Monday, December 31, 2012


Every once in a while Ma succumbs to temptation and finds herself calling a shadchan. Rarely has it proved to be worth the effort. 

Sitting with a woman who recently married off her 32-year-old daughter, Ma was recommended a "shadchan" whom she happened to know of already. What could it hurt calling up an old acquaintance? At her request I googled the lady's home number. 

"I don't do typical Lakewood boys or modern." 


"And if you have a television, you are modern." 

"Well, she does watch tv." 

"I don't care what else you do, you can scuba-dive, but I do not deal with anyone who watches television." 

"Who do you deal with?" 

"I strictly set up Michlala girls with baal teshuva boys." 

Opting not to inform this woman that I did not attend seminary at all, Ma cheerfully said thank you very much and hung up the phone. 

It's nice to be right. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

To Cut Blowing Time

When I style my hair, it is usually required for the hair to be somewhat or completely dry first. I try to give myself enough time to air-dry on Fridays to keep heat damage at a minimum, but I end up needing to speed up the process by blow-drying.

Over the years I managed to accumulate more than one hair dryer; Costco manages to make so many unnecessary items appealing. One day I had a "Eureka!" moment

I took a spare surge protector and plugged it into my bathroom outlet. I parted my hair in half, then hooked up two hair dryers. With them both on the cool setting, I let 'em rip.
Keep in mind I use no finesse here; I just aimed both nozzles at my head.

It's amazing how much time was then shaved off my hair styling. Well within 15 minutes, sopping wet hair was relatively dry, ready to be ironed or put in rollers. 

Beforehand, if I used one dryer on a cool setting, it took forever for my hair to dry. Now my hair is ready for further punishment faster, without further crippling heat.   

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Better is Better than More

Boy, did this article bring back memories. 

One of the hallmarks of reaching obnoxious teenage years is the chazar-shtall (pigsty) bedroom. I was blessed with a mother who never insisted on our making the bed (and I read recently that remaking the bed actually encourages dust mites, so whoo!) but that was the only loophole. 

Since I was further down the child roster, in many ways she was mellower with me than with the rest of my siblings. But she also knew how to ensure the best way to achieve some order. 

"Pick up five things," she would command, "and a pair of shoes counts as one." We grudgingly obeyed.  

If children are told to simply "clean their rooms," that's not happening so fast. The chore is too big; where can one begin? In general, the best way to get, at least, some activity is with smaller expectations.

Sometimes (okay, maybe it happened once) I would become so energized from storing away those five items (with a pair of shoes counting as one) that I would be infused with a cleaning frenzy, to the point that Ma would tell me to take a break. 

But my point is, as with any sort of task that has to be undertaken, whether mental, physical, or spiritual, one has to start by breaking it up into smaller components. 

One Shabbos my nephew was whining that I should carry him. While he isn't the heaviest, he is certainly an unaccomodating dead weight. I first told him no way, he is a big boy, and he began to kvetch loudly about how tired he is and how short his legs are. 

Since I complained the same way at his age about walking, I said, "Fine, I'll carry you, but only until that driveway"—which was fifteen feet away"then you have to walk a little." He accepted the deal. He ended up walking more than I carried him, as we made new boundaries for the switch-off—"By that street lamp," "After that bush," "When we get to the traffic light."

To a child, a seven-minute walk feels like forever. But when broken down, it becomes conquerable. 

The same when it comes to improving ourselves. Every Rosh HaShana we make grand, wild plans for our spritual progress; never talking loshon hara again; respecting our parents like nobody's business; our davening will contain so much kavana that moshiach will show up on our doorstep. Invariably, we fail, usually before Succos is out. 

Bigger is not better. As I heard it said by W on Good Eats, "Better is better than more."

Now, I have a room to clean. Five items, with a pair of shoes counting as one.        

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


One would think that when someone married after being tagged "spinster" would be more understanding of the average single. But what I find surprising is how many an "older" newlywed join the Dark Side; she becomes the very person the two of you once mocked together. She becomes the know-it-all.

