Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Make 'Em Laugh

"Just laugh," my mother insisted, when I would come home with some tale of classmate unkindness. "Whatever they say, just laugh." 

She didn't explain why laughing worked, so I was never really able to force myself to "ha ha" during verbal torment.

Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains why laughter is the best medicine. It's called "humorous subversion"; a German town struggled for years to dissuade neo-Nazis from their annual parade, until they started a tactic of mockery. Instead of legitimizing fascists by reacting with violence, they laugh at them, removing any mamashus they could have achieved. 
Humor is a particularly powerful tool — to avoid escalation, to highlight the absurdity of absurd positions and to deflate the puffery that, to the weak-minded at any rate, might resemble heroic purpose. . . 
By undercutting the gravitas white supremacists are trying to accrue, humorous counterprotests may blunt the events’ usefulness for recruitment. Brawling with bandanna-clad antifas may seem romantic to some disaffected young men, but being mocked by clowns? Probably not so much.
The first Nazi, Haman, lost whatever honor he had managed to accrue when he was forced into playing groom for Mordechai's horse. Then there's the meforash regarding being showered in excrement.
Many of our holidays revolve around our salvation from harm, yet only Purim is about hedonistic laughter and bliss. Children are encouraged to laugh at the initially terrifying villain who died a buffoon—perhaps because we should not give mamashus to flesh and blood enemies, only to God.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating, III

Our world is mostly composed of couples. I suppose the world in general is. Singles are often underrepresented, like the dearth of women's fashion for the non-standard size, despite the fact that the average American woman wears a 14 to 18.

Since these families are raising the next generation, their lives are immersed with Judaic themes, on a childish level. Singles aren't there, obviously, and many don't quite know what their purpose is. They often believe that their only focus is to marry in order to achieve their ideal Jewish role.
Scottish Jews, Purim, c 1930s
Yet I had had an epiphany a few years ago: Marrying is only one mitzvah, and the obligation is on men only. It must be that singles can accomplish more beyond pursuing marriage.  

Choose other mitzvos to improve on. Marrying is but one mitzvah of quite a few, yet we get despondent and frustrated. Yes, ideally, we would all be paired up swiftly and painlessly, but the Eibishter decreed for some another aggravating path.

While slogging down that road, remember, hey, you're a card-carrying Jew, and there are plenty of commandments that can be improved upon: Shabbos, davening, kibud av v'eim, shmiras halashon, etc. etc. 

We forget all the things and opportunities we do have when we focus on what we don't. Find a speaker you like. Grab an educational book. Learning doesn't have to end after seminary or yeshiva. There are so many halachos I am ignorant or misinformed of. How many times have I been mechalel Shabbos because I never bothered to study the laws?

It's also fun to discover that Judaism is not as black and white as we thought.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Sport of Meaning

I can post this now that the Superbowl is over. I think. 

As a female, I stereotypically do not comprehend my brothers' and nephews' hysteria over sports. On any given Sunday (cough), the screen is lit up in Owen's house, flashing tomorrow's brain damage patients
Yet, it would seem, rabid fandom can fade. (I call this "growing up.") Sridhar Pappu reported on this phenomenon last year. 

You know when you were a kid, and you got really into something? A TV show, a toy? But then when you grew up, you put away childish things. Why shouldn't sports be along those lines?

My nephew is 14, and is quite taken with football. His mother is happy with his passion, because he needs an outlet to decompress after yeshiva, and this is a pretty safe one. It does not follow that he should be still relying on it when he's 44. 

The men interviewed in the article said that they reached a point where they couldn't tie their emotions anymore to something as meaningless as sports. To be upset because some guys throwing around a ball lost? Pathetic. 

Jeremy Gordon used to be bummed by his team's losses, but then realized how lame that was. He found a solution: Fair-Weather Fandom. He calls himself "the lowest of the low" as a "bandwagon sports fan," but "The cultural insistence on being a 'real fan' begins to seem deeply silly — it isn’t as though St. Peter judges your bona fides at the pearly gates."

What really matters

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating, II

Why do you want to marry?

When I went on my first date at 19, I didn't necessarily want to get married. I was 19. Someone called. I went out. It's the next stage in life, like graduation or a driver's license or a checking account. It was exciting and new, but did I want it? Nah.

Over eleven years, I slowly developed a motivation for marriage. In that time, I changed as a person and as a Jew; my perspective of spouse-hunting altered significantly. I saw other happy couples and my heart would clench in my chest, envying their bond. It was no longer a box to be ticked off; it was a hunger for a satisfying, fulfilling relationship.   

