Monday, August 21, 2017

The Pleasures of the Surreal

Movies and I have an odd relationship. I devour the reviews, can tell you if the critics like it or not, but never end up seeing them until years later. So although "La La Land" should be totally up my alley (MUSICAL!!!) I haven't seen it yet. 

Last year (by backlog really goes back), I was reading one of the many pieces about it, and this paragraph by Manohla Dargis jumped out at me: 
Contemporary American movies could use more s’wonderful, more music and dance, and way, way more surrealism. They’re too dull, too ordinary and too straight, whether they’re mired in superhero clichés or remodeled kitchen-sink realism. One of the transformative pleasures of musicals is that even at their most choreographed, they break from conformity, the dos and don’ts of a regimented life, suggesting the possibility that everyone can move to her own beat. It’s enormously pleasurable when an evening stroll turns into a rhythmic saunter and then bursts into dance — think of Gene Kelly walking, tapping, stomping and exulting in the rain. . . 
Musicals are for idealists. One of the pleasures of classic film musicals is the chance to watch bodies become extraordinary — strolling and then singing and soaring — often in stories that suggest that with some choir practice and maybe an Arthur Murray dance lesson or two, you could soar, too. Musicals are liberation with a beat. When Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow,” she was telling her audience that it would transcend its terrible times. 
For me, movies and books are about pleasant escapism. If life is B'H going well, I don't want to dwell in misery; if life has gotten ensnarled in a rough patch, I want to be distracted by sunshine and ponies.

Although, I do have to remind myself that in the real world, breaking into song and dance in the rain is not a wise idea, especially if there are witnesses.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"What Is Your Genius?"

Esther Wein explained it: chochma + bina = daas. 

One could erroneously think that all three are the same. But they are not. 

"I don't understand," Ta cannot comprehend. "She is so smart! How could she say something like that?" 

"She's smart, sure," I reply. "But Ta, you are the one who always talks about E.Q.! That's not the same as I.Q." 

There are even more facets to the mind, like rationality and intelligence. Again, do they sound the same? Kinda. But they aren't. David Hambrick and Alexander Burgoyne explain how in "The Difference Between Rationality and Intelligence."  

The work of Kahneman and Tversky showed how humans are, for the most part, irrational (is there any concrete reason why I should be scared of the dark?). Then Stanovich showed there is no correlation between high I.Q. and R.Q.—the Rationality Quotient. 
Based on this evidence, Professor Stanovich and colleagues have introduced the concept of the rationality quotient, or R.Q. If an I.Q. test measures something like raw intellectual horsepower (abstract reasoning and verbal ability), a test of R.Q. would measure the propensity for reflective thought — stepping back from your own thinking and correcting its faulty tendencies.
To my mind, this shows how certain admirable qualities are overlooked while others are overhyped—like so-called "brilliance." 

I saw this quote the other day: 
Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”
We all have something to contribute. The problem is when we don't realize that our "something" won't be the same as another's. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Respect the Eye Pencil

"Do you mind stopping in the police department?" she asked. "I have to file a report for that fender bender." 

She took a spot by the counter, while I sat down to the side with her daughter. I was entertaining the child with my cell, looking down, when I realized an officer had come out behind the partition and was standing in front of me. 

"Do you need any help?" he asked tenderly, concern in his eyes. 

"Um, no, not me, she does," I said, motioning to my befuddled friend, ignored at the front desk. 

"Oh," he said sheepishly, and scurried back from whence he came. 

When we left, she said it: "It was the makeup." It's not about looks—she herself is quite pretty. But somehow, taking a few minutes in the morning to swipe on mascara and lipstick makes the world respect you, and eager to help you.
So if you ever in need of a favor . . . begin by buffing on some blush.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Your Husband, No One Else's

In a long-ago interview with Bill Moyers, Maya Angelou revealed her theory that most women marry other people’s husbands. She didn’t elaborate, but I immediately understood. Out of hopefulness, impatience, insecurity or for a thousand other reasons, we too often rush into relationships that are poor fits for us, robbing our partners and ourselves of more promising connections. . .
“I have finally married my own husband,” Ms. Angelou went on to say.
Many years after my first marriage, so did I.
I read in a frum magazine that the rising rate of divorce amongst our newly wedded youth is not necessarily due to the inability of these couples to make it work; it is because they should not have married in the first place. Incompatibility cannot always be overcome.

The opening paragraph is from an article by a disabled woman, Ona Gritz ("Love, Eventually"), who realized that she was in a relationship with an able-bodied man simply because he wanted her. After years of rejection from men, this was an offer she could not pass up. 

But she did not feel with him that deep connection that she had with her best friend, and she could not help but contrast the two relationships. Shouldn't marriage have that? 

She eventually divorced, then later met and married her soulmate—who happens to be blind, while she has cerebral palsy. 
It’s true that Dan and I are very similar. We’re both romantics yet also fiercely independent. We’re introspective to the point of obsession. Though he’s a decade older, we share a love for the music from his teenage years. And long before we met, many of the same novels and poetry books lined our shelves.
Dating, to put it bluntly, sucks. I have read letters of women who have had enough, that decided to "settle" and simply marry. Perhaps, to some, the settling was worth it; but I have heard too many tales of the bleakness that can follow such a decision. 

