Monday, December 31, 2007

If Your Day Needs Lightening

I loved the following posting and offer the link for those whose day could use some humor.

The latest from the chumra police: frum cars.

The Good News Is...

I'm sure we have all had the following experience. We meet someone or they call us on the phone and they begin: "So, would you like the good news first of the bad news first?" There is no good answer to this question.

If you ask for the good news first you cannot really concentrate on it as you are thinking of what the bad news could be. If you ask for the bad news first, you don't really concentrate on whatever good news follows as you are too busy thinking about the bad news. Either way, good news seems to get buried as we struggle to deal with bad news.

When was the last time that you remember a newspaper reporting "good" news? If all you can think of is a banner headline proclaiming "The War is Over!"--pick a war, any war--then you are suffering from a dearth of bad tidings. Buried in the classified advertisements section of our local newspaper you can sometimes find the good news yearning to breathe free. Last week, for the christian holiday, a group of 5 families, parents and children, spent the day serving food in a community feeding center for the indigent. The parents wanted to give their children a "real" present for the holiday--an understanding that they should be grateful for all they have because some people have nothing. Yes, good news--and bad news. The good news is that some people care about more than buying the latest doodad. The bad news is that some people have nothing.

My husband has a rule for the Shabbos table: no bad news allowed. When he comes home from shul and I ask "What's new?" I will get only the good news: someone is engaged, someone had a baby, someone had an aufruf. Even family conversation at the table is limited to the "good" things that happened during the week or the "good" things we are looking forward to. His feeling is that there has to be at least one time in our busy lives when good news comes unaccompanied by bad. "Shabbos is not for crying" is his attitude. I think he is right. The bad news can wait.

We spend so much time obsessing about bad news that we find ourselves with little time to "kvell" about the good news. We look at the "good" news as unimportant when compared to the bad news. The glass is always half empty instead of half full.

I'm trying to change things for myself. I want my day to begin with good news. And it does. I am here. I woke up and am able to go about my required tasks for the day. My limbs are intact, if a little sore, and I can see and hear and speak and taste and smell. My computer is working and I can put my thoughts down on "paper." Everyone else in my house also woke up this morning and were able to go about their regular jobs. Want more good news? My mother, ken yirbu, is here for me to say good morning to. So are my siblings.

The refrigerator is full and breakfast is a matter of choosing, not settling. The weather is cool and there are sweaters and coats in the closet to keep me from freezing. Yes, there are stacks of papers to be marked--it's wonderful that I have a job and one that I mostly love. Those papers are evidence that my students learned something this term. The first one I pick up to mark is an "A" paper. How much better can a day begin?

Last night we attended a vort in the family. This morning I kvell at how happy the choson and kallah seemed, how right they looked with each other. Yes, a simcha before Pesach. This coming up Shabbos we have an aufruf, and a chasoneh on Sunday. Good news all.

I'm not being a Pollyanna; I know that bad news exists. Not everything I have heard the past few weeks is good news. I'm just trying to achieve a little balance in my life. The good news deserves equal billing with the bad news. Without our recognizing that we do, indeed, have lots of good news, then we are going to let the bad news dominate us and prevent us from living fully.

Our glasses are not empty. They aren't even half empty. They are full of all kinds of good things. We only need to recognize this and allow ourselves to bask in the joy of good news. The bad news can wait; it always does.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part XV

There's many a slip 'tween cup and lip dear reader, and so it was for HindaElla and the Prince. Despite their desires they learned about compromising. The wedding was held two months later. The chair covers did match the tablecloths but since HindaElla and the Prince had eyes for only each other they never noticed.

HindaElla's gown was indeed custom made. Once again the magic platinum card was waved and worked wonders. And even HindaElla could appreciate the dress, for when the Prince first saw her in it he was rendered speechless, except for the fire burning in his eyes as he called himself the luckiest man in the world.

And if HindaElla was no longer seen in public with soot on her face, credit could be given to the Prince who gently told her that black was so not her color--she was definitely a spring colors person.

And the prince never again turned green, although it was noted that sometimes he turned red when he gazed at his beloved Princess.

After a while no one commented any more about the frog that took up permanent residence with the Prince and HindaElla, except perhaps when they could swear they heard the frog whispering.

In short order HindaElla managed to introduce her step sisters to some visiting royalty. The sisters got their princes and HindaElla got some peace when they settled in foreign lands.

HindaElla's step mother was induced to try matrimony for the third time. Mrs. Gottenmuter knew of a gentleman of means who was rather near sighted. He never actually could see how his new bride looked, which suited her just fine, but he fell in love with the sound of her voice and with the good deeds she did.

Mrs. Gottenmuter sent the Prince a private wedding present. When he opened the box he found in it the match to the glass slipper that HindaElla had lost at the ball. She had kept it all this time. The note in the box read: "Someday your son will be looking for his princess. You might want to tell him about how glass slippers are ephemeral and not the best way to find true love."

And yes, dear readers, they all lived happily ever after.

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part XIV

Young girls, as young girls are wont to do, so often dream of that moment when their Prince will recognize them as their true heart's mate. And often the dreams have sweetly playing violins, and soft candle light. There are whispered words of endearment. And there are anxiously proffered rings, rings that sparkle in the candle light and send out a rainbow of color.

Most of the dreams don't have half the Kingdom crowded into your stepmother's parlor. They certainly don't have your step mother and your future mother in law in attendance, nor your future father in law either. They certainly didn't include a little green frog that was frantically whispering in her ear: "I could only do so much sweety. The rest you are going to have to handle. And good luck to you!"

HindaElla raised her sparkling eyes to the Prince's. "Yes, oh yes..." What else she might have said was lost as she saw bearing down upon them, arms linked, the Queen, Mrs. Gottenmuter and her step mother. Firmly HindaElla trod down the remainder of the steps and stood in front of the Prince, her arms crossed and a militant look in her eyes.

The trio stopped in front of HindaElla. The Queen led off. "We will of course need to discuss the wedding plans, I insist that the wedding be in the Castle." Mrs. Gottenmuter chimed in. "You will need at least 6 months until the wedding. No designer can turn out the proper dress in less time than that." Her step mother was next. "No, at least 8 months. There are the showers to be planned and all the household goods to be purchased." She shook her head. "Better make that 10 months."

