Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Grace Under Fire

". . . and she's looking for someone kind." 

I had let Ta take over this conversation, since I'm so tired of rattling off my very short list, have the inquirer nod understandingly, then if they follow up, sending me a profile of someone who doesn't remotely fit my limited criteria at all

I thought about what Ta had said, and something niggled. 

Kind. Nice. There are people out there who walked out of the womb who fit that description. Their smiles are beatific. All agree they are "sweet." They never demand or shout or are disagreeable. 

But they are not necessarily immune to the "bad day." 

Bad days happen. They are a fact of life. There are days when "everything" just seems to go wrong. If not everything, then enough. Buses are missed. Umbrellas are forgotten. Stocks go down. Colds are caught. Bosses yell. Wallets are misplaced. 

Now: Be nice. 

I'm not looking for someone inherently kind. It's no big kintz to be born nice—one cannot take credit for that, anymore than one can accept compliments for eye color ("Yes, I worked quite hard on achieving the perfect shade of hazel. Thank you so much for noticing").

I cannot delicately phrase it, and few would recognize it in real life anyway, but here it is: I'm looking for someone who can suck it up. Adorableness is of little import when the weather is ideal and the plumbing is operating swimmingly and there aren't squirrels in the attic. 

Can he keep it together (enough) when everything else is falling apart? 

That's the question. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's a Big World Out There

During the war in Gaza, my Facebook feed was clogged. Yes, I know the world media sucks and they are being totally unfair. I agree with you. Preaching to the choir and all that. That being the case, must you people keep sharing the obvious with me?  Go tell someone who, maybe, needs to told?

The way Facebook is set up, Frank Bruni reminds us ("How Facebook Warps Our Worlds"), is that it keeps tabs of what you like and then suggests other things you might like. 

Sounds harmless . . .  in theory. 

By constantly providing us only the information that appeals, our view is narrowed. It's like shopping for dresses whilst being adamant on only one label. There are many dresses out there. Many many many pretty, flattering frocks that differ from one another, but can still potentially suit. If not you, then someone else.

Come to think of it, my FB feed is rather monotonous. How many times can Sean Bean as Boromir be used in a meme? A million freakin' times.
 http://www.mememaker.net/static/images/memes/4350897.jpg
Maybe that's why I love the op-ed sections of the newspaper. I can read about all sorts of topics I didn't know existed. I can agree, disagree, or snort in derision. But along the way, I am reminded of this vast, diverse, fascinating world beyond Jean-Luc Picard face palm witticisms.
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-fBGfmuzoEMo/UyPJJXOyRuI/AAAAAAAABhw/ZjAk0p2MSGA/s1600/322358-picard-facepalm.jpg

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dressing for Men: The Barber

Waiting for my turn in the salon chair, my eyes wandered over to the in-house master of hair as he snipped a teenage boy's hair with scissors. His technique was carefully observed by a new employee. 
When the kid thanked him for the great haircut, his barber went on a rant. The electric hair clipper is the most horrible invention, he stormed. All heads are created different, and to take a one-size-fits-all machine to hair is an absolute travesty. 
I wholeheartedly agree. 

My sister-in-law took my nephew to a so-called barber, then was frozen in shock as electric clippers tore through his mane in record time. He looked like trailer trash. His hair rebounded, but I'm certainly still traumatized. 

Dudes: Find thyself a barber, and not one formerly from the army. Your hair should be cut with scissors, not with a machine.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

As We Are

The word "empowerment" has become the rallying cry of mainstream feminism, with virtually any act performed enthusiastically by a woman—from washing her hair to posting her bikini photos—now designated as "empowering." But while everyone from Unilever to the Republican Party has embraced the background noise of "empowerment," this frenzy has done almost nothing to change our society's structures or understanding of authority. 

Women are still drastically underrepresented anywhere that genuine power resides in the U.S., especially in business and politics . . .  By advising women to fight this sexist norm through empowerment—the feeling of inner potency, not the material gain in status—the feminist movement has started to sound like a branch of the self-help industry. Lean in! Adopt power positions! Negotiate a raise! Walk tall! Stop apologizing! Think positive! Be assertive! The message is clear: If you want to feel empowered, you need to be improved. 

