Thursday, June 30, 2016

The New Rom-Com

I have made it quite clear enough times: I am not a sentimental, Hallmark romantic. I'm such a Grinch that my nose curls in distaste when I am subjected to proposal props, like large hearts formed from rose petals. I may even heave a little.
I'm a practical, everyday romantic (she insists, despite being called "picky" again over the weekend). While television is usually out to endanger my kind, there must be enough like me out there that new shows are reflecting my paradigm ("Love" and "Togetherness" reviewed by
In comedy, they say timing is everything. That goes double for romantic comedy. The genre is built on the tension between fate and circumstance: Two people are meant to be together, but the plot keeps them out of sync until divine order is restored.But what if fate is just a concept we impose on accidents of timing? What if love is never “meant to be,” so much as it’s the product of will and coincidence and hard work?
I heard it said recently from Rabbi Ephraim Stauber that there is no mitzvah to marry one's bashert. Rebbe's wife ate up his kishkes. Was she his bashert? Definitely. But who wants to live like that? 

After all, didn't the original Leah boo-hoo her way from being Esav's intended to Yaakov's soulmate? (My awesome high school morah explained that Yaakov was Rochel's bashert, while Yisroel was Leah's. But that's another post.) Maybe this bashert thing is a little overrated. 
The season (I’ve seen all of it) brings Mickey and Gus together and apart, together and apart, until they confront the possibility that they really hooked up to satisfy a conception of themselves: he dating the erratic Mickey so he can feel more dangerous, she seeing a “nice guy” so she can feel she’s getting her life together. . .
Sometimes, “Love” suggests, romance doesn’t need candlelight to grow so much as an honest fluorescent glare.
What if people came together not because they relied on hiding their flaws and quirks, but presented them as being part of the whole package?
Couples form for the oddest of reasons. What would be so terrible if they were a little less . . . delusional about why they appeal to each other? 
Love, “Togetherness” suggests, is not about being constantly together. It’s about having bonds that stretch as you inevitably drift apart, and faith that they might eventually snap back.
I have heard so many (so so many) a couple protest that they are always together. Spending every single Shabbos together for the entirety of the marriage is not a testament to a union's health. Relationships aren't static. From what I hear, stuff happens. But as long as the bond is there, and remains the priority, all can be well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"The Chatzos Lady"

Rabbi Frand, We Are All In This Together:

I once spoke about Shabbos in Highland Park, NJ, and I read an essay, not realizing that the writer of that essay, a woman by the name of Mrs. Azriella Jaffe, was in the audience. 

She wrote how she makes a point of being ready for Shabbos every single week before chatzos (midday) on Friday. When I started speaking about this to women, their general reaction is to either laugh or look at me like I'm insane. But after I spoke in Highland Park, Mrs. Jaffe wrote to me to explain how this came about. 

She wrote that on Friday, her daughter remarked, "Oy, tonight is Shabbos. I wish it wasn't Shabbos." 

Do you know why she made that comment? Because Friday meant chores. Friday meant chaos. Friday meant a tense mother. 

So Mrs. Jaffe accepted upon herself that by chatzos Friday, everything would be ready. EVERYTHING!

This meant, in her words, "The food is prepared, the table is set, the candleabra is ready, and when my kids comes off the bus from school, instead of coming home to Shabbos chores and to a tense mother trying to cook and clean and make the deadline, they come home to a happy mother, a clean house, the smells of Shabbos in the air, and a free afternoon to relax.

"When my husband comes home from a long day at work, he comes home to serenity, not chaos.
"Friday Night Candle Lighting" by Robert Tanenbaum
"But to do chatzos right," she adds, "you can't start at midnight on Thursday night. You need to prepare for Shabbos every day of the week. My children now think that it's normal to make a new batch of challos on Motza'ei Shabbos. Or to plan a Shabbos menu on Sunday. They're accustomed to asking me if the chicken cooking in the oven 7 a.m. on Friday is for Shabbos." 

Listen to the icing on the cake: 

"Shabbos is on our minds all week long. When Friday comes around, our house is one of beauty and serenity, and anticipation of Shabbos, rather than that former feeling of, 'Oh no, when is candle lighting?'" 

Mrs. Jaffe started a support group with three women, but she now has women all over the world—in England, Eretz Yisrael, and Australia—in her support group. 

Once again, this is not an all-or-none deal. Whether a woman wants to be ready at chatzos, or maybe just an hour early, or even just to be ready on time rather than late, it's worth planning ahead. 

A woman from New York wrote that she set a goal of being ready five minutes before the zman, accepting upon herself to be ready 23 minutes before the shekiah rather than the standard 18 minutes. 