HindaElla asked with feigned sweetness: "Are you done ladies? Because here is what is really going to happen." Behind her HindaElla could hear the Prince trying to breath. She half turned and noticed that he was getting patches of green here and there on his complexion again.

"We will be married two weeks from today. Two...weeks." HindaElla emphasized each word. "The Prince and I don't care about all the fol De rol that people have at weddings. Heaven help any of you who think we care about matching chair covers to the tablecloths!"

HindaElla looked pointedly at Mrs. Gottenmuter. "Off the rack is just fine for the dress. I don't give a rats..." The little frog hurriedly covered HindaElla's mouth with his leg. He whispered frantically in her ear. Nearby one person could swear he heard the frog mutter "They deserve each other. They really do!"

To her step mother she offered: "You and the girls go shopping. They'll love it and I sure won't." There was an excited look on her step sisters' faces and HindaElla knew she had done the right thing.

She reached behind her and tugged the Prince so that he was standing next to her. She noticed that his color had gotten better and he was staring in delight at his new bride to be. "While you all do whatever you have to do, the Prince and I are going for a walk." And with that HindaElla tugged her Prince towards the door. It was noticed that he followed quite willingly.

As they went through the doorway bits and pieces of their conversation wafted into the room. "I can't keep calling you Prince, Prince. What is your real name?" There was a pause and then was heard: "Oh come on, it can't be worse than HindaElla." And then "Ethelred the Unready? You have to be kidding." And then, "Um Prince, I think you can drop the Unready part."

And the three women beamed at each other and said in unison: "She'll do!"

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part XIII

Whilst all were talking over the Prince's awkward situation and the Prince was conversing with his frog, HindaElla quietly slipped up the stairs and commenced packing. It was clear to her that an extended journey was in order. Stay and watch the Prince and Mrs. Gottenmuter get married she would not do.

A glimpse of herself in the mirror caused even HindaElla to pause. A slight twinge of conscience smote her. She had wanted the Prince to accept her for herself, but even she could see that crumbled rose petals and cinder soot might be too much to swallow, at least on such short acquaintance. "Oh well," she thought sadly, "it doesn't matter now. I lost."

As she dipped a cloth in the water in the basin on the dresser and scrubbed at her face, the house suddenly erupted in a violent shaking and an imperative shout echoed and bounced throughout all the chambers of the house.

"What the h___" HindaElla screeched, dropping the cloth and racing down the stairs. She stared open-mouthed and slack-jawed at the sight that met her eyes. She was not alone in her stupefaction. All those in the room stood frozenly rooted in place. All but the Prince.

He stood firmly in the center of the room, a blunderbuss, still smoking from it's firing, firmly held in his hand. "Silence!" he roared. And silence there was. The King, refusing to believe his eyes and ears, took a step towards the Prince but stopped as the blunderbuss was lowered, pointing directly at the King's heart. And no one noticed that in one corner the Queen and Mrs. Gottenmuter, nervously holding onto each other's fingers, chewed their lips and looked at the Prince anxiously yet hopefully.

HindaElla shook her head as if she were seeing things, but when she looked again the picture was still there: the Prince, her Prince, was scowling. And HindaElla could swear that he had grown at least 3 inches since she had last looked at him.

"I am not happy with any of you right now.!" his voice dripped with scorn. "How dare you decide for me what is right for me!" He turned and marched with vigor over to Mrs. Gottenmuter. "Give me those damned shoes" he commanded. And Mrs. Gottenmuter silently did as she was ordered and took off the shoes and gave them to the Prince. And as he turned and strode away he did not see the little tear of joy that ran from her eye, nor the brief prayer of thanks that she offered up.

He cocked the blunderbuss, tossed the first shoe high in the air, took aim and fired. The sound of shattering glass released the crowd from its stupor and they all dived for cover. The second shoe followed the first and was blown into oblivion. "So much for glass slippers" the Prince announced.

"I have already chosen my Princess and you can all like it or lump it. Frankly, I don't give a rats..." The frog quickly covered the Prince's mouth with its foot and frantically whispered into the Prince's ear. "Oh, right," the Prince muttered. He began anew. "The only Princess I want is the one my heart chose."

He strode over to the stairway, where HindaElla stood as if in a trance. "HindaElla, I would sure consider myself the luckiest man alive if you would be my wife, my Princess." Belatedly it occurred to the Prince that perhaps he should have had some gift prepared to give to HindaElla to mark his sincerity. Unfortunately no bauble or piece of jewelry did he have. But being resourceful, the Prince pulled the frog off his shoulder and held it out on his hand in front of HindaElla. "Please accept this as a token of my esteem and of my true regard."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part XII

If the Prince heard HindaElla leaving he gave no indication. He was sunk into his own little world somewhere. He barely noticed when one of his frogs leaped up onto his knee and from there to his shoulder. "Blewit, blewit, blewit," the frog croaked into the Prince's ear. Absentmindedly the Prince scratched the frog under its chin and corrected "That's ribbit, ribbit, ribbit."

The frog could be forgiven for rolling its eyes. "I mean you blew it Princie boy."

The Prince blinked his eyes. He was being addressed by a frog! "Frogs don't talk," the Prince said. "It's not a part of their makeup."

The frog began to lose patience. "Listen Princie, you are so the wrong person to be telling me the facts of life. Look what a mess you have made of your own life!"

The Prince blinked again. "Me? What did I do? Everyone else has been making a mess of my life!"

The frog sat back on its haunches and stared the Prince straight in the eye. "So none of this is your fault? Tell it to the Marines!" The frog continued: "You know what? You aren't even smart enough to qualify to be a frog. You're just a...a...a great big horny toad!" the frog finished triumphantly.

The Prince looked dumbfounded. No one had ever spoken to him like this before! "My father has had men hung for less then this," he told the frog sternly.

"Yeah, well tell it to someone who cares Princie," the frog answered the Prince. Suddenly the frog changed tack. "You just gonna let her walk away like that?"

"She has to want to stay froggie," the Prince said sadly.

"So," the frog began nonchalantly, "did you give her a reason to stay?" The Prince looked blankly at the frog. Sighing, the frog elaborated: "Did you tell her you want her to stay?"