If we buy into this story—in which feminism is a feel-good anthem and women are to blame for their own oppression—the genuinely powerful woman will remain an exception . . . 
—Ruth Whippman, TIME magazine (Whippman is the author of America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, out Oct. 4)

As a non-confrontationalist, this was nice to read.   

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"I Contain Multitudes"

There's this line from a Thanksgiving episode of Will & Grace that I adore. Will is frantically cooking the feast for his boyfriend's family, and in the rush an important plate drops.
WILL: Aah!
[WILL LOOKS AT THE FOOD ON THE FLOOR.]
WILL: Oh. I'm gonna throw 'em out and start again.
VINCE: Don't worry about it. This is Queens. "Three second rule" is like a "three day rule."
I have yet to hear that Queens residents have a higher rate of dying from weird infections than any other place.

A client proudly brought me a brimming bottle of hand sanitizer. I politely thanked him, and have never used it. Nor has anyone else in the office, for that matter.
 http://www.inquisitiveparents.com/WP/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Pacifier-on-the-floor.jpg
I can't annihilate germs. They're our friends! 

I was awed by this fascinating book review of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
According to the latest estimates, about half of your cells are not human — enough to make you wonder what you mean by “you.” Your human cells come from a single fertilized egg with DNA from your mother and father. Microbes began mingling with those human cells even before your first breath, the first kiss from your mother, your first taste of milk. And your human cells could not have built a healthy body without intimate help from all those trillions of immigrant microbes — your other half.
“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman declares in “Leaves of Grass,” in his great poem “Song of Myself.” But what is “self”? According to conventional wisdom, your immune system is supposed to protect you by detecting and rejecting anything in your body that is not “self.” And yet your very immune system is partly built and even partly run by microbes. “Even when we are alone, we are never alone,” Ed Yong writes in his excellent and vivid introduction to our microbiota, or microbiome, the all-enveloping realm of our microbes. “When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us.”
Humans swung from ignorant, murderous lack of hygiene to the other extreme, napalming anything that intimated "germs." Hand washing and sterilization has saved many, many lives, and has prevented illnesses from spreading. But as hand washing was overcome by "antibacterial," the results also include superbugs, over-active and harmful immune systems, and compromised intestines that hungered for thriving gut bacteria. 

No extreme is a good extreme. For the Rambam, there was only one exception. 

Tal Abbady's "Less Disinfectant, More Rioja" describes how fear of germs almost cost her the last precious moments of her mother's life. After surgery, her mother contracted a fungal infection in the hospital, which proved fatal.
The next day I came into my mother’s hospital room and sat down, but couldn’t bring myself to touch her. I was suddenly afraid I would catch her state. This lasted about an hour. Then, in that extremity of living — in the last room she would inhabit, with its antiseptic surfaces and green lighting — my mother took over, as she usually did, with a graceful force of will. She looked at me. I put my hands on her hands, on the corporeality of her dying, and my small, cold fear broke apart.
At the moment of her death a few days later, I was broken and weightless at once, large and unafraid. This was her gift . . .
In Spain, where Abbady has lived, there is no "germ" conversation. From my dubious online research, Spain has the highest life expectancy for women in Europe.

We do so many things by route, even when disproved by new information. Chances are, the beliefs we have as the source of our demises are false. I'm saying this as someone who always thinks she's dying. 

We're doing okay now, B'H. Our children survive infancy. No one dies anymore from a "chill." But germs are a part of us. My destroying them indiscriminately, we also destroy our vitality—physically and mentally. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Inside Out

The first word that popped into my head when I first met her was "persimmon." The second was "hag." 

Her face was tight with tension, lips pursed, eyes narrow. Those sort of squinting expressions mar the skin with a multitude of lines—and she isn't even so old. 

I then heard the happy news of her engagement, and when I entered the vort I heard murmurings: "Isn't the kallah beautiful?" 

Who, lemon-mouth? Nah. 

But she was. 

Her joy suffused her very being, smoothing skin, widening her mouth into a blissful smile, casting a twinkle to her eyes. Same makeup, same clothing, but a whole new person revealed. Ah, there you are! Pleased to meet you.
http://www.olesyanovik.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/happy-sad-woman1.jpg
Via olesyanovik.com
Shortly beforehand, I was dancing by a wedding when I spied a magnificent Face across the way. Her makeup! That eyeshadow! That lipstick! That skin! STUNNING!

