Monday, March 31, 2014

Dressing for Men: The Bone Collector

Men's shirt collars can have a mind of their own. If left to their own devices, they may curl instead of looking starchly in place. If one is wearing a tie, then one has to make sure the collar stays where it's supposed to.

For that, there are bones (as they are called in my house), also known as collar stays. These little doohickeys can work wonders just by being slipped into the shirt collar.
They are available in both plastic and metal. If getting plastic, make sure they are solid and firm; they shouldn't bend or fold while being slipped into the collar.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bad Research

It is often aggravating to watch television or movies and read books supposedly about religious Jews. Like A Stranger Among Us or Holy Roller, or episodes of Law & Order. You can die laughing.
'Cause those peyos look soooooo authentic. Snort.
I was reading The Midwife of Venice because I had come across it on a recommended historical fiction list, and while it got some things right, it got plenty wrong.
Jewish men cannot remarry their ex-wives (only kohanim). One can drink wine in a gentile household (you kidding me?). A rabbi can decree conditions regarding pidyon shivuyim, specifically demanding that the captive divorce his barren wife (pidyon shivuyim is a serious mitzvah, and the idea that one would make criteria on it is unthinkable). Committing suicide is okay if existence is unpleasant, because, after all, they all suicided in Masada.

Um, why would a rabbi hold a wine cup to a woman's lips at the seder table? 

"He was so happy he could dance the hora." Right, in the 16th century. Oy. 

After sighing over these boo-boos I skimmed, bored, through the rest of the book. 

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, what a promising title. Except the author is an irreligious Jew, and not one of the tolerant ones.
The Yiddish and Hebrew is constantly used wrong. Two people go on a "shidduch date," they don't go on a "shidduch"; it's "B'Ezrat Hashem," not "B'Srat Hashem," and these are Ashkenazim living in England, so make that "B'Ezras Hashem."

All the mothers are fat and miserable caring after their too-many progeny. The men sport grimy beards. The protagonist wonders if her husband will beat her, then intentionally crunches her mother-in-law's foot in a door. Single 19-year-old girls are "spinsters" and are set up with men twenty years their senior. Everyone is wallowing in shvitz, even in the dead of winter. 

Hashem? His name is invoked when people just want to do what they want to do. Then it is God's will. Otherwise the hapless frummies gasp under an oppressive regime of public opinion, banned from any sort of fun.    

Now what I should realize is, if they get all this stuff wrong about us, what do they get wrong about other cultures the media portrays? Here I am, using movies and books as proofs of other cultural behaviors, when they are probably getting everything totally backward. Even Oprah's take on chassidus was imperfectly framed. (Although House, M.D. had a pretty accurate one, excepting two blunders.)

The only upside from slander like this is that it makes me more determined than ever to work on my novel. This is how it actually rolls in BP, y'all. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Decontaminate While Dreaming

Ironically, I am writing this while my sleep withdrawal is at such a point that I am chugging raw garlic and crystallized ginger in a desperate attempt to fend off the inevitable cold that accompanies my insufficient rest. 

Sleep is a mysterious being, especially taking in evolutionary imperative to survive. Sleep, which leaves us at a defenseless disadvantage, must have a very important purpose. Whatever benefits that have been discovered until now doesn't seem to quite justify the possibility of getting eaten; Maria Konnikova (one of my new favorite contributors to the "Sunday Review") presents a new theory. 

"Goodnight. Sleep Clean": You know how we always say that dreams are the brain's way of working out matters that were pushed mentally aside during the day? That's the software aspect. But there is also the hardware, chemically speaking. 
Recall what happens to your body during exercise. You start off full of energy, but soon enough your breathing turns uneven, your muscles tire, and your stamina runs its course. What’s happening internally is that your body isn’t able to deliver oxygen quickly enough to each muscle that needs it and instead creates needed energy anaerobically. And while that process allows you to keep on going, a side effect is the accumulation of toxic byproducts in your muscle cells. Those byproducts are cleared out by the body’s lymphatic system, allowing you to resume normal function without any permanent damage.
The lymphatic system serves as the body’s custodian: Whenever waste is formed, it sweeps it clean. The brain, however, is outside its reach — despite the fact that your brain uses up about 20 percent of your body’s energy. How, then, does its waste — like beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease — get cleared? What happens to all the wrappers and leftovers that litter the room after any mental workout?
“Think about a fish tank,” says Dr. Nedergaard. “If you have a tank and no filter, the fish will eventually die. So, how do the brain cells get rid of their waste? Where is their filter?”
Cool, huh?
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Night Terrors," wasn't so off base (the entire crew is mysteriously robbed of R.E.M. sleep, which makes another ship kill each other after hallucinations drive them mad).

