Trying To Do Nothing At All

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written and it feels good to be back with you in this space. I hope you are all safe and healthy and managing well.

This week was exhausting. Lots of doing with little progress, as if I’d been running in place.

I cooked like a short-order chef, cleaned until the house smelled of Clorox, ran the bajillionth load of laundry since we locked down, and choreographed a series of staggered grocery deliveries to arrive between now and Shavuos. One night, I colored my hair, but missed a splotch of grey. The next morning, I gave myself a mediocre pedicure. I tried to write, but instead spent two days trapping an elusive fly the size of a fighter jet that buzzed non-stop around my office. I told him he could have my chair before I gave up and left the room. I sunk a basil plant into the ground, knowing I haven’t the energy to fight off the bunnies. And after reading too many articles about the pandemic, I resolved never to leave the house again.

But more than anything this week, I was sad. I schlepped that hopeless funk around – daydreaming in mid-vacuum, worrying about the present, worrying about what comes next. I felt conquered. I cried. I wished for certainty, or at least a window of clarity, both of which seem to have slipped through my hands, if they were never mine to hold in the first place. I sat outside in the late afternoons to get some sun, to bring in a bit of light, but it didn’t help as much as I’d have liked. And I prayed, asking G-d for a lot. Maybe even a chutzpadik amount.

As the week draws to an end, I’m starting to think I’ve gotten it all wrong. Maybe sad isn’t the right word for what I’ve been feeling. Perhaps it’s more apt to call it the frustration born of trying to move forward, only to discover that all the roads are being repaved, that the map of the world has been redrawn, that we really know very little for sure. Yet my gut tells me that it’s likely also acceptance of my own very human limitations at the hardest of times.

Thank G-d, thank G-d, Shabbos is here, come to save me from myself. To remind me that I don’t always have to be strong, that I can lean into my faith to keep me standing, that I don’t have to carry the weight on my own. That it’s okay if I can’t always hold the pieces together. That sometimes, doing nothing at all is what gets you where you need to go.

Wishing you all a beautiful Yom Yerushalayim and a restful, peaceful Shabbos.

Love,

Merri

A Horseradish Reversal

Every year, I take the head from the horseradish root we use at the seder and plant it deep in the ground. But inevitably, just as the new greens emerge the following spring, one of the garden-eating wild things in our yard will devour the entire plant, root and all, leaving us with nothing.

By now, our recent sedarim feel as ancient as our slavery in Egypt and we no longer require fresh horseradish. Like so much else that’s gotten lost in our COVID-induced isolation, I’d forgotten about the root I planted right after last Pesach until this morning, when I noticed these bursts of green in the garden.

Shocked that they’d not been eaten (perhaps the hose has served as a fortress), I brushed away some of the dirt to check on the roots. They have to stay a little longer in the dark underground to fill out, to be ready for picking. But still, there they were in all their hideous, knobby-topped glory, and I smiled a smile I haven’t mustered in weeks.

The leaves are another story. Unbothered by rabbits and deer, they stand, when fully grown, like a proud gathering of fans, rippled at the edges and ribbed in the center. A verdant crown atop such an ugly, biting vegetable is a lesson unto itself — about silver linings and finding good and not allowing bitterness to consume us. To have played the tiniest role in bringing something forth from the earth, a bit of new life, gives me the taste of something hopeful, and that’s no small thing right now.

Who knows what this week will bring, our dishes packed away and Pesach behind us? Perhaps the animals will leave the plants alone, finding something sweeter to nosh on, and I will be able to offer friends fresh horseradish root with which to prepare an array of quarantine condiments. But mostly it’s the hope I’m clinging to. I’ll lop off the tops and stick them back in the ground.

Wishing the whole wide world a peaceful day of rest, and a Shabbos filled with hope.

Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

Keeping Up With Hand Cream

I bought this at Trader Joe’s back in January. I was away for a few days and realized I’d forgotten to bring hand cream. And hand cream, I know from my grandmother, is something we should never be without.

Her beauty regimen was simple, selected from drugstore stock. She assured me you didn’t need fancy-fancy, but you had to be consistent in applying your chosen unguents to keep yourself youthful. As a little girl, I’d watch her with wild-eyed fascination as she went through these paces. She never left the house without putting on lipstick. Before bed, she’d scoop Pond’s from the jar to remove her makeup, and once a week, she had her wig set at the beauty parlor across the road. I hung on her every ritual. But the only wisdom that really stuck was the one about creaming your hands. She’d say that a woman could moisturize her face all she wants, but her hands would give her age away if she didn’t tend to them, too.

Washing so frequently now, I’m finding that hand cream just isn’t cutting it. Levi says my palms, once soft, feel like sandpaper. My knuckles are scrubbed red and raw. My hands are aging before my eyes, as much as all of this is taking its toll on my soul.

But last night, after I’d done the dishes and washed down the kitchen, I picked up this tube of hand cream and noticed the tagline for the first time. “The perfect precursor to your next meeting!” Indeed, whenever that might be, I wondered, allowing myself a full-bodied guffaw.

Lately, especially in moments when fear of this dark shadow that hangs over all of us becomes sharp as a knife in my gut, I miss my grandmother especially. I conjure up her scents for comfort. Sometimes it’s her violet talc and her perfume. At others, especially on the eve of Pesach, it’s frying onions and Sanka. I realize that even if she were alive, I would not be able to visit her or feel her kiss on my cheek. The thought of it pains me because I know so many of us are now separated from those we love. So I will persist, creaming my hands as a way to cling to what I can of what life was like before.

