Friday, November 17, 2017

I ♡ Germs

It it obvious from my previous posts that I'm no germophobe. In fact, I'm more of a germ lover. I can say this after a round of antibiotics killed off all my good gut bacteria and is still continuing to wreak hellish havoc. 

So of course I'm going to push Aaron E. Carroll's article, "I'm a Doctor. If I Drop Food on the Floor, I Still Eat It." The title makes his opinion clear. The dirtiest place is not the floor. There are way nastier surfaces, which we mindlessly eat off of and yet, miraculously, survive.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Art of Friending

"You're awesome!" 

"You're awesome!" 

The two of us had a grand time chatting, even over the blaring wedding music. We really hit it off. 

At least I thought we did. 

Having succeeded in securing her cell number, I proceeded to text. Her replies were short and noncommittal. I braved her chilly responses for a few more rounds, then gave up. 

When I crossed paths with her again, she was downright frosty. I skittered away. 

Making friends, for some, can be a difficult enterprise (this post is brought to you by: TooYoungToTeach, who not only sent me the below article but inspired the rest of the content). I'm one of those annoying people who can't befriend anyone. I require a meeting of minds, a shared vocabulary, and most of all, loyalty. 

So when I meet someone new who seems to have, at least, the first two (near identical) qualities, I am awash in hope. But then, inexplicably, episode 2 flops after the pilot. 

I am not alone. Alex Williams blames it on being over 30 ("Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?"), but I find that age has little to do with it. You bump into a stranger, you have a glorious hour or two in their company, but there is no successful follow-up to that promising romance. 

Once upon a time, they would have just called it "ships passing in the night," or something. Maybe there was magic in the air, or hooch in the drinks, but whatever it is, it was not meant to be forever. It was meant to be for that moment in time.  
. . . it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Proximity. Can't get away from that. Nor vulnerability. But it also takes two to tango. If one doesn't want to put in the work to maintaining a relationship, there is only so much the other can do.   

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Space Between Breaths

I'm not sure when I got into it. Was it when I began to dabble in yoga? Was it a recommendation from Dr. Oz? Whatever it was, now I am on automatic pilot: When tense, I exhale slowly, in order to inhale slowly. In so doing, I'm calming my nervous system
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I've gotten gold stars from my acupuncturist for breathing correctly: inhaling deep into the abdomen, so it expands. I try to teach Eewok how to breathe, but she only so far has managed to hold her breath, or to forcefully shove her belly out. 

Breathing "properly" seems like a subtle change. Yet it has helped me tremendously.  

When gripped by a crisis, the lungs feel it. There is an elephant that inconsiderately parks itself on the chest. 

When Olivia Gagan entered therapy to deal with post-breakup trauma, her therapist insisted she focus on breathing first. She was skeptical. Wasn't she supposed to talk about it? Nope. He recommended an app to help her breathing.

In the space of breath, she became aware of her mind, body, and surroundings. By breathing, she was present. Not only did she deal with the lack of sleep, she soon discovered her own voice.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

TGIF


The film features a representation of the mobile home where you grew up in Michigan, which I don’t think I’d ever seen before. It was very ... um. ... Spit it out, Dave. Yes, it’s very, very small, and later I realized how much that did for me. I learned harmony with other people early, and that was absolutely vital and paramount. It was only when I went into the larger world that I realized the world isn’t like that.

Peaceful relationships don't just happen. It takes two, and if you want to get along, you'll find a way to get along. The art of harmony is a skill, indeed, and worth cultivating. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ugh, That Word

Americans are obsessed with happiness. It's in the Constitution, for crying out loud. Yet it is this very frantic pursuit that is making us anxious, according to Ruth Whippman. British by birth, she never gave happiness a thought until she moved to the U.S., and it became a never-ending conversation.

There are two anecdotes of Americans clashing with the French over happiness—the book reviewer, Hannah Rosin, being called a "stupid American" for smiling, and another from Pamela Druckerman, an American living in France. When her daughter's teacher asked her to give a presentation on being American, she concluded her talk by teaching the children "If You're Happy and You Know It." The teacher, puzzled, asked "What does it mean, 'appy?" 