But her expression was blank. Eyes dead, mouth not quite frowning, but far from smiling. I was gazing at a Venetian mask, half-heartedly shuffling across the floor beneath her fabulously cut wig.

I don't know what could have been holding her back. Insecurity, sadness, maybe she was an adroid. 
 http://www.thewonderforest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/halloween-makeup-7.jpg
Yet it was a shame. For if she allowed herself some confidence, if not happiness, she would have been the fairest of them all.      

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I'm Not That Special

Before I begin, I would like to inform the public that Wen hair products have possible hair loss side effects; a frum little girl was one of the victims. Find thyself alternative means for co-washing.

"My father would like me to settle and just get married," I said somewhat jokingly.

Her wrinkled face crinkled all the more. I know she has two single granddaughters my age. "Sure, you can settle," she said quite seriously, "but you pay for it down the line. You are spending the rest of your life with this person." 
 Dating, Friday, and Hungry: Dating in your 30's is like
 shopping in the clearance aisle of Albertsons
 Half the cans on the wrong shelf
 THR
 Everything is are dented.
 OMED
 There is a case of Spam that has
 been marked down several times
 but nobody wants it.
 You call it sad, call it Friday night.
 I know what you are thinking ladies,
 I look like a dented can of Spam.
 Matin Comedy
 But I am here to tell you,
 matincomedy.com
 sometimes you will get so hungry
 f lmatincomedy
 you'll eat anything
 You
 /matincomedy
 Tube
Dating in your 30's is like shopping in the clearance aisle of Albertsons
I was pleasantly surprised. My usual interactions with the senior generation on this topic go the way of the picky. "In my day . . ." "The problem with this generation . . ."   

I'll take sweet vindication wherever I can find it. 

Frustration with spouse-seeking often makes me feel like an isolated freak; that's why it's perversely delightful to read stories and realize, "Oh. I'm not that special." 

Like "The Entire Netflix History of Us" by Tonya Malinowski, whose emotional reactions sound nearly identical to my own experience.
Our conversation was brief, or so it seemed. I had no concept of time.
I refrained from asking him why and therefore seeming desperate, a perception of collectedness that came at the expense of my gaining any real answers . . .
What I did manage to gather made me realize that as I had been floating along on a river of bliss, he had been mentally cataloging evidence of my flaws. . . 
I worried that I may never again feel as completely safe and at ease as I did making funny voices for a French bulldog with him by my side, but you can’t control how someone else feels. Better, in the end, to focus on those few things you can control.
Sarah Moses shares her dating hijinks with quirky characters in "Single Woman Seeking Manwich." How many times has my date done or said something rather odd and yet gives me the "she's crazy" look? 
Some say the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting a different outcome. While dating does make me feel crazy at times, I keep at it in hopes that one day the outcome will be different.
At the same time, I also try hard to accept that it may never happen for me. I tell myself that I don’t need a partner to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Then one morning, I’m on the Q train, across from a cute couple who look hipsterish in a nonannoying, unironic way.
I imagine that he is in a band and that she does something cool and creative. He says something funny to her, and she laughs, then puts her head on his shoulder. When they get up to leave, he holds her hand and they just look so stinking happy.
I want to cry, feeling creepy for staring at these strangers and also envious that they seem to have what I want. I get off the train at Union Square and give myself a little pep talk on the walk to my office. I won’t give up on dating, at least not now.
"Putting Love to the Stress Test" by Jasmin Jaksic relates her finding someone (when she wasn't even looking) who was practically her twin in preferences and personality. 
Our ridiculous lack of differences worried me. My idea of a successful relationship had been that of a Venn diagram with a healthy intersection, not two mostly overlapping circles, and that the best match was one in which you complemented, not replicated, each other. Perhaps I was missing something.
If I share a surprising amount of likes and dislikes with a candidate, I, too, get nervous, recalling that the Chasam Sofer said couples should balance the other's extremes.  

But then I remember there are all sorts of marriages, and probably my main rabbi was trying to mellow an irritated husband. After all, not everyone is made up of extremes. Some of us make a point to prance in the middle. 

Ah, the balm of stories. No wonder I love reading.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sprout!

Beware, unsuspecting audience: I am now on a sprouting kick. 

Since I am rather impressionable, the internet doesn't have to say much to get me to think I have been eating my grains and beans wrong all these years. 