The Prince quickly searched his memory. " I told her not to leave me."

The frog was growing exasperated. "But did you tell her why you want her here? Did you tell her how much you enjoy her company? Did you tell her that with her you are free to say what you want without fear that someone will laugh? For heavens sake, did you tell her you like her?!" The frog gave a little frog-sneer at the Prince. "Oh no, that wouldn't do would it? What is she supposed to do? Read your mind? Get real Princie!"

"Then tell me what I need to do! I don't want to marry that Mutergotten person!"

"That's Gottenmuter, and listen up real closely Princie." With that the frog commenced whispering in the Prince's ear: "Do you know what women want? Do you know what men want? Pay attention!"

If the Prince's color went from green to bright red there was no one paying him enough attention to notice. All around him was the pandemonium of dozens of voices trying to settle the Prince's future. But the Prince was listening raptly to one little frog with a whole lot to say.

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part XI

In the far corner of the room the Prince and HindaElla each reacted to Mrs. Gottenmuter's showing of the shoes. HindElla turned sickly pale; the Prince got greener.

HindaElla was having to face facts; she might not have wanted to commit to anything but this was "her" Prince and someone else was muscling in on her territory. How dare Mrs. Gottenmuter! And here HindaElla had thought of her as a friend. The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. No one, but no one was going to take her Prince away from her without a fight! She was building up a full head of steam and her eyes glared rapier-sharp. Woe betide anyone who would get in her way. She was going to get her Prince back! And then she deflated like a balloon stuck with a nail. She had gotten a glimpse of the Prince sitting next to her.

He was sitting dejectedly, his hands and head on his knees. If he was breathing, it was almost imperceptible. He did not so much as move a muscle when HindaElla leaned closer to see if he was okay. Hope died in HindaElla's eyes. Her shoulders drooped and her spirits fell.

Determinedly, she pushed herself up from her chair and stood before the Prince. "Your Highness, allow me to wish you all happiness on your engagement to Mrs. Gottenmuter. You will, I know, excuse me if I leave now."

The Prince's head shot up. "You're leaving? You can't leave me here like this with them! Please, don't go."

HindaElla shook her head, sadly but definitely. She looked deeply into the Prince's eyes, but whatever she hoped to see was not there. All she she was grey despair. "I'm just one woman,Your Highness, even if I'm a strong one. Even a wonder woman sometimes get tired of fighting all the battles all by herself." She waited a beat and then another, but the Prince did not respond. HindaElla curtsied slowly and turned to leave.

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part X

An eerie silence settled on the crowded room. No one could wrench their eyes away from the sight of the glass slippers twinkling on Mrs. Gottenmuter's feet. Suddenly, with a sob, the Queen threw herself upon the King's chest. "Do something!" she whispered fiercely. "This can't be happening! You have to talk to your son!"

The hapless King could only shake his head. "Now he's my son? " The King thought long and hard. "Maybe if I call a conference of my councilors and we discuss the possibilities?" he finally offered.

"Men," the Queen muttered to herself. "Action needs to be taken and they establish yet another government committee to study the problem." The Queen wrenched herself away from the King and began to pace the floor agitatedly. Her perambulations took her close to Mrs. Gottenmuter's side. With her hand covering her face she whispered soto voce to Mrs. Gottenmuter "Now what?"

Under cover of a small cough Mrs. Gottenmuter whispered back the same way. "Now we wait."

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part IX

There was sudden silence in the room. The Queen gave a quick glance around and then nodded dismissively. "It's clear that no one in this room could possibly be a real princess. Just take the shoe and let's get out of here." She turned in a grand sweeping arc, muttering under her breath about sending a boy to do a woman's work, and gave a startled grunt of pain as she ran into what felt like a brick wall and was propelled backwards. In trying not to trip she grabbed on to the first solid object she could find. This would be the King's arm.

Unfortunately this would be the same arm that was holding the glass slipper. As he instinctively raised his arm in protection, the King lost his grip on the glass slipper and it flew through the air, landing on the stone floor and shattering into pieces. For a moment no one could speak but only stare in horror at the sparkling shards that littered the floor. The Queen found her voice first. "What the h..." she began.

"Hello Loose Lips," Mrs. Gottenmuter calmly said. "I thought it was you the other night, but the hair color threw me off. Nice shade though. Clairol?"

The Queen was turning an alarming shade of purple and she opened her mouth to speak.

"There, did you all see it?" Mrs. Gottenmuter punctuated her question by pointing to the Queen. All heads swiveled in the Queen's direction. "Just like when she was a girl. Every time she would get ready to tell a lie her nose would kind of twitch and her eyebrow would start to arch."

The entire room stared at the Queen's face. Indeed there was a tiny twitch in the Queen's nose and a raise to her eyebrow. The King was heard muttering, "She told me it was caused by allergies."

The Queen quickly marshaled her wits and decided that the best defense would be an offense. "Look what you have done!" the Queen yelled, pointing at the pieces of the broken slipper. "Thanks to you my son will never find his true princess!" Murmurs of assent began to circulate throughout the room.

"You always did make a fuss over nothing," was Mrs. Gottenmuter's answer as she came more fully into the room. "Just what in heavens name is so important about a glass slipper?"

"Of course it's important!" the Queen yelled. "Everyone knows that only the true princess could fit that shoe! It's the true litmus test and now you have ruined everything!"

"So let me get this straight. If a girl can wear the glass slipper then she is for sure the right princess and nothing else matters?"

"Of course," answered the Queen.

Mrs. Gottenmuter stepped firmly into the center of the room and with one hand swept her skirts up off the floor. "Be careful of what you wish for Queenie," and she pointed to her feet. There, in all their splendor, was a perfectly matched pair of glass slippers.

A gasp arose from the crowd.

To Be Continued

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part VIII

The prince stared in real puzzlement at HindaElla: "The voice is the voice of my princess, but the hands and the rest..well they look like someone else. Still..."

While the prince stood lost in obviously puzzled thought HindaElla took the opportunity to look, really look at the prince. It was the first time that she had seen him in the clear light of day. The sparkling lights of the ballroom had blinded her to some things that now became evident. He hadn't grown any taller overnight but without her stiletto heels on she found herself looking up at him. And his eyes were a startling green! Actually, HindaElla mused, all of him seemed to be a startling green as his whole skin tone seemed to be taking on a faint green pallor. "Are you okay Your Highness?" HindaElla asked concernedly.

