April showers mean lots of reading

This month began with a quick escape… Mr. B and I went to Cabo for 4 days and truly relaxed and connected.  It was heavenly and VERY hard to come back to reality.

We finished the pool, built a pergola and completed landscaping the backyard, made SG’s summer schedule (the number of days left of school is in the teens!), and hosted a big Passover seder.  I’ve been busy (shocking) finishing up various volunteer commitments… and putting together more puzzles.

The Bookshop on the Corner: A Novel by Jenny Colgan

Nina is a young librarian who has only always wanted to match the right book to the right person. Since losing her library job, the next best thing, to her, is opening a mobile bookshop.  Not too much substance here, but a good story about romance, changing your life for the better, and starting over.

There was a universe inside every human being every bit as big as the universe outside them. Books were the best way Nina knew—apart from, sometimes, music—to breach the barrier, to connect the internal universe with the external, the words acting merely as a conduit between the two worlds.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

I could write a post about this book alone! It is part memoir, part social science, and 100% true-to-life funny.  I read this on our weekend couples escape and Mr. B and I were laughing out loud at the observations and truth behind Dunn’s words.  Whereas before kids, the Dunn couple shared household tasks equally, they quickly slid into traditional gender roles after their baby arrived.  And the resentment started to build.  

I feel like he’s a guest at the hotel I’m running. I’m constantly taking a silent feminist stand to see if he’ll step up and lend a hand. The scorekeeping never ends… And so I fume, and then unleash the beast at the slightest provocation. A typical scenario: I am in the kitchen, simultaneously cooking dinner, checking our daughter’s homework, and emptying both her school lunch bag and the dishwasher. Tom heads into the kitchen and I brighten—Oh, good, some help!—but no, he is only wending through the typhoon in order to reach the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of wine.”

First, Dunn reviews the statistics: that though men are doing much more of their share of the household tasks, it is still far from equal.  Next, they visits many specialists to try to resolve her resentment and anger and to help her husband see the need to contribute more at home.  In the end, after consulting psychologists, sociologists, time management consultants, and other researchers, they come to some solutions.    They change how they see their roles (“Home life is a functioning business, albeit a weird twenty-four-hour diner/daycare/hospital type of business,” how they can specifically deal with conflict, how they help each other, and how they negotiate and make continued effort to function better.

The book is full of anecdotes like this one:

“Comedian Dena Blizzard, a New Jersey mom, says she would bristle when her husband would return home from work, look around at the chaos wrought by their three children, and ask her, “What happened here? Who pulled all this stuff out?” “Every day, he would say it,” she tells me. “I’m like, ‘Oh, this? Yeah, I pulled all this shit out. I was really bored today, so I thought I’d throw everything on the floor.’” Then he would follow with the question dreaded by stay-at-home mothers worldwide: What did you do all day? “I did a hundred things, but none of them added up to anything,” Blizzard says. “I vacuumed, I called Poison Control because my son ate a plant, and I think I took a shower. I’d tell him, ‘We have three kids. This is as far as we got.’ He would always be surprised. It was hard not to want to punch him in the face.”

We know that women do countless invisible tasks… One is “kin work,” which Smock defines to me as “giving emotional support to relatives, buying presents and sending cards, handling holiday celebrations, things like that…” Then there’s “emotion work,” the constant checking on the wellbeing of everyone in the household: Is your tween still feeling excluded in the school cafeteria? The dog seems under the weather—is it time to get his kidney medication refilled? Did your husband hash out that issue with his boss? Yet another kind of invisible work is called “consumption labor”—buying the kids’ underwear and school supplies, researching the car seat and the high chair. “This often falls to the woman,” says Smock, “unless you’re talking about big-ticket items like a large-screen TV and the refrigerator.” Let us not forget the schlepping: a study in the journal Transportation found that women shoulder most of the load in the drearily named “average daily household support travel time” category (the school run, grocery shopping, hauling kids to piano lessons). Women do this an average of eleven minutes more per day than men—even when both spouses are breadwinners. Perhaps the least visible but most pervasive job is that of household manager. “That one is constant,” Smock says. “It’s the person who remembers everything: that Joey needs to have a dentist appointment, what foods each child likes, that a babysitter needs to be hired for the weekend. If a mother is handing her husband a grocery list, he is given credit for going shopping, but she has done the work of constructing the list. Giving direction to the husband is labor. It’s in every area in terms of childcare, and it’s always going on in your brain, even if you’re not aware of it.” And mothers resent it, says New York psychotherapist Jean Fitzpatrick. 

