Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Other Brooks

Last week was a rundown of David Brooks insights; today shall be that of Arthur C. Brooks. 

First: "Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier." It was printed Thanksgiving time, as he attempts to explain Thanksgiving to his Spanish in-laws (who live in Spain). One of the questions they asked was “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”
I stumbled over this last question. At the time, I believed one should feel grateful in order to give thanks. To do anything else seemed somehow dishonest or fake — a kind of bourgeois, saccharine insincerity that one should reject. It’s best to be emotionally authentic, right? Wrong. Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it. In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful.
For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily.
For many of us, the default is to kvetch, not to kvell. But if forced to do so for, say, a study—yup, happier people. 
In addition to building our own happiness, choosing gratitude can also bring out the best in those around us. Researchers at the University of Southern California showed this in a 2011 study of people with high power but low emotional security (think of the worst boss you’ve ever had). The research demonstrated that when their competence was questioned, the subjects tended to lash out with aggression and personal denigration. When shown gratitude, however, they reduced the bad behavior. That is, the best way to disarm an angry interlocutor is with a warm “thank you.”
(Same applies with misguided shadchanim: Just keep saying "thank you." They can't argue with that.)  

He provides strategies, like "interior" gratitude, "exterior" gratitude, being grateful for "useless" things. 

Second: "To be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death." This one came out around New Years, so it discussed resolutions. While people feel happier after delving into spiritual activities, they did not spend much of their time thusly.
Some might say that this reveals our true preferences for TV and clickbait over loved ones and God. But I believe it is an error in decision making. Our days tend to be an exercise in distraction. We think about the past and future more than the present; we are mentally in one place and physically in another. Without consciousness, we mindlessly blow the present moment on low-value activities.
The secret is not simply a resolution to stop wasting time, however. It is to find a systematic way to raise the scarcity of time to our consciousness.
That which is precious and valued is that which is rare, like diamonds. Meaning, the only way to spend time well is to acknowledge it as being finite. 

Third: "Narcissism is Increasing. So You're Not Special." In Brooks' youth, the child-raising concern was low self-esteem; now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. 
But narcissism isn’t an either-or characteristic. It’s more of a set of progressive symptoms (like alcoholism) than an identifiable state (like diabetes). Millions of Americans exhibit symptoms, but still have a conscience and a hunger for moral improvement. At the very least, they really don’t want to be terrible people.
I believe that too. Somewhat. 
Indeed, in the Greek myth, Narcissus falls in love not with himself, but with his reflection. In the modern version, Narcissus would fall in love with his own Instagram feed, and starve himself to death while compulsively counting his followers.   
True dat. 
A healthy self-love that leads to true happiness is what Rousseau called “amour de soi.” It builds up one’s intrinsic well-being, as opposed to feeding shallow cravings to be admired. Cultivating amour de soi requires being fully alive at this moment, as opposed to being virtually alive while wondering what others think. The soulful connection with another person, the enjoyment of a beautiful hike alone (not shared on Facebook) or a prayer of thanks over your sleeping child (absent a #blessed tweet) could be considered expressions of amour de soi.   

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Shabbos Makeup"

As my readership knows, I kinda have The Shabbos Face down pat (although it is always open to improvements). But Yuntif, ah, Yuntif. Two days to keep paint on, especially if finagling with grabby kinfauna? A difficulty indeed. 

This past Pesach, I decided to invest in rabbi-approved Shabbos cosmetics. Since my purchases took place over the internet, I did buy colors that I didn't end up using. So, I wanted to share which items were a winner for me. 
To begin, how the cosmetics are applied is also under rabbinic scrutiny; I had to familiarize myself with the accepted protocol.  

  • Blush in Soft Mauve/Glowing Mauve Matte 19H
  • Eye Shadow in Dark Gray 49B
  • While officially an Eye Shadow, I used Matte Lilac 48H/48B for eyebrow filler and as contouring powder
  • Lip Gloss (Shudder. While I do not approve of gloss in general, my lips can get so dry and cracked beneath long-wearing lipstick that I voted for lip skin health and comfortable eating over lip hue. My policy is that as long as eye makeup is strong, everything else is commentary) 
  • Hungarian Water (Of course I would get the HUNGARIAN water as opposed to rose) 
From Shabbos Brushups (at the time of my purchase, the website wasn't functioning in terms of checkout; email allison@shabbosbrushups.com to order): 
  • Foundation in Matte Lite (the description sounded closest to my skin-tone and -type) 
  • Concealer in Light  
  • Eyeliner in Blackout (looks very glittery in the holder, but goes on black black black with only a hint of sparkle)
The foundation is not a perfect match, but close enough. The concealer cannot completely eliminate my MONSTER dark circles, but they have defeated even the bravest of concealers, so I did have a touch of zombie face. But that's what distracting over-laden eyelashes are for.  

