Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A "Minor" Thing

We sometimes get so involved in looking at the "larger picture" that we fail to look at or appreciate the value of small things. When it comes to health and wellness we certainly do our share of worrying about the major things that can go wrong. Cancer and heart disease routinely get lots of attention. I'm not saying they shouldn't, but perhaps we need to be a bit more aware that it can be minor things that can throw us for a loop, at least in the short run.

Trip and skin your knee or elbow and nobody is suddenly going to put you on a tehillim list. You're more likely to get a comment of "Stop being such a baby!" if you complain that it hurts. Get a toothache and people might be a bit more sympathetic, but not by much.

Shabbos I had a klutzy moment and banged my thumb into the countertop. Now I've probably done this hundreds of times over the years, but this time the result was different. This time I cracked the nail all the way down into the nail bed and lost a huge chunk of nail. Big deal, right? Over the past few days I've discovered in just how many ways we count on and use our thumbs, especially the thumb on our dominant hand. (And no, I'm not even going to mention the pain this brings with it.)

Ever tried typing on a keyboard or using the key pad on a cellphone when one thumb is seriously bandaged up and bulky? Just typing this posting is taking a zillion times longer. Ever tried scrubbing and/or washing something or grabbing something or holding tightly on to something without your thumb being available, or that thumb getting in the way? Ladies out there can understand that getting dressed with a thumb like this is a challenge--just try putting on hose. Or putting on earrings. Just try making bread or cake dough with a thumb "missing."

My experience has shown me just how useful those thumbs are and just how much extra time and effort it takes if one of those thumbs is not available. I'm going to take my own advice and be far nicer from now on when someone tries to complain about one of these "small" happenings. Small is relative.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not Taken at Face Value

A few years back manufacturers of plastic storage containers for use in the kitchen began putting out what they labeled as "Disposable" containers. True, those manufacturers who produced the supposedly more long-lasting plastic containers were charging a lot for those products, producers like Rubber Maid and the like. But the prices that Glad and company were charging for these disposables wasn't always that cheap, although occasionally a bargain could be found.

However, here is the thing--just how are these containers really "disposables"? Haven't counted them all, but I believe just about every one of those disposables is still alive and well in my house after at least a few years of usage. They've been in the fridge, in the freezer, in the dishwasher and sink washed. The covers are still sturdy and fit tightly, the containers themselves are not warped, cracked or stained. The only ones that are not re-used for their intended purpose are the ones for Pesach, since I just don't have the space to store them with the Pesach dishes. But they weren't tossed--they just got used for chometz items during the year.

Sure, some of those containers leave the house--sending leftovers home with the kids, for instance--and I don't have to "worry" that a really expensive plastic container might never be seen again, but that's the exception, not the rule.

Point I'm making--given the longevity and usefulness of the less expensive "disposables," why spend on the more expensive plastic containers? Not sure that Glad et al really want customers like me, but there are a lot more like me out there.

Let the buyer be ware--just because a manufacturer tells you that something is one way doesn't make that true.

Note: and let's not even discuss what an environmental savings we have by not throwing out those disposables and clogging our landfills.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My How Time Flies

Forty years. Forty years living together with the same person, building a life together. Forty years of ups, downs and all the points in between as we navigate the shoals of life together. Forty years spent in discovering just who this person I married really is, to find out that while I know a lot, there is still a lot to discover--as time and circumstances change, we adapt and change, and it's still like being honeymooners, with the advantage that we already know that we can paddle our boat together in sync.

With deep gratitude to Hashem for allowing us to come to this point, and with hopes that He will allow us to travel on together, in freiden and gezunt. And yes, if forty feels this good, I hope that Hashem will allow us to find out just how good fifty years together will feel.

May you all be zocheh to achieve long years of happy and contented married life.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Adar, Mazal, Dagim

We've all heard that combination--Adar, Mazal, Dagim--but they've never come together for me quite like this week. Okay, there was a "fishy" posting up about a brand of salmon that was an excellent buy. And then it was Rosh Chodosh Adar. So what was the Mazal?

