Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Links

And you thought Jewish singles had it tough. 30,000 possibilities at a singles event? Hoo-ee. 

Did you do your good deed for the day?
 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sleep, the Magic Drug

I'm serious about sleep. I need it the way an infant does, and I cry if I don't get it, the way an infant does. Every evening, I slowly power down like an obsolete computer, complete with checklist. No liquids past 7:30. TV off at 9. 15-30 minutes of reading, in dim, non-stimulating lighting. 

I can then reboot to greet the new day early and cheerfully.
http://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/05/LionKingLyrics.jpg
Ergo, I am always a tad baffled when conversing with those who sleep in short, casual sequences: typically, guys. Many, many a date has told me these exact words: "Sleep? Five hours, that's all I need." Uh-huuuuuh. 

I couldn't help but think of these fellows when perusing an interview of Arianna Huffington and Kobe Bryant.

Philip Galenes (interviewer): Next up: Sleep. How much do you get?

KB: I’ve grown. I used to get by on three or four hours a night. I have a hard time shutting off my brain. But I’ve evolved. I’m up to six to eight hours now.

PG: What changed?

KB: Growing up and understanding the importance of shutting down and unwinding.

AH: Which is huge in a culture where people brag about how little sleep they get, like a macho thing: “Oh, I only need four hours.” And it coincides with the new science about the connections between sleep and health, cleaning out the toxins of the day, the connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s.

PG: Sounds like a miracle drug.

AH: But I was one of the delusional ones. It wasn’t until my wake-up call of collapsing from exhaustion in 2007 that I started prioritizing sleep.

PG: Any sleep rituals?

AH: My transition is a hot bath and absolutely no devices. All phones and computers are escorted out of my bedroom at least an hour before bed. And real books that have nothing to do with work.

Getting too little sleep results in . . . well, death, new studies are showing. Our bodies and minds need it. Claiming to be above sleep is just macho posturing. Macho posturing rarely ends well. 

I've heard from a number of people how they suffer from insomnia and are simply bad sleepers, but when I ask them what their sleep ritual is, they have none. Makeup doesn't just happen, healthy diets doesn't just happen, being fit doesn't just happen, and sleep doesn't just happen. There's even a term for it: sleep hygiene. If there is a nightly protocol, it works, studies also show.
http://www.shalomlife.com/img/2014/07/24593/funny_sleeping_4_.jpg
Now how attractive is that?
Pack away anything with a screen, read or meditate to clear the mind, 3 mg of melatonin prior can also help, and go to bed and get up the same time.

It's okay. You can still be cool and sleep seven hours a night. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's Not You, It's Not Me

"Thank you, really, for thinking of me, but he's just not for me."
 
"But why don't you want to go out with him again?" 

"Thank you, really, for thinking of me, but he's just not for me."

"But why?"

I keep verbally dancing back and forth, continuing to thank, refusing to detail. Please don't make me say why. 

What I really, really, really hate about dating is how it forces me to judge people. I, the self-professed loather of labels, am now the owner of a theoretical label-maker. 

"Eeeeeh, look at his information. He's way too yeshivish/modern/I don't know what that is, but it's not me." 

"Eeeeeh, look at his Facebook page. Look how he chooses to present himself, knowing girls who are redt to him will see this." 

"Eeeeeh. Just 'eeeeeh.'"

Some things can't be articulately defined. Very often, I have a sense before the date, but it's not a valid enough excuse to opt out, so go on the date anyway. And, I was . . . right. 

"But why?" 

 People rarely believe me, but when I went on my first date at 19, I had it all figured out: Marriage is based on a choice, and therefore I can marry anyone and make a good life. 

B'H, I got wise. Eventually.

Yes, marriage does involve choice, but it is also a wee bit more complicated than that (the Gemara backs that up). It's not so simple, whatever anyone says. Matching up two people for life shouldn't be simple, if you think about it.

I want to be able to crawl through this minefield without beredting anyone. Let's be honest, beredting will happen. Maybe one out of twenty was a wonderful guy but just not for me. The other nineteen . . . well, what did I ever do to them to get treated like discarded gum? 

Don't demand that I explain my reasons, just to defend them point by point. This is not a debate. Issues won't magically evaporate in a "Well, in that case . . ."

