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Fish Heads and Family

By Nechamy Rabin

I try not to be cynical but it’s hard to ignore that I don’t share in the emphatic excitement that some balaboostas have in preparing foods special for the Tishrei Yomim Tovim. In fact, even the non-food parts of Tishrei are less than appealing to me.

From the top.

I love apples. My figure is thankful that I craved them throughout both pregnancies. Dipping apples into honey is like dipping donuts into ketchup. Dipping anything into honey seems gross to me. Inside a recipe? Yes. Stuck to the roof of my mouth? Not even a little.

I also don’t like fish. And I really, really don’t like their bare heads and googley eyeballs acting as my Yom Tov centerpiece.

Yom Kippur has no food. What’s up with that? That’s worse than ew food. And the absolute PANIC that sets in when we sit down for the Erev Yom Kippur meal is its own category. It’s the one time of year that I’m never hungry. But I also know it’s my last chance to eat. For maybe ever. Stress.

Sukkos presents another problem for me, as I don’t enjoy sitting in a cold sukkah. In the rain. Chewing pine needles. I’m really more of an indoor restaurant type of chick. Which holiday can we work that into?

Well, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the holiday menus, I do look forward to each and every holiday. Lately, I’ve wondered about what it is that makes the Jewish holidays so appealing to me. I was inspired to discover that my joy comes from FAMILY.

It may be cold, I may be hungry, my fingers may be sticky, but when else do we all try to get together, to sit around and just enjoy each other’s company? Bli ayin harah, I have twelve incredible siblings. And while we can’t all get together anymore, as thank g-d most of us have been blessed with our own little families, there is always one chunk of family that makes it back home. And we have the best time, every time. I laugh until my eyes tear and I snatch clothes from closets far more interesting than mine. I spend time with my siblings’ babies and can rest assured that no matter where my kids find trouble in my mother’s big house, someone will be able to find them. I love to watch my children play together with their cousins and giggle the way only children can. I love to stay up late, talk, and to just be there for each other. I love that throughout the year, we have so many opportunities to stop, slow down, and celebrate life.

And let’s face it: honey cake is not a bad deal either.

Honeycake

Photo by: Jewishsearch.com

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Crafty Ideas for Sukkot

By Devorah Niman

Here are a couple of quick, cheap and cheerful ideas to keep your little ones (and big ones!) busy on Erev Sukkot!

Wafer Sukkah

EdibleWaferSukkah

You will need:

  • 10 wafers (any flavour)/3 large crackers
  • Packet of long stick pretzels
  • Packet of green sour sticks/lassos
  • Icing sugar or marshmellow fluff
  • Paper plate/cake board

Directions:
Take your icing sugar and mix with a little water to make “glue”. Dip the bottom of each wafer into the glue and stick on to the plate/board in a ח shape (3x43x3). Next, take your pretzels and place across wafers to make “beams”. Lie the sour sticks, “greenery” across the “beams” to create the Schach effect.
Side tip: If desired, create inner props with marzipan….or lego for those on a diet!

Wait till Sukkot, then eat and enjoy!

Cheap and cheerful paper plate Ushpizin craft

UshpizinCraft

You will need:

  • 7 paper plates
  • Pictures of Ushpizin
  • Felt tips
  • Any craft supplies you have lying around e.g. glitter, pom poms etc.

Directions:
Colour/decorate Ushpizin pictures. You can enlarge images to make the size you desire – or make your own. Cut out and stick it on individual plates. Decorate the plate. Hang them in the Sukkah in any arrangement you like! Please excuse the lack of decoration on the plate but this is the general idea. Special thanks to Chinuch.org for this Ushpizin template.

UshpizinTemplate

Here are two other ideas from Kveller! This one is a healthy version of my Wafer Sukkah. It is also an edible Sukkah craft, made with crackers and veggies! And this one (also an inexpensive paper craft) is another Sukkah decoration idea. Also known as “paper links”.

I would love to see some pictures of your completed creations, so feel free to post it and share your ideas on this thread. There are some other creative suggestions there. Wishing you all a happy holiday!

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The Road to Here and There

By: Nechamy Rabin

I have started and stopped this following post so many times that I’ve lost count. But today, I’m inspired to write.

I was the girl with boundless energy and who was always quick to laugh. I was quick to frustration too, but I wasn’t terrible 🙂

I loved to head projects and be smack in the middle of things. I was organized and boisterous and loved every second of it. All throughout high school, I was on the committee for our annual school weekend away and I always had something busy in the school play, be it as lead actress, choreographing a dance, or heading the entire production.

