The Pleather Labyrinth

This past Shabbat, a friend at church looked at my purse sitting on the table and said, “You’re quite an organized person, aren’t you?”

I pulled my beloved purse toward me, smiled proudly, and said, “Yes, yes I am.”

Allow me to explain. Two weeks ago I went on a day trip with two close friends. When I stepped away to powder my nose, fashionista friend said to mischievous friend, “Ugh… I really need to give her a new purse.”

I am not into purses the way the majority of women seem to be. I find a purse that meets my size requirements and compartment needs, and I carry that baby until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out. I loathe purse shopping. Besides, the stupid things are so freaking expensive for something that’s going to be chucked into the back seat of my car, flung into a shopping cart, and occasionally forgotten at Home Depot or a restaurant.

I actually do have a lovely, leather purse my mother brought me from Italy, but it’s only big enough to accommodate a whispered secret and a tissue. Not practical. I carry it to weddings, funerals, and really fancy lunch dates.

What probably tipped fashionista friend over the edge was my horror story of how I once stapled the broken strap of a favorite purse and went right on carrying it. No doubt this is what prompted her to ask me upon exiting the bathroom, “How do you feel about black and white herringbone?”

A moment of confusion overcame me until mischievous friend spilled the beans on fashionista friend’s disdain for my bedraggled purse.

“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me and my purse in public?” I asked, laughing.

“Yes,” fashionista friend replied emphatically. She descended to the Fashionista Cave where she stores a bin of spare purses. I believe said bin has a keypad lock (with a code known only by her), is wired with explosives, and is guarded by a German Shepherd. Upon her return, she said, “I chose this one for you because I knew you’d like all the compartments.”

“You want me to switch out purses before we leave, don’t you?”

From the look on her face, I’m pretty sure that was understood. I plopped down on her living room floor and began sorting stuff into all the wonderful compartments of my lovely new purse. It was amazing. Everything just fell into place as I separated the most important items from those used less frequently. I even cleaned out a bunch of garbage I’d been hauling around and tossed it into a plastic shopping bag for disposal. Fashionista friend granted me one pardon when she allowed me to cut the handy little license holder from the old purse and slip it into the new one. Then she threw my old purse away, and we left.

Skip ahead to the next day when my husband noticed the new purse. I swear purses are like magnets for men in the weirdest way. They spy your purse, and suddenly they need something out of it. Of course, I couldn’t have hubby rooting around in my new purse like a warthog grubbing for food. Men are notorious for turning purses into disheveled messes as if a bear pawed through it.

For a microsecond, I entertained the thought of explaining to him how the setup of the new purse really wasn’t that different from the old. Inside the main zippered section (always the largest) was a tiny zippered section where cash and credit cards are stored. That was the same as was the open portion where lipstick, Chapstick, cough drops, and tissues were tucked.

The new purse also had a middle section with a place for my cellphone, check book, and sunglasses. So, slight up grade. Actually, super, awesome terrific upgrade because there are two zippers to this compartment that only need to be opened halfway to reveal a particular side. Lovin’ it!

But wait, there’s more. The next level down is yet another zippered section with a metal zipper pull where I store my keys. Husband should be kissing the ground where fashionista friend walks because in the past two weeks, I haven’t misplaced my keys once since I’ve owned this purse all due to the special place in my purse for keys. “Why did she mention the metal zipper pull?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because my metal keys go in the section with the metal zipper pull. See how that works. Easy enough for any husband who needs to put gas in my car to remember in which section he can find my keys.

Oh, but that’s not all. The whole back of the purse is open, so incidentals like brochures from gourmet olive oil shops and the business cards of women trying to sell me Viking refrigerators land there. No zipper or snap ensures that they fall out which is actually my goal.

There’s a tiny pouch with a snap where my business cards live and another with a zipper where gift cards I have yet to use and restaurant rewards cards are tucked. Brilliant, isn’t it? A place for everything and everything in its place. Did I mention that my lovely, new purse has handles and a shoulder strap? What’s not to love?

But just try explaining why things are where they are to a man, and the whole system breaks down. A woman would look at my purse and know in seconds where to begin searching for whatever she needed. Not that a woman would rummage through my purse without asking. Oh, no—that’s the sort of criminal behavior only men would commit.