My mascara was heftily applied before the holiday, and I worked around it. I feel a burning need to wash my face after a day's action, so this way I can function throughout Shavuos this year—three day yuntif, ladies! 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Self-Righteous Isn't Righteous

If you focus your awareness only upon your own rightness, then you invite forces of opposition to overwhelm you. This is a common error. Even I, your teacher, have made it.Children of Dune, Frank Herbert 

The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty.—Annie Lamott

Never confuse righteousness with self-righteousness. They sound similar, but they are opposites. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous make you feel bigger, the self-righteous make you feel small. The righteous praise; the self-righteous criticize. The righteous are generous, the self-righteous, grudging and judgmental. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. 

Once you know the difference, keep far from the self-righteous, who come in all forms, right and left, religious and secular. Win the respect of people you respect, and ignore the rest.
—Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

In "Bookends: Are There Any Unforgivable Sins in Literature?" Rivka Galchen tackles self-righteousness.
For me, the unforgivable sin in literature is the same as that in life: the assumption of certainty and the moral high ground. That words like “righteous” and “pious” are often used to suggest the contrary of their original meaning is ­telling. . . 
But sometimes it’s difficult not to be certain. On more days than I’d like to admit, I find myself walking down the street in an all-too-certain righteous rage about other people’s righteousness; I’ll read an essay or story with horrified suspense as it delivers some sermon on a mount, but then I myself indulge in assured despising — that’s a sin, too. I admire a pope who says, “Who am I to judge?” and a book that reads as if thinking is something ongoing, not something that is ever absolutely done.
Although Jewish, she was exposed to two types of preachers. One called her a "heathen," even though she knew the New Testament better than he did; the other, a beloved supplier of pizza. 
Pizza Preacher said some Christian thinkers had argued that there couldn’t really be unforgivable sins, because that would mean that a person could do something that limited God’s will — limited God’s ability to forgive. That seemed wrong, right? Surely that couldn’t be the case.
I have a number of wince-inducing memories of my forays into self-righteousness, from my five-year-old youth to my 20-year-old stupidity to my really-should-know-better current age. When I try to remember the sensation that took hold of me at those times was my absolute conviction in what I saying or thinking.
Having resolute assurance is . . . well, nice. There's none of my default, debilitating dithering over my actions. I'm not second-guessing my words for once, debating if I had spoken too hastily with excess emphasis. Being adamant has the emotional equivalent of warm fuzziness. 

But we are not here to be sure of ourselves. We aren't supposed to be, until the day we die. Pirkei Avos says so.   

Sigh. Bye-bye, warm fuzziness.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Sweetest Revenge

I'm a sucker for a BBC adaptation. I will shamefully confess that I have read few of the grand novels that grace the screen, and if I had, I certainly prefer the film versions over the printed page. 

So, pajama-clad, I snuggle down and smile to myself as I watch maidens being wooed and gentlemen doing something dashing. Like rescue heroines. Yes, it would be better if the gals could rescue themselves, but that wasn't likely in 19th century classics.* (Margaret in North & South was a fabulous exception, saving the day all the time. Best of all the movies, totally.)
In Sense and Sensibility, the loudly heartbroken Marianne Dashwood has to be carted home from London to her mother (never mind that Elinor is suffering the same disappointment, but someone has to take care of everything, right?) and the only means to do so without troublesome expense is to share a ride with the Palmers, whose estate lies temptingly close to Willoughby's. 

Claiming a need for a refreshing walk, with proclamations that it shan't rain, the silly goose Marianne heads for Combe Magna—just to gaze at it—and gets utterly soaked in a deluge. When she is missed, Colonel Brandon (fabulously cast in the 2008 version) goes looking for her and rescues the idiot. 
Since her constitution was weakened due to her exhaustive weeping, Marianne is gripped by a violent fever and almost dies. 

I tended to focus on the whole dreamy heroics of the Colonel, so I didn't give Marianne's near-deadly actions much notice. But seriously, girl. Do you want to give the scumbag (who seduces and abandons 15-year-old farmgirls) who threw you over the satisfaction of knowing that you literally can't live without him? 

Jane Eyre does the same thing! Even though she's so capable, so witty, so resilient. She overcame hardships that would have Marianne whimpering in a corner. Yet, when she discovers that Rochester has a crazy wife in the attic, what does she do? 

She leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night, no plan in place—her only short-sighted intent being to get as far away as possible. Women with little money and no friends do not have the luxury of forgetting their worldly goods in a coach. She ends up wandering the moors until, starved, chilled, and probably near death (a favorite of Gothic authors?), she collapses on St. John's doorstep.
Look, I know. Getting jilted (Marianne) or being robbed of a happily ever after (Jane) sucks. Rejection makes the rejectee think that she is without value. All one wants to do is curl up in bed, give up on face cream, and let the figure go.