I volunteered with children who had special needs and I worked on Sundays as well as weekends, in an educational capacity. I took meticulous notes if class was interesting and made innocent trouble when I got bored. I just always needed to be doing something. I loved the feeling of accomplishment.

This energy served me well when I finished high school and went on to do program coordinating for a nonprofit in California, and then when I moved to New York and began to work in a local school. After I got married, my husband used to tease me about not being able to sleep in and jumping out of bed the instant that I woke up. When I got pregnant, I was slightly lazier, but still energetic. During the summer that I was pregnant, I worked in a preschool camp that required a 1.5 hour commute to Connecticut each morning (and then back in the afternoon) and it didn’t phase me.

When delivery day finally came around, I remember that at one point during labor, I told the midwife that I did not need such a long break between pushes. She and my doula laughed and said, “Now is not the time to be an overachiever.” But that was me. Seven weeks after my daughter was born, I went back to my job of teaching in the afternoons. When she turned nine months old, I enrolled in college for evening classes. It was hard- balancing everything, but there was a crazy type of adrenaline that came with it as well. I didn’t stop when I became pregnant with my second child and continued my rigorous schedule: Mommy in the morning with my toddler at home, teacher in the afternoon, and student in the evening. I didn’t think anything could stop me.

I was wrong.

My second daughter was born on May 25th, a rainy Friday afternoon. A holiday (Shavuot) was set to begin on Saturday night so once sunset hit on Friday, we would be in for a three day stretch of no electricity, phones, driving, etc. I didn’t want to be in the hospital alone and so I left 7 hours later. I was throwing up but I didn’t let the nurses see because I was so scared that they would make me stay.

I didn’t stop pushing myself. When the holiday was over, my husband returned to work and I was home with the newborn and my 2.5 year old. It was tiring, but my frustration level was at an all new low and I was getting very agitated with myself. I was used to pushing myself, so why wasn’t this working now?!

A wonderful organization sent me a delicious fresh breakfast every morning for the first couple of weeks. My sister came over with her three-month-old baby to help entertain my big girl and to be there for me. My husband was supportive and amazing and didn’t stop for a second when he came home. Still, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and found myself reduced to tears in minutes.

Visitors would urge me to sleep while they were there, to sleep while the baby was sleeping, to sleep whenever I could. They didn’t know that sometimes I just couldn’t sleep.

There were nights that I would lay awake for hours, sobbing until I was too exhausted to cry anymore, angry that I couldn’t fall asleep. There were days that I couldn’t nap, even when I tried. And there were times, especially when people came over to relieve me, that I wanted to stay awake. I wanted to be with other people and feel normal. Alone in my room, in bed, all I could think about was how little I accomplished and how much time I was wasting.

When the end of June rolled around, my big girl started camp. I was a bundle of nerves. She had never been to school, as she has always been at home with me. I felt like I should have been able to care for her at home along with my baby. I also knew that I was being a horrible mother and that she was getting the brunt of my anger at home and that she would be much happier away from me. Looking back now, I see that I was thinking terrible things about myself that were unwarranted. My daughter was going to camp because she was 2.5 years old and she would have a great time! I had just had a baby and wasn’t going to be able to entertain her and take her out, camp was normal!

Now that it was just me and the baby at home, I was sure everything would finally fall into place. I reasoned that I simply must have been too overwhelmed caring for them both and that now I would be the energetic and efficient mother that I planned to be.

Again, I was wrong.

The days were worse. I was a mess. When my baby didn’t sleep, I would scream at her. Through my tears, I would beg her to be quiet, beg her not to cry, call her names, wish she was gone. I never thought about hurting her and I used that as my measuring stick. I said to myself that if I ever feel like throwing her, I’ll know that this is PPD. But if that’s not happening, this is just me being an absolute failure.

At my 6-week appointment, I waited expectantly for the midwife to ask me about how I was coping. I went to a team of several midwives and it happened that the one I saw that day, was one that I had only ever seen once before. I am sorely disappointed that the practice doesn’t focus on scheduling the 6-week appointment with a more familiar midwife for the patient, as I was too uncomfortable to bring up my feelings with someone that I barely knew. She did ask the routine questions but cut me off with a check on her sheet even before I had finished articulating my thoughts. Thing is? If she would have known me at all, she would have recognized right away that I was so quiet, pensive, anxious, and just extremely out of character.