Supposedly sprouting reduces starches and makes the nutrients easier for the body to absorb. If you've got cheesecloth (a necessity for those who cook chicken soup), then you can sprout.

I sprouted mung beans, then cooked them. The taste was much sweeter and pleasant than when un-sprouted, and they were pretty good then too. 
http://panihatiarogyaniketan.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/img_5731.jpg
Via panihatiarogyaniketan.org
Not all grains or legumes sprout—like standard barley and millet (the latter I learned myself). But quinoa does, quite quickly, actually.

There is a basic system to sprouting. 

1) Initial soak. 
2) Rinse and drain two times daily. 
3) Sprouting times vary. 

Quinoa requires only 30 minutes to 2 hours of initial soaking, while dried beans and grains (like wheat berries) need an overnight drench. 

Any container will do. Place desired seeds, grains, or legumes into a jar or tupperware or glass. Cover with cheesecloth (there are sprouting lids available that I may purchase) and secure in place with rubber band (or if using a ball jar, can use the ring top). Pour water through the cheesecloth for the initial soak. 

The next morning (8 hours or so later) pour off the water, rinse again through the cheesecloth, then invert the jar so the liquid can drain off. Takes less than a minute.
http://kaletothequeen.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/6/8/12681747/8810462_orig.jpg
Via kaletothequeen
Come back 12 hours later or so and repeat. Rinse, drain, invert. 

I've also made alfalfa sprouts for Ma, despite my scar-worthy childhood memory of a beautiful, innocent, whole-wheat egg salad sandwich contaminated by those sprouts. To this day she insists that topping my sandwich with sprouts was the greatest expression of love. I had spent a half-hour picking out every single sprout. 

These are expressly for her. 
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-pw-xrxqI__8/T4SYX5b1MGI/AAAAAAAAEjU/nWpOj4N9gUg/s1600/DSCF6632.JPG
Via whataboutpie.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Time is Now

I once read that there is no official psychological term known as "closure." I found that very gratifying, indeed. 

"Closure" is a term we use instead of "curiosity." 

"Don't you need closure?" Chava asks. "Ask Sarah why she stopped answering her texts!" 

It's more like Chava's curious.

"Closure" is one of those cultural go-to terms, like "romance" and "gluten-free."
 https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/3d/48/4b/3d484b2114cf691e8a3e19d76e99306c.jpg
Books and movies promulgate its necessity. Cantankerous, deathbed-ridden parents realize their hurtful errors in raising their children, confess their sins and affirm their love to teary-eyed offspring, then slip from this world with a casual "I'm so tired." 
 http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/03/29/22/271D570600000578-3016954-image-a-59_1427665061729.jpg

Real life . . . oh, real life. 

Katie Roiphe in "Dying, With Nothing Left to Say" begins how her father's sudden death robbed her of one reassurance she wished to have given him before he went. 
. . . I realized that while nearly everyone has a fantasy of a “last conversation” with someone they love, very few people actually have it. It is the fantasy of resolving all conflicts, of emotional catharsis, that rarely ever comes to pass, because the habits of reticence or resentment that were there the whole time are still there, because the proximity of death does not transform personalities, or compel us to cut through to the heart of things, however much we want it to.
People are people, even when the end is nigh. Roiphe had wanted to ask her father more about his youth, but he never had been a chatty man. My paternal grandmother never opened up about her time in the camps, and would it have been fair to her to demand painful information when she craved peace?
Even the writers I was researching — people who lived in structure, plots, words — mostly did not find their way to conversations that offered a satisfying ending. They left things messy, unresolved, dangling.
The bedspread of life is not known for neat, military corners. Life is more like the impossible-to-fold fitted sheet. 

