Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Sister, in Pride

It was way before she diagnose me as a fellow introvert when I delightfully concluded we had something in common: Pride in our background. 

She is not Hungarian, like I am. She is Georgian. Not exactly similar to my region of Hungary. But that didn't matter. As she brought out platter after bowl of Georgian dishes, as she told anecdotes from her immediate family, as she reverted to her native tongue to clarify a point, I was drawn to her in kinship. 
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Khinkali , Georgian dumplings
"But you weren't born in Hungary," is a snarky comment I often receive. So what? I was raised by those who were, who bear their backgrounds with pride, who abide by its values, who revert to their mother tongues to evoke perspectives that cannot be described in English. And use a lot of paprika in the kitchen. 
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Nokedli paprikas
I have met others, Hungarians and non-Hungarians alike, who wish to flee from their heritages. I have a happy connection to mine, true, and cannot speak for those who do not. But "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going." The past and its mark cannot be denied. We are all products not only of our DNA, but our ancestors' experiences.
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Charkhlis Pkhali, Georgian beet salad
After all, we were Jews first. We have stuck to that identity fiercely in the Diaspora. Why not give recognition to the stops along the way?  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What Comes First

"You have to put the husband first," she said firmly. 

She was not Ayelet Waldman, but a frum married woman of 60. For those who do not recall, Waldman was vilified a number of years ago for her Modern Love piece in which she rather bluntly informed the world that she loved her children, but was in love with her husband. 
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Meaning: He came first in her affections and focus. 

She could have spared herself some vitriol, I believe, if she eased into the topic rather than bulldozing into it. Because I do think she has a valid point. 

Parenting—or is it mothering?—has taken on a competitive edge. Movies joke about obsessed soccer moms and terrifying PTA meetings, but the example doesn't have to be so extreme. 

I have been around children. A lot. At a recent Shabbos meal, I was able to tell from the decibel of kvetching emanating from the crib that the toddler could go back to sleep, so take a seat, soft-hearted Zeidy. 

Adults forget what their needs and wants were as children. Kids, when small, are usually not so complicated. Consistency is key: solid bedtime, healthful meals, and knowing exactly what they can and cannot do, and definitely affection. I would go further that they crave united, cheerful parents. 

I remember the episode of Oprah where Waldman was sandbagged by furious mothers, who were the opposite extreme. They spent hours frosting cupcakes for Little League, their husbands vague memories. Do kids want frosted cupcakes for Little League? Not really. And if they do, they certainly would rather do without if their parents will fight over it. 

I wouldn't say, "The husband comes first," but "The marriage comes first." I have heard of adults being bitter because their parents had miserable marriages or torturous divorces; have you ever heard anyone complain that their parents had a wonderfully close relationship? 

Her piece ends off: 
And if my children resent having been moons rather than the sun? If they berate me for not having loved them enough? If they call me a bad mother?
I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.
That sounds pretty awesome to me.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

There is Hope for Happiness

David Finch's marriage was on the rocks. His wife, Kirsten, was bewildered; she thought her husband had changed, when in reality he had reverted to his original form. Because of her specialty, she figured it out: Asperger's. 
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Oddly enough, that diagnosis helped immensely. Kristen was the perfect candidate to help. 
Autism spectrum disorders are not cured with medication, but their associated behaviors can be worked with. What I needed initially were communication skills and a sense of empathy, neither of which, in my case, had been factory-installed. Fortunately, I was living with a highly qualified therapist with a strong motivation to help. Her objective: re-invent our marriage. Her first mission: figure out how to get me to communicate.
They tackled that. And empathy, too. 
Acquiring empathy seemed a taller order, given that my Aspergerish point of reference is myself in every circumstance. (Someone just slipped and killed himself in the men’s room? I see. How long until they get him out of there so I can go?) But I’ve learned that people can develop empathy, even if by rote. With diligent practice, it can evolve from a contrived acknowledgment of other people’s feelings to the real thing. . . Soon these started to feel like real rather than manufactured emotional responses.
If someone who is born incapable of communication and empathy can learn these skills, I'm sure those who are "normal" can perfect them as well.

Modern Love celebrated an anniversary by reprinting this article, along with a follow-up with Kristen. A woman writes to her in frustration and sadness, that she believes her husband has Asperger's and she's depending on his changing for her happiness. 