The Prince sighed. He had hoped she wouldn't notice. "I turn green whenever I have to talk about it," the Prince finally admitted.

"It?" HindaElla queried.

"Finding a princess," the Prince returned reluctantly. "It happens every darn time."

"You must find that very difficult Sir," HindaElla said soothingly.

The Prince gave a heartfelt sigh. "Yes, yes I do. It's not easy being green."

What HindaElla might have answered was lost as the Prince's coat seemed to come alive, undulating and writhing as if possessed by spirits. "Whoo boy, I totally forgot how much they hate being confined. Hang on." With this he unbuckled the deep pockets on his coat.

A battalion of frogs erupted from the pockets, leaping high to escape their confinement. Some landed on the Prince; most landed on HindaElla. They scrabbled up her long tresses, covering her head and blocking her vision.

"Where are you Prince?!" HindaElla called, with more than a little panic in her voice. "I can't see you!"

"Relax HindaElla. They like you. They're just giving you a little kiss of gratitude that they are free." "Funny," the Prince thought to himself. "I've never been jealous of a frog before."

At last the frogs became bored with kissing HindaElla and lept off her head. She was about to let loose with a scathing comment about morons who go looking for a wife with frogs in their pockets when she caught a glimpse of the Prince's face. There was more than a little yearning clearly etched on his it. HindaElla's wrath subsided immediately and she looked speculatively at the Prince. "I guess, Your Highness, I have to kiss a lot of frogs before I can find a Prince."

Just then the door to the house crashed open as the Queen strode imperiously into the room. "Just what is going on here?" she demanded in harsh tones.

To Be Continued

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mother Goosed: The Tale of Hinda Ella--Part VII

HindaElla found her way exhaustedly to her fireplace sleeping niche. She was asleep almost instantly, although strange visions of frogs holding lances while riding horses wafted their way into her dreams.

Early in the morning the peace of the sleeping villagers was disturbed by the sound of a royal herald trumpeting his way through town. "Hear ye, Hear ye. His Royal Highness, Prince O'mydreams, will be coming through the village today looking for his lost love. All village maidens are to hold themselves in readiness for his arrival."

HindaElla's stepsisters came squealing down the stairs. "He's coming," they yelled. "He's coming." There was a crafty look on both their faces. "Another chance to catch him."

"Look at my hair!" one screeched and headed back up the stairs for a bout with the curling rods.

"I've broken a nail!" wailed the other sister, and ran in search of an emery board.

HindaElla remained where she was, among the cinders of the fireplace. "No way I am getting into that darned dress again just because he decides that today is a good day to come looking," she thought. "Just because I was silly enough to say 'some day my prince will come' doesn't mean it has to be today."

The morning passed all too quickly for HindaElla's stepsisters and not nearly slowly enough for HindaElla. But finally the sound of the royal clarion could be heard as the Prince and his entourage stopped in front of HindaElla's house.

A quick knock on the door and then the royal party entered into the house. "My son has seen all the maidens of the village this morning. Only your daughters are left," the King told HindaElla's stepmother. "Bring forth your daughters.

The sisters had been waiting on the stairs and, pushing and shoving each other, they burst into the room. "It's me Prince!" the oldest one yelled while batting her eyelashes and tossing her newly curled hair.

"No, it's me!" the second sister countered while waving her fingers newly tipped with Pink I'm a Princess by Maybelline.

"Sorry, girls, not how it's going to go," said the King. He then withdrew from his pocket the glass shoe that was the only clue to the real princess being searched for. "If you fit this shoe then we'll talk."

Dismay was written on the sisters' faces. They glanced at their tiny little feet and at the size of the glass slipper before them. The eldest summed it up when she said, "That's going to be a mighty big shoe to fill."

From her vantage point on the fireplace ledge HindaElla gave a short little laugh. "Bigger then you think sister dear."

Try as they might, the two stepsisters could not get the shoe to stay on their foot. One tried stuffing tissues into the toe, and one tried stuffing tissues into the heel, but the clearness of the crystal showed up their tricks.

Despondent, the Prince and the King headed towards the door. "Wait," the stepmother called out. "There is one more young maiden in the house here. She is the daughter of my late husband." And with that she called loudly "HindaElla come here now!"

For just one second HindaElla debated pretending that she had not heard, but she recognized the note in her stepmother's voice that said "Don't obey and you will be very sorry." Well, they'd have to take her just as she was, and she stepped into the parlor and faced the crowd gathered there.

There was an astonished silence that greeted her. She had casually looped her hair back into a ponytail, and there were dried rose petals stuck here and there. She'd dressed for comfort in a long denim skirt and a fleece hoodie with a picture of Sir Ragamore emblazoned on the front. And there were cinders and soot on her face and her hands. She made altogether a rather unenticing picture.

The King shook his head. In no way could this be the fairy tale princess of the ball. He turned and beckoned to his son that they were leaving. As they reached the door HindaElla spoke for the first time. "They're such an interesting color of green."

The prince froze in his tracks and then spun around. In three short strides he stood in front of HindaElla. "And how did Sir Aggravain do at the last tournament?" he asked?

HindaElla shrugged her shoulders dismissively. "You mean with his lance?"

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part VI

"Wow," the Prince exclaimed. "I hear bells!"

"Err, your Highness, I believe that is the clock striking the hour."

"No, it's bells," the Prince answered just that little bit condescendingly, but dutifully turned to look at the clock on the wall. HindaElla saw her opening and scurried off, or at least went as fast as she could wearing those ridiculous shoes. She had had enough; no ball should last this long. And even princes had a disconcerting habit of turning into pumpkins around about midnight. Besides, Mrs. Gottenmuter had told her "Leave him wanting more. The Prince has to do the chasing."

As she hurried through a side door and out of the ballroom one of her crystal shoes wrenched free, but HindaElla had no time to stop and look for it. "Good riddance to bad rubbish," she muttered. Mrs. Gottenmuter had the carriage waiting by the door and HindaElla leaped in and slammed the door shut. The carriage took off in a hurry, speeded on its way by the echo of "Where is she? Where is She?" that wafted out of the ballroom's open windows.

