Attitude and Gratitude

books

I’ve been AWOL for a month and I’m sorry about that. I haven’t been able to sit at my computer. It finally dawned on me the other day, however, that I could get writing done on my phone instead, which is why I’m here with you now.

I had surgery in late June,  which proved more complicated than either I or my doctor expected. Then came the bumps that have defined these initial weeks of recovery. There was a trip to the ER, and also, not all of my functions have been functioning as they should.

I’ve been stuck at home, mostly in bed. For someone who is always busy doing or making something, this at first felt like a period of sloth. I seemed to sleep for inordinate stretches of time, spending the rest of it contemplating my lack of productivity. I’d even begun to miss housework.

Still, I’ve tried to stay positive, developing a full repertoire of medical humor (“No, you can’t take my blood pressure. I need it.”). I’ve dressed in real clothes every morning, resisting the temptation to stay in the nightgown I slept in. But there have also been days when I’ve struggled to keep my spirits up, to not get frustrated enough to cry and scream, to give myself a break.

Redemption came once the lingering fog of anesthesia began to clear from my brain. I recognized that I could still be productive in small doses, even while stuck in one place.

Before the surgery, I’d placed a stack of books on my bedside table. Most were titles I’d picked up at the library book sale, yet hadn’t found the time to read. Friends came to visit with meals and iced coffees and generously brought me magazines and books, too, growing that lovely yet ambitious pile at my side.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve said, “If only I could lie in bed and just read for days on end.” Well, I got it. Sort of (careful what you wish for). At first, I couldn’t focus on the words and the pile gathered a thin layer of dust. But patience is a virtue and my head cleared enough over time that I could finally read.  A few of the titles will stay with me – beautifully written stories, especially Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone” and Ann Patchett’s “Commonwealth.”

I’ve also managed to crochet plenty of granny squares with the contents of my wool stash, so many that one lucky newlywed couple is going to get an afghan. The squares are each mini-projects I’m able to complete while propped upright in bed, giving me tiny feelings of accomplishment. My real life never allows for such protracted periods of crocheting. I’m more likely to squeeze in a few rows where I can.

Then, of course, there’s the healing, my priority activity at the moment. Right now, my body has to run on slow, to take it easy if I want to get back to myself. It needs me to put my feet up and rest, and G-d clearly knows I wouldn’t do this of my own volition.

I hope I’ll be up and about soon, taking short walks around the block to get the juices flowing and sitting at my computer to write. I’ll resume my regular, hectic-paced life in time, though I suspect I’ll quickly discover I haven’t missed housework as much as I thought I did. For now, I’m just happy to have things to distract me.

It turns out this period of sloth has been nothing of the sort. It’s taught me invaluable lessons about having patience with myself, about attitude and gratitude. So I’ll take the kindness of friends, the books and the granny squares and all the silver linings where I can.

Finding What I Needed in a Thrift Shop

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I love shopping for things I don’t have to try on – books, housewares, craft supplies, antiques. Clothing is another story. At some point, you have to get undressed and dressed again in a fitting room. I can’t be bothered, which is why I default to loose-cut, solid black dresses and matching black cardigans. I hold them up against me in front of a mirror and that is that. And I don’t do it unless I have to.

My monochromatic dressing scheme is also the result of drinking the black-is-slenderizing Kool-Aid when I was young and living and/or working for years in New York, where black is the official uniform. I can get dressed in my closet in the dark, a fact I find funny. My husband, sons, and friends do not. As a result of their intervention, I’ve let a few colors in recently. But mostly, I stick to black. It’s my comfort zone. Also, I like it.

My friend Lela, on the other hand, is a colorful, inventive dresser. She could shop in a regular store if she wanted to, but prefers the thrill of the search in a thrift store, which is where she buys most of her clothing. As a treasure-hunting sort of shopper who likes the serendipity of clearance racks and used book sales, the idea of thrift store-shopping intrigued me.