Kristen, however, drops some unpleasant truth on her: He is not responsible for her happiness. She is. 

During one particularly frustrating encounter with David's "quirks," Kristen was able to pull back. 
I zoomed out to see that Dave was a human being, someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s father. When I took that bigger view, I found compassion. That may sound like a simple revelation, but it’s anything but. . . until [then], I hadn’t once told myself the story of how I had been so judgmental. I had to zoom out to see that story line unfolding, and once I did, I wanted to revise it.
I knew for sure I didn’t want to feel mad all the time. I didn’t want to be so resentful. And I really, really wanted to figure out how to like my husband again.
I discovered this myself a few years ago, with family members. People are different, and they aren't cognitively trying to torment others, they see and react in other ways than I see and react. 

I learned that I can't relate to people on my terms. I have to relate to them on theirs. That means not saying what I want when I want in the name of "honesty." It means holding back and revisiting issues from a place of calm and thought (Rabbi Tatz says this too). 

Personal happiness cannot depend on others. It comes from within. It means flipping the perspective, valuing others strengths instead of harping on their weaknesses. We are all human. We all have both.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fave Muffin

I'm currently on a muffin kick, despite my years shunning them. They have this image of being healthy, but they aren't, really (like how frozen yogurt is pretty much ice cream). Why opt for mystery ingredient store-bought offerings when it takes very little time to churn out homemade? 
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I found this recipe for Pumpkin Oat Muffins by Making Thyme For Health, and quite frankly, they are dope. Thanks to Alton Brown, I am familiar with "the muffin method," and since I hate to take out the food processor, I did them by hand (as much as possible). 
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For my first attempt, I actually had oat flour, so I used that instead of grinding the oats. The second time I ground the oats in the spice grinder. It's a matter of preference in terms of consistency. Both are quite tasty. 
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I also opted out of the chocolate chips. Seemed rather . . . wrong with pumpkin. 

My muffin tins seem to be on the small-ish side as I make about 16 with this recipe. I discovered silicone cupcake liners in the baking cabinet and they are delightful. 

And don't leave them at room temp for longer than a few days. Mine got moldy. The freezer will accommodate. 

I won't tell you yet about the banana white bean muffins. I don't think you are ready to hear about them yet.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

BB vs. CC

I'm still recovering from Sephora's recent VIB 20% promotion, an annual delight. I tend to stock up on favorites at this sale, as well as experiment with new products, secure that returns are painless (yes, you can return cosmetics! To Sephora, and to department stores, and yes, USED. So try!). 

Wintertime is a thorny issue for me in terms of everyday makeup. In the summers, my combination skin favors mineral makeup, but that's too drying for the winter months. Tinted moisturizers are too moisturizing, leaving me uber-shiny by noon. 


What usually happens when I buy two similar products, I either become attached to one and spurn the other, or I find both disappointing. In this case, I'm actually torn.  

I like them! Both! There are pros and cons, however. 

In terms of performance, both provide enough coverage to even skin tone and shield minor boo-boos. Both do not make my skin oily—no need to blot my face midday. Both go on light, and do not smother my skin, yet it feels . . . nourished, dare I say? 

The cons of the Smashbox is the packaging. Products, ideally, should not be exposed to air and contaminants until application; the rather liquidy cream dispenses with an annoying dropper, opening the whole bottle to contamination.
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Whereas the IT is a breeze in sensible, responsible, easy-to-operate tube.
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In terms of color, though, the Smashbox in Fair/Light is probably a better match for my skin than IT in Light. The IT goes on looking ideal, but it is slightly too dark. Yet perhaps the touch of extra warmth is flattering? She hopes? Looking a tad orange?

And so I dither between the two. Worst come to worst, I suppose I can be hedonistic for once (ha!) and keep both.    

Friday, November 17, 2017

I ♡ Germs

It it obvious from my previous posts that I'm no germophobe. In fact, I'm more of a germ lover. I can say this after a round of antibiotics killed off all my good gut bacteria and is still continuing to wreak hellish havoc. 

