Retreat, Again

Sunday I came back from attending Nashim: A Jewish mediation Retreat for Women. It was in-person for six days at Wisdom House, Litchfield, Connecticut. The retreat was remarkably like the virtual one that I participated in at the beginning of the pandemic, three years ago.

While I was at Wisdom House, I experienced this retreat as vastly different from the Zoom one. Reading over my 2020 post about the experience, I see more similarities. Yesterday at the closing of Nashim, one of the leaders told us that we should be scheduling our next retreat right away. The wisdom one receives during multiday silence needs to be replenished either periodically or regularly. I came away from the week hoping to reinvigorate both my mindfulness practice and my spiritual observances.

One of the differences between the virtual and in-person retreat was Wisdom House. This retreat and conference center was originally the home for the Daughters of Wisdom College and Convent. The Daughters of Wisdom began in 18th century France. The grounds are beautiful with lovely gardens and impressive views of mountains.

Although its’ website describes the campus as an “inter-faith” community, it felt very Christian to me, with a wooden cross in my room. As a Jew, I most often think about Christians from a place of trauma for past mistreatment and wounds. During my time at Wisdom House, I was able to open my view and see that just as there are many ways to practice Judaism, Christians come in many flavors and varieties.

It turned out that one of the most peaceful places I have ever spent time in was a small garden with two statues of Mary. I found these to exude a sense of warmth and comfort that was very healing. During the retreat, I gained insights about myself and a better understanding of the potential of inter-faith interactions.

Summer Plans

Please let me apologize for not posting last week. I have been very busy and the summer is packed with plans. Because of that, my next regularly scheduled post will be July 21st. I will also blog the following week, July 28th. Then there will be another break from the 29th to  August 18th.

I hope everybody has a great summer and stays cool, healthy, and safe.

Some Assembly Required

I had a terribly busy week and now Friday is here before I even realized it. I did not have a post pre-planned, and it turns out I am too busy to write one today.

Starting last week, my husband and I have been busy building furniture for a redo of his home office. We have done this many times before but, of course, we are older now. It turns out that repeatedly getting up and down from the ground is pretty difficult and exhausting.

We finished the lateral file on our own, after having to wait for a new drawer rail but the thought of putting the 68-inch desk with seven drawers together was daunting. The boxes with all the components weighed over two hundred pounds.

Luckily, our younger one was able to come yesterday, and we got the desk together. The two pieces of furniture look nice, and I hope the hard labor it took to assemble them will fade, eventually,  from memory. I plan to never to do this again. In the future I will buy already assembled furniture or pay someone to assemble it.

New Skates, Part 2

As I said I few months ago, I bought new skates.

Because of  Covid, I delayed picking them up until last Wednesday. The skates are smaller, narrower, and stiffer because they are new. I have skated with them two times with mixed success. Last Wednesday after I picked them up, I went straight to skating. When I first got on the ice, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing or supposed to do. Gradually my muscle memory kicked in and I could do some things including skating forward and skating backwards.

After a half  hour of minimal skating close to the boards, I had a lesson with my coach, Kiara. Because I was warmed up, I did do some more things and even skated out into the middle of the ice which amazed me. The skates felt okay except for a little rubbing where the top of the tongue meets my skin. When I got my skates 10 years ago, I had the same problem and I used to put little round cosmetic pads in-between the tongue and my skin. Kiara suggested I buy gel sleeves which I did.

Monday was the next day I skated and it wasn’t as successful as I hoped. I was very nervous when I first stepped on the ice. My legs were shaking to almost the same degree they shook when I had my episodes of stage fright. After about 30 minutes of the 50 minute session, I did feel warmed up and I was able to do a few more things. I wore the gel sleeves over my socks and the skates were more comfortable.

This process of breaking in the skates and returning to my fairly minimal level of skating proficiency will take some time. One bright note is I am already spinning better than previously. This gives me hope that once I have gotten used to the new skates, because they are the right size and fit better, my skating will actually improve. One can always help hope.

My new skating bag

Reentry

I have a list of maybe five or six topics that I was considering for this week’s blog post. As I sit here trying to write, I feel overwhelmed. As you may remember, for three weeks in February I was dealing with COVID. Both my husband and I were sick;  I was really sick, and he got a rebound case after we both had taken Paxil  for five days.