"You're still single because you are doing such-and-such wrong."

Or, if she tries to set me up, she gives the guy more consideration than she gives me. "I need more photos; he didn't like the other shots. And do you have anymore references?" Traitor. 

A neighbor of mine thankfully remembered what it was like; she was probably the fun-nest shadchan I ever dealt with. 

Firstly, she called up with his "yes" already, a rarity in this day and age. Often I get harassed for info down to my SS number, but she got his a-okay upfront. 

Secondly, she asked if I was available. Many assume that I am, without bothering to ask. 

Thirdly, when I gave my okey-doke on the spot based on his lack of criminal record, she said, "I'll call him later tonight. Let him stew a little." 

Fourthly, when she called to give me a heads-up for his call, she said, "If you don't feel like talking now, then don't bother to pick up." 

Fifthly, when things went kablooey after a couple of dates, I texted her the "I don't see this going anywhere" bit. And she didn't harass me as to reasons, no "Are you sure?," just "Of course." 

God, I love her. 

The previous week I was tormented with emails and phone calls from a woman hysterically shrieking for my info, that she must send it over to the guy today. Why today? What's the rush? Where is he going? He's obviously not getting engaged to someone else in the next twelve hours, so take a breath. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I Can See You

With the advent of Google, FB, and LinkedIn, us single ladies are able to scrounge cyberspace for dirt on potential dates. 

If the target has managed to squeak by with a "clean" rap sheet, there may come up in ensuing conversation tidbits one is now privy to. Frankly, my searching skills are less than competent, so rarely has this been an issue, but I would, personally, play dumb as to certain details, feigning interest and enlightenment. 

As Henry Alford expounds, there are pros and cons to googling before meeting. 

In my case, it sometimes reinforces a negative impression. It has often occurred that I am handed a fellow's info, which I find less than impressive, perhaps a tad disturbing, but that vibe was superficially inferred from reading between the lines. A quick gander on FB is usually helpful in deciding whether to date or dump. 

I will take this moment to encourage single men to put flattering photos of themselves on FB, such as a lovely head shot bearing a fresh haircut while wearing a tie. I am not impressed by mugging at the camera while being high on Purim, nor an "entertaining" shot of a beast of burden, nor, even worse, a full-length involving Bermuda shorts.

And if your "likes" include whiskey, WWF, or speeding, at least be savvy enough to erect unbreakable privacy settings.

Often a dashing profile picture and an inability to check further photos is what squashes my misgivings. In the end, the less we can know, the better.          

Monday, December 24, 2012

How to Dress your Daughter

When it comes to little girls, mommies' hands itch to doll up their boobas. The bows! The pink! The tutus! 

There are (at least, there should be) some laws of girlie attire. Turn to the timeless styles that will suit little ones forever.

They will always, and I mean always, look sharp in a pleated skirt and sweater/blouse/blazer.
Little girls and pencil skirts are not a good mix. It gets me irritated when I see a youngster's legs restricted to a shuffle because of a knee-length spandex skirt. Mini skirts, yes, but not knee-length pencil skirts on a eight-year-old. 

There is also one universally flattering genre of clothing that is adorable no matter one's age: nautical.
For teenagers, the laws of pleated skirt and sweater/blazer hold especially true. Figureless and gawky, tweens and teens often have to struggle to appear polished. My niece, for instance, currently looks as though she was put in the taffy-puller. A tunic and pencil skirt highlights and emphasizes her lanky limbs; a flary skirt and short sweater downplays them.
And when it comes to tutus, it is perfect for the pitsy. There is an age limit, I suppose, but it is so darn cute. I want one.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Somebody Save Me

I've just spent a rigorous weekend of childcare, reprogramming children to saying "please," putting them to bed way before their bedtime so I can get some peace, and repeatedly packing away the toys so the toddlers will happily keep on playing (no child is interested in blocks unless they can turn the bin upside down).

My roommate was a congested three-year-old who snored as loudly as she ground her teeth.  