So of course I'm going to push Aaron E. Carroll's article, "I'm a Doctor. If I Drop Food on the Floor, I Still Eat It." The title makes his opinion clear. The dirtiest place is not the floor. There are way nastier surfaces, which we mindlessly eat off of and yet, miraculously, survive.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Art of Friending

"You're awesome!" 

"You're awesome!" 

The two of us had a grand time chatting, even over the blaring wedding music. We really hit it off. 

At least I thought we did. 

Having succeeded in securing her cell number, I proceeded to text. Her replies were short and noncommittal. I braved her chilly responses for a few more rounds, then gave up. 

When I crossed paths with her again, she was downright frosty. I skittered away. 

Making friends, for some, can be a difficult enterprise (this post is brought to you by: TooYoungToTeach, who not only sent me the below article but inspired the rest of the content). I'm one of those annoying people who can't befriend anyone. I require a meeting of minds, a shared vocabulary, and most of all, loyalty. 

So when I meet someone new who seems to have, at least, the first two (near identical) qualities, I am awash in hope. But then, inexplicably, episode 2 flops after the pilot. 

I am not alone. Alex Williams blames it on being over 30 ("Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?"), but I find that age has little to do with it. You bump into a stranger, you have a glorious hour or two in their company, but there is no successful follow-up to that promising romance. 

Once upon a time, they would have just called it "ships passing in the night," or something. Maybe there was magic in the air, or hooch in the drinks, but whatever it is, it was not meant to be forever. It was meant to be for that moment in time.  
. . . it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Proximity. Can't get away from that. Nor vulnerability. But it also takes two to tango. If one doesn't want to put in the work to maintaining a relationship, there is only so much the other can do.   

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Space Between Breaths

I'm not sure when I got into it. Was it when I began to dabble in yoga? Was it a recommendation from Dr. Oz? Whatever it was, now I am on automatic pilot: When tense, I exhale slowly, in order to inhale slowly. In so doing, I'm calming my nervous system
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I've gotten gold stars from my acupuncturist for breathing correctly: inhaling deep into the abdomen, so it expands. I try to teach Eewok how to breathe, but she only so far has managed to hold her breath, or to forcefully shove her belly out. 

Breathing "properly" seems like a subtle change. Yet it has helped me tremendously.  

When gripped by a crisis, the lungs feel it. There is an elephant that inconsiderately parks itself on the chest. 

When Olivia Gagan entered therapy to deal with post-breakup trauma, her therapist insisted she focus on breathing first. She was skeptical. Wasn't she supposed to talk about it? Nope. He recommended an app to help her breathing.

In the space of breath, she became aware of her mind, body, and surroundings. By breathing, she was present. Not only did she deal with the lack of sleep, she soon discovered her own voice.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

TGIF


The film features a representation of the mobile home where you grew up in Michigan, which I don’t think I’d ever seen before. It was very ... um. ... Spit it out, Dave. Yes, it’s very, very small, and later I realized how much that did for me. I learned harmony with other people early, and that was absolutely vital and paramount. It was only when I went into the larger world that I realized the world isn’t like that.

Peaceful relationships don't just happen. It takes two, and if you want to get along, you'll find a way to get along. The art of harmony is a skill, indeed, and worth cultivating. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ugh, That Word

Americans are obsessed with happiness. It's in the Constitution, for crying out loud. Yet it is this very frantic pursuit that is making us anxious, according to Ruth Whippman. British by birth, she never gave happiness a thought until she moved to the U.S., and it became a never-ending conversation.

There are two anecdotes of Americans clashing with the French over happiness—the book reviewer, Hannah Rosin, being called a "stupid American" for smiling, and another from Pamela Druckerman, an American living in France. When her daughter's teacher asked her to give a presentation on being American, she concluded her talk by teaching the children "If You're Happy and You Know It." The teacher, puzzled, asked "What does it mean, 'appy?" 

Is happiness like kavod, that the more one runs after it, the more elusive it is? How does one achieve kavod? By sitting quietly, a letting it approach one gingerly, on little cat feet. 

Judith Newman analyzes a pile of books on the subject. She's happy, she says, because she is "The Queen of Low Expectations." Now that she mentions it, that has been working for me, too. 
 