Breathe. Be patient. Find happiness in the meantime. And come to know yourself, so you can know what you need.    

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Be That Person"

I like to think I have reached a point where I no longer absorb snippy comments. Often, if on the receiving end, I look intently at the other and wonder, "Golly, she must be really hurting about something." 

Anonymous trolls, the most cowardly of the cowardly, offset their own misery by depositing nasty little statements here and there. This cooking blogger posted a video taking such a one to task, by sharing her own burdens and appealing to the world to just be freakin' nice.  
Dr. Perri Klass, M.D. ("What Knitting Can Teach Us About Parenting"), is a pediatrician; to unwind, she browses through a knitting website, where she noted that despite the, er, straight-up ugliness of the various posted projects, the vast majority of comments are nice. Yet she doesn't see that empathy outside, as parents are usually subject to sniffing disdain if their toddler has a public meltdown (an occupational hazard, and to be expected). 
I would like to suggest that everyone who has posted more than one comment in the last two years passing judgment on other parents learn to knit as soon as possible. Winter is coming, and we all need scarves. There are some really nice, easy patterns on Ravelry, and you can download many of them free — and then you can choose your yarn and put your heart into it and make something beautiful.
With luck, the people who see it in real life and the ones who admire it in the photos you post online will respect the effort you put into it, and offer praise and encouragement. And if they don’t have anything nice to say, they won’t say anything at all.
Whenever I now get that judgy voice in my head, I'm disappointed in myself. Then I choose to see a quality about the other that I am forced to admire. And I can.

Friday, August 4, 2017


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How to Cook an Egg

Perhaps one of the techniques that has stubbornly eluded me is how to cook civilized hard-boiled eggs. Either they come out raw, or they come out overcooked, and are usually a pain to peel, half sticking to the shell. 

My Frenchman did not fail me. Jacques Pépin's method for perfect eggs, every time, has been reliable.

1) Bring a pot of water to boil. 

2) Take a thumb tack (or the like) and stab through the shell on the round (as opposed to pointy) side of the eggs. 

3) Once boiling, lower flame to simmer. Drop in the eggs and cover the pot. 

4) After ten minutes (a timer is very very much your friend), remove pot from flame and drain off the boiling water. 

5) Shake the pot to crack the shells. 

6) Now, here Jacques recommends dunking the eggs into ice water; I have found that putting them under cold tap water is sufficient. Cover the eggs with cold water. 

7) After allowing them to cool, remove and peel. The water now under the shells should make it easy.
Via thedailymeal
NO SULFUR RING. How cool is that?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Helping Those Who Help Themselves

I like being helpful, to be "a useful engine indeed," to quote from Thomas the Tank Engine. But there are times when my help isn't wanted. And there are times when I don't want the help being offered. In those situations, the question is what is the motivation of the pushy helper. 

Jean Thompson reflects on her motivations in attempting to assist a homeless man in "His Sign Said 'Please Help.' So I Tried." Yes, he asked for help, but he didn't mean the help that she was eager to provide. 
So I called county clerks, and Social Security offices, and put things in the mail, and in general acted like the softheaded, interfering boob I was, getting high off my own compassion. The more involved I got, the more I doubted my motives, the more I lost the certainty I was doing any real good. I told myself you help whom you can when you can, and that Jesus never said to love the poor as long as they didn’t make bad lifestyle choices. I nagged and coaxed.
Help can only succeed if it is accepted. I have come to a point where I realize that my help only has value if it is valued by the receiver; otherwise, there is no point. What am I hoping to achieve? Truly assisting another? Or "getting high off my own compassion"?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Laws of Creativity

I know all the lyrics to the extended theme song of "Pinky and the Brain." 

. . . This twilight campaign, 
Is easy to explain: 
To prove their mousey worth, 
They'll overthrow the Earth, 
The Pinky, 
The Pinky and the Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain BRAIN!

And I didn't even google them beforehand.

For us elderly people, "Animaniacs" was our childhood, chock-full of fabulous segments: "Katie Ka-Boom," "Buttons and Mindy," "Slappy Squirrel," and, of course, "Pinky and the Brain." Then P&B got a show in their own right.
Consider my delight that it got a "Letter of Recommendation," by Jonah Weiner. Brilliantly, he connects the show's predictable format to a concept I found inherently Jewish. 

To explain: P&B, for those who know, has the same setup, episode after episode: 

1) "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" 
2) Elaborate, insane scheme goes awry; 
3) "What we do every night, Pinky: Try to take over the world!" 

And yet, as Weiner elaborates, there is genius insanity in-between, despite abiding to a limited frame. Pinky's befuddled responses to pondering were so hysterical I would be in stitches ("I think so, Brain, but me and Pippi Longstocking—I mean, what would the children look like?") Brain's elaborate plots were so complex and calculated to exploit mundane human weaknesses that you wondered if the writers were high. 

Weiner is saying that constraint allows for wacky creativity. And is that not the Jews? 