I will thank you for thinking of me. And I am (often) very grateful. Someone made a potentially awkward effort on my behalf, and I do appreciate it. 

Your suggestion has someone out there for him who will not have the complaints that I do. She won't be bothered by what I am bothered. She will be able to drop the label-maker, smashing it to bits. 

Which is what I want to do.       

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Friend-ship, Not Friend-ing

The word "friend" seems to have lost its meaning. The title's potency has diminished over the centuries, and getting verbed by Facebook was the final nail on the coffin. When I looked it up in the dictionary, the definition was rather dispassionate. 
http://marlarmiller.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/calvinhobbes_friends.jpg
Is it just me, or should "friendship" evoke a great attachment, a sincere mutuality of love and caring? A friend is not merely someone with whom to go shopping and a movie. A friend is not the poor sucker you call up and kvetch to after an unpleasant annoyance, then don't contact when something good happens or when the other could use an empathetic ear. A friend is not someone who has a place in another's life only when it's convenient.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7VK4E1Wm7MU/Ugof6oZoy7I/AAAAAAAAAI4/cjWzFcWWmUg/s1600/Fake-Friend.jpg
Friendship is not a one-sided state of being. It shouldn't serve only half. It should bring out the best in both parties, not the worst. It should mean fierce loyalty and deep compassion.

David Brooks' "Startling Adult Friendships" lists the benefits of friendships (better decisions, freedom to be oneself, improved character). I tried to think of those examples in real life, not just in terms of my own relationships, but of others. I couldn't really come up with any couple that I have observed in its natural habitat that truly represented selfless, transcendent friendship. 
In the first place, friendship helps people make better judgments. So much of deep friendship is thinking through problems together: what job to take; whom to marry.
You know how many times I read in frum forums: "I met this great girl/guy. I'm so happy. My friend, though, says I'm making a mistake, but doesn't give me any reasons why." 

Are those "friends" really looking out for their swooning pal, or are they simply jealous and fear being alone after their chum prances off into the sunset? 

Brooks' solution—if he was magically granted millions, mind you—would be to built a friendship retreat, mixing up a diverse group of individuals and allowing them to get to know each other. 

While friendship does need time and joint activities to form, just because twenty people are thrown together doesn't necessarily guarantee a relationship. "See you soon, keep in touch" is uttered often, but rarely the promise is practiced. Friendships cannot be forced. There is an element of bashert, there, too. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Cheater's Way

Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten ("The Barefoot Contessa"), and Rachael Ray were cooking together on a talk show. Each of them topped their dishes with copious fistfuls of parmesan cheese.
http://media.mnn.com/sites/default/files/user-2855/gnocchi_cheese.jpg
Besides for my annoyance at this traifening of potentially kosher meat dishes, I consider parmesan cheese to be the cheater's way out of cooking. Let's be honest: Shredded cardboard would taste fabulous if flavored with that much cheese.

When watching true chefs, like Jacques Pépin (Fast Food My Way, Essential Pépin) and my newly discovered runner-up, Michael Smith (Chef at Home), parmesan rarely gets any screen time. They concoct supreme deliciousness without relying on—in my opinion—the cheater's way out by adding unnecessary sodium and calories.

I am equally unwelcoming to soy sauce, in which one tablespoon contains at least one-third of the daily value of sodium. The reduced version brings it down to one-quarter. 
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-MGTR5poONHU/UMfvOA8c-MI/AAAAAAAAAUY/RtA3V8LyDQc/s1600/kikkoman+low+sodium+soy+sauce.jpg
Via guymeetswok.blogspot.com
Food does not have to be salty, fatty, or cheesy in order to dance upon the tip of the tongue. It does require a little technique, an awareness of what general flavors work well together, a willingness to learn, and a dash of patience. Sometimes one even discovers an easier, yet tastier, way of doing things.

