Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year, 2008


The secular new year of 2008 of the Common Era has arrived far too quickly. When I was a kid, George Orwell's 1984 seemed impossibly distant; 2000 was when George Jetson's space cars would glide through the air, and I would be an old lady. Happily, the last of my expectations has yet to be fulfilled, but I admit that 2008 is beyond my comprehension.

Still, I better get used to writing it on my checks.

How should Jews feel about flipping the calendar page? I don't think too many of us see it as a time for getting drunk and resolutions; we've got the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which drags through Sukkot to Hoshana Rabba, for introspection and earnestness. But still, we're part of this culture, and we use English dates, and the world shares a time frame. We can't ignore the move from December to January. But some people still try.

I was raised in L.A. The way most parents I knew celebrated the evening was to cozy by the TV and "watch the ball drop" in Times Square in New York. This occurred at 9 pm, and after a few "Happy New Year!" wishes, the oldsters would head for bed. The younger generation would gather at somebody's home, or plan an outing. One New Year's Eve I saw "The Sound of Music" at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. You had to get tickets in advance and they were really expensive. Still, my date and I sat in the very last row of the balcony. At midnight, we ceremoniously kissed in the car, hearing the countdown on the radio on our way to a lame party.

Perhaps my most memorable New Year's Eve was, oh, 15 years ago, when my husband and I were invited to a Hollywood party given by a movie producer. Several big-name stars were there; the house in the Hollywood hills was spectacular, with all L.A. spread out and twinkling at our feet. We played pool with a famous actor, and talked with our host, and looked around, and had drinks. I felt like an interloper as I was not a star, and, as it turned out, would never again be invited into the home of an A-lister. But as thrilled as I was to glean a glimpse of that world, I also sensed depression, as the entry to a new year was not really so happy, and not really so meaningful there--just a kiss and a drink and for the other Hollywood ladies, an excuse to wear a revealing, shiny dress.

Most New Years Eves have been eminently forgettable.
Occasionally with friends, often just us at home looking outside at the Big Moment to see others' fireworks against the sky, popping and snapping. I grab my husband and insist on a Happy New Year kiss, because that's what you do. Sometimes we toast with champagne; tonight it was Martinelli's in an etched champagne glass, as the fireworks fizzed and popped and lit the horizon in their miniature colors.

The year ahead promises to be significant. The Iowa caucuses are but a few days away, and the election, like the horizon, twinkles with surprises. Projects should be completed and released, children released and completed. But is this a time to look back and forward, or just another day in the year? Trick question; in Jewish life, every day is assessed and every day precious. We'll never have the opportunity to repeat the moment, though often I think of the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray experiences the same day repeatedly until he gets it right.

I'm trying to get it right the first time, and in a strange reversal of Bill Murray's fate, never seem to accomplish it. But I suppose that's what keeps life interesting and challenging and hopeful--I can hear my mom's cheerful voice responding to some complaint I made as a kid: "tomorrow's another day!"

Thank God for that...and it's another year, too. Here's a toast and a kiss that yours is healthy and rewarding.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Visiting My Home in Los Angeles



Just got back from a visit to LA, my hometown. I get down there a couple times a year, but this time, I had a few hours to take a good look. Just like when you see someone you've known well after a span of a decade, I noticed how my dear city has aged.

Judging by its face, not so gracefully.

Ironically, Hollywoodland could use a shot of Botox. It was built up, but not cleaned up. Streets in neighborhoods where a modest three bedroom, two bath house built fifty years ago cost $2 million were lined with squashed fast-food cups and wrappers, and collected brown palmtree dirt like dust bunnies.

An area that had been a wetland now holds dozens of high-rise condos and the businesses to profit from them. But instead of the strip malls of the past, the stores were merely the lower levels of "multi-use buildings" that held more condos on top. The neighborhood where I'd lived--where we'd worked hard to build up a Jewish outpost on the beach--had never become upscale. The housing was the same, except that beat-up plywood-topped "RVs" now lined the thoroughfare we once walked every Shabbat, and the houses on my street all seemed to need paint.


Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of new Los Angeles is the traffic. Everyone we saw discussed it--or how they averted it. Some scotched a move, preferring cramped quarters to two hours daily on the road. Others described the circuitous routes they devised to avoid crowds. Some merely groused about it, employing distractions like lectures or books on tape, or using the time to make cell phone calls.

Jewish Los Angeles, however, is thriving. We were treated to dinner at Prime Grill--yes, the Rodeo Drive incarnation of the famous Manhattan restaurant. Loved it. Loved it even more because we didn't pay for it. Pico Boulevard felt much like Israel with falaffel and thickly Hebrew-accented English and in-your-face signage and stores wedged together.


The number of synagogues is growing; the Persian community burgeoning. New schools are opening; Touro College welcomed its first students to its west coast campus. Communities are blooming in far reaches of the San Fernando Valley, and the stretch between Century City and Hancock Park is becoming solidly observant. When I was a kid, the Orthodox had left Boyle Heights and clustered around Fairfax, huddled against Reform domination of the region. Now, the streets of Pico-Robertson are alive on Shabbat with families walking; you hear z'mirot (songs) through windows, and passersby greet each other, "Gut Shabbos!"

I believe God smiles on all this, as more and more Jews take His commandments seriously. However, I also see zealousness, division, and sometimes disdain toward those deemed "modern."

The best surprise for me was the winter weather. After two days of rain, and then wind, when my plane descended into LAX, I could see the entire region. The Hollywood sign to the snow-dripped San Gabriel Mountains; the tall buildings along Wilshire to Loyola-Marymount University in Westchester. I saw downtown with its
clustered high-rises, and even the outline of the old City Hall. There's nothing more beautiful than a clear, sunny day, crisp and invigorating (while 65 degrees) in my home town. After enduring weeks of northwestern wet, sitting in the sunshine renewed and reinvigorated me.

And I did see many old friends. After ten years, some had indeed aged, but others seemed much the same. My dear friend from high school, our neighbors, our street, all felt embracing and homey. The house where I lived, once with a mezuza on its doorframe, now boasted a wreath on the portal and a twinkly Christmas tree in our dining room window. Still, it was the same house where I brought home my newborn babies, and where I welcomed hundreds--probably thousands--of Shabbat guests. It was the same gray-blue color, with its expanse of green grass in front, and the low brick wall where my preschoolers balanced, holding my hand.

Yes, I'm sad so much treasured time has passed; I miss those little kids who needed me so much. But like my town, there's too much new to face, too much to accomplish...and precious few clear days in which to savor the entire view.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is America Willing to Watch a Woman Age in the White House?


Are Americans so obsessed with physical perfection and female beauty that they don't want to see a woman age in the White House? This question was posed by radio talk host Rush Limbaugh and drew much comment. I think it's a real question--his point was that unlike England (Margaret Thatcher) and India (Indira Gandhi) or Israel (Golda Meir), America in the 21st Century has become so focused on physical beauty, and has set the bar for acceptability so high, that where men can scrape by with an "interesting" face but towering intellect, a woman can't.

I think he's scrambling a bunch of questions, each of which is worth contemplating. In our Botox environment, where Boomers don't really have to look whatever "their age" once was, we do somehow, unconsciously, equate public figures' exteriors with their interiors. Is it fair? Is it correct? Obviously, no. But is it TRUE?

