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Happiness is My Choice, 13

Waves Lapping on the Shore, ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Writing this piece, on the eve of Passover, is the last thing most Jews would think is important. As Jewish holidays commence after sundown, the daylight hours before the Passover seder are easily the busiest for many Jews. The house has been searched top to bottom for chametz (i.e., leavened products). Ordinary year-round utensils are stored away and new ones designated for Passover use have been brought out. The whole house is topsy turvy. A yearly chaos, hated yet beloved.

Many preparations need to be performed during the day before the seder: calling friends and family to wish them a happy holiday, making sure the children have matching socks, last minute purchases because yet another guest is coming. And the cooking!

I used to spend the entire day before the seder cooking and preparing. I felt like an artist, carefully selecting my ingredients like colors, figuring quantities like determining to use a fine paintbrush or a trowel. My palate consisted of chicken and vegetables for the golden soup, and tan matzah balls to accompany it. Romaine lettuce provided the green. Red was the beef tongue I prepared, a delicacy saved for twice a year. Wine and grape juice provided rich burgundy and purple colors.

All of the busy-ness gave me so much pleasure. Then sunset would fall and I’d light my holiday candles, singing the ancient blessing. The men would come home from synagogue about an hour later, and we’d start the seder. The children would participate, the youngest saying the mah nishtanah. We’d all groan about the amount of food to eat at midnight and the late hour the seder would finish at. Somebody would retire to the sofa and fall asleep, inevitably. Strangely, I’d look forward to the washing up ritual, making sure the kitchen was in order for the next day’s festive noon meal, although ordinarily I dislike cleanup. I was very much “in the present” at those times in the past, not blindly participating in the ritual, but appreciating the ability to do what I was doing.

Wavelets, © Batya7, JustHavingFun

I’m not preparing a seder this year. I will be a guest. I will not have the same pleasures as previous years; I expect I will have new pleasures. I can enjoy another’s family customs and make new memories. I can be in the moment yet feel the echoes of years past lap against my mind like wavelets upon the shore.

I could choose to dwell on what I don’t have—but rather, I choose to enjoy what the present provides. If I live in the negative shoals I will only bring sorrow and misery to my life. I choose happiness, being present in the current day. I choose to open my eyes to the beauty that is every day and grab at the chances for being open to miracles. For isn’t each day a new miracle?

Redemption is near. Until then, I choose happiness.

Small Red Hand

Small Toy Hand

Small Red Hand. ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Early one morning I drove to the medical lab to have my blood drawn. A small red hand lay on the curb in the parking lot. Its brilliant color caught my eye in the early morning sun contrasting vividly with the concrete. I paused and knelt to examine it.

Few others would stop to look at detritus on the ground, but I’m a scavenger. I believe that there are things in this world seemingly with no purpose except for that which only I can see in them. Found items, scrounged items, trash-picked items—they excite me. That which was once scorned calls to me. I have the “flea market gene,” and it activates itself when I pass thrift stores. Perhaps it can become “art.” I want to collect it but refrain. The “decluttering” gene kicked in and sense returned to me.

Still I wondered. Where did it come from? An action figure? Superman doesn’t wear gloves and Spiderman’s hands have webs on them. Batman’s gloves are black and Robin’s are green. Did the child cry when he realized his toy’s hand was amputated? How did it come to be precisely here, in this location, in the parking lot of a medical building? Perhaps the wind lofted it here, a particularly strong gust I’d imagine. Only a half inch long, it looked forlorn, abandoned, and incongruous in its strong color.

Brake Pad on Asphalt

Brake Pad on Asphalt. ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

I noticed the texture of the concrete it lay upon: coarse whitish rock fragments embedded in a sandy matrix. Nearby upon the asphalt rested a rusty brake pad, or so I thought then. Now I’m not so sure what it is. A smear of yellow paint limned one edge. The asphalt appeared chunkier than the concrete of the curb, almost sticky. In the strong morning light, deep valleys crowded its surface—deep from the perspective of an ant or a microbe, that is. Were I the size of the red-handed toy, I’d have no trouble walking over that knurled surface though. I’d have sat on the brake pad using it as a bench and admired the view.

