colorful, patterned attire. If anything, I think such garb is probably more age-appropriate than it is on the young. There is a fabulous octogenarian that I know who is my inspiration for my golden years, God willing. Now, I rarely wear patterns, and have difficulty finding festive hues that also suit my frame. But when I've aged out, what's figure-flattering will no longer be a concern.  
All this nonsense is why I adore the funky grandmothers you can find on Instagram who dance about in baubles and proudly sport turbans. They refuse to fade, hide or match their attire to the wallpaper.
But my greatest mutton-fantasy is just to wear and do what I want. To not have such preoccupations even cross my mind. Isn’t there a point when one can simply be a dowager, a grand old dame, or just a merry old boiler? When we can refuse to kowtow to prescriptions and permissions, but just march on in the shoes we fancy wearing?
http://www.closetonthego.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/iris-apfel-01.jpg

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Lonely Subway

Metropolitan Diary, Beth Bengualid:

Dear Diary:

I witnessed a verbal altercation between two women on the subway today. One was about 60 years old; the other was probably in her early 30s.

The younger woman had a big bag around her shoulder and was holding onto a pole as the older woman entered the car.

“Don’t you dare push me,” the older woman yelled.

“That is your perception,” the younger woman replied. “I did no such thing. You bumped into my bag.”

The older woman insisted that the younger woman was wrong and escalated the argument. I tried to make eye contact with her to encourage her to calm down because I could sense that the situation was getting out of control.

Then, to my surprise, the younger woman did something remarkable while she trying to keep her cool: She asked the older woman: “Do you need a hug?”

“Why yes I do,” the older woman said.

The two women embraced and forgave each other.

My motto for surviving working in New York City is: "Do not engage and escalate." Well, that's sort of my motto in general. We come across, in our daily lives, all sorts of overly chatty, boundary-less individuals who frankly don't care that you have to be elsewhere. 

Therefore, RBF can be a girl's best friend. When frozen in android mode, subway-riding wackos leave you be. 
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No one wants to tangle with that.
The above story, however, reflected another concept: those who pick fights in a desperate attempt at connection. Sort of like a tantruming toddler willing to take bad attention over no attention.

People are lonely. Some people are so lonely they're willing to be a subway-riding wacko. 

I learned this recently, that while in my naive, childish mind the only way to forge a human relationship is with kindness and affection, there are those out there who will actively insult others in an attempt to connect. Sad, but true. 

Perhaps if we learned to take people's words not always at face value, but attempt to peer into the wounded souls beneath, we'd be a lot more tolerant. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

By Work, Not By Word

"And R' Yitzchak said: If someone tells you, 'I labored but did not succeed,' don't believe him. If he tells you, 'I have not labored, yet I have succeeded,' don't believe him. If, however, he tells you, 'I have labored, and I have succeeded,' you may believe him" (Megillah 6B).  

There are a number of people who made it big with the assistance of the internet. Makeup artists (i.e. Michelle Phan), singers (i.e. Bieber), and those of other dubious talents (i.e. Kardashians) have found fame and fortune via those opportunities. But people forget there was work involved (even for the Kardashians), not just hashtagging self-promotion. 
https://storage.googleapis.com/twg-content/images/michelle-phan_lg.width-1200.jpg
"Good News for Young Strivers" by Adam Grant is a reminder that in the end, results count, not horn-tooting. Achievements lead to successful networking, not vice versa. Beneficial networking doesn't mean chasing after prey; it's about bringing the prey to you. For that, you need to draw them close with something other than a blank "Look at me!" 
In life, it certainly helps to know the right people. But how hard they go to bat for you, how far they stick their necks out for you, depends on what you have to offer. Building a powerful network doesn’t require you to be an expert at networking. It just requires you to be an expert at something.
Yes, there are businesses that take off by "happening to bump into the right person." But if one doesn't have anything for the other to remember them by, fuhgeddabouit. 
 