Over the next few weeks, I called my husband home more times than I care to remember. Sometimes I was too embarrassed to call and I would lay on the floor near the baby’s crib, crying nearly as loudly as she was. I would beg him to read my mind and come home. Eventually I would succumb and send him a text. He couldn’t know how much I had tried to withstand on my own before reaching out to him, and I would often become unreasonably hurt when he wouldn’t immediately understand me. It’s embarrassing to think about this now!

PostPartumDepression

One day, about ten weeks postpartum, I had a fantasy that I would mysteriously fall into a 6-month coma and get a break from my parenting responsibilities. It seemed like the best solution. No deaths, nothing irreversible. My in-laws or my parents would surely come in to help and my big girl would be fine just as soon as I woke up. I knew that I was thinking bad, bad thoughts but it really was appealing.

At that moment, I confirmed with myself what I had already been suspecting: I definitely had Postpartum Depression. Still, though, nothing changed. I told my husband about the coma dream and I knew how uneasy he was, but he didn’t say anything about PPD. I knew it in my heart but I wasn’t going to say anything because if I did, how would anyone know that I didn’t just make everything up?

Growing up, we always had to have ‘proof’ that we were sick or else any feelings of being ‘unwell’ didn’t count. I am sure my parents were just trying to weed out the fakers (who doesn’t try to play hooky one time or another?) but this translated into a huge obstacle at a really tough time in my life. I was desperately waiting for someone else to suggest that I had PPD so that it wouldn’t have come from me and that would make it more ‘real’.

Meanwhile, my husband was simply trying to find the right way of telling me without making me completely reject the idea. He had no way of knowing that I was waiting for him to bring it up. In the end, I so desperately wanted to feel better, I finally mentioned that I was worried that I might have PPD. My husband was extremely supportive and encouraged me to reach out for help.

At first, I tried to call SPARKS, an organization that offers services to women who are suffering from PPD and other issues. The first time I gathered the courage to call, I was put on hold. I hung up after seven long minutes of waiting. It was a while until I gathered enough courage to call again. This time, I was directed to a confidential voice mail. I left a message, but it’s been a year now and no one has ever called me back.

(Don’t worry, I didn’t wait all year for that call.) I soon got in touch with a family friend who is also a therapist. She tried to help me naturally as I was against the idea of medication. We soon realized that it simply wasn’t enough and I was too anxious to work through it this way. She suggested that I call a doctor nearby and schedule an appointment. As soon as I made the decision to do that, knowing full well that I would be starting medication, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I suddenly felt like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I started on a low dose of Zoloft, some vitamins, and instructions to start adding in exercise every day. For the first couple of weeks, I also went on some heavy duty (awesome!!) sleeping pills just so that I would be able to sleep at night until the Zoloft kicked in and the anxiety would dissipate.

I knew that I was going to be okay.

Finally, I was right.

It wasn’t a smooth course. There were ups and there were downs. And then even downer downs. But as I began to take care of myself and allow myself to be constructive with this new sense of ease, I began to get better.

My baby is 14 months old now and I have been off of medication since the middle of May. Some days are still hard and sometimes, my emotions seem overwhelming but I’ve learned a lot about myself this past year and I am getting the hang of it. I can get out of the house with both kids by myself (might seem silly to some but a huge accomplishment for me) and best of all, I am laughing again. I started this blog because I like to laugh at myself and am so thankful that I can still do that.

I’m not perfect yet, and I should continue therapy to learn better ways of managing my stress, but I’ll get there.

Because I truly am a Supermom.

Written by a Balaboostas forum member, who also started her own blog: Motherly Lies
Photo Credit: 2006 Publications International

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Mikvah Struggle

I would like to share an inner struggle I recently went through.

Friday night was my Mikvah night. It was a long day, taking care of my baby, getting ready for Shabbos and the regular preparations for the Mikvah. All I remember of that day was one big daze.

When it was my turn to go and as I entered my room, I realized that I couldn’t remember if I did a bedikah that day. I could recall holding the bedikah cloth but couldn’t remember doing a bedikah. I went over the scene again and again in my mind. I was sure I did it, I wanted to have done it; I tried to convince myself that I must have. How aggravating would it be to go back home Niddah, yet again for one more night. So I continued to get ready and entered the Mikvah room, telling myself, it’s not such a big deal, and that Hashem will understand.

KosherWaters

Just as I was about to show my nice clean nails to the mikvah attendant, I began to cry. Tears of fear and frustration. What if I become pregnant from this one time? How will this affect the sanctity of my marriage? The health of my children? I began to explain myself to the sweet woman standing by the Mikvah, and with the gentlest smile she told me, “This is something you will have to remember if you did or not, and decide for yourself.”