Now I know there are many jokes about how scary the inside of a woman’s purse is. There’s even a stupid song about it. I am here to tell you that’s no accident. If we could fit a Minotaur in our purses to keep men out—or at least deter, possibly maim them for tossing it like inexperienced burglars—we would. And don’t bother suggesting that we draw them a map or label the compartments. Our husbands would ask us to store the map in our purses, and it’s not as if we’re going to number the compartments with a black Sharpie.

So now you understand how the friend at church pegged me as an organized person. I like to think she was a little bit envious of my purse. I’m going to carry this one forever, and when I say forever what I mean is until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 21

A little over a month ago, I started a new section on my blog called Quotation Station.  It began as a blog post of its own explaining the difference between a quote and a quotation.  The idea was that I’d schedule writing-related quotations for my followers to appear on Friday morning.  They were to be a friendly handshake as we parted ways for the weekend, a final communication before my family began our electronics and social media blackout for Shabbat.  Everyone seems to like them so far.

Last Friday’s post included a quotation from Charles Bukowski stating “Writers are desperate people, and when they stop being desperate, they stop being writers.”  This particular quote fit my writing life so well.  At any given moment of the day, I have felt desperate about my writing.  Desperate to complete it, desperate to come up with new things to write for my blog or a literary journal or a novel, desperate to be published, desperate, desperate, desperate.  All that desperation added up to a lot of miserable living.

What struck me as interesting was that I’m not alone in this practice and belief.  But it also made me question it especially since one of my repetitive prayers was for peace in my life.  Desperation and peace cannot cohabitate, so which did I really want?

Further adding to my desperation was something a wise friend said to me a little over a week ago.  She asked how I was, and I ended up unloading a lot of desperation on her!  Thankfully, she’s not the kind of person to regret having asked.  At the end of our conversation, she suggested that I write from my abundance.  What does that even mean?

About a week after her suggestion, another wise friend gave me a pamphlet of Weekday Morning Prayers and the Bedtime Shema.  I started reading them in the morning and evening, and what an amazing effect they’ve had on my life in just three days.  My peace increased and my desperation diminished.

But wait, my desperate writer’s mind yelled, if you’re not desperate, you’re not a writer!  Turned out desperation was a clingy companion.  However, I was really rather tired of being desperate, and I was not at all willing to surrender the peace I’ve been praying for.  Also, I could keep writing what I loved when I wanted to write it.

You’re just being lazy, my writer’s mind whispered which I instantly knew to be a lie because leading up to the conversation with both friends, things have been falling in place in my life in a wonderful way.  Not to mention that the two chapters I’m somewhat blocked on in my new novel no longer freak me out.  I’ll sit on them for a while and not add to the blockage by stressing my mind out with desperation.  I’ll trust that in good time, the right words will come to me.

What all this boils down to for me is change.  I’m not good with change especially when it’s sudden.  Not that what I was experiencing was sudden, but it could have been if I hadn’t been so resistant to changing for the better as well as admitting that it was better.  It’s better that I’m no longer running on the gerbil wheel of desperation for all the things I mentioned above.

So now I’ll explore the abundance in my life, and I’ll write from there.  I’ve discovered an abundance of talent given as a gift from God.  I’ve discovered an abundance of time which is another gift.  I have an abundance of great books by authors who I admire; I’ll follow their example.  I have an abundance of wise friends whose counsel I’ll seek when desperation desperately tries to re-enter my life/writing life.  I have an abundance of support from my husband, William, who has supplied me with great storylines, helped me work out problems in my plot, and won’t let me stop writing when I’m in the desperation dump.

I have no doubt that desperation will attempt to raise its ugly head in my life.  It’ll evolve and reappear as envy, writer’s block, or self-doubt.  Fortunately, my arsenal is well stocked with abundance.  And in case I forget that, please, dear friend, do not hesitate to remind me as you are part of the abundance in my life.

Write Happy!

Too Tired to Rest

too-tired-to-restThe reel of unseen dreams flickers her eyelids as the man who has slipped into her room watches. A crescent smile glides across his face like a canoe trailed by ripples of worry. Deep within her consciousness, she senses his presence, and the blue eyes marred by clouds of age slowly open.