“In study after study, research indicates that—surprise!—when men take on their fair share of household responsibilities, their partners are happier and less prone to depression, disputes are fewer, and divorce rates are lower. The day-to-day labor of keeping a household running is a remarkably significant issue for couples: a Pew Research Center survey found that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages. This put it ahead of pretty vital basics like good housing, common interests, and “adequate income” (which ranks at number four). This rather amazing finding surprised even the Pew researchers, who said that in seventeen years of polling, no item on the list has risen in importance nearly as much. In other words, this issue is about more than laundry: it’s a direct depiction of the sense of fairness, or unfairness, that exists within a relationship. It touches on so many significant, and interrelated, issues: gender roles, money, respect, values, intimacy, tradition.”

So from this book, I learned how to better tell Mr. B what I need and how he could help, how to get Sweet Girl’s help much more often around the house, and to try to let some things go.  Highly recommend to parents but also people thinking of having kids… try to work some things out in advance and save yourself the struggles! (Well, at least these ones.)

The Bridal Chair: A Novel by Gloria Goldreich  

This is one of those easy ways to learn about the life of a painter… here we learn about Marc Chagall and the Paris art world before WWII through the eyes of his daughter, Ida. First she struggles for independence but ends up as the strong one on whom her family depends in Nazi-occupied Paris and the south of France.  And that is where I left them… I read about 1/3 of this book and honestly felt it should wrap itself up.  With there being so many books I want to read, I couldn’t justify “persevering” through this one.

However… I decided to skip a bunch of chapters and picked up again at chapter 44.  It was like reading about familiar people who I liked and knew, but in a completely different environment with new characters as well.  I finished it and was glad I read more.

She did not sleep well. Once again, frenetic dreams caused her to toss and turn, to awaken gasping for breath, her body awash in the sweat of nocturnal terror. In that nether world, she was racing, as always, but she was no longer a child clinging to her parents’ hands. It was her adult self, grown to a monstrous size, who propelled her much-diminished parents forward, their slow and belabored pace hampering her own progress. She lurched forward, hobbled by the burden of her father’s rolled canvases and the small awkwardly shaped bundles of her mother’s sorrows strapped to her back. Now and again, she tried to run, stooped though she was beneath her burdens, fearful of her pursuers who grew closer and closer. The hooves of their horses pounded as they gained ground.

But of course, who would not be intrigued by her father, that elfin narcissistic genius whose imagination soared and whose faith in his own power and prestige was indomitable? After all, she herself had revered him as an artist, marveling at the enormity and eclecticism of his talent. It had taken her years to confront his flaws, to recognize his foibles and frailties. She loved him still, but she saw him with a disturbing clarity.

The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb

A postwar love triangle between an American rabbi, his wife, and a German-Jewish refugee that spans about 70 years.  This one I also had to stop reading after several hours, finding myself only 25% of the way through the book and tired of the characters.  I had trouble reading a book about a marriage founded on deceit.

Rosalie makes a pact with herself and decides that she will always stay home on Kol Nidre, close enough to hear the words, yet distant enough to let the prayer resonate in her bones. If every Jew is standing to face a Torah scroll on the first hour of the Yom Kippur fast, Rosalie will face a yard, a tree, a night sky. Closer to Walter. Closer to remembering how she felt when they climbed the stairs from the lower geniza, how her skin was a fibrous membrane that could hold memory and music, and if she listened well enough, the symphony of her own body would teach her everything she would need to know.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan

I really liked Horan’s Loving Frank, and I also love historical fiction as a way to learn more.  This is a story about the backgrounds and relationship between Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.  Despite family expectations and obligations and real struggle, both manage to have some happy years together.