But the current state of snoring affairs is pretty bleak. With glowing technology, sleep doesn't get priority, and it is vital, on so many levels. 
At the extreme end, the result could be the acceleration of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While we don’t know whether sleep loss causes the disease, or the disease itself leads to sleep loss — what Dr. Veasey calls a “classic chicken-and-egg” problem — we do know that the two are closely connected. Along with the sleep disturbances that characterize neurodegenerative diseases, there is a buildup of the types of proteins that the glymphatic system normally clears out during regular sleep, like beta-amyloids and tau, both associated with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

The are some very, very, very blessed individuals (like my father, brother, and sister) who can lay down and pass out almost immediately, so for them, sleep deprivation isn't such a stressful issue ("I was up for five minutes in the night! Imagine!" Oh, boo-hoo.) But for many of us, sleep doesn't just happen, and should take note of what personal criteria have to be met to ensure dozing off. 

Screens, whether they be television, computer, or smartphone, emit what is known as "blue light," a wavelength that toys with the chemical mechanics of sleep, and should be shunned past a certain time (in my case, no exposure past 9. On Friday nights I fall asleep a lot quicker, and I think it is because I haven't been near blue light since early afternoon).
As Pesach-time approaches, remember that even the brain needs a proper clean-out, and treat yourself to an early tuck-in.    

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mind Benders

"I understand he is not what you are looking for, and that such-as-such is a big issue, but of course it is up to you, and I will not judge or force you in any way." 

"Thank you very much, but I don't think he is for me." 

She proceeded to judge me and attempted to force me, cloaked in seemingly reasonable phrases. 

Which displays a disturbing new trend, if it catches on: Shadchanim now using reverse psychology, utilizing good ol' fashioned Jewish guilt?  

Instead of the usual premise—"This guy is so wonderful that you must be high to refuse him"—they have now opted for: "Yes, he is of middling quality, but your destiny lies in your hands, do with it what you will." 

I still managed to wriggle my way out of that situation—it is easy to be forceful in e-mail, since I cannot maintain confrontation in person—but a chill crept along my spine that if the shadchanim have managed to grasp the nuances of psychological manipulation, there will be in the future a rise in bad dates and women faking headaches and men faking work emergencies.  

So gushed another: "Oh, you must go out with this one! He is such a catch!" 

"But what about that catch?" I pointed out a glaring issue. 

At that point she stopped trying, flatly stating in bland terms his dim qualifications. After poking and prodding me for a bit, she suddenly said, "Well, he's busy right now anyway." 


How did she expect me to react? "He's busy? Meaning another female that walks the planet may get her claws into this stranger? I've changed my mind; I now want him with every fiber of my being!" 

What am I, five? "My toy! Mine!"

My concern is that if this tactic had actually worked in the past, are such childish individuals are walking about masquerading as dateable adults?          

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Battle of the Bulge: A Calorie Is Not a Calorie

Considering the dirty looks I get in real life for chirping about healthful nosh, I'm starting to think that there must be a myriad of eye-rolls whenever I post about the topic. 

But I have accepted my role as the bad cop with equanimity, and shall continue to preach to the masses about "rabbit food." 

As Dr. Robert Lustig (author of Fat Chance) explains, the various sub-categories of energy (carbs, protein, fat, sugar) get processed by the body differently based on quality, as opposed to, well, crap.
I had read of Lustig's findings first in the Reader's Digest. He is still under grumbling attack, but look at any nutritional label and a good chunk of the time "high fructose corn syrup" is the second ingredient (ingredient lists run by most first downward; it's like pouring straight processed sugar down one's throat). 
I got a sweet tooth from my Zeidy, and while he did live well into his 80s, keep in mind the food available not so long ago didn't have such high levels of sugar as they do now, nor did he consume large quantities of anything.

When I began to really watch what goes into my bodily temple, I was flabbergasted by the information on nutritional labels. The only yogurt I consume now is Chobani Plain 2% Greek Yogurt (4 grams of sugar); the standard Yoplait has nearly 30 grams of sugar as well as chemical dyes for pretty color. 