Shortly after he finally tested negative, we went away for two weeks to Florida to visit my aunt. The trip had its stressful moments, but the weather was beautiful and the ocean was gorgeous. We walked on the beach a lot and I swam most days. It was definitely a vacation mixed with familial responsibilities.

The Intercoastal

We have been back a few days and it’s been up and down with how focused I can be. The trip to Florida did restore my energy level which was set strongly depleted by COVID so that’s a good thing. However, life keeps intervening, occupying my brain, leaving less space available for things like blog posts.

Besides blog posts, the main thing I want to make progress on is my book. Since I can’t stand the thought of further revisions of my manuscript, I have decided to focus, once again, on trying to get a publisher. I spent a few days this week working on getting my submission packet in shape to start sending it out to a list of publishers I compiled before we left for Florida..

I intend to include a marketing plan along with my book proposal and CV. That is what I have been working on this week. I have a marketing plan I did after Brewing Battles was published. I developed it because if I had waited for my publisher to do any marketing, I would still be waiting.

I have been trying to use that marketing plan from 15 years ago as a template for a current marketing plan for Dames Dishes and Degrees. It was going okay till I got to the review section. Book publishing and marketing has changed tremendously since Brewing Battles was published. Whether or not a journal or magazine accepts books for review and publishes book reviews is not that easy to find out. My attempts to research that wound up sending me down a rabbit hole that was rather discouraging. I’m going to regroup and figure out how to tackle the reviews section and then move on to the other parts of the marketing plan. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

COVID

I had COVID. Seeing those words feels strange. After almost 3 years of the pandemic, I felt lucky that neither my husband nor I had had the virus and I became complacent. It is human nature to believe that if something good happens to you that is a reflection of your strength, ability and intelligence. You caused the promotion. Your brilliance got you a book contract.

When bad things happen and they always do, one is less likely to attribute the occurrence to personal shortcomings. A bad thing feels like bad luck. The reality is that life is overwhelmingly random and to a great extent, we can’t control what happens to us, we can only control our reactions.

Having COVID has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I have rarely been so sick. Not only did I  feel terrible – my skin hurt to the touch and I was chilled to the bone – but the virus  put me in a very dark place emotionally and psychologically. I was in a deep hole that I didn’t see any way out of. I could not remember what my “normal” life consisted of. I had no awareness of how I could resume it.

Luckily, as the illness cleared, so did my mood. I am incredibly grateful for that. I am also so glad I had five doses of vaccine and was able to take Paxlovid. I am sure I would have been hospitalized without that.

New Skates

Today I’m going to pick up my new skates. I bought my current skates about ten years ago online. At that time I didn’t skate as much as I do now and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. From my teenage years  to my forties, I had a pair of skates that my parents probably bought for me when I stopped growing. As I have mentioned in other posts, I skated with my father and siblings for many years when I was a child. In my forties I skated with my children and wanted a new pair. I bought them at a local athletic supply store.

Ten years ago, I looked at what size those skates were and then I bought the same size from the online store. Everyone in my club uses the same person for skate sharpening and fitting and buying skates –  George from Skatesport in West Springfield, MA. 10 years ago, my new skates came with the blades unsharpened so I took them to George for sharpening.

The first time  I put them on and started skating, I realized they were probably too big. I bought my shoe size. Skate sizing is usually one size down. I have a size 10 foot, narrow so I should have bought size 9 skates. I unfortunately bought size 10 skates. Because the skates have been sharpened, I couldn’t return them.

Today, looking back on this experience,  I realize one option would have been to try to sell the new skates and buy another pair of skates that fit properly.  However this is where my personality and a big streak of cheapness came in. That possibility didn’t even occur to me. Instead,  I kept the skates, getting George to fix the insoles for a better fit. I’ve skated with them all these years.

About six months ago my coach said she thought that I needed to get a new pair of skates. This made me very nervous, but I have taken the leap or maybe I should say jump  so I have a skating pun in this post. The new skates cost considerably more than that pair I bought 10 years ago online but I have realized that you get what you pay for.

10 years ago when I bought  my current skates and skated on them for the first time, I didn’t have a clue what to do. My feet felt completely different in them and I had to adjust, which took a while. I’m worried about the same thing happening this time and that the adjustment might even be longer because of course I am 10 years older. It is possible if I want to look at this from a glass half full perspective that because these skates will fit so much better – they are a size and a half smaller and in a narrow width –  that the adjustment will take less time.