On Rosh Chodosh I was accidentally in the vicinity of a fish store, decided to drop in just to check what the prices were, and found one of those "Special, from 10:00 to 12:00" signs. Yup, the mazal kicked in, as it was 5 minutes to 12:00, and there was frozen flounder at 99 cents a pound--yes you read that correctly. Okay, there was a limit of "only" a pound, but since I was the only customer in there and it turned 12:00 and the sale was going to be over, they let me have three pounds. Not even sure if I was married yet the last time I saw flounder that cheap.

I have often touted the merits of having a big freezer. Being able to take advantage of sales like this one because I know I have the freezer space to hold the product can be a real plus, both in money savings and in not having to run out all the time to get supplies.

So yes, this week was truly Adar, Mazal, Dagim.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"P" is also for Preparedness

Those of you with a StopNShop market in your area might want to swallow your feelings about those "P" words that are upcoming, because it just might be "profitable" for you. The market already has its Passover products aisle up, and it's a double aisle in our market. Not only that, but about 2/3 of the products were on sale. If you have a place where to store those non-perishable products, then why not save some money now. Also will leave less to do before the Chag. Another plus is that the shelves are full and there's lots of variety. (Just an example: the Gefen large size salt-free tomato sauce {not the jumbo} was 3 for 89 cents today.)

Note also that Sanka coffee and Nescafe already have the OKP on them. Three different markets in our area had sales on those coffee brands over the past two weeks. If they go on sale in your area, it might pay to buy and put them away already.

Yes, "put away" for later is also a "P" phrase, and it also "puts" money into your pocket. Not all "P" words are "Perturbing."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Play on Words

I wish I knew who the author of the following is, because I'd like to congratulate them on seeing the "fun" in language usage and writing. Regardless, enjoy.

I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone. I've also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work. I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore. I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often. I've been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm. Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older. One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At this age I need all the stimuli I can get!

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Planned Ignorance

At least in New York State, private schools, a group into which yeshivot fall, must meet certain minimum requirements as set down by the Board of Education and the State and City. Students are required to be in school until they are older than 16 years of age. There are certain subjects that are required to be taught, and there are State examinations that must be passed for a State-issued Regents Diploma.

Once upon a time both male and female frum schools adhered to the State requirements in a way similar to the public schools. As regards high school, there were 4 years of secular instruction, covering all the subjects required by the State and then some. And yes, that was a full school year of that secular instruction. It was not uncommon for the high schools to offer AP courses or other advanced topic courses. No, not all students took these AP/advanced courses, but a large number of students did.

And then the male frum high schools started fooling around with the system. Why should the students--all the students--be "forced" to spend an entire senior year learning secular material? And so the first "adjustments" starting reducing the amount of time spent on secular studies in that senior year. Some schools simply shortened the amount of time in a day allotted to secular studies and increased Judaic studies to take up the slack. Other schools reduced the number of days during the school week that secular studies would be given, and again the slack was taken up by Judaic studies.

Time marched on and some of these male schools found new ways of changing the school secular studies structure. In some cases, if a subject was not going to be on an Regents Exam, the subject was no longer taught. Why give senior year math/science/history etc. if they didn't need it for the test. Other schools opted for a different solution. All the courses necessary would be given, but they would be reduced to 1-3 week "intensive seminars" that would cover all the material needed for the exams. Sometimes those "seminars" would be during the school year, and sometimes those seminars would be during the summer time, some of them taking place in summer camps.

So basically, the more to the right boys high schools don't have a senior year of secular studies. That year is devoted to learning limudei kodesh only. Yes, a few boys whose parents may insist and whose families are "dear" to the school will be offered some AP course type of instruction. It is not for the amount of time that a full-year school course would be offered, and almost without exception parents pay for what amounts to private or semi-private tutoring for these tests during school hours. A few of the schools will offer, again not to everyone and sometimes for an extra charge, "tutoring" for the SATs.

