Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Pity the Fool

After going out with Boba, I had been furious. I hate being made to look stupid, and to be treated like a disposable nonentity before I had an honest chance to make an idiot of myself was a real punch to the gut. 

I was commiserating with a single friend about the inept state of mankind (us single girls like to refer you all as "morons" every once in a while, sorry). She said, "Someone has to teach them manners." But I realized it's not about that. 

Boba was a highly placed, successful professional. No one can get to such a position without knowledge of manners. He has a boss he has to kiss up to, clients he has to charm, workmates he has to stay on the good side of. He knows his manners. 

Yet Boba believes that manners are only when one needs something. The shadchan who set us up believed him to be decorous and chivalrous, because he found it to his benefit to be mannerly to her. But being decent to me, a girl he already decided he had no interest in, is not worthy of any effort on his part. Because if he "tries," and will "get nothing" out of it, then he thinks he looks stupid. 

How sad

He is one of those sad, sad people who perceive decorum as the equivalent of "sucker" scribbled in marker across a forehead. That the world will laugh if he exerts himself for someone he may never see again. Therefore, he will reject me before I can possibly reject him.
Boba, I just want to say: I pity you. Because I have never regretted being kind, even if it was thrown back in my face. Decency and consideration are more for me than the other person, the same way Moshe Rabbeinu displayed gratitude to inanimate water and sand. It's not about the water and sand. It was Moshe's way of sensitizing himself.  I want to be the best I can be, and that means smiling and swallowing deserved retorts when I am on a date with someone who keeps on looking at his phone and complaining how the office cannot function without his presence (which I find highly unlikely, but if so, the obvious solution would be to schedule the date for Sunday).

Here we part ways, Boba. You may not believe it, but I pity you. Yes, you. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hope vs. Prayer

A girl, known as Esti, contributed this story as heard from Rabbi Akiva Tatz to a forum

There was a woman whose son had a brain tumor. She came to a chassidish Rebbe, begging the Rebbe to daven for her son. 

The Rebbe said to her, "Before I daven for your son, I need to ask you one question: If you would know for sure, 100%, that it was Hashem's will should your son pass away, would you be able to accept it?" 

The woman stayed silence for a time, thinking it over, and then finally said, "Yes, I would be able to accept it."

The Rebbe said, "Now we can daven."

While there is an aspect of hope for a desired ending in prayer, davening is not really about negotiating with God. It's about connecting with God. 

Hope should be considered as a separate entity from prayer, but we have to be able to accept possible outcomes before they occur. A physician, Haider Javed Warraich, writes of "The Cancer of Optimism," how unreasonable expectations on both the doctors' and patients' part can have disastrous results.    

Steve Croft reported a few years back on the out-of-control health care costs specifically associated with end-of-life: "Patients, with their families' support, want to cling to life, and it is often easier to rely on medical miracles than discuss how they want to die."
Hope, in many cases, lead so many to painful, bad deaths, when the ill or elderly undergo treatments at their or their families' behest that doctors know will have little or no effect. Dying peacefully at home, while desired by all, is a rarity, as medical establishments require patients to stay financially solvent, and patients oblige by not facing reality. "Collectively, as a culture, we really have to acknowledge that we are mortal," said Dr. Ira Byock to Croft.    

As Dr. Warraich writes: 
Modern palliative care originated in response to the proliferation of new treatments and resuscitation technologies. Keeping a patient “alive” became easier. And yet the definition of “alive” suffered — with quality of life frequently being usurped by length of life.  
We can become so focused on only one version of an ideal ending that we can overlook what is best, as a whole. Dr. Warraich had an elderly patient who refused to acknowledge her mortality, and when the doctors advised that it would be more humane to make her comfortable than to treat her further: 
But there was nothing we could do to uproot the horror of irrational optimism that had spread through her body like a cancer uncontrollable.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Battle of the Bulge: Up the Squash Factor

I got into consuming squash more when I heard Dr. Fuhrman advocate it as one of the best foods for weight loss/maintenance. Apparently, squash provides carb-satisfaction with a fraction of the calories. 

I had tried acorn squash once, but I found the sweetness of butternut to be more appealing.
But raw butternut squash is a royal pain to cut up. I'm usually exhausted halfway through, knife flailing as I hack and whack, possibly slicing a finger open in the process, never mind my hands being dyed orange

When I was going to make a soup, I decided that an effortless shortcut was needed. What if I just baked the whole thing first, then sliced it up?