The various titles she slogged through recommend different methods for happiness achievements: linking happy pastime with to-dos; witnessing moral good; gazing into a doggie's eyes; love yourself and everyone; live within your means; stop comparing yourself to others and just don't give a hoot. 
https://cdn.simplifiedbuilding.com/images/projects/build-your-own-sukkah_610.JPG
Via simplifiedbuilding
As Jews, we just emerged from Sukkos, when we are commanded to be happy. A lover of yuntif, I'm glad to report I perhaps not the divine simcha that our greats are able to achieve, but certainly happiness of sorts. To be commanded to emote is interesting. But isn't it a joy to celebrate Him? 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Neglected Mandoline

Kitchen mandolins always frightened me. That exposed blade? After the incident with the immersion blender . . . 

But the exalted Jacques uses them all the time. I've watched him casually whip his hand back and forth, and as the veggie shrinks, he merely presses his palm against it, lifting the fingers out of the way. 

I was faced with neglected cucumbers, and so desired to pickle them. Rummaging about in the cabinet, I discovered a Kuhn Rikon mandoline, which has dual blades. 

I was curious. At worst, the slices would be thick, like the ones from the food processor. I slid the cucumber back and forth. In seconds, I was presented with a magnificent pile of ethereal wisps—better than if done painstakingly by knife, and at a fraction of the time.  
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Via Bebe love Okazu
Oh, Lordie! 

Cucumber salad used to be an hour-long, laborious process; now it took minutes. 

Giggling over my newfound toy, I decided to try káposztás tészta. I was strapped for time before yuntif, so I didn't want to wrestle with the food processor.  I first shredded the onion (stunning!) and then moved on to the cabbage. 
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Via The Taste SF
To quote from The Princess Bride, "a dweam within a dweam."

I love it when a kitchen doohickey works out. What else have I been needlessly resisting?

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Coils of Humblebrag

When did humility get so cocky and vainglorious? I remember the first time, around 15 years ago, that I heard someone describe herself as “blessed.” An old friend of my boyfriend’s came to visit and spent the evening regaling us with stories of her many blessings. She wasn’t especially religious, which somehow made her choice of words worse. Every good thing in her life — friends, job, apartment, decent parking space — was a blessing: i.e., something deliberate, something thoughtfully picked out for her by a higher power. It took a while to put a finger on why it got on my nerves. The problem was that she couldn’t just let herself be lucky, because luck was random, meaningless, undeserved. Luck was a roll of the dice. She had to be chosen.—Carina Chocano
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This connects to a previous post—about those who simper at their good fortune while claiming humility.  The above is from a series that analyzes current jargon ("First Words"). 
To be humbled is to be brought low or somehow diminished in standing or stature. Sometimes we’re humbled by humiliation or failure or some other calamity. And sometimes we’re humbled by encountering something so grand, meaningful or sublime that our own small selves are thrown into stark contrast — things like history, or the cosmos, or the divine. . . “Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth and submits himself to others.” “Others” being God, say, or a grand movement or mission, or just the majesty of your own corporate or celebrity overlords.
I never particularly liked those maselach about downtrodden janitors in freezing Eastern Europe who turn out to be the most brilliant mind and spiritual soul of his generation. "Oh, no, I'm just the lowly shammes" grates. Because that's not what anivus is—the same way "humility" isn't what it is now. It's like the above: Compared to the knee-knocking glory of God, yes, we're nothing. But amongst our own brethren, we must recognize our talents and share them.
In the present-day vernacular, people are most humbled by the things that make them look good. They are humbled by the sublimity of their own achievements. The “humblebrag” — a boast couched in a self-deprecating comment — has migrated from subtext to text, leaving self-awareness passed out in the bathroom behind the potted plant. . . . none of these people sound very “humbled” at all. On the contrary: They all seem exceedingly proud of themselves, hashtagging their humility to advertise their own status, success, sprightliness, generosity, moral superiority and luck.
Humility takes another turns in this article, which is albeit heavily Christian in context: 
Humility is a sign of self-confidence; it means we’re secure enough to alter our views based on new information and new circumstances. This would be a far more common occurrence for many of us if our goal was to achieve a greater understanding of truth rather than to confirm what we already believe — if we went into debates wanting to learn rather than wanting to win. . . 
There are those, ahem, who are insecure in their faith yet put up a front of "knowing." But if one had some anivus, they would also be accepting. 
Certitude can easily become an enemy of tolerance but also of inquiry, since if you believe you have all the answers, there’s no point in searching out further information or making an effort to understand the values and assumptions of those with whom you disagree. 
If we had all the answers early on, what would be our purpose here? We're here to advance, and that can only be done if we are willing to hear and learn. 
Humility believes there is such a thing as collective wisdom and that we’re better off if we have within our orbit people who see the world somewhat differently than we do. “As iron sharpens iron,” the book of Proverbs says, “so one person sharpens another.” But this requires us to actually engage with, and carefully listen to, people who understand things in ways dissimilar to how we do. It means we have to venture out of our philosophical and theological cul-de-sacs from time to time. . . The wiser we become, the more we see how much we don’t know and how much we need others to help us know.
He quoted one of our sources, so it's legit. "Two heads are better than one," Ma always said. Not everything one hears is useful. But one must be willing to hear in the first place. We have to be a little humble.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Be Flexible, Not Fixed