This already sends the message to Hashem: Shabbos is something I want, something I look forward to. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When You're Smiling

I'm Princess Lea, right? Even so, I did not initially "get" the video with Chewbacca Mom. She's just laughing. Prefaced, yes, by a cute although not knee-slapping soliloquy about the joys of toy-ownership (to which I heartily concur), but enough to get her own Wiki entry? 
But then I "got" it.

She's laughing—un-self-consciously and wholeheartedly. She's not worried what she looks like to confused passerby. She's not obsessing if others will see her as ridiculous. She is not at all concerned that her kids (or husband) will be embarrassed to be seen with her in public. 

Candace Payne bought a Chewbacca sound-effect mask. She's delighted with her purchase. Without reserve. 

She's happy.

This is the stuff of Brené.

Payne entitled the video, "It's the simple joys in life . . ." and darn-tooting, it is. 
This article by Amanda Hess comments on the phenomenon, but laughing videos in general get a lot of buzz. 
“This grown woman is using a mask that’s supposed to be for kids,” Mr. Warren said. But when we see the pure, childlike joy it produces in Ms. Payne, a stay-at-home mother from Grand Prairie, Tex., the event feels gloriously silly instead of pathetic. When laughter itself is the transgression, the videos pack a one-two punch. It’s not normal for a woman to laugh to herself at length in a crowded subway car, but it’s harmless, so as her laughing fit continues, others can’t help joining her. . . 
Online videos feel particularly intimate because they largely feature amateurs, are unscripted and are filmed up close and by hand. Ms. Payne “is a pleasant and attractive person to whom we freely lend our sympathies,” said Carl Plantinga, a professor of film and media at Calvin College who studies the psychology of cinema. “Her enthusiasm seems to be genuine and kind.”
And because she’s filming herself in close-up, her emotions are front and center — even once she puts on the mask, you can see her eyes glistening in delight. “Sympathetic viewers will involuntarily mimic her facial expressions, leading to emotional contagion,” Mr. Plantinga said. The use of Facebook Live — which streams live video instantly, with no opportunity to edit or scratch a take — only draws the viewer in closer.
Being happy—or even acting happy—is deliciously freeing. Not caring about "looking stupid" means one never does.    

Monday, June 27, 2016


On Super Soul Sunday, Oprah (shudder) featured Rob and Kristen Bell, the husband and wife team of Zimzum of Love
That's right. Zimzum. As in "Tzimtzum."

They admit it is a kabbalistic concept. As the blurb explains, "Zimzum is a Hebrew term where God, in order to have a relationship with the world, contracts, creating space for the creation to exist. In marriage, zimzum is the dynamic energy field between two partners, in which each person contracts to allow the other to flourish. Mastering this field, this give and take of energy, is the secret to what makes marriage flourish."


I have not read the book. What I am sharing is a concept they shared with Oprah during the program. 

Rob explains that he's impulsive by nature, a leaper as opposed to a looker. His wife is more deliberate, slower to act. (In Meyer-Briggs, Rob is a Perceiver, while Kristen is a Judger.) When he gets psyched about something and is gung-ho, Kristen tugs him back. Once he would have been frustrated by her hesitance. 

Then he realized that when one marries, one gains another set of eyes. "Help me to see what you are seeing," he now asks her. In addition, he goes further, every child one has also contributes further "eyes," obtaining even more perspectives.

We all see the world differently, which creates differences in opinion. Arguments are usually about demanding that the other sees things your way. Yet the only way to achieve resolution is by comprehending what the other sees. 

This isn't just about couples. This applies to any relationship.    

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tedious Opinion

"Ah, a brilliant work of fiction!" I tried Salman Rushdie. I don't get him. 

Perhaps it is my lazy nature, but there aren't many hyped or classic works that I've reluctantly slogged through. Although I'm not exactly advertising my regency romance stage in high school. I do not consider never having read Wuthering Heights to be a proud lack of achievement.
I have definitely fallen prey to an author's reputation. How can I not? It's amazing how attractive a sale item becomes once I know the hauteur of the designer. Is a book any different? 

Zoë Heller explains how her school training for revering the literary greats left her unprepared to critique any sort of non-officially "sacred" writing. 

As are many of us, it would seem. Eventually, she became less admiring and more discerning about the big-kahuna authors. Heller concludes: 
It’s possible, of course, to get a little drunk on the pleasures of having unfashionable views. Contrarianism is a species of vanity and just as much of a bore, in its way, as unquestioning obeisance to prevailing opinion. (Every now and then, I have to check myself and ask, Do I really not rate Elena Ferrante, or do I just enjoy upsetting her cultish fans?) Still, it is better, by and large, to be a conceited skeptic than to spend one’s life sitting meekly on the critical bandwagon.
I couldn't get through the first Ferrante book. (Can I admit that?) But I don't think that questioning everything is any better than questioning nothing. Too often the former merely the same default reaction as the latter, not necessarily based on anything. 