I will probably skate with them for the first time on Wednesday February 15. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Advice From My Inner Sage

Last Friday I attended a writing retreat sponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. The first part of the retreat was a workshop led by Cathy Luna and Serin Houston. As part of the workshop, we did some free writing in response to a few different prompts. The prompt I used was “write a letter to yourself from your wisest inner sage.”

The prompt reminded me of a weekly exercise we did when I was either in 5th or 6th grade. Every week someone had to be the class monitor. At the end of the week, you had to produce minutes that detailed what had gone on during that time. When it was my turn to be monitor, I always tried to find interesting ways to present the minutes. One time I wrote them as if I was on the ceiling looking down. For the exercise last Friday, I wound up writing about publishing.

My wisest inner sage gave me advice about my book. She is positive it will get published. She assured me that there are a variety of ways this could happen. After I began writing, I realized I was about to do a hierarchy of publishing like my younger son Alan’s hierarchies of  M&M’s and French fries.

Here is my hierarchy:

The best outcome would be agent to publisher. This doesn’t seem that realistic, but it is something to strive for.

Next best would be securing a contract from a commercial publisher. This is really an outlier because I am unlikely to get a commercial press without an agent. However, if Cynren  would take it after I send them the second draft that would be a score. If I send it to Algora, the publishers of  Brewing Battles, that will also count as having achieved some degree of commercial success.

Third in line  would be Feminist Press. This is the press I always wanted to publish the book, but I recently found out that they are close to submissions at the current time, so it is a no go.

After Feminist Press would be  any academic press. I have queries and book proposals out to several of them, so we’ll see what happens with that.

The next to last in terms of desirability would be hybrid publication. I think my age gets in the way of my considering hybrid because it sounds like a vanity press to me. My Aunt Ruth’s friend Laura paid a press to publish her book about Shakespeare and politics. It is terrible looking with large font. It just doesn’t look like an actual book. I am afraid of getting scammed.

The last possibility in the hierarchy  would be self-publishing but that feels like a lot of work. I am going to talk to both Levelers Press which is local, and Off the Common which is their self-publishing division. It is my fervent wish that my wisest inner sage is correct, and my book is published.

I have written several other posts about publishing. One is recent, from last year. The other two are from  over ten years ago when I had published Brewing Battle and first started working on Dames, Dishes and Degrees. You can read them here and here.

 

Book Party

Yesterday I helped host a book party for Aaron Berman, author of America’s Arab Nationalists: From the Ottoman Revolution to the Rise of Hitler, (Routledge 2023). Aaron, as some of you know, is my husband. The event was lovely with a mixture of colleagues, family, and friends attending. Aaron read from the book and answered questions.

Here are two pictures from the party:

Here is  how to buy the book. Here is a link to an interview of Aaron by Jadaliyya  as well as a link to his appearance on the podcast, New Books Network, crosslisted in both American Studies and Middle East Studies.

 

Chopped Liver

As has often been the case lately, I find myself not knowing what to write. After a few weeks off, today is the first day of the latest session of Nerissa’s writing group. In the chit chat before the group formally started, one of the participants remarked in response to something someone else said,  “What am I -chopped liver? That quip brought back memories of the dish.

For several months, leading up to Passover, my mother would save both the liver and the fat – schmaltz – from every chicken she cooked. She was following her mother’s practices. My grandmother and grandfather owned a delicatessen in Long Beach, Long Island. As I have written elsewhere, my grandmother was an amazing cook, although she cooked Eastern European dishes and did not really cook American things such as a hamburger.

Once my mother had enough livers and fat, my father took over. He would render the fat; the pieces left over were gribenes. Gribenes, similar to pork cracklings, are one of the best foods in the world. I would love to have some right now.

Using the rendered schmaltz, my father would chop and mix the liver with the fat and some onions. Delicious. Memories of food are all mixed up with memories of the people who made the dishes. Eating gribenes and chopped liver would feed my palate but also my soul. Remembering my father, with his sly humor, cooking with me, a sometimes-sullen teenager is both sad and comforting.

I have my grandmother’s apron from the store. That is what we called Al’s Delicatessen. Whenever I put that on, the memories flood back. Her kind, generous face. Her care for everyone in the family. My mother’s grief when her mother died.

Richard is right; to say “what am I – chopped liver?” when chopped liver carries such precious cargo must be a compliment.

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