Monthly Archives: February, 2010

Glamour Girls

February 23rd, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

The Purim holiday, as described in the Book of Esther, is only a few days away. A truly joyous day, Purim festivities include a strong tradition of dressing up in costumes. For very young girls Purim has routinely been the day when they can glop on lipstick, blush and eye shadow, don their mother’s discarded dresses and totter in Mommy’s high heels (until they actually need to move around). A crown on the head, preferably bejeweled, completes the sartorial splendor and the miniature Queen Esthers are ready for the day’s activities.

This masquerade is based on an essential message of the day – things are not as they seem on the surface. The elegant Queen Esther is really the Jewish girl Hadassah; the man who saves King Achashverosh from a plot against his life is Hadassah’s relative Mordechai; a day prepared for the slaughter of the Jewish people turns into a day of victory. It is not a coincidence that the name Esther means hidden while the Hebrew name for Scroll, Megila, means reveal.  Thus the real name for the Book of Esther or The Scroll of Esther is “Revealing the Hidden.”

Something that is uniquely hidden in this scroll is mention of God.  Esther is the only book in the Jewish Bible or Tanach which contains no overt mention of God.  His name and His presence are hidden, though easily discerned by those who look.

But, I admit that as a little girl, I was less interested in the theological implications and more enamored with the parentally authorized make-up. While teens and adults dress up as well, sometimes in incredibly clever concoctions, the allure of pretending to be grown-up and gorgeous presents an irresistible tug for the post-toddler set.

Which is why I was distressed to read that some shoe manufacturers are marketing shoes with heels aimed at the early elementary crowd. While Matthew Dairman, a spokesman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, sees heels on five year old feet as a physical problem — which it certainly is — surely there is a less visible issue as well. Purim masquerades are only fun because they are masquerades –limited to a finite time and place and easily recognized as a caricature.

Little girls see Queen Esther through a haze of fantasy; a sort of Cinderella. As they grow and mature they realize that the orphaned Esther was forcibly taken from her home and community, married to a man who didn’t by any means measure up to Prince Charming standards and saved her people only through a sacrifice of her own chances for a fulfilling and happy life. Not quite the “happily ever after” fairy tale. But internal growth and maturity can be stunted if external growth and maturity is accelerated. If our society moves in the direction where heels and cosmetics become a standard part of six-year-olds’ repertoire (even for “only special occasions”), I can’t help thinking that the chances of producing authentic heroines like Queen Esther unfortunately diminish.  


Ice Skating – Nice Mating

February 16th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Have you noticed how many married, or soon to be married, couples compete in the Olympics as pair skaters? I hadn’t paid much attention to this until my friend, Julie, suggested that I watch the video of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo’s Olympic skating performance. Their skating was indeed spectacular, but Julie’s comment that the chemistry between them reflected their personal relationship got me thinking.

Ice skating at the Olympic level demands not only an intense physical partnership but also an emotional and spiritual one. The level of trust and total dependence each partner needs to bestow on the other is huge.  Crushing disappointments and unexpected glitches are unavoidable and meteoric success brings its own challenges. You might think that a high-pressure, demanding shared career is the last thing a marriage needs.

Or perhaps, the truth is exactly the opposite.  These partnerships should be the paradigm for marriage rather than the exception. Couples who skate together merge into one entity that is greater than either of them individually. Each skater has his or her personal training and moves, feelings and challenges, but the focus is on the accomplishments of the unit. The couple’s intense concentration on their skating means that they succeed or fail, improve or deteriorate as one.

Somehow, I don’t see them arguing over who will dry the dishes or bring in the groceries, anymore than your right leg argues with your left leg over which works harder. Everything is viewed in terms of the partnership.

Most couples have no dreams of Olympic stardom. But each and every couple should have a vision and an aspiration for themselves as a married unit. If marriage means more than two people sharing a roof and a bank account, what that “more” is, is worthy of discussion. Once there is a purpose that is greater than the two people involved, a third and new entity is formed. Paradoxically, yielding to that higher objective turns out to be the best road to a fulfilling life for each individual.