The photo above, by the way, has circulated all over the Internet, supposedly portraying Hillary on the campaign trail. It's been suggested, however, that some non-friend photoshopped it.

But I think another question is really the issue here, and that has to do more with politics than feminism or superficiality. The issue is Hillary: if she were perceived as selflessly and sensibly conveying honest proposals for the betterment of the country, her "kankles" and folding face would mean far less. We loved Barbara Bush; granted she was not the candidate. But we loved her because she was sincere; she projected niceness, and the Bushes clearly had a love and a marriage all admired.

Hillary emphatically does not. Her "negatives" are as high as her forehead because she comes across as hard-edged (those pantsuits don't help) and sharp-tongued and even at times, mean. She comes across as morally questionable, given the Rose Law Firm and the "deal" she has going with her husband. She seems to me an opportunist trying to capitalize on her husband's popularity and wants the nation to "count" being married to Bill as "White House Experience."

Then there's Bill himself. With the Mrs. behind the desk at the Oval Office, we're reminded what went on in that august space when she wasn't in the room. It's downright skanky. And yet, millions of people still hold a torch for the guy--who will definitely upstage his wife unless they have some iron-clad arrangement not to appear within camera-shot of each other.

And all THAT, I think, is what feeds into the question of our nation's willingness to see "a woman" in the presidency in 2009. If she were Margaret Thatcher, sure. But as the wife of Bill, as the pathetic "I love him anyway" wronged woman who, tabloids continue to remind us, watches as her husband enjoys a series of extramarital affairs--she ages before our eyes

Women feel for her--cheer her on--because they want her to survive and prosper despite her cheating husband. But not as our president. Hillary is pathetic to women because in the area we wives, mothers and daughters care about most--a happy family and solid marriage--she's a failure. To see her wrinkly and bleached-blond and stammering and poorly dressed in her public appearances is disheartening. Even if we share her political beliefs, we don't want to see her age in the White House. Because, perhaps, she's too much like we're afraid we could be.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Staying up till 2 am


It's almost 2:30 am. Just a question: what time is "normal" to go to bed? I mean if you have to get up about 7 am on weekdays? I suspect that people who read blogs go to bed later than other people... If I could, I'd probably stay up till 2 or so every night.

Today was Shabbat. I somehow squeezed in a 1 1/2 hour nap... It's the holiday season, with many fun options for activities--Wal-Mart is open VERY late! I notice there are many Muslim families there; women in full regalia and just faces showing... These nights are made for staying up, and observations...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The" Grammar Error, and other thoughts from the Parallel Universe





As a grammar and punctuation nut, ubiquitous errors keep me in a constant state of disgruntlement. Those apostrophes that appear in the wrong place are perhaps the most frequent offenders. We got a lovely holiday card from someone dear to us...whose reputation slipped a notch when she addressed the envelope to "The Smiths'." You're chuckling because you know darn well our name isn't Smith, but for purposes of illustration, it will do. The sign above, btw, was found by googling "apostrophe error."

Another pet peeve that has increasingly proved an irritant is the unnecessary
"the." Today I made another masochistic foray into the parallel universe--the New York Times Style Section--and found a full-page color ad for Gap (which, ironically, used to be called The Gap) in which each of its featured items was preceded by "the." The ad showed "The Womens Cable Booties" (aren't we missing an apostrophe here?) for $24.50, "The Mens Lambswool Glove," for $19.50, "The BabyGap Crazy Stripe Mittens, Scarf & Hat," ($12.50-$16.50) and "The Womens Sweater Hoodie" ($49.50). Its final offering was "Gap Eau de Toilette Spray" ($28.00) which was inserted just to be contrary. Does anyone remember when this retailer's slogan was "Fall in-to The Gap?" The bass voice hitting those descending notes would sound far less coherent were he to sing, "Fall in-to Gap." But we digress.

In the same issue of the Parallel Universe was an article, "Still Life with Hedge Funds" by the ever-wry
Guy Trebay, that was heavy with names dropped at Art Basel Miami Beach, an "I can afford it, too" social boast-fest ostensibly for collectors, artists, dealers and the middlemen who get rich off them. Pictured (above) were two 50s-ish gentlemen; the caption read, "Making the Scene. Steven A. Cohen, left, the art collector, with Larry Gagosian, the gallery owner. Below," (a second photo, a woman in a bar with a provocative Compari ad) Eva Mendes, the actress." Obviously, we needed definitive articles to prevent confusion with Steven A. Cohen, the accountant, Larry Gagosian, the periodontist, and Eva Mendes, the librarian.

I planned to mention only the "the" there, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, but two other articles floating in the parallel universe (this time apologies to you) require comment. A piece on buying "green" clothes ("A World Consumed by Guilt") shows how PC Al Gore, in all his self-parody, has become. And another, on the availability of knock-off Goyard bags ("Carried Away with Imitation Luxury"), recalls a Canal Street shopping adventure with my daughter that taught me two things: Designer names open doors in walls, and the obsession with those same names is a ridiculous waste of time.

Crusading against errant apostrophes, however, is a lofty pursuit.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What is a "five and ten"?


Reading over my last post, I realized that readers may not have memories of a five-and-ten. Do I need to explain what that was?
If you know what it was, let me know and give me the name of one or two near you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like...Uh-Oh"


It's almost 8 am and the sky is beginning to lighten. Among the gray clouds are streaks of apricot as the sun struggles to illuminate the landscape. I just drove my son to school, and on the way home I happened to hear on the radio the cheery seasonal song "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," written by Meredith Willson in 1951 and recorded by Perry Como (above) and the Fontaine Sisters in the same year. It was charming. It was moving in its sweetness.

Why, in the back of my head was there an echo with every pronunciation of the word, a distortion I've heard used by Jews, "Krist-mach"? Should I feel guilty for enjoying the song so much that when I pulled into my driveway, I sat there an extra 20 seconds to hear Perry's "buh-buh-boo" voice, with the Fontaine Sisters' three part harmony, conclude to sprightly orchestral accompaniment,

"
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart."?

Normally, as you can tell by the front seat and floor of my car littered with cassette tapes, I listen to shiurim while driving. If I'm in a musical mood, I favor Yehuda! (exclamation mark is part of his name) or CD collections made by my children with my largely Jewish music taste in mind. Between noon and three, I'm tuned to a particular talk radio show that combines politics and pop culture. How did my dial find itself where it could expose me to Perry and the Fontaines?

It could be the seductive pull of nostalgia for a time when the lyrics of Willson's ditty were accepted everywhere in our country:

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
Take a look in the five-and-ten,
Glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see
is the holly that will be
On your own front door

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel,
One in the park as well
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart


What? You mean your OWN "five and ten" is "glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow?" Could there actually STILL be a tree in the Grand Hotel and a sturdy one in the park, in this day of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Michael Neudow's crusade to strike "Under God" and "In God We Trust" from the Pledge and our currency?

Why, yes.

I was enjoying a conversation yesterday about the holiday-time dilemma with a highly respected Israeli Orthodox rabbi. He confessed that he shared my appreciation for America's expressions of the season because during this otherwise dark time, strangers share a bond of good cheer. Curmudgeons aside, people are more kindly, more generous, more friendly in "the spirit of Christmas." And fortunately for us in this great nation, that effervescence of joy extends to the Jewish community.