Once safely ensconced back in Mrs. Gottenmuter's house, HindaElla broke out into frenzied speech. "Please, please tell me it's not always like this?!"

Calmingly, Mrs. Gottenmuter offered HindaElla a cup of Chamomile tea and a question: "What is not always like this my dear?"

"Meeting a Prince!" HindaElla answered frustratedly. "I don't think I can go through with this again!"

"Well then, don't," said Mrs. Gottenmuter.

Hinda Ella stared at her incredulously but with just a glimmer of hope shining out of her eyes. "You mean I can stop looking for a Prince? I can just do what I want?"

Mrs. Gottenmuter shook her head. "No my dear. I mean take the Prince you found tonight. The thing about princes, you see, is that they are mostly the same under the skin."

"Not much of a romantic, are you?" HindaElla muttered.

"Oh? Is it romance you want?"

"Well least sort of...oh I don't know!"

"There are men," Mrs. Gottenmuter admonished "who will admire your looks in verses of measured poetry. They will prate on and on about your goodness. They will promise you that they will hang the moon just for you."

"Why do I think there is a "but" in there somewhere?" HindaElla asked.

"BUT" Mrs. Gottenmuter continued, "they can't change the wheel on a coach worth a damn and they are totally useless when the thatch on the roof catches fire. All poetry and no practicality."

"So that's it?" HindaElla asked plaintively. "Either you get the poetry or you get the practical but you can't have both?"

Mrs. Gottenmuter soothingly patted HindaElla on the shoulder. "There's true poetry in the practical. The man without pretty speeches but who does what needs doing is living his poetry." Mrs. Gottenmuter drew HindaElla towards the door. "Come my dear, it is time that you returned home."

As she left HindaElla at her home Mrs. Gottenmuter spoke softly to her. "Get some sleep my child. And dream of your true Prince." She turned and left HindaElla, all the while patting the crystal shoe hidden deep in the pocket of her cloak.

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part V

HindaElla gave a quick look around the ballroom from under half-lowered lashes. Mrs. Gottenmuter had warned her strictly before they left for the ball. "Beware of false princes my dear! It takes a lot more then tall, dark and handsome to make a prince! And a lot more then just being wealthy too!"

Surveying the crowd HindaElla could see that what Mrs. Gottenmuter said was true. There were an awful lot of wannabe princes preening for her attention. There was an awful lot of ostentatious wealth on display. Just where was her true prince hiding?!

She finally spotted the rightful Prince half hidden by a potted palm tree. Oh, he was dressed in fine clothing all right, but no coat or pair of pants was going to add inches to someone who was not tall, nor subtract inches from someone who was just that slightest bit pudgy. But of more importance to HindaElla was the look in the Prince's eyes and the smile on the Prince's face: he looked as if every wish he had ever made was coming true, and he looked as if he was sure that somehow it was all going to be snatched away before he could ever get close enough to compete.

HindaElla snapped the fan shut and purposefully strode over to where the Prince was standing. She dropped a graceful curtsy, and extended her hand to the Prince. "Your Highness," HindaElla purred, "I have been searching for you for what seems like forever. Perhaps you would care to dance?" With that HindaElla gently tugged the Prince onto the dance floor.

Mrs. Gottenmuter had been right: HindaElla didn't have to be able to talk in the ballgown. The Prince seemed unable to speak at all, although HindaElla could hear him muttering under his breath "One, two, three, turn, one, two, three, turn."

The band played on and on. No one dared to disturb the Prince and HindaElla. Somewhere around the fourth waltz the Prince got the hang of the rhythm of the dance and was able to converse in a more sensible fashion. "Do you like frogs?" the Prince blurted out. "I think that frogs are just so cool. I've been reading all about them."

"Thank you Mrs. Gottenmuter," HindaElla thought to herself, plastering a fresh smile on her face. "Why yes," HindaElla told the Prince, "frogs are such an interesting color of green."

The Prince gazed down at HindaElla adoringly. "She loves frogs!" the Prince thought to himself joyously. "And did you see how Sir Aggravain used his lance in the last tournament? I mean, what power in just one move!"

"Umm hmm," HindaElla dutifully murmured.

"She likes tournaments!" the Prince thought exultantly. And he eagerly spoke to HindaElla of his horse, and of his last fishing trip and of his new halberd and of the roasted deer that he particularly liked for dinner.

And so the evening progressed. And then the clock began to strike the hour of midnight.

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part IV

"Positioning is everything," Mrs. Gottenmuter had advised HindaElla. "You have to stand out from all the rest." Thus they arrived after all the others.

Standing at the top of the stairs leading down into the ballroom HindaElla took a quick glance around. What she saw was a sea of black, pure unrelieved black. Not a single girl in the kingdom had chosen a gown of any other color. Oh, the cuts of the gowns were a bit different, and maybe the trim, but pretty much every girl looked just like all the others. Mrs. Gottenmuter gave HindaElla a "See I told you" look and then stepped to the side as HindaElla began her descent down the stairs.

The whispers started almost immediately. The girls were none too pleased at what they saw coming down towards them, but were unanimous in their belief that the girl gliding down the stairs so gracefully was no competition. "Doesn't she know what the rules about dressing for a ball are?" was heard frequently. Most turned around from the shameful picture they believed HindaElla presented. Not so the men at the ball, but it has ever been thus.

To a man they stood and gazed with rapt attention at the vision coming down the stairs. Yes, a true lady, from the top of her beautifully coiffed hair to the tips of her shining shoes. But oh what a lady! The ringlets of her hair, held back only by a perfectly placed red rose bud over each ear, cascaded down her back, swaying gently with each step she took. Rose-tinted lips half-smiled under blue eyes artfully enhanced to look like twin sapphires. Her gown, a masterful creation of pure white and ruby red, molded to perfection the gifts that nature had so clearly bestowed upon her. From one delicate wrist dangled a fan of finely carved ivory, suspended from the wrist with a chord of woven diamonds. The other hand held up the skirt of her gown just enough so that she would not trip going down the stairs, and just enough so that the light from the chandeliers illuminated her beautiful crystal shoes and the daintiness of her ankles.