We have waaaaay more rules and regulations, yet a multitude of sects flourish with individuality, never mind the individuals within the individuality. Then there are those who do their own Judaic thang without an identifying sect. If anything, a life free of restriction results in the boringly repetitive. Hedonism is same-old, same-old. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Comfy Beauties

In my teenage youth, I loathed makeup. I found it false, and worse, an effort

Yet here I stand before the bathroom mirror, 90 minutes before a date or wedding, applying and dabbing and penciling with gleeful care. I feel fabulous. I love it. I no longer think of paint as "false," nor do I consider it work.

I also love my cleansers, creams, serums, oils, shampoos, conditioners, Dead Sea face masks . . . the list goes on.
Via theodysseyonline
Ta always claimed there was a Gemara or something that said fathers must provide their eligible daughters with cosmetics and skincare, so halachically, a little chein and yofi (also known as sheker and hevel in Eishes Chayil) is fine. 

Now there is a "No Makeup Movement." Alicia Keyes no longer wears any. True, but she has plenty of product to treat her skin and style her hair. Where is the line when it comes to "natural" beauty?
Haley Mlotek considers this in "To Wear Makeup or Not to Wear Makeup?"  She claims, "The question is surprisingly fraught, but the answer is simple": 
. . . comfort is the root of confidence, and not the other way around. This is true whether a person is wearing makeup or not.
And (don't be surprised to hear this) I believe that to be true. If a gal walks into a room without "enhancement," she'll bowl everyone over with her ear-to-ear grin. She could be followed by an exquisitely crafted Face who refuses to make eye contact or smile, and people will nervously edge away from her. 

I'm comfortable in my Face. Other women aren't, so it won't give them that boost of attractive confidence that I experience. Thankfully, we are not all the same. 

Although, would you be willing to try a touch of mascara? It's a miracle-worker.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Who's Watching You?

"You really can tell a person's character from up here, you know?" 

My shulmate nodded, smiling knowingly. Us womenfolk have a distinct advantage from our upstairs perch. The poor gentlemen are under observation, like amoeba beneath a microscope. One can tell who is serious, who is focused, who is dignified . . . and who isn't.
Then it hit me. "What does the Eibishter see," I asked, "when He looks down at us?" 

Oh snap. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Healthy Homemaker?

Those that know me also know I am not crazy about the word "exercise." It sounds so official. It seems synonymous with "gym membership." It sounds disagreeably sweaty. 

In recent years, it had come to equal "skinny," but that is not true. It is, however, one with "health." In the Blue Zones, the advanced aged spend hours moving, but in the process of everyday chores. 

I have discovered—to my shock—that I am a cheerful domestic. I like pottering about the house, setting it to rights, doing loads of laundry (although my ironing needs improvement), windexing, chopping vegetables, etc. That's movement, right? Maybe not involving a spinning class, but I'll take it.
Aaron Carroll reported last year (I've been sitting on this for a year!?) that while exercise does not help with body weight, it is the cure for everything else ("Closest Thing to a Wonder Drug"). 
I have not been alone in thinking that physical activity to improve health should be hard. When I hear friends talk about exercising, they discuss running marathons, participating in CrossFit classes or sacrificing themselves on the altar of SoulCycle. That misses the point, unfortunately. All of these are much more than you need to do to get the benefits I’ve described.
The recommendations for exercise are 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity for adults, or about 30 minutes each weekday.
Moderate intensity is probably much less than you think. Walking briskly, at 3 to 4 miles per hour or so, qualifies. So does bicycling slower than 10 miles an hour. Anything that gets your heart rate somewhere between 110 and 140 beats per minute is enough. Even vacuuming, mowing the lawn or walking your dog might qualify.
Vacuuming counts! Yes

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Yes, I Do Live

Golly, how I have missed you. 

I know it is not fair of me, but I shan't enlighten my audience just yet about the current state of things. It has been a hectic time in my life—"the best of times, the worst of times"—and I shall remain shtum for a while longer. 

Yet oh, the sweet joy of typing! I cannot abandon it. So I shall move on to other topics. 

Today's discussion: Cultural identity.
Via pucker mob
Mark Oppenheimer brings up a  point I didn't notice before: There is a delicate difference between "Jew" and "Jewish"—the former is used hesitantly, the latter preferred ("Reclaiming 'Jew'"). 

But do us frummies have any qualms identifying as "a Jew," as opposed to "Jewish"? In my own case, I flatly informed someone just the other week that "I'm a religious Jew." It may be more of an issue for the secular ones of our flock. 

Yes, so we are Jews, one big happy family, etc. etc. Under that umbrella, however, due to the myriad years wandering this inhospitable Earth, we have been transplanted into a variety of countries with their own ethnicities and cultures which became absorbed into our bloodstream. 

How can it be that my nephew is a stereotypical Hungarian in infancy? It latched onto the genes, people. 

J. Courtney Sullivan worries in "Kiss Me, I'm Pretty Sure I'm Irish" that despite her firm Irish upbringing, DNA testing may show that she is not so. 
Being Irish is something I have in common with my relatives, even when distance and politics divide us. Last summer, on a beach vacation, five of us simultaneously pulled out tubes of S.P.F. 50. “We’re Irish,” someone said by way of explanation. The same reason is given for why we rarely hug or talk about our feelings.
Sounds like my crew. Except we say, "We're Hungarian." 