But is that the way to get back at the man who pretended to be single (Rochester)? Hell no!

When Jennifer Garner graced the red carpet following her breakup with Ben, the term the media went with was "revenge." She has never looked so fabulous. Trim, glowing, and devastating: Eat your heart out. 
You have worth. Even if he decided he didn't want to cherish you.  

Have a Marianne-level good cry. Then splash the face with de-puffing cold water, and get to work. Retinol. Cosmetics. A slammin' outfit.

Elinor rocks.     
*Disclaimer: While I enjoy such situations on the screen or the page, I harbor no fantasies of being rescued myself. If anything, I would be mortified. "No, I'm okay, really, please don't call Hatzolah, I'm sure this broken bone will heal in no time, kindly go on your way, thanks very much." 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Belated Brooks

Time for some David Brooks! 

First: "Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion." What does it mean to live with passion? 

It begins with a desire for self-completion, Brooks writes, which can stem from a number of motivations. Yet what is similar amongst these passionate individuals is to find a cause they can wholeheartedly devote themselves. 

They become by doing—not an unfamiliar concept to Judaism. To do often requires a willingness to be courageously vulnerable. Not only does that mean taking risks, it means acknowledging and battling one's personal demons, as well as being oneself. 

That means marching through fear first. Once past it, all is possible. 

Second: "Tales of Super Survivors." While we love using terms like "trauma" and "PTSD," the rates are actually far lower than believed. For those who have been traumatized and have gone through PTSD, recovery is very much possible. Humans are more resilient than we realize. 

But resilience is based, according to Dr. Philip Fischer, on a childhood foundation of unconditional love. Once that concrete has been poured, it sets for life. 

Being real about one's circumstances is necessary, too. When paired with a Pollyanna's optimism in self-ability, a person will work through the situation. Work fixes more than we know. 

Looking forward, as opposed to backward, is vital. Yes, this happened. But the future can be, will be, different. 

Third: "The Shame Culture." The inherent difference between guilt and shame is that the former wags a finger at actions, the latter at the individuals themselves. (That's why the guilt-inducing Jewish mother is the best way to go.) 

Because of social media and the accompanying wish to be "liked," right and wrong is no longer about ethics or morals, but about acceptance or rejection. Online, pretty much everyone is the geeky high schooler yearning to be ushered into the Mean Girls clique.

And like other aspects of teenage whimsy, the standards "right" and "wrong" changes constantly.
On the other hand, everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. . . 
The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.   

Monday, May 23, 2016

It Takes a Village

I had been very turned off when I heard the rabbi say it. "How can Jews get along?" he opined. "It's impossible. The only thing we can do is daven." 

I'm not a fan of claiming defeat before even trying. This was the first shiur I ever heard from this rabbi; I did not voluntarily click on another one. 

Walking home from shul one Shabbos, Ta mentioned this rabbi and his genius. 

"I don't discount his brilliance," I said, "but I just can't listen to him after what he said." 

"What did he say?" 

I told him. "After all," I concluded, as the connective tissue formed, "remember what Rabbi Yisroel Reisman said? You don't have to like someone to work together and have the same goal. Like—like—like Penn and Teller. They have such different personalities that they just grate against each other. Penn's loud and obnoxious, Teller contemplative and reserved. But they realized that together, they can get farther than alone. They've been together for decades! And have been insanely successful!"

"That's like me and Fred," Ta replied. 

Fred has been Ta's business partner for as long as I can remember. Fred is the Penn-equivalent (although Ta is no Teller). He talks big, avoids detail work, and has a potentially alarming "what's the big deal" attitude. But Ta finds in him an invaluable mind to bounce ideas off of. Fred, in turn, benefits from Ta's awareness of important minutia and organization.

So, what if instead of insincerely thinking, "I love every Jew. I love every Jew. Dear Lord, I have to love him too?" go about it this way: It takes all types. That's what they really mean, I have decided, by "It takes a village." Not that it takes a hundred people to raise a child, but that everyone has something of value to contribute. 

We aren't all the same. Yes, I often wonder what sort of qualities that person could possibly have that is of value. But they do. 

So while I may not like her . . . she and I are heading for the same goal. We can give each other a hand, even though there is no love lost. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Emma Redeemed

The works of Jane Austen have been sacred to femalekind prior to the A&E adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. It is not my favorite, frankly (wildly ducking the hail of tomatoes)—I'm drawn more to Persuasion—and Emma never was a top contender.

Austen herself said Emma is "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." I always found her meddling and cluelessness to be frustrating. But there were two articles regarding Emma, however, that made me consider it in a new light. 