As HindaElla reached the bottom of the stairs there was a mad rush on the part of the gentlemen to get to her side. A cacophony of voices was heard clamoring "May I have this dance?" But HindaElla merely smiled and waved them off with her fan.

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part III

At last the day of the ball arrived, and in HindaElla's house pandemonium reigned. Both stepsisters were demanding and weepy by turn. Their mother had her hands full and could only nod apologetically to HindaElla. Mrs. Gottenmuter, having anticipated all, arrived early and whisked HindaElla away. The stepmother gratefully thanked her: two girls getting ready for the ball was one too many--adding a third would be terrifying.

All the single girls in the kingdom arrived at the castle in a mad rush. The ball was called for 8:00, but by 7:00 carriages were already lined up outside the castle door. From the vantage point of the upper floor window of Mrs. Gottenmuter's house, HindaElla could see the tumult already in progress at the castle. "Shouldn't we be leaving?" HindaElla reluctantly asked.

"Come here HindaElla," Mrs. Gottenmuter requested, and HindaElla seated herself on a footstool at the kindly widow's feet. "It's time that we had that talk together."

HindaElla blushed furiously. "I know all about that already," she stammered.

Mrs. Gottenmuter sighed. "Not that talk, dear." She looked straight into HindaElla's eyes. "It's time that you learned all about marriage."

HindaElla looked confused. "Isn't that talk what marriage is all about?

Mrs. Gottenmuter shook her head and began: "What do men want? What do women want?" and so passed the better part of an hour.

It could be seen that HindaElla had a new look in her eye. Throwing her shoulders back and tossing her beautiful hair, she motioned to Mrs. Gottenmuter. "Let's do it!" she tossed over her shoulder as she descended to the waiting coach.

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part II

HindaElla, freed from the presence of a male in the house for the first time in her life, breathed of freedom deeply. Off came the fussy, frilly clothes. She liked puttering around the house, having a real talent for fixing things. She happily spent her day hammering and nailing and sawing.

Heating in her house always seemed to be a problem. The kitchen was warm enough but the bedrooms were always freezing. Worse yet, poor HindaElla had to share a room with her stepsisters, stepsisters who spent half the night talking and giggling about clothes and boys and what kind of furnishings they would buy when married. Not HindaElla's cup of tea at all.

When trying to fix the fireplace in the kitchen one day HindaElla discovered two important things: first, the warmest place in the house was the ledge by the fireplace, and so she determined to sleep there every night, and second, when she was all dusty from the cinders and ash from the fireplace no one seemed to comment incessantly about her looks. HindaElla was a smart girl and from then on she spent every night sleeping in the kitchen and every day covered in soot.

HindaElla's stepmother was not happy with what HindaElla was doing, but the woman was tearing her hair out trying to get her daughters married off. If HindaElla wanted to look like a street urchin then so be it, at least for now. The two sisters were older then HindaElla and took precedence. Two girls trying to find husbands at the same time was nerve wracking; three would be impossible. Days and nights were spent positioning the girls so that they would catch the right eyes. Nothing seemed to be helping, nothing.

One day there came a notice to the woodcutter's house that the King and Queen were holding a ball. The purpose of the ball was to introduce their son, the Prince, to all the eligible young ladies of the kingdom for the purpose of choosing one of them as his wife. Every eligible girl was commanded to attend the ball. The woman steeled herself for what was to come: her daughters would be overexcited until the ball came, and HindaElla would get that mutinous look in her eye and decide she wasn't going.

And so it was until fate took a turn. Into the neighborhood moved an elderly woman, by the name of Mrs. Gottenmuter. It was assumed she was a widow, for how else could she have amassed her obvious wealth and be living alone? The widow took an interest in her new neighbors, in HindaElla especially. And when news that HindaElla was balking at going to the ball reached her ears, she stepped in and took over.

What she said to HindaElla no one would ever know but there was a new light in HindaElla's eyes. The neighborhood reckoned that the widow must have used magic or witchcraft, for how else could she have persuaded HindaElla to change her ways. Clearly she must have waved a magic wand. What she waved was a platinum credit card with an unlimited balance.

The first step was a new hairstyle and makeup. Next up was a trip to a dress designer. "I can't breathe and talk at the same time in this dress!" wailed HindaElla. "It's too tight!" Mrs. Gottenmuter just told her that talking would be unnecessary and had the dressmaker pull in the bodice yet another inch. Finally was a trip to the shoemaker. "What's wrong with my boots," yelled HindaElla. "They're comfortable!" Mrs. Gottenmuter gave her just one look that quelled rebellion and then, at last, held up the perfect pair. Platform stilleto heels with an opaque crystal base. "You're joking," yelled HindaElla. Mrs. Gottenmuter glared and HindaElla gave in and put on the offending footwear. "I'm going to break my neck in these things! And if the Prince steps on my toes while dancing he's going to shatter the shoe!" Mrs. Gottenmuter was unmoved.

Finally crimped, and poked, and tinted and cinched, HindaElla caught a glimpse of herself in a full-length mirror. Her eyes opened wide. "Who is that?" she said, pointing at the mirror. "That, my dear," Mrs. Gottenmuter told her, "is the girl the Prince is going to want to marry above all others."

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed: The Tale of HindaElla--Part I

Once upon a time there lived a poor woodcutter and his wife and daughter. The woodcutter never seemed to be able to provide properly for his family as he had been expecting that his wife's parents would fork over a lot of money at his wedding, a circumstance that never materialized. Because he had no other way to make parnoseh, being sure that schooling was a waste of time, he was forced to do manual labor. This he laid at his wife's door every night. His wife took it for as long as she could, but when she got sick after having her only child, she had no will no push herself to live. Soon enough she died.

Normally the woodcutter would have been extremely upset to find that his only child was a daughter, but even this uneducated man could see the potential in the girl. She was stunning even as a small child. "Someone will pay for this one, and pay dearly," the woodcutter thought to himself.

On the death of his wife the woodcutter suddenly found himself forced to do women's work as well as his own, a state of affairs that didn't suit him at all, and so he looked around immediately for a second wife. His financial state did not keep him from being regarded as a good catch, as there were more women then men around. Within a few months he had landed himself a rich widow. Now this was how marriage was supposed to be. The fact that she came with two daughters of her own was a bit of a problem, but the way she looked in a sweater and the way her money looked when it was under his control went a long way toward resigning him to two more brats to raise.