I staggered downstairs in the morning after waking up at 3:07 and unable to fall back asleep, to a table of expectant children who have different breakfast requests. 

Thank heaven for the various televisions, except I was scurrying from floor to floor due to technical malfunctions.

"I need to get married," I tell Luke when he finally returns to reclaim his offspring. "I need to get married so I won't have to take care of children anymore. Well, I mean that I can work up from one to a few, rather than getting ten at once." 

He looks a little panicked. 

"That's right," I told him. "No more outings for you." 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Battle of the Bulge: Keep Your Friends Close

Ikaria, "The island where people forget to die." That has to pique your interest. I'm only going to expound on one aspect of the article, so read it in its entirety; it is quite fascinating.
He returned home to Ikaria to die. 35 years ago.
This unassuming area in Greece has been known for centuries to encourage long life. There are a number of theories, factoring in lifestyle, diet, and mental states, and we can apply those habits to our own lives.

In terms of diet, it is the predictable Mediterranean; olive oil, vegetables, small amounts of goat dairy, rarely meat, moderate amounts of wine, barely any sugar or white flour

Since the community is very close, and everyone eats the same way, there is the social structure that ensures no one succumbs to bad foods (if they were hypothetically available).  For comparison, the article sites Seventh-day Adventists, who share a similar diet.
The healthful plant-based diet that Seventh-day Adventists eat has been associated with an extra decade of life expectancy. It has also been linked to reduced rates of diabetes and heart disease. Adventists’ diet is inspired by the Bible — Genesis 1:29. (“And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed . . . and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.’ ”) But again, the key insight might be more about social structure than about the diet itself. While for most people, diets eventually fail, the Adventists eat the way they do for decades. How? Adventists hang out with other Adventists. When you go to an Adventist picnic, there’s no steak grilling on the barbecue; it’s a vegetarian potluck. No one is drinking alcohol or smoking . . . health habits can be as contagious as a cold virus. By his calculation, a Framingham individual’s chances of becoming obese shot up by 57 percent if a friend became obese. Among the Adventists we looked at, it was mostly positive social contagions that were in circulation.
We rarely give enough credit to bad influence; it is embarrassingly easy how one can be talked into casting their eating habits aside when someone whispers devilishly in one's ear. "Oh, just this once," "It's not that bad," "What's one doughnut going to do to you, anyway?" 

Next thing one knows, one has fallen off the wagon with an undignified "oof." 

The company one keeps is important in many ways, remembering what is said about the chaver ra.

If cornered next to a Viennese table, stay strong, and fight a path to the fruit platter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sweet Nothings

My favorite wedding moments are the badeken and the chuppah. While it should be that "seen one, seen them all," I find most touching and inspirational. 

When the groom enters the room, seeing his beloved enframed in blinding white, her eyes fixated only on him, despite his hearty escort of his nearest and dearest. Her father blesses her; his father blesses her; in some happy cases grandfathers will be present for that touching ceremony as well. 

The chosson then leans in, perhaps clasping a single bloom that clashes with the multiplicity of flowers that already drape the room, and whispers a few romantic words in her ear. 

At this wedding, I saw her mouth, "I love you so much," and his identical response. 

Underneath the chuppah, the two gazed adoringly into each others' faces. And yes, they intermittently repeated the same refrain: "I love you. So much." "Love you." "I love you." And that's with my non-existent skills as a lip-reader. 

It didn't take long before I began to squirm. Is there no other poetic way to profess thy severity of feeling? With the length and breadth of the English language before you, that's all you got? 

Consider the hysterical scene in Singin' in the Rain, when the maiden attempt at a talkie implodes because, among other things, Gene Kelly messes with the script, opting instead for "IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou."

At the 2:32 mark. 
If contemplative silence is not your thing, make sure to be armed with a plethora of well-established verse or prose so there isn't another awkward Dueling Cavalier situation. 

Such as Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet: 
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 
Or just stick to the last two lines. Very swoon-able. 