So when Lela and I met for the afternoon in her charming hometown of Doylestown, PA, she took me for coffee in the loveliest of coffee shops and then we walked down the street to In Full Swing. I thought I might add something unique to my wardrobe, something with a surprising burst of color. After all, black goes with everything.

The shop is laid out with displays of donated evening gowns, purses, and scarves, as well as circular racks of clothing for men, women, and children. For someone who has never been able to stomach the vast expanse – or the sounds and smells – of a mall, the place was perfect in size and atmosphere.

In Full Swing is a labor of love for the women who run it. The proceeds support A Woman’s Place, which assists victims of domestic violence and their children, helping them make positive, life-changing decisions. They also have a community-based prevention project that aims to break the cycle of domestic violence.

I found a bracelet ($7) on a display of costume jewelry, all 50% off that day, and a pretty, floral scarf ($8) I’ll use as a tichel. Then Lela led me to the $1 clearance racks. In no time, her arms were full of interesting pieces – sweaters and a bohemian outfit that she’d later describe as itchy.

“Even if I decide not to keep it all, it was still a donation to a great cause. Besides, each item is only $1,” she told me.

She was right. I really couldn’t go wrong.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a simple black dress on one of the racks. Old Navy, my size, tag on – an opportunity to replace one of the black dresses I’ve worn so often they’ve faded. The store manager pointed out the fitting room/bathroom, but you already know how I feel about that. Given the price, it was certainly worth the gamble.

An optimist, I threw the dress into the wash without trying it on first. I just put it on the next day and have worn it often since. It goes with everything. It certainly doesn’t owe me money.

I know, I know. You’re wondering what happened to my burst–of–color plan. Well, I tried. Besides, change is good, but being true to myself is, I would argue, even better.

Photo Credit: Lela Casey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, It’s Mother’s Day.

I do not understand the concept of being woken up to breakfast in bed. I would spill coffee all over myself and who wants to eat eggs on a full bladder anyway, and besides, I’m watching my carbs, so there go the danish and the bagel. That all said, I was grateful to find a latte and this card, which sums up so much of the experience of motherhood, sitting next to my computer when I returned from the gym this morning.

It’s always about the cards and the words for me (okay, and the coffee), as it is on most other occasions. Later, we will spend time with my mom and stepdad, and I really hope my mom likes my gift because I will never top the jumbo sudoku book I bought her last Chanukah and I know it. She likes a good gift the way I like a card and a latte, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I chose well.

Parenting is an act of love like no other, but it isn’t for sissies and there’s no greater reminder of our fallibility and vulnerability or our heart’s capacity to expand. I say this as both as a mother and a daughter. Despite what the radio commercials say I should be doing, I began my day the same way I begin almost every other day. I threw in a load of laundry, folded another, and made the son who has school today a nice breakfast before he bolted out the door onto the bus. I am giving myself the day off from cleaning the bathrooms, however.

Even though I want to brush Mother’s Day off as a silly Hallmark holiday, I’m filled with emotion, much to my surprise. I’m missing my grandmother terribly, especially the look of pure joy in her eyes when I’d give her a handmade card and gift, and my mother-in-law, with whom we never spent Mother’s Day on the same continent, but knowing she was still here in the world made all the difference. For those of you whose moms are gone and those who longed to but never had children of their own, I imagine today brings a pain of its own and I wish that whatever you do this Sunday brings you comfort.

Lastly, I’m thankful to my aunts and the women I’m blessed to have among my sisterhood who have helped me mother my own children on days when I couldn’t physically, and to the devoted babysitters and caregivers who watched the boys when they were little, and to the nurses who got me through three difficult pregnancies and births.

It’s Mother’s Day, but it seems like the perfect day to celebrate the women in my life whom I thank in my heart the other 364, too.

Sometimes, You Can Get What You Want

 

butterpecan

A tub of parve butter pecan ice cream about to head into the deep chill of our garage freezer.

I had a sudden hankering for butter pecan ice cream when I sat down to write this. Instead, I ate a salad, which was delicious, by the way, but still wasn’t butter pecan ice cream.