We comprise less than 2% of the populace, and yet nearly every store in urban areas has a small Chanuka section. Articles about the season respectfully include Christmas, Chanuka, and in the last twenty years, the (absurd, made-up...don't get me started) holiday of Kwaanza. If there were a Moslem holiday that stayed in December (their lunar calendar has no "leap month" correction so their holidays drift around the year), you can bet media would give it the nod as well. I do not take this for granted. Naomi Wolf is currently promoting her new book, "The End of America," in which she insists that George Bush is systematically accomplishing the "ten steps" she claims took Germany to Nazism. Somehow the comparison of our president to Adolf Hitler seems too fringy to be taken seriously, but to hear her on the air frantically warning Americans that we're on the verge of martial law, one does pause to evaluate the scene.

Thank God, the scene is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Carolers in Dickensian garb sing harmonies in shopping malls where shoppers toting red and green bags join in and applaud appreciatively. My neighborhood is twinkling with color, which, happily was still illuminating the darkness as I drove my son to school. The other day, a ladies' group I'm in enjoyed our "holiday tea" where red was the wardrobe color of choice, and we Jews ate our certified kosher grilled chicken lunch with our Christian friends in a hall with two lavishly ornamented evergreens and sparkling wreathes the size of Mack Truck tires.

And then I came home, and a few hours later, lit our menorah with my family, and while Maor Tsur, the story of religious Jews' victory over Hellenism, was the heartily voiced melody in the air, I did notice the tinkle of those seasonal bells starting to ring from the carol in my heart.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Latkes and Sounds of the Season


'Tis the season of joy--and I'm happy I'm sane!

I was busy making 150 latkes, a daunting task, with four frying pans crackling oil around the piles of potatoes. As I was transferring some crispy pancakes onto the cookie sheet to be warmed tomorrow for our Chanuka party, I thought I was hallucinating.

I heard what sounded to be a small boy singing.

My son was sleeping on the couch nearby. He had indeed been known to talk in his sleep....but now that he's hit puberty and his voice has changed, how could he be singing like a child? I thought my mental age was skyrocketing. I thought somebody slipped something into my soy "Nog."

Then I realized: The Christmas Ship! Every year, the Argosy cruise company, the one that ferries tourists to islands in Puget Sound and around Lake Washington, strings a large ship stem-to-stern with white lights and a huge white star. Each evening until December 23, blasting the voices of carolers, it glides with a colorfully-lit flotilla to different ports of call, where it anchors while the singers give a 20 minute concert. Many of its stops feature bonfires, and Starbucks offers free coffee drinks
to all who come for the festivities.

Tonight, as I fried up my dozens of latkes, the Christmas Ship anchored at Clam Lights at Coulon Park. Though the park is about three miles across
Lake Washington, I jumped up, grabbed my parka and binoculars, and let my slippers soak up the puddles on the patio. The harmonies were beautiful, though rather distorted over the distance. The ships illuminated the black span of water, and when the announcer thanked the event sponsors--all proceeds from passengers' rides go to charity--I heard a strong cheer.

Sounds of the season had blended with the snap of Chanuka oil. As the ship departed, its music fading up-lake, it was nice to know I was sane after all. And all I could think was, "Aren't we lucky to live in a place like this?"

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can a Jew Enjoy Christmastime?

I have a confession to make: I like Christmastime.

I'm a Jew through-and-through, and I love Chanuka--as well. This year it starts Tuesday night, quite a bit earlier than the other holiday. We'll have our annual white-elephant-exchange game at our party the first night, planned for that evening so my sorority daughter can then buckle-down in study for her quarter's-end finals that start the following week. Our party with its latkes and sufganiot and many games is a tradition we all love, and many of her sorority sisters will be joining the fun. We put up twinkling white lights and signs and blue and silver garlands. Last year, a monsoon windstorm hit the day before, meaning our entire party was by candlelight and guests kept their coats on in our 30-degree home. The blackout lasted eight days for us...just like Chanuka, and that storm was dubbed by the media, "the Chanuka eve windstorm."

But I still like Christmastime. I like the carols (not their lyrics, except for their message of peace and goodwill to men) and the glitter and bustle and smiles and the Salvation Army Santa bell-ringers to whom I always give a dollar. When I'm in New York, I like the fantasy moving store displays and Bryant Park ice rink and Rockefeller Center. Here in the Northwest, I like the carousel in Westlake Plaza, the nightly drummers and lightshow at Bellevue Square, Tacoma's amazing Zoolights animals, and the Bellevue Botanical Garden's astounding flowers made entirely from lights (above). Though I'm kosher, I love Coulon Park's Clamlights, sponsored by local restaurant icon Ivar's, the motto of which is, "Keep Clam." I can see that display in miniature across Lake Washington from my home, its huge cottonwood trees festooned top-to-bottom with strings of lights.

I like returning a "Merry Christmas" to checkers at Target. I like seeing eager children lined up at the mall for their m
oment on Santa's lap, and their equally pleased parents enjoying their little ones' anticipation. I squeal with delight when I see beautiful light displays on homes, "OOOOH! Beautiful!" And I used to enjoy the sparkles and glimmers on the Christmas trees at Seatac Airport.

Now the story gets complicated. Some in the Jewish world feel that because the entire purpose of Chanuka is to distinguish us as Jews who follow the Torah from our surrounding culture-- hearkening back to the defiled Temple in Jerusalem that Maccabean fighters seeking to restore God's law regained from Hellenistic, assimilationist Jews --we ought to completely withdraw from the Christian holiday around us. That would preclude appreciating seasonal carols, or viewing outdoor light displays, or wrapping gifts for non-Jews in red-and-green paper.

Last year, in an unfortunate misunderstanding, it appeared some Jews were offended by the traditional green Christmas tree display at Seatac Airport. The brouhaha caused the permanent removal of that decor, replaced this year, ironically, by silver-sprayed bare tree branches. No one can object to the theme of cold, leafless winter.

Now, I wouldn't consider any decorations at my own house that smack of Christmas. I wouldn't even come close--no holly, no fir wreath, no colored lights--because we are firmly and unequivocally Jewish and I would feel
uncomfortable with them. And by providing my children a Jewish education, and living as Torah-observant Jews every day of the year, they have internalized a Jewish identity and are not at risk of confusion.

Without a Jewish life--daily prayer, eating kosher, Shabbat and yom tov, constant learning, watching us strive in our Torah knowledge--there might be an issue. They know the purpose of Chanuka, the root of which is "chinuk," education, but that also means "dedication," as the Temple was re-dedicated to its Godly purpose. With that basis, they can bring their friends to our Chanuka party, sharing with them our traditions. And at the same time, they can join me in thrilling to the beautiful light displays and musical performances and feelings of cheer that emanate in the larger culture.


There's lots of beauty in this dark time of year, especially with our "Festival of Lights." On Tuesday night, I'll once again use the heirloom menorah that my mother-in-law's parents spirited out of Nazi Germany among the very few possessions they escaped with. I will joyfully sing Maor Tzur with my husband and two of my three children (missing my absent daughter on that day especially!) and serve my home-made latkes with sour cream and applesauce.