Northwest Storms

February 12th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

This week’s unusual snowstorms on the east coast reminded me of a few years back when our lovely part of the country had a difficult winter, accompanied by power outtages. Our house lost power fo many days, prompting this blog which I am re-posting.

I am trying to count my blessings. We’re all in good health; we have warm clothing to wear, a gas stove which lets us have hot food, and a house that wasn’t damaged. The temperature hasn’t dipped too low and we have friends with whom we’ve been sharing food and companionship.


But while I’m aware of all those things, I am also beginning to feel tired of being cold, of having to find a Starbucks or Tullys in order to work, and simply of life being disrupted from its normal flow. Instead of breakfast taking the one minute and twenty-eight seconds to prepare as it usually does in the microwave – during which time I bring in the Wall Street Journal and start unloading the dishwasher – I’ve been spending half an hour cooking grilled cheese sandwiches and omelets on the stove. (The fact that we can still use our eggs and cheese gives you some idea of the temperature in the house) Reading for a few minutes before falling asleep has turned into a chore with trying to balance a flashlight and turn pages without taking my hand out from beneath the blanket. Getting dressed in the morning has become less a matter of dressing to suit a mood and the day’s activities, and more of trying to figure out how many shirts and sweaters will fit under my coat. And not being able to do laundry has less the feel of a vacation and more of a punishment. While I’m grateful for my friend Julie’s invitation to shower at her (powered) apartment, and I took her up on her offer, it meant that taking a shower became an afternoon’s activity.


I’m ready for a return to normal after our storm. And vividly aware of how fortunate we are to live in a time and place where the normal condition of life is safe and warm, and where even when a relatively major disruption takes place, as it did for us last Thursday, our community is filled with honest, caring people who band together to make an unpleasant situation less so.






More Money, Please

February 9th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet


Last week, I read an extremely disturbing article concerning the inability of the VA system to cope with female soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Problems ranged from a lack of sufficient women’s bathrooms and other facilities to a shortage of psychological counseling geared towards women’s specific needs. Unbelievably, some VA physicians were reported as being skeptical as to whether women could indeed have battle wounds. While the article tugged at the heartstrings it was also incredibly frustrating; but not for the reasons that I think the author expected.


The difficulty in expressing my frustration is that I am not and do not want to sound unsympathetic or unmoved by the plight of these women. The suffering soldiers are real and our country owes them care. But taking care of these individuals doesn’t negate the fact that their situations as well as the article’s “call to action” demonstrate a mistaken mindset that has to change.  


How could our legislators while decreeing that women could serve in combat zones, have ignored the corollary that we would have wounded female soldiers? How did their desire for social engineering suppress straightforward analysis of dealing with pregnancy and rape; women’s health issues and needs? How did they not weigh up the “right” of women to serve in the military and the fact that they could indeed make a valuable contribution versus the extra demands such service would entail? Surely a vote for including women in war-zones should have been tied into a vote budgeting for the consequences.


I found the article’s conclusion particularly disheartening. In a box labeled “How You Can Help” a link to a sample letter to your legislator was given, asking Congress to appropriate funds for a Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act. This act has already passed, but as a concept with no funding attached.


Years ago, the same magazine that is now raising this issue had an article about the tragic accident that left actor Christopher Reeve with severe spinal cord injury. A similar box appeared as part of that article, encouraging readers to let their congressmen know that they wanted more money spent on spinal cord injury research.


I remember thinking that any request like that needed a matching idea. “Please allocate more money for spinal cord research. I understand that it is a bad idea for the government to go further into debt or to irresponsibly print more money. I think that you should get the money for this by…What follows could be a number of suggestions from “raise my – as opposed to my neighbor’s – taxes,” to “cut funding from (fill in your choice)”. How absurd to ask for increased funding as if there are pots of gold being spun using Rapunzel’s hair.


It is time for Congress to take lessons in household management. Mothers understand that you don’t bring a pet into the house without completely thrashing out the details of taking care of the pet and paying for its upkeep. You also assume that there will be unexpected expenses. Similarly, it is ludicrous to pass a law while ignoring the funding and infrastructure needed to implement it.