How about Shir HaShirim? That stuff is awesome. 
Groom to bride: Thou hast ravished my heart, my bride; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one bead of thy necklace. (4:9)

Bride to groom: Until the day breathe, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountains of spices. (2:17)

(Don't quote Shir HaShirim willy-nilly, since many of the praises are a little off by our modern frame of reference, like comparing her hair to goats'. But it must have been the equivalent of Hallmark back then.)

Or even song lyrics. 

You're my only sunshine


I believe in love, you’re my reason to be 
        — Matisyahu 

To all the love-sick swains out there, there's always copyright infringement. Please.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Friend, the Grim Reaper

As a lover of history, I am always amazed how many have swiftly lost our appreciation for this relatively comfortable existence most of us enjoy; supermarkets (as opposed to growing crops, along with a possibility of starvation), indoor plumbing (outhouse. 'Nuf said), babies and mothers both surviving the birthing process, just to name but a few. 

As for death? It used to be a constant companion. No one was safe from it. Weathered elders, hearty adults, energetic children were all susceptible; my grandfather could recall the epidemics that wiped out families completely. 

Our lives are now so disinfected from the natural processes around us. The all-encompassing terror that invades us whenever death is mentioned is neither healthy nor realistic. 

When someone pleads on FB, "Please daven for my 89 year old grandmother!" I am a tad perplexed. 89, huh? What a long and fulfilling life she must have had!

Bess Lovejoy ponders this subject
Death once occurred at home, with friends and family gathered around. Local women were responsible for washing the body and sewing the shroud. People sometimes slept in the same room as corpses, because there was nowhere else to go. In the Middle Ages, cemeteries often acted as the public square: you didn’t just walk on the graves, you ate, drank, traded and sometimes even sang and danced on top of them. 
According to a news story I saw recently, most people want to die at home, in the comfort of their own familiar surroundings. But most pass away in the hospital, after being hooked up to machines and tubes, not a painless process. Doctors often do not educate their patients as to their actual prognoses, having them make uninformed decisions that result in a tortured, rather than peaceful, end.

Us Jews, who speak of death so often in our prayers, do not realize its actual significance. 
Despite the (frequently commendable) advances that have removed death as a constant presence in our lives, it remains inevitable, and many of us are ill prepared when it comes.
The erasure of death also allows us to imagine that our mortal trivialities and anxieties are permanent, while a consistent awareness of death — for those who can stomach it — can help us live in the here and now, and teach us to treasure what we already have. In fact, a study by University of Missouri researchers released this spring found that contemplating mortality can encourage altruism and helpfulness, among other positive traits.
As it says constantly in our texts, the living have it better than the dead since we can do. Yet we push off such "unpleasant" thoughts, preferring to wallow in the assurance that we have forever. I can't stand it when 60 year old women insist they are no more than 30. Why so insecure about your age? If we know we don't have all 120, we are more driven to be at peace with our family and neighbors, to be kind, to do things right.

In the Talmud, the death of Rabbi Yehudah haNasi (Ketubot 104a)
Rabbi’s handmaid ascended the roof  . . . she prayed: ‘May it be the will [of the Almighty] that the immortals may overpower the mortals.’ As the Rabbis incessantly continued their prayers for [heavenly] mercy she took up a jar and threw it down from the roof to the ground. [For a moment] they ceased praying and the soul of Rabbi departed to its eternal rest. 
We were always taught that the handmaid was righteous in her action to end his agony; she hurled that pot after careful thought and deliberation, not from cluelessness. She is praised, rather than scorned, for severing the ties that bound his neshama to earth.
Jewish cemetery in Hungary
I do not find cemeteries to be frightening places. If anything, I find them comforting. The grassy, quiet area that houses my grandparents' remains is a place of serenity. I might as well get used to it; one day I will be there as well.
It’s never easy to confront mortality, but perhaps this year, while distributing the candy and admiring the costumes of the neighborhood kids, it’s worth returning to some of the origins of Halloween by sparing a thought for those who have gone before. As our ancestors knew, it’s possible that being reminded of their deaths will add meaning to our lives.