Am I 100% Hungarian? Of course not. That's the joy of it, though; as a Jew, I know I'm not 100% anything, except (hopefully, ancestry could have become muddled over millennia of scurrying) Jewish.
Whatever the results, I’ll still know by heart all those childhood jigs and reels that are responsible for my good posture and complete inability to dance like a normal person. I’ll still sunburn easily. I’ll still come from a large, Irish Catholic family, even if we’re a little less Irish than we thought.
So I shall swoon at the sight of aesthetic beauty, take pride in interior decorating and personal fashion, moan over nukedli paprikash, and whatever else that comes along with being Hungarian. And if I'm not? No worries. The Jews will still keep me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Apologies

I'm sure my audience knows that I wouldn't neglect the blog unless something was up. 

And something is up. Two somethings, actually. One very very bad . . . and one very very good. I wouldn't leave this wonderful outlet for the latter, but the former is inhaling all my time and mental energy. 

So I will have to take an unwilling hiatus, but believe me when I say "This is not farewell, but au revoir!"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ode to Persian Rugs

The Hungarians have a . . . well, how shall I put it? We are known for liking pretty, opulent things. Aesthetic complex? Although I don't see why it is such a terrible crime to have a chandelier in a bathroom. It's my bathroom, after all. How does that impinge on anyone else? 

Creating a beautiful home, daubed in bright paint and bird-themed throw pillows, is a lovely hobby. One's surroundings are a balm to the soul, an uplifter of the spirits. Every time I walk into the living room (from which kinfauna are banned), I sigh in delight. For reals.
Mario Buatta is Ma's favorite decorator.
There is a school of Jewish thought that frowns upon such attachment to physicality. Yet are we not also told that this world is for enjoyment? I heard in a shiur that simchas yom tov for men is in the food; for women, it is in clothing and bling. Good thing too, since I'm not partial to red meat. 

Currently, "minimalism" is in; sleek, functional, modern houses full of sharp corners and cold floors, not a cuddly spot to be found. There's that tidying-up book from Korea that went platinum. People are eager to toss out the unnecessary. 

Yet I am not the only one to find such an outlook unappealing ("The Oppressive Gospel of Minimalism" by Kyle Chayka). 
Part pop philosophy and part aesthetic, minimalism presents a cure-all for a certain sense of capitalist overindulgence. Maybe we have a hangover from pre-recession excess — McMansions, S.U.V.s, neon cocktails, fusion cuisine — and minimalism is the salutary tonic. Or perhaps it’s a method of coping with recession-induced austerity, a collective spiritual and cultural cleanse because we’ve been forced to consume less anyway. But as an outgrowth of a peculiarly American (that is to say, paradoxical and self-defeating) brand of Puritanical asceticism, this new minimalist lifestyle always seems to end in enabling new modes of consumption, a veritable excess of less. It’s not really minimal at all.
Have you noticed that minimalism allows only comes in white and gray? Why can't being minimalist be cerulean blue? Does minimalism mean that it can't be attractive at all?
Today’s minimalism, by contrast, is visually oppressive; it comes with an inherent pressure to conform to its precepts. Whiteness, in a literal sense, is good. Mess, heterogeneity, is bad — the opposite impulse of artistic minimalism. It is anxiety-inducing in a manner indistinguishable from other forms of consumerism, not revolutionary at all. Do I own the right things? Have I jettisoned enough of the wrong ones?
That's why I'm lame at cleaning out drawers or closets; there could possibly be a use for this item in the near future. It always seems that as soon as I donate something I come up for a use for it next week. 

For me, clutter can be delicious. Providing it passes the Hungarian "pretty" test.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sorta Shidduch Lit

Anything by Austen is automatic Shidduch Lit, because it describes a time when courtship and marriage consisted of rules and regulations ("dating" was strictly for marriage, etc.). Yet I have read two books that tackle the other aspect of coupledom—the thought processes, the motivations, why we choose. 

The first is a recommendation from TooYoungToTeach, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. I know it's quite a mouthful, and I'm sure I'm mispronouncing "Guernsey."
It is a collection of "letters" (this is a novel) between various individuals (as well as our delightful heroine, Juliet) in post-World War II Britain, as the nationals were dusting off the dust of catastrophe and plowing forward into the future. It's historical enough that "dating" still had some restrictions, so we can work with that. 

The second is a recommendation from an anonymous commenter on my post swooning over Liane Moriarty: The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes. It takes place in contemporary Dublin, and there are certainly no rules and regulations to be seen. Cough, cough, this book is definitely UA ("Un-Aidel").
A few, not just one, couples are featured in this book, and their specific personalities and quirks are described in but a few words. Their needs as individuals, and how that would play out in a relationship . . . mesmerizing. 

There was also a message embedded in there that is my (newish) mantra: You can't make others change. They have to get there on their own. You can only change yourself. (Another reminder to the optimistic souls who think they can heal the broken, angry men with their love.)     

I was offended to see that goodreads parks Keyes' work under chick-lit. How insulting and derogatory. 

What is very important to note is that both books are quite funny while still relaying seriousness. Humor and wit are my catnip. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Actual Requirement

It's really not my intent to talk smack about my Bais Yaakov. Yet so many years later I'm still untangling myself from the binding knots of misinformation. 