"Jane Austen's Guide to Alzheimer's" by Carol J. Adams humbled me. She explains that Emma's querulous, demanding father is not a humorous caricature, but rather an accurate depiction of a man suffering from mental decline. Adams, her mother stricken by Alzheimer's and so her caregiver, found in Emma a priceless guide.
Emma is remembered mostly as a middling matchmaker harboring prejudices, nearly destroying her friend's chances at happiness. But that is not all she is. Like Adams, she is caretaker to a parent, a role all the more burdensome and heartbreaking given her youth. 
In Emma’s case, rather than arguing with Mr. Woodhouse, she redirects him. It is as though she had read the books. With Emma’s help, I could give more and not feel I was losing myself in caregiving, because she was always there, in my mind.
Emma demonstrates one of the casualties of caregiving: When you lose your cool, it might not be with your care receiver, but some unlikely individual in the wrong place at the wrong time. In an important scene that occurs toward the end of the novel, Emma is extremely rude to a downwardly mobile spinster. 
That scene did not endear me to Emma. But with the perspective that due to stress, as opposed to spoiling, she snapped a cruel comment in an attempt to divest . . . it is more understandable, and forgivable. 
The second was Bookends: "What Do Jane Austen’s Novels Have to Tell Us About Love and Life Today?" Adam Kirsch writes that Austen's books are not universally loved (especially not by "serious" authors) because they accept rather than object to society's conventions. (Which is true; in P&P, when Lydia runs off with Wickham, Elizabeth does not blame Darcy for leaving. She understands that, despite her innocence, she will be tainted by association. And that is that, until Darcy fights for her by paying off Wickham into doing the honorable thing.)

But still within the framework of convention, all ends (improbably) well: 
The idea that social life is just — on the marriage market and elsewhere — is the greatest fiction in Jane Austen, and the one that makes her happy endings possible. But it is also the key to her wonderfully intimate imagination of happiness. Few books make the reader as happy as “Emma,” because few depict so well the joy of being understood, the way Mr. Knightley understands Emma Woodhouse. For all of Austen’s heroines, it is this sense of being truly seen, of marrying a man who loves them as they really are, that is the great reward. The institution of marriage, like the novel itself, has changed greatly since Austen’s time; but as long as human beings long for this kind of mutual recognition and understanding, “Emma” will live.
Isn't that just perfect?


Anna Holmes notes that Emma was in a privileged position: comfortable from home, needed at home, and claimed no interest in marrying. She had the luxury to do so, and in turn, she was unconcerned for the regard of men. Nowadays, women are free of the "need" for husbandly support—and so can also be free to be themselves. 
In addition to reflecting how women’s economic autonomy creates freedom in other areas of their lives, Emma Woodhouse is a powerful example of a woman who puts herself first, placing a greater value on her needs and desires than on those of many of the men around her. Embedded within Austen’s comedy of manners is the subtle but sustained assertion that women should concentrate less on whether they are worthy of a potential suitor and more on whether a potential suitor is worthy of them.
Esther Wein explains (cannot locate the link, sadly) how in the beginning of creation, man and woman were of equal standing. But the nature of the curses meant that females, weakened by childbirth and whatever else that goes with it, would be reliant upon the physically stronger males.
Yet as we draw closer to the days of Moshiach, the curses will lessen. Women are no longer reliant on men to survive. Therefore, they can have relationships which are based on being "seen" and loved for one's own sake (not their dowries or child-bearing hips). Austen's popularity proves that this was the fantasy of all women—not to fight against society, but to find bliss within it, yearning for marriages based on shared values as opposed to shared land. 

The courting game has changed drastically in a short amount of time. And that's all to the good. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How to Register

"Is she kidding me? No, no she didn't, I can't believe it! Why the heck would she register for that?" 

I got a little worked up scrolling through an engaged gal's registry. It was a train wreck; the absolute basics were absent, the items that are sufficient in the singular listed in the plural, and the rest were gobblers of valuable storage space. I know this couple will be living in an apartment.

For the newly-wed, space must be prioritized for the necessities, as opposed to the superfluous. As Katherine DM Clover proves, being a cook has little to do with a multitude of tools. 

No, I am obviously not speaking from my own experiences, but I witnessed enough new kitchens springing into being as I hovered about my siblings' homes. Additionally, I have become more of a cook in recent years, and there's the stuff I always use and the stuff I don't. So let's get cracking. 
To make things easier, I've highlighted needed items green, unnecessary items red, and pareve (meaning okay with and without) items blue. (Sure, easier.)   


Many kitchen tool sets are useless, since there's always a lot of unnecessary doohickeys in there. If going to get a tool set, itemize what's in there, and compare to what is actually needed. Having unnecessary multiples is a drag. 

Knife block sets are pointless; in the end, one only needs two really good knives. Three, if one actually uses the bread knife on challah instead of an ornamental one. I have three chef's knives that never see the light of day. 