Pity this poor second wife. Her first husband had married her for her looks as well. When she produced two daughters instead of two sons he was not well pleased, especially since the daughters, far from resembling their beautiful mother, were average at best. In fact, they resembled him completely in every way. So he set about, when he remembered them at all, to make sure they would compete well for husbands who would bring honor to him and take over the expense of keeping them up. They were dressed stylishly to attract attention and were well versed in the arts of dancing, light conversation and waving a fan just so. They thus developed a competitive streak, with others and with each other as well.

Just to keep up appearances the woodcutter would occasionally go out and pretend to do some work. As the woodcutter was daydreaming one day about his wife's money, he lost concentration and swung his axe wrong. Death was instantaneous. His poor wife was now left not only with her own children but with her second husband's daughter as well.

Poor woman. She tried, she really tried, but no matter what there was going to be no peace between the three girls. Her daughters recognized in HindaElla some real competition, and HindaElla, well HindaElla wanted no part of any of it.

To Be Continued

Mother Goosed

Quite a while ago on a different blog a conversation was held about the dearth of opportunities for the publication of Jewish literary writing. In throwing around some ideas I came up with the notion of a reworking of the classic fairy tales, to be called Mother Goosed.

The purpose for the classical fairy tales and for the folk tales they are based on was moral instruction. Women in particular were to learn what was and what was not acceptable behavior. We are familiar with the stock characters, in particular the wicked step mother and the fairy godmother. But what if the fairy tales lied? What if the underlying reality was a lot different then the fairy tales wanted us to believe? What if the male viewpoint were skewed?

What follows is my take of what the classical fairy tale of Cinderella would have been like if it were written as life actually was like instead of how the male authors wanted it to be like.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ideal Jobs or Work is a grim Fairytale

On occasion I have asked my students to describe the ideal job. They need to take into consideration schooling, training, hours, compensation, benefits and work conditions. Although my students are male, they also wander into female territory when describing the ideal job. Herewith some of their thoughts, and just a few of mine.

Schooling: Students are fairly unanimous in their convictions that most of their schooling is wasted time. They see no reason why they should be "forced" to take English, history, math, public speaking, science and all the other "core" or "required" courses when they are planning on becoming a __________. They believe that even the required courses in a major are too many. "No way we are ever going to use all of this" they say. Ideally they believe that a college degree should only require 60 credits, 30-40 of which are seminary or yeshiva credits.

They also believe that grades for courses should be abolished, using only "pass" or "fail," with the former preferred. "Grades foster competition" is one reason given for abolishing grades. "You focus too much on the grade and not enough on the learning" is another reason.

Training: The ideal job requires no formal training. Any practical experience necessary should be the kind that you get when you are already hired and working. Pre-job training such as internships, student teaching, and pre-certification-required hours waste time that a student would better spend "on the job." "A bright person will pick up what they need as they go along" is how they put it.

Hours: "There is no logic to having a 40-hour work week." That seems to be a unanimous conviction. The ideal job is one that takes only a few hours a day to complete. "9:00 AM is too early to start. I have to get up too early to make that starting time." Some reasons for the early rising are "I have to make a minyan that is very early and I can't get in any learning time in the morning" and "Not everyone is an early morning person. It takes me longer to get going in the early morning."

The workday also lasts too long. "Most of the stuff you need to get done on a job could be done in just a few hours. Everything else is just busywork that could be eliminated." "They give you work to do which a secretary should be doing. They're too cheap to hire enough support personnel." "They let you out of work during rush hour and so the commute gets longer. If a job had shorter hours you could get out early enough to avoid the rush." My favorite is "They don't take into consideration that frum Jews have other calls on their time and need a different working schedule. For instance, on Friday we all need to leave by 1:00 at the latest, although 12:00 would probably be better." "Yeah," another student pipes up. "We have to work on a taanis and on erev yom tov too." Conclusion: the ideal job is no more than 10-15 hours a week. It also never, ever requires overtime hours or weekend work.

Compensation: There is some debate on the ideal compensation. The accounting and finance majors have some pretty elaborate formulas they come up with for a starting salary. All agree, however, that anything under $60,000 a year to start is pretty chintzy. "Why bother going to school if that is all you are going to be getting?" the reasoning goes. They are also pretty quick to point out that raises should be automatic and at least twice a year. "Anything under 6% is an insult." They are also quick to trash "merit raises" as being at the whim of a boss, and you can't count on a boss to be fair.

Benefits: At a minimum all jobs should provide good comprehensive medical coverage, PPO not HMO, and should include dental, vision, and mental health coverage as well. Maternity coverage should be at 100%. The company should also provide at least a 401K at a minimum, with a 5% company match at a minimum. They should supply a pension plan, preferably with vesting at 6 years of employment.

Sick days should be unlimited. "How do I know how many days I'm going to need to be sick this year?" is the complaint. There should not be specific legal holidays that a company is closed. "Just give us the days to use as we want them." Vacation should begin with 4 weeks a year. They are divided on how to handle the days that need to be taken off for yomtov observance. What they do agree on is that "it is not fair" that they have to take vacation days for yomtov.

Work Conditions: Students also believe that a "good" firm will provide offices rather than cubicles for its employees. "There is no privacy in a cubicle!" they lament. One student volunteered that it is hard to concentrate on learning the Daf when he can hear everyone talking around him. It is also hard to have a private phone conversation in a cubicle. And it's difficult to play a computer game or surf the web or be on a blog when anyone could walk in on you at any time.

At a minimum offices should provide a refrigerator for employees so that they can keep their lunches and/or cholov yisroel milk cold. "Free coffee!" they all agree. Whose hashgachah is on the coffee is, however, a matter of debate. "I don't drink coffee," one student says. "It's only fair that they provide free soda for those of us who don't drink coffee."

For sure offices should provide a meeting room or some other enclosed, private space so that davening mincha could be with kavanah.