I snapped some pictures then went inside for my blood test, forgetting the little red hand and the rusted piece of steel, my odd trip into a land where a red toy hand pointed the direction of my travels. That two-minute pause gave me a moment to think about something different than usual and I cherished it. And here, six months later as I reviewed my old photos, I was brought back to that sunlit morning, the air crisp, and possibilities beckoning.

Passover Pizza

Pizza for Pesach

Passover Pizza and Pizza for Pesach © JustHavingFun

Maybe it’s a symptom of me getting old, but I experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I see “Passover Pizza” on the market shelves. You mean you can’t go 8 days without pizza? Is this a generational thing?

My Mother tells me about what Passover in Philadelphia was like growing up in the waning years of the Depression. They had eggs, fish, matzah, beets, meat, potatoes, nuts, fruit… and more eggs and potatoes. Kosher for Passover milk and dairy products weren’t readily available, and they didn’t have the wealth of prepared foods that we kosher consumers enjoy today whether for year-round or Passover use. Mrs. Hindy Krohn, also a Philadelphia native (and mother of Rabbi Pesach Krohn), describes the situation well in her 1989 memoir The Way It Was: Touching Vignettes About Growing Up Jewish in the Philadelphia of Long Ago.

Passover Pizza

Freezer case with kosher for Passover products. © JustHavingFun

I’m not quite that old but I remember my Bubba Goldie shaping gefilte fish loaves by hand, sliding them out of the oven, and serving them with a perfect circle of cooked carrot. I don’t know where the fish came from. She probably went to a fish man and asked him to grind it. She also had a special basin for the chicken to soak in. She sat in a chair in the breakfast room pulling the pin feathers from the skin before cooking it.

Passover wasn’t a big deal in our family. We were secularized; it was a time for family to gather. I don’t remember the family having Seder dinners, but I sure remember sitting at the big mahogany dining room table with the matching chairs and claw-footed legs.

Bubba Goldie’s chicken soup was the clearest golden broth with little “eyes” of fat on the top, and the matzah balls were light and fluffy. Well, really I can’t remember the matzah balls, but I like to think they were “floaters” because it fits well with the imagery of the golden soup. She’d serve it with a small portion of chicken breast meat. My other grandmother, Bubba Lena, cooked her chicken soup with lots of “junk,” as she called it. Vegetables peeked from a cloudy broth, and chicken chunks were liberally strewn through the bowl. Did she make matzah balls? I can’t remember, but if she did, I bet they were “sinkers.” I inherited her skills in making a fragrant, filling cauldron of soup and I don’t get complaints about my matzah balls.

Welch’s Manischewitz Kosher Concord Grape Juice is kosher for Passover. © Manischewitz

In the 1990s I saw Manischewitz kosher for Passover Quiche Mix (a product fad that didn’t survive); that was when the world changed for me. Now there is Welch’s kosher Grape Juice, too, another world changer. The products keep coming: marshmallows, chocolate chip cookies, mayonnaise, pizza sauce, macaroons (of course), and the list goes on.

I’ll forgo the Passover pizza. I’ll stick with unsalted whipped butter on matzah as the most exotic food choice.  Hooray for eight days of  limited choices!

Purim Costume?

It’s only Tu B’Shvat time, but I’m primed; Purim is coming. I need to think ahead already.

Goodwill provides me with much inspiration. Looking for “normal clothes,” I saw these items separately at Goodwill and immediately thought “PURIM COSTUME!”