Imagine getting two or three knife block sets for milchig, fleishig, and possibly pareve: all that wonderful shelf space, gone, and 75% of those items won't get used. By a few good quality (as in German-made) tools, which will take up little drawer space. 
For my use, there is a pareve Santoku knife and serrated utility knife that gets the most action. For milchig there's a serrated utility knife, and I don't think there is a major fleishig knife, since we aren't serious red meat eaters. Know thy needs. 

Invest in individual knives and cutting boards; they will be doing the most work, and will make life much easier if good quality is purchased. The wider the cutting board, the better. 
Pots, oh the bliss, oh the joy. Getting quality ones make a cosmic difference. There are a plethora of options available, but my personal favorites are anything by Calphalon; they seem to wear the best. If drawn to non-stick, the magic words are "hard anodized." Remember that. 

Non-stick cookware can be somewhat controversial, but there is also stainless steel (Calphalon rocks there too) and ceramic.

With pot sets, one can get more bang for the buck, but there are always two frying pans too many. How many frying pans does a person need, really? Just be aware. 

Individual pots, like individual knives, take up less space and are more useful. A soup pot, an everyday pan, small covered saucepan . . . that's about it, for milchig or fleishig.

If eyeing a Le Creuset, get the Dutch oven (well, they call it "French oven"). Then you will get your money's worth. From stove, to oven, to cleaning like a dream, that's where it's the most useful. As baking-, serving-ware, no.

If getting any machine, KITCHEN AID MIXER first, not a coffeemaker or bread machine. Coffee finds a way.   
Don't bother with standard blenders; immersion blenders do the same thing with less cleanup and don't hog valuable countertop real estate. Chef Michael Smith makes smoothies in a Ball jar with an immersion blender. 
Instead of a toaster, get the toaster oven. It defrosts, bakes, broils, and takes up the same amount of area.

Do not bother with rice cookers, pannini presses, ice cream makers, waffle makers . . . for the fledgling kitchen and limited cabinets, one has to focus on toys that will get played with constantly. These contraptions are when one has all the time and space in the world.

Food processor . . . well, if one is making a potato kugel every Shabbos, yes, you need it. But if not, I rarely use mine. I find chopping up the vegetables myself with a knife takes the same amount of time with less cleanup. Also, sometimes the food processor doesn't do a precise enough job; I have to slice the cucumbers by hand for cucumber salad, because the slicing blade on my Cuisinart doesn't do ethereal wisps. 

Pepper mills are not really essential, but you look cool while using them. Although King Jacques Pépin would say the essential oils in the pepper corn get released at the last pivotal moment. 
Measuring cups and spoons, and more than one set.
Ladles are an obvious necessity, silicone or steel.  

Garlic presses are a pain. Half the garlic lodges in there, it gets crushed incompletely, and cleaning them out are nigh impossible. Garlic is a wonderful flavor and a more accommodating being than people realize. You don't always have to mince. Even chucking it in whole, then fishing it out provides a wallop of flavor. 

Tongs are an under-appreciated tool. A must for for grilling, pan-frying meat (such as schnitzel), and tossing salads.
When it comes to can-openers, old school is the only way. I've got a supposedly magnetized models that never, ever worked. Why reinvent the wheel?

Silicone heat-proof spatulas, as I said, will change your life. If you find one that is sufficiently stiff yet still got that whippy texture, get one for milchig, fleishig, and pareve.

Vegetable peeler, of course. Yet why is it the cheap versions of those work best? I got a really expensive one that took a chunk out of my knuckles.

For a zester, I dig the microplane versions. Long, lean, a easy to store. The one that looks like miniature brass knuckles are a killer to use and always seem to brutalize my lemons.   
Ice cream scoops can have a multitude of uses; scooping cookie batter, meatballs, kneidlach, nukedlach. I'm speaking in theory, though, I just end up using hands or standard spoons. 

Whisks won't get that much action, since forks work just as well when it comes to scrambled eggs and salad dressing. If one is hand-whisking egg whites, yeah, but does anyone do that anymore? A silicone-covered one means stirring a bubbling sauce without scratching the pot. Yet not desperately required.

If feeling generous, a meat tenderizer, but you can really use any blunt item for that. Ma uses the handle of her meat shears, even though she has more than one meat tenderizer in the house. 

Meat shears makes cleaning dead animal a dream.
I have never, ever used an oven mitt. Can never find the dang thing, and the stiff construction compromises on the grip. Dish towels are always ready at attention, and do so many other tasks besides.

Table and Dinner:  

A beautiful table is streamlined, not cluttered. Chargers serve no valuable purpose, except to cheer up plain dinnerware. Opt for colorful dishes instead. 