This week is all about going back from the wrong path and starting again. I'm surprised how many (frum!) Jews aren't willing to acknowledge how they have the power to alter much—not by trying to save the world, but by tackling their own minds and actions. 

Studies are showing that "DNA is not destiny"—in terms of heart disease, for instance, a good lifestyle makes up for bad genes, while a bad lifestyle negates good genes. And one didn't have to be an angel, either; "It looks as if the biggest protective effect by far came from going from a terrible lifestyle to one that was at least moderately good."

Dr. Jane Brody profiled Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who completely reversed his lifestyle and successfully handled his diabetes diagnosis in the span of three months. 
Rather than proselytize, Mr. Adams prefers to teach by example, introducing people to healthy foods and providing helpful information. “I don’t want to become an annoying vegan,” he said. “My hope is that by having people focus on adding healthy things to their plates, rather than unhealthy things, they’ll eventually only have room for the healthy ones.”
Sur mei'ra, v'asei tov.   
Balsamic Chicken and Veggie Sheet Pan Dinner | Cooking Classy
Via cookingclassy
Very often, we create limiting beliefs and we stubbornly cling to them. Like Aya Cash: "The First Time I Ate a Vegetable (I Was 22)." 
For years, I had been telling everyone that I didn’t eat vegetables. I believed I hated them. I even took pride in the fact that I could fill my body with junk and not gain weight. I secretly, ridiculously, bizarrely thought my anti-vegetable stance made me intriguing. Unique. Idiosyncratic.
But sometimes we tell stories about ourselves that aren’t true. Sometimes stories we think are fixed are actually flexible. . .
I realized that I had determined a defining characteristic based on who I was at 6. I had not tried again for 16 years.
What else had I decided about myself that might not be true anymore? What had I decided about other people? That piece of lettuce was my first recognition that my identity was not set, but malleable.
I used to think belly button piercings were cool. I used to date men who didn’t like me. I used to smoke. I had never wanted to get married; I thought it wasn’t “who I was.” But a few years ago, I found myself feeling otherwise. This didn’t mean I was a different person. But the narrative I had about myself had changed.
Would I have learned this in other ways? Probably. But that bite opened me up to the possibility that change can happen even when you’re not trying; you just have to stay curious.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Thankful Year

Rabbi Glatstein said in a Rosh Hashana shiur that we cannot ask for a good year until we have thanked Hashem for the past one. 
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In that theme of gratitude, I can link a Thanksgiving article, I think: Frank Bruni's "One Holiday, and Countless Ways to Say Thanks." 
Someone, usually my Uncle Jim, says a grace of greater length and intensity than the ones at other holidays. He speaks of God and gratitude, demonstrating that if we look at our lives through the right lens, we see blessings everywhere, and they outnumber obstacles.
Gratitude is a feat of perspective. When I talked with other people recently about their ways and whys of giving thanks, I was most struck by how often their rituals arose from travails, not triumphs. Hardship was handmaiden to an examination of all that remained good, all that they should cling tight to.
I'm speaking from experience here: One can find hakoras hatov even when everything goes to hell in a handbasket. It can be done when one sees the Hand of Hashem in all things. Hashgocha pratis, not hashgocha klalis. The Eibishter is in your life as much as you allow Him in.   

