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.