Now, I am a white White woman with pinkish skin tones. Chartreuse, acid green, safety yellow—these just are NOT my colors (white girl problems). Certain combinations, however, tickle my funny bone, and the ironic laughter burbles over. This chance combination illustrates my point of view in lush colors.

purim-costume-at-goodwill

This chartreuse skirt, acid green paisley top & tropical print scarf combo with sparkly sneakers screams Purim at me. © JustHavingFun

Purim sheitel (wig)

Purim fun. © JustHavingFun

The Jewish holiday of Purim occurs a month before Passover. It is recorded in the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther. Purim commemorates our people being saved from annihilation in ancient Persia by the hand of Haman, minister of King Ahashueros/Achashveros.  The megillah is read in public, and it is customary to make noise when Haman’s name is mentioned to “blot him out.” We celebrate by bringing gifts of food to our friends and neighbors, having a feast, and rejoicing.  Children dress in costume, and many adults do, too.

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

I don’t do full costumes. I think when I was a kid I had a Queen Esther costume like all girls in that era. One year I made a red fake fur hat and trimmed it with jingle bells, shaking it when Haman’s name. That got me a headache. Other years I wore a rainbow wig for jolliness—paired with totally clashing clothing. Last year I found an outrageous sequined overblouse and hot pink skirt. Paired with stripey socks, that was a wonderfully inspiring bit of frivolity.

So on second thought, I may just go back to Goodwill and see if these items are still available. We all need some hilarity in our lives.

I am so easily entertained. I crack myself up!

Invitation

The boys hopped off their bicycles at the corner. Propped on kickstands, the bikes stood like trusty steeds by the watering trough awaiting their riders. One boy fastened his helmet to the handlebars while the other wore his. They strode to the door and entered the Starbucks store. I squinted at the activity from a nearby table on the patio.

Despite it being December, I sat outside the café in shirtsleeves, enjoying the sun shining into my eyes. I tried to write but pages of my notebook flapped like crows in the escalating wind.  I watched the bicycles and traffic and passersby with an increasing sense of urgency: Where are the boys? When are they coming out? The bicycle rims glowed and taunted me.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free. © JustHavingFun

I grew up in cities—not particularly dangerous ones—places where you had to be on the lookout because bad things could happen. Even from an early age I knew if I left my bicycle unattended it might not be there later. I had a chain. I had a lock. I had a quick-release hub for the front wheel. One simply did not leave the bike unattended. To do that would be an invitation for a thief to steal my most prized possession! Why didn’t the boys chain their bikes?

The wind whipped my pages faster and blew over one of the bicycles. Another patio-sitter jumped up and righted it. I cranked my head toward the store. Where were the boys? A nod to the rescuer and I returned to my pages.

I’m a mother. My mothering powers expand and include all within my gaze… and beyond. My mom-sense hackles were bristling. Another gust toppled the same bicycle. The rescuer rose again, righted it, and I gave her a wan smile. Since I couldn’t write, I capped my pen and went inside.

“The wind knocked over your bicycle,” I informed two boys about 13-years old. One wore a helmet and the other was finishing a latte. The boys thanked me, and one went to peek outside. When he returned I turned my mom-powers on him. “Let me ask you a question. I write a blog and I’m curious: how come you didn’t padlock your bikes?”

Their innocence made me smile. “This place is so safe,” the blond one said. “You don’t have to worry about theft.” True, we were in a modern shopping village development, but I wouldn’t believe it. “I live down there,” the helmeted one nodded toward the gated community a quarter mile down the road. “Nobody ever bothers our stuff.” I nodded and listened without judgment. They felt unassailable. They excitedly told me about a Ravens football player they saw while biking to the coffee shop. All was normal in their world.

So precious. So fresh.

We were not so far from the dangerous, crime-ravaged city but we could have been in a different country. Less than 5 miles away houses sit abandoned and the poor abound. Storefronts hide behind barred windows and people meander on mean streets.  Here however, a boy drank coffee in the afternoon with his friend while their bicycles waited on the sidewalk. This verdant, safe suburb we sat in nestles behind an invisible, invincible curtain. These youths were wrapped in a butterscotch coating of safety and security.

