Friday, May 29, 2015


For the writer with many haters, consider "Should Writers Respond to Their Critics?" James Parker's take is witty and soothing. 

Even the bad writer can laugh last and sit upon her mountain of money. 
But it is very good advice for how to respond to criticism, in general. As Zoë Heller concludes: "There will be other books, other nasty critics, and with them, a myriad of other opportunities to maintain a dignified silence."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fate vs. Science

The Odd Couple, "The Blind Leading the Blind Date" 

Dani, Oscar's assistant, begins to wail that her high school reunion is coming up, and she's the only one who isn't married (and I thought us frummies were so special.) Felix (the micro-manager) happily volunteers to find her a mate, based on his thorough questionnaire (Dani insists on religion and a love of sports). Oscar (messily laid-back) insists that love can't be forced, it just happens; one should "get out there," he argues instead, and meet people.
Felix trots off to have all his acquaintances screened, while Oscar takes Dani to his local sports bar to meet men. The first option's phone rings, and he says he doesn't have to answer, it's just his mother. Dani marches away. "A real man always takes his mamma's calls." The second winks roguishly during the introduction. "He's a winker. Never trust a winker." The third speaks with ostentatious vocabulary. "He used the word 'plethora.' Just say 'too much'; don't fancy-pants me!"

Oscar, exasperated, says she's not giving anyone a chance. "If I don't get the right vibe," she insists, "I'm not going to waste my time." At this point an attractive woman by the name of Kim comes over and claims to be touched by Oscar's concern for his friend, and the two go off together. 

Felix bounces in that he has found the perfect man for her, and proceeds to plan a romantic evening for the next day, complete with flowers and violinist. He giddily introduces his selection, Will, to Dani, and gleefully awaits the sparks. Oscar enters with Kim, crowing at their suitability, as an "in your face" to Felix's methods.
The night goes on. Oscar is disturbed to discover that Kim has no qualms stealing the staff's tips, and finally cracks when she plants a roach on her dinner plate.
Dani, across the way, is not "feeling it" with Will (who isn't, either). Felix is crushed that his scientific proof did not result in a perfect couple. 

A sports-watching heckler who can't stand Oscar's radio show goes at him (again) and Oscar notices that there is a large cross around his neck. While the guy is bawling him out, his phone rings. "You know what bugs me about guys like you . . . Oh, hey, it's my mom!" He perks up and cheerfully picks up the phone, cutting off his tirade.

It then occurs to Oscar that this guy could be ideal for Dani (religious, like sports, and loves his mother), and calls him over. The two obviously hit it off right away. (Shidduch date wins!)

Felix, still low, admits: "I guess you were right . . . as scary as it is, sometimes you  have to leave it all up to fate."

Sometimes I wonder how much more hishtadlus I can possibly do. I've been introduced to a multitude of individuals, supposedly well-connected. My information has been e-mailed hundreds of times. I have gone out on dates that I knew were pointless. I attended cringe-worthy singles events. It feels like I'm banging my head against a wall. 

But I know that I can't control the who, the when, and I certainly don't comprehend the why. So I'm going to keep on keepin' on, while leaving it to a Higher Power.     

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

White Coats

I'm terrified of doctors. That does make things awkward when I erroneously conclude every once in a while that I'm dying, since I'm more frightened of visiting one than I am of untimely expiring.
It doesn't help that recent studies (yes, yes, which can be debunked tomorrow, but I'm still referencing them) are showing that we currently have too much medicine in our lives. The annual checkup has been taken off that table, as are a number of yearly tests that were considered mandatory. Stress does a great amount of damage on the body, to the point that the potential benefits from early detection are being questioned. 

Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal, is a best-seller discussing the contemporary perversion of the end-of-life experience. I can testify to it myself, seeing how my Babi suffered when she eventually passed away a number of years ago.
The outline of the book are discussed in this review by Janet Maslin. Doctors today are taught to believe they can "fix" any illness or condition, and drawing life on is considered the goal, even if there is extreme pain. Patients, too, do not make it easier on their doctors, insisting that any existence is better than death, only to change their minds too late. 