I do not think it detracts from Chanuka, however, to enjoy as an outsider, the sights, sounds and happiness of the majority religion. For me, the ability to fully engage in Jewish life is primary--but the secondary colors and celebration that uplifts and reminds my neighbors of God--enhance this otherwise dreary time of year.

As I write, rain pelts onto my window, as it has all day. Over Shabbat, we had three inches of snow, fat flakes flying in a blustery breeze that gave way in the early morn to warmer drops pinging the skylights. We're supposed to get some more strong winds tonight as the storm becomes more fierce...I can only hope we retain our electric illumination on Chanuka eve this year as we add the spiritual component with the oil of our menorah.




Saturday, November 24, 2007

'Tis the Season to be Spendy





Now that Thanksgiving is over, and Black Friday led retailers into the black by 8% over last year, the real shopping season has begun. Being Jewish, I watch from the sidelines as the national rush to find by December 25th the perfect gift for sisters who live across the country and grandmothers who have everything commences. And I am both amused...and appalled.

In my Thanksgiving newspaper, fattened even more than the two turkeys I served by advertising supplements, appeared a full-color booklet from Bed Bath and Beyond. This is the store that eschews commas in its name and offers
practical items like towels and bed linens and curtain rods. But not for Christmas. This is definitely the season for "beyond."

For just $39.99 you can purchase a Marble Coaster Kit that allows you to "customize coasters with your own photos." You get four white ceramic tiles, a liquid and a foam brush (worth, oh, 2 cents). You cut your photo to fit the tile, brush on the liquid (glue, I'd bet) and...VOILA! You've paid $40 for four tiles with your photos glued on them! Something everybody needs.

Just below it I see the "Golf Bag Bar Set," just $29.99. Looks like a metal golf bag. Inside sits a metal shaker, the knob on which has little circle indents like a golf ball. The corkscrew has a metal flag on it--like the hole! Four little metal stirrers are shaped like clubs, and you even get four Olive Picks shaped like tees! An amazing must-have 11-piece set for all the inebriated golfers on your list!


On the same page is the $29.99 Globe Dispenser. This is a clear glass world globe set at an angle in a silver metal globe stand. Where Antarctica should be is a spigot for dispensing your favorite beverage. Useful for those holiday
parties: "Hey Mable, time to refill the globe! The punch is down to Australia!" It appears you need a funnel, however, to infuse your world with imbibables.

Have you noticed your cupboard getting cluttered with single-function kitchen appliances? Why not add to the pile your very own "As Seen on TV" Vacu Seal? For just $29.99, those who don't trust ziplocks or sliders can crimp closed plastic bags of leftovers. Of course, like a computer printer, the money's in the consumables--replacements are $4.99 for five one-gallon bags. Somebody's got to pay for all those infomercials.

Marketed for the little princess on your list who collects Pez dispensers, there's the Pez Princess Collector's 8-piece set for $19.99, eight candy holders with all the Disney princesses from Snow White to Ariel, complete with candy. But you know this "limited edition" is really for savvy ebay vendors, and that none of these boxes is destined to be opened, ever.

The exercise nut can receive "Leg Magic," a pogo-stick with a wide stance that "tightens and tones with a simple gliding motion" for just $129.99. Do you think Bed Bath and Beyond shows a flabby person on it?

Here's something if you're really stumped: The "exclusive" Wooden Tea Box. One hundred forty-four assorted tea bags in a black lacquer box with a clear top. Fifty dollars.


More: a blow-up bath pillow for $20, a bamboo tray that fits across the bathtub to hold your novel and a stemmed wine glass (!) for $40, pieces of reed you stick in a bottle of perfume, $20, a foot massager for $40, and the 20Q hand-held game that "tries to guess what you are thinking," $20. If it actually works, it's worth a lot more.

Perhaps my favorite, however, is in the true spirit of the first "As seen on TV" sensation, which was of course, Popeil's Pocket Fisherman (below). That was a telescoping fishing pole that compacted to the size of a ruler, the first direct market product, and a huge smash. Now we have the "Coleman Fishpen" which
has taken Popeil down a notch--in fact, several, to the size of a PEN. You have to carry the reel with line, three hooks, bobber, 3 line weights and practice casting weight that come in the kit separately, I'm sure. They couldn't possibly all fit in that pen. Just $19.99.

What do I make of all this? It's true that Americans have far more than we need. Who remembers when Christmas gifts were sox and underwear, because it was a treat to have new ones? Who remembers when a birthday gift was a new pair of shoes? We are so blessed to live here, where abundance can be taken for granted.

I also feel for those who have to come up with clever gifts for many people. Uncle Jack likes golf, so why NOT get him the olive spears shaped like tees? A dad wishes he had time to fish with his son...and so buys two Fishpens with the message that even if they never actually whip them out of their pockets at some river, he loves his son enough to. It's tough coming up with something material to express something spiritual, such as "I'm grateful for your business," or "I appreciate our friendship," or even "You're my sister and I acknowledge that link between us."

All these frou-frous are just symbols, but perhaps important ones. Because through this materialism we do communicate our connections. We even had an example of this in the Torah portion this week as Jacob sent his brother Eisav flocks of animals, each separated by herders and some space. He was trying to convey that despite stealing Eisav's blessing from their father, he recognized that his older brother deserved honor and respect, shown by his elaborate gift. It's also a Jewish principle to give gifts to those you dislike, in order to improve your feelings toward them. There is no greater gift than parenthood, and no love like that of a parent for his child.

So in a sense, the more gifts given, the more harmony is created. Perhaps it doesn't matter if you give a globe beverage dispenser or a food-bag sealer--the giving ingratiates your recipient to you, and that makes life for all of us more rewarding. That might be why this month of shopping and wrapping feels so festive. Maybe my disdain for lavish spending on what I consider to be junk items is misplaced, and instead, in this season of generosity, I should join the happy retailers--and their customers--in celebration.




Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We are Thankful, not Mourning, on this Uniquely American Day

The Seattle Board of Education sent a memo to its staff last week urging they not treat Thanksgiving as a happy holiday, because some students consider it "a day of mourning." This is true. Native American students, the note cautioned, are reminded that day how their ancestors' generosity was "betrayed."

The memo was signed by
Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D., Director of Equity, Race & Learning
Support, plus two members of Huchoosedah Indian Education, a federally-funded American Indian support arm of the School District. Huchoosedah Indian Education has six full-time staff to promote the well-being of 800 native American and Islander students (2% of 45,300 total). The staff clearly has too much federally-funded time on its twelve hands.

What is this deconstructing of Thanksgiving????


Thanksgiving is Jewish. I want to set that straight. We call it the mitzvah of "ha karat ha tov," recognizing the good that is done for you. An illustration of it is that Moses did not personally start the plague that turned the Nile to blood, due to his gratitude that the river kept him alive when he was set adrift as an infant in a floating raft. The example may seem a bit extreme, but the fact we even tell that story shows how much gratitude is part of Jewish tradition.

I wanted to clarify the Jewishness of Thansgiving because I was told about an incident last Shabbat where a rabbi, when making his announcements in morning services, said something like, "There will be no class on Thursday. Some people are taking the day off, though I frankly
don't understand why."