We Jews got weekly wine needs, so a sturdy corkscrew. Those little collapsible ones can go rogue on you when there is a table-full of expectant guests. Get one with weight, power, and arms that can be manipulated. Something that looks humorously human, for instance.  
Salt shakers yes, pepper shakers eh. I don't think I've ever seen anyone use the pepper shaker. 

Napkin rings are pretty, yes, but meh. Everyone walks in, says "ooh, aah," and then there is the whole awkward collection of the rings after the napkins are extracted. Folding a napkin beneath the forks makes it less of a hassle, and the results are just as classy. 

One vase will do; I know men try to maintain steady Friday flowers, but cut them a break from time to time. Not too narrow nor too wide in mouth and build; not too tall nor too short.
Not everyone lives for meat (sounds crazy, but true). Steak knives make the list only if one is seriously carnivorous. You know, those people who actually use their grill twice a week, summer or winter.

Cake stands take up too much space for so little purpose, especially if they have a matching lid. It also places the burden on the hostess to churn out stunning presentable desserts. Trust me, just bake a brownie in a pan, cut it into pieces, serve on individual plates with a dollop of cream on top. Your guests will idolize you.

Cake knives are large, cumbersome, magically invisible whenever needed, and brutalize the dessert in the process of slicing. A cake requires the delicate touch of the serrated utility knife anyway.

Invest in the basics: dishes, glasses, flatware. Nothing else is really important. I would recommend that instead of "buy cheaper now, get better later," if possible, it would be more financially savvy to purchase better quality to begin with. 
I totally forgot a number of items, so does the audience have anything to add? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Light and Rouge

At some point web surfing can become expensive. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Diffused Light was a product that I had never heard of before and then desperately needed.
It's not a highlight or luminizer (at least, not in that shade). It's magical fairy dust. When lightly brushed onto a completed Face, before setting powder, it provides a glowing—not sparkling!—finish. I feel like Galadriel.

Mind, my skin tone is on the yellowish side, so the "soft, warm pale yellow" hue is ideal (it's not that pale). 

Next up: As a VIB Rouge member, I was granted at some unmemorable time a bottle of Formula X X ♥ Rouge, a "classic candy apple red."
The color is gorgeous against my skin, but too harsh compared to Ma's alabaster tone. An orange-er red would suit such a contrast better.

I also like the Formula X for the thick richness of the lacquer; my other polishes (even the Essie and OPI) can be arbitrarily thin.  

Friday, May 13, 2016


  • Faith Sallie on being an "Approval Junkie," here and here;
  • The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it's not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person—without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other."—Osho
  •  And finally, YEEEEEEES:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: Revision

Last week I posted the disheartening results of a very small study regarding weight loss and supposed decrease in metabolic weight. But, happily, there was a larger study with less DOOM results: 

To the Editor:

Your article on the metabolic rate of “The Biggest Loser” contestants raises serious concerns about drawing broad conclusions from 14 individuals undergoing an extreme and unsustainable regimen. The National Institutes of Health study reported a considerable drop in the metabolic rate of contestants, despite a weight regain, on average, of more than two-thirds of the original pounds lost.

In contrast, my colleagues and I have published two larger studies showing almost no negative effect of weight loss on metabolism. In one study, 145 participants lost 11 percent of their weight and experienced a drop in metabolic rate of just 5 percent and a decrease in calorie requirements of 7 percent.

In another study, of 30 gastric bypass patients, weight loss was 38 percent and caused a decrease in metabolic rate of 26 percent and a decrease in total calorie requirements of 24 percent. Far from documenting adverse metabolic efficiency, these studies demonstrated a healthy parallel decrease in weight, metabolism and calorie needs.

Data from “The Biggest Loser” should not be extrapolated beyond the effects of extreme and unsustainable diets that are not recommended for general use.

The writer is director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory and a professor of nutrition at Tufts University.

OK, DOOM averted, back to potential methodology: 

Intuitive eating? Gretchen Reynolds cites a small study that compared a calorie-restricted group as opposed to one that were hammered with the intuitive principles.

After three weeks, weights were rechecked, and subjects received additional counseling and encouragement. After another three weeks, the volunteers in the calorie-restriction group had lost an average of 5.3 pounds each. Shrinkage was swiftest during the first two weeks of the program, Anglin says, then threatened to plateau. But the follow-up counseling at three weeks seemed to reinvigorate their resolve, she says, and the volunteers generally lost an additional 2.5 pounds or so over the subsequent three weeks. 

The intuitive eaters began well, according to Anglin, losing slightly more weight during the first three weeks, on average, than the calorie cutters. But then their discipline, luck or bodily self-awareness apparently deserted them, and most began regaining weight. At the end of the six weeks, few had lost much weight and some had a net gain of nearly two pounds.