Over time, the less sugar I consumed, the less I needed to be satisfied (the same concept works with salt and white flour). A fruit provides all the sweet I need, and I can make it to Shabbos (when I enjoy a slice or two of homemade, whole-wheat, apple sauce, evaporated cane juice cake) without feeling deprived at all.
Honeycrisps: They may look innocent, but they are a joy to consume.
The calorie count is not always where the danger lies; a low-sugar yogurt (like plain Greek yogurt) will have the same calories as other standard yogurts, but it is better for the body. 

My boss is literally falling apart way to young because he didn't take care of himself, and I can see it is from sixty years of bad foods; his heart is shot, he's diabetic, he's on twenty different pills, but still chugs diet soda by the gallon and subsists on fast food. 

He's a daily limping, wheezing, gray-hued reminder. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking Bread

"Apparently," Ma says, "I am supposed to do a 'challah party,' whatever that means." 

Ma has to occasionally to fend off unasked-for segulos to undo the "tragedy" that is my single state. 

You know my opinion of segulos. But I'll take it one step further. 

If something can be gained by shortcuts, is it worth having?

Consider the words of the venerable Yoda: "If you choose the quick and easy path . . . you will become an agent of evil."
Humans like new and shiny things; that is an evolutionary inclination. But we seem to forget that for God, Who is outside of space and time, there is no "new." He has seen it all, since He has created it all. 

When illness strikes, one could think, "Ah! I'll visit the kever of a rabbi and daven!" But in the meantime, her elderly mother is left alone for the afternoon. Sure, catering to one's parents may not be glamorous, but she is alive and needs to be cared for—and that is a mitzvah, as well as a priceless zechus

There is no textual backup for davening at the kever of someone who has no connection to you (there is only in the case of visiting one's own "bones," one's own ancestors). It may be different, it may be interesting, but that is not what God has asked of you. He told us what He wants, very clearly. It is not up to our small human minds to "improve" upon His requirements; we were told quite explicitly not to add or to subtract from the laws of our faith.

If someone becomes sick, our first, natural reaction is to pray. We apportion Tehillim, we apply extra fervor to our Shmoneh Esreis. Of course we should daven. But we have lost the true true intent of praying for another. 
The Chovos Halevavos writes that the purpose of tefilah is not to change the Ribono Shel Olam's mind but rather to change ourselves. It is to bring us to the realization that our fate is completely dependent on His will and that we can only survive through His mercy. The very act of tefilah elevates, exalts and transforms us, so that we're no longer the same people as we were before . . .
But the question remains. If tefilah works only because it transforms the one who davens and thereby changes his destiny, how does tefilah for other people work? . . . 
I asked this question to Rav Elya Lopian, and he gave me a very succinct answer. "When people daven for another person, they become like his talmidim in that he is the catalyst for them to gain merit." 
In other words, whenever a person causes a good thing, whether consciously or unconsciously, he gains merit. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, With Hearts Full of Love, Page 267
It's not about "storming the gates of heaven." This is God we're talking about, not a cackling Mr. Burns. We're thinking of Hashem in the wrong way, as though He is a vindictive pagan deity who has to be convinced. 

Prayer for its own sake does nothing. If we mumble and rattle off the words, does it change us or the world? We have to focus, and that is hard.

And after that, what is the next thing? 

"Teshuva, u'tefilah, u'tzedakah maavirin es roah ha'gezeirah." We attempt the first, definitely attack the second, but we forget about the third. Tzedakah is usually translated as "charity," but it literally means "justice." 

"Justice" is how we treat others. Justice is helping another human being, who breathes, who hurts. Our first deference is to the living, to their souls as well as bodies. 

"What if," Ma said, "instead of organizing 'challah parties,' we each made a point not to say one hurtful thing to someone a day? Then, after a while, we can move that up to two hurtful things, left unsaid?"

Anyone with a sense of history will realize that when it comes to the mundane of the day-to-day, our generation has had it easier than any other ever before. (I don't have to launch into a rendition of "Food, Glorious Food," do I?)

But we expect that same level of comfort for even the tough stuff. We want the dazzling entertainment of newly discovered segulos, instead of hurdling ourselves into major internal renovation, which calls for strength of will and consistent concentration. 

If we don't establish our existential foundations with vital values, there will be cracks and faulty wiring. We must go back, go back to what was codified by the ancients as the true path, before haring down unofficial roads.    

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Obviously, a man who does that is also a man of tremendous character.

There is a clip where he is speaking to his football team. He exhorts them: "Serve your families! Serve your families!"