He longed to say, If you want to find out who you really are, then go travel. To move is the thing. He wanted to say, Something important has begun. Every chance encounter, every change of landscape in the journey, offered itself up to his pen. He could see a way now to go out and have adventures, to pour all that he witnessed through his soul and onto paper, a way he could make a living doing what he loved, in spite of his father’s plans for him. At the end of the journey, after he had maneuvered the Arethusa to a dock in Pontoise, it was raining. He hated wet weather. Yet he had put his face up to the drizzle and thanked it for falling on him.

Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner

Marriage, renewal, writing about words, and very human… sign me up!

Maybe we write in order to try to feel things we know we should feel in life but don’t. Maybe we write—and read—because we don’t pay enough attention.

Often, I’m less prone to having an actual experience than I am to relating what I’m experiencing to something, anything, I’ve read. It’s as if I don’t quite exist in real time. I have a friend, a yoga teacher, who says I don’t live in the present, and I say, who wants to live in the present? I looked at this lone chimney rising out of the dust and I didn’t pause a moment to think, as I should have, of the generations of women who might once have cooked meals in this very spot. Instead, I thought of a Welty story called “The Burning.” It was as if I needed Welty to see what I was seeing. Do you know what I mean? I needed her eyes.

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On fear and inadequacy

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

~ Marianne Williamson

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Taking stock mid-way

We are exactly halfway into our Jewish year… 6 months past Rosh Hashanah and we have just completed Pesach.  It’s the perfect time to assess how we are doing with our goals and intentions for the year and what we need to tweak to be better.

Passover can be about examining our lives and determining what the “hametz” is; what we want to remove from our life to make ourselves and those around us better.  A couple weeks ago, I set an intention to slow down my mornings a little bit.  After getting SG to school and doing my exercise and showering, it is the perfect time of day to sit for awhile with a book or journal and be still with myself.  I can read, write, draw, or simply listen to the sounds of the freshly-born oasis in my own backyard.

So far, so good.  I am slowly wrapping up most large responsibilities I have taken on, opening up more time for just being.

In addition to deciding to not be the Sisterhood President this coming year, I also turned down a nomination to be a VP on the Hillel board.  It is also very tempting to take on more responsibility at SG’s school.  However, I have the sense that there will be many, many opportunities in the future for me to assist with meaningful events and activities.  Perhaps the time is not quite right to take it all on this minute!

When I began the year, I wanted generally to use my life for good.  I know I am doing that in many ways, and that knowing is enough for me for now.  I feel no need to add more to my plate.  In fact, by taking off some activities, I am going to be able to take better care of myself and those around me.  That’s got to be a good thing!

I am taking it one day at a time, following my heart and my intention to slow down.  6 months from now, at the Jewish New Year, things will once again look different than they do now.  It will be a new school year (with a new book fair to plan!), a fresh year of programming for my committees at the temple, and I will be facilitating a mussar group for the first time.  I am excited for the future just as much as for the present.

How about you? Are you on a path of growth and positive change?

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Seek to fulfill your purpose each day

Last week in my mussar study group, we discussed the soul-trait of “moderation,” neither too much nor too little of any one action or thing.  Interestingly, the next trait we’ll be studying is “responsibility,” which is taken to mean “bearing the burden of the other.” Unlike in our society today, Jewish law commands each person to be responsible for every other.  If the stranger you come upon has no shoes, it is your responsibility to somehow find some for him.

My own grandparents live this trait with each other every day.  They lovingly argue for the ability to take care of the dishes after each meal so that the other doesn’t do it.  “No, no, you have worked hard today, I will do the dishes.” “But you made the meal! Surely you deserve to sit and rest while I do the dishes.” You can probably guess already that they usually end up doing the dishes side by side.

Yesterday was “Mitzvah Day” in our congregation, that time when we come together to do many service projects for the community.  I organized a group of donors and volunteers to collect items for and assemble “Welcome Kits” for refugees new to Houston.  And when doing any type of service, I always bring my daughter with me.   This time, after helping to place the cloths, cleaning sprays, and sponges in the “Cleaning Kit” and the towels, etc in the “Bathroom Kit,” SG asked me who is getting these things and why.  After I explained to her that many people have had to leave their home countries because they were not free and they have come to Houston to start over with nothing, she and I talked about what that must feel like… walking into an apartment with nothing and having many people donate things on your behalf even though they don’t know you personally.