You never know who you’ll encounter in a coffee shop. We chatted a bit, the mom-powered lady and the youths too candid to catch the irony of the situation. I bade them goodbye and pondered upon an upbringing so charming and charmed near Charm City. Though I ventured into the suburbs I couldn’t leave the city in me behind.

Cling

Link to the daily prompt

Cling peaches

Don’t cry little fleshlings as you are destined for greatness:
No longer to cleave to that hard, unmoving pit inside your sunny heart.
Slide around my bowl, float in the spoon, and submit to my teeth

Cling wrap

Who would have known you’d stay faithful
when others failed their trials? When the task became urgent
you succeeded in keeping together the good
and excluding the bad. Alas you are expendable and flimsy,
your success being your downfall.

Cling on (sorry!)

furrowed brow and coarse glances
alien guttural growls of a foreign race
an enemy turned ally, warriors
united against a common enemy

Static cling

A spark, a shock, a cat winding around my calves, you
Plaster skirts to hose in an unflattering way. Dry air? Feet dragged across nylon
Rugs? I beg you reveal your origin. Clothes dryer inheritance? Evidence:
Socks hide in sleeves and wrinkles create hills and valleys
Like landscape artifacts as seen from space across my contorted torso.

Now picture this…

Joe Klingon walks across the room and flicks a metal switch. Zap! Static electricity shocks him! His dessert, a small packet jacketed in cling wrap — held against his uniform blouse (which was oddly bunched up from static cling) — jumps from his hand and flies across the room spreading the sunny yellow cling peaches to the carpet. He ironically roared, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!”(1)

*************
1. Translation: “Today is a good day to die.” See: http://www.babylon-software.com/definition/Heghlu’meH_QaQ_jajvam/English. (Retrieved 12 January 2017.)

No Second Thoughts

As happy as a cat being toweled dry after a bath.

This is how I feel. “Towel Dry” by Christina Welsh, used under CC BY-ND 2.0

How would I describe this presidential election season?

I choose from a whole slew of adjectives at hand to choose from—endless, tiring, shameful, contentious, disgusting, embarrassing, slimy, frightful, and jading to name a few—but irritating fits the bill as well as any. It’s bland enough to go about with your daily business but strong enough to worry at like a hangnail. For in the end, I am convinced that there is not much I can do to avoid the choice between awful and terrible.

I feel twitchy, restless, and apprehensive. Really irritated. So much so that this morning, Election Day, I dare not turn on the radio. I don’t want to hear the pundits. This has been going on too long. The process is broken. The trial balloons started rising in 2014, fer gosh sakes. That’s two years ago! I wish they had popped and never left the ground. I cast them in lead and drown their first-born. I salt their earth and inveigh the wrath of the Heaven against the universe that spawned them.

Figuratively, that is.

Meditation may help soothe me. I will gaze outside my windows, admire the gaily colored leaves adorning the trees, and breathe in (noting the position of my shoulders and rib cage), then breathe out (modulating the velocity of my breath). I will remember my Lamaze training—which I usually conjure during dental work—and go somewhere far away, a pleasant place, where calm and tranquility reign, and the only thing to mar the surface of the lake is the occasional ripple from a gentle breeze. I will cast my mind to far above the clouds, to the Moon perhaps, where eons make a difference, and a footstep on its surface will be evident for centuries to come. Breathe in, blow out, huff puff blow—this baby better be worth it!

I will vote today. My vote won’t count as I’m not in a “swing state” but indeed, I will vote; we’re choosing a mayor here, did you hear? No? Me neither. I listen to public radio and talk shows but there’s not much political news about anyone except the top guy and gal. How do I make an informed decision then?

I hope I won’t have second thoughts about my choices in the election booth years down the road. I hope my country will survive this battle, growing closer together rather than stockpiling worse epithets and stronger artillery for the next bout in 2020 [for which the blasted trial balloons will start to rise even earlier, I suspect].

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

I’m planning to avoid the news until tomorrow morning. I will wake up like any other day, switch on  my computer and walk away to prepare a cup of coffee. After taking my vitamins, I will return to my desk with a cup of hot solace and breathe in the aroma. Breathe in, hold it, then gently let it out.