A simple statement, but it cut me to the core.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hear Me Out

This topic will unleash all sorts of controversy, but I think I can handle the debate. 

I don't think Hermione should have ended up with Ron. 

There, I said it. 

J.K. Rowling traumatized fans everywhere last month when she revealed that a marriage between Hermione and Harry would have been a better bet. This admission was quickly amended that with counseling, Hermione and Ron could be a viable couple. 

When I first read the books I was puzzled at the bread crumbs that built up to Hermione's and Ron's romance. Mind you, I like to pair up characters, but frankly, I never saw her with Harry either. 

Hermione is an intellectual, logical, and methodical. She's an academic star, brilliant to behold, a quenchless seeker of knowledge. She has always been a true friend, and if she ever has any complaints, they are justified. She's friggin' awesome.
Ron is all emotion, constantly getting offended and childishly nursing grudges. He doesn't always prove to be a loyal friend, and his recurring jealousy of Harry's fame despite the fact it was none of his doing and cost him his family is rather tedious. Never mind that embarrassing Lavender Brown ("Won-Won!") debacle just to get back at Hermione and Harry for their own love lives. Worse, he is a middling student.

Hermione is entitled to a spouse with whom she can have stimulating conversation. Ron couldn't stand Hermione's know-it-all-ness initially, if we may recall, and it was only through Harry's efforts and dragging Ron along to save her from the troll that cemented her place in the group. 

What would the two talk about? Ron would probably be in a sulk about something or other ("I got overlooked again at the office") while Hermione attempts to cajole him into a better mood with S.P.E.W. progress, leading to a fight where Ron says that because she is muggle-born she'll never understand, she bellows back that he is a thick-headed unimaginative troll . . . 

But I never saw her with Harry either. I find their closeness to be rather fraternal, devoid of chemistry. 

Who did I see Hermione with? 

Viktor Krum, of course. 

In the book (as opposed to the movie), Viktor was an average-looking chap ("He looked like an overgrown bird of prey") whose accomplishments were not restricted to extreme broom talents. In order to get his name churned out of the Goblet of Fire, he must have been adept in more areas than sports.
He eschews the giggling fans in favor of the demure smart girl, meaning he is drawn to brains. Despite his public persona, he possesses an endearing shyness which belies his worldliness; it took him many tries before he was able to broach Hermione in conversation. In the library! Her haven! What could be more apt setting for Hermione to be wooed?
As a Quidditch celebrity he had been introduced to many a female, yet he told Hermione that he'd "never felt the same way about anyone else," at which admission Hermione blushes in delight. (As a sidebar, he invites her to Bulgaria, a beautiful travel destination.)

I found a whole dissertation on the matter online, concluding that Viktor detected an attraction in Hermione for Harry (beyond Rita Skeeter's printed lies); I would still posit that the two are like siblings, not boyfriend/girlfriend. 

Hermione is an only child; Harry is an only child. A friendship bordering on the familial is not absurd. Hermione, as any sister would, never misses an opportunity to cheer Harry on, but it does not follow that she did not like Viktor enough "that way." Viktor confronted Harry about a possible history between the two, which Harry finds inconceivable; never, ever does Harry view Hermione in any sort of romantic light. 

Therefore, for me:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shoulder Devil

I have my petty, embarrassing moments. Even though I make a point to live in the moment, to find happiness and contentment in the mundane routine that I thrive on, that cackling shoulder-devil somehow manages to wriggle out of his leash and murmur into my ear.
Seasonally, an entire roster of available eligibles pair off. Nearly every day there is another chirpy e-mail from the shul, burbling with the merry news that so-and-so is engaged to such-and-such. The little red horned fellow digs his sharp nails into my neck, inciting my frustration and ingratitude.

But I know, I really do know, that my existence is blessed. 

So many others that I had believed were coccooned in bliss and calm—they were actually being flattened with worry and fear. Then whatever childish jealousies I had nourished are augmented by guilt; do I really require the sadness of others to find life meaningful? Am I that person? 

Richard H. Smith's "The Joy of Pain" (reviewed by Christie Aschwanden), tackles schadenfreude, of course beginning with its evolutionary purpose (animals are prone to it as well). 

