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.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chicken Soup for the Kishkes

Like kale (which I can't warm to) and turmeric (I dose myself with it), bone broth is the trending all-healing elixir of life (although there are nay-sayers). Jews and their chicken soup go together like Gene Kelly and dance, so all that's needed is a minor tweak in the preparation. Maybe not so minor. 

Around the time I decided to attempt bone broth, I read this article ("The Golden Bowl") about new and improved chicken soup by Julia Moskin. Cooking soup for hours isn't necessary, she admonishes. Chicken skin is made mostly from collagen, not fat, so don't remove it before. (And I get really excited about collagen! But not so excited to use chicken feet. I'm still scared of those.)

I tried hers first, barely simmering it for exactly 90 minutes. I had used chicken bones and turkey legs; the meat from the legs hadn't quite reached the fallen-off-the-bone tender state that I expect. The soup was quite flavorful (I used only a sprinkle of salt and relied on red pepper flakes and bay leaves), though. 

The next attempt was bone broth. Most recipes involve simmering for at least a day; some grudgingly allow a few hours minimum. Mine went for ten. Not a beef eater, and unwilling to wrangle with so much fleishig-ness, I relied on my go-to, chicken and turkey bones (I find turkey bones has insane taste. "Insane" as in "good.")

So, I chucked into the official chicken soup pot: 

1 package chicken bones
1 package turkey bones
1 HUGE onion (Spanish onions have been gigantic lately)
2 stalks celery 
2 carrots
2 turnips (I like turnips. Would have put in parsnip too, if I had it)
2 bay leaves
generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes
generous sprinkle peppercorns
filtered water to cover
Via Pinterest.
I brought it to a boil, then lowered it down to a simmer, to what Moskin refers to as "smiling" (I don't like using a violent flame). When nastiness came to the surface, I skimmed it off with the discontinued but fabulous Calphalon skimmer. It looks like this:$478$

After a couple of hours, I removed the vegetables with the trusty skimmer before they got too mushy (and ate them all). Alternatively, one can put in vegetables towards the end. Or in the middle. (Another idea to repurpose chicken soup vegetables: Ronnie Fein's Chicken Soup Burgers.)

After almost four hours, I removed, in shifts, the bones and tugged off the meat. Butchers aren't so careful with getting everything off the carcass, and absolute bounty came off. Then the bones went back into the pot. 

The meat I ate too (and put the rest aside for next few days' lunch. Like I said, bounty). If planning to freeze the broth for Shabbos, one could hold on to the meat for when the soup it done and add it back to the containers. 

It continued to percolate; I added another bay leaf at one point. I turned it off after ten hours so I would not have to stay up past my bedtime to pack it away, although I "could have" left it on the flame all night. But I wasn't brave enough for that. Maybe if I used the blech? Hmm, that's an idea. 

While Ma would use cheesecloth, I held the dope skimmer over containers as I ladeled in the broth. All the gunk and little bits of bone remained behind. 

The results? Yummy, nourishing, and hopefully as gut-healing as they claim.
The next time I used chicken bones, turkey wings, and turkey legs, removing the meat after a few hours, then returned those lovely bones back to the stock. 

Even though I worked from two supposedly antithetical premises (cooking soup for short and cooking stock for long), I was able to learn from both how to broth.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Accept the Inevitable

"If you take raw garlic daily," I had told her confidently, "you don't get colds."
I expected too much of that garlic. It kept me hale and hearty through a trip overseas (I usually return with a leaky nose), through a week (and change) of jet lag, but then . . . 

Leaving work on a Friday afternoon with a song in my heart (and stuck in my head), I couldn't understand why nervous preoccupation gradually edged out my cheeriness. 

The cause? A suspicious rippling in my belly. (A gut feeling! Get it?) A stomach bug cometh, I realized with dread. No. No! I would not accept this quietly! I was going to fight

Three times that night, I downed raw chopped and aerated garlic. The next morning I awoke smug—the queasiness and pangs were gone. 

Except now I had a fever. Ha ha. Well, some more garlic then, eh? 

I hobbled about wrapped in a blanket for the rest of the day. I felt crummy, but I have felt crummier. 