Monday, September 18, 2017

Give Them CASH

I have um, a bit of a backlog of fascinating articles. So, er, bear with me as I link, um, holiday-themed pieces. 
 
The subject of these two are regarding gift-giving, that thankless job. It's sort of like shidduch dating; the majority of results are "Gee, thanks for thinking of me, but—" 
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Sridhar Puppu's article about the misery males experience trying to select gifts for their significant others ("Why Are Some Men Such Awkward Gift Givers") is quite entertaining. Even when their spouses are fine with it, they still feel the pressure. 
 
John Tierney went to the experts, as in actual research ("The Perfect Gift? It's the One They Asked For"). Often, gift-givers get so worked up over how amazed the receivers will be, they don't take into consideration that the receivers would rather have something that's useful, instead of something awesome that becomes irritating clutter. 
 
If buying for a lot of people at once (although, is that an issue for non-Christmas observers?), don't make a point of getting something different for everyone, especially if they wouldn't know anyway. My aunt throws a Chanuka party every year, and she sticks to the same gift for a specific age group. She has to keep her sanity too. 
 
And it's cool to regift, apparently. Also, people know what they want. ASK. They'll tell you. If not opting for deliciously welcome cash, don't give a restrictive gift card, like to a candle shop. That's not fair. 

Last but not least: The thought does not count. I'm speaking from experience, here: If I am stuck with something I have to pretend to love and takes up space, I am annoyed, not touched. In Judaism, "the ends don't justify the means." So if you shvitzed to get me what you thought I would like and I didn't like it, I'm not really going to care about the effort. According to research.

Friday, September 15, 2017

TGIF

  • Behind every crazy woman is a man sitting very quietly, saying, "What? I'm not doing anything."—Jade Sharma;
  • Brené has a new book! Here's a CBS interview; and 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Age Like Iris?

I learned, a long long time ago, to never say, "Well, I would never—!" 

A number of women have that about-face when skin starts to sag. In one's bouncy youth, the idea of surgical intervention for shallow reasons is repulsive; yet, perhaps, when actually confronting the signs in the mirror, the concept becomes less abhorrent.

Who knows what I will be tempted by if my neck goes all turkey despite my nightly creams? 

Debora Spar mulls over the issue in "Aging, and My Beauty Dilemma." 
Then my friend Elise pushed me toward the exit, where our husbands were waiting. Elise is about a decade younger than me; she is also Nordic, smooth-skinned and built like a ballerina. “Did you see that room?” she asked, smiling and rolling her eyes. “Every other woman there was over 60 and yet there wasn’t a wrinkle to be found. They all looked great,” she acknowledged, “but so similar!”
We ducked into the car and started heading back to the West Side. In the darkness, she grabbed my arm. “Promise me that we’ll never do that,” she said.
“Do what?” I asked, pulling my own black dress more tightly around me.
“That plastic surgery thing,” she said. “Fillers, Botox, all that stuff.”
I demurred, mumbling quietly, “Come back and see me when you’re 50.”
That's why we can't judge. If we haven't been in those identical shoes, who knows what we would do?

As for dressing, Julia Baird proclaims, "Don't Dress Your Age." I find it awesome when I see older women in bright, colorful, patterned attire. If anything, I think such garb is probably more age-appropriate than it is on the young. There is a fabulous octogenarian that I know who is my inspiration for my golden years, God willing. Now, I rarely wear patterns, and have difficulty finding festive hues that also suit my frame. But when I've aged out, what's figure-flattering will no longer be a concern.  
All this nonsense is why I adore the funky grandmothers you can find on Instagram who dance about in baubles and proudly sport turbans. They refuse to fade, hide or match their attire to the wallpaper.
But my greatest mutton-fantasy is just to wear and do what I want. To not have such preoccupations even cross my mind. Isn’t there a point when one can simply be a dowager, a grand old dame, or just a merry old boiler? When we can refuse to kowtow to prescriptions and permissions, but just march on in the shoes we fancy wearing?
http://www.closetonthego.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/iris-apfel-01.jpg

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Lonely Subway

Metropolitan Diary, Beth Bengualid:

Dear Diary:

I witnessed a verbal altercation between two women on the subway today. One was about 60 years old; the other was probably in her early 30s.