Before the ice cream distraction, I wanted to tell you a very nice story about my Kitchen Aid. You may recall that I blew it out baking challah a few months ago and decided to invest in an Ankarsrum mixer, a sturdy Swedish machine with room for double the amount of dough.

How do I like it? Well, it does a nice job on my challah recipe. It’s good-looking, too. Yet I’m still adjusting to its operational nuances and learning how to lock in the attachments and struggling to understand what some of the attachments are for.

My friend David, who convinced me to buy the Ankarsrum, uses his machine for all his baking, not just challah. Despite his encouragement, I’m not there yet. I admit, though, this may be because I remain in the thrall of my Kitchen Aid, which has sat – forlorn and unused – in the shadow of the Ankarsrum on the counter for months.

My husband told me not to give up hope, that he might yet get it working. He ordered a number of parts online. He and David then performed the surgery, laying out the Kitchen Aid in pieces across the dining room table. Sadly, the patient did not recover. We all agreed that a professional repair wasn’t worth the cost.

When I had lost all resolve and began to mourn, my husband had an interesting idea. By interesting, I mean kooky. He called one of his Croatian landsmen – this time Ico, our auto body guy. Surely, you see where this is going. My husband dropped the Kitchen Aid off at Ico’s shop.

At the time, a part of me thought this was the strangest of my husband’s interesting ideas. On the other hand, I’m a big believer that it’s the strange things that make the world go round. I pinned my hopes on the possibility that the guy who fixed my minivan after a snowplow backed into it would also be able to restore my kitchen life to order.

My cell phone rang two weeks later. It was Ico, telling me he had completed my “husband’s little project” and that I could pick it up whenever I wanted. I couldn’t thank him enough for bringing my Kitchen Aid back to life.

All good things come to those who wait, I thought to myself. I was grateful to my husband for thinking out of the box and to Ico for his willingness to give the idea a shot.

The Kitchen Aid and the Ankarsrum now sit side by side on the counter, any traces of sibling rivalry suppressed for the sake of shalom bayit. The division of labor is clear-cut. The latter helps me bake challah, while the former helps me tackle everything else, from cakes to ice cream.

Last week, I made pareve pistachio ice cream for Shabbos to test out Ico’s handiwork. This week’s flavor? You guessed it. Butter pecan.

Life Is Short. Use The Fancy Dishes.

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Zsolnay cup and saucer, a relative’s trousseau spoon, a hand-crocheted runner from a friend’s grandmother.

 

Why do we own this in the first place?

For years now, I’ve felt a strong urge to own less. I ask myself, “Do we really need this?” before returning anything to the shelves as I restore order to our home after Pesach.  The answer, when it comes to silverware and soup pots, is “yes.” But there are also items I hang onto for sentimental reasons. Others get to stay because I’d feel guilty if guests at our wedding more than two decades ago were to stick their heads into the pantry and wonder where the serving piece they gave us has gone.

Still, each time I clean up after Pesach, I manage to get rid of a few things. I pass them along to others who will enjoy them more, or I drop them into the trash, especially when I don’t care for them any longer and don’t think anyone else will either, or I have no idea how they got here in the first place.

I like when the cabinets feel roomier and I can easily take inventory. What I discover year after year is not only that we have more than I want us to own – more than what we need. But there are plenty of pretty things stashed away in there I hardly, if ever, use at all.

I realize this is silly.

I rarely buy paper goods, preferring to set our Shabbos table with the dainty 1950s china passed along to me by relatives who now use disposables on the rare occasion they entertain. For the most part, I don’t keep our things behind glass as if they’re in a museum or an antique shop. There is a lot of coming and going from our cabinets.

On the other hand, I’ve never served on the Zsolnay dishes I bought in Budapest back in the early 1990s, the ones with the deep blue trim and a bit of gold flourish. I fell in love with them on the rebound, after I realized I could never afford a complete set of Herend tableware, the pattern with the butterflies I’d been smitten with when I lived in the Hungarian capital.