Sunday dawned fresh with promise. Except my nose was oddly drippy. Allergies, I thought confidently. My room just needs a thorough vacuuming, that's all. It can't be a cold. I garlicked like mad! 

It was a cold. Good thing I stocked up on Kleenex lotion tissues the prior week. I fished out the neti pot and knocked back echinacea. And raw garlicked some more. 

I must admit that while it was definitely a cold, it was a mild one. My head didn't feel stuffed with cotton wool, my throat didn't hurt, I coughed but a few times. 

My nose was rubbed raw—a Rudolph honker can't ever be avoided—and I did terrorize passerby with a few violent sneezes.
I was meant to be sick. No wiggling out of it this time.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


For many of us veterans of the frum school system, "funny" or "bizarre" stories of misinformed educators abound. Like when they misquoted sources or outright invented halacha to validate personal chumras. 

When I returned home at night, there was often casual deprogramming following these incidents. "Ma, Ma! My morah said that—" "Ta, Ta! My morah said that—" Between the two of them I managed to emerge 12th grade pitying, as opposed to resenting, my teachers. Bless them, but to grant themselves security for their wobbly nerves they drew lines where none were needed. 

Mesorah was the go-to at home. Mesorah is everything. Hey, if we got it, why not stick with it? There is a comforting security when you do what your grandfather did, knowing he did what his grandfather did.
Jacob blessing the children of Joseph, Rembrandt
There is always room for improvements in halacha, of course. Yet showing the kinfauna how it's done by us is first and foremost. Then we can turn to the newly available old texts. (According to the Maharam M'Rutenburg, we "have to" bring in the newspaper on Shabbos. Really.) 

Wajahat Ali mentioned us folk in his article about raising Muslim kids today.  
One potential route in producing “superior Muslims” is to follow the model of Orthodox Jewish Americans and invest tremendous resources and time to create enclosed schools or home schooling co-ops for our communities.
The "superior Muslims" comment was from his friend: 
Hina Khan-Mukhtar, a mother of three in the Bay Area, said the only way is for us to transform into “Super-Muslims,” minus the cape. “In America, you can’t be a mediocre Muslim,” she said. “You have to be the best of the best, and you have to show your kids that you have a ‘superior product’ that you are offering them. There are so many ‘-isms’ calling for their attention and for their loyalty — individualism, atheism, materialism, extremism. Islam needs to trump them all.”
That means parents really have to bring their a-game. While we do send our kids to private schools, but I made it out sane and informed only because of my parents.
Unfortunately for my children, I excel in mediocrity. This Ramadan, I opened my fasts at home with a date and some takeout food. I usually prayed Maghrib, the evening prayer, by myself in the family room. My wife, a full-time doctor, supermom and pregnant with our second child at the time, did her best to join me, but her schedule left her exhausted.
Ali explains how the available options for Muslim community life don't quite fulfill him and his wife. Yet they want their children to be as attached to Islam as they are.
We’re trying to retain so much of the good we inherited from our parents, throw away the rotten parts and improvise along the way. .  . The sources we don’t trust: shady, unqualified imams and right-wing religious material published overseas.
Instead, we’re turning to our peers and our collective best judgment as well as centuries-old traditions.
At home, my wife and I now deliberately pray in front of the kids. I prostrate toward Mecca and recite the Arabic verses out loud.
Ali adores the Islam he was raised with (his mesorah), yet knows it won't survive with misinformation (morahs with an agenda). When kids find out that something isn't true about one thing, they start questioning the whole enterprise. Luckily my folks were always on call to clarify and explain.
Elisheva Shira,
The Sh'ma says so, flat out: "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." Parents gots to be constantly talking about it. 
Two weeks ago, during my night prayers, my son came up next to me, bowed and turned his head and smiled. There is no compulsion in religion, nor should there be. It’s up to him and Nusayba to embrace or reject the faith and our traditions. My job is only to plant the seeds with care.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Travel II

Every single time I've walked off a plane I've felt like death. This time, I marched off like a human being. The secret? Don't eat.   

Hold on, hold on, I'll explain. 