The upshot: Calories matter, Anglin says. Bodily messages about hunger and satiety can be useful, but they should be supplemented with some awareness of caloric intake. No one, she says, is likely to lose weight over the long term by responding intuitively to hunger with a serving of chocolate cake.

It is most definitely important to be mindful, as opposed to mindless. But chocolate cake is still chocolate cake. It doesn't pass the apple test

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It's Not "Just" Coffee

I'm trying to convey my (polite) disinterest to the so-called "shadchan," when the response comes: "Why don't you just go out for coffee?" 

Um . . . 

Firstly: Most of my dates have been coffee dates anyway. It's the go-to, not the exception.

Secondly: It makes no difference if my date will involve coffee, Coke, or dinner; my pre-date prep remains the same. It's not like "Oh, coffee? Well, I won't bother with contacts and stick with a denim skirt." 

Thirdly: For my kind, it's the unwilling introduction that is the greatest effort, not the date venue. There are plenty of people (extroverts) who enjoy meeting someone new, even if they know in advance that the other isn't for them, and have no qualms in parting ways. 

I envy them. With a flaming passion.

Me? I'm already lurching into the future. 

The best result would be "not compatible" on both sides. Yet that also has torturous downsides. 

If he's menschlach, then I would suffer through that unsureness where I know I'm not interested but feel duty-bound to go out again because hey, he's nice, and those types are as rare as hen's teeth (at least in my experience). Then I spend a sleepless night until I breathe a sigh of relief from the shadchan's apologetic call-back or email.

If he's a Star Wars villain, then I would have rather spent my evening in smelly pajamas watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I'm no masochist.

The worst possibility would be if he's interested in me, and I don't reciprocate on any level whatsoever. So he'll keep on wooing while I feel like pond scum in that I have no intention of going out again. Oh no, maybe he'll be like that guy who called the shadchan on a loop, refusing to take "no thank you" for an answer. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to reject anyone. Why me why me why me I could have said no more firmly in the first place and avoided all this stupid stupid stupid. . .

For some of us, it's not "just" coffee.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Male Myth

"Why aren't you wearing what you wore on Shabbos?" Ta asks, aghast. 

"What? I'm not wearing that fancy-shmancy suit on a date!" 

"Why not?" 

"'Why not?' He'll head for the hills! I'm pushing it as it is!" (In my sweater and skirt ensemble.) 

"Men aren't like that," Ta shakes his head. "They want you do be dressed up." 

"Ta, my Hungarian father . . . you're like that. That doesn't mean all men are."

"They aren't?" 

As a female, I'm judged all the time because I'm a girl. I'm "supposed to" have certain likes and dislikes. Adoring sci-fi and Batman is not a common feminine cliché. OK, I like makeup. And shopping. But many (many, many, many) other females don't. People are people, different people, man or woman.

Over the last few decades, it has become clear that the interests of women can vary. They build houses with pink hammers. They are soldiers. They skateboard. 
But men . . . men have had a harder time wiggling out of gender stereotypes. Enter "It's All Right to Cry, Dude" by Jim Windolf. Biblically, our men boo-hooed often. It was okay. Expressing emotion is as normal as a "typical" girl getting weepy. With all this female-emancipation stuff, one would think something as innocuous as men emitting liquid from their tear ducts would have been socially acceptable already. Guess not. 
Same here with "Single Men Face 'the Panic'." Unattached women of, er, a certain age have been known to complain of men—in general—that they don't want to commit, they're out having a good time, they all suck, while females fret over their expiration dates.

But this article shows that men, too, yearn for a hearth and home of their own. The clubbing and casual scene gets tiresome. Dudes can seek continuity and security as much as women do. Even they get asked the question, "Do you think all the good girls that you would want to marry are taken?" 
“Tonight I’m doing nothing,” [Jean-Marc Choffel] said. “I could go out, grab a girl, have fun. But the sense of life is to have kids and try to give them as much as you know. I believe in the power of the universe. I believe the day you go somewhere where you aren’t supposed to be, you end up falling in love and having babies. Definitely, I’m not giving up.”  
Girlies, the fellas are there too.      

Monday, May 9, 2016

Confessions of a Grudge-aholic

If there are any girls out there is familiar with the Game of Thrones books, it is obvious that the most awesome character is Arya Stark. She's, like, every tomboy-wannabe's dream. 
Arya has this adorable quirk. Every night, before falling asleep, she patiently ticks off all the names of the people she must kill. She has to be sure to keep the list current and memorized, after all. 

She's a lot like how I used to be. My memory never was the best, but if someone crossed me, man oh man, I recalled that stinging pain with near-perfect clarity. Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." That was me right there. I couldn't even look at that person without simmering resentment as I recalled my victimhood. 

But it's not a very Jewish quality. I had to get over this Arya-ism. 