Example: For years, Ma would mince onions before sautéing, which can be a hassle. But from Laura Calder (French Food at Home), not even one of her usual quotable television chefs, she learned that simply slicing the onions thinly—into half-moons—results in a different, yet heavenly result. 
http://ohmyveggies.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/thinly_sliced_onions_close.jpg
Via ohmyveggies.com
She also found out that by mixing a serious spoonful of paprika (regular and smoked) into the oil gives her staple paprikás fabulous flavor. 
https://www.eurofooddeals.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/SZEGED-HUNGARIAN-PAPRIKA-MILD.jpg
Ma is a fan of shortcuts; it could be said, even, that she often cheats. But her cheats results in succulent, yet nourishing, meals.   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Baba Ganoush

Eggplant has been an under-appreciated vegetable in my house. Ma's lecho/ratatoullie always featured zucchini alone. Until recently, it never even crossed the threshold.

It was at my sister's house that Ma was introduced to baba ganoush, albeit store-bought. She frankly admitted that it was the mayonnaise content, but she was taken. 

Well, why couldn't we make our own? 

It was a gradual process, pinpointing the seasoning we like for our tame Ashkenazi palates. After some experimenting, we concocted a version that suits us quite well. 

Like the happy-accidental incorporation of roasted orange pepper. After cleaning out Mrs. H's supply on a visit to her house, it became clear we dig roasted orange pepper, which is now a Shabbos staple. Since the eggplant and the pepper are in the oven at the same time, why not chuck some into the baba ghanoush?

For those not familiar with nutritional yeast, allow me to acquaint the two of you. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is chock full of nutrients while being a complete protein. "Nooch" has a cheesy, salty flavor while conveniently pareve and devoid of actual sodium. (I've heard it's great on popcorn.)
https://www.navanfoods.com/files/imagecache/product_full/Red%20Star%20Nutrl%20Yeast.jpg
Most baba ganoush recipes call for tahini, but hey, we're Hungarians. I used mayo instead, obviously much less than the store-bought version. But after a sisterly visit, a container of tahini was left behind (her kids dig dips), much to Ta's delight. I purchased a jar online to compare the flavors.

Apple cider vinegar is one of those miraculous entities that supposedly cure everything. I use it on my hair and my face, and in my food. I've been using it to pickle my cucumber salad, to flavor cooked beets, and now, for baba ganoush.

Tool of choice: I hate using a blender for this—actually, I hate blenders altogether—although if you don't have an immersion blender, get two. 
http://images.amazon.com/images/G/01/kitchen/serenahe/APlus/GROUP_CSB76._V165199016_.jpg
Cleanup is much, much easier than with blenders.  (Chef Michael Smith whips up his smoothies, marinades, dressings, everything with a ball jar with and an immersion blender.)      

Baba Ganoush

2 medium eggplants
1 or 2 orange peppers
1 head of garlic
Squirt of Sriracha sauce (or hot sauce, chili sauce)
Hefty shakes of nutritional yeast
Dollop of mayo or tahini
Splash of apple cider vinegar 
Black pepper, just a touch

Cut eggplant any which way, stab all over with a fork, and place in pan to roast in the oven. Cut off the top of the garlic head, exposing the cloves within, drizzle in oil, and wrap in foil. Chop up the orange pepper, toss in oil, black pepper, and garlic powder (that way it tastes awesome in and out of the baba ganoush). 

After an hour or so, if everything looks nice and roasted, take everything out. (I would recommend waiting for it to cool but who actually waits?) Scrape the flesh off the eggplant skin, although if any clings on that's fine. The flavor is pretty awesome in the skin, too.

Blend together. Tastes better after chillin' in the fridge for a bit. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Boogeyman

The Ebola sourge has, b'H, passed. Not so many months ago Ebola was decimating Africa, inspiring Americans to go bonkers. 
 http://blogs-images.forbes.com/dandiamond/files/2014/10/la-na-nn-ebola-missionary-emory-atlanta-arrive-20140805-1940x10331.jpeg
There were a number of articles about the misapplied terror over a possible U.S. Ebola outbreak. The ones that I noted were "Scarier Than Ebola" by Frank Bruni; "The Quality of Fear" by David Brooks; and "What Are You So Afraid Of?" by Akiko Busch. 

Bruni dryly lists the more common dangers to Americans that appear to be unnoticed: flu mortality rates (which could be rectified by actually getting the flu shot), car crash victims (more than 50% die unbuckled), and the top cancer, skin (have you been on a summer beach lately? They splay themselves on the sand and roast). And what the hell is it with people not vaccinating their kids?!