Two letters, in response to this article, stuck with me: 
In 2005, I picked up my mother-in-law, Mary, from the airport as she returned from vacation. I brought her to my home for some soup and then helped her load her car for her half-hour drive home. As she was stepping into her car, she turned and said, “Johnny, I tell all my friends that you are perfect.”
An hour later, my wife and I were called to the emergency room, where we found that Mary had died in a car accident.
While knowing that I am hardly perfect, I have treasured Mary’s last words ever since. Katie Roiphe suggests in her article that, with the approach of death, we anticipate the opening of a “new, honest, generous space” in which “there is a directness, an expansiveness” that can be filled with meaningful last words.
Mary showed that we can create and fill such a space with special words on any day, without knowing whether or not death is at hand.
JOHNNY WILLIS
Schenectady, N.Y.
We have heard it often enough: Live every day as though it is your last. Kind speech does not have to be reserved for meaningful moments. It should be an everyday habit. 
While Katie Roiphe writes about people in the last hours of life, the uncomfortable reality is that we are all dying.
I am a health psychologist who studies people at the end of life. I became a bereaved daughter when I was 25 years old. These experiences taught me that the trick to “having something to say,” or those deep and meaningful conversations, come to people who are able to face their own mortality well before they are on their deathbeds.
Dying, like giving birth, is a biological event. Giving birth does not instantly turn women into excellent mothers any more than dying turns one into a wise Buddha.
If we want to have a good death, we need to invest in a good life. Look death in the eye every day, and remember that time is finite, that our loved ones will not always be here, and that the time to talk is right now.
LEEAT GRANEK
Tel Aviv
The writer is an assistant professor and head of the gerontology and sociology of health program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Teach Me to Trust Again

"Since _____ may be an issue, I wanted to run it by you first," she said. 

"Uh-huh." My gut is not happy. "Okay, um, let me look into it and I'll get back to you." 

Out comes the tablet, my parents looking on in delight. Flick, flick, flick. "She said that he didn't go to movies and went to learn in Israel in his 20s, so he's probably not on Facebook . . ." 

My searches are coming up blank, even though his occupation should have given me something. As a last-ditch effort, I punch his name into Facebook. Ah! There he is. Ouch. Wait, lady, you call that yeshivish? Ew, that picture is gross! There are privacy settings for a reason, dude! 

"Check this out." I brandish the screen before the folks' shocked faces. 

"Well, that's a no, then." 

I politely wait a second day, pretending to be researching thoroughly. Then I call. "I'm looking for someone more . . . serious." 

"How did you find out so fast?" she says. 

Huh. Not an effusive "What do you mean, of course he's a serious boy!" She actually said, "How did you find out so fast?

"Facebook." 

"Oh. I hope you aren't offended." 

Well. Not even a faked "I don't see how one date can hurt." She took the effort to call me up with a suggestion that she knew was problematic.

That's it, people. I'm not believing nobody no mo.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It's OK to be a Critic

I seriously read movie reviews. I can probably tell you if a move was well-received or not, claim I plan on seeing it, forget to, then find in on cable three years later and scramble to catch up. Without actually viewing them myself, I can recommend a film.

A.O. Scott is my reviewer of preference. My sister-in-law likes him too, her reasoning that since he is a father he knows what children will enjoy. If he doesn't gush about a film, I usually end up agreeing with him. 

http://theologygaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2olzhzbpqwssminqtbtdlrgdjph.jpeg

He came out with a book recently about being a critic, and this piece ("Everybody's a Critic. That's How It Should Be.") was compiled from it. He admits having the title "critic" is akin to something of the insect family. 

The article made me think about personal versus public opinion. We all have preferences that we are ashamed of voicing (the sci-fi geeks understand). Sometimes we are loudly profess adoration of a highly contentious belief or person or book just because we know it'll get on our audience's nerves. The latter is not any more authentic expression than the former. 

What do we like? What do we believe? What do we despise? What is merely meh? Every first date is a minefield. Sometimes the other is so befuddled by the other's atypical outlook that the calendar is double-checked to make sure it's not April 1. 

I think we should all stand for something. It won't be the same something, obviously. But we can only stand for something once we know and like ourselves, and feel no embarrassment as the individuals that compose the many. 
It’s the mission of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom. That everyone is a critic means that we are each capable of thinking against our own prejudices, of balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, of sharpening our dulled and glutted senses and battling the intellectual inertia that surrounds us. We need to put our remarkable minds to use and to pay our own experience the honor of taking it seriously.
We can still be friends. Really.   

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bards Shall Sing of My Bravery

A blood-curdling shriek emanates from the basement. 

"He's got me cornered!" 

I launch away from my breakfast, grabbing a "bee-deader" (Luke's childhood name for a fly-swatter) as I hurl down the steps. There he is, my antennae-waving prey: A fat cricket. 

Ma is the fearless one. She wacks ants with her bare palm. She dismisses the terrified wails of the kinfauna when faced with a spider. Mosquitoes fear her. 