Proving my hypothesis with this, I happily stabbed the squash all over, placed it on a foiled cookie sheet, and tossed it into a 375° oven for an hour. 

The results were a creamy, delicious squash, with a very tasty skin. I really should have rotated it halfway through, since the underside was more raw than the exposed top, so I made a note for next time. 

My knife slid easily between the skin and flesh, and I nibbled on scraps of the peel as I added the now malleable squash to my soup. 

Mmmm, I should have this for breakfast, I thought, surveying the leftovers

I did, with a little drizzle of maple syrup. It was yummy and satisfied my growling belly.

I'm starting to have a bit of a crush on spaghetti squash. Although I am a true potato lover as opposed to pasta, one of my favorite childhood meals was lukshen with cottage cheese and ketchup. 

I did the same with it; stabbed it all over, chucked it into the oven, halved it and scraped out the spaghettiness. I have to say, it was just as tasty.
Squash contain these beautiful seeds, and I felt heartless chucking them into the trash. They can be salvaged, flavored, and roasted or fried. Seeds contain great nutrition as well.       

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I have written about the glories of dirt before, but if anyone has found me offensively off-base, I've now got proof, in the name of an article called, "Some of My Best Friends are Germs," by Michael Pollan.
It's OK, it's OK, dog drool is good for a baby's immunity.

Now, this is not for the faint of heart: F.M.T. Apparently, for those who have crippling stomach disorders, relief can be found with less trauma to the body than medications with a stool transplant, which can actually be done easily in the comfort of one's home.

The author of the article says at the end: 
Every morning (like I said, I am very regular), I find myself with a new appreciation for this bacterial world that we share.
Another reason to say Asher Yatzer with gratitude and thanks.      

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Father's Daughter

I was giving my niece a family history lesson as I scrambled her breakfast eggs. "Then Babi"—Ma to me—"was named after her grandmother, Miriam*, who survived the war, and had died right before she was born." 

"Sure!" She said, nodding her head. "That's the name I gave in school." 

"What do you mean?" I turned around, the silicone spatula held aloft. 

"You know, the tehillim list, for the sick people and the ones who are single. I told my morah: Lea bas Miriam."

A chill touched the back of my neck, raising hairs. "My name . . . is on a tehillim list?" I managed to ask in a rather strangled voice. 


I blankly turned back to the sizzling frying pan.

Sometimes people ask me what my "full" name is, and I frankly provide it: Lea bas Chaim. "No, no," they smile, gently correcting me. "What is your mother's name?" The mother's name, the parent that is invoked in times of tragedy, with the hope of inspiring divine compassion through a reminder of a maternal devotion.

When it comes to illness, there isn't much that can be said. To be in it's grip leaves one helpless, terrified, as the world shrinks to only this concern that now controls one's life. To quote Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog
. . . Lucien was very sick. We did not yet know when his death would come, but we were bound by the certainty of its imminence, bound to the dread inside, bound to each other by invisible ties. When illness enters a home, not only does it take hold of the body; it also weaves a dark web between hearts, a web where hope is trapped. Like a spider's thread drawn ever tighter around out projects, making it impossible to breathe, with each passing day the illness was overwhelming our life. When I came in from running chores outside, it was like entering a dark cellar where I was constantly cold, with a chill that nothing could remedy . . .
I have a frantic gratitude for health, the blissful freedom it provides, and no amount of thanks can adequately reflect the gift it is. 

Therefore, whenever someone equates my single state to that of the pervading horror of disease, I am offended, not for myself, but on behalf of the sick.  

My cousin had been dealing with cancer, and she had said once: "People have told me that being sick is 'like moving.' I can tell them it is nothing like . . . moving."

It's just not tactful to the ill to equate the single state to that of disease. Being unwell is not remotely similar to being unwed, I have to say. Sure, it's not always pleasant, but I'm not exactly going to compare my whiny ("I have no hubby!") situation to that of facing one's mortality.

When it comes to disease, there isn't much another can do to help, beyond offering the choleh to make dinner for the family, to assist with carpool, or to stop by for a hopefully distracting visit. But when it comes to singles, even if one doesn't know of anyone to set them up with, there are a number of options before we get to tehillim list. 

Keep eyes scoured at occasions, rhapsodize about a single's wonderful qualities to all and sundry, ask people if they know of anyone for a certain someone. I know of a number of matches that were made based on just that. 