Knowing your motivation: If one is single, and miserable—why? Are you hankering for the parties and celebrations? Is it because your friends are married, and you feel left out? Or are you yearning for a deep connection with a significant other? 

Maybe, once you know your motivation, you can treat the symptoms accordingly. Missing out on parties? Throw yourself a birthday bash, or don't bother waiting for your birthday to have a ball. Feeling left out? There are other singles out there who would love to hang out with you, especially when their BFF vanishes after wedlock. 

If your mindset is more spiritually soul-like, that can be addressed with the first post regarding emunah/bitachon; Hashem has your other half ready and waiting. But it may take some time. 

Friday, February 16, 2018


Each wolf was doing something different. One was digging, one was pacing, one was howling, one was eating, one was grooming itself, one was sleeping, one was hiding, one was hanging out in its den, one was digging on top of its den and one was intently and seemingly menacingly staring at us.
Cate Salansky, our wolf expert and guide, asked me, “Which one do you think is the alpha?”
Duh, I thought. This woman really took me for an idiot. “The one who’s howling,” I said. “That’s obviously the leader.”
All right, I thought, then it must be the one that is eating.
Wrong again.
I went on to guess every wolf except the alpha. Turns out, the alpha wolf can usually be found sleeping. Sleeping. Didn’t it need to bark and growl and intimidate people to show everyone that it was the alpha? No; overcompensating is more of a people thing. Ages ago, I read somewhere, probably in a self-help book I bought after a nasty breakup, that truly powerful beings don’t need to prove how powerful they are. This made no sense to me until I saw it in action with the wolves. When you’re truly in control, you don’t need to tap on people’s shoulders constantly to remind them how in control you are.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Treat It, Don't Ignore It

So, um . . . I have dandruff

You couldn't hear me? *Cough* sorry. Well, er . . . I have dandruff. 

Nothing to be ashamed of, you say. But somehow I always thought it as an acceptable male malady, with their Head & Shoulders. When I started getting flakes in my 20s, I focused on alternative treatments that weren't specific to dandruff. 

Like weekly coconut oil hair masks. For my hair's sake, I would say, while working it in my scalp to moisturize. Yet whatever Google claimed, I still had a flakes.

I decided to grow up and face reality. I bought Jason Normalizing Treatment Shampoo, and just like that *snap*, the dandruff was gone.
I'm so happy with it I bought a second bottle. It is a worthy repurchase.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Romantic Hooey

I am not a typical romantic. Gifts, eh. Chocolates, um, I would like my clothing to still fit me, thanks. After hearing a hilarious story of how a horseback ride on the beach ("where the sea kisses the sand") went wrong, I have merrily discarded that fantasy. 

Romance cannot be forced. It cannot be demanded. It has to be lovingly coaxed into being without stress or tension. 

That's why Valentine's Day is just another invented Hallmark holiday and should be shot.
Sam Sifton, a food writer, describes the anxious vibes in restaurants on February 14, and advocates a home-cooked meal with candles instead. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating, I

I blame "hishtadlus" for this. 

Doing one's hishtadlus becomes an endless, unverified list of "musts," from makeovers to unfounded "segulos." If one hasn't gotten what one wants, that means more hishtadlus is required, from single events to throwing money at kabbalists. But I heard from Esti Rand, quoting Rav Dessler (I think), that hishtadlus is simply: I do my part, Hashem does His. If the desired outcome doesn't occur, that doesn't mean "do more hishtadlus." It means Hashem doesn't want you to have it . . . yet

Han entered my life when the last thing on my mind was dating. I repeat, he was sent—I cannot claim I "found" him, because I wasn't looking. It then became quite, quite clear to me that I was not the engineer of my (married) fate. My actions, beyond the acceptable minimum, were not necessary. 

When one realizes they are not in control, it is both terrifying and freeing. I am not in control! (Panic.) I'm not in control! (Yeeeeees!)

Emunah/bitachon: Emunah is the recognition of God; bitachon is actually trusting Him. I find the latter to be, at times, difficult, especially with my tendency to worry. 

Now, how to go about it? Well, shiurim help. When I'm wound up, a meaty shiur usually unspools me nicely. I recommend Rabbi Ephraim Stauber on this specific topic, especially since he cites Brené Brown. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is also great.