If he was making a joke, he said it in such a way that listeners believed he was serious. The person who told me about this was a bit upset, because a local pastor had chosen that day to visit the synagogue for the first time, just to be neighborly. The pastor, who lives nearby, is a friend,and honors and reaches out to community Jews. He heard the rabbi's remark about Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is important not only for ha karat ha tov, but because it is a uniquely American holiday that expresses the essence of our culture as
God-fearing. We are thankful to God, not to the Indians. We remember that the first white settlers were able to join with the inhabitants of the land in humble gratitude. A nation that pauses to gather family to thank God and celebrate our bounty and blessings is one set on a straightened path every year. (Jews enjoy this kind of re-focusing every Sabbath as well.)

Thanksgiving is a national group-hug. It joins Americans across religions, across thousands of miles, and across generations. Unlike Halloween with its pagan origins, deathly symbols and crass commercialism, little about Thanksgiving itself is negative, unless you consider its potential for gluttony. The Seattle School District is rightly the subject of snickering derision. In contrast to every other public holiday, on Thanksgiving, as we watch parades and make stuffing and set the table and hear the doorbell and the laughter of those we love-- we look inward, and upward, to realize the parts of life that truly matter, and contemplate their very generous source. Happy Thanksgiving...from one very grateful lady.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Joy of Talking to Yourself


Do yo
u ever talk to yourself? Out loud? I've been doing it more and more. I don't know if I should be embarrassed or not. But since I'm alone during the day now, with kids out of town or at school, and faced with this project to do, I've taken up the luxury of listening to my own voice.

Only when I have something to say, of course. If I'm in a rush and I'm reaching for the cinnamon in the food cupboard and tip over the hot sauce, or I'm late to the
gym and putting up my hair and the rubber band breaks, or I'm taking dishes out of the dishwasher and one of the cups flipped over during the wash and I grab it unknowingly and the water goes splashing out all over me...you get it, those "if anything can go wrong it will go wrong" moments--then I say out loud to myself, "Of COURSE! That HAD to happen! That's the RULE!" Sometimes I add, "God, you must be giggling!" because I do believe He has a sense of humor.

How about today, expecting a gaggle of women plus a rabbi in my home in five minutes, and I was buck naked coming out of the shower after the gym, rushing to grab my undies and shimmy into my skirt and sweater when--of COURSE! The telephone rings! I have thirty seconds to look pulled-together and graciously welcome my guests, and yet, and YET, I pick up the phone and the friend on the other end starts off with, "I know you're busy right now, but..." She had no IDEA how I was rushing! There's nothing like a rabbi ringing your doorbell with you buck
naked to convince you that God has a sense of humor!

Ahh, but He wasn't quite that mischievous. I managed to get decent before my august teacher arrived. So I told myself aloud, into the mirror, "I may not look GREAT, but at least I'm dressed!" And of course I agreed. Wholeheartedly.

And of course I talk to myself when I'm driving. "Hurry up! Move your little tush!" I say to the two-miles-per-hour car in my path. And at the famous four-way stop sign on the two-lane "main drag" of our friendly little community, I talk to all three of my sign-sharers. "You go!" I say aloud, aligning and flicking my four fingers in a go-ahead gesture above my steering wheel. I look at the smiling lady in her SUV to my left, and, by golly, I see her lips move and her hand mimics mine, "No, YOU go!" Well, if she's THAT nice, I must insist! And so we sit there at the stop sign waving, "conversing" and reading lips. I think our residents enjoy that intersection because there, talking to oneself is possibly sane.

Sometimes when I'm shopping in the supermarket, I find myself commenting on the products. "No, I won't pay two dollars, when it was 10 for $10 last week!" I announce, looking at my favorite house-brand salad dressing. Or, in the veggies, squeezing an avocado ever-so-gently--"Eeew! This one's toooo ripe!" My fellow shoppers look up to see who I'm talking to--deep embarrassment until I manage to mutter "Bluetooth." Whew.

When I'm at home alone, however, I can safely wax eloquent. When reading the New York Times (Style Section or front page), I hear a familiar voice commenting on the articles. "Hilary sure looks bad in THAT photo," I declare, nodding in
approval. Nobody wants her to look TOO good. And bad reporting certainly deserves notice: "There it is AGAIN! That stupid idea that Israel was founded as a result of the Holocaust! They should KNOW better!" Rightly chastised, I can now continue reading Part I.

Sometimes I can be quite constructive. After a too-leisurely lunch break, I snip, "Back to work!" But then my conniving side kicks in and answers, "Well, I better put these dishes in the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen first."

And of course, I'm my own best critic. "Look what you did!" I exclaim when I mend the back of the sock to the hole I was darning on the front. Or, when procrastinating by cleaning up my terminally-messy daughter's room, I admonish, "Why are you spending your time DOING this? You KNOW she's just going to keep throwing her clothes on the floor!" A beat. Then a response, "Duh. You know you don't want to go back to work!" I'm such an astute conversationalist.

It's just so much fun sharing life with someone who knows me so well. If you were here, you'd hear me telling myself to finish this blog RIGHT NOW because I've done pitifully little writing on my book today.

I bet you never talk to yourself, right? If you do, leave me a comment and tell me what you say (or if you think I'm crazy). In the meantime, I'll keep right on making observations about the world to the only person I know who won't talk back.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Useful Anti-Tech advice from a Comic Book Hero




I knew somebody would do it, and it had to be a good-looking heterosexual young guy with a Princeton education.

Once again, I've been procrastinating by (not only writing this blog) but entering the Parallel Universe of the New York Times Style Section. This may be my downfall, but it's also my great amusement. Today, the lead story was about Timothy Ferriss, 30, who has been resonating with techies everywhere with his book The 4- Hour Workweek. As the article by Alex Williams notes, the Ferriss grabber is his insistence that in a tenth of the usual week, (a twentieth of the workweek for normal workaholics) you can rake in big bucks as an entrepreneur and use the rest of your time to--as he does--jaunt around the world pursuing
exotic experiences and achievements like competitive Chinese kickboxing, world-championship cage fighting, and hurling in Ireland.

How does the magical Mister Ferriss accomplish all this? By going low-tech. Nix instant-messaging, outsource email, forget texting, dump news-collecting and eschew your digital photos and iPod. Shut down your Flickr, Twitter, You Tube and Facebook accounts. Delegate everything except, well, going to the bathroom.

As I was reading the article, which does read a bit like a superhero comic book, I truly questioned whether this was for real. Those old enough to remember the TV show "The Monkees" know it's possible to set up an irresistible success scenario, and then go recruit somebody to fill the roles. Timothy Ferriss is the kind of near-caricature who conquers the oppressors to live free and save the world. Heaven knows, everyone with a Blackberry understands its compulsion, and while unable to completely buck the machines cold-turkey, secretly longs for the days when "reachable" meant having an answering machine on your (corded) telephone. Well, maybe not. Most tech addicts weren't born then.

I finally conceded that this guy could be real when I (I'll admit it) watched a video on his website of his performance in the international tango competition in Buenos Aires. This could have been faked. But there was this blond guy, serious-faced as any tango master must be, swooping his leg in fashionable semi-circles on a dance floor populated with other somber-lipped couples with numbers pinned on their backs. The allure isn't the tango, exactly, but the idea of the tango; the notion that you can grab life's worthwhile and exciting offerings just for the reaching. Break free of your shackles and chains! Now jump on a jet and cavort at Carnival in Rio! Track wilderbeasts in Kenya! Go to
Pamploma and cheer the running of the bulls!