As for the tehillim list, I shall, with all respect, kindly eschew its public services. 

*Parents' names have been changed in an attempt to shield the last shreds of privacy.                

Thursday, July 25, 2013


"What do I need to watch myself for?" my boss scoffs. "My medication takes care of everything." 

No, it doesn't. It didn't. 

I, too, adore the bliss that follows the magical touch of aspirin, whisking away a throbbing pain as though that metaphorical needle was never stabbing me behind the eye. But medication for more complex ailments is not fairy dust; that rambling list of side effects rattled off as the ad focuses on a smiling woman wandering through a field of daises cannot be ignored.
Ted Gup wrote about the cause of his son's death in "Diagnosis: Human." As a youngster, the child was pushed to take "medication" for hyperactivity; as an almost-adult, he was addicted to the hard stuff which killed him. 

I am not saying that all cases of ADD are hooey, but it is a fact that young children (especially boys, from what I see of my nephews) can contain a lot of energy. They can't always sit down and focus for the many hours the school day entails. But they soon grow out of it, or become entranced by subjects that enthrall them. 

Bronwen Hruska had been convinced by her son's teacher (whom she later discovered was incompetent) that her boy required Ritalin. Eventually he himself refused to take it when he realized that such medications could be misused, meaning they can be dangerous. 
Will is about to start his sophomore year of high school. He’s 6 feet 3 inches tall, he’s on the honor roll and he loves school. For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized. Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens. 
Being human, as Gup writes, is not about fixed criteria. A roomful of children may be the same approximate age, but that is not the only requirement for development. Luke was the lousiest student until high school, when he became enraptured with science and math. 

My nephew at 12 can't sit still. He can ask me a question followed by question that has no connecting threads—"What's a democrat?" "What's a black hole?" "What's kabbalah?" Luckily he has teachers who recognize his jumping-out-of-skin joy for learning. 

He can spend an entire Shabbos afternoon ricocheting off the walls. But no, I don't think he needs medication. In a few years, he'll tone down, the way most kids do, either because they mature or he'll know how to channel his energy into other areas.

Medications can provide amazing results, but they have to be handled with care. Overuse of drugs like antibiotics and PPIs are harming more than helping. Antibiotic overuse stresses disease-causing germs into superbugs; stomach acid suppressants should be utilized on a limited basis, since acid neutralization compromises the immune system. 

Many drugs merely alleviate symptoms, not targeting the cause, which can often be rectified or alleviated by a healthy diet. My father was wincing from gouty toes, and I googled the foods to avoid. The pains went away without any pills.
"It's unbelievable," Ta said, "what can be fixed by what you eat." 

"And what you don't eat," I added. 

A neighbor hobbled by with the use of a cane. "I just can't resist herring," he sighed. Super gout flare-up.
Some aggravations are meant to be experienced. Some can be cured by simple discipline. But our pill-popping society that seeks absolution from obesity to sleeplessness to heartburn in a bottle, be warned: Medications, in a plenty of cases, should be the last resort, not the first.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Read Misery to be Content

Have any of you ever been stuck in the unenviable position of reading children's books to kids? There are, of course, many books out there, but some really get on my nerves. 

For instance: Caillou. The parents are always chuckling, no matter how badly he behaves (which is often), constantly guiding him with patience and soothing platitudes. 

What sort of fantasy is that?!?

Never once does Caillou's mother lose it. Not once does his father raise his voice.

You know what any child would think reading a book like that? "I'm supposed to have parents who never execute consequences to my ratty actions, who never yell, who calmly explain what I do wrong. Simply put, I was gypped."

The secret to having content children is to ensure the books contain adult figures who are (a) just as impatient and stressed as real life parents or (b) much worse.
Lois from Malcolm in the Middle. One scary mother.
That is why, I suppose, that I adore Roald Dahl. Dahl didn't write stories about cheerful, angelic adults; he wrote books about the most rotten caregivers ever. 

Take Matilda. It's enough to make any child throw his arms around his parents and say, "Thank you. Thank you. I'll clean my room. I'll do anything."
The opening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is straight-up Dahlsleeping in the cupboard beneath the stairs. That is why I secretly suspect the series became such a hit.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Uncrossable Line

Bend It Like Beckham is a rather well done "girl power" movie, taking place in the familiar (at least to Jews) confines of family and culture. But after watching it again recently, I have been nagged by the conclusion. 

