Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Countdown to Success

Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed, and do not know about, shall be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth. 
Passover Hagadah

For most of the past winter, my Facebook page has been awash (no pun intended - well maybe a little bit) with pictures of snow. My friends and relatives in the Old Country graphically tell me that it's been the coldest winter in history. Of course, here in the Capitol of the Negev, spring is just around the corner. The almond trees are blooming, the calaniyot (anemones) are carpeting the western Negev in red, and the thermometer has reached well over 20 degrees (hahahahahaha Old Country!).

The Old Country - courtesy of my sister hahahahahahaha

Spring is one of my four favorite seasons. The weather is perfect; the sun is shining (of course the sun shines here about 363 days a year, so sunshine does not exactly personify springtime), the air is clean (er than usual), and flowers bloom in the most unlikely spots (the back of my fridge). 
In southern Israel, spring lasts almost two days. Some years, however, we're lucky to have spring pay us a half hour visit before summer comes barging in. All in all, spring is simply a delightful time of year that is almost guaranteed to lighten anyone's mood after a cold rainy winter (which I'm sure exists somewhere - oh right! in the Old Country hahahahahahaha - but certainly not here). 

The only thing about spring that fails to lighten my mood is Pesach. Pesach (aka Passover, aka Spring Holiday, aka Festival of Unleavened Bread, aka Festival of Freedom, aka Festival of Redemption, etc.) commemorates the freedom from slavery of the ancient Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt. As a quick remedial: To mark the holiday, Jews are commanded to eat Matzah (unleavened bread) to recall their hasty midnight departure. According to Jewish Law, Jews are not allowed to even own any bread, or bread-like foods (chametz) during the week-long holiday. To make sure there isn't any bread in one's house, it is customary to clean the house to rid it of chametz. Some people take advantage of this spring cleaning to paint the walls, retile their floors, buy new appliances, add an extra room, dye their hair, and go abroad. 

Cleaning for Pesach doesn't really bother me. Too much. No, really, it doesn't. I always scream in late March. It's good for the lungs. 


It's the getting rid of the chametz that gives me trouble. There is a loophole whereby you can 'sell' you chametz to a non-Jewish person (who, of course, has no prohibition of owning chametz during Pesach). And that is what we do every year as I could never get rid of everything on time and certainly not the whiskey that seems to expand with age that we have in the cupboard. This year, though, I decided that I AM going to get rid of as much as I possibly can. I started early; the day after Sukkot.  

I counted the weeks until Pesach (28 - it's a leap year), counted the bags of pasta (damn that four bags for 10 NIS sale), packets of crackers (remind me why I have 16?), boxes of cereal (this took me MUCH longer than it ought to), bulgur, oatmeal, semolina, barley, and flour. (Don't get me started on the kitniyot.)

I was ready. 

I figured out how many times a week we had to eat mac 'n cheese and googled different recipes. Ditto for bulgur salad and cracker crumbs (delicious on ice cream).

What I found, to my horror, was that getting rid of chametz was much like eating a bowl of cereal and milk. 

You know how sometimes, in the middle of your bowl of cereal, you realize that you have more milk than cereal, so you add cereal, and then a few spoonfuls later, you realize that you have too much cereal and not enough milk, so you add just a few drops - really! - of milk, but lo! too much and now you have to add more cereal, but what happened to all the milk? more milk. There have been occasions that I'm still eating my bowl of cereal when it's already time for my mid-morning snack. 

Consuming chametz was just like that. 

I decided that making bread was an excellent way of getting rid of some of the bags of flour. We had recently obtained a nifty bread-maker, so I simply had to toss the ingredients into the machine, push a few buttons and voila! about 4 hours later, we had a bullet-shaped loaf  the width of a paperback and the weight of a medium-size dog. But it got rid of the flour. Except that I had to buy yeast. And then there was yeast left over, so I had to buy more flour to use up the yeast, and then I had too much flour and so I bought more yeast. Etc. etc. 

The pasta was worse. I had to make sauce with the pasta, didn't I? You can take it from here. 

By Chanuka, with only 19 weeks to go, I was well on the way to a Chametz-free house. But the kids wanted to make traditional donuts for the holiday. "Donuts!!! What's the matter with you guys!" Don't you know it's almost Pesach!"  

We are now seven weeks before Pesach (egad). My house is down to a bag of barley, two packets of couscous (that's a dangerous one - too many vegetables, not enough couscous), a jar of popcorn, and a half dozen sprigs of dried mint in the back of the fridge (left over from the bulgur salad - don't even think it).
But there are plenty of vegetables to make a chametz-free soup. 

Good thing the supermarket has a sale of four bags of soup nuts for 10 NIS. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Superhero needed? Anyone?