Perhaps Mr. Ferriss presents us the running of the bull. One can only escape responsibility if one has few conventional ties--like a spouse with a place-bound job, children who go to school, a religious community with needs, or elderly parents to care for. These very well might be more significant and fulfilling pursuits than the accomplishments Mr. Ferriss enjoys as a "professional polymath." And most people have less spectacular success in their money-earning; Mr. Ferriss claims his vitamin supplement business now runs via the self-sufficiency of underlings, and "kicks off a high five-figure personal income every month," freeing him to gallavant to Scotland, Sardinia, Vienna and Bratislava (over the past two months alone).

Still, there's a useful lesson here: You don't need all the gadgets and gizmos. You don't need to be available (except to the kids and elderly parents) 24/7. If you want to communicate, you can pick up the telephone. If you want to jet to Rio, then schedule it. Every day is a possibility, and on the day Timothy Ferris taped a pilot for an adventure TV show in Japan, you probably sat at home reading the Sunday Style section. And as for me, better to be writing my book than reading about some guy whose greatest pride, evidently, is what he can do...for himself.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Fuel of Inspiration


I am busily working, writing about everybody's favorite topic: slavery. In benevolent sympathy, my dear friend bestowed on me a most useful and appreciated gift...some excellent chocolate. She read my previous post, on how I keep almonds and chocolate chips on my desk for fortification--and decided to upgrade my stash. In what can only be called a most thoughtful expression of support, she brought over some Chocolove 65% cocoa rich dark chocolate. On the inside of the wrapper is a Christina Rossetti love poem. But you need go no farther than your first bite to feel the affection...this is really good stuff. Kosher. Yummy. Eat it. Thank you, Nika!!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Best Friends Forever


Some friendships just keep going. Those are the ones you treasure--with the girlfriend who shared ninth grade, and endured the laughable honors teacher; who went to the same college with you, and then settled down to raise her family on your same street.

I have a friend like that. We went to Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. We went on to UCLA, though we weren't terribly close during those years. In fact, though she was living within three miles of me, we really didn't reconnect until we found ourselves in the same close-knit Jewish community, she with a newborn, me about to wed. Turned out she raised her five kids just one door away. My son was born just a year after her youngest child, a daughter--on the same day.

It's truly a blessing to have a long-term friendship that transcends just about everything. Though I moved to the Northwest a decade ago, we still speak every week, and we sign our emails "BFF." Despite the fact that our children keep growing--even out of the house to college--we two feel like we're still in Hami High.

Well, unfortunately, my dear friend recently endured one of life's traumas. Her cousin, our age, just died of cancer. It's one thing when a classmate gets in an auto accident when you're young--it's a shock, but it's a fluke. When your parents die, even if they're elderly, you suffer, because they're supposed to be your protection from the world; they're the source of your security. My friend and I endured those passages together.

Now, losing her cousin is getting just a little too real, too close. News of my friend's loss came at the same time I heard that my across-the-street neighbor, a young father, was killed in a motorcycle crash.

Memories of my earliest days with my friend are obscured in shadow. Kids then didn't have digital cameras or cell-phones that took images in megapixels. The only photos we had were from important occasions or holidays, when our dads took a roll of 24 or 36 shots that were expensive to develop. I had a camera with a little film cassette that you dropped in the back, but I didn't think to use it most of the time. Who had money for such things?

Now, however, we email each other visual updates of our kids, and when she comes up to visit, I snap moments onto my 2-gig card with abandon. Having photos actually makes images permanent, and brings me back into the original scene. Most every memory makes me smile. As my BFF goes through this tough transition, I feel for her--but look forward to weaving lots more happy times into this colorful life tapestry we share.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Clocks "Falling Back" and the Search for Bright Light



Did you remember to spring forward, and now, this weekend, fall back? Even though we get an "extra" hour of sleep--or work, or weekend--I really dislike this end to daylight savings time. I love the sun, and its warmth, and its brightness--after all, I even named my blog "searching for bright light." Living in the Northwest, we have greater extremes of light than most of the US, and FAR greater extremes than I grew up with in Los Angeles. But even there, I recall being thrilled and delighted as the summer solstice approached, and the light lingered until 8:30 pm. Here, in the Seattle area, the summer solstice brings light until 10 pm, and the sun comes up by 5.

And of course, winter brings the reverse. We wake up in the darkness starting in early October. Even after daylight savings time leaves, with that "extra" hour in the morning, it's not light till 8 am. But of course our famous cloud cover often means it's never truly light at all. And then, by 4:45, it's dark again.

Lots of people buy "light boxes" to stave off "seasonal affective disorder," which is depression caused by lack of light. I bought one myself, though it's stayed in the closet many years because I just don't have time to sit there in front of it. The light box perches on my table and emits really strong, bright light in the sun spectrum. I purchased it from a place called "the Indoor Sun Shoppe," renowned for its uber-
selection of mood-enhancing light boxes. (I call it the Indoor Sun Shop-ee because of that silly spelling).

When God made the world, He said "V'yhee ohr," Let there be light. Not, "let there be rotations of the earth around the sun, creating night and day," though that did happen later. No, the creation of light is something special, something symbolically spiritual. "I see the light!" means, "I understand!" We require light
to see, for our eyes to work. The pop song goes, "I can see clearly now, the rain has gone...gone are the dark clouds that had me blind...It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshine-y day!" In other words, light=happy and good and insightful, while dark=ominous, sad, blind, stymied.

In Scandinavia, Lucia Day celebrates the return of lengthening days after the winter solstice, and once the days reach their peak, the Midsommer Festival revels in the brightness through the night. The universal association of winter with death, and spring with rebirth is a direct result of darkness and light, cold and warmth.

We love Chanuka, the festival of light, because it illuminates the darkness not only with candlelight but with the strength of Jews who fought the Hellenistic assimilation that threatened our connection with God.

So I really must fight the negativity that comes with turning back the clocks. I'll just doff my thermal underwear and several layers and put on my jammies early, cozy by the fire...ok, I'll sit right here by my computer, space heater inches away, drinking hot chocolate (with chocolate chips and almonds, of course) and focus on gratitude for every day I'm healthy, every moment my family's safe, every opportunity I have to express myself, accomplish important tasks and live in this great land. The good news is that even in the darkest time of year, neighbors are putting up colorful lights and singing songs and welcoming friends. We're all certainly too blessed to complain about such a small thing as having to reset our clocks.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ding dong..."Trickertreet!"


It's now November, and Halloween has passed without so much as a pumpkin seed sliming up my kitchen counter. I truly miss having little kids who get thrilled picking out a costume and carrying their orange felt bags to the neighbors' doors. They shout a single code word, "trickertreet!" that means "It's Halloween and when I say this you smile and give me CANDY!"