Cal Newport goes further ("Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It") that the hashtagging is not merely a neutral influence, but a malignant one to a career. He claims that since social media is addictive, and robs one of focus that should be applied to one's work, it actually negatively impacts the performance that must speak for itself. 
If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.  
This same premise applies, I believe, to Rosh Hashana and repentance. It's our actions that is our greatest proof of remorse, not merely "so sorry." Biting one's tongue, giving to tzedakah, flashing a smile to a stranger—you can take that to God, no status update needed. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

(Spiralized) Zucchini Kugel

Ma never made potato kugel for Shabbos. She and I are fellow potato-lovers, to the point of mindless consumption. 

So, recently I have pounced upon alternatives—like this Spaghetti Squash Kugel. With hefty seasoning of garlic powder and black pepper, it came out delicious (my sister-in-law, who rarely eats vegetables, gobbled it up) and guilt-free. 

I would recommend, after scraping out the squash strands, to let it rest in a bowl for a bit so excess water will emerge, then squeeze it off. Less water, better binding.

The next week, I wanted to try my hand at zucchini. But there I was stumped. Every recipe I came across called for some sort of carb-y binding, like bread crumbs. 

For Shabbos meals, I try to keep the food as carb-free as possible, since challah takes enough of a toll. If the spaghetti squash kugel didn't need bread-binding, why should this? 

A few years ago I bought a spiralizer, and to be frank, didn't use it much. It has now increased its appeal as Ta, the lukshen-lover, is content to consider spiralized zucchini as pasta's relative. I wanted to use it for the kugel—which would also spare me digging out the food processor (although the pieces could be left in chunks as well).  

The secret it to get as much water out of it as possible. I steam it, press it against the colander, pour it over in a bowl to rest, and as more water emerges, continue to pour it off while pressing down. Then I sauté it lightly to ensure everything was evaporated out. 

(Spiralized) Zucchini Kugel 

5-7 zucchini (of any color; the above also had yellow)
1 onion, diced
3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
garlic powder
salt and pepper 

1) Spiralize or grate zucchini. 

2) Make 'em limp. What I do is steam it, then press as much liquid out through the strainer, then let it rest in a bowl and squeeze out any more liquid that may emerge. But there are plenty of options how to go about that. 

3) Sauté onion until delicious. Add garlic towards the end, for about a minute. 

4) Add limp zucchini and mix. Sauté lightly just to ensure that as much water has been bullied out of it as possible. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. 

5) Pour over into a bowl. Add three beaten eggs and mix. 

6) Pour over into lightly greased 9x9-ish baking dish, and bake on 350° for 45 minutes or so.    

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pay It Forward

I had noted him as I prowled the produce aisles. He was peering carefully at the Golden Delicious apples, which made him already interesting as a fellow fruit-lover. They don't make 'em like they used to. 

He was talking educationally to his little boy in the cart. A good Tatty, I thought approvingly. He looked weary, but he spoke patiently to his excited young son. 

I had in one hand my cart, in another, a bag of zucchini; with an ominous thud-thud-thud, I looked down to see my carefully selected summer squash slipping through a tear, banging into the floor. 

"Oh, maaaaan," I emoted in annoyance. I hoped they weren't bruised. 

As I knelt to recover them from the floor, I heard a quiet, "Here." The good Tatty was matter-of-factly proffering a replacement bag. 

"Thank you," I replied distractedly, taking it and chucking my veggies in. 

He silently vanished. 

Emerging from the store, I felt . . . upbeat. There is a bounciness when one experiences kindness. 

The next morning, I saw a cell phone and keys forlorn on the train seat across. I lunged down the car, tapping the girl on the shoulder. "Is this yours?" She gratefully reclaimed them, and I attempted to vanish discreetly as he did. 

There is also a bounciness when one can forward the kindness to another.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

TGIF

The will of God will never take you,
Where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

—Anonymous (I think)