Brooks attempts to explain the Ebola frenzy by delving into the current cultural mindset: our "segmented society"; those who are averse to globalization; instant news; and our fear of the inevitable, death. All those factors, Brooks writes, festered into a perfect storm of fear.

Busch utilizes the Ebola reaction to write about the concept of fear itself. Fear originates in the biological drive to survive, flight-or-fight. But it seems completely arbitrary in how it grips; childhood experiences can cripple adults, who ignore more frightening matters that require immediate damage control. 
We have clear directives about what is really worth our fear. Participants in the real parade of horrors include radical changes in the carbon cycle, the rate of species extinction, extreme weather, genetically modified food, institutional financial misconduct that puts our security at risk. The archive of very real menaces threatening us now is so full, it would seem we hardly know how to choose what to be scared of.
Except that we do choose, and what we choose are generally the ordinary fears such as heights, public speaking, insects, reptiles. They are all things that have about as much chance of harming us as the characters behind some of this season’s top trending scary costumes: zombies, werewolves and cast members from “Duck Dynasty.”
Confession: I hate the dark. I require it to sleep, but being out at night really gets to me. I'm ecstatic when the daytime is extended, when I can arrive home from work with a touch of sunlight illuminating my path. 

I know (now) that there are no such thing as spontaneously generating monsters under my bed. But my feet remained fully protected, every night. If they protrude from the blanket, I frantically cover them again. It's insane and ridiculous and pointless, but glancing at my family tree, I shall forever shield my toes from nightly exposure. 
http://img542.imageshack.us/img542/1406/monsters2.png
We all have our own skeletons of horror rattling in our heads. But we shouldn't allow them to distract us from the really important matters that must be tackled. Additionally, we shouldn't allow ourselves to become unduly absorbed in the un-important. (Yes, I'm talking about you, "shidduch crisis.")
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
— "The Litany Against Fear," Dune by Frank Herbert.       

Monday, February 16, 2015

Where Art Thou

I had arrived home from the date rather fakoched. I already knew I didn't want to see him again, but was calculating if I could set him up with a family friend. 

I lay in bed, as the clock ticked past midnight, all too awake. I had been yawning vociferously on the tail end of the evening, so I was frustrated by this sleep-depriving tension. The disappointment of yet another failed outing had tensed my muscles and raised my blood pressure.

That evil little voice that pops up at the most inconvenient of moments was chirping: "So, another date gone, and nothing to show for it. When will this be over, huh? When will this second-guessing, hair-pulling, time be put to rest? What will become of you? Will anything change?" 
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-1J6wo_1Rz0Y/UZT9biGyOpI/AAAAAAAAHxk/VnUNbalN0U4/s1600/3ow750.jpg
I tried using my methods I learned to sleep-relax; deep, rhythmic breathing, the repetition of a name or mantra (currently "Andrew Weil"). While it usually worked for me before, my body was still stiff and unwilling to release. 

Suddenly, an unbidden, yet welcome thought pinged: The Eibishter isn't against me. He is with me.

Like a popped balloon, the anxiety drained out, allowing me to sink cozily into the bedding. I was finally drowsy, and repeated to myself only three more times before I drifted off: 

"The Eibishter is with me."

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20140913192715/disney/images/7/73/Princess_Leia_3.jpg  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Facebook Feeding Frenzy

When I first joined Facebook at a shadchan's suggestion—the woman never set me up, by the way—it was a new, sparkling world. I eagerly friended any poor soul that had ever crossed my path. I posted pictures of family occasions that no one cared about. I tried to come up with witty, steady updates. (Now I occupy my time with trying to come with witty, steady blog posts.) 

But after a few years, the gleam began to fade. Perhaps it felt like too much work, but I think what eventually got to me was the inauthenticity: I don't really know any of these people. And the people that I do know never login anyway.

Why I am I spending so much time with all these strangers? 

