Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Deep Dive Into Old Posts

I know that Throwback Thursday is supposed to be for pictures, but I decided to kick things up a notch. Lately I have been going back and reading some older blog posts of mine. I am coming up on my three year blogging anniversary, which barely even seems possible, and yet it is. Over that time, I have written and published almost five hundred posts, which also doesn't seen possible, and yet there they are, right in the archives on the side-bar of my blog.

In going back through some of these old posts I had mixed reactions. Some of them leaned more towards the "oh my god how could I ever have pressed publish on this horror show" side of things, while with other ones I was all "damn girl, you can write." Anyone who blogs on the regular will understand well these dueling reactions.

Every now and then I stumbled upon a post that I completely forgot I had written, and I thought that maybe it was time to give those forgotten ones another chance to shine. So for the next couple of weeks, every Thursday I am going to re-post some of those oldies because, why not?

Today's Throwback Thursday post was published exactly at this time of year in 2012. A presidential election was looming on the horizon and since everything that could possibly be written about was already out there somewhere, the news organizations were casting about for something new to write about that was a little more interesting than more words about Romney's hidden bank accounts or Obama's birth certificate. 

CNN won the game that day when someone who I can only imagine was either drunk or high at the time published an editorial about the way that a woman's menstrual cycle effects her likelihood of voting Democrat or Republican. The responses to the article were immediate and scathing and predictably, CNN removed the editorial from their website, but the damage had already been done.

With mid-term elections less than 2 weeks away, I thought this would be a good one to share today because two years later when it comes to equality and respect for women in this country we are still nowhere, and it looks like we have a ways to go before we get to somewhere.


Beware of the Female Vote

In the current presidential election, much has been said about the female vote. What it means, who will get it, and how important it is. The candidates have spent millions of dollars courting women voters. At both the Republican and Democratic national conventions the candidates' wives stood before crowded convention floors and spoke about their most important roles: mothers. The candidates themselves spent much time in speeches discussing their own mothers, and praising their wives for the raising of the children. All of this, ostensibly, was to appeal to women across the country watching on TV. To me, it seemed a little like pandering, but political experts say that it works, so what do I know?

Well, according to a recent CNN editorial, it may all be for naught. 

Yesterday, CNN posted an editorial on its website discussing a "scientific" study that suggested that women's votes are influenced by their hormones, and they are more likely to vote for a certain candidate depending on what time of the month it is.

When I managed to get my raging hormones under control long enough to pull my face out of the Ben & Jerry's and read the study, here is what I learned:

Researchers discovered that during a woman's most fertile time of the month (i.e. when estrogen levels are at their highest), single women were more likely to vote for Obama, whereas committed women (i.e. women in relationships, not women who are actually committed, although with all of those hormones racing, who knows?) were more likely to vote for Romney.

The researcher behind this study, Kristina Durante from the University of Texas (a woman, God help us, so, depending on her time of the month when she wrote this study, maybe we can't really trust the information at all), explained that when single women are ovulating, they feel "sexier," and therefore lean more towards liberal views on issues such as abortion, contraception, and marriage equality. However, married women tend to take the opposite viewpoint because they are overcompensating for those pesky hormones that are telling them to have sex with other men. Basically, married, ovulating women will vote for Romney as a way of "convincing themselves that they're not the type to give in to such sexual urges." 

So Romney, you may want to start that matchmaking service right away to get women married before election day. But please, for the love of all that is holy, make sure those women are marrying men. Because if they marry other women, that household will have DOUBLE the hormones coursing about. The horror.

And Obama, turns out that you might want to dial it down on the "let everyone marry, marriage equality" shtick - because married ladies are so less likely to vote for you. 

I mean, I'm married, and I'm surprised that I can even find my WAY to the voting booth when it's that time of the month, much less make an educated decision about a candidate. Because really, all I want to be doing is sitting on the couch in sweatpants, up to my neck in french fries and chocolate, sobbing big fat tears as I watch The Notebook over and over again.

It's pure insanity that women are able to own property, walk the streets unaccompanied, and work for a living amid these raging hormones, much less pull a lever to choose the leader of the free world. 

Look, I get that the debates are over, and election day is just over the horizon, and the cable news networks are running out of things to talk about. But honestly, CNN, can't you do better than this? 

The backlash to this article was instantaneous, prompting CNN to remove the article from its website, stating that "some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN." And the author of the story has taken to Twitter to defend herself, tweeting that she "was reporting on a study to be published in a peer-review journal and included skepticism in the story," and that she "did not conduct the study." Great. That's kind of like Todd Akin coming forward now to say he was just explaining the studies that have been conducted regarding pregnancy and rape, but doesn't really believe them.

Any multitude of things can influence the outcome of an election. The weather. Those pesky undecided voters. Spray tans. Debate performance. Hidden videos at $50,000 a plate fundraisersCollege transcripts and passport records. Men.

And oh yeah, what about the men?

