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

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.

We All Need A Break Sometimes

Early this morning, I realized I had not cleared off or set the Shabbos table, which I usually do on Thursday night, nor had I made chicken soup with the greens I bought on Wednesday. I hadn’t wrapped the Chanukah gifts at one end or finished the decoupage projects at the other, and I’d failed to put away the groceries and papers in between. To boot, the cakes I baked, my only attempt to begin Shabbos preparations, had collapsed because I took them out of the oven too soon.

I was just too tired and too blah from the cold yesterday, and I didn’t want to do anything but write. Though it was out of character to let things go, I decided this was a very acceptable decision, that it wasn’t sloth or procrastination, but rather an investment in my work and word count and me, and that all of it was as important as making fresh chicken soup and challah, at least in the moment.

But I now know this to be true because I found two quarts of the former and five of the latter in the back of the freezer this morning, all of which I made a few weeks ago – for a rainy day. Because sometimes you get lucky and see your blessings staring you in the face. You feel all the goodness from on high and your faith is strong that everything will sort itself out, even if it looks different from how you first envisioned it.

You know what else? I’m going to make a brownie mix for dessert, relocate the gifts and projects to other surfaces, stash all the papers in a Marshall’s bag, and reschedule our Architectural Digest photo shoot (just kidding about that last bit). And it’s not going to bother me one bit. Really.

Sundown will come as it does each week no matter what. Our meals will be simple this time, but there will be love in them, and they will taste like wonder and miracles and the holiness that separates Shabbos from everything else. And G-d willing, we will rest along with Him from the busyness of the everyday and the business of being humans who sometimes just need a break.

Wishing everyone a restful Shabbos that allows us to forget, briefly, all the tasks that await us after Havdalah.

Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom! And a Happy Chanukah, too!

 

For the Love of Making Things with Our Hands

This is my latest afghan, a wedding gift. It comes at a moment when I’m in need of distraction, and I’m glad to find it in these colors and patterns that vary from row to row. It’s taking me a long time to finish, though that’s neither here nor there.

While sneaking in a row early  yesterday morning, I was thinking that I wish I were the type to crochet an occasional sweater. But the undertaking involves too much counting and measuring for my non-math brain. All previous attempts have been crochet disasters, which is why I spend a lot of time making afghans instead. 

Anyway, while I was thinking about sweaters, I had an idea. The last handmade sweater I owned, made by my grandmother, was ruined when our basement flooded during Hurricane Irene years ago. I thought I might ask our cleaning lady, a talented knitter, to make me a new one. 

She had been with us for more than two decades when she retired recently – not by choice but by kidney failure. She’s now packing to return to Europe, to spend her years with the family she left behind when she emigrated. I’ve been checking in with her regularly and we have plans to visit next week.

All this time she was like a great aunt to me. She taught me to prepare proper Turkish coffee and also helped take care of me, especially when I was on bed rest with our youngest and later after my surgeries. She loved us, and felt it was her place to chide me for never ironing because I was, after all, one of her own.

When we spoke yesterday, I asked her if she’d make me one of her signature cardigans, and said I would bring the wool along with some vintage buttons when we visit. I told her I want it as a remembrance of her and her time with our family after she leaves.

She cried, and said she would like nothing more than to knit for me, and to fill the hours that now unfold endlessly since she can no longer work. Sadly, she’s in too much discomfort from dialysis to knit anymore, adding that she has unfinished projects for her grandchildren in her knitting basket.

I picked up my afghan-in-progress, feeling the blessings in the work, in my fingers and the hook and the wool. Yet I also couldn’t help but add this to the many indignities of illness and of our bodies aging and coming undone. We must grab the chance to create whenever we can, to never squander the opportunity to make beautiful or impactful things with our hands with whatever time we are given. And with that I forgot about the laundry and the dishes in the sink and worked six more rows instead.