This is responsibility at its essence.  It is that sense of obligation to take care of one another, whether or not we have too little or too much ourselves.  Imagine the sense of security and love we would feel all the time if we knew we would always be cared for.  Since that is usually NOT the case, and we are strangers while living amongst each other, we have to work to overcome the separation.  Not only is it hard to ask for what we need, it can be even more difficult to give it.

Mussar teaches that beyond any sense of personal ego-strengthening satisfaction we may get for helping someone, it is a sign of spiritual elevation when we take care of others around us.  Why? Because doing so reflects humility in ourselves and a sensitivity to others.

To make it personal, what about taking on too much responsibility? This can cause stress! There must be a balance between taking personal responsibility and sharing the load.  This past week, I thought long and hard, made pro/con lists, and finally came to the decision that I do not need to be the Sisterhood president right now.  My energy and hours are obviously finite.  I must, right now, focus on doing some of the work, but not all of the work! For the most part, I feel very good about this decision.

Sometimes on our walk home from school, I will ask SG to help me pull in the trash cans for our elderly next-door neighbor.  She has stopped asking me “why” we do this since our neighbor could easily do it herself.  Now we try to be really quiet in the hopes of pleasantly surprising her and she asks me why we can’t leave a note telling her who her helpers are.  I ask her why it matters.

So my questions about this trait:

To what extent can we have too much of a sense of responsibility? What if we want to provide for everyone and donate to every cause, to our own detriment? Obviously if we don’t care for ourselves, we won’t be able to care for others.

How could we work toward changing our society into being truly responsible for one another? That might entail more family-friendly government policies and care, people going out of their way to help one another, etc.


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House redo: closet, laundry, and art room

Our hallway closet was a MESS! It is where we were keeping old electronics, giftwrap, paper plates and serveware, gifts, puzzles and games, travel gear, and some memorabilia.  First I took everything out.  That armoire went elsewhere.   Next, I created categories and put items into the right bin: gifts, specific holidays, extension cords, etc.

Here’s the result of that process – much better.  The left side is all bins. The top is all games and gifts. 

Our awesome handyman built us 2 shelves with a pagboard back.  I keep tools there and underneath are hurricane supplies like batteries, nonperishable food, paper goods, etc.  Now that we have our garage back I can probably move some of this out there.  So now I can walk in to the closet and all is well.Below is our laundry room.  It’s the same except for livening it up with a bold color choice.  I only just hung those pictures today… for this post. So thank you!

And finally, the art room.  I bought drawer units and a desk top from IKEA to have another space where I can work.  I like looking out to the front yard there.  

So that’s all the inside changes… let’s move on to outside!

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House Redo: Master Bathroom

Once again, months of work can all be summed up in a 5-minute blog post.  Amazing.

I hate to even mention this, but this room all started because of a toilet.  The one we had caused constant problems, so we looked for a new one and settled on a professional grade one by Toto.

Next issue, our beautiful bowl sinks were a pain to actually use.  I had to get on my tippy toes to brush my teeth or wash my face.  We had our handyman check out the situation.

He recommended this drop in sink, which would still sit 1.5 inches atop the granite, so I decided to do that because it was a simple change.  It was only after he began cutting into the granite that Mr. B caught up with me and said he strongly preferred under-mount sinks.  Since we’re going to all this trouble, why do it halfway?

So… we chose these rectangular sinks but since the granite was cut into already, we had to replace it.  

Honestly, we never liked what we chose 6 years ago so it was good to select something lighter.  The choices were many…

We went with White Galaxy.

Next, I decided to use a mosaic tile backsplash instead of the granite.  That caused about 5 trips to a Floor & Decor store 25 minutes away.We chose this one:

Here you can see it with our new faucets too. It seems to pull out the silver tones as well as the white granite and the brown cabinets.

We painted the bathroom walls Sherwin Williams Oyster Bay, the same color as the bedroom, for a continuous flow.

Next project: I wanted to replace the mirrors but decided to first try to paint them with gilding wax.  I used “Pebeo Gilding Wax Silver.” I had originally purchased it to try to change the entryway console’s handles from gold to silver.

It was kind of goopy and a long process, but I like how it turned out very much.

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