There's something wonderful watching your kids go to neighbors' doors with expectation and see the delighted residents asking about the costumes and waving and saying hi again after a year of busy lives. And at the end of the night, seeing the kids dump out their loot and sort the ones they like from the not-so-good ones (or the nonkosher ones, in our case) and hoarding and savoring their sweets.
My husband says this happy ritual teaches kids to be beggers and expect something for nothing--or worse, to present a threat and get rewarded! I don't know any kids who became beggers or muggers from trick-or-treating--sorry.
Is Halloween Jewish? Of course not, but neither is it Druidic or Celtic or Satanic. What we have in the United States every October 31 is a non-religious holiday that is uniquely American. We have every public school elementary teacher in the country decorating her classroom with jolly pumpkins and arched-spine black cats, and skeletons. Are these things scary to little kids? Not at all.

And when the big day arrives, there's the parade of costumes, all marching through the school as parents on the sidelines click snapshots, grinning and laughing and cooing and having a marvelous, and memorable time. Yes, occasionally mean teenagers pull vandalistic pranks, and stores sell far too many risque outfits in size small. But the reckless drunks would do just the same if the party were called for another reason, or not at all. The kids, meanwhile, get to be Princesses (the number one costume) or Spiderman (#2) or pirates (#3) and watch Dad carve spikey teeth into an overgrown orange squash.

So how did I spend Halloween? Sulking that I wasn't walking with my kids in the neighborhood, where I heard squeals and laughter echoing from the street. When the doorbell rang, I rushed with my platter of m&ms, Three Musketeers, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats to open the door to that chorus of "trickertreet!" and ask each child, "and what are YOU?" It's hard to grow out of being a kid, when those memories of years past are too vivid and heartwarming to forget.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Quick Flit Into the Parallel Universe


I know, I know, I should be working.

But while eating my chocolate chip brownies with hot chocolate for lunch, I picked up yesterday's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times...and fell through the hole into the parallel universe! I was held captive, against my will; much as I craved returning to work, I could not!

Have you ever heard the word vajayjay? I hadn't. But I read every single jot and tittle of the article about how this term for female personal anatomy has become mainstream, overheard in supermarkets and parodied on You Tube. Where have I BEEN? Did you know Oprah Winfrey is trying her darndest to get the word into the REAL dictionary? Between vagaries and vulgarity.

I speak Spanish much of my day to those around me for whom that is their native language. I will not be explaining this article to them. VA-HAY-HAY.

Equally engrossing was the article on Tila Tequila, the nobody who has leapt to fame for just being her irresistible, if incompetent-at-everything beautiful self, on such high culture offerings as MTV's "A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila," and the ever-elevating "Pants-Off Dance-Off." The article describes her appeal: "Perhaps it is how her large head sits atop a pert pneumatic torso. Perhaps it is the way her wide-set eyes give her the look of a figure from an anime cartoon." Admittedly, the piece set out to ridicule her. But--who KNEW?

Two pages later, I eagerly devoured every word of a clever piece about a couple who compared their flaky contractors to bad boyfriends (in their unreliability and excuse-making, not sexual prowess), which had a certain uncomfortable familiarity, given all the remodeling we've done.

In another two pages, I got a peek into the personal life of "wild" Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation and Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, now a law student at Yale, badly in debt but much improved from her birthday a decade ago spent inhaling cocaine.

My work-break included the story of Robert Thurman's kundan wedding ring. The dad of Uma (as well as sons Ganden and Mipam), a Buddist monk, Columbia University religion professor and household do-it-yourselfer saw an artist friend's pendant--a flower-shaped charm set with stones for seven heavenly bodies said to protect you from "the malevolent influences of the planets" and ordered up one for his ring finger. Future brides, keep it in mind.

Finally, the impetus for this blog was provided by a piece on divorce announcements, with several juicy anecdotes about the use and misuse of them. Beside quoting a clearly mistaken sociologist who says "nearly half of all marriages end in divorce," (FALSE--it's 25-30% depending on whether it's a first, second or later marriage) the piece caught my eye because it reproduced a card saying: "My wife left with my house, my car, my money and my best friend...And I miss him."

That, and the relentlessly entertaining wedding announcements that chirp the ages of the couples and the number of divorces (see my previous post on the parallel universe), and the fascinating backgrounds of the newlyweds' parents ("His father works for Nordic-Calista Well Services as a drill operator on the North Slope of Alaska, in the Kuparuk River oil field") rounded out the perfect work-break.

As I return to the normal press of deadlines, I'm fortified by the fantasy world in the pages of Sunday Styles and the lingering crumbs of chocolate still succulent between my teeth. And now, you're up to date on what's truly important, too.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ten Tips for Overcoming Procrastination



See these pictures of ice cream and chocolate? They look pretty good, don't they? Well, if you keep reading, I'm going to tell you to eat one of them. Just not quite yet.

I am going to give you some very useful information, TEN TIPS to help you get your work done. But first...a few words about procrastination. It is the reaction to feeling claustrophobic. When you feel hemmed in by obligation and stonewalled by an assignment that's difficult, you--I mean I--avoid it. By doing things that seem legitimate, like laundry, or phone calls to make appointments, like taking the car in for its servicing, or getting a birthday gift you have to give on Sunday.

When I'm out in my car, away from my computer and the book I'm completing, I feel liberated from the pressure. When I'm on the phone, or at the gym, the assignment goes away. When I'm in the laundry room...I feel guilty. I should have finished writing at least another ten pages before I did the laundry. I didn't even have a full load of whites.

So, as a form of personal therapy, and to benefit anyone who is reading this blog while procrastinating, here are my ten invaluable "tips" for overcoming procrastination. (This is the pot calling the kettle black, to misuse a cliche. These are things I do not do, even as I tell myself to do them.)

1. Do not check your email until you achieve some attainable milestone. E.g. no checking email till you write five more pages.

2. Do not check your blog or write on your blog or check to see if you got any more comments on your last blog. Or even re-read your old blogs, just because you can. Until you write five more pages.

3. Use the same dishes, rinsed out. Do not wash dishes except at a prescribed time at night, after you've written your 10 pages for the day. Or thirty pages, whatever your goal.

4. Turn off the phone and check for messages after those nasty 10 pages are written.

5. Go to the gym on your regular schedule. Do not skip other basic daily commitments, like morning prayers. If you do either, you will feel guilty and you'll pile that on top of your already profound guilt about those incredibly mean and rotten ten pages.

6. Tell everyone you know about your deadline, so each person will be solicitous and not bother you or expect you to do your usual things. And your friends will keep asking, "how's your project coming?" and thereby be another nudge to get it done, since you don't want to have to answer them, "I procrastinated this week."

7. If you must cook for Sabbath entertaining or an event, do not get creative. Make your most trusted and simple recipes. Better yet, make it known that you have no time to cook, and you hope you'll be invited out. When invited out, do not offer to bring something, other than, oh, beer. Everybody loves specialty craft beers. Or chocolate. Some fancy chocolate.

8. Speaking of chocolate, keep some of your favorite at hand as you work. And nuts, crunchy nuts. Better yet, make that chocolate chips and toasted almonds, together. These are stress-reducing foods. You must have them there ON YOUR DESK so you have no excuse to get up and go to the refrigerator. Have a chocolate chip.
Corollary to number 8: Do not go to the freezer and get ice cream. Ice cream is your enemy. It is the number one comfort food--and the number one GUILT food. Like you need MORE guilt, right? Stick with the stress-reducers. Chocolate chips; take it from me.