Now, what happens when you start fooling around with the senior year of high school? For one thing, schools look at the results and think to themselves "Well, there was no fallout or no major fallout from what we did, so maybe we could adjust some of the other years as well." And we see courses having their hours and days shortened, we see material not being taught at all. These boys yeshivot have taken "teaching to the test" to a new height of absurdity. Most of the schools don't eliminate secular studies altogether--not enlightenment on their part but a desire to keep getting the funds given to them by the State for various programs, money they wouldn't get if they weren't a "real" high school. But a lot of those schools also hire as secular studies instructors people who represent the "frumkeit picture" they want their students to see without any of the qualifications necessary to actually teach a subject. A lot of those instructors do not even have a college degree to their credit.

Note: elementary schools look at what the high schools are requiring from their students and they, too, "adjust" what they are teaching to their students. After all, if the high schools are not going to require certain courses, or are going to cut those courses to little bits of skin and bones, why should the elementary schools bother teaching material that the students won't need to get through high school?

What does this all add up to? Hundreds, no thousands of male students graduating high school without the knowledge, skills and attainment they need. To say that they are under-prepared to go out into the general working world is a gross understatement. To say that the majority are under-prepared for "real" colleges (as opposed to online diploma mills) is a doubly gross understatement.

Once upon a time, the frum community prided itself on the knowledge and brightness of its students in the secular studies arena. Sure, there are still some students and a few schools where that pride is not misplaced. But we can't say any longer that the majority of our male high school graduates are solidly educated in both limudei kodesh and limudei chol, because they clearly are not. And for this situation the blame must solidly fall on the schools, and then on the parents who continue to support these schools. No parents, you are really not getting what you pay for, and your children are going to pay the price down the road. Take off your "entitlement-colored glasses" and really see what is going to happen to your under-educated, under-prepared sons.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Something Fishy

Our local Pathmark had a new product I hadn't seen before. The brand is Cape Gourmet Wild Salmon fillets. It's a one-pound package. Each package has four pieces in it, individually vacuum sealed. The bones and skin have been removed, so it's pure fish fillet counted for the weight. It's under the Chof K. The package was being sold for $5.99 for the one-pound package. The fresh fish counter had wild salmon at $11 a pound, pre-frozen and thawed, skin still on--obviously the frozen package represents a bargain.

I tried the fish and it was delicious. And it really is convenient to be able to take out only as many servings as you need. If you like salmon but don't like the price of the fresh wild salmon, you might want to look and see if your market carries the brand.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Context Counts

Words have importance, but the context of where/how/when those words are said or written will affect how the words are understood. Thanks to a colleague who told me the following.

An immigrant to the US, originally from Europe, ran into his house highly agitated. He told his family that a terrible thing had taken place in Europe: the communists had invaded Italy and were murdering priests. The family gasped and asked how he knew this. He told them that he had seen it as the headline in a newspaper, in words two inches high.

So, what did this man read in the paper? "Reds Murder Cardinals." Yup, context counts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Strangers Among Us

Coming up soon are Purim and Pesach. These are two holidays that are associated with company. Certainly the Purim Megillah is full of examples of people holding feasts. And we are told for Pesach to proclaim "let all who are hungry come and eat." In far too many cases, however, this 'custom' of inviting is seen more in the breach than in the observance.

Most of the large communities of Klal are filled with people who are pretty much going to be alone for these holidays. Some are singles, living here now but from other places, places where their family still resides. Many will not be able to go home for Purim or Pesach. Some will be college students, some will be older singles working here. Some will be elderly people, perhaps without a spouse or any family living close by.

Some of those people might be couples, yet still alone except for each other. Some may be young couples who have recently moved to the community and have not yet developed any kind of social circle. Some may be older couples without family living nearby, or perhaps where friends have retired and moved elsewhere, leaving these couples fairly isolated socially.

And keep in mind that some of those alone may be ba'alei teshuvah or ge'rim whose families are not religious or Jewish, giving them no place to go for a holiday.