In any case, opinion about current works will mean little a century from now: 
Predicting the next great American novel: 

When we think about the future, we envision a version of the present: that the TV shows, movies and singers who matter most today will be the ones remembered in100 years. History says otherwise, Chuck Klosterman argues in But What if We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were in the Past. The works that endure, he says, are the ones that suture societies find meaningful, whether they are valued in their day or not. Herman Melville's Moby Dick was scorned when it came out, and Franz Kafka was dead before The Trial saw print. So which of today's writers will be remembered in 2116? Probably not Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen, Klosterman says, but someone writing in obscurity (perhaps on the deep web), representing an ultra-marginalized group and covering subjects that can be completely reinterpreted by future readers. "The most amazing writer of this generation," he writes, "is someone you've never heard of."—Sarah Begley, TIME

Hey, that means any of us could be famous! As long as one doesn't mind being long dead and not seeing a penny from it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Can't Win

As an one-on-one chatterer, I often come to a point when I think I'm talking too much about myself. It's not that I'm not curious about this person I have just met, but one does not really know what topic could be potentially problematic. There have been too many times when I inquired about something I thought to be completely innocuous, only to have unintentionally harried at the other's sore spot. 

Therefore, I expound about my experiences, opinions, and beliefs, hoping the other will chime in with her own experiences, opinions, and beliefs. 

But there are times, when the other side remains unresponsive, I often rebuke myself. Query her! Show interest in her interests. Yet there I go, telling her all about my favorite breakfast and my idea of a good book and my thoughts on classical fashion.

Until a date, when I realized, quite proudly, that I was being properly inquisitive, without even trying! Family history, work, hobbies—I covered them all. Good girl! I trilled inside. You're being considerate for once. Totally not coming off as self-absorbed.

"You ask too many questions," he replied tiredly at one point.


Humph. Go be nice.     

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Frank Bruni, "The Clintons' Secret Language"
I’m less and less interested in guessing, because I’m more and more aware of how compartmentalized people are, of how flawed and fruitless it is to extrapolate from one chamber of their lives to another. The stingiest spouse and parent can be the greatest boss, and vice versa. Someone who’s selfless and principled in one context is sometimes the opposite in another, as if there’s only so much goodness to go around.
And no chamber resists exploration and explanation like that of a marriage or comparable relationship.
We’re certain that we have it figured out — who musters the most patience, who makes the greatest sacrifices, who’s pure, who’s sullied — until it falls apart. Then we gape at the pieces, because none are recognizable.
We’re certain that social climbing or religious devotion is a couple’s glue, when what matters more is the secret language of goofy endearments that they speak. Or the unremarkable daily rituals that they’ve grown to relish. Or the tempo of his speech. Or the timbre of her laugh.
And when we come to our sweeping conclusions, we’re not perceiving but projecting, and we’re using couples to cling to our idealism or validate our cynicism. It’s a foolish game under any circumstances.
Humans are multi-faceted. Children utilize the simple categories of "good" and "bad" to view others. Adults should be more . . . well, adult about people. That's why it is a shock to me when I hear those who can qualify for social security using terms like "rasha merusha" about the next-door neighbor.
There are times when I—and I admit this shamefully—will succumb and beredt A to B. When B responds, "That doesn't mean she's a bad person!," I get irritated. I didn't say she was. This one aspect of A is giving me grief; that doesn't mean I believe her to be on equal footing with Stalin. 

I have made judgements about others because of past bad experiences, or because of my own insecurities, or my own prejudices—as Rivka Silver beautifully describes. Yet people are delightfully complex.

One Yom Kippur, a speaker explained how the strength of the kehilla is formed by the variety of middos we each contribute. One is awesome with tzedaka; one rocks in shmiras halashon; one is da bomb in kavana; one is the bee's knees in kibud av v'eim. 

He didn't trod down this path, but this is my own continuation: Do none of these people have other, less stellar quirks? Of course not. One can be speak without thought; one is prone to impatience and anger; one repeatedly misses davening; one has cheated on his taxes. 

Where I excel, others struggle. Where I am weak, others bloom. Most of us try to become better. Progress may be faster for her, slower for him. We are all just freakin' human. Remember that, PL. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Want

As soon as Eewok walked through the door, I could tell that she hadn't slept enough the night before. When she hasn't rested sufficiently, Eewok, usually a total mammelah, becomes hair-raisingly self-involved and stubborn. 

"I want you to play cards with me," she demanded. 

I don't negotiate with terrorists. Since she didn't ask properly: "We'll see. Soon." 