But crickets, you must agree, are a different matter entirely. They're disturbingly intelligent.
 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Snodgrass_Gryllus_assimilis.png
I creep toward my target. He doesn't move, dreamily rubbing his legs. I hold my breath. He doesn't bat a lash. I slowly, slowly, raise the swatter. He yawns. I lunge. 

He's gone. 

On those jumper legs, he's across the room in a blink of an eye. I've lost him. 
 http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/portrait-of-a-woman-holding-a-fly-swatter-with-a-dead-fly-on-it-picture-iddv1760019?k=6&m=dv1760019&s=170667a&w=0&h=pX9adBBskKsNFgSAAjK2WFny0sYj7GVUYce5hDLuvUo=
Last year Succos-time, with murderous fall upon them, they actually had the nerve to brazenly emerge from the basement, strolling about the den as though invited. It was insupportable. They had to die. 

I researched a number of options, and settled on glue traps. I didn't expect much, really. I baited the center with a little sugar, leaving three in the hot zone—the boiler room—and few more at random points to tempt the survivors. 

Hot diggety damn. The old-timers were the first to go, large and immobile with their heads drowning in sugar. Then, the next generation was caught, small and un-cute, four on one strip.

All that was required of me was to gingerly pick up the cluttered trap with "ew ew ew" forefinger and thumb, then chuck it into the garbage. 

So is the end for the creature that mocks me.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Truth of the Pen

I saved this so long ago and it got lost in the shuffle. 

Anya Kamenetz, "Power of the Pen," O Magazine December 2013:

On a Thursday morning last June, I realized I needed to make some changes. I was at the playground with my 18-month-old daughter, Lulu, when it hit me that I'd become that mom. While other mothers were chatting, handing out snacks, or snapping photos, I was hunched over my phone—e-mailing, rescheduling, textingand barely keeping track of Lulu as she dashed around.

My life as a new mom had become a precarious stack of activities and chorestake Boo to the vet! set up Lulu's playdate! run five miles!that I felt increasingly ill-equipped to balance. The last straw came when my husband and I went on our first big weekend awaya rented house with friends. We dropped off Lulu with my mother, drove five hours to the house, and the next morning got the call: Our daughter had a fever and probably an ear infection. There was nothing to do but drive home. Admittedly, I blew my disappointment out of proportion. The real issue: I had come to a personal and professional crossroads without a road map to help me make sense of it all.

It was at this juncture that I read about Self Authoring, an online service of guided writing exercises that the Department of Education hailed in a 2013 report as a promising tool to boost resilience and perseveranceskills not only critical for academic achievement but also for determining whether people lead happy, successful lives. They had research to back their claims: One of Self Authoring's creators, Jordan Peterson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, had tested part of the curriculum on 85 students who were struggling academically at McGill University in Montreal, and the students' collective GPA rose by 29% in a single semester. In 2011, the Erasmus University in the Netherlands made a portion of the course mandatory for incoming undergraduates. The result: a nearly 10% increase in GPA, a 15% decrease in dropouts, and the highest-performing cohorts in the history of the school.

I could understand how a little bit of written soul-searching could help a bunch of previously underachieving freshmen. But as a writer, I was skeptical that yet more typing could make a quantifiable difference in the way I felt. Still, I reached out to Petersonwho assured me it would.

"If you understand the linkages between your past experiences and current emotions, your stress will begin to lift," Peterson said. He pointed out the work of James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who had found that students who wrote about the worst thing that had ever happened to them felt sadder initially, but six months down the road were visiting doctors less frequently. Dozens of subsequent studies by Pennebaker and others showed similar benefits to physical and psychological well-being. Asking people to document difficult emotional experiences was shown to improve immune function, lower heart rate, and ease blood pressure.

Kamenetz signed on for the course at selfauthoring.com. It is exhaustive in the required detail.

Deciding what to include . . . made me aware of how I edit myself when talking about my life with friends. Soon, the assignment's confessional process had me hooked.

While connection with others is important, friends may not always provide the clarity we seek. They may whitewash, denigrate, belittle. Discreet paper, however, will provide a clear, stark canvas for our thoughts, and without the clutter of miscellaneous voices, display the pattern we seek.

Pouring out thousands of words extolling my marriage as the core of my happiness put more oomph in my resolve to set aside special time for my husband.