There are more old people on Earth than have ever been before, and not enough doctors specializing in geriatrics, who could help them enjoy a better quality of life instead of being farmed into nursing homes. 
. . . being honest, serious and empathetic, showing he is wholly on the patient’s side. It won’t work miracles. But it’s the best a doctor can do.
On the other end, childbirth has become a serious medical arena, chock full of drugs and scheduled C-sections. It had been thought until now that overtime in the womb didn't matter; but new data shows that the longer in the tummy, the better ("Heavier Babies Do Better in School"). 
The results also play into a larger issue: the growing sense among many doctors and other experts that Americans would actually be healthier if our health care system were sometimes less aggressive. . .
These issues are part of a debate that extends well beyond childbirth. The notion that Mother Nature should more often trump Pitocin and other induction drugs fits with a broad questioning of the American health care system, famously the world’s most intensive and expensive. Starting about a decade ago, an inchoate group of reformers — doctors, nurses, hospital executives, social scientists and others — began pushing the idea that there was a better way. Yes, intensive medicine can bring lifesaving benefits, but technologically advanced treatments often don’t work any better than more basic forms.
I'm not one to throw the baby out with the bath water (so to speak); of course modern medicine has granted us longer, healthier lives never before seen in history. But too much of a good thing does exist. Just because a method of treatment works for one patient does not mean that it benefits another.
I know of individuals who placed their health completely in the hands of drugs and surgeries, refusing to alter their lifestyle at all, since they believed that medicine = magic. Their current quality of life doesn't have much quality to it.
Doctors are not miracle workers; they should not be deified, no matter how much Jewish mothers sigh over them. There rarely is such a thing as a "quick fix"; if an illness can be managed by a change in lifestyle rather than pills, go for it.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Contouring, Updated

When I tackled contouring last year, I recommended using a matte bronzer for contouring the cheekbones. 

But, I sheepishly admit, bronzer tends to have orange undertones, in order to replicate a sun-given crispiness. Ideally, the product used for contouring cheekbones should recreate shadow. Shadow is not orange. 

Messing about on Sephora, I stumbled across Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder, and the reviews enthused that its taupe-y undertones perfectly replicates a shadow effect. (Of course, a week after I gleefully bought it I was bombarded with a 15% off VIB promotion. Gaaah.)
At around the same time, T.J. Maxx had restocked the beauty section with a twinkling supply of "Buy me!" products, and I grabbed a Precision Beauty Angled Blush Brush and ran. I managed to accumulate a cluster of brushes for contouring that did not live up to its promises, and this one has made me quite happy.
The Sculpting Powder looks dark, but it is the perfect contouring shade. It is very pigmented, so with a mere brush of the bristles against the powder, my cheekbones are supermodel-y defined. I may not have inherited Babi's bone structure, but I can fake it. 

I'm sensing some dirty looks regarding the price ($44!), but please be patient with the gal who lives at home and B'H has very few expenses. But, to redeem myself, I provide a drugstore alternative: NYX Powder Blush in Taupe. Disclaimer: I have not tried it, but most drugstores have a cosmetic return policy.      

If I have an event, I take it a step further by contouring my nose. The cute gal in the above video shows how. But keep in mind that one can contour the nose without contouring the eyes. I like brightness in my inner eye.

I'm using up the bronzer that I have during the week (I also have another in storage), saving the KA for Shabbos and simchos. 

Friday, May 22, 2015


Here's a fun interview on The Daily Show with Reza Aslan, a religious scholar. Makes one look at one's faith a little more intently. Am I frum because of my beliefs, or because that's my identity?
On that same note: "The Time for Inreach has Come" by Yocheved Sidof. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pit Stop

I came up with a theory a number of years ago. 

It can happen that after bad date followed by horrendous date topped with EPIC FAIL date that a lovely date comes along, complete with the precious yet oft elusive sense of comfort. Starry of eye and bouncy of foot, I prance into the doorway, optimistically waving goodbye over my shoulder as he pulls out of the driveway. 

But the next morning calls the time of death: An awkward phone call, e-mail, or text from a nervous shadchan reporting his avowed dislike of you. Apparently, that sensation of comfort went only one way. 

In my youth, I came to a swift decision: The purpose of this meeting was not about the failure, but about the hope. Fear not, child, sayeth the Almighty Matchmaker. There is someone for you, but the time is not quite yet. But I don't want you falling into despair, thinking your ideal man is a figment of your imagination. So I shall grant you Exhibit A, proof that types like the ideal Han do exist.

That glimmer of a optimism (not a sensation I usually indulge in) is sufficient to maintain a reasonable faith in mankind as I endure another round of catastrophic introductions.
Apparently, yet again, nothing new under the sun. 