I am not the only one to have FB Fatigue; Richard Morgan wrote about his experience in "Kicking the Facebook Habit." He was a master ninja at facebooking, then he deactivated his account. He realized how much of his recorded life was strictly for social media, and began to live it instead. 
I caught myself watching folks in parks and subways looking at Facebook, so many blue-lit zombie stares. I guess that works for them, I told myself with my jealous-ex snark. It reminded me of my sister, who once eschewed meat and began calling it “carcass.” I wanted to scream, “Soylent Green”-style, “Facebook is made of people! Peeeeeople!”
I do look back on my younger self with some embarrassment, for her oversharing and confusing friending with friendship. I have scraped away a good chunk of the extraneous material from my profile, such as "friends," all photos (except the shidduch friendly one, I did activate the damn thing for that reason, right?), removed TV shows "likes" since I won't do their advertising for them, and only post if I desperately need some information that the remaining few could possibly help me with. 
http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--e3C8bSL5--/18mroh6nyy2gfpng.png
But then, ah, but then, there are all those luscious FB groups and pages where 1 out of 10 memes are mildly entertaining . . . well, maybe I'm not done with it completely, yet. Ideally, I would "like" to be.       

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Choose to be Happy

It would seem, based on the research, that frummie prevalence of dating strictly for marriage scores us points. 

As Tara Parker-Pope reports in "The Decisive Marriage," relationships that came into being through decision-making, as opposed to "just happened" couples, are better off. 

Nearly every sitcom I watch now has some sort of the awkward "Is this a date?" premise. Those situations mimic reality, as the article mentions that specific unsureness. Thank goodness, we shidduch-system gals always know that it's a date. (Our opinion on the guy that shows up at the door is another matter.) 
http://scontent-a.cdninstagram.com/hphotos-xaf1/t51.2885-15/10684360_1391178671135555_81027358_n.jpg
Additionally, those who had cluttered romantic pasts did not score as high in marital quality. It had always been believed that the more experience one has (in everything), the better off one is; not so when it comes to romantic relationships. The experience gained leads to comparisons. Conclusion: Ignorance is bliss.

Another thing in frummie favor: Big weddings tend to equal happy marriages. The reason for that is still unknown; one theory is that big weddings involve a lot of planning, and the couple that plans together, stays together. 
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/multimedia/archive/00475/141321336_475042c.jpg
Since our wedding sizes usually make gentiles gasp (most halls around here have insane minimums), the bigger, the better?  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Favorite Authoress: Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough died on January 29th. For those who actually need to be told, she was the author of The Thorn Birds.
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Ma remembers when she took out The Thorn Birds; Luke was a baby on her hip. "What a book I'm reading, Ma," she swooned to Babi, all those years ago. "What a book."
http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391416796l/3412.jpg
I do not remember how old I was, or where I was, but I certainly remember the book. I have read it more than once. 

McCullough wrote other books as well, none as fascinating as "The Thorn Birds," but certainly notable works. I had stumbled across her Master of Rome series following an uninspiring college course on Roman history; she made the whole topic fascinating to me, which the professor had failed to do. Seven fantastic books.
http://www.le-livre.fr/photos/RO6/RO60064387.jpg
Morgan's Run was about an Englishman wrongfully convicted and shipped off to Australia in the 1700s. She took such care in detailing the everyday lives before indoor plumbing that I was absorbed.  
 http://www.somepeoplejugglegeese.com/images/old/cs.princeton/Covers-50/Morgans-Run.jpg
The Touch, about a marriageable-aged girl shipped off to Australia to marry her emigrant cousin who made it big, was quite arresting—I still think about its characters—but I found the ending implausibly perfect.
http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n11/n59178.jpg
The Song of Troy took out the supernatural happenings of The Iliad and replaced it with more probable occurrences, insinuating the epic retellings were exaggerated. Love Greek myth, loved it too.   
http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1188798804l/1820490.jpg
However, whatever you do, do not read The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. It is an absolute train wreck. I had expected another witty comedy of manners as it was a sequel to Pride & Prejudice, but it quickly devolved into a bizarre criminal thriller. I was not thrilled.

According to her obituary, McCullough was, um, vitriolic to her literary critics.
Negative reviews did not appear to faze Ms. McCullough, whom The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a 1996 profile, described as “a woman supremely unafflicted by self-doubt.”
“I think in their heart of hearts all these people know that I’m more secure than they are, more confident than they are and smarter than they are,” she said of her critics in a 2007 interview on Australian television. In her nearly four decades in the limelight, it was one of her few printable replies on the subject.
Mind you, her father verbally abused her, so she had every reason to think badly of herself. Writing wasn't even her original calling; she was a neurophysiologist first.

Talk about a day job.        