It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.
Muhammad Ali

At one point when I was in high school, I had to fill in a form giving all my pertinent personal information. I don’t remember what it was for, nor why it was anyone’s business when my siblings’ birthdays were, but I dutifully filled out all the questions but stumbled a bit on ‘Hobbies’. I hemmed and hawed, trying to decide between the dreaded swimming lessons (I HATED swimming lessons; I would choke from the smell of chlorine, my bathing suit was a hand-me-down the 50s, and my wet hair would freeze on the bus on the way home) or music (I was then and still am completely tone-deaf. My music teachers would greet me with new hairdos every week to hide the earplugs. Hey, they weren’t going to turn down paid work just because I was, well, tonally-challenged). I finally settled on needlepoint for Hobbies. When my Dad, z”l, look over the form (I don’t remember why he did that either), he asked me why I hadn't put down ‘reading’ for a hobby. “Reading? Reading isn't a hobby. Reading is just, you know, reading.” I was flabbergasted at the suggestion. “Reading is a very good hobby,” he said quietly, and gave me back the forms. I left needlepoint and didn't add reading. 
I actually did needlepoint whenever I watched television (why didn't anyone suggest that watching television was a hobby? I would have been an ace), but reading was my air and water. As a kid (and as an adult) I was never without a book. I read on the bus to and from those dreaded swimming lessons, during lunch, in class, while watching television (when I wasn't also either doing my homework or needle pointing) and throughout the night (when I wasn't watching old movies on television and doing needlepoint. Today, this would be called multi-tasking. Then, it was called not paying attention). I didn't actually read anything good, and often I would read the same books over and over and over again – not because I liked them or learned new things with every reading, but because they were all that we had in the house. I think I read ‘Heidi’ 20 times, and ‘Little Women’ 50. But, hey, I read, though I NEVER considered it a ‘hobby’.
All this came to mind recently because I need to look for a new job. For a variety of reasons – too long and too tedious to list here – my current employment seems to be coming to an end. It’s depressing, at my advanced age (21), to have to start again, but not entirely devastating. My job isn't exactly fascinating or even very satisfying. Steve Jobs said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.” 

I had more than settled. I have always been so grateful to have a job; I didn't care what it was. I just wanted the knowledge that I had somewhere to go each day. I wanted the standing of being ‘employed’. I wanted the paycheck.
And so, when I was told to start looking for a new job and should apply for anything that was advertised within the institution in which I am employed to show I was serious, I considered doing just that; applying for any old job. But I didn't consider it for long. I've had enough waking up each morning, while feeling grateful, not feeling particularly eager. I absolute dread waking up each morning dreading; dreading the work, dreading the people, dreading the day. Been there, done that. And so, I haven't applied for every position available. Because I don’t want every position available. In fact, there were very few positions I want (and the one I did want – well, I didn't get it).
The question arose, of course; what do I want. That was easy. I want to work with people. I want to do something that is important, where my job makes a difference. And then the next question arose: What are my skills, and what unique talent could I bring to any job?
Oh dear.
I have a degree from a good university. Within the degree program, there was even a course on the various nuances and phrasing of ‘Do you want fries with that?’ Though I have lived in Israel for more than two thirds of my life, I have mixed mostly with English-speakers and have worked only in English. Therefore, my Hebrew isn't what it should be (but I am a master of understatement). I spent my formative work years raising five kids and missed out on learning what CAE or CAD/CAM or 24x7 Hub (NOC) Analyst mean. Where I come from, Java is coffee. Web support has something to do with spiders, right? Honestly, one job description was this: 

CTO/VP R&D with excellent product management ability ,hands on capabilities, with large scale WEB & Mobile systems Design and Architecture, #, MVC architecture, SQL, HTML, CSS, JavaScript and JavaScript libraries (including HTML5 and CSS3, ability to manage production in SAAS production environment.

(This is where I nod my head wisely and pretend to understand, while my eyes glaze over and I try to remember the words to O bla di O bla da [Life goes on!].)
I have no skills, no unique talents.

Nonsense! say my friends and family. "You have plenty of skills! Oodles of talent! You just have to list them. For one thing, you know how to use oodles in a sentence!"

Which is what brought to mind the whole reading as a hobby thing.

If reading can be thought of as a hobby – and yes it can! – then typing can be a skill. Yes it can!

I can type.
I can file.
I can send email. I can even send email to groups.
I can correctly place commas, colons, semi-colons, and – especially – apostrophes in a sentence. (Incorrect: Lets’ eat grandma! Correct: Let’s eat, grandma!)
I can find ANYTHING on Google (except the movie that I want to watch at that moment. It always eludes me).
I can play 23 straight games of Freecell without getting bored.
I know the words to more than 25 nursery rhymes and just about all of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs.
I can lip sync and play air guitar at the same time (what can I say – it’s a skill- especially when one is tonally-challenged).
I can do laundry.
I can make lemon meringue pie.
I can shovel snow (not really relevant anymore).
I can raise five kids to be upstanding voting citizens. (An aside here – once, when talking to a female upper-management executive who was asking me what I had done in my life, I told her that first I raised five law-abiding, respectful, polite kids, one of whom even pays taxes. She said, and I’m not making this up, “that doesn't count. What real things have you done?” I was shocked. Really, it doesn't count? Please let me know.)
This could be me without the hair on the chest part

My one real skill
As for talents, well, here I excel:

I can change a diaper with one hand (I use my knees).
I can carry 43 plastic bags filled with groceries (not including potatoes or drinks) at one time from the car to the house.
I can remember – off hand – whose turn it is to carpool/what time school finishes on any given day/what day judo is and what day art (though, I have to admit, I can’t always remember everyone’s name).
I can deal with a child (or adult) having a temper tantrum.
I can hug away tears.
I can make most people laugh.
I am a pure pleasure to work with (really – ask anyone).
I can also drink 27 cups of coffee in a 12-hour period. (Don’t try it at home)

Well, if all that (and I’m sure there’s more, I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I can cross my eyes, blow out my cheeks, and look just like Harpo Marx) isn't enough to make anyone run out and hire me, then the job market is losing out on true talent and skills.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading ‘Heidi’ and watching old movies. Maybe I’ll even start needle pointing again.