Regardless of how these people came to be alone, yom tov is an awful time to be alone. We Jews have always made much of gathering around a table to celebrate, gathering with others.

This year, plan ahead. Really open your eyes and look around your community. Is it really going to be such a hardship to set an extra plate or two at the table? Don't make assumptions that all these people surely will have someplace to be for yom tov. Ask! You're not sure who might be alone? Ask the Rav of your shul if there is someone who might want/need to be invited.

If we in Klal truly consider each other as "brothers," then let's get in the family spirit and invite those "brothers" for a seudah to share in the joy and simcha of yom tov. Now is the time to make your plans and issue the invitations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Where to Go on a Date

There's a new site up that has information on places to go when on a date, both in the NYC area and outside of it. It covers all kinds of places to go, including listings of restaurants. The site was begun by a couple of ex-yeshiva bochrim, and it points out that married people might also enjoy going to these places.

Kind of strange that I'd come across this site on 2/14, given the date's significance in the secular world as relates to dating.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jewish History 101--WWII and the Landau Family

I still wish the mispalelim at Rabbi Landau's shul in Midwood would look before dashing across the avenue to get to minyan, but an interesting story today about WWII, the Landau family and the shul

Affordable New York?

Hudi, on the "Times Change--do we?" posting asked a question about which were the affordable communities in the NYC area. Keep in mind that that is affordable relatively speaking to other areas in the City that are more expensive.

I'll throw this one out to my readers. Which community/communities would you suggest? Keep in mind the following when making your suggestions: 1)rental costs/costs to buy housing, 2)real estate taxes, 3)cost of commuting and type of transportation available, 3)cost of tuition in local elementary schools, 4)type of elementary schools available (coed, male, female), 5)high schools, if available, 6)if a high school is not available locally is there organized transport to such a high school(s), 7)types of shuls in community and full and complete charges for a year for a shul, 8)is there a kosher mikvah in the community, 9)is there a kosher butcher/bakery in the community or an alternative such as kosher departments in supermarkets in the community, 9)does the community play keeping up with the Joneses, so that community members may feel pressured to spend more than they really have in order to be "accepted,", 10)is the community "mixed" as to types of religious groups present or is one type dominant or the only type represented, 11)is the community a fairly new one, just establishing itself, is it fully established and thriving, is it older and needing a new influx of people to keep going.

If you think of anything else that should be included in the affordability factor, please say so. So let's hear it--what are the affordable communities in the NYC area.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

To Blog or not to that now the Question?

As I told my readers, I had some personal things going on that kept me from blogging regularly over the past few months. Some of those things have somewhat settled down; some have not. But I've noticed something strange. During that same time period, and even before it, a whole lot of bloggers who I read regularly stopped posting. And readership numbers, here and on the other blogs with hit counters, was decidedly down. Was it real life hitting all of us at the same time? Or is something else going on?

One person I asked said it was definitely real life and it was just a fluke that so many blogs aren't posting now. However, more people told me that it was that blogs--posting and commenting--are "getting kind of old." Blogs are becoming passe for many. Why? The answer given was that more people find the other types of social networking sites easier, sites like Facebook and the option to Twitter.

I suppose that all the answers I got could be legitimate. My feeling about the social networking aspect, however, is that Facebook and Twitter are kind of the iceberg lettuce of social networking--sure you can fill up on them, but they really are kind of bland and boring, and not all that "nutritious." Occasionally a stray "veggie" pops up on them, but that's not really their purpose. The blogs are far more like a mixed green salad, with different kinds of greens, different kinds of veggies, different dressings and accompaniments. Yes, it takes more effort to eat that "bigger" salad, but it also gives more enjoyment to the one doing so in the long run. No, not everyone is going to choose to put Kale into their salad, both readers and posters. Fine. But at least it's available when or if you want it. Here's the thing as well: in addition to salad, a whole lot of blogs offer all the main course dishes as well, in wide variety.