Females: Most of my students were quick to point out that males and females gravitate to different types of jobs. "Finance is a male thing," I am told. "Yeah, most girls don't go into accounting. I don't know any who have." Teaching or one of the therapy fields is what is most often suggested for females. When it is pointed out that starting salaries are far less then the $60,000 they believe is the minimum requirement for them, they are also quick to answer: "What do they need the money for? Most of them are going to quit working anyway pretty soon." One boy was being very generous: "I don't care what she does as long as it doesn't interfere with her being there for me and my kids and the house."

To sum up: the ideal job starts at $60,000 and is at $68,000 by the end of the first year. The ideal job is no more than 10 hours a week of work. The ideal job offers 40 days a year of vacation days, not counting leaving at 12:00 noon on every Friday and erev yomtov. The ideal job offers an office with a view and with privacy from intrusion. The ideal job offers all the comforts of home, shul and yeshiva.

"Come to think of it," one student offered, "the ideal job never has me going into the office at all. I can just get on my computer and send in what I have to." This same student, by the way, does not have the Internet in his home, and doesn't plan on getting it either.

Those boys who are already working are fairly quiet during the discussion of the ideal job. The ones who have just begun working side with the ones who have not yet gone to work. The ones who have been working for a while get a strange, knowing look on their faces. As one 28-year-old put it, "They're still kids." I couldn't agree more.

Should any of you happen to find this ideal job, please let me know. I have 4,788,912 applicants for that job. Hey, I'll put my name on the top of the list.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Truth or Dare

The truth or dare game was popular a while back. I refused to play because the answers to a lot of the questions that were asked were truly nobody else's business. It occurs to me, however, that a new version of the game needs to be brought out. The players are your parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins and married friends. Okay, you can also play with strangers.

Here are the questions that you have to ask.
1) Who was your actual shadchan? How did you find them?
2) Did you know this person well?
3) Did they know you well?
4) When the shidduch was red were you ecstatic, glad, so-so or really not happy about it?
5) On the first date did you hear bells/whistles or a chorus of nightingales?
6) Did your parents make you decide on the first date if this was going to be IT?
7)On which number date did you know for certain that this was the person for you?
8)Were you sure the other person felt the same way?
9)Was there something about the other person that still bothered you even after you were engaged?
10) Is your husband/wife exactly the same now in every way as when you got married?
11)Did marriage turn out to be exactly as you thought it would be when you got engaged?
12)How close is your spouse to the ideal picture you had in your head when you began dating?
13)What are the differences between that ideal picture and the spouse you have?
14) You might also ask the person to name 4 of the places they went out on a date to with the person they married, just as a memory test.

Okay, that's enough to start out with. Make sure you take a tape recorder with you, even if you never turn it on. It gets people nervous enough to open up. If the story sounds kind of "too" perfect, tell whomever you are interviewing that you are going to speak to their mother in law next. Amazing how the stories may change or differ.

Here's what I am willing to bet: the answers to the questions are going to surprise you. I think you will also discover that Prince and Princess Charming are figments of the imagination. You also might, just might, come to realize that getting married is not all that "simple" for anyone.

Report back what you find out please--I'm in the mood for some little horror stories.

Understanding and Acceptance

For a smidgen under 36 years my husband has never understood why red represents milchigs in our house and blue is fleishig. He tried early on to reason with me: red is the color of blood and milchig things aren't bloody. I merely smiled and served him his chicken on a cobalt blue plate and his waffles on a red-rimmed one. This really has not presented any marital difficulty for us, because despite his lack of understanding my husband accepted this as what I wanted. I could have pointed out--and actually did on a few occasions--that my mother in law had neither blue nor red in her kitchen: kitchen colors follow all the colors of the rainbow.

My husband doesn't believe in greeting cards. He sees no point in them and considers them a nuisance and just another way for Hallmark to grab money from the public. I don't understand how or why he feels this way; he can't understand why I like them. Understanding is not necessary; I have accepted that he doesn't want a greeting card for any occasion and he has accepted that I do want the card. It's not about understanding--it's about acceptance.

I made a comment on another blog that you don't need your spouse to understand you so much as you need them to accept you for who you are. People did not agree. Mostly single people did not agree. Perhaps I need to expand on the statement.

There are some areas where a couple need to "understand" each other in order for a marriage to be successful for both of them. Those areas are very few. Perhaps general beliefs about frumkeit fall in these areas. What is absolutely essential, however, is for a couple to accept each other, warts and all. My husband does not need to understand how I came to be a romantic, a believer in happy endings. He only has to accept that this is an integral part of me. Perhaps part of that acceptance is understanding that I am not going to change at this late date. I am not going to change that sometimes visible streak of cynicism that my husband has, nor can I understand where it came from. But then, I don't have to understand it: I long ago accepted that it is part and parcel of who he is. Because he loves me and because I love him we don't try to change each other.

We need to like who we are; there must be self-love and self-validation. But we also have the need for validation by others. We need to feel that we are accepted for who we are. We need to be secure that those closest to us are not judging us negatively. When a marriage is based purely on "understanding" your spouse, you are doomed to fall into the judgement trap. What cannot be understood, what is understood poorly or negatively leaves a spouse bewildered. Then come the questions such as "How did I marry someone who feels this way?" Or "That is the wrong way to think about things/feel about things."

Acceptance makes no value judgements except for the most important one: Acceptance says that what you have chosen to be is just fine with me. I don't need to understand it because I am not standing in judgement of you. Who you are, no matter what the underlying reasons, is who I have chosen to be with.

This does not mean that married people should never try to understand each other. It does mean that the understanding is irrelevant for the most part, particularly when understanding gets coupled with a desire to change the understood action or thought.

Yes, when I wanted to buy item X for the house my husband wanted to understand the reasons that X would be good for the house. That kind of understanding is part of basic communication between two people. But the fact that red is my favorite color does not require understanding on his part. The fact that I cry at sad movies does not require understanding. The fact that I am never ever going to buy something made in Germany does not require understanding. The fact that I love silver and crystal does not require understanding.

My hubby and I are very different and there are some who wonder how we could possibly have had a happy marriage for all these years given the differences. What these people fail to recognize is that we are identical in the most important things. We accept each other for who we are. We "understand" what is important for us. That's what love is all about.

William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments,
love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown,
although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool,
though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Sonnet #116.