"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Happiness is My Choice, 12

Expanded, ballooned, swelled—that’s how my heart behaved when I heard the announcement. Increased, surged, rose—that’s how my joy reacted upon learning the news.

One of my oldest friend’s oldest daughter just got married! I held this child when she was four hours old and now she and her beloved stood under the chuppah/marriage canopy as her parents did before her. I danced and hugged. My heart was full.

Other friends just became grandparents! The first grandchild, a girl, was born to their firstborn whose wedding I was privileged to attend last year. I delighted in the family’s joy at the wedding and blessed the new couple for a long, happy married life. Their well-being became my heart’s desire, their future as precious as that of my own children. Now the joy continues.

So why am I so happy some might wonder. Others might be jealous, blasé, or worse, bitter. I am grateful to have a heart that sings when others encounter happy tidings. Why not be happy for my friends? Their fortune, their gains, the fruition of their dreams does not detract from anything that is due to me. I am not losing anything or threatened.

Quite the contrary. The Creator wants us to be happy so He gives us opportunities to be happy. We need to recognize these opportunities and grab them with gusto! When we are happy with our own lot, the world looks brighter and everyone else’s good fortune rains upon us as well.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

Don’t I deserve happiness? Of course I do! That is the way Man is meant to live. Hashem gives me all I need; my needs will always be met. I know that everything coming to me will be provided… but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My wants are not always in concordance with my needs. I need shelter, clothing, nourishment, health. I have all that. Maybe I also want that vacation trip, a newer car,  relief from bills, and the ability to eat anything I want when I want without consequences. (The former three are within the realm of the possible and the latter is a pipe dream for sure!)

So how do I stand it—no, bask in it—when others around me “get” something and I don’t? Reframe the situation.

Others receive no gifts that are being withheld from me. Others get what they deserve. For whatever reason, I am not destined at this moment to receive that same gift. That doesn’t mean I will never have the new car or the means to go on vacation. I understand that if I do what I need to do in this world to be a kind, moral, and righteous person, I will be showered from Above with all that is coming to me.

Sharing joy in the blessings my friends experience enlivens me and wraps me in the surety that there is a Presence for Good in the universe. It binds me to my people. It creates good will. Sharing someone else’s happiness grows and grows. When we can view the world with eyes focused on the bounty available to us, we can only increase our own happiness and satisfaction with our lives.

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Appreciating Babble

The grass bends due to  the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to

The grass bends due to the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to.

The din of background voices here at the Motor Vehicles Administration competes with tinny, piped-in music. Elton John vies with impatient motorists waiting for licenses, exams or registrations, bored children, and a cacophony of mixed languages. Ironically, the crowd would likely relate more to hip hop or urban music, not the current Billy Joel selection from the 1970s. 

I entered the building and confronted a snaking line to the gatekeepers. Having been at MVA before, I knew to bring a well-charged device or reading material. After 30 minutes in line, I reached the counter. The screener, assured I brought the right documents, handed me a slip of paper with a letter and number: G-109. 

Half of the people stare at wall-mounted TV screens which displays which window will serve you when your number is called. The other half gaze at devices in their palms. No one reads. The murmurs swell, a wash of sound. People talk to each other while looking at screens.

 G-93 appeared on the screen, followed by V-521 and J-48.  I have no one to talk to. I feel the sound pooling around me, a palpable presence. An announcement at 4:28 warns people about closing time.  If someone goes outside and his number is called, he will not be allowed back in the building.  Only two minutes of warning, I think?

G-98. J-51. B-765. Is the place emptying any? It seems just as loud, just as full.

Background noise floods us constantly but we don’t notice. We plug in with ear buds to music, podcasts, and radio, but we tune out as much as we tune in. Noise is a force like the wind, unseen but having an effect. 

G-104 has me seated on edge of my seat, jiggling my foot. It’s nearing 5 pm and there’s still an appreciable crowd. Maybe it is quieter; that child who was nattering left. The man behind me holds G-114 I confirmed. We mutter mutual assurances. J-53 approaches window 30. 

Broken Elections

Don't vote for a clown.

Don’t vote for a clown. – (cc) by-nc-nd 2.0

 

I’m sick and tired of the Presidential elections… and it’s only June!  Election fever gripped the nation over a year ago as candidates tested the waters—way too early from my perspective—and it won’t be over until January, when the king or queen will be crowned. Enough? I think so.