Is happiness like kavod, that the more one runs after it, the more elusive it is? How does one achieve kavod? By sitting quietly, a letting it approach one gingerly, on little cat feet. 

Judith Newman analyzes a pile of books on the subject. She's happy, she says, because she is "The Queen of Low Expectations." Now that she mentions it, that has been working for me, too. 
 
The various titles she slogged through recommend different methods for happiness achievements: linking happy pastime with to-dos; witnessing moral good; gazing into a doggie's eyes; love yourself and everyone; live within your means; stop comparing yourself to others and just don't give a hoot. 
https://cdn.simplifiedbuilding.com/images/projects/build-your-own-sukkah_610.JPG
Via simplifiedbuilding
As Jews, we just emerged from Sukkos, when we are commanded to be happy. A lover of yuntif, I'm glad to report I perhaps not the divine simcha that our greats are able to achieve, but certainly happiness of sorts. To be commanded to emote is interesting. But isn't it a joy to celebrate Him? 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Neglected Mandoline

Kitchen mandolins always frightened me. That exposed blade? After the incident with the immersion blender . . . 

But the exalted Jacques uses them all the time. I've watched him casually whip his hand back and forth, and as the veggie shrinks, he merely presses his palm against it, lifting the fingers out of the way. 

I was faced with neglected cucumbers, and so desired to pickle them. Rummaging about in the cabinet, I discovered a Kuhn Rikon mandoline, which has dual blades. 

I was curious. At worst, the slices would be thick, like the ones from the food processor. I slid the cucumber back and forth. In seconds, I was presented with a magnificent pile of ethereal wisps—better than if done painstakingly by knife, and at a fraction of the time.  
http://bebeloveokazu.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/img_2647.jpg
Via Bebe love Okazu
Oh, Lordie! 

Cucumber salad used to be an hour-long, laborious process; now it took minutes. 

Giggling over my newfound toy, I decided to try káposztás tészta. I was strapped for time before yuntif, so I didn't want to wrestle with the food processor.  I first shredded the onion (stunning!) and then moved on to the cabbage. 
https://www.thetastesf.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/onions-L1008696.jpg
Via The Taste SF
To quote from The Princess Bride, "a dweam within a dweam."

I love it when a kitchen doohickey works out. What else have I been needlessly resisting?