I'm a suicidal eater; if they put it in front of me, I'll take it, so the first time I heard this was a revelation. It was from a cousin of a cousin, who goes to Israel regularly for her father's yartzheit. She's also like me, happiest at home. On earth. As in the ground. 

I experimented with the idea, which was to refuse supper but accept breakfast. Nope, still felt like death. On this past trip I only sipped water.
Not for me, thanks.
I hopped off with such energy and verve—both coming and going—that I scared myself. 

Maybe because one's body is going at 500 miles an hour, one achieves a state of suspended animation. Maybe airplane food is prepared by the devil. All I know, I felt dope, an experience which has never yet happened. 

But the body is no machine, and after sailing over my threshold upon my return I got the shakes. Oh, jet leg, you sneaky thing. Dizziness, world-twirling, disorientation, the works.
For the sake of my skin, I avoid the sun. To be honest, the sun sucks the life out of me. My brother-in-law, I joke, is solar-powered; he drapes out beneath that yellow orb for hours and arises refreshed. I can't move if exposed to strong sunlight for less than ten minutes. 

Yet like a hungry flower, I planted myself in the sunny kitchen, drinking it in. My symptoms eased along with the exposure. My office desk has no window, which I think set back my recovery. If circadian rhythms are out of whack, your body will be coaxed back into shape from the sun's rays. 

I also took melatonin . . . when I remembered to. 

I still required the ministrations of my acupuncturist to fix me up, but for those leery of needles . . . 

Friday, February 3, 2017


Some Poems Don't Rhyme linked this TED talk by Guy Winch, and I've already listened twice to his soothing, comforting voice twice.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Words Words Words

It's a miserable talent to be able to see the topic of "shidduchim" everywhere. Like this article, specifically about race ("Why Calls for a 'National Conversation' Are Futile"), that notes action is not a guaranteed result from talking
I've been listening to shiurim lately that mention hishtadlus. Hishtadlus doesn't change—it stays the same. One does their (reasonable) part, and sometimes there are immediate payoffs. Doing "more" hishtadlus, however, is not what is necessarily called for as a response to a seemingly "failed" attempt. 

I always exit calmer after a visit with the family guru. Hishtadlus, he says, is simply how we react to a situation—nothing more. Golly, I love the man. 

A lot of talk is about fomenting the correct action to subvert the current situation, instead of recognizing our own piddling humanity. 

Like shidduchim (I'm getting so sick of that word). "It's because there is no place for singles to meet." Really? With all the "events" and Shabbos meals and mingling in college hallways? "Boys are too picky." That's a generalization. "Girls are too picky." So's that one. "Mothers are too picky." Oh, God gets around them, too, belieeeeve me.
A national conversation involved a large portion of the public talking about both important and frivolous stuff more or less at the same time. The term has since taken on a lofty, moralizing weight. Now the belief in a national conversation is a belief in positive outcomes, in correctives, in shoulds
What is the "should" that is the basis of our hysteria? That no one "should" be over 23 and unmarried. When looked at it that way, that seems kind of ridiculous, doesn't it? Okay, let's make it more reasonable: no one should be over 30 and unmarried. I dunno, still a ridiculous premise to get hysterical about, don't you think?

There are people out there who are dealing with waaaaay more serious situations that need help that can actually be given. No matter how much a someone hopes to be my shadchan, she can't force that. Yet I can easily provide tzedakah to assist a needy kallah with buying household essentials. No talking needed, either.  Action done.
The country can’t stop talking about race, because racism won’t let us change the subject. But there’s room to alter how the conversation is facilitated, to strip away the loftiness and self-congratulation. What Barack Obama seemed to be urging in 2013 is precisely what tends to go missing, still, from all of this national conversing: empathy. . . because empathy isn’t a realization you come to by having a conversation with the nation. It’s a conclusion you reach first in conversation with yourself.
Ah, that word: empathy. What is constantly irritating about the conversation surrounding this manufactured "crisis" is how there's always enough blame to go around. Instead of individuals recognizing the Eibishter's Hand in their (and others') lives, they opt for a scapegoat to shove off the cliff.