We have arrived to Shabbos Hagadol, the great Shabbos that comes before Pesach, which for us is the third Shabbos our shul is shuttered. May we somehow find grace in this ongoing silence apart from our community, and may G-d hear our prayers to bring this plague to an end.

Gut Shabbos!  Shabbat Shalom!

Sending love to all of you.

Merri

A Tuesday with Hot Lemonade

Hi there,

Tuesday is my husband’s day off. We usually do something interesting. We go on a hike or to a museum, then grab a cup of coffee at a nice cafe. Today, and the past few Tuesdays, and all the Tuesdays to come until, G-d willing, the Coronavirus takes its leave, we are home.

This morning, I made us lattes, while he prepared traditional Croatian hot limunada for the vitamin C. We listened to our respective Daf Yomi podcasts and will find something to watch on Netflix tonight, maybe The Plot against America. In between, I’m disinfecting and laundering and getting some work done, if only what my distracted mind will allow. He’s reading and talking to medical colleagues, rabbis, and patients, learning the language of this illness while figuring out how to convey unconditionally the vital role our communities and each of us as individuals play in stanching it. All the while, I’m trying to forget that he and so many other medical professionals will return to work in the morning.

Please, if you don’t absolutely need to go out, stay home. Wash your hands. Have your groceries delivered. Get fresh air in the privacy of your own backyards or on your separate porches. Be a support to one another, for the anxiety many of us are dealing with — from fear of the illness to the angst of being cooped up at home — is a force all its own.

Did I already say stay at home?

Pray the way you would usually talk to G-d. Just do it alone.

Learn online with your chevrusa.

Read that long book you’ve always wanted to read, but never found the time for.

Finally organize your kids’ baby pictures.

Spread kindness as much as you can from wherever you’re holed up.

Call a neighbor.

Remember a neck or a polkie look great on a seder plate; don’t take risks to track down a shank bone.

Love your loved ones, those far away and the ones you’re lucky to have in sight.

Make lattes and limunada.

Dream of better things to come.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.

With love,
Merri

 

 

Selfie with Potato Starch

When a store clerk noticed me posing for this shot in our local Stop & Shop earlier this week, he smiled and asked, “Does it scare you?”

I laughed and said that it did not, though in the past, it would’ve turned my anxiety dial to the max. But I’ve lived enough life and faced enough genuine challenges over the past few years to know that making Pesach is small potatoes – or potato starch, if you will.

“Already? So soon?” I once asked the Kedem man when I spotted him stocking the shelves a full month before Purim.

“I have 200 stores to finish. I’ve got to start somewhere,” he said with a shrug.

We, too, have a starting point, a moment when we’ll say, “Okay. Breathe. It’s time.” But we shouldn’t look over our shoulders, watching to see where everyone else is holding or what they are up to on their prep. Rather, set your own clock. Find your own pace. Shut out the noise, the murmurs of folks reporting how much they’ve already done. Be delighted for them. Truly. But remember this isn’t the Olympics. There’s no gold medal for First to Clean Out the Pantry of Chametz or silver for Filling the Freezer with Knaidlach and Meatballs.

You’ve done this before. You’ll do it again. Have faith in yourself.

When we left Egypt, following Moshe into the uncertainty of the desert, we all did so on the same night. In our day, we, too, will all sit down to the first seder on the same evening — regardless of when we first got the shopping and cleaning underway.

So don’t let those paper-lined shelves and Kosher for Passover signs unnerve you. Enjoy Purim, and take a tongue-in-cheek Selfie with Potato Starch instead.

P.S. More On Those Granny Squares

Remember those big bags filled with granny squares I wrote about last time, the ones my friend’s mom dropped off two years ago? Well, I’ve transformed 973 of them — with the help of the four skeins of black wool I used to stitch them together and create a border— into 11 afghans. Ten I dropped off this afternoon for a nearby interfaith men’s homeless shelter. One I kept for my writing nook, to keep me warm while I work.

There are another 75 squares leftover, and I just don’t have the strength or time right now to make the additional squares needed to eke out another afghan. I also discovered 74 half-baked squares at the bottom of one of the bags. Those, too, will have to wait for when I’m not so tired.

I worked on this project during every possible free moment over the past 2 weeks, taking a break only on Shabbos and the 3 days I was away. I stitched at dawn over coffee and late into the night when I should’ve been sleeping. But I wanted desperately — needed really— to finish these afghans up, to reclaim the closet the squares were in and to create something whole and useful and beautiful out of these numerous pieces, themselves made of leftover bits of yarn put to lovely use.

When I finally finished, I folded the afghans and tucked them into several large bags. I then swept the countless scraps of black yarn off the floor, standing back to take a mental snapshot of the scene. I felt enormous gratitude to G-d for enabling me to do this, as well as a sense of complete physical and creative exhaustion. Plus, my shoulders ached from hunching over for so long.

Still, I immediately began itching to make something else. I bought 15 shades of green and blue at Michaels’ yesterday. Not sure what I’m going to stitch, but it surely won’t be granny squares. Though I adore them, I need a change of crochet scenery. I suspect it will be something large and one piece instead, a simple pattern that isn’t stop and go.  I’ll be sure to feature it here. 

What projects are you working on?

Merri