Like what a woman is required to daven.
Maurice Minkowski
For years I nourished—and that's on me—an "all or nothing" approach to prayer; for years, on weekdays, I only managed Birchas HaShachar, since if I only had a few spare minutes (as opposed to thirty) I believed that saying something as opposed to all was "no good." 

It was only in the last couple of years I recognized my folly, and I made an effort to ram in what I could—at least birchas Sh'ma, Sh'ma, and Shmoneh Esrei—but feeling like a sub-par Yid in the process. 

And then I hear this shiur

How could us gals have been so misinformed? Ashkenazi women are only required to say Birchas HaShachar, Sh'ma and Shmoneh Esrei. Zeh hu. Not even P'sukei D'Zimra. 

In the old country, mothers would begin davening on Shabbos from Nishmas. I must shamefully admit that when I first heard this, I smugly thought how "they didn't know better," when, er, they knew far better than me, with my official Jewish education. 

I had learned from the family guru about "skipping"—that if, say, arriving late to shul, it is more important to daven with the tzibbur as opposed to starting from the beginning (while everyone is answering Kedusha). Yet as soon as leining began, I would catch up there. But it would seem that I don't have the requirement to say P'Sukei D'Zimra, so it would be more important for me to listen by leining. 

Of course I shlep around Jewish guilt baggage, what I could do better, how I messed up . . . and all this time, I was beating myself up for something I didn't even do wrong. 

When you know better . . . 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Clayface II

"Ooh, you must get this face mask," she gushed. "It makes my skin sooooo soft." 

I went very, very still. I was, of course, proud that my niece was taking care of her skin, but I was reminded how a once integral part of my routine lapsed in practice. 

Products have to be user-friendly, or else they won't get . . . used. When I posted about face masks, I was currently using one in a tube—simply squeeze and apply. But shortly thereafter I purchased the internet-acclaimed Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

Which has to be measured out and mixed with liquid. Even when using official measurements, it never came out right. Too thick or too thin. So I gradually stopped using it, unwilling to wrestle with it, but since I officially had a mud mask in the house, I didn't purchase an alternative. 

Until the recommendation from the teenager. As soon as we parted ways, I fumbled open Amazon and desperately searched. It had to be in a tube—I had bought one once in a tub, and it dried out—and preferably from the Dead Sea. I love the Dead Sea. It's a skincare addict's dream.
There were two I settled on to try. The first is by Adovia, and it spread on easily, sank in, and did its job. After washing it off in the shower—golly! How bad of me to fall off the mask wagon!

This review echoes my experience too—that while it gets nice and tight, it "gives" enough so it doesn't flake like mad when dry. So I can talk with it on.
The next (I like having backups), for one day soon, is by 27 Minerals. But times may change, and new products available by then. (Yum yum!) 

Now, I can breathe easy at not being sandbagged by kinfauna. . . until next time.    

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Cautionary Tale

Jack, my boss, had the greatest of faith in medications. He would stand by my desk and wax poetic about his myriad prescriptions (between ten and fifteen) that "took care of everything," snorting at my "rabbit food" (that I greatly enjoy). 

"If a person is serious about quitting smoking," he would say, "he would take drugs, like I did." He somehow managed to make it sound that a truly selfless individual would nobly accept chemicals churning throughout his system as a means to overcome an addition.

I don't think I ever saw him eat "living food." His standard lunch was from Burger King or a deli. If he "dined" in, I would gag from the smell of the fake microwave "meals" wafting from his office. 

He was a man of intelligence. He was a man of, not quite wit, but humor. He was a man who had been looking forward to his retirement years in a sunny, tax-free locale. 

Note how I keep using the past tense? 

First came the heart operation, that required months of recovery; then the infection, caused by diabetes, seized hold of his limbs. He was in pain—constant pain. He was in and out of hospitals. He blamed it on "getting old." He wasn't old. He didn't take care of himself.

He used to grandly say to me that my lifestyle meant life was not worth living, yet his was not worth living, either. He never made it to his sunny, tax-free locale. He died in his mid-60s, young for today.

When I informed the doorman, his immediate response: "I'm not surprised." All the building staff knew that Jack didn't take care of himself.  

Ma grew up in a bland household. Zeidy battled with ulcers, which meant no zesty spices—no black pepper, no hot paprika. Babi had high blood pressure, which meant no salt. (Ma still believed her childhood to be idyllic.)

Babi was on high blood pressure medication for fifty years. But she never considered it a magic pill. She watched what she ate—and she liked her salt—knowing that the drug can only do so much. 

Her children seemed to have inherited the blood pressure issue. My uncle now officially received his diagnosis, and power to my aunt for calling Ma constantly to ask how to cook for him. Because she knows that you can't eat whatever you want and expect a prescription to fix it.  

We can't predict the future; there are a myriad of ways one can go—like getting hit by a bus. But I would prefer to try, to the best of my ability, to preserve quality of life, and really, the daily donut is sooooo not worth it. 

Ask Jack. Oh, you can't. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017


"The more you know, the more you know you don't know."—Aristotle

"What are you looking for?" 