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Coils of Humblebrag

When did humility get so cocky and vainglorious? I remember the first time, around 15 years ago, that I heard someone describe herself as “blessed.” An old friend of my boyfriend’s came to visit and spent the evening regaling us with stories of her many blessings. She wasn’t especially religious, which somehow made her choice of words worse. Every good thing in her life — friends, job, apartment, decent parking space — was a blessing: i.e., something deliberate, something thoughtfully picked out for her by a higher power. It took a while to put a finger on why it got on my nerves. The problem was that she couldn’t just let herself be lucky, because luck was random, meaningless, undeserved. Luck was a roll of the dice. She had to be chosen.—Carina Chocano
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This connects to a previous post—about those who simper at their good fortune while claiming humility.  The above is from a series that analyzes current jargon ("First Words"). 
To be humbled is to be brought low or somehow diminished in standing or stature. Sometimes we’re humbled by humiliation or failure or some other calamity. And sometimes we’re humbled by encountering something so grand, meaningful or sublime that our own small selves are thrown into stark contrast — things like history, or the cosmos, or the divine. . . “Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth and submits himself to others.” “Others” being God, say, or a grand movement or mission, or just the majesty of your own corporate or celebrity overlords.
I never particularly liked those maselach about downtrodden janitors in freezing Eastern Europe who turn out to be the most brilliant mind and spiritual soul of his generation. "Oh, no, I'm just the lowly shammes" grates. Because that's not what anivus is—the same way "humility" isn't what it is now. It's like the above: Compared to the knee-knocking glory of God, yes, we're nothing. But amongst our own brethren, we must recognize our talents and share them.
In the present-day vernacular, people are most humbled by the things that make them look good. They are humbled by the sublimity of their own achievements. The “humblebrag” — a boast couched in a self-deprecating comment — has migrated from subtext to text, leaving self-awareness passed out in the bathroom behind the potted plant. . . . none of these people sound very “humbled” at all. On the contrary: They all seem exceedingly proud of themselves, hashtagging their humility to advertise their own status, success, sprightliness, generosity, moral superiority and luck.
Humility takes another turns in this article, which is albeit heavily Christian in context: 
Humility is a sign of self-confidence; it means we’re secure enough to alter our views based on new information and new circumstances. This would be a far more common occurrence for many of us if our goal was to achieve a greater understanding of truth rather than to confirm what we already believe — if we went into debates wanting to learn rather than wanting to win. . . 
There are those, ahem, who are insecure in their faith yet put up a front of "knowing." But if one had some anivus, they would also be accepting. 
Certitude can easily become an enemy of tolerance but also of inquiry, since if you believe you have all the answers, there’s no point in searching out further information or making an effort to understand the values and assumptions of those with whom you disagree. 
If we had all the answers early on, what would be our purpose here? We're here to advance, and that can only be done if we are willing to hear and learn. 
Humility believes there is such a thing as collective wisdom and that we’re better off if we have within our orbit people who see the world somewhat differently than we do. “As iron sharpens iron,” the book of Proverbs says, “so one person sharpens another.” But this requires us to actually engage with, and carefully listen to, people who understand things in ways dissimilar to how we do. It means we have to venture out of our philosophical and theological cul-de-sacs from time to time. . . The wiser we become, the more we see how much we don’t know and how much we need others to help us know.
He quoted one of our sources, so it's legit. "Two heads are better than one," Ma always said. Not everything one hears is useful. But one must be willing to hear in the first place. We have to be a little humble.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Be Flexible, Not Fixed

This week is all about going back from the wrong path and starting again. I'm surprised how many (frum!) Jews aren't willing to acknowledge how they have the power to alter much—not by trying to save the world, but by tackling their own minds and actions. 

Studies are showing that "DNA is not destiny"—in terms of heart disease, for instance, a good lifestyle makes up for bad genes, while a bad lifestyle negates good genes. And one didn't have to be an angel, either; "It looks as if the biggest protective effect by far came from going from a terrible lifestyle to one that was at least moderately good."

Dr. Jane Brody profiled Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who completely reversed his lifestyle and successfully handled his diabetes diagnosis in the span of three months. 
Rather than proselytize, Mr. Adams prefers to teach by example, introducing people to healthy foods and providing helpful information. “I don’t want to become an annoying vegan,” he said. “My hope is that by having people focus on adding healthy things to their plates, rather than unhealthy things, they’ll eventually only have room for the healthy ones.”
Sur mei'ra, v'asei tov.   
Balsamic Chicken and Veggie Sheet Pan Dinner | Cooking Classy
Via cookingclassy
Very often, we create limiting beliefs and we stubbornly cling to them. Like Aya Cash: "The First Time I Ate a Vegetable (I Was 22)." 
For years, I had been telling everyone that I didn’t eat vegetables. I believed I hated them. I even took pride in the fact that I could fill my body with junk and not gain weight. I secretly, ridiculously, bizarrely thought my anti-vegetable stance made me intriguing. Unique. Idiosyncratic.
But sometimes we tell stories about ourselves that aren’t true. Sometimes stories we think are fixed are actually flexible. . .
I realized that I had determined a defining characteristic based on who I was at 6. I had not tried again for 16 years.
What else had I decided about myself that might not be true anymore? What had I decided about other people? That piece of lettuce was my first recognition that my identity was not set, but malleable.
I used to think belly button piercings were cool. I used to date men who didn’t like me. I used to smoke. I had never wanted to get married; I thought it wasn’t “who I was.” But a few years ago, I found myself feeling otherwise. This didn’t mean I was a different person. But the narrative I had about myself had changed.
Would I have learned this in other ways? Probably. But that bite opened me up to the possibility that change can happen even when you’re not trying; you just have to stay curious.

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. 
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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.