Most importantly, we citizens must switch from a mindset that expects our government to do things based on whether they sound like good ideas and indeed may be good ideas. As a mother, I may have thought that my child would profit from music lessons and art lessons and computer classes and karate, etc., etc., etc. How much these programs could assist my child’s future success in life was irrelevant. We still could only spend the money we had. Choosing to do one thing meant choosing not to do something else, no matter how valuable or desired.


Funding for VA hospitals is in a different category than spinal injury research because we already have a commitment to those who serve us. But we need an entirely new way of looking at the government budget. Pruning here and there isn’t going to work. Right now the attempts at budget cutting in Congress are the equivalent of a financially stressed household saying, “Well, when Tommy goes to summer camp, we’ll send $15 less in spending money than we did last year.” Guess what? In real life, not only does he not go to summer camp, but that is only the first of the sacrifices made. It’s time for real people who are becoming increasingly aware of what serious budgeting means to send a message that we wish no less from our government, even as we work to support our men and women in uniform.




My No-Sweat Marathon

February 2nd, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Upon reaching a certain age most people experience saying something and realizing that they sound suspiciously like their parents. The reverse is true as well. Not too many years after having children, you spot them saying or doing something and realize that they are sounding or acting just like you. If the child is sounding warm, loving and intelligent that leads to a metaphorical pat on the back. If the child sounds whiny, angry and immature, the result is much less pleasant.

Then there is the shot out of the blue, when a child does something and you can only shake your head and say, “Where in the world did that come from?”

This is exactly the reaction my husband and I had when our perfectly warm, loving and intelligent daughter, Miriam, announced that she had signed up to run a marathon to raise money for Leukemia/Lymphoma research. Now, during her growing up years, Miriam saw us bicycle, occasionally hike and go sailing every chance we got. Barring a frantic sprint to make a plane, she never saw us run.

Yet, here she is, increasing her mileage each week as she trains in below freezing weather in Manhattan, along with about one hundred members of her team. Most of them have run half marathons or in some other way built up to this event. Not Miriam. Once she decided to run, she jumped in the deep end. Those genes are perfectly recognizable as coming from her father. I’m afraid I need to take responsibility for the competitive spirit that forces her to not only run, but to run farther and faster than the others. Perhaps I should have sometimes let her win at Candyland.

The truth is that we are intensely proud of her, even as we question her sanity. Miriam has a crowded schedule juggling a full time job, after-work-hour supplementary jobs, and a busy social life. Unlike the rest of her running mates, she doesn’t run on Shabbat and so needs to fit in extra hours to make up that time.

This may be Miriam’s first venture into running but it is not her first undertaking supporting causes that she finds worthwhile. At ten, she, along with her sister and two friends, set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation, which does an amazing job granting special trips and experiences to very ill children. Miriam, her sister, Ruthie, and their friends Sarah and Shayna opened for business in front of the local supermarket and manned it for many days. While it certainly helped the bottom line that Sarah and Shayna’s father, radio personality Michael Medved, announced the location of the lemonade stand on his show, the girls worked hard and none of them ever suggested running the stand for their own benefit. They were thrilled and justifiably proud when they mailed in a check for a large amount. This current endeavor is larger than that one, but the combination of spunk, charm and stubbornness that made the lemonade stand a success is still in evidence.

Running a marathon doesn’t even make the bottom of my “things I want to do” list. I don’t even read detailed coverage of the Boston Marathon. Which makes Miriam’s current marathon obsession one of the perks of motherhood. When one of your children, who constantly provides you with fragmented glimpses of yourself in the way she sounds and acts, does something so outside your own comfort and interest zone, it is a world-expanding occurrence. I can experience new sensations and pursuits vicariously without any of the accompanying pain or discomfort. And I can support a good cause without even depleting my entire store of lemons and  sugar. 


A beautiful salmon-God’s bounty from the sea. I caught this one in Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

February 1st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet


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