But the greatest payoff was my realization, with the forehead-smack insight of a good therapy session, that my disquiet with the life of a working mothers wasn't a matter of day-to-day stress. It was connected to a buried trauma I hadn't fully explored until I wrote about my early life.
 http://www.searchquotes.com/sof/images/picture_quotes/214116_20140922_121021_1908009_742734045779128_8745172314093588814_n.jpg
I was 4 years old when my brother died just hours after he was born. For years my mother battled the grief, spending afternoons napping in her bedroom, shades drawn. She became wrapped up in the loss of my brother and irrationally afraid of losing me, too. From that early age, I equated having a child with fear and anguish . . . But now that I had set forthin black and whitemy best understanding of how the death of my brother contributed to my feelings today, the emotions of my 4-year-old self lost some of their power; I began to approach my roles as both mother and daughter with more compassion and less anxiety.

I realized some time ago that suppressing unpleasantness, actively shoving it down with "busy-ness" and mental gymnastics, takes way more energy that looking at the matter grimly in the eye and tackling it as much as possible. There are some benefits to laziness. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jacques Pépin Slow and Easy Bread in a Pot

Jacques Pépin is (still) my favorite chef. He cooks realistically, he never wastes, and he usually doesn't call for unreasonable ingredients. 

As I breathlessly watching an episode, my father walked in as Monsieur Pépin was taking a bite of his ragout. 

"He's going to say, 'Delicious!" Ta snarked

Monsieur Pépin tasted the dish, and with a shrug of the shoulder said instead, "Eh, it's fine." 

Now, that is a chef I can trust. 

In a riveting segment I saw a few years ago, he presents his quite effortless Bread in a Pot. (At the 2:05 mark below.) 
My jaw was on the floor. Can you imagine? Let us say one is too run down to make challah one week—a fraction of the effort, but still fresh bread!

I patiently sat on this recipe for a number of years. There just didn't seem to be much use for it. Any leftovers from Ma's challah was usually sufficient for repurposing—like butter-fried bread I make for the kinfauna. Whole-wheat flour is a notorious diva, and since some batches were less pretty than others, some loaves were heartlessly cut into on a weekday.

After Pesach this year, Ma made the most gorgeous batch yet (chances are, the flour brand had a little "help" chucked in). So far, there are no leftovers for the kiddies. Analyzing the ingredients on the store-bought loaves was enough to ruin my appetite. (You know what "cellulose" is? It's wood pulp. That's right, tree bark. Yummy.)

Finally, the perfect opportunity! 

I'll be frank: My first attempt was, how shall I put it, half-assed. I used leftover Shibolim whole-wheat blend, Bob's kamut flour, and to make up the difference, ¼ cup of oat bran. To give the dough some lift, I used seltzer instead of water, a trick I saw on a challah forum. For even more lift, I added a tablespoon of gluten.  To make the yeast happy, per Ma's instructions, I put in a sprinkle of sugar.

I mistakenly added more water than the recipe required, but Ma said it is very hard to ruin dough. She just added more flour until it was at the desired consistency. It was left to proof at room temp, and did not rise much at all. Then into the fridge for the night. 

In the morning, Hello! It had risen. Another trick of Ma's, I put it into a cold oven and then turned it on. I set it to 350° convection (which equates to 375° standard), and after 40 minutes, a magnificent, crusty, loaf emerged. 
From what I've read online, it cannot be done like this unless in a non-stick pot. (Thanks to Homegoods, I'm up to my eyeballs in Calphalon.) One can do the dough in another bowl then chuck it into a greased oven-safe container, from what I've researched, so it's still possible.

This method is so forgiving all sorts of fun is possible. After tripping over this recipe for Tabbouleh Bread from Parsley Sweet Sage, my next loaf was made with kamut and dark rye flours along with oat bran, whole bulgur, and sautéed garlic and shallots. It didn't rise much (I think it needed a little white flour) but it was so freakin' gooooood.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Shame We Believe In

"I can't do that," she said. 

I had been telling her about some of my healthy eating practices (she asked; I did not volunteer), but she was shaking her head in the negative. 

I already know from my own experience that when I have decided I "can't" do something, then I don't even bother to try. It's called "limiting beliefs," a term I heard from Esti Hamilton (she's got a series on the topic, check 'em all out). 

Many moons later I see this gal. "By the way," she grins happily, "I've been doing what you told me about." She looks great, if I may say so myself. 