To synopsize (for those who have not seen it; obviously, spoilers ahead), 18-year-old Jesminder, known as Jess, a Punjabi Sikh, loves to play soccer with the other Indian boys in the park (when her mother's not looking). One day, Juliette ("Jules"), a (white) soccer player, walks by, sees her mad skills, and offers her a chance to be a part of an actual girls' team. 

Jess's parents do not want her playing soccer at all, especially her mother, who insists she must focus on university and learning how to cook a full Indian dinner (both vegetarian and meat) for her future husband.
The "aunties" at one point ask her, what is she looking for? A clean-shaven boy, or one with a turban and full beard? (It would seem that us Jews are not particularly unique; it must be a middle-eastern/central-Asian concept). 
Jess joins the team on the sly.

Jules has a serious crush on Joe, the coach (played rather woodenly, in my opinion, by Jonathon Rys-Meyers), but for some reason he makes eyes at Jess, who apparently returns his ardor (I thought the film did not show enough of a basis for a romantic relationship between the two, but whatevs). 

There are numerous situations when Jess's parents find out, forbid her from donning cleats ever again, and she somehow manages to sneak out and kick that ball.  

Her father, who used to be a professional cricket player, had been banned from participating when he moved to England due to his race; one day, when he realizes Jess has scurried off to play, he follows her and sees her in action. He is proud of her ability, and finally gives his blessing (behind Mum's back). But a big game is scheduled on the same day as Jess's sister's wedding, where an American scout will be present.

Jess is determined to be happy for her sister's wedding day, but cannot stop from looking so miserable that her father lets her slip away unnoticed during the raucous after-ceremony festivities. The scout sees her on the field, and wants to sign on both Jules and Jess for a California college team.

By some further miracle, she manages to talk her parents into letting her go, even though they don't want her to. She happily runs off, her party raiment messy and sweaty, to tell Joe, who moves in for a kiss. She stops him, saying it was a big step for her parents to agree to California; she can't take it any further by having a relationship with a non-Indian.

The last scene is at the airport, when Joe catches Jess before she boards her flight to the States. We have something special, he insists, even with your parents' objections, even with the long distance; we should go after it. Smooch. The romantic ending everyone wants.

What niggled me about this, I realize now, is that the parents are proven right. She went to play soccer, in turn leaves home to attend a school far far away, and the next step is to end up with a gora boyfriend, seemingly shedding her religious background and beliefs

The movie seems to think it's fine; after all, what sort of significance does an uptight, restrictive culture have, after all? 

A much better conclusion would have been, I decided, is if she went followed her passion in California, but meets a nice Indian boy from New Jersey. Maybe a medical student.

The single Sikh boys in the movie are depicted as sleazy, vulgar, sexist, and stupid (except for Jess's friend Tony, who's gay); no wonder Jess is taken with Joe. Considering her father's quiet dignity, I am quite sure are plenty of Sikh boys (in real life) who are sweet and intellectual

We Jews had our time when we feared that a college education or a professional career would be the slippery slope to McDonald's and intermarriage. But now we know how to handle it, and today it has been shown to be a relatively invalid concern. Sure, there are some that did leave the fold, but they would have anyway. 

For any religious individual, there is that uncrossable line. I can be pretty much whatever I want to be, whatever I choose to be, but my faith and my culture will not be compromised.

Tevye was able to handle Tzeitel pledging to marry Motel. He was able to handle Hodel merely asking for his blessing, as opposed to his permission, to marry that good-for-nothing communist. But when Chava begged for acceptance after marrying Fyedka, he roared: "There is no other hand! No! No!" 
Stanley Fish's reports in "Marrying Out of the Faith," citing Naomi Schaefer Riley's book, that intermarrying is not as simple as one would think, even when parents have flashed the thumbs-up. Shared morals, in many cases, can serve as insufficient glue in the face of two separate religious doctrines. Interpolitical marriages are at a lower rate that intermarriage, funnily enough, and politics should be a lesser concern than faith, one would think. 

Even in cases of lax observance, sentimental traditions can be a quagmire. Riley lists reasons why couples ignore differing religions—one would be this American mishagaas of "Love conquering all." Additionally, we are in an age of over-tolerance; beliefs shouldn't matter at all ever, the same way skin-color is immaterial, right? But faith is not the same as race.

So go, girl, and play for a professional college team. But Joe? Encourage him to ask Jules out instead.