From the earliest caucuses held in February 2016 through the latest ones this past Tuesday, candidates have been on the road and dropping out as their chances for nominations dwindle. The end result? The presumptive nominees were declared before the people of California, the most highly populated state in the nation, cast their votes.  If I lived there I’d be livid.

According to the Associated Press, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton have each won enough delegates to claim their party’s nomination for president. Delegate totals include unpledged delegates, also known as superdelegates, who are free to support any candidate at the party conventions.*

Representative government? I say not! First of all, we are voting for delegates to a party convention, not the candidates themselves. The efficacy and relevance of the electoral college has been discussed by minds greater than my own… but to the uninitiated (namely me), this seems to be an odd way to elect a president. Does my vote count? Apparently if I lived in Iowa or New Hampshire it would. How sad for the voters in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota who voted dead last—even after Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are not states!

And the waste! Who is minding the store when candidates who are already elected officials to other offices travel and campaign? Self-congratulatory conventions… maybe bread and circuses? What about all the money spent on balloons and confetti? Spend it on the policies you guys champion: funding the poor, beef up education. Not to disparage the party planners and balloon companies, but I don’t see a reason for the hullabaloo.

Why do the Congress and Senate races merit direct representation but the nation’s leader does not? It is not the leader who does the daily business of the country. It is the bureaucrats, grudges, and interns working in the offices of the smaller elected officials who smooth our way to running the country. The president is a figurehead. He (or she) is someone you can point your finger at when something goes wrong. He/she is the person who keep the (conservative) Rush Limbaughs employed and barking about their nemeses’ evils. (Sorry, I can’t think of a liberal talk radio personality to balance Rush who has the same market penetration and impact.)

I wish November were here already. I’ll  have to turn off my radio and stay away from all media until then… or I can think of many things more interesting and pertinent than politics regardless of who runs the race.

Close the zoo. Sweep up the glitter. Bring the clowns home. Silence the gasbags. Enough is enough. We need election reform, a single primary day, a shorter season, and less foofaraw. Return the airwaves to reality television and leave me alone!

 

Mikvah Mysteries

Mikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia-Avi AlpertMikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia
(by Avi Alpert, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I recently read a blog post by Lieba Rudolph, “What Makes the Mikvah So Mysterious?” She discusses misconceptions and perceptions of the ritual immersion that married Jewish women perform after their monthly menstruation cycle has finished.

My take on what makes the mikvah so mysterious is just that: mystery. Our secular culture infantilizes sexuality and our holy Jewish culture keeps it hidden and refined. Modern Americans do not sit easily with mystery and the sublime. We want facts, entertainment and unfortunately, enjoy titillation. Jewish children are not educated about mikvah until they are ready for marriage… or in the playground, if at all.

How can something associated with the duties of the High Priest be associated with family life? After all, in school they learn about mikvah in the context of the services of the Holy Temple. Readings in the Torah mention immersion numerous times. Any connection with marriage does not compute. I’m not an educator or a Rabbi so I do not have suggestions how–or if–to introduce the topic to our young adults with the needed sensitivity and seriousness. But I think there is a place for that type of education so we raise a community of people committed to marriage and not, G-d forbid, opting to choose divorce or promiscuity.

The real issue relies upon inculcating our children and immersing them in authentic Jewish culture (not low humor, nor bagels and lox jokes of the Borscht Belt). TV Jews are secular ones who can’t differentiate between customs and merchandising. Any Torah-observant (i.e., Orthodox) Jews in the media seem to be strange-minded, oddball characters, with quaint customs, or criminals with misconduct unbecoming anyone let alone a G-d-fearing Jew. The home atmosphere is important because we cannot shield them from outside influences. The more aware they become of how irreverently and ridiculed authentic Jewish practice is presented in modern secular media, the more they will value our way of life.

The mystery is part of us, and part of our connection with G-d.

 

 

Baltimore Burns

image

chametz, that is. Thousands of Jews raced to the famed Pimlico Race Track today, the eve of Passover, to burn bread, bagels, cereal, crackers, and pizza, boxes and all. City police wearing fluorescent green vests guided the cars into the parking lot and toward available spaces. City Fire Marshals stood by ready to prevent accidents. They even parked a fire truck for children to explore.

Entire families, young and old carry all sorts of containers laden with leavened products, or chametz, which Jews are forbidden to own or have benefit from during the eight-day festival.