Everyone should take it easy, on themselves and everyone else. Single people should try breathing again; it's wonderful. Married people don't have to feel guilty, nor should they point fingers at singles' supposed fault. 

It comes down to this: If you have an idea that seems possible (I mean taking personality, background, what-they-say-they're-looking-for, etc. into consideration) then suggest it. Don't call yourself a "shadchan"! Just make a phone call, as a friend. That's all the talking/action that's needed.   

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Twilight Zone

"You may think that in 'real life,'" she said grandly, "but this is the 'shidduch world.' And there are rules." 

I didn't have the heart to tell her. She isn't in the "shidduch world"; her oldest is not yet of age. But I'm the ten-year veteran, cookie, and here's a little tip: 

There are no rules in the "shidduch world." The "shidduch world" is CHAOS. 

A rule would be, say, "Shidduchim must be redt first to the boy." That was an old-world one that went out of style along with doo-wop. Most suggestions are casually chucked at me first, followed by the chirping-cricket silence of the dropped ball or refusal.

There are, however, hundreds of self-styled "shadchanim" who, sadly, exploit their false standing to tyrannize singles. My current un-favorite: They want more pictures. 

"Your pictures don't do you justice." 

"Really? I think they do. They passed, with flying colors, the Hungarian parent panel, which is no simple matter. Plus, I'm not on the search for someone who's only interested in how I photograph. If a guy won't go out with me because my photo isn't stunning 'enough,' he's not for me. I'm uncomfortable in the first place with giving out pictures—rather untznius, don't you think?—so just redt it already, thank you." 

"This is the shidduch world—" 

No, it's not the "shidduch world," it's your own bochsvuras, your personal opinion, which is quite another matter—and does not apply to the entirely of singlekind. 

The so-called "shidduch world" does not have the power to negate Jewish values and Jewish law. Not fashaming people is an actual rule in black and white. Being hurtfully "honest" is verboten. The Eibishter makes matches, not humans. Everyone, everyone, has someone for them, who will find their quirks adorable (at least initially).

Whenever I hear of an engagement, the first thing I ask is "How did they meet?" Very, very rarely (if ever?) do I hear "a shadchan with a database." Most often it is friend, sibling, uncle, aunt, Babi, cousin. The people who know us, love us, and sell us, without embarrassment, manipulation, or threats.

If we refuse to let the "shidduch world" to dictate bad behavior, it would get with the program. I don't negotiate with terrorists, and I'm keeping my dignity.     

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I'm, Like, Soooo Busy

As we know when it comes to food choices, there's what the head believes, and what the scale says. 

The same premise works with another precious commodity: time. No one's got any, right? That's a trendy topic, like bone broth (an imminent post).
Laura Vanderkam believed the same—and considering her schedule and family size, so did I. Yet after carefully logging her hours, she was delighted to discover otherwise ("The Busy Person's Lies").  

Despite her fourth baby and speaking engagements around the country, she wasn't being run to ground. Sure, there are busy weeks here and there, but those busy weeks are not reflective of the usual normal. 

When other people tried time-tracking, their anxieties over their supposedly neglected families and responsibilities faded. Some did find that their work was demanding more than they were willing to give, and they quit, but most were happy to learn that their lives were not overwhelmed. 

She concludes the article with the familiar message that time is precious: 
A life is lived in hours. What we do with our lives will be a function of how we spend those hours, and we get only so many.
Natalie Henderson, a pediatric I.C.U. fellow at the University of Louisville’s Kosair Children’s Hospital, tracked her time for several weeks. She found that despite her 28-hour shifts, she was sleeping more than she thought. Her service weeks were intense — 70 to 80 hours — but others were light enough that she saw she could carve out time for exercise and real breakfasts with her children. More important, though, was the reason she wanted to add these things to her life. In the pediatric I.C.U., she says, “we lose kids.” It’s a constant reminder that “time goes, no matter what you do. I’m covetous of the time I have. I want to make sure I use it more wisely.”
Life is full, and life has space. There is no contradiction here.
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired the story of the avalanched hotel in Italy, and the appreciation of the survivors. As one survivor realized, what should we be prioritizing? Our busy-ness? 

I think not.