9. Once you get into your work, don't stop. If you're on a roll, stay up till 3:30 am if you can--just keep going. You do not need sleep if you're on a roll working. When you finish the chapter, you'll sleep. Much better.

10. Live with mess. Consider your dust bunnies furry friends cheering you on. Your inside-out dirty clothes piled near your closet are an artistic new textile sculpture. If a bit smelly. If you are rich enough to have a cleaning lady, tell her to leave your workspace a mess. Your mess is proof you're working.

Well, those are a few anti-procrastination tips that came to mind as I am procrastinating. I think procrastination is an excellent motivator. Now, back to work!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Deadline Madness


I'm in work mode. I've cut down my emailing, stopped going to the market (Husband: "Can I pick up anything for you at the market on the way home?" Me: "a gallon of milk, some lettuce, tomatoes, celery, two loaves of bread, some cereal, fake meat, and about six ready-made salads from the kosher deli...")

In other words, I'm almost copping out of everything. Well, I did the laundry this week, and even ironed shirts (YUCK!) and of course I go to the gym (except--major confession! I stayed up till 3:30 am Thursday night working and just couldn't drag myself to the gym Friday!! I felt like a SHLUB!!) I've stopped allowing myself to hit Target for fun. I barely clean up the kitchen. I'm in WORK MODE.

The good thing is that it's rather fun. I'm doing a project that requires me to learn lots of US History, and, despite advanced college degrees, I'll admit I was "historically challenged." But now--not so much. I have found wonderful articles on the NY Times website archives--articles from the 1860s written in a stilted third-person style. I've read several books a day, and put several on "hold" from the library--and then actually picked them up.

However, I am frustrated, because I'm supposed to write at least 30 pages a week, and, given my lack of history knowledge, and need to read so much source material, it's taking me longer. Which gets me in trouble. Which makes me stressed, and...oh agony--causes me to want to run away and procrastinate.

I procrastinate by continuing with my normal routine. I take lots of Jewish classes, and I should just pass on them. What? Two of them are held at MY HOUSE?? No, gotta keep those. That means I have to CLEAN my house; put out refreshments and clean up afterward. And I can't miss the other classes because the rabbis would notice I wasn't there. One of the teachers is the rabbi of my synagogue; one time I missed a class and he boomed in front of the hundred people at kiddush, "Where WERE you last Monday night? I missed you!" Aarrggghh.

Does life go on when you're on a deadline? Are the events of normality (classes, gym) worth the stress they cause? Why am I writing in my BLOG when I could be working???

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Working Out Vs Working


How much exercise is enough?

I ask because I need to know. I have a big project I'm working on, and I wonder--do I dare skip the gym to work on it?

I admit, I'm a bit of a gym devotee. Five days a week, ie Monday through Friday, I take Step classes, which include weights, and also other accouterments like using one of those big balls, and bands that you wear between your ankles, and those heavy bars (I use 18 lbs) and wrap-around ankle weights, and those half-cylinder balancing foams, and those stretchy rubber tubes with handles at the ends. I like the high-choreography classes, and I'm a bouncer--meaning I do a lot of jumping around, and always include the "extras" for the higher-level workout. I come out of these workouts dripping with perspiration, or, if you're very polite, like Rudolph the Reindeer, "you would even say she glows." A lot.

I've been doing this for a lot of years. Probably more than the age of many of my instructors.

I can't say it's fun. Sometimes when an instructor really does a complicated or innovative routine, without repeating stuff a zillion times, then yes, it's a LOT of fun. I had one teacher a few years ago who was SO fun, I was willing to get up really early to take his classes. Unfortunately, he had AIDS and had to stop teaching. Dare I say that the very best Step teachers I've had were all gay guys?

I take classes compulsively because I'm afraid not to. I don't want to get un-toned. I don't want to lose flexibility. Especially, I don't want to lose the extra energy and endurance I get as a result. I like that I am competent and I like the "regulars" with whom I take classes. They notice if I'm not there (and I miss them if they're not there, too). There's a camaraderie among people who take the same classes together over time. Not really a deep friendship, but certainly a friendship on a level that can only be forged from enduring something challenging together. OK, this isn't mountain-climbing, but there's a degree of discipline in showing up to push yourself every day.

But now, I've got this project, and it crossed my mind that I could sure use another four or six hours a week to work on it. Can I cut out two days' workouts? (That's what I'm considering now.) Would I be consumed with guilt? I need advice. Have you gotten in an exercise routine and couldn't allow yourself to get out? SHOULD I???

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Celebrating Salmon and Winning a Most Practical Prize


The Northwest rain pelted and pinged on my umbrella today, glancing from the pavement up onto my wet shoes and legs. Its constance obscured the colorful wares in each of the booths I passed at soggy Salmon Days, a celebration of the return of the salmon to Issaquah creek that occurs each year with a plethora of art booths, several stages blasting rock music, and displays at the Issaquah salmon hatchery, to which a record number of fish are leaping and wriggling this year, through narrow and rocky tributaries, to return to spawn.

The fish are truly a miracle of nature, as they are born in fresh water streams, yet ride the current to the salty ocean to live their lives, finally using mysterious means to make their way back to the very spot of their births to release the eggs of the subsequent generation--and die. During a fair-weather fair, great crowds line the bridges over the creek, watching the most amazing display of three-foot-long salmon leaping out of the water, trying to ford a gushing waterfall. Those are the stupid salmon, however, because nearby is a "salmon ladder," a stepped tunnel that runs alongside the waterfall that allows the fish to swim upstream in calm safety. It's lined with viewing windows, and watching these huge fish, many of whom have tattered fins and decaying scales after a lifetime at sea, as they make their way in the urgency of instinct to their birthplace, is an awesome experience. The only reason why God would create such bizarre creatures is to instill in us a sense of wonder. Well, that, and to provide a healthy meal for about ten bucks.

In any case, it's all a great reason for a festival, and the fish are foremost in the fun, with thirty-foot-long effigies, carried on poles by eight people, swimming their way through the crowd (above, photographed in a previous year). Despite the rain this year, the hatchery still swarmed with families gawking at the exhibits of fingerlings and taxidermed fish, and the naturalists on the bridge still fielded questions, dressed in their slickers.

Usually it's the finale fair of the season (aren't you relieved to know...), always billed to run "rain or shine." And today was defiantly rainy, with splashing puddles, and gushing spouts drenching visitors when the white rip-stop canopies on the craft-vendor booths suddenly disgorged their collected pools. In a surreal switch, the people celebrating the fish were immersed in their honoree's habitat.
And because it was nearly impossible to see, with sheets of rain, juggling umbrellas, and the swaths of plastic that vendors draped over their offerings, I took only two mediocre photos.

I did leave with a prize, however--Costco had a booth where you could roll two dice, and if you got doubles or lucky 7, the attendants, with great excitement, handed you a plastic bag with a mystery gift inside. I threw those dice against the black-velvet lined tray, and--voila! Double threes! Gleefully, I grabbed my sack and turned back into the rain, opening it as I jostled with my umbrella, walking into the downpour.


I'll always remember Salmon Days '007, not for any beautiful jewelry I bought, nor the rousing entertainment, or even the oddball fishy exhibits...but because I won... a roll of toilet paper. And probably that was the most practical souvenir of all.