It sounds like a simple question. If in a supermarket, I know what I'm looking for: "Excuse me, where can I find the dried porcini mushrooms?" 

But with a potential life partner? I can't say.
I see so many different types of couples out there. Some wisely intone, "Opposites attract," but no two people are completely different or completely the same. Maybe they are both introverts, but one has a sense of humor and the other doesn't. 

I used to be more smug about what I knew in my tender 20s, first paddling into the dating maelstrom. I "knew." I knew that I should be open, that connection is a choice, not something that happens. (Again, never a romantic.) 

Then I learned from my experiences. I heard other people's stories. It became obvious that choice is not everything. It's a part of it, but not everything. As time passes further, my "knowledge" fades. Currently, I'm in the "Eibishter, You take care of this because I have no bloody idea" phase. 

Ann Hood relates ("What's Love? Don't Ask the Answer Couple") how her own "knowledge" morphed over the years. With every failed serious relationship, she made a conscious decision where she went wrong, and selected a new partner accordingly. 

First was swooning romance, which eventually went kablooey. She decided her mistake was focusing on love and not comfortable companionship. But the next one ended too (after husband and wife were answering letters in Glamour with relationship advice). No, no, she needed an opposite to balance her out, someone "coolly rational." 

It was after years with her second husband that she realized her error. It's not about loving. It's thinking that you know
What I know now is that I don’t know anything much. I don’t know why men won’t ask for directions. I don’t know how we find the right person to love. I don’t know if he should be just like me or have a different kind of job or cook me dinners or send me roses or enjoy playing Boggle and doing jigsaw puzzles. I just don’t know.
There is freedom, and even joy, in not having the answers. I wonder, if I could write to an Answer Couple today, if I would ask them what love is. I wonder what they would say, but I know they wouldn’t really know. No one does.
It's a delicate balance. There are things in life we have to know in order to function and be productive. But there are some things that we have to surrender to a Higher Power. Do I know what I'm looking for? Maybe, vaguely. But I'm hesitant to say, because God has an ironic sense of humor and I'd rather not look stupid. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"I Whip My Hair Back and Forth"

It's been a long time since I blow-dried my hair. I mean me, personally, actually doing the work. 

A few years back, it was part of my pre-Shabbos prep, like anything else. But it became burdensome and unfulfilling. After wrestling with sopping wet hair (no time so close to Shabbos to let it air-dry a bit) to the point of getting fashvitzed, the results on Shabbos day looked . . . well, disappointing for all that effort. 

Additionally, I became suspicious of heat-styling. My beloved hair, to be mercilessly torched, week after week? I began to shoin it.
So, I packed away my blow-dryers and flat-irons, although every once in a while (like twice a year) I did use my Conair Infiniti Pro. For events, I had my hair "done" (at which time I also had it trimmed). 

For the sake of my hair's health, I enter into the Sabbath with damp locks, smoothed with a few drops of argan oil in half-hearted attempt to prevent frizz. And, as always, it looks great at around 3 p.m. Shabbos afternoon, long after my return from shul. 

So it was I was in a hotel bathroom Friday, with all the time in the world to prep. However, this Shabbos was an event, but I was not willing to have it done professionally with an unvetted stylist who would charge me who-knows-what.

I conditioned thoroughly in the shower (I mix John Frieda Go Blonder Conditioner with a deep conditioner, currently Giovanni 2Chic Avocado & Olive Oil Hair Mask) and let my hair leisurely air-dry for a couple of hours. 

Then, after dithering over which Sephora-issue sample to use, I applied Living Proof Prime Style Extender. Then tugged out from my suitcase The Brush. The Brush and I have been together for years. I bought once upon a time for blow-drying purposes and have felt no need to replace it. It's not around anymore, I don't think, but plenty of alternate versions abound.

I messily clamped one side into layers, and wielding the brush in one hand and the hotel blow-dryer in the other, began.
It didn't take long. The results were great. And, despite a restless night, remained great. No dents at all. It also lasted for the next few days! 

Do you know what this means? I can "do" my own hair! Successfully enough! How freeing! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Family is Family

There is a branch of the family tree that is firm and adamant: FAMILY is FAMILY. 

It's not that these indomitable siblings happen to get along; they make a vehement point to get along. This fierce connection extends to those who marry in; they may not like you, but they will accept you, fight for you, and actively cherish you. 

When I was little, we were not allowed to fight. There was no "kids will be kids" or "work it out amongst yourselves." (I'm not saying we didn't fight, but it was done quietly and out of parental earshot.) In fourth grade I came home with the idea of "donkey ears"—I actually had no idea what it meant—and how Ta screamed at me after I performed it on an unwitting Luke . . . hoo. 

"Your own flesh and blood," Ma would emphasize. "Your own flesh and blood." 
I'm not saying that there isn't tension and disagreement from time to time. But family is family. 

I'm saddened when I hear tales of rifts between adult siblings. I understand how hurts from childhood can have such long holds (I'm a recovering grudge-aholic, after all), but childhood hurts require adult reactions, not childhood regression.