"But I want you to play cards!" 

"What is this 'want'? What about what I want? You don't care that I want to read the paper. We don't talk like that."

The afternoon continued, with little progress. "I want." "I want." "I want." Rarely had I heard her use such language. 

Until the dam broke. She had wanted to go to shul with Luke and he remained firmly implacable. Eewok dissolved into tears. "But I want to!" she wailed, refusing to budge. 

"What is this 'want'?" I repeated in exasperation. "You want to be a big girl? Fine. Here it is: You don't get to do what you want." 

"You do!" she bawled. "Adults get to do what they want!" 

"What? That's what you think? Baby, being a grown-up doesn't mean you get to do what you want. Being a grown-up means you don't get to do what you want."

Large tears dripped down her reddened cheeks. She glared at me defiantly. I could almost hear her think, "Liar." 

Classic middle child. She is quite sure there is a conspiracy against her, plotting to keep her miserable and out of the fun. 

Wait till she finds out the truth. I never wanted to be an adult. Because I knew it's awesome to be young, under someone else's care, with no major responsibilities. Why the heck would I want to be an adult? Rochel Spagenthal gets it to. 

But it does have its upside, as she notes. Although "wanting" has little to do with it.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Seeking: Friend

In response to a piece regarding a gay man and female best friend, there was a letter that I liked: 
There's an obsession with romance in our culture. But what we don't talk about in this context is friendship. I don't mean friendship as a substitute for romance. I mean friendship as a component of romance. The most successful couples I know are friends first and foremost. You have to be in order for a relationship to last. There has to be mutual pleasure in each other's company. There has to be laughter and reliability and respect. There has to be recognition of individuality and of connection. There has to be acceptance of flaws and celebration of strengths. But when you start talking this way, people get upset, as if you're trying to deny them their fantasies or get them to "settle" for someone lesser than "the one" who is surely out there somewhere. Friendship doesn't preclude desire. It doesn't preclude passion. It can encompass those things while being bigger and deeper. Friendship is less selfish, more forgiving, and ultimately more substantial. I think a lot of couples who divorce were never friends to begin with (yes, there are certainly counterexamples). They didn't base their relationships on love of each other as people but rather as projected images. Life is hard and I'd much rather get through it with a loving friend than with a friendly lover.—JMOLKA
The article was about deep friendship that could never be romantic. Eric believed that as a gay man, his best and closest relationship should be with a romantic partner, but eventually concluded, after harshly judging gay men living with their female best friends, that love and affection is love and affection—and there is nothing shameful in that. He became his female best friend's flatmate.

I'm not a romantic. I do not fantasize about dreamy proposals with a piping sound track while wearing painful yet gorgeous shoes. Perhaps I am a romantic—if romance means spending time with someone—with conversation or without—who sees me, my values, my priorities, my strengths, my weaknesses, and I see him, as he is. (I wouldn't look gross, mind, but I don't need to have my hair blown to a crisp.)

I fantasize about friendship, the Biblical "reyah," the ideal relationship when two people accept each other, and everything that goes with it.
I have been on dates when it is obvious the suitor is not interested in "seeing" me. Rather, he projects on to me what he has decided I am, what he has decided what I want to hear, what he has decided that I want in life. He doesn't want to see me. Goodbye. I'm in the market for a friend. 
Many things are relative. I read this great line in a book review in TIME: "Her love is passionate but shallow." Passion, for me, seems like a lot of work. Ah, quiet contentment, what could get any better for one who strives to be sedentary? Is passionately shallow love meaningful? Not to me. But that's just me.

In Belva Plain's Evergreen, a female character has a crisis when she discovers that her fierce attachment to her husband is not echoed on his end with equal vehemence. He loves her, yes, but not with the storybook passion that she longs for. He says to her at that there is no set definition for "love"; it's an individual sensation. He loves her, dearly and truly. Just differently.

I have heard it said, in many a rom-com, that "I think we're really good friends, but . . ." 
Hey, you had me at "good friend"!  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Purpose?

I had believed that my purpose is to find my spiritual partner and have children to teach them the ways of the Force—uh, sorry, Judaism. 

So my prayers have been somewhat petulant lately. "Hey, Eibishter? What up. 'Memba me? You know how You have in Sh'ma, 'V'shinantam l'vanecha'? So, um, could You, like, send me the means to have those vanecha? Why else was I put on this earth, complete with early childhood training—didn't You see how dope I was with my nephew's tantrum, not appeasing him and all? Could You help a girl out by sending her her zivug, like, yesterday?" 

I had been getting more and more frustrated, whining self-pityingly at the Lord for His seeming lack of comprehension. "Seriously, Dude, how are You not understanding this? I'm trying to serve You and honor You by raising a next generation in Your Name, but I'm being set up with Jar-Jars!" 