People living in neighbouring houses watch the spectacle. Some people avoided the parking lot and parked on the side streets. Imagine the sight of
three white-shirted young men sporting black fedoras emerging from a car. They are carrying garbage bags into the parking lot, joining the throng there. Following them is a young pregnant woman pushing a stroller trailing her husband and a few other children. They nod to and thank the officer guiding them in the crosswalk.

Still, the main event is in the parking lot by the 20-or-so barrels blazing behind safety rails. I feel the mad heat as I toss in a Trader Joe’s bag with my leftover chametz. My bag hits the target and plops into a raging turmoil.

image

Other people aren’t as neat about it. All sorts of bread products litter the base of the cans. Since care is taken to not burn plastics, people try to pour cereal into the fires but found the heat too hot to keep their hands there. So the cereal, or bread, pouring out of the plastic bags landed on the ground. I saw one enterprising man spear a bagel through its center hole and toss it back into the fire.

Before I leave I pause to say the formulaic nullification of chametz in Aramaic. These words connect me with millions of Jews throughout history who have said this very same declaration. I am here and now in Baltimore, and I am there and then in Babylon. The year is not a circle. Rather, it is a spiral through time. We celebrate our Redemption from slavery in Egypt on this night. And this day we remove our are puffed up egos burning leavened products. Next year in Jerusalem!

Awkward Geography

Maryland holds the dubious distinction of being the First Candidate for the state with the most “Awkward Geography.” (Hawaii, a collection of islands, doesn’t count.) A spindly, sickly state, Maryland cants heavily to the east—despite Delaware’s rude surgery and squared corner in Wicomoco County. West Virginia bit a huge chunk out its western regions and Virginia eviscerated the center. Even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., self-aggrandized with bloviators, gnawed a square-edged, thumbnail-sized chunk out of Maryland’s gut.


Map Courtesy of Digital-Topo-Maps.com

Furthermore, the Chesapeake Bay cleaves the east into two cruelly misshapen legs. Some oceanfront beaches tantalize crowds with promise of crabs galore, but sadly, Virginia in a mad coastal land grab truncated Worcester County’s coastline to the south, leaving poor Maryland with a measly 31 miles of ocean coastline.(1)

Then there’s Baltimore, another square-edged nibble into Maryland’s land. To clarify, I mean Baltimore City, not to be confused Baltimore County of which Baltimore City is not a part.(2) Confused yet? I am.

Nicely delineated states like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (except the ruffled border with Texas), have beautifully-drawn borders, ruler-straight, and comprehensible. Semi-natural states rely upon natural boundaries such as rivers to define their territory. Iowa, bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and having horizontal northern and southern borders, pleasantly represents this category.

Poor Maryland. Awkwardly drawn, ripped apart by waterways. It’s a wonder it hasn’t melded with the surrounding states. It suffers from lack of orientation. Is it an east-west state? Or a north-south state? From my perspective, it’s leaning: head at NNW and foot at SSE (as much as a state so oddly shaped can have a head and a foot). It’s like a traffic barrier between the North and the South, hastily erected and somewhat malleable. Here, take another chunk of me.

The Fall Line cleaves eastern Maryland further. To its north and west is the Piedmont region, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Pennsylvania. To its east and south is the Coastal Plain. Baltimore, the jewel, sits on the Fall Line. Then the Chesapeake Bay coastline drips down down down to St. Mary’s County and terminates at the scruffy little islands off Somerset County’s western shore. Awkward. Messy.

Probably the most awkward portion of the geography, Assateague Island is a finger in the ocean. Not even wholly owned by Maryland, this narrow barrier island was amputated by Virginia’s claim. It’s embarrassing enough that Ocean City, that rollicking vacation destination, shares real estate with Delaware. But Delaware is not the bully that Virginia is. For shame, Maryland, for shame.

No. I’m wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I spoke too early about border islands being the most awkward feature. I nearly forgot Maryland’s “waist,” a 1-mile wide portion of land in the panhandle. It’s been called a geographic anomaly.(3) With Pennsylvania and the Mason-Dixon line to the north, and the Potomac River to the south, the “waist” claims the town of Hancock and the intersections of Interstates 68 and 70. Awkward 3-state views can be seen from there.

Do you agree? Place your nominations for Most Awkward Geography in the comments. Alas, there is no prize. It is, however, a whimsical diversion on a sunny afternoon in Maryland.


1. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress. “U.S. International Borders: Brief Facts,” November 9, 2006.
2. Baltimore City is the largest independent city (i.e., not belonging to any particular county) in the United States.
3. Maryland’s Waist: Narrow Strip is Geographic Anomaly, L.A. Times, October 8, 1987 [accessed April 17, 2016]

Windowsill

Looking up and outside all I see is possibilities.

Sitting on the sofa, glancing outside: the window blinds are open, sunlight illuminates the plants on the windowsill, the sky is blue, and  a mug of coffee steaming on a coaster — life is good.

I woke up. Yikes, those birds are loud!  Look! It’s a whole hour earlier than I’d planned to wake up. Better turn off the alarm clock so it doesn’t startle me later. Don’t want the toes to be cold; slide feet into the fuzzy slippers. My knees creak as I walk across the room. The mirror catches my eye. My hair looks like the rooster’s pride!

I woke up.

I woke up.

The furnace clicks on and the blower purrs warm air. An unseasonable freeze grabbed the region last night. I’m warm and decently clad. Heat some water for the coffee. Breakfast choices? I’ll settle for oatmeal, my old favorite.

Thank you G-d for starting my day with comfort and optimism. Did I ever thank you for the color green? Thanks. And thank you for hair I can simply tame with the pass of a hairbrush.

Starbucks Sentiments

Starbucks for Sale

Post-holiday sale items at Starbucks.

Today at Starbucks the featured Dark Roast was French Roast. Oooh la la! I wish I could bathe in it, breathe it in. Unfortunately, one grande-sized cup has about all the caffeine I can tolerate lest it keep me up all night.

On a frugal (and kosher) budget, a trip to Starbucks entertains me for less than three dollars. I generally order a plain, black coffee and eschew the frillier selections. If I’m feeling adventurous I’ll ask for whipped cream on top, but it dilutes the stark, intense flavor I adore.

One Starbucks is like another, yet different.  The combination of layout, clientele, music, lighting and noise level distinguish one from another. The one I’m sitting in tonight sports few electric plugs. I’ve taken to bringing an extension cord with me, fitted with a three-prong adapter, so I can sit at a table in the middle instead of hunching over a short table near the armchairs and plugs. The employee sweeping up said I’m the first person he’s seen do this. It’s subtle, and I hope nobody complains, or worse yet, trips over the cord.

Tonight, the atmosphere thickens with fog, and water droplets cling like jewels to the tree which is backlit by the parking lot’s spotlights. Feeling sentimental. It’s nearly the end of 2015. I’m reluctant to leave the coffee-infused atmosphere. I drained my second cup (decaf, naturally) an hour ago, but I keep thinking of more tasks to do while I have access to WiFi. Just one more word, just one more check-in. Just one more…

The rain began without my noticing it. I’m in coffee-land, computer-land, blog-land. The customers come and go. I suck the last drops out of my cup and prepare to go home, out of one cocoon into another.

Fall Back

Daylight Savings Time is over for the year. Did the change to Standard Time come easily for you?

In the USA, we turned our clocks back (“fall back” is the mnemonic) last Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Many of us are still suffering from the disruption. Sure, we got an “extra” hour of sleep on Sunday morning, but it is nearly dark at 5 p.m. here in New York City, and my head can’t wrap around the change. Disorientation confuses me. Aren’t I supposed to be asleep about now?

My friend’s baby awoke at 4:53 a.m. today. My friend was not ready to awaken at that hour and was not pleased. She would like the baby to sleep until 6 a.m. The baby cannot tell time, however, and wakes up whenever his body says to do so.  He’s probably thinking, “Hey! Where is everybody? I’m up. Why aren’t they up? Party time!”

Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “It’s only 10 p.m. Why am I getting sleepy?” Although I’m a night person, this change disrupts my system. I awaken in full sun again, having just gotten used to the darker mornings. I watch the sky darken from my office window before I’ve left work. I don’t know whether to nap, eat, or crawl under the covers for the night when I get home.

Why has the length of daylight savings time creeped to become longer and longer? It used to be six months. “Check your smoke alarm batteries when you change your clocks.” That made sense when we changed the clocks every six months. Now it is eight months of savings and four months of standard. How many battery checks are ignored in April because it’s too soon since the last one in November?