Ellen Umansky ("The Secret of Sibling Success") initially believed it was her parents' divorce that cemented the bond with her brothers.  Then she wasn't so sure. 
A few months ago, I was at a child’s party, and a mother there was lamenting how her young daughters didn’t get along. “It’s a parenting fail,” she said.
I thought of telling the same divorce joke my brother had made, but I didn’t. I wish I had said what I truly believed, that these things can’t be forced. The best you can do is step back and let alchemy take over.
No, parents cannot force children to get along, as "liking" someone cannot be dictated. But certain behaviors can be verboten—like painful teasing—which could make it more likely that less grudges will poisonously linger into the future.   

There is a difference between close siblings and civil siblings, but civility is a lot better than active warfare. Shooting for that should be enough. 
No automatic alt text available. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Girls and Their Toys

"Ta, I'll go out and shovel." 

"No, no, I'll come too." 

"But it's not necessary. Stay inside and keep warm." 

I went to change into snow-shoveling gear. While I was clambering into my warmest sweater, Ta appeared, all booted up. 


"I thought you were feeling under the weather."

"We have been in this house together all day, and I never said that." 

"Maybe that was last week?" he said vaguely, drifting towards the door. 

"Ta. Please. Can I use the toy first?" 

He did not answer. 


The toy in question was the brand new, fresh out of the box, assembled that morning (by me) Snow Joe Cordless Electric Shovel. A standard snow blower for us is not feasible in terms of available storage, and no cord could cover the ground needed to shovel. So when I came across this baby . . . 

I never ended up using the toy. Ta snatched it from my hands and cheerfully went to work, while I struggled with the standard shovel. Although, this was why I bought it: Every time shoveling was necessary I feared for his back, and that was only the beginning of my fears

Ergo, watching Ta merrily plow through the drifts with ease, grandly declining our neighbor's offer of snow-blowing our walkway, made the gadget even more beloved to me.
Assembly, however, had not gone smoothly. The handle arrives unfastened and folded over, with the thick power cord running through. I was supposed to fit two bars together and fasten it with a screw. But the cord was bunched up inside, and no matter how I leaned or forced or yanked or swung, the two pieces wouldn't slide together. 

I pulled up the product reviews, because I remembered plenty complaining about difficult assembly. One wrote he unscrewed the handle from the rest of the unit, which allowed him to tug the cord down. 

The thought had occurred to me, but once confirming that another did it without damaging the unit I scurried off for a Phillips screwdriver. The handle came off, I tugged down the cord, and the pieces slid smoothly into one another. No problems screwing the handle back to the unit either. 

After charging the battery (supposed to take, at most, two hours), my toy was ready to go. It will only go on if two buttons are pressed initially, and a finger must hold down the trigger for it to continue purring. Less chance of doing something idiotic, like getting a hand stuck down there.     

Thursday, February 16, 2017

And the Oscar Goes To . . .

Very few believe that I'm an introvert. They cannot comprehend that I simply inherited a divine acting gene.
It's not enough that the presence of too many people sucks the life force out of me; I'm also a "Feeler," meaning I'm always worried (to insane extremes) about people's feelings. Was I friendly enough? Did I just accidentally insult her? I was so focused on the pain of my shoes that I didn't see her come in—does she think I was intentionally ignoring her? 

That's why I'm zonked at night. Housework is less strenuous for me than all these mental machinations.

Susan Cain enlightened introverts worldwide that they are not alone, and that embracing their personality is okay; I was one of the redeemed. As was KJ Dell'Antonia ("Am I Introverted, or Just Rude?") 
But I can set aside my inclinations, and for much of my life, that’s exactly what I did. I came to the party. I made the small talk. And because I was raised in a world where manners mattered, I did more. I introduced myself to strangers. I approached the lone older family member at the wedding for a talk about the bride. I was a good guest, and when necessary a good host. I did my mother proud.
Oh, how we act. "Oscar," as Babi would say. But with introversion now being "cool," Dell'Antonia found herself refusing functions left and right—after all, she's an introvert, and needs to "self-care."
Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.
But then she felt guilty. 
When I skip big gatherings of strangers, I’m not just being a little rude to the individual people around me, I’m being uncivil in a larger sense. The more we isolate ourselves from new people, the more isolated and segregated our society is likely to become. . . 
When I asked Ms. Cain if self-indulgent introverts risked crossing the line into antisocial behavior — if we might, in fact, just be being rude — she laughed, and agreed. Sometimes, she said, “you have to consider the other person’s point of view instead of getting wrapped up in your own discomfort.”
Personally, I'm always freakin' worried about the other person (not that I don't slip up at times). 

This anecdote got me: 
Years ago, I was habitually late. “I can’t help it!” I declared to an expert in time management (I’d turned my effort to reform into a magazine article, as writers do, which gave me the excuse to seek professional help).
“Have you ever missed a plane?” she asked. I had not. “Then you can help it. You just care more about yourself than about the needs of others.”
Oh, snap

She concludes that "selfishness" is the gauge. Yet I found her logic to be a little . . . forced. If she doesn't go out, society won't be diverse enough? That seems a little dramatic. 