In a sulk, I listened to an endless stream of Rabbi Daniel Glatstein shiurim. In one shiur, he mentioned that a Jew is not required to become a doctor because he might save a life in the future; a Jew only has to concern herself with the situation at hand, before her.

It cannot be my purpose is restricted to that which I cannot control, I comprehended. A Jew must focus on the situation at hand. Ergo, there is purpose in how I live now

As I heard from Esther Wein, a Jew's purpose is to give honor to the Eibishter. That can be done in a multitude of ways, and according to my simple understanding, that would be doing mitzvos—both bein adam l'Makom and bein adam l'chaveiro—with as much diligence as I can. 

Honoring my parents; davening with focused kavana; watching my speech; saying brachos with more care.  

In another shiur of Esther Wein's, she quotes from Sefer Yishayahu (Perek 56). Hashem is addressing the childless and geirim of millennia ago. 
Happy is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that holdeth fast by it: that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the alien, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying: 'The LORD will surely separate me from His people'; neither let the eunuch say: 'Behold, I am a dry tree.' For thus saith the LORD concerning the eunuchs that keep My Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and hold fast by My covenant: Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a memorial better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall not be cut off. Also the aliens, that join themselves to the LORD, to minister unto Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast by My covenant.
Shabbos. Do I really have the right perspective of Shabbos? We're told it's major, but it has been watered down to a "recharging from high tech life" sort of day. There are so many halachos I'm ignorant of, actions I refrain from doing that are actually permissible, as well as erroneously transgressing Shabbos from ignorance.
I did some browsing and came across a series on Shabbos by Rabbi Efraim Stauber. They are helping me rethink it completely. 

I have heard singles say they are frustrated because they don't seem to have a role in a couple-focused community. What if we make Shabbos our thing? Not necessarily in terms of meals—Shabbos is not about cholent—but in terms of keeping it better? Not looking at it as a day of restriction, but as a day of love between us and the great big Papa in the sky? 
I have been ignoring the much that is within my purview.    

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Do No Harm

I am fascinated by history. If one analyzes a situation with the long view, one can see patterns. 
Like the pendulum swing. Society accepts one extreme, and then rebound to the other; eventually, it slows and settles into the center.

The past fifty years or so, science did away with nature. Butter was shunned for margarine. Dairy was fiercely de-fatted (I want my childhood years, sentenced to skim milk, back). Every minor complaint can be "fixed" with medication or surgery. 

Butter is back. Fatty dairy is back (I'm making up for lost time). As for being "fixed"? 

A few years ago I was seized by a violent sinus infection. I inched into an ENT's office, tears in eyes. He scribbled up, along with antibiotics, a prescription for Vicodin. 

"Um, that's okay," I demurred. "I watch House." 

He looked at me in scorn. "Why should you suffer if you don't have to?" 

I gingerly picked up the prescription. I did not use it. 

Doctors happy-pen method with opiods have led to addictions and overdoses, and now they are considerably cutting back; sufferers will have to suffer.

In general, the policy for vigilant medicine and treatment is easing off. The required annual checkup is off. Screenings and tests that were once necessary are now under the "Weeeell . . ." category. Even treatments for certain conditions or illnesses are found to be not as vital as once thought.

"Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?" by Ezekiel Emanuel highlights the current quo: 
One of the more surprising — and genuinely scary — research papers published recently appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine. It examined 10 years of data involving tens of thousands of hospital admissions. It found that patients with acute, life-threatening cardiac conditions did better when the senior cardiologists were out of town. And this was at the best hospitals in the United States, our academic teaching hospitals. As the article concludes, high-risk patients with heart failure and cardiac arrest, hospitalized in teaching hospitals, had lower 30-day mortality when cardiologists were away from the hospital attending national cardiology meetings. And the differences were not trivial — mortality decreased by about a third for some patients when those top doctors were away.
Truly shocking and counterintuitive: Not having the country’s famous senior heart doctors caring for you might increase your chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.
He cites an Israeli study: 
This is not the only recent finding that suggests that more care can produce worse health outcomes. A study from Israel of elderly patients with multiple health problems but still living in the community tried discontinuing medicines to see if patients got better. Not unusual for these types of elderly patients, on average, they were taking more than seven medications.
In a systematic, data-driven fashion, the researchers discontinued almost five drugs per patient for more than 90 percent of the patients. In only 2 percent of cases did the drugs have to be restarted. No patients had serious side effects and no patients died from stopping the drugs. Instead, almost all of the patients reported improvements in health, not to mention the saving of drug money.
And people wonder why I'm afraid of doctors
Despite often repeating the mantra “First, do no harm,” doctors have difficulty with doing less — even nothing. We find it hard to refrain from trying another drug, blood test, imaging study or surgery.
We forget the body's capacity for healing. It doesn't always always need help. But today, with so much within human control, we forget that we don't always have all the solutions.
People say there is a "shidduch crisis." Which means, it has to be fixed! But what if we can't? Has any sort of new initiatives actually changed the marriage rates? If anything, it seems as though divorce—"marriage mortality"—is on the rise. 