My biggest problem here, and the biggest problem of the many thousands of furious people who have commented on this CNN story, is the idea that women are emotional, fire-breathing lunatics whereas men are beacons of non-hormonal stability. I can't help but disagree. I mean, have you ever watched a presidential debate? Or been to a football game? Or seen a commercial? 

No, men certainly have never let hormonal surges influence their decision-making. It is just us estrogen-laden women whose lady-parts run on overdrive when faced with such disparate choices during our time of the month that can't seem to make up our minds in an educated fashion.

It must be true. The science says so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Unintentional, and Perfect, Edit

A new feature magically appeared on my phone recently.

Every now and then when a picture I take gets auto-uploaded to Google+, Google automatically edits it for me with some delightful additions like frames and interesting edges.

But the thing about this feature is that Google doesn't auto-edit every picture and it doesn't tell me which ones it picks, so the only time I see the results is when I log in to Google+.

One morning two weeks ago I took a picture of my backyard. It had rained the night before and the clouds were just breaking up as the sun rose. The effect was fairly fantastic, so I captured it and I went to work. Google must have liked it because when I logged in later that day I found this.

I kind of like that Google chose this picture to edit. Much like the view from the train platform, I take pictures of my backyard all the time, in all different seasons. It began when we first moved to the suburbs and I started taking early morning runs. Something about the sun rising over the back of my house pulled me in, and I got into the habit of documenting it a couple of times a week. It always struck me how different the sunrise looked in the suburbs from the sunrise in Manhattan, a mere twenty miles away.

And I still take those pictures, mostly, I think, because it still kind of amazes me that we live where we live. That we own a house and are making a life that is so far removed from the life that we had when we were just married and living in the city. A good life, and one we are proud of.

So the almost dream-like quality of this edited picture, unintentional, I'm sure, on Google's part, is actually kind of perfect.

We live here. And I don't think that will ever stop being important.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Life That's Good

If you scroll through the photo gallery on my phone, you will see a whole slew of pictures that look strikingly similar. I would guess that there are probably close to one hundred of them now, all taken from the same spot - right in front of the first door leading into the waiting room of the White Plains Metro North station - the place I stand every morning so I can get the last seat in the last car of the 7:43 train, which is the most efficient place to sit for the quickest exit from track 21 on the upper level of Grand Central Station to the back door on 47th and Madison, which is the door I exit from for the shortest walk to my office.

I'm nothing if not efficient in the morning. Except the most efficient thing would probably be to time my morning so I reach the train platform just as the train pulls into the station, thereby shaving a couple of minutes from my commute. But I never do that. Instead, I get to the station and wait on the platform for a few minutes before the train comes barreling through. Just a tiny stretch of time between home and work where I can take a breath, check my email, catch up on blogs, or, a few times a month, take a picture of the view.

It's not a particularly breathtaking vista. There's the fence that runs along the far side of the tracks, a blanket of trees, a short stretch of the Bronx River Pathway and the highway from which the Pathway takes its name, and a parking lot filled with the cars of morning commuters.

And yet this view pulls at me.

Since the first day I took the train into Manhattan almost two years ago, this view compels me to take out my phone more often than not and document what I see. What I see every day. It should have become ordinary at this point and yet it never has. It should be something that I barely see anymore, for how familiar it's become, and yet it's not.

I have found myself thinking a lot lately about the passing of time. I have written about it a little here in these pages, but most of those thoughts are buried in my head, still waiting for their moment in the sun. Maybe now is that moment. I am fascinated, always, by the way that time can both stretch and condense depending on the situations I find myself in, and how my experiences, both good and bad, can simultaneously feel like they happened years ago and yesterday.

But time never stands still. It moves on and things change and so do people, and nothing stays the same forever. And there is a beauty in this, I think. Because the days that make up a life are both gorgeous and tricky, filled with both success and struggle. And the thing about time is that it tends to soften the hard edges and illuminate the good so that I can find clarity in the tricky moments and so that the happy ones stick with me. And all of this? It's kind of miraculous.

And this, I suspect, is why the view from the train platform pulls me in every day. Because in this view is tangible evidence of time. From snow-covered to green to golden brown, the picture keeps changing, and then it circles back and we begin again and nothing is really irrevocable because the leaves might fall from the trees in October, but by May they are back again.

For the two years that I have watched this view so much has happened in this life of mine. Big and little things. Hard and glorious things. And what I've learned more than anything over that time is to be gentle with myself. To understand that things are going to happen that are both good and not so good because that's just the way life is. And when the not so good happens sometimes the only thing to do is to just forge ahead because tomorrow is another day, and even if tomorrow isn't that much better, the next day will be, and the one after that.

Because I understand now in a real and profound way that I am more resilient than I ever thought I was or could be. And I understand that I have a deep well of gratitude for this life I am living that helps me to embrace the bad with the good and just keep on keeping on.

Lately I've been playing a song on repeat. It's called "A Life That's Good" and it's from the TV show Nashville. I remember the song from the show's second season, but I played it back recently and for the first time, I really listened to the lyrics and, well, they just knocked me out.