So what say you? Is blogging--writing and reading--no longer the "in" thing to be doing, no longer the satisfying activity it once obviously was, or is it really that real life has struck a whole lot of blogs all at the same time, and things will be back to "normal" soon?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Another Plus for Reading

Let's spend Tuesday morning with a subject that strikes fear into the heart of many--Alzheimer's Disease. This condition has become prevalent enough that even if you don't know someone personally who is suffering from the disease, you know someone who knows someone who is. It can be a dark spectre hanging over our heads as we grow older--will we be one of those who get this disease?

A study released last week has some good news for all of us. While Alzheimer's cannot yet be cured, scientists are finding evidence that it can be prevented. And that preventative method should start now, when we are younger.

"Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and memory loss in adults, particularly those above the age of 60. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of a particular protein called amyloid in the brain. Most normal people have a small amount of this protein in their brain, and it is thought that the accumulation over one’s lifetime that may result in the disease."

What did the study find seemed to have kept amyloid levels low in older, healthy adults? "They found that people who did more reading, writing, and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease."

“Your lifestyle over the course of your lifetime may be critical in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” University of California-Berkeley researcher and study author Dr. Susan Landau said.
"They found that people who did more reading, writing, and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Landau explains that game playing can be anything that stimulates the brain — whether it is a game of Sudoku, a crossword puzzle or even Angry Birds."

In addition, Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said: " physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is 'conceivable that the benefits of physical exercise are partially or wholly due to the increased brain activity used to control muscles.”'

There you have it: a good reason for getting you and your kids to the library and encouraging reading on a steady basis. A good reason for encouraging kids to write and yes, to play games that stimulate the brain. A good reason to make physical exercise a part of our lives. May sound a little strange, but that old prescription reading "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning" should now be "Read two chapters in a book and you won't have to call me in the morning."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Times Change--Do We?

I've mentioned before that when my first child started yeshiva, the cost was $300 a year for full tuition. Yes, you read that correctly. And the cost of my first apartment in Brooklyn was $125 a month for a 4-room apartment. Hamburger and chicken were both in the 19 cents a pound range. Fruit store apples and large tomatoes might cost you 4-5 cents a piece. Milk was in the 20 cent per quart range.

Salaries? I had a graduate fellowship that paid me $135 a week, for which I also taught undergraduate courses. My hubby was making $125 a week for a full-time job while going to school to get his BA four nights a week. CUNY was free at the time, costing only $15 a term in registration fees, so students graduating college from CUNY were not going to be in mega debt for their education. A few years later after my hubby graduated and he changed jobs he was making the "incredible" salary of $16K a year. I wasn't working full time then because I had two kids and a third on the way. Yet, on that money we could afford to buy a house, pay the expenses, pay our first tuitions, eat, and yes, put away a little money in savings. Granted, a lot of today's "necessities" such as cellphones and cable television and the Internet and computers just weren't there, so budgetting was easier.

Now fast forward to today. in 37 years the cost of tuition has gone from that $300 a year to $10-18K a year. In 40 years that chicken has gone up to $1.99-3.29 a pound, more than 10 times as expensive. Yes, obviously there has been inflation in that 40-year period, and I don't expect that everything today should cost just what it did back then.

But here's the thing--look at salary ranges today. A starting salary in my husband's field today is in the mid $30K range. An entry-level accounting job advertised through the school's placement office is in the $30-40K range, and there are no benefits being given. Look at a frum couple around four years after marriage and here's what you are likely to see. Two children and possibly three already. The first of those kids is already heading to school, possible the second as well. And even if we were to say that both husband and wife are working, bringing in anywhere from $50-80K per year total? Start adding up the "required" expenses and that money is being stretched to the breaking point. If the wife isn't working, there is no money to stretch--this couple cannot afford its expenses.

Yes, I know that there are some who will make far more than those starting salary figures given. And maybe some of them will not have any debt problems, and maybe some of them will, depending on the number of children, the type of home purchased and where it was purchased, the tax bracket, the cost of tuitions in their area etc..

In short, the time today is not like the time when I got married. Costs are different and the expense to salary ratio is different. What is not different are the expectations of couples getting married today. They expect they will have what their parents had and then some.