A new book (Hoping to Help) analyzes the effectiveness of volunteers nobly assisting in third-world countries. It's not always wonderful. 
Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.
So who did I think of? 


It really is unpleasant trying to politely fend off the misplaced fervor of a bullying matchmaker who barely knows you yet insists you "must" go out with someone. Yes, they say they are "trying to help," but how is this helpful? Congratulations: My bowels clench every time I receive an e-mail or phone call from someone chirpily claiming to be a "shadchan."
Do no harm. Like Chevi says.    

Friday, June 10, 2016


  • Loved the title of an article about celebrity privacy: "Keeping mum in the age of blab." I should stitch that on a throw pillow; and 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ringless Men

It's sometimes an awkward conversation explaining to the unaffiliated or non-Jewish why most Jewish men don't wear wedding bands. 

One of Owen's friends starting wearing one to work because an amorous secretary kept hitting on him. Double aaaaaakward. 

But it seems, there are enough non-Jewish men nowadays not wearing wedding bands either ("Men Who Don't Wear Wedding Bands—And Why" by Abby Ellin)—not even Prince William, and it's not like he's trying to pretend he's not married. Martians tuned in to the royal wedding.
See that left hand? Notice something?
So I did some lazy googling. While the practice for women's wedding rings have been around since the Egyptians, and the concept of the left fourth finger being designated for such a purpose from the Romans (because of a mistaken belief that the "love vein" runs through that digit), male wedding bands are very recent.
"Vena Amoris"
The jewelry industry, as they did by popularizing diamonds for engagement rings, tried to make it a "thing," but it didn't take off until World War II when men wanted a memento of their loved one to take with them into battle. Then man bling came into style during the '60s and '70s.

As this letter attests:
I don’t think you can call men wearing wedding rings a “tradition” since it didn’t become common until fairly recently. I think it’s more of a fad that’s winding down.—Kevin Cunningham
It ain't even tradition! It's a newish stunt!
So breath easy, my coreligionists: Just shrug and claim a disinterest in trends, like "the fade" haircut.      

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Turmeric, Magical Cure-All

I'm prone to mysterious stomach maladies. They are not, thankfully, as common as they used to be, but can still stab if not given the right digestives. 

From Yogi Cameron I learned of two natural potions that proved potent. The first, as a remedy for acid reflux, is a few pinches of saffron simmered in a cup of whole milk for 8 to 10 minutes, to allow the benefits to infuse.
For my acid reflux-prone family member, this concoction swiftly neutralized esophageal agony. 

Saffron, however, is quite expensive and not always readily available. As my internet browsing informed me, turmeric possesses all the bam-pow benefits without the price tag. I've made the acid-reflux remedy with both saffron and turmeric, and the latter performed just as well as the former. 

The second remedy is congee, white rice that is overcooked in copious water from anywhere between 30 minutes to overnight. For one suffering from an angry belly, sipping this mush (sweetener is permitted) provides nourishment without further demands of the compromised stomach.
Awaking one morning with an aching tummy, I chucked together the rice and water, but then also added turmeric and a slosh of oil. Turmeric is fat-soluble (that's why for the turmeric milk, whole milk is best). Then I left it to simmer for as long as I could.
My stomach pain vanished. Gone. And the next time, and the next.

To keep my stomach happy, I've started adding vigorous shakes of turmeric to my daily lunch soup. The taste is mild enough that it doesn't overwhelm the other flavors.

*Note: Turmeric stains something terrible. It may not even be possible to wash it out. So don't wear anything treasured while cooking/consuming it.

**Second note: Do not confuse the uses for turmeric milk and turmeric congee. If suffering from a stomach bug or upset stomach, milk will kill you. Not literally, obviously, but it won't be pleasant. Strictly for acid reflux.   

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Children of the Book

I have not yet met a child that does not like books.

Of course, it's easy to like books when there are pictures. That's why I try to insert photos into my posts as much as possible; no one can resist illustrations. Or even photos in the newspaper. So many conversations have been instigated because a child inquired as to a picture in the newspapers that clutter the kitchen table.

It gives me particular joy when a niece (it's usually a niece) requests a book of their own. I feel as though my purpose as an aunt has been fulfilled. 