In "On the Road to 'The One,' Sometimes a Rest Stop," Amy Butcher describes her wondering if the sweet but unfocused Sam is her "bashert":
. . . When I flew to Alaska to resume the life I had planned, I felt surprisingly devastated, and I feared the life I had always wanted now seemed to be in direct conflict with what seemed most right. What if my life was best spent in Iowa? What if I was meant to marry the man who lived in a tent?
It was my friend who suggested it was all a matter of perspective, who suggested that Sam, while perhaps not my ultimate destination, was the romantic layover I had spent years badly needing.
“Isn’t it possible,” she asked, “that the role he played in your life was to remind you how love is good?”
Instead of trying to squeeze something more from my experience with Sam, she said I should try to accept the relationship for what it was: a valuable encounter that didn’t make Sam any less important to me, just not more important than he had really been.
Back home, Butcher met "the One," a mate who is certainly more ideal than Sam was.  

Finally, finally, I have a good date. See, I'm not commitment-phobic! Except then he is. Ergo, he was merely Exhibit D. Not one to idle over, merely one to refuel one's expectation tanks. 

Check out the romantic tale of when Kelly met Andrew, complete with invocations of "bashert."     

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Quiet Resolve

In preparation for the upcoming yontif, I've been listening to a set of CDs by Rabbi Yisroel Reisman on Megillas Rus. We've had them for years, and have played them repeatedly, but he never gets old.
On the first CD, Rabbi Reisman discusses the debate about the permissibility of a Moabite convert. In the times of Rus, there still wasn't the later clarification that a woman from Moab was permitted to enter into Bnei Yisroel; "Lo yavo Amoni u'Moabi" (D'varim 23:4) was considered, by some, to also apply to the women. 

The megillah, it is said, was written by the prophet Shmuel, who was the contemporary of Rus' descendant, Dovid. Dovid's validity as king was questioned based on Rus being a Moabite; Shmuel established halacha, and sealed Dovid's claim, with this sefer. 

Consider, Rabbi Reisman said: Rus is a Moabite woman, and not only a convert, but a convert without established halacha backing her up. To add insult to injury, according to the commentaries, Boaz died the morning after their wedding.
How often does it happen that when something happens—a natural disaster, an untimely passing, a drop in the economy—people profess to know the reason why? The "reasons" I've heard for the horrific earthquakes in Nepal defy belief and Judaism: We are forbidden from claiming to know what Hashem's motivations are. But we do so anyway. 

Let us play a little game of imagination, shall we? 

There is a new lady in town, lovely, really, but she comes from a background which may be forbidden to enter into the Covenant. Then she has the gall to wed the wealthiest and most prominent man in town. Two strikes. 

He dies the next day. 

What would we be saying?

Not only that, how would she be treated for the rest of her days?

Rus abandoned all she knew and devoted herself to Na'ami, following her instructions without question. But that also meant abandoning acceptance and respect for a life sentence of loneliness and recrimination. She was not vindicated until many, many years later.
None of us are permitted to cloak ourselves in the robe of judge—for only the Eibishter is the Judge. He granted Boaz extra years just so he could fulfill the mitzvah of yibum with Rus, the most noble of women. 

According to Rabbi David Fohrman, "Eshes Chayil" is a song of praise to her. For she remained firm in her resolve to continue her husband's name, to be a servant of God, to be a comfort to her mother-in-law, while being ostracized and blamed.


1) None can claim to know God's mind. 

2) No one can mistreat any one.  

3) If you are doing what you know, in your heart of hearts and brain of brains, to be right and true, let none gainsay you.      

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Battle of the Bulge: Eat Well, Live Well

I was surprised to read that "The average American woman wears a size 14, and women wearing size 14 and up account for 67 percent of the population . . ."

Just to clarify, my surprise is not aesthetic-based, but rises from health concerns. Obesity, especially belly fat, puts strain on the body, prematurely aging it. Managing weight with a healthy diet does not make one immune to disease—I always think I'm dying of some new malaise every few months—but wouldn't one want to enjoy a higher quality of life if one could? 

Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers, recently passed away at the age of 91, at the same triumphant weight of her major initial weight loss, 142. Chances are, if she had remained 214 pounds, she would not have seen 80, never mind 90.
Nidetch learned that social support is key, along with personal responsibility: 
Trapped in a gluttonous secret life, she decided she had to confide in someone. She invited six friends, all overweight women, to her home for what turned into a group confessional, an exorcism of caloric demons that was the informal beginning of Weight Watchers. They all went on a diet, pledging mutual help through the abysses of anxiety, doubt and gnawing hunger. It worked. They soon brought more overweight friends to the meetings. Within two months, 40 women were attending . . .
“We ourselves hold the instrument that makes us fat,” she said, waving an imaginary fork in a 2011 interview with The Sun Sentinel of South Florida. “I just shake my head when I see someone eating cake and saying, ‘Oh, I wish I wasn’t heavy.’ But they keep eating the cake!”
We have the power. Although that potato kugel at a kiddush this week got the better of me.