“Hello, Grandma.”

One, two, three seconds pass as recognition surfaces. Her face, soft as worn flannel, bunches around her eyes and mouth.

“Hello, Freddy.”

Her equally soft hand pats his sandpaper chin.

“I know I haven’t been to visit you as often as I should, but…”

“No apologies, sweet boy. You’re here now.”

“I came to spend Shabbat with you, Gram.”

The old soul leans forward in her bed, peers out the window.

“Seems a little early yet,” she says.

“Well, Mom says you’re asleep by seven, and the summer sun sets so late.”

“Cheeky devil,” she chuckles, again patting his face. “Go ahead and light the candles. Fetch my shawl from the drawer—no, that one, Freddy, the next one down—and I’ll say the blessing.”

Fred complies with her request, draping dark blue silk around her head and shoulders. Daylight blasts hot and bright through the windows of her room in the nursing home; her white crowned head swathed in navy gives the appearance of the moon in the night sky. He lights two candles in cut glass holders, and the sun withdraws its spears behind linty clouds.

Elsa Cohen breaths as deeply as her ravaged lungs will allow; she wheezes like a broken bellows, drawing withered hands above the dancing flames, the ancient prayer she recites flowing like new wine. When she finishes, she looks up into her grandson’s drum-tight face.

“Why so troubled, Freddy?”

“I don’t know, Gram. I’ve been feeling kind of…melancholy lately?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Well, no.”

Elsa pushes the shawl off her head, smooths the fabric around her shoulders.

“It’s just that, I haven’t been keeping Shabbat lately either, Gram.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“No, that’s just what people say when they’re giving you time to collect your thoughts and tell what’s on your mind. Spill it, Freddy.”

“Oh…uh, well, I haven’t been keeping Shabbat because…because it’s really hard to do in today’s society, you know? I mean, living in America and all, well, people don’t stop, like, working and stuff at sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday.”

“Oh gosh, people don’t even stop on Sunday anymore either.”

“That’s true.”

“I remember when you were little that gas stations and stores were closed on Sunday, and all the good people went to church, and everyone rested.”

“We live in a ‘round the clock kind of world these days, Gram.”

“That we do. How’s that working for you, Freddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“When you visited three months ago—”

“Ouch.”

Elsa waves him to silence.

“You said you and Margaret were so exhausted with long hours at work, running errands, shuttling the kids from here to there.”

“Well, I don’t see how taking a whole day off to do nothing is going to help any of that, Gram. Wouldn’t that just put us more behind?”

“Do more on the other six days. Totally run yourself into the ground. Or you could save up all your Shabbats until retirement and lay around doing nothing for ten years.”

“Gram, be serious.”

The old woman chuckles until she coughs. Fred leans her forward and delivers firm pats to her back. Her nightgown is a floral landscape across the sharp ridges of her shoulders. Once settled against her pillows, she continues.

“You have to decide for yourself, Freddy, why you do or don’t do these things.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you just told me what to do?”

“What fun would there be in that? Besides, there’s no guarantee you’d do it just because I say so.”

“It was so much easier when Grandpa was alive. We all met for dinner at your house and followed his lead.”

“Fredrick—Shabbat hasn’t gone by the wayside just because your grandfather died. Everything that is good about it is still with us. My goodness, dear boy, for one so educated, you sure are stupid.”

Fred can’t keep from laughing at his little grandmother’s spoon-blunt words cutting him sharply.

“Okay, Gram, I get it.”

“Are you sure? Because I could spell it out for you. Use pictures and small words.”

He kisses her forehead like she is his child.

“I love you, Gram.”

“I know, Freddy. Now take that box of candy over there your mother sent me—she knows I can’t chew caramel and nuts anymore—and go home to your family. Rest, my boy.”

Elsa snuggles into the blankets her grandson pulls up over her chin. Her eyes flicker as the dream scenes resume, and she is asleep before he crosses the room to leave.

By Bread Alone

1433270193628Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.

But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?

These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.

I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.

Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread

1 ½ cups warm water

2 tablespoon yeast

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)

3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups flour (slightly packed)

In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.

Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.

Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)

Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.

This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.

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The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:

HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

hamotzi_0

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who brings forth bread from the earth.

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