The kinfauna only know how to ask because they have discovered them on the shelves first. I own every Calvin & Hobbes (not the collections, dog-eared copies that survived my childhood), a groaning quantity of Berenstain Bears, Harry Potter (duh), and glorious, glorious Tintin

When I whispered into Thing 1's ear that I bought for her—after she expressed interest—the original Calvin & Hobbes, Something Under the Bed is Drooling, and Scientific Progress Goes "Boink", the gaze of loving reverence was enough to buoy me for a week.
She couldn't have asked about it if it hadn't been there for her to find. 

"Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves" by Teddy Wayne makes a case for print media and books to adorn homes—for the sake of the children. 
Perhaps the strongest case for a household full of print books came from a 2014 study published in the sociology journal Social Forces. Researchers measured the impact of the size of home libraries on the reading level of 15-year-old students across 42 nations, controlling for wealth, parents’ education and occupations, gender and the country’s gross national product.
After G.N.P., the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance. The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance. (Diminishing returns kick in at about 500 books, which is the equivalent of about 2.2 extra years of education.)
Libraries matter even more than money; in the United States, with the size of libraries being equal, students coming from the top 10 percent of wealthiest families performed at just one extra grade level over students from the poorest 10 percent.
The implications are clear: Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically. It helps, of course, if parents are reading to their children and reading themselves, not simply buying books by the yard as décor.
E-reading (as well as music selection) is based on what the seeker is already looking for; print and records mean that one comes across something and discovers something new.
That's the fun of libraries—arbitrarily plucking a book from the shelf which may or may not end up being a winner. But more often than not, it is.    

Monday, June 6, 2016

Those Who Compromise

"Older singles get set in their ways," is a common refrain. "They aren't willing to compromise. That's why it is important to marry young." 

That generalization always niggled at me. After all, shouldn't the "older" be officially mature, which would mean they are more capable of constructing healthy relationships? Is anyone going to claim that a 20-year-old is better prepared for marriage than a 30-year-old?  Yet the belief is that the more years under one's belt, the more childish one is? 

Doesn't make much sense, does it?

The most important criteria when dating is supposedly that of hashkafa, frumkeit, religiosity. One cannot create an online dating account without ticking off that box first.

Usually, kids emerge straight out of Jewish institutions and hit the dating market. There is a parallel yeshiva for every seminary. These lads and ladies, having spent a year in a restricted environment, tend to emulate those same outlooks. In which case, finding another on one's present religious perspective is relatively simple. Shidduchim are redt accordingly.

However, if one happens to remain single, one has the time and space to develop an individual relationship with one's own faith and God. Whilst this evolution takes place, the "rules" of the previous hashkafa can fall to the wayside as personal identity comes into being.

After a decade in the dating market, it would be kind of laughable if the seminary or yeshiva attended remained a matter of concern. The neighbor's kid has gone through so many changes in head coverings in the past five years I can barely keep up.

The "youth" aren't the masters of compromise. They haven't yet necessarily developed a distinct sense of self to compromise on. If they marry while still unformed, they can, ideally, meld and grow together. These couples don't necessarily maintain the same religious viewpoint forever (as FB informs me), but the two transform as one.

The "older" date differently. They have to navigate a dating world that claims that there are categories, but there really aren't anymore. Each one of us are our own kind, no matter what those fiddly pieces of profile paper claim. 

And we are grownups, perfectly capable of compromise, thank you very much.   

Thursday, June 2, 2016


It's been a while since I had an anti-phone rant, right? Well, let's make up for lost time: 