It is quite disturbing that if there are those out there that we perceive as "higher" than us, down they must come. Not just the ones who are seemingly more successful, but even the ones who appear as "better" human beings as well. 
We take extra delight when schadenfreude seems deserved, as it does when the person’s higher status damages our self-image. Research by Benoît Monin, a Stanford social psychologist, shows that the mere presence of a vegetarian can make omnivores feel morally inferior, as they anticipate judgment.
“Vegetarians need not say a word; their very existence, from a meat eater’s point of view, is a moral irritant,” Dr. Smith writes. Discovering hypocrisy in the high-minded person eases this irritation, so catching a vegetarian devouring a hunk of meat gives steak lovers a burst of schadenfreude: “We are not as inferior as we were led to believe; now we can assume the contrasting position of moral superiority.”
But this also runs the other way. When others are "lower" than us, that is a comforting balm to our insecurities. 

Rabbi Berel Wein has told over this story a number of times; a member of his congregation who was prone to tardiness felt inspired by a speech and decided to put more effort in coming to shul promptly. But no one would let it go. "Aaaah, your wife threw you out of bed?" and other charming comments. What can a man do? He stopped trying to improve. 

Schadenfreude's root is in plain old insecurity. Everything is a personal affront—someone else's home, car, schedule, social circle, and so on—all manifesting as vindictive jabs to our sense of worthiness, our—ahem, my—ego translating a couple's engagement as judgement on my value.
But it's not about me. My life is my life; it has been calculated from Above for my own specific needs, and I can only focus on that which I can control, which is remodeling the interior, bit by bit.

I don't want to be capable of compassion only when someone else's scandal is vomited onto the media. I don't want to be threatened when someone else finds purpose and joy. I don't want to feel validated only when someone else slips on the hypothetical banana peel. 

I want to practice empathy on its own merits.     

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

8 Feet 2 Inches of Feathery Heaven

"I have a great guy for you. He's 6'3"!" 


"And . . ?"

"Um, he's 6'3"!"

Golly gee, I have noticed that I am taller than most women. Yet as I proved with enough men, height is no indicator of compatibility. Take a happily married couple of fifty years, and ask them what was the basis of their long and steady relationship; chances are it is not going to be "Well, we both have green eyes."

A few years ago I had read an article in either Bazaar or Vogue about a really tall gal (taller than me), who stumbles across a man a foot taller than her. Bliss! They merrily date, objects of amusement to passerby—best of all, she can wear heels! Divinity!

Until that fateful lunch when she realized: They have nothing to talk about. Nothing. Height does not a timeless bond make. 

I am interested in character; I really don't mind if Han doesn't tower over me. Ironically, in my experience, guys take my height as a personal affront. I wonder if the Star Trek: TNG episode "Angel One," where all the male crew drool over the tall women of the planet, was just an elaborate hoax at my expense.
He finds her height so alluring he doesn't want to return to Earth!
As we know with shidduch profiles, misinformation proliferates. Male descriptions of their own height tend to be . . . exaggerated.

However, no one has, as yet, been able to accurately describe a potential date with any form of accuracy when it comes to personality. "Nice" guys have, in many cases, caused Webster's Dictionary to wail in defeat. Vocabulary takes on a whole new dimension when dating. 

In my narrow criteria of seeking a mind-marriage (not a mind-meld, although that would be pretty cool), no one can truly confirm the actual criteria I desire. Who can testify to another's intellect? The guy whose mother asked if I was an intellectual, but he couldn't handle any of the miscellaneous trivia I have rattling about in my brain? 

Therefore, the only way to know what someone is like is to actually have a conversation with them. Tedious, but true; it must be done.

But I still need a little more information than his height. If that's all I cared about, my ideal spouse would be Big Bird.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We're All Insane

In life, sometimes there are simple statements that just change everything. One of my favorites is from Dr. Phil: 

Which segues into: 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

Whenever I overhear a mother endlessly attempting to reason with her mutinous child, I feel exhausted for her. "Has that ever worked before?" Ma says tiredly. (If your kid is whining "I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty. I'mthiiiirsty," for the ENTIRE megillah leining, I'm going to have a sneaking suspicion this was not a first-time occurrence.)

Or how some people cook. Some women regularly slave over a stove, feverishly churning out gargantuan portions of various "delicacies" that doesn't appeal to her family, then being—again!—flummoxed at the quantity of leftovers. 

Then there is that whole "friend" racket. "I just don't understand why my friend would do that," is a common refrain. The problem is in vocabulary: You call her "friend", but she doesn't understand "loyalty", so by basic definition, she is not a "friend".