The younger woman had a big bag around her shoulder and was holding onto a pole as the older woman entered the car.

“Don’t you dare push me,” the older woman yelled.

“That is your perception,” the younger woman replied. “I did no such thing. You bumped into my bag.”

The older woman insisted that the younger woman was wrong and escalated the argument. I tried to make eye contact with her to encourage her to calm down because I could sense that the situation was getting out of control.

Then, to my surprise, the younger woman did something remarkable while she trying to keep her cool: She asked the older woman: “Do you need a hug?”

“Why yes I do,” the older woman said.

The two women embraced and forgave each other.

My motto for surviving working in New York City is: "Do not engage and escalate." Well, that's sort of my motto in general. We come across, in our daily lives, all sorts of overly chatty, boundary-less individuals who frankly don't care that you have to be elsewhere. 

Therefore, RBF can be a girl's best friend. When frozen in android mode, subway-riding wackos leave you be. 
https://az616578.vo.msecnd.net/files/responsive/cover/main/desktop/2016/04/05/635954863810755415332848855_Screen-Shot-2016-02-04-at-1.38.23-PM-500x375.jpg
No one wants to tangle with that.
The above story, however, reflected another concept: those who pick fights in a desperate attempt at connection. Sort of like a tantruming toddler willing to take bad attention over no attention.

People are lonely. Some people are so lonely they're willing to be a subway-riding wacko. 

I learned this recently, that while in my naive, childish mind the only way to forge a human relationship is with kindness and affection, there are those out there who will actively insult others in an attempt to connect. Sad, but true. 

Perhaps if we learned to take people's words not always at face value, but attempt to peer into the wounded souls beneath, we'd be a lot more tolerant. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

By Work, Not By Word

"And R' Yitzchak said: If someone tells you, 'I labored but did not succeed,' don't believe him. If he tells you, 'I have not labored, yet I have succeeded,' don't believe him. If, however, he tells you, 'I have labored, and I have succeeded,' you may believe him" (Megillah 6B).  

There are a number of people who made it big with the assistance of the internet. Makeup artists (i.e. Michelle Phan), singers (i.e. Bieber), and those of other dubious talents (i.e. Kardashians) have found fame and fortune via those opportunities. But people forget there was work involved (even for the Kardashians), not just hashtagging self-promotion. 
https://storage.googleapis.com/twg-content/images/michelle-phan_lg.width-1200.jpg
"Good News for Young Strivers" by Adam Grant is a reminder that in the end, results count, not horn-tooting. Achievements lead to successful networking, not vice versa. Beneficial networking doesn't mean chasing after prey; it's about bringing the prey to you. For that, you need to draw them close with something other than a blank "Look at me!" 
In life, it certainly helps to know the right people. But how hard they go to bat for you, how far they stick their necks out for you, depends on what you have to offer. Building a powerful network doesn’t require you to be an expert at networking. It just requires you to be an expert at something.
Yes, there are businesses that take off by "happening to bump into the right person." But if one doesn't have anything for the other to remember them by, fuhgeddabouit. 
 
Cal Newport goes further ("Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It") that the hashtagging is not merely a neutral influence, but a malignant one to a career. He claims that since social media is addictive, and robs one of focus that should be applied to one's work, it actually negatively impacts the performance that must speak for itself. 
If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.  
This same premise applies, I believe, to Rosh Hashana and repentance. It's our actions that is our greatest proof of remorse, not merely "so sorry." Biting one's tongue, giving to tzedakah, flashing a smile to a stranger—you can take that to God, no status update needed. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

(Spiralized) Zucchini Kugel

Ma never made potato kugel for Shabbos. She and I are fellow potato-lovers, to the point of mindless consumption. 

So, recently I have pounced upon alternatives—like this Spaghetti Squash Kugel. With hefty seasoning of garlic powder and black pepper, it came out delicious (my sister-in-law, who rarely eats vegetables, gobbled it up) and guilt-free. 

I would recommend, after scraping out the squash strands, to let it rest in a bowl for a bit so excess water will emerge, then squeeze it off. Less water, better binding.

The next week, I wanted to try my hand at zucchini. But there I was stumped. Every recipe I came across called for some sort of carb-y binding, like bread crumbs. 