We have—rubbing hands together in glee—Sherry Turkle's "Talk to Each Other, Not Your Phone"; Jonathan Franzen's review of her book, Reclaiming Conversation; Tony Schwartz's "Addicted to Distraction"; Amy Cuddy's "Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture—and Your Mood"; and a CBS News story, "What makes us happy and healthy?" (it has to do with giving our loved ones undivided attention).
First Turkle, who has written extensively on the subject of how technology is destroying the quality of our relationships. This article is addressing the feedback she received regarding another article of hers that I already linked. One comment she received was that if an interaction is boring, why shouldn't one seek entertainment elsewhere? 
I have heard this objection before: In order for conversation to earn its right to be attended to, it needs to be compelling and novel. This way of thinking incorporates a view of conversation as a transactional tool: It has to accomplish something or provide new information. So, if these are your values and you find yourself in a conversation, there is pressure to be interesting and to perform. With that kind of pressure, it is not surprising that so many of us find it more relaxing to interact on screens. There, where we can edit and revise, we imagine that we are less likely to be dull and more likely to seem interesting.
Middleton offers his view of human conversation as a critique of my thesis; I see it as evidence of why we find ways around conversation. It holds conversation up to a standard that inhibits us from talking with spontaneity, from letting conversation develop naturally. Yet these are the kinds of conversations in which intimacy and empathy thrive.
In order for true connection to happen, there will be some emptiness, a lull, silence. Embrace it. Be freakin' bored, it won't kill you. 
According to this view, when you are engaged in talk, you are interested in hearing how another person approaches things — her opinions and associations. In this kind of conversation — I think of it as “whole person conversation” — if things go quiet for a while you look deeper, you don’t text another friend. You take the moment to read your friend more closely or look at something you haven’t attended to before. Perhaps you look into her face or pay attention to to her body language. Or you simply allow the silence.
On to Franzen on Turkle: 
The people she interviews have adopted new technologies in pursuit of greater control, only to feel controlled by them. The likably idealized selves that they’ve created with social media leave their real selves all the more isolated. They communicate incessantly but are afraid of face-to-face conversations; they worry, often nostalgically, that they’re missing out on something fundamental.
The potential detriment to children, in particularly, is the most alarming. Without conversation, they don't develop empathy, nor do they learn the means to deal with hardship, like bullying. Eek.
Schwartz relates his struggle to detach from technology. When he was unable to focus on a book, he realized he had to cut back on email and web surfing. With his daughter's assistance, he went cold-turkey (except for texting).
During those first few days, I did suffer withdrawal pangs, most of all the hunger to call up Google and search for an answer to some question that arose. But with each passing day offline, I felt more relaxed, less anxious, more able to focus and less hungry for the next shot of instant but short-lived stimulation. What happened to my brain is exactly what I hoped would happen: It began to quiet down. 
That was for vacation. He's back to work, which means, of course, he has to deal with emails and internet. But now he's able to control how much time he devotes to it.

Cuddy was the one who taught us that standing tall makes you feel awesome; so slouching over an iPhone can make you pretty bummed. Also premature hunches cannot be that appealing (but that's just my note).
I'm not so much of the DOOM outlook. I believe when something new comes on the scene, those who grew up without it don't know how to deal with it responsibly, as opposed to those who were born with it in hand. Print books are back to the point that bookstores are reopening, and e-book sales are decreasing. The novelty of ignoring real people will wear off soon. I hope.         

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cucumber Salad, Perfected

"Ma, what's the cucumber salad recipe again?" I bellowed up the stairs. 

"Cup of water, half a cup of sugar, quarter cup of vinegar. Could be a bit less sugar and a bit more vinegar," she hollered back. 

That poor intercom system that Ta insisted on never gets any love. 

I boiled up the concoction and poured it over the sliced cucumbers. 

The next day Ma was telling me of a cucumber salad recipe featured by a Hungarian guest on Loving Spoonfuls. "That's a lot more vinegar than we use," I noted, "and a lot less sugar." Although she didn't boil the liquids together, the philistine. 

Questioning my beautifully jarred results, I searched online for "cucumber salad water vinegar sugar." From the numerous options, there seems to be little in terms of official rules. Between the three ingredients, quantities vary greatly.

Costco sells New England cucumbers, which have also served as light sabers in a few mock battles. I use those for the salad, one and a half to two, which ideally fit into my 34 oz. ball jar. I'm not sure how that would translate to kerbie dimensions . . . maybe four? Four sounds good. Four-ish. Five?

Cucumber Salad

1½ New England cucumbers, or 4 to 5-ish kerbies, unpeeled
1 cup of water
½ cup sugar (or less)
¼ cup vinegar** (or more) 
kosher salt  
*onion influence of choice (sliced onion, shallots, scallions) 
*minced garlic
*dill, dried or fresh

1. I prefer to leave the skin on for color and nutrition. Wash the cucumbers well and thinly—THINLY—slice. (The food processor does not do a fine enough job, sadly, although maybe a mandolin would. Zeidy did epic cucumber slicing. My knifework will always be inferior to his. Ethereal wisps. Ethereal wisps.)

2. Place the cucumbers in a colander. Toss thoroughly with kosher salt—don't be stingy. Leave alone for about 30 minutes. An hour is also fine.

3. Rinse off salt. (If you didn't have ethereal wisps before, you should now.) Drain. 

4. In jar of choice (mine is the 34 oz./1 liter Bormioli Rocco Quattro Stagnioni jar), chuck in cucumbers and optional seasonings (for me, scallions or shallots with two or three cloves of minced garlic and plenty of dill). 

5. Combine the water, vinegar, and sugar in a pot, stir a couple of times to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil, then pour the potion into the jar over the cucumbers

6. Et voilà. Keeps in the fridge for a goodly amount of time. Consume with meat, chicken, fish, other vegetables, or on its lonesome. 

**I have used apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and standard vinegar