Two arms around me, heaven to ground me
And a family that always calls me home.
Four wheels to get there, enough love to share
And a sweet, sweet, sweet song.

At the end of the day,
Lord I pray,
I have a life that's good.

And the truth is, they really made me smile. Because they reminded me, as the song says, that "I already have more than I should." I am so incredibly lucky to have the family and the friends that I have. To live in the home and in the place that I do. To have people who lift me up and show me the way - people who mean home to me so much more than any four walls ever could. And to have a deep and abiding faith that helps me to believe that there is something so much bigger than myself out there with a plan for me that holds things that are right and good and exactly as they are supposed to be.

So when I take away all the noise and all the complexities, what I really know is that no matter what happens and no matter how quickly or slowly time marches on and what is marching in it, I have a life that's good.

And, well, that's just everything.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Memories of an Un-Ordinary Saturday Night

February 23, 2013. Saturday.

The Jewish holiday of Purim had come early that year. So early that there was still snow on the ground and it was freezing cold outside. So early that the kids who raced up the sidewalk towards my synagogue wore heavy coats over their costumes and winter hats on their heads.

And we followed those kids up the sidewalk, through the big double doors, and into the warmth and light of the sanctuary where in minutes, the rabbi would begin the recitation of Megilat Esther, the story of Purim that is read twice each year during the holiday.

And when that was finished the sanctuary went dark but for a flickering candle held high above our heads, and quiet but for the voice of the rabbi chanting Havdalah, the prayer recited at the end of the Jewish sabbath.

It had been less than four months since our move to the suburbs and everything about our town was still new, but that night, in that moment, I felt more at home than I had since the day the big truck pulled up and four men unloaded all of our things into the new house.

That feeling stuck with me for days, and the following Tuesday, I posted a piece on this blog that remains, almost two years later, one of my favorite things that I have ever written.

A few weeks ago that piece was republished as a guest post on the blog of an incredible writer who has become a friend of mine over these last few years. You can find it here.

I am thrilled to see my words up on her blog, and so  proud, when I read them back again, at how very far we have come.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Four Years

We had the best wedding date. That's all there is to it.

I knew that I wanted a fall wedding, sometime after the Jewish holidays were over but before the first snow flakes fell. And when we realized that October 10th was a Sunday - the day of the week when Orthodox Jewish weddings most often take place - nothing would do but that we pick that date. Because the year was 2010, there was no way we were passing up the chance to have our wedding on 10-10-10. 

So October 10, 2010 it was.

The day of our wedding the sky was bright blue and the temperature was in the 70s - unseasonably warm for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it often starts snowing November 1st and doesn't stop until June. I thought it was a good omen, but the truth is, it could have been pouring rain and I wouldn't have cared at all.

It would have been a beautiful day no matter what.

Since this past Friday - our actual anniversary - was a Jewish holiday, I spent this morning looking at some of our wedding pictures for the first time in a long time, and going back to that day in my mind. The frenzy of it all, the family and friends who gathered, the disorganized mess that our chuppah devolved into which turned into the best and most hilarious part of the day, my fortuitous change into running shoes for the dancing part of the evening which probably saved me from breaking an ankle when an over-zealous chair holder accidentally dumped me off of mine during the "lift them up on chairs" portion of the evening, not having time to eat anything but cookies, and all the rest.

My photographer took more than 1,000 pictures, and in honor of four years, I am posting some of my favorites here.

To the four years past, and to the many, many more to come.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Very Suburban Succot: Part II

For forty years after our ancestors escaped from their Egyptian enslavement, they traveled the Sinai desert. The Torah tells us that, in a divine miracle, our people were surrounded with "clouds of glory" as they walked. These clouds protected them from the harsh elements of the desert, and provided an element of safety as they made their way to the promise land.

Tonight begins the holiday that commemorates that miracle and those years. The holiday of Succot.

For the past week or so, Jewish people all over the world have been hard at work constructing their Succahs, temporary outdoor huts that become our "home" for the duration of the holiday. For seven days we eat all of our meals and snacks in the huts, and there is even a custom to sleep in them, something I don't do now, but did when I was younger, back when huddling outside with snacks and sleeping bags on a freezing cold Pittsburgh fall night with my sisters and friends was an excellent adventure.

It is a time of fun and a time of celebration, and it has always been my favorite holiday on the very full and rich Jewish calendar.

During my nearly eight years of living in Manhattan we obviously couldn't build a succah of our own, what with our 23rd floor apartment on one of the busiest streets on the Upper West Side, so we often decamped to one of our families to celebrate the holiday the way that it is meant to be celebrated. But once we moved to the suburbs, building a succah was one of our first projects.

Last year's was a lot of fun, but this year I think we may have outdone ourselves. See, we have a bit of a theme going on in various parts of our house these days, so nothing would do but that we follow that theme with this year's succah. 

So here, for your viewing pleasure, is where we will be spending much of the next week.

Chag sameach, one and all.

C3PO Lights

Yoda lights

Storm Trooper lights

R2 Lights