I would argue, as an exhausted Feeler, that there are plenty of social interactions with strangers that keep diversity going—like waiting in line to pay in Costco or T.J. Maxx, or traveling by public transportation. Luckily, frum Jews have further religious and social obligations that force us out there, like shul, simchas, parlor meetings, and yeshiva dinners.
And it's not like I loathe all social interaction. I like going to simchos when I have a connection there (otherwise I feel stupid). I enjoy it when invited out for a Shabbos lunch by pleasant hosts, and if they have invited other pleasant people, that's lovely. 

Be nice. Always be nice. Yet it is imperative to know your limits, and plan around them accordingly, so you don't go stir-crazy.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Dinner Party

Ah, entertaining! We don't do it often enough. When we do, we tend to go a wee bit overboard, so the idea of doing it regularly is a tad overwhelming. Invariably, I forget to bring in the cucumber salad. This time I remembered the salad, but forgot the cookies. My beautiful, beautiful cookies. 

The efforts came out (mostly) so pretty I had to take pictures. 

Ma's pan-cooked salmon, which is how she makes it every week for Shabbos. It was served with a dip composed of mayo, dried dill, and a few cloves of roasted garlic, as well as the almost forgotten cucumber salad and my niece's favorite, tomato salad. 
This one you know already, the Spanish eggplant dip. It was brought out together with the fish, then lingered on the table all night long.
Chicken soup, of course. It's a basic tenet of the faith.

The veal chops were a success, despite being accidentally over-simmered. (The trick is that fish should err on the side of undercooked, while meat can braise away.) It was made by hobbling together a few googled recipes for "pan-cooked veal chops with mushrooms"—by us, meat doesn't get put into the oven unless absolutely necessary. 
For our heimishe guests, out came the old country: kaposztás tészta (cabbage and noodles). However, my local store did not have—gasp—the large square egg lukshen that is tészta (Manischewitz definitely makes 'em), so bow ties were used instead. (Mind, if it wasn't for company, I would have reached for the whole-wheat pasta.)
The other main was my new, improved love, stuffed pepper (töltött paprika). It's so photogenic, I don't know which shot came out pepper—I mean better. Aren't they gorgeous? Or is it just me?

This ended up being more for me than for the guests, but I didn't mind. It was a pleasure to eat it.

Other sides that I neglected to photograph were pan-roasted vegetables (carrots, parsnip, and Brussels sprouts), cauliflower kugel (which stays so stubbornly bland I ended up chucking in nutritional yeast and a head of roasted garlic for flavor, and it totally worked), oven-roasted beets that no one ate (although they were so amazingly sweet! Without any sweetener added!), sautéed sugar snap peas with shallots and sun-dried tomato. 

Dessert was the forgotten cookies, macadamia nuts (the KING of the nuts!), brownie topped with cashew cream (also hammered together from a multitude of recipes). 

Yeah, we totally made too much. No worries, we lived on it for the next week and change. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Phoenix

How we define ourselves is rather important. Yet plenty of us don't know who we ourselves are, oddly enough, or place emphasis in the least important of areas. 

If I would have to identify myself, the top of the list is not "interest in sci-fi." It's more like the low, low bottom. But someone reading my blog may think I sleep beneath the glow of crossed lightsabers or a Klingon bat'leth. Er, no.
Then there is how we choose to identify ourselves. There is a lady I know, very pleasant, very intelligent, but her only—and I mean only—conversation is her recent, mild medical inconvenience. Nothing serious, mind you, but she is really incapable of talking about anything else. Only about her visits to the dermatologist to treat an annoying rash. When I see her, I find myself casually turning around and scurrying away in the opposite direction.

What about something more serious? Like cancer?

Debra Jarvis, a hospital chaplain who survived cancer, proclaims "Don't Call Me a Cancer Survivor." When she was sick, she was baffled how people assumed her illness would become her identity, predicting she'd promote "pink" awareness. But she had her own personal reaction to her situation, that had little connection to the disease itself.

Yet why should trauma, over which one has no control, become identity? My grandparents didn't identify as "survivors." They had been shoved into a horrific situation and made it through. But that agonizing year did not define them; that's not how they introduced themselves to strangers. "Hello, nice to meet you, I'm a survivor." 

Identity is inside out, not outside in. It's how I choose to react, what I choose to enjoy, what my natural talents and interests are. 

Jarvis tells over how a fellow cancer survivor couldn't get out of the loop of telling everyone her story, even when finally in the clear. She liked the attention that her sickness brought her, but didn't realize that by harping on the past, she was pushing others away (like my clueless lady friend). Jarvis bluntly told her she had to "Get off her cross."
You may think I was a little harsh with her, so I’ll add that I was speaking out of my own experience. Years before, I was fired from a job I loved. Afterward, I wouldn’t stop talking to everyone I met about my innocence, the injustice, and the betrayal until, just like with this woman, people were walking away from me.
I realized I wasn’t processing my feelings—I was feeding them.
But with any resurrection story, we know that you must die before you can be reborn. Jesus was dead for a whole day in the tomb before he rose. For us, being in the tomb means doing our own work around our wounds and letting ourselves be healed. We have to let our old story go so that a newer, truer story can be told about who we are.
What if we lived in a world without survivors? What if people decided to claim their trauma as an experience instead of taking it on as an identity? It could mean the end of being trapped by our wounds and the start of defining ourselves by who we are becoming.