When one begins tackling their relationship with Hashem, there are all sorts of pleasant side effects: happiness, calmness, relaxation. Because here's the thing: You want to get married? You make some basic effort at dating? You don't have to do anything else. But you have to have faith.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Not Your Standard Fasírt

"Do you cook?" 

I'm not sure what these women want from me. I need to eat, right? Plus I never shut up about healthy fare. So yeah, I cook. Like you cook. Like anyone else cooks. I cooked before I got married. Why is this a topic of interest?

"What's for dinner tonight?" one even asked in middle of a conversation, attempting to catch me off guard. 

"Slow cooker minestrone," I replied truthfully. I decided that if asked such a question again, I would lie.

For years I have been organizing recipes in endless word documents, experimenting all the while, but most remained untried. Marriage has provided the perfect opportunity. 

I grew up with fasírt (we pronounce it fush[rhymes with "rush"]-yit). It's a hamburger pattie, fried. The usual ingredients are ground meat of choice, soaked dry bread or crumbs, eggs, and seasoning. 

Ma modified it over the years, of course. Oat bran instead of bread. Chopped mushrooms. If in the mood, a sauteed onion. 

I thought that the only way the meat would stay bound was with carbs and eggs. Then I came across this recipe, that uses only grated zucchini. 

Say WHAT? 

Well, let's give this a try. 

Chicken Zucchini Fasírt (adapted from One Lovely Life's Chicken Zucchini Poppers)

1 lb. ground chicken
2 cups grated and squeezed zucchini
3 scallions, sliced fine and small
2 cloves garlic, minced
ketchup, healthy squirt
sriracha, a dash
salt and pepper

1)  The first rule of ground meat is to not overwork the mixture. Throw all ingredients together and using the flat of your hand, pummel everything together until just mixed.  

2) Heat up a frying pan with oil, medium-ish heat. Wet hands, form mixture into patties and chuck 'em in. The batter will be a bit messy but it's all good, as long as you've squeezed the most of the liquid out of the zucchini. 
3) Every flame is different, so I can't say how long you should cook it. 5 minutes for sure on one side, but if the frying side looks too pale leave it for a while longer. And the oil shouldn't be hysterical, or else it'll burn before cooked through. 

4) Flip 'em over. 

5) When done, drain on paper towel. 
6) Alternatively, though I have never tried it, a grill pan is an option. My in-laws use it for their fasírt sometimes.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How To Stay Sane While Dating: Intro

My mother-in-law was approached by a woman who had heard of Han's marriage. "I was so happy to hear the news," she enthused, "and then I heard how old the kallah was, and I was even happier!" 

Aw, gee. 

32. The advanced, decrepit, elderly age of 32. 

"Older" singles? You thought the stupid comments would end with your wedding, right? Oh so cute. Nope. Because stupid comments are a certainty, like death and taxes. 

Han and I (still!) commiserate over our single years. What was most difficult about those times wasn't necessarily being single—we had our health, our family, comforts of the first world. There was a yearning for that which is missing, yes, but the true angst came from elsewhere. 

People. People and their comments. People and their suggestions. People and their condescension. People and their bullying.  People and their well-meaningness that resulted in . . . chaos.

It can drive one to violence. I usually kept a mental picture of Sing-Sing as a deterrent.

I had complete strangers telling me "not to be so picky." I was grilled by self-proclaimed shadchanim about my preferences, redt something else entirely, then berated for politely declining. I went out in the name of "being open," to be held hostage by the so-not-shayach.

It is at this point when one realizes that no one—or, at least, very very few—is on one's side. Excuse my Yiddish, but there is usually a "good enough for yenem" policy. We are born inherently selfish. The secret is to keep it on the down-low. 

The single has to turn inward and alter one's viewpoint, because madness is inevitable.  

And so, I give you our new series: How to Stay Sane While Dating. First segment coming next week.   

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Oh Wise One

"Give her some advice," she said, shoving her alarmed 20-year-old granddaughter forward. 

I blinked. 

It was obvious that she was seeking dating-related insight, but did she really want it from a formerly "older" single who was 32 on her wedding day? Well, here goes nothin'. 

"You have to leave it to the Eibishter," I said, hands waving skyward. "He takes care of everything . . . but, it does take a lot of self-awareness. I'm not the same person as I was at 28, 25, 22. You come to know yourself better, and what you need." 

Relief shone from the girl's face, and she nodded. I saw in her eyes that she understood.

The grandmother, however, was disappointed. I'm not sure what she expected me to say, but I suppose I went off script. Well, what did she expect from the "elderly" one?