I don't mean forgiveness, necessarily—forgiveness, to me, has connotations of active excusing of others' actions, and so far, that is too lofty a madreiga for me to currently contemplate. I had to make it more attainable.

I'm not sure when the transformation began to slowly, creakily roll along, but one cog was certainly TooYoungToTeach's introducing me to Myer-Briggs personality types. 

Initially I was only mildly intrigued, but after hearing about it again a few years later I was galvanized to take out (and later purchase) a book on the subject. I went with Type Talk by  Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen

We all have our own ways of perceiving and interacting with others, and sometimes those differences can cause friction. The authors explain that people aren't (necessarily) trying to irritate you; they are simply wired on a differing wavelength. 

Duuuuuuude. This has changed so much for me. Where once I would have bawled out my niece for constantly questioning my authority, now I sigh, "Classic ESTP." 

As a voluble Brené Brown junkie, I recently finished her most recent book, Rising Strong. (For those unfamiliar with her work, I would recommend I Thought It Was Just Me as a primer.) She spells out here what happens to us internally when we feel shamed, how to work through it, and how to overcome it. 

In the end, we all have—at least, I have—past actions to regret. I would want the other not to hold it against me, because if only they knew what I actually meant, that it came out wrong, that I'm not that obnoxious person anymore, that I didn't know better, then. That I'm sorry, so very sorry.

"Do you believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have available to them?" This is a quote from Brené's therapist. I try to ask myself this question whenever I feel slighted or offended. And it does change my perspective completely. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: Vengeance of the Bulge

The Biggest Loser makes for fascinating television. It's about salvation! Health! You can do it! 
Cahill, on left, gained it all back.
Except the results have not quite panned out in real life. Barring one exception, 13 out of 14 of the 2008 season's contestants have regained the weight, some with further additions, as Gina Kolata reports

Researchers tracked their metabolisms, which had originally been normal for those of their size, and found that they had slowed considerably following the weight loss. On top of that, even after regaining the weight, the metabolism remained sluggish. 

Further kinks: leptin is the hormone that controls hunger. When losing weight, leptin levels fall and appetites are increased. The one exception among the contestants' weight gain is Erinn Egbert, who initially lost 87 pounds by finale and shed another 20 on her own steam. "Two treats can turn into a binge over a three-day period. That is what I struggle with," she says.

With low leptin, cravings can be ever-present. According to another study, the hormone that drives the urge to eat rises as the leptin falls. In essence, the body fights any weight loss, uncomprehending that it is for it's own good. 
[Danny Cahill's] slow metabolism is part of the problem, and so are his food cravings. He opens a bag of chips, thinking he will have just a few. “I’d eat five bites. Then I’d black out and eat the whole bag of chips and say, ‘What did I do?’” 
I think I'm seeing a connecting thread . . . 
But Dr. Ludwig said that simply cutting calories was not the answer. “There are no doubt exceptional individuals who can ignore primal biological signals and maintain weight loss for the long term by restricting calories,” he said, but he added that “for most people, the combination of incessant hunger and slowing metabolism is a recipe for weight regain — explaining why so few individuals can maintain weight loss for more than a few months.”
Dr. Ludwig was not involved in the study, but was featured a few months ago on CBS in regards to his new book, Always Hungry? His premise is to forget about calories; focus on food quality. 

So here's my take. I'm not a doctor or scientist. But I can speak from my own experience. 

Over the past 13 years, I have slowly lost weight, usually in five pound increments. The first and forever step was to eat only good foods. I have learned and still learn that yummies that I thought were okay aren't (like non-dairy whip). As my diet became more and more veggie-based, low-carb, low-sugar, my body stopped, for the most part, yearning for those bad foods. 

But I also know I can't start. 

Magazines, TV, and the internet display calorie-bloated recipes peddled by waif-thin cooks, and I couldn't understand the contradiction. I then realized that these individuals can take a small piece and walk away. My one dragon that is still unslayed is that of unscheduled portion-control; faced with a buffet, once I have tasted, forcing myself not to go back for seconds is an out-and-out war. There is no "everything in moderation" for me with many things. 

I don't hanker for potato chips, like Mr. Cahill does. But when faced with a no-no that I do, I know there is no "I'll just take five." So I surround myself with vegetables, which can be consumed in infinite amounts with no ill-effects; if I overeat, it's sugar-snap peas. I'm working now on a brownie recipe that won't slaughter me if I need a real pick-me-up.
Don't believe the cat!
I do watch what other people eat and wonder why they aren't heavier; perhaps, I, too, have a slower metabolism and low leptin levels. Yet maybe by abiding by the same premise as Dr. Ludwig's, the rebound did not come. Erinn not only maintained her triumph, but shed even more. There is still hope, people, despite the study's results.
Erinn on The Biggest Loser
Erinn before
Erinn now
Embrace the tomato.