For Shabbos meals, I try to keep the food as carb-free as possible, since challah takes enough of a toll. If the spaghetti squash kugel didn't need bread-binding, why should this? 

A few years ago I bought a spiralizer, and to be frank, didn't use it much. It has now increased its appeal as Ta, the lukshen-lover, is content to consider spiralized zucchini as pasta's relative. I wanted to use it for the kugel—which would also spare me digging out the food processor (although the pieces could be left in chunks as well).  

The secret it to get as much water out of it as possible. I steam it, press it against the colander, pour it over in a bowl to rest, and as more water emerges, continue to pour it off while pressing down. Then I sauté it lightly to ensure everything was evaporated out. 

(Spiralized) Zucchini Kugel 

5-7 zucchini (of any color; the above also had yellow)
1 onion, diced
3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
garlic powder
salt and pepper 

1) Spiralize or grate zucchini. 

2) Make 'em limp. What I do is steam it, then press as much liquid out through the strainer, then let it rest in a bowl and squeeze out any more liquid that may emerge. But there are plenty of options how to go about that. 

3) Sauté onion until delicious. Add garlic towards the end, for about a minute. 

4) Add limp zucchini and mix. Sauté lightly just to ensure that as much water has been bullied out of it as possible. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. 

5) Pour over into a bowl. Add three beaten eggs and mix. 

6) Pour over into lightly greased 9x9-ish baking dish, and bake on 350° for 45 minutes or so.    

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pay It Forward

I had noted him as I prowled the produce aisles. He was peering carefully at the Golden Delicious apples, which made him already interesting as a fellow fruit-lover. They don't make 'em like they used to. 

He was talking educationally to his little boy in the cart. A good Tatty, I thought approvingly. He looked weary, but he spoke patiently to his excited young son. 

I had in one hand my cart, in another, a bag of zucchini; with an ominous thud-thud-thud, I looked down to see my carefully selected summer squash slipping through a tear, banging into the floor. 

"Oh, maaaaan," I emoted in annoyance. I hoped they weren't bruised. 

As I knelt to recover them from the floor, I heard a quiet, "Here." The good Tatty was matter-of-factly proffering a replacement bag. 

"Thank you," I replied distractedly, taking it and chucking my veggies in. 

He silently vanished. 

Emerging from the store, I felt . . . upbeat. There is a bounciness when one experiences kindness. 

The next morning, I saw a cell phone and keys forlorn on the train seat across. I lunged down the car, tapping the girl on the shoulder. "Is this yours?" She gratefully reclaimed them, and I attempted to vanish discreetly as he did. 

There is also a bounciness when one can forward the kindness to another.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

TGIF

The will of God will never take you,
Where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

—Anonymous (I think)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Rosh Hashana Cometh

Self-flagellation and I are old friends. If I am calm and content, my subconscious says, "That's enough of that, now," and obligingly rustles up a memory from 2nd grade that proves what an unworthy human being I am. 
 https://scottnevinssuicide.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/self-flagellation.jpg
Gordon Marino ponders the purpose of remorse ("What's the Use of Regret?"), a topic which is rather apropos for Rosh Chodesh Elul, no? 

"Self-forgiveness" shouldn't be encouraged, he says, for that merely removes responsibility or an incentive to improve; self-torture should not be endless, however, since we "lose faith in ourselves," and ruminate helplessly on the past without progressing into the future. 
We can learn to let things go, but before we let them go, we have to let regret get hold of us. Perhaps the old biblical formula is best — repent, ask for forgiveness with a sincere resolve to change your ways.
Ah, the old biblical formula is best! What a surprise. 
Kierkegaard observed that you don’t change God when you pray, you change yourself. Perhaps it is the same with regret. I can’t rewind and expunge my past actions, but perhaps I change who I am in my act of remorse. 
Without reflection of past sins (Viduy?), one cannot change. Isn't that what we're here for? We're here to do, initially imperfectly, then acknowledge our mess-ups and act upon that to elevate higher. 

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.   
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/w40ushYAaYA/maxresdefault.jpg

Friday, August 18, 2017

TGIF

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.
http://stylesweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Neutral-Makeup-Look-for-Summer.jpg
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.