These are but a few of a myriad examples when we sometimes have to pause and get real. We often don't truly grasp how much public opinion insinuates into our private thought-process. But our lives are about us, as individuals, and we all have to become aware as to our needs and our wants, which differ, person to person.    
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I had this thought in regards to Purim. Our Purim story has all the trappings of a fairy tale; a mighty king, a mustachio-twirling villain, a good queen, a wise adviser.
But it's not in the typical Grimm format. Our good queen didn't want to be queen. Let's consider that a moment.

The rest of Persia certainly wouldn't comprehend it. Any five-year-old today wouldn't. You don't want to be queen? Are you high?

Even how Mordechai cautions Esther from shielding her ethnicity. Today we are all about being loud, proud, and Jewish, to the point we think it is a halachic directive to wear a yarmulka on the street with tzitzis flapping in the wind. But Esther had to stay frum on the sly. What would that have been like?    

As I have learned from Rabbi David Fohrman, because we have heard our collective saga on a loop since we were three, we accept the retellings as though even they knew the ending. They didn't. They made choices based on the impossible situations they were in, and they didn't have the option of politically correctness. 

If a method isn't working, don't strain and sweat trying to square the circle. Take a step back. Think again. 

As long as we are willing to acknowledge the faulty and attempt to improve, the solution may be simpler than we realize

Monday, March 17, 2014

Authoress: Edna Ferber

In my list of Favorite Musicals, there is one that did not make the cut: Showboat (1951).
I do not like misery. I do not like it at all. To me, film (and most books, unless exquisitely written) should be about pleasant escapism. Bright colors, noble heroines, chivalrous men, gorgeous wardrobes. 

Showboat did not appease me that way. Sure, the movie ends with scraping violins and a soaring chorus as the reunited couple slowly walk off the scene, but Julie is abandoned to a tragic end. Ah, no, no, not watching this again. 

When Edna Ferber's name came up in my newspaper browsing, I made a note to take out a book of hers, as a trial run. I am constantly on the search for charming writers of historical fiction, but I must admit my expectations were modest. My library supplied a 663-page collection of three of her novels, the first being Showboat

Well! So it was she I could blame for that travesty of entertainment! Unless, perhaps the movie houses did what they always do, which is maul lofty works? I decided to grant her the benefit of the doubt.
As a reader, I am less concerned with plot lines, more obsessed with the quality of prose. While authors like, say, Ken Follet can provide a gripping story, I wince at his choice of words. The dialogue, oh dear me, and the characters . . . so vague.

The sheer beauty of Ferber's narrative made me believe again in the art of the written word; her craft is simply stunning. As I suspected, MGM had slashed through her masterpiece, removing all her poetic humor and character development. Even the song "Ol' Man River" is a defiance of her pen, since the Mississippi River is constantly referred to as "she," not "he," in the literary Showboat.

I continued on to the second book, So Big, which won the Pulitzer. I like neat conclusions tied up with a red bow; despite the dangling strings, I found it even more consuming than Showboat. This was a moral tale, that of Art vs. Artifice, Beauty vs. Big Money, Truth vs. Falsehood. 

Curious about this new woman in my life, I glanced at her Wikipedia profile. Not only was she Jewish, her father was Hungarian. No wonder this constant conversation over visual loveliness; her heritage probably involved avid awareness of aesthetics.

She did not mention Jews much, except in one autobiographical novel, Fanny Herself. That's next on my reading list.   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Don't Look at Me

Before we begin, here is a (clean) video of Jon Stewart interviewing Jason Bateman. It gets quite funny. Enjoy. 

"What would you like to do? Get some drinks or grab some dinner?" 

"Whatever you like.

"But what do you want to do?" 

"I don't care; you pick." 

"But what do YOU want to do?" 

Buddy, you can ask me as many times as you like, I am not budging. 

While my basic math skills leave much to be desired, one thing I do know is that drinks < dinner, wampum-wise. Therefore, I am not going to spend another's money. I won't be that gal who demands a three-course meal and then some dessert. Ah, dessert.

But to be honest, I hate going out for drinks. I avoid alcohol and try to shun soda, but seltzer doesn't quite give the energy needed for light yet tense chit-chat, so I end up sipping morosely on a ginger ale and praying my teeth survive the abuse.

However, I will never admit that. I will serenely withstand his demands for a decision, since he is the courtier, I am at his mercy, not the other way around. 