Friday, February 6, 2015

Best. Captain. EVA.

Ah, nothing like the claustrophobia of a subway car resembling a sardine can. 

The woman squashed next to me was working on a crossword puzzle on her phone. I idly read the clues over her shoulder, then my head snapped up when I saw: "Captain Jean-_____ Picard, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise." She had flicked past to the next clue, apparently ignorant of the answer.

"It's 'Luc'!" I exclaimed. 

"L-U-C?" she casually replied. 

"Yes! Yes!" 

She languidly typed it in. 
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8YH532QLkQ8/UA6kuB_2TjI/AAAAAAAAC9o/zcXPQPP4rqQ/s1600/awesome.jpg
Good deed for the day? Done.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

You Shall Not PASS!

In crime shows, it's fun to see the computer mastermind exposed. Usually the perpetrator is a lonely youngster, ignored by the popular girls, and he can pretend to be whatever he wants as he slouches over the keyboard. 
https://abagond.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/chaotic_evil_joker_by_4thehorde-d37w8s6.jpg
Trolls. I am happy to report that my comment feed has been violated only rarely by such sad, sad people. For that is how I see them: Sad, sad people. 

It is simply cowardice. While trolling, there is no accountability. If admired peers were present, trolls wouldn't type like that. It's a cheap attempt to boost oneself by bringing others down. 

But even as they mindlessly fling out insults to alleviate their own feelings of misery and powerlessness, those off-the-cuff remarks can do damage.

Stephanie Rosenbloom's "Dealing With Digital Cruelty" cites professional advice for how to navigate internet nastiness.
One way to become proactive is to ask yourself if those barbs you can’t seem to shrug off have an element of truth. (Glaringly malicious posts can be dismissed.) If the answer is yes, Professor Suler has some advice:
Let your critics be your gurus.
“You can treat them as an opportunity,” he said. Ask yourself why you’re ruminating on a comment. “Why does it bother you?” Professor Suler said. “What insecurities are being activated in you?”
I was not particularly taken with this counsel, since I would be spending way more time agonizing than the few seconds it took for a complete stranger to post an insult. Then I would dwell more on my perceived failings than actually progressing. 
Yet even when a person is alone, humor can be effective. Try reading nasty comments aloud in a goofy voice, Professor Pawelski advised, so that when your mind automatically plays back the comment it sounds absurd, or at the very least loses a bit of its bite.
Ah, Daffy Duck voice. Or Yoda voice! "Suck, you do."
In the quest to quell the cruel, we often fail to savor the good. And there is, despite the meanies, much good whirring around cyberspace. Some 70 percent of Internet users said they “had been treated kindly or generously by others online,” according to a Pew report early this year.
Rather than scrolling past a dozen positive comments and lingering on the sole exception, what if you did the opposite? And what if you shared a couple of the good ones with friends instead of sharing the one that hurt you? Research shows that it takes more time for positive experiences to become lodged in our long-term memory, so it’s not just pleasurable to dwell on a compliment — it’s shrewd.
In general, we focus more on the bad than the good. Being grateful doesn't just happen; one has to be aware. 

That reminded me of a story I heard from Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky; he was being evaluated, and received scores of positive feedback, except for one in the negative. That single bad review amongst all that glowing compliments really got to him.  
http://www.israellycool.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/computer-gremlins.jpg
Don't let the gremlins get you.       

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Only So Much

"You twisted, evil, useless, misbegotten scrap of metal!" I roared at my scale. "You lie!" 

I refused to believe that I could still be paying for one overindulgent Shabbos two weeks ago. I had been doing everything right, no cheating, the essence of calorie awareness. But the scale was unmoved, as it heartlessly flashed the same string of hopeless numbers, day after day. 

The next evening, I quite proudly sailed out the car, smirking at my watch. I left at the right time, I was even early. I confidently hit the road, only to be entangled in an impossible traffic snarl; I sheepishly slunk into my destination, feebly claiming innocence as I was greeted with admonitions for my tardiness.
 
Sometimes, we can be doing everything "right," and it just doesn't work. 

The old world, would you believe it, didn't invoke hishtadlus much. Perhaps because they truly knew that there really is a limit to choice and action, because tomorrow a pogrom or pestilence can lay waste to that which was meticulously built over years. 