I’m going to sleep now. Set the alarm, go to sleep, wake up, have coffee, go to work, have more coffee, leave work, eat dinner, go to bed. I’ll get used to it eventually… about the time we need to “spring forward” and change the clocks again.

Bicolour Ladders

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample in Day Glo Green and Army Olive. © JustHavingFun

Sometimes you just have to do it even if it isn’t perfect.

I was itching to knit again in a big way. My last project was completed over a year ago! I’d been diddling around with swatches (test squares) using all sorts of yarn on all sorts of needles for several different patterns looking for the right combination that would propel me into the “zone.” I gazed at patterns on Ravelry.com until my eyes bugged out. I tried to match the types of yarn in my stash with patterns for which I had sufficient yardage. Yawn. Socks? No, that didn’t feel right. A sweater? Not enough yardage. I longed to knit but nothing spoke to me.

Knitting has two basic stitches: knit and purl. Gauge and pattern determine if the project will succeed. Gauge relates the number of stitches across to the number of rows in a particular pattern using a particular size needle and yarn. Two knitters using the same equipment can get different gauges due to variations in how they knit! The typical “knit” pattern (called “stockinette”) requires you to knit across one row, turn the work around, and purl across the second row. There’s a flat side and a bumpy side. Then you count the number of stitches and the number of rows in 4″ x 4″ area and that’s your gauge. Easy peasy. Patterns are like recipes, written in abbreviations or charted, and keep you on track. If you consistently make your stitches with the same tension, it is likely the project will come to look like what it’s supposed to look like in the size it’s supposed to be.

I can knit. I can purl. I can do stockinette squares. So I swatched.

Ugh! So many times my gauges did not even approach the designer’s requirements! My stitch counts exceeded the recommended number for the patterns so I changed needles to adjust the stitches per inch—didn’t work. The lovely Rowan yarn seemed too dark; the fluffy Knit Picks yarn was too thin. I didn’t have enough of the tweedy yarn from England to do knee socks, and I’m not quite skilled enough yet to use the unspun Plötulopi from Iceland I’ve been saving. That’s when I put it down and waited.

I even tried crocheting a yarmulke (kipa; skullcap) for my son. As I’d crocheted lace when I was younger, I was not afraid of this task. But yikes! I couldn’t see the stitches!! My 30-year old eyes were much sharper working with white cotton, and working with black crochet cotton and a teensy steel hook was madness!!!

But I was itching to knit. The idea buzzed around in my mind like a mosquito seeking fresh skin. Knitters reading this are nodding. They know the feeling.

Mon Tricot Knitting DictionaryI decided to just do it. Starting was hard. I swallowed, took a deep breath, and went to the yarn stash. It wasn’t going to be perfect. It wasn’t going to be the dream project I’d wanted to do with the lovely yarn in my stash. Oh no. With my fingertips I teased out the fugly yarn I’d inherited from my sister Michele. Acrylics. Oddball colors. Strange textures. Lumpy ends. I decided to do what all knitters must do eventually; I started a stash busting project. I picked up my 40-year old copy of Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary that my sister loved to snitch from me and found a stitch pattern that required a multiple of 6 stitches plus 5. I cast on the unusual number of 29 Day Glo Green stitches while squinting. Then I proceeded to knit.

Did you know that people advertise for volunteers on LinkedIn.com? I saw an ad for some organization requesting knitters to make scarves and hats for charity. A light bulb lit up in my mind. I could have my yarn and knit it, too. Although I was uncomfortable knitting this combination, I was more uncomfortable not knitting.

Hence, I’m stash busting.

To get in the zone, I had to get out of my comfort zone. I simply had to move where I saw no room to go forward. I needed to circumvent my usual route, the safe, comfortable path, and go outside the walls of perfection. Surely this scarf will win no prizes when it’s finished. My stitches are neat and regular but aside from that, the colors clash and the pattern is bumpy on the other side. Someone will wear it, though. It will be warm. It will be made with love. It will scratch my knitting itch. It’s an experiment, a new beginning. I will knit on the subway and get odd stares or elicit conversation. I will knit in the pizza shop after washing my hands to while away the time until my next appointment. I will traipse these sad skeins of yarn throughout New York City while I eyeball a good place to sit and knit. And knit I shall.

These bicolour ladders will let me climb to a new, sublime place where I can be my imperfect self, working toward a higher goal, and getting some good knitting time while doing it. Plus, I’ll use up the ugly yarn and not have to look at it ever again!

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