Feed me, don't feed me, just don't make me shake out your wallet, thereby giving you the excuse to complain to the shadchan that I proved to be an expensive date. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lessons From a Former Tomato

Shaun White, snowboarder extraordinaire, was being profiled in the New York Times, probably to help sell his new image (shorn of his trademark locks).
There were three points I found interesting:

(1) Along with the triple cork, White has been trying to learn life lessons like: If you’re nice to somebody, they tell three people; if you’re a jerk, they tell 10.

That is pretty much self-explanatory. 

(2) Still, White says, some have asked why he doesn’t just drop slopestyle, which has been dogging him to no end, and focus on the halfpipe and his business life, which he clearly loves. But White sees danger in not pushing himself hard. “I set out to do both events, and I don’t want to change my focus. It’s like you’re on a diet, and it’s no carbs, and then you eat a carb. It’s slippery slope, just half a sandwich. You lower your expectation, and there you go.”

White spends a fair amount of time these days assessing himself. His current appraisal: “Maybe things aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than they were before.

Complacency is when bad things happen. I find that there really is no state of static; there is only moving forwards, or falling back. After triumphantly conquering a flaw, unless the next one is tackled, the past will encroach, bit by bit, then lunge while the prey is blissfully unaware.
I'm not talking about aiming for perfection. If you shoot for perfection, you will never, ever hit the target. Just be real about what part of you needs tinkering, and sight for better. That target has a chance of getting hit.  

(3) Part of Yokomoto’s job is to keep White on track while at the same time reminding him that everybody has hard times. “He’ll allude to some high-profile person and say, ‘I just got off the phone, and they have bigger problems than you do, trust me,’ ” White told me. He finds this therapeutic. “It’s like when you see a couple, and you’re like: Why are they so happy? Why am I not? It’s funny. It’s nice to learn those things now.

That mentality shouldn't be encouraged. I would say it is less about hoping that everyone is more miserable than you, but more the understanding that everyone has their own burdens, some heavier, some lighter, and we are all the same in that.

I don't want to be the person wallowing in schadenfreude. But rather than putting up a wall between yourself and the world—that they have it easy while you have it hard—that's divisive, not conducive to achdus

The trick? Brené Brown, baby. Practice gratitude; it is impossible to have joy without it.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Heaven vs. Hell

I have never liked situations where I am the center of attention. After butchering the Yiddish version of the Mah Neshtana in front of a tableful of guests when I was four (the hysterical laughter haunts me to this day), I have avoided the limelight. I had one major birthday party when I was six, but it was mostly a get-together for my aunts, uncles, and cousins rather than being in my honor (all the kids were seated in the kitchen, including me). I opted out of a bas mitzvah shindig.

It was around my 20th birthday, I think; I was out with my siblings in a restaurant for an unrelated occasion. But at dessert a troupe of waiters filed out, bearing a cupcake with a sparkling candle; all the servers gathered 'round and belted out "Happy Birthday."


My beloved sister twirled to face me, awaiting my gushing appreciation, greeted with a face as red as Ruby Woo. Teeth gritted in a false grin, I hissed, "I am going to kill you."

She didn't seem to comprehend my furious embarrassment; my sis is the type who enjoys such things. I am not. 

It is interesting, no?, how what is heaven to one is hell to another.

My idea of a vindictive universe would be any sort of situation where more than two people are watching me intently; presentations in college were, to me, a trial from Above.
Classmates sailed through their public speaking without batting a lash; their delivery was natural and conversational while I sweatily clung to my typed sheets and robotically rattled off that which I had spent hours memorizing. I wonder what their idea of torture is.

At my nephew's shalom zachor, his other Zeidy sat quietly at the other end of the room with one of his sons, eschewing the chatty social scene. An onlooker professed her disbelief. "Well, if he wants to be a miserable human being . . ." she snorted. 

He's not miserable. He's just not you. His idea of fun is to potter about an empty house and fix loose doorknobs. He can put together a kitchen from a box, then take it apart again if it is off by a few millimeters without considering it a "job." 

It probably did not occur to the other person that maybe he considers her "miserable" for needing others to enjoy herself. Different strokes and all that.   

Reference The King's Speech; Bertie (George VI) loathed the spotlight, and that tension threw his stammer into high gear. His therapist Lionel Logue, however, once an aspiring actor, craved that which his client hated, wistfully looking on as the King reluctantly waves to his adoring people.
If I was presented with a sparkling cupcake accompanied by serenading waiters, I would think God is sending me a rebuke. If another was sent the same, she may believe God is granting her a gift. 