The excuse has long been that I would never be able to replace the Zsolnay should a piece of it break during use. But now we have the internet and my reasoning is no longer valid. Besides, it’s the dishes I use regularly that are vintage and irreplaceable.

I resolved to give it air. 

Of course, I’m not alone. Plenty of us have breakfronts filled with things we don’t use because we consider them too fancy for our lifestyle or too valuable to put into commission. But what pleasure are they giving anyone in a cabinet? We can’t take them with us. Plus, they’re more likely to break in transit than at the dinner table.

I came to this realization a few months ago regarding the plethora of vintage table linens I’ve acquired over the years from relatives and friends and friend’s relatives and their friends. I guess once word got out that I like them, I became a depot. In every instance, they’ve arrived like new, never once having been laid out on a table. All of the pieces are either hand-embroidered or crocheted, difficult to launder or impossible to manage without ironing, so I understand why.

Yes, there’s a risk of permanent staining since I eschew plastic covers, which ruin the vintage-elegant vibe. But the alternative is to let all of those beautiful linens spend another generation untouched in a drawer. I now use them, a different one each Shabbos. The cloth napkins, too. It feels right to let them fulfill their purpose in this world.

A quick side note. Bleach works wonders. Napkin rings nicely cover stains on napkins. If you position your plates just so, you can cover indelible markings on a tablecloth.  And if you pull them out of the dryer right away, you can get away with not ironing them at all.

What’s the worst case scenario?

Though I’m not one for resolutions, I resolved to begin using the Zsolnay starting this Shabbos, putting the set into the rotation with my other dishes. Beneath it will be an off-white, open-crochet tablecloth that has napped at the bottom of a dresser drawer for a decade. I can’t wait to see how the table will look when it all comes together. I suspect I will gasp with delight.

The worst case scenario is that a plate will break or the crochet will come undone. The world will continue to spin on its axis. We’ll just end up with fewer things that aren’t to our children’s taste when we reach 120.

In the meantime, I will have enjoyed the pleasure of an elegantly set table and the memories made during meals served on all of those pretty things.

Join me.

Use something special from the back of your china cabinet this Shabbos. Post a photo or tell me about it in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever You Are, Bravo!

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Well, at least we’ve made a dent in the shopping list. And our basement’s ready for our “Home & Garden” photo shoot.

Hi there,

I texted a friend from the store the other day to ask what she’d like me to make for the meal our families will be having together on Pesach. She told me she had no idea. She’s not far enough along in her preparations to have figured that out. The truth is that neither am I. But worrying about her menu was a lot less stressful than thinking about my own.

I bought a pretty bowl, in case she wants me to bring a salad, and a lovely platter, in case she prefers a cake.  I’ll find out when she’s ready.

Anyway, the reason I’m sharing this anecdote is to make a point I like to make every year.

Whatever you are up to in your Pesach preparations, bravo!

Still in the conceptual stage? Good for you!

Distracting yourself from the seasonal reality by shopping for bowls for your friends? Guilty, but it’s okay.

Because wherever we are at the moment, we will G-d willing be where we need to be – cleaned, kashered, and cooked – when we light candles on the eve of the first seder.

That doesn’t mean I think you have a lot of free time on your hands.  But in case you’re looking for a friendly reminder that we’re searching for chametz not perfection, I’m sharing the links to two new articles of mine that went live over the past week.  As you can see, I’ve been very busy writing, most likely to avoid cleaning and menu-planning, but also to pretend I haven’t already found multiple pieces of Wacky Mac in locations where they don’t belong.

Pesach Knows The Way To Our House

How I Got Enslaved To The Holiday Of Freedom

And if you’re in the mood for something a bit more ethereal, here’s an essay that went up today about the ghosts in the Pesach cabinet in our garage.

The Ghosts In Our Garage

I’d love to hear your tips for making Pesach prep a bit easier.  Drop me an email or leave a comment. I’m also bored with my salad regulars and would love suggestions.

Wishing you all a Chag Kasher V’Sameach – a happy and kosher Passover.

Thanks for reading!

Merri