According to scientists, addiction is not an illness like schizophrenia and cancer. There IS choice involved. I have just finished reading Charles Duhigg's fascinating The Power of Habit, and one chapter deals with addiction, specifically gambling. In "Can Shame Be Useful?", the authors address gambling addictions, but use the same term: habit. 

Whenever I read stories of addicts who turned their lives around, it was usually kick-started by a light bulb moment: I can't go one like this. I can be better. I'm letting my family down. I can't believe I did THAT to feed this addiction. 
 http://www.annemoss.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Rock-1.jpg
It's rarely from a place of back-patting. 
So under what conditions does shame end up prodding people into correcting their course? Alternatively, when does intense self-criticism make matters worse by further fueling an addiction (for example, drinking even more to mute the pain of those shameful feelings)?
An important influence appears to be whether people buy into the notion that a habit is under or out of their control. . . 
They found that study participants who were vulnerable to experiencing shame were less inclined to engage in corrective actions when they believed their mistakes were not fixable, such as when they had no opportunity to apologize to someone they’d offended. In contrast, participants were more inclined to engage in positive behaviors when they thought their errors could be repaired.
The lesson is that shame can act as a spur to amend self-inflicted damage when people perceive that damage is fixable and manageable. In light of this finding, comparing addiction to a purely biological disorder, like cancer, might backfire, leading people to see their habits as unalterable.
I have said "I can't do that" plenty of times. Then years later, waddya know, I AM doing it. Not with effort and thought, but mindlessly and automatically. A good habit.  

Can I alter the Earth's axis? No. Can I insist that someone like me? No. Can I prevent the haze of humidity that is supposed to hit this week? No. 

Can I be more thoughtful? Act deliberately, not instinctively? Can I change my bad habits? 
 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/We_Can_Do_It!.jpg
With some elbow grease and "can"s, yup.     

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cauliflower "Potato" Salad

I love potatoes. My scale does not. 

Since the Eibishter created the cure before the disease, cauliflower manages to (somewhat) fill the hole in my heart. I have already giddily linked four recipes for "potato" salad, but finally got around to trying it for a family barbecue. 

I gravely sat down and cross-referenced the options, and deliriously attempted my research. It was beautiful.  It disappeared, however (I won't name names, but you know who you are), before I had a chance to truly get to know it.

Cauliflower "Potato" Salad 

1 large head fresh cauliflower, or 2 lb. bag frozen 
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
2 stalks celery, finely diced 
3 scallions, finely sliced
1-2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (optional) 
¼ cup mayo
1 tspn to 1 tablespoon vinegar, depending on preference (apple cider vinegar for me) 
1 T dijon mustard
dill, fresh or dried (I like more, others prefer less or opt out)
sprinkling of paprika
sprinkling black pepper  

1. If cauliflower is fresh, cut into bite-sized florets. Fill a saucepan with just enough water to cover the bottom and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower. Simmer (anywhere between 5-10 minutes) until desired consistency—soft enough for the fork, but way before it gets mushy. If using frozen peas, chuck 'em in after a few of minutes. Remove and drain. If using frozen, wait until cool, then slice into smaller pieces if needed. 

2. Whisk together the mayo, vinegar, mustard, dill, and few sprinklings of black pepper. 

3. Combine cauliflower, peas, celery, scallions, and optional eggs (I made mine without). Toss with dressing. Sprinkle with paprika. 

4. Chill. From what I've researched, tastes best when given time to meld in the fridge (mine didn't last very long to tell). 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Gibberish

Ah, the banality of the profile. Whether the description is spare or wordy, the results are equally murky.
 
"Has a love for Israel."

I think that is a Biblical requirement. 

"She should want to have guests over on Shabbos."

So the first criteria for your soulmate is her willingness to slave over a stove to feed your pals?

"He learns Torah l'shma."

All Torah is learned l'shma.

"Loves his family."

I thought that was a given . . .   

"Looking for someone pretty."

As opposed to actively seeking someone unattractive? Heard that bit about beauty and the eye of the beholder and all that jazz?

"Interests include: sports." 

Duh. Mine is shopping. It's been established: You are a guy. I am a girl. Except it would be shallow of me to confess my gender-typical hobbies. 

"X is good-looking." 

Sorry, dear, but I won't take your word for it. That photo you attached will tell me anyway, right?