We daven, we plead, we demand, but do we ever accept the answer? Sure, we claim we know that whatever Hashem decrees is for the best, but do we really believe it? 

I have been grappling with the purpose of davening for quite some time now, having brought my quandary to a number of rabbanim and women speakers, who haven't always been able to grant me the insight I seek. But this segment helped quite a bit, albeit regarding parenting:

. . . We have to beg the Ribono Shel Olam, as we say every day in Maariv, "Vesakeinu be'eitza tovah milfnecha. Set us right with good counsel from before you." We have to beg the Ribono Shel Olam to give us the wisdom to deal with these problems and to direct us to effective sources of counsel and guidance. Parents have to cry out to the Ribono Shel Olam, "This is my future, and this is what we're here for. Nothing else matters. Help us!"

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zatzal, the great gaon and tzaddik, once walked into the apartment of the Brisker Rav in Yerushalayim and saw him and his children sitting around the table. The Rav was saying a dvar Torah, and his children were listening intently, their faces shining.

Later, Rav Abramsky asked the Brisker Rav, "What is the secret of your chinuch? How were you zocheh that every single child walks faithfully in your footsteps?"

"My secret in chinuch?" said the Rav. "Tehillim mit treren." Tehillim with tears.

That is the way to bring up children. Tehillim with tears. This potent combination gives us an awareness of how to protect our children our children from harmful influences. From this, we gain the sensitivity to understand how to speak to them, when to rebuke and when not to rebuke. From this, we gain the siyata dishmaya to inspire them to want to walk in the footsteps of their parents. And from this, the Ribono Shel Olam directly inspires them with yiras shamayim.With Hearts Full of Love, HoRav Marrisyahu Salomon

Davening is avodah, an act of service to the Beshefer, not merely an opportunity to pour forth our demands. We come to Hashem and say, "I know I am human. I know I have choice, however: I am asking from You assistance in that I make the correct choices, for me and my family, and may those choices, in turn, create a desirable result."

But that's not a guarantee. I am quite sure there were plenty of parents out there who did everything "right," and are sadly bewildered by the path their children took. 

As I date, I am constantly harassed at how I am not doing my part. I didn't go to that shadchan, I have "commitment issues," why didn't you say "yes" to that guy? The one that incites you into a murderous rage? 

I try to blandly deflect these statements, because although I still have yet to achieve true peace of mind, I have arrived to, at least, an awareness of acceptance. I really cannot do much more when it comes to dating. I can only say, "Look, the One and Only Matchmaker: I've done everything 'right.' But I know You are the One who brings it all about. So I'm going to leave it to You."

Isn't that the message of the story of Iyov? Hashem makes a bet with the satan, that even if all of Iyov's bounty is taken away, he will accept it. 

The next week, the scale proudly displays reasonable digits. I make it early, not late, to my appointment. 

But my date was not promising. 

Next time, maybe.      

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Excellent Sheep"

A seminary rabbi told over this story: There was a girl who was seminary perfect in every way. Attendance, grades, attire—the Mary Poppins of seminary girls. 
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When she returned home, she confessed, "I am living a lie." 

David Brooks, in "Becoming a Real Person," references William Deresiewicz's book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.
Deresiewicz offers a vision of what it takes to move from adolescence to adulthood. Everyone is born with a mind, he writes, but it is only through introspection, observation, connecting the head and the heart, making meaning of experience and finding an organizing purpose that you build a unique individual self.
Deresiewicz argues that once, that was the point of college. When one is away from home, becoming exposed to great thinkers, one's mind can expand into something individual and unique.

But colleges today no longer provide that experience. 
Universities, he says, have been absorbed into the commercial ethos. Instead of being intervals of freedom, they are breeding grounds for advancement. Students are too busy jumping through the next hurdle in the résumé race to figure out what they really want. They are too frantic tasting everything on the smorgasbord to have life-altering encounters. They have a terror of closing off options. They have been inculcated with a lust for prestige and a fear of doing things that may put their status at risk.
The system pressures them to be excellent, but excellent sheep.
Doesn't that sound an awful lot like the current dating scene? 

I'm going to make a leap here, but I am going to assume that the seminary girl had had shidduchim on the mind. 