He's got a lot of personal quirks to keep track of.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Battle of the Bulge: Diet Rules the Day

O Magazine, March 2013

The Last Word on Exercise vs. Diet

The workout proponent admitted that weight loss can be achieved by diet alone, but advocated exercise in terms of maintaining muscle and bone density. Muscle takes up less room than fat, so while the scale may not have such a low number, one is still trimmer. Exercise has a number of health benefits, like good sleep, lowering cholesterol and stress.

According to Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic:

As a rule of thumb, weight loss is 75% diet and 20% exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart. On average, people who dieted without exercising for 15 weeks lost 23 pounds; the exercisers lost only 6 over about 21 weeks. It's much easier to cut calories than to burn them off. For example, if you eat a fast-food steak quasadilla, which can pack 500+ calories, you need to run more than four miles to "undo" it.

So, what should you eat? It's true that low-carb diets tend to be most popular because they offer fastest results, but they can be difficult to sustain. I recommend striving for a more balanced plan that focuses on fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole-grain carbs. And never cut calories too low (this causes your metabolism to slow, and you can start losing muscle mass). For a healthy daily calorie count, allow 10 calories per pound of body weight - so a 150-pound woman should shoot for a 1,500-calorie target. That way you should be able to lose weight no matter how much you exercise.

The Last Word: While diet and exercise are both important for long-term weight loss, remember this: "You can't out-exercise a bad diet," says Talbott.

I still am often unpleasantly surprised how little calories are burned by physical effort. I can spend a day huffing and puffing in exertion but if I have eaten badly as well, no dice. My body is only impressed when I partake of small suppers.

One can't argue with the scale.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fleeing Purim

"I'm going to Miami for Purim," the lady said to her friend, a rolling suitcase in hand. "I just can't do it anymore." 

When one is little, one takes their childhood at face value. Add that concept to my high gullibility quotient, it was quite a shock when I first exposed to the Freak-Out-Over-Purim (FOOP).
FOOP symptoms usually involve copious amounts of screaming. The screaming is very important. "Where's the matching aqua tissue paper for the 'Under the Sea' basket? I can't use red!"

This is how we spent every Purim: 

Ma would make a few mishloach manos. For the grandparents and her aunts and uncles, containing a fruit, a baked good, maybe a small bottle of grape juice.

I never gave to classmates. When I was little I didn't know kids could exchange. One year I gave to a morah only because she was so needy.

Early in the day, after we heard Ta lein the megillah, we'd pile into the car and head out to visit family. Purim was the one day a year that was devoted to great-aunts and -uncles; my siblings and I would sit quietly, munching on a néni's stale sponge cake (it was probably in the freezer since Simchas Torah), while Ma caught up with them in flying Hungarian. Then the money would dribble in, all for a peck on a wrinkled cheek.

We would come home in the dark of night, our front doorstep covered in mishloach manos. No, we did not go frantically over in the morning to give back. Motzei Purim runs straight into Pesach cleaning, and no one ever mentioned how they were unreciprocated. Why would they want one? Something else to throw out?


1) Everyone is happy to give mishloach manos

2) No one wants to receive them. 

If you don't give to every single neighbor or friend, no one will hold it against you. No one will shun your children if they don't give to every single classmate—kids, one may recall, have pretty limited memory. Overdosing on sugar the previous day helps.

It is also so wasteful since everyone just exchanges junk that will get tossed before Pesach anyway, as Doni Joszef vividly describes. 

There is always option B: Don't answer the door after giving out your requirement, which is two edible items to one person. Or, option C: Usually little kids are sent to the door in their parents' stead; they'll be ecstatic with a dollar or two in compensation for their messenger services.

Purim is yontif, and can be fulfilled quite well without an original poem tying in the pirate theme. Purim is supposed to be enjoyed, and not everyone enjoys the current state of affairs.
Impressive, but not the necessary minimum.
Sure, there are a number amongst us who merrily compose hundreds of divine goody baskets and happily dress their offspring in perfectly matching costumes and pen a witty gramen all without a single raised voice. Ladies, I salute you. But you are, it must be acknowledged, a rare breed.

Children would rather have calm and collected parents on a holiday as opposed to FOOPed and frazzled ones. If we make yontif into a chore as opposed to a happy day, what will the next generation be taught? That even our celebrations are tedious?  

If you are dreading Purim, put your foot down. Do that which you can handle. It's okay. No one cares. If they do, then question their sanity, not your own. 

It's also much cheaper than flying to Miami.