The sad but true fact is that the times have changed, and our expectations will have to change as well, whether we like it or not. We "expect" to have large families? And they will be paid for using what? We expect that all our kids will attend yeshiva through elementary school, high school and that "required" year in Israel? Their tuitions will be paid for using what? Those houses that are big enough to comfortably accomodate those large families will be paid for using what? Those costly simchas will be paid for using what? Those electronic gizmos and all the other "must haves" will be paid for using what?

Compromise and accomodation are apparently two words not in the Jewish dictionary, at least not yet. They are going to have to become part of our language because it has become more than clear that a whole lot of Klal cannot afford to live without massive debt or handouts. Change is going to have to happen, and the sooner the better.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sometimes You Can't Win

We had multiple brisim today so hubby and I had to split up and head in different directions. At the first bris I was at, I was just plain thrilled to see family and old friends I hadn't seen in years. The parents of the newborn were beaming and the grandparents were also beaming. As far as I'm concerned the bris was just "perfect." Yes, there was a seudah after the bris, and it was breakfasty type foods. Frankly, getting up and having to travel a long distance very early on a Sunday morning is not what I'm used to, and that early I just wanted something to break the night's fast--I wasn't looking for a cordon bleu meal presentation.

Apparently there were some people who were expecting that "Uber" meal. I overheard a few people comment that there "wasn't enough to eat at the meal, not enough variety, not enough of the "classy/expensive" items" at the meal. And then there was "When people have money like these people do they have to treat their guests better." I was floored at the comments. No one but no one was going to go away hungry from this meal if they wanted to eat. It was presented buffet style and you took what you wanted to eat. Just what were these people expecting at 8 something in the morning?! And because the baalei simcha have money means that they have to show that by an over-produced meal? (Just so you know, there was smoked fish and lox and tuna salad, a variety of rolls, spreads, sliced cheeses, an omelette making station, raw sliced veggies, juices and tea and coffee and cake.) Were people perhaps expecting champagne and caviar for breakfast? No, there weren't 58 varieties of herring. So what? There was plenty to eat without there being an overwhelming amount of food.

To be fair, most of those there, the majority of those there, were perfectly happy with what was out there to eat--frankly, most people were more interested in speaking to their neighbors at the table than in what was for breakfast. And yet, those comments from the minority rankled. They rankled because we hear that type of comment all too often. They rankled because the speakers are more than willing to pass on their nasty comments to others who weren't at the bris. They rankled because they are a gross breach of etiquette. The only comment necessary, to host and hostess and to other guests, is "Thank you for inviting me. The meal was delicious." That and "mazal tov."

Perhaps before we go looking to put a course in economics and budgeting into our yeshiva school systems, we should establish a course in etiquette and good manners. There are apparently some in Klal who are sadly lacking in that area.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Treat for Our Feathered Friends

Just a little reminder that there is a custom to feed the birds for Shabbos Shira. I'm looking forward to seeing my feathered friends come down for their Shabbos treat. Just one thing: if you know that there are cats in your area, place whatever you are giving the birds higher up so the cats can't get to the birds.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lying in Writing

Having a few minutes of down time, I went back to look at the postings I put up in the first few months of the blog. I think I was looking to see if anything had changed in the past 4-1/2 years. Sadly to say, a whole lot of things are just the same, and some are worse. It seems to be my week for wedding-related postings, and one from September 2007 is still pertinent--maybe even more pertinent. So many people are making a mockery of the kesubah: they sign it full well knowing that they won't be honoring all that is within it.

Does the kesubah really have any standing as a legal document or is it more of a customary thing, observed more in the breach than in the practice? Read the posting at the link above and you'll see just which line from the kesubah is getting my dander up.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wants? Needs?

Given the discussion on wedding expenses and about luxuries and necessities in general, you might find of interest this article from Reason Magazine that I have on occasion assigned to the composition classes in my college. The article is entitled "Needing the Unnecessary: the democratization of luxuries."