I wonder how many people—male, as well as female—are not doing what they would most like to do in life because it's "bad for shidduchim." Yet, I have not yet witnessed an example of anyone who was so "out there" in their choices that they couldn't get married. But it is still considered a valid explanation. 
Steven Pinker, the great psychology professor at Harvard, wrote the most comprehensive response to Deresiewicz. “ . . . I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul. . .”
I'm going to be blunt again: Some people are followers. They just want to fit in. They don't want a special calling. They want to do what "everyone else" is doing, and they don't want to stand out at all. That's fine; that's who they are. But I get annoyed when they fall back on "bad for shidduchim," a nice, safe, socially-acceptable excuse for why they lead clone-like existences.
Everybody — administrators, admissions officers, faculty and students — knows that the pressures of the résumé race are out of control. . . But . . . An admissions officer might bias her criteria slightly away from the Résumé God and toward the quirky kid. A student may privately wrestle with taking a summer camp job instead of an emotionally vacuous but résumé-padding internship. But these struggles are informal, isolated and semi-articulate.
Daters, certainly, feel as though we are being rated nowadays. That's thanks to the internet, according to Delia Ephron in "Ouch. My Personality, Reviewed." She thought that she was done with report cards. Ha. 
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All those larger-than-life Biblical heroes and heroines who struck out on different paths—none of them were single because they broke molds. But we project our own insecurities on the community at large, blaming it like some sort of Big Brother entity if we desire to "check all the boxes." Sure, there will always be that obnoxious person who will gleefully tell one what one's "mistake" was, but that doesn't make them everyone, nor right.      

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Not About You

"People invite me over for Friday night and Shabbos lunch, which is very nice of them," she said, "but I don't really enjoy that. I don't like being out at night. I really like being home, reading, being with my own thoughts." 

She paused then, her eyes growing wide with the horror of that which she admitted. 

"Please don't tell anyone what I said," she hurriedly amended.

"But I understand perfectly," I swiftly commiserated. 

I can guess where her worried disclaimer came from. 

"You don't like going out on Friday night? Whoever heard of such a thing? All alone in your house? No, no, you must come over. It's not right that you should be by yourself on Friday night, no seudah, how depressing! Sarah, help me convince Rivkah here that she must come to me on Friday night. I insist." 

Let's break this down: 

Item 1: A widow. 

A woman recently buried her husband. Which should lead, on our part, to: 

Item 2: Compassion.

What is compassion? It certainly isn't brow-beating the recently bereaved what they are "required" to do. 

This woman always liked her own company. As an introvert, I can perfectly understand. While I do go out, if invited, I always have to struggled over internal grumblings. "Ugh, it's dark out. It's unnatural for me to be dressed up in itchy wool at this hour. I should be in flannel jammies. Now I'll come home late, stuffed to the gills with bad food, sleep terribly, and be zonked tomorrow." Sometimes the dinner was worth it; other times, I wished I stayed home. 

When another is in difficulty, we can make the mistake of projecting our own needs and wants onto others. But here is where the listening skills differ. We should ask, "How can I help?" and actually hear the answer.

My father sat shiva a few years ago for his mother. He couldn't go to sleep; people kept showing up late into the night (after an exhausting day of "entertaining"), insisting they were here to be menacheim aveil. The aveil is trying to rest. They came when it was convenient for them, then complained in aggrieved tones how they were being prevented from comforting the bereaved.

If we want to do things for others, it means nothing if we make it about ourselves. It sure does feel good when we do chessed. But that satisfaction has to come after a job well done, first.   

Touchable Hands

She grasped my hand while making a point

"Your hands are so soft!" she gasped, momentarily distracted. 

Yup, also part of the regimen

Every night, I rub lotion thoroughly on my hands, then place on gloves that are meant to keep the moisture in. 
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My hands don't chap in winter anymore, even after washing dishes on Friday night, when I can't re-moisturize. 

However, due to a circulation issue, while my hands may be soft, the skin itself looks freakish in cold weather. They take on a blotchy, reddened/empurpled hue. The only time they look good is first thing in the morning, nice and warm from under the covers.

Anywho, in the winter, my moisturizer of choice is Nourish Organic Raw Shea Butter. It's 100% shea butter. It's firm, so I scrape it off with a nail, but it melts deliciously into skin.