Hanging On

bee-in-garden

Last Summer’s Bee Hanging On One of the Last Blossoms

The mood of the day is neutral. A gray sky presses on my brow and the mist of rain glimmers my cheeks. In the garden, sharply contrasting with the home’s red brick facade, brightly hued flowers sway with the weight of accrued raindrops.

All summer long fat bees swarmed and danced around this patch of flowers.They filled the air above the walkway, a slalom to negotiate, their important assignment a mission to avoid disturbing. Yet I found the combination pleasing; the contrast of the pleasant porch, the garden, the suburban lawn around it, and the sunny flowers greeting me pressed my happy button. It spoke to me of an illusory freedom, youthful celebration, and the desire to stretch my limbs in exuberant ways that would (sadly) leave me sore the next morning.  Summer Abundance.jpg

Last summer’s bee clung motionless, a mere shell trapped on the blossom. I could examine it fearlessly because it was defenseless, unable to hurt me with its sting. I didn’t delay its mission, nor did I block its path. Its only purpose was that of an item I could photograph.

Many of us wear facades to show to the public: a smile when feeling gloomy; a chipper attitude; cosmetics to brighten the lips or conceal blemishes; uniforms and masks. Sometimes they are proper, as one should never take out bad feelings on others. We enjoy “good customer service” voices. We are schooled when young to “be nice.” But sometimes, like when the facade comes out and we are trying to bond with our friends and fellow travellers, the false fronts we construct and gay, amusing stories we repeat only serve to distance.

Gray days like today require perseverance. Hanging on like that dead bee requires no effort. Unlike that creature, I’m hanging on by doing small tasks in 5 minutes apiece. I’m accumulating minor activities, like grains of pollen, to abate the clutter of my surroundings and cobwebs in my thoughts. Though the mist outside dews my face, I’m hanging on, hanging on.

Grouchy but Passionate

I’m having a grouchy couple of days.

To divert my attention from the ouchies and aches that distract me from my usual attitude of focusing on happiness, I’m thinking about things that I’m passionate about.

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

First answer that popped into my head: My kids.  Then, … the sound of crickets.

Oh, I have my yarn to knit and crochet, watercolors to smear into new paintings, and my fabric stash to quilt and sew. I have my blog to write, and the entire World Wide Web to feed my curiosity about anything I want to learn. And of course, I have my library card. Maybe I’m not too passionate these days. I expect passion to evoke some wild, urgent feelings, and frankly, my ouchies are the only ones that feel urgent. Sneer. Grumble. Hand me a pain-killer, or find a way to let me sleep through the night.

Paul Hudson wrote in Elite Daily  10 Things That Truly Passionate People Do Differently“:

1. Start their days early.
2. Always have their passions on their mind.
3. Get excited more than the average person.
4. Get pissed off and emotional more than the average person.
5. Willing to risk more and put more on the line.
6. Devote their lives to their dreams.
7. Surround themselves with their work.
8. Can’t help but talk about their projects.
9. Tend to either be pushing ahead full throttle or are completely still.
10. Always think positively about the future.

So I’m reading the list and mentally checking off the Yes/No boxes. It seems to me they’re mostly “no”:

1. Rarely. Night owl. Always was.
2. Nope.
3. Not me. I’m pretty calm.
4. Pissed off? Me? Slow to anger…
5. Not a risk taker. Anymore. Would like to get a motorcycle, however.
6. Last night I dreamed about buying yarn in Iceland.
7. I’m surrounded by … clutter.
8. Got nothing [interesting] to say.
9. Completely still. That’s one I can get into.
10. Think positively about the future. Well, yeah, duh!

I guess my passion is the future. Then I can indulge in all of my interests. Things will be good. My sons are growing into wonderful, caring men and I look forward to seeing how they turn out. In the future there will be freedom from this pain; all the ouchies will go away.  Like Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway line, it is anxiously and happily awaited.

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