Taking the importance of eating habits further:

I was quite delighted to learn that the system of calculating calories is inherently flawed, overstating numbers (before you get too excited, the calories for junk food are quite accurate). But the calories for fiber-rich foods, proteins, and nuts are being reported as being higher than they are. 
The system is most accurate when the foods are easily digested and all of their energy is made available to the body — as they are when consuming highly processed carbohydrates. But in the past few decades, scientists have begun to understand that a substantial number of calories are lost in the effort to digest food. For example, meat and nuts are harder to break down, and so the body expends energy trying to digest them.
In the end, some foods are also not fully digested: significant portions are excreted, and so those calories should not be counted, either. Nuts are among the hardest to digest, and estimates of the calories they contain by the old method are the furthest off — the counts are about 25 percent too high, according to recent research by David Baer, a nutrition scientist at the Department of Agriculture.
Calories are not created equal; the composition of the food itself is also a factor, how the body digests it, stores it, and uses it. 
The body resists weight loss by increasing hunger, he said. In his clinic, patients are not expected to count calories, but instead learn how to choose types and quantities of food that will reduce hunger and promote weight loss without calorie restriction.
When I decided to attack my eating habits, I first weaned myself off junk and processed foods. Whenever I was hungry (or not hungry) I ate fruits, vegetables, whole grains. Even though I wasn't depriving myself, I lost weight, because a calorie is not a calorie.
As another corroboration about the evils of processed foods, high fructose corn syrup is evil. It makes the bad cholesterol shoot up, in a disturbingly short amount of time. (I've switched to a different type of ketchup).  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cautionary Tale/Movie

Enough Said (2013): I'm going to completely tell over the story here, so for those who had plans on watching it, you've been warned. 

Eva is a middle-aged and divorced massage therapist, forlorn that her daughter will be leaving to college soon. She attends a party with her married friends, Will and Sarah, and is introduced to Marianne, a poet. Eva is immediately taken with Marianne, finding her chic and glamorous. Later in the evening, she also meets Albert.
Albert asks Will for Eva's phone number, and the two go out on a date. The evening doesn't begin promisingly—he insists he had made the dinner reservation, but they end up waiting for a table—but as the night goes on, their conversation is easy and comfortable.
Albert is also divorced, and as the two continue to see each other, he tells Eva about his personal quirks that drove his ex-wife crazy. Eva herself doesn't initially think his preferences are so bad, like avoiding onions in guacamole. 

Marianne, in the interim, calls Eva for her massage services, and Eva is drawn to Marianne's intellectual depth, beautiful home, and lack of cellulite. The two soon become friends, and Marianne complains about her ex-husband constantly. One example: She calls him a loser for not owning nightstands.
One day, Eva recognizes one of Marianne's stories about her ex: he's Albert. Shaken, she begins to coax Marianne to tell her more about Albert's faults. She admires Marianne, and allows her rantings to change her perception of Albert. She thinks back to her own first marriage, and believes she willfully ignored the warning signs. She wants to avoid another heartbreak.
Eva begins to draw away from Albert, and nitpicks about silly things. At dinner with Will and Sarah, Eva begins to give snarky voice to all of Marianne's criticisms; so sure is she of Marianne's righteousness that she doesn't realize her friends are giving her odd looks as she nags and laughs at Albert. Albert keeps up a good face until they get into the car, and in calm fury he says it was like being with his ex-wife.
In a grand-reveal scene, Albert finds out that Marianne is Eva's client, and Marianne finds out that Eva has been dating Albert. Albert, hurt and betrayed, quietly breaks up with Eva, who is roiling with remorse. She messed up a good thing, and she knows it. 

At the end of the film, there is a nice reconciliation (Eva parks her car in front of Albert's house, he sees her, they chat, and I think they make up).

This whole premise sounded so familiar to me. I meet someone new, I think they're charming, then a friend snidely dismisses my pal, and I wonder about my own ability to make accurate judgements. 

I think this can also be dangerous when dating, as friends are brought in to discuss what should be a relationship between two people, and two people alone. 

Eva had a girl-crush on Marianne, and because of that, she deferred to her in all her opinions, even though many of them were overtly ridiculous and contradictory. Marianne herself confides to Eva that she has very few friends; then, on a separate rant, she sneers that Albert has none. Like, how nuts is that?

In recent years I've tried to make a point not to allow the observations of others color my own interactions. I was quite proud of myself when X said that Y is "weird." 

I crisply replied, "She's lovely."

X was no longer so sure of herself, and nervously retracted her statement.