Then she asked, “How will your husband react?” Thank G-d, I knew that my husband would support me if I did the right thing, but he will be understandably disappointed. I decided right then to not take a chance on a potentially big sin and go home. It felt right.

I came home and told my husband. I will never forget the expression on his face; pure respect and admiration. Totally worth it!

Photo Credit: Mikvah.org

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Natural First Aid Kit for the Summer

By Sara Chana Silverstein

Hey you, working so hard to pack for your summer family trip—I see you’re forgetting something! Oh, and you, over there, struggling to pack up your teenage boy for sleepover camp! You both are leaving out the most important part of your preparations: your “Natural First Aid Kit For the Summer!” Besides rubbing alcohol, band-aids and a thermometer, you should bring a little box filled with treasures for your natural first aid kit. I will quickly introduce you to a few wonderful items to help you treat bug bites, cuts and bruises. These natural products are safe and easy to use and most of them are available at your local health food store. If not, ask them to order them for you. You can easily teach your children going away to summer camp or traveling on their own, how to use these items.

  1. Green Clay — This has to be one of my most favorite healing tools. French green clay is pure clay from the earth. Green clay is fabulous for bug bites. Mix one teaspoon of green clay in a cup with just a few drops of water to form a paste. Paint over the bug bite with the paste and let the paste dry. If the bite is very sore you can paint over the existing green clay 2-4 times (letting the clay dry in between) or every hour until the healing begins. The bug bite should stop itching and will heal quickly. Green clay paste is also wonderful for kitchen burns: apply as above and you will be amazed at the way it cools and heals burnt skin (not for use on sunburns). Also, you can use the powder directly (not mixed with water) on diaper rashes and heat rashes.
  2. Arnica 30c — This is a homeopathic remedy that is placed under the tongue for falls and bumps. When you use any homeopathic remedy put a few pellets under the tongue and let it dissolve slowly. (It is best if you refrain from eating 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the remedy, but this is not necessary in an emergency.) Ordinarily this remedy is given every 3 hours as needed for pain in about 3 doses, but if it is a true emergency the remedy can be given every 15 minutes until you seek out medical attention.
    Arnica
  3. St. John’s Wort Oil — I just love this oil; it is wonderful and soothing. The oil is great for sunburns, muscle aches and stiff necks. You can liberally apply this oil after a nasty sunburn (but do not go out in the sun directly after you put on the oil; let it soak into the skin first). You can also add two drops of pure lavender oil to the St. John’s Wort oil to help soothe the burn. This can also be used with aloe vera gel. The oil can also be massaged into sore and bruised muscles. It is also very helpful if you wake up with a stiff neck. The best quality oil is from Woodland Essences at (315) 845-1515.
    Oil
  4. Yunnan Paiyado powder — Wow, great name! This is a superb Chinese powder mix. It will almost instantly stop a cut from bleeding. Two summers ago, I was in the country and a neighbor sliced her finger while opening a tuna fish can. She had been trying for almost one hour to stop her bleeding finger. She was on her way to the doctor but stopped at my place first. I put some of this powder over the cut as she was on the phone deciding who was going to take care of her children while she was at the doctor, and by the end of the phone call her finger had stopped bleeding. It works like magic. It also helps promote healing of the wound. If you suspect a wound needs stitches do not apply this powder unless under the guidance of a professional. If stitches are needed I would take Arnica homeopathic remedy under my tongue on the way to getting those stitches! You can order this powder from New York’s Chinatown by calling (212) 962-0447.
    YannaPayo
  5. Rosemary, Lavender, Citronella Essential Oils — These oils are great as a bug repellent! You can purchase a small water spritz bottle. Fill the bottle up with water and add 20 drops each of all three of these oils. You can then spray on you or your children’s clothes all day long as needed. You can also burn these oils in a diffuser (You can find most essential oils and diffusers at your health food store.).

There is so much more to learn but my time has run out. Start with these items this summer and you will be amazed at how much you can help yourself, your kids, and your neighbors heal. Have a safe and productive summer, and happy healing!

Sara Chana, IBCLC, RH (AHG) is a lactation consultant, classical homeopath, registered herbalist, doula and mother of seven children. She has worked with over 10,000 new moms and babies.  You can like her Facebook page ‘Sara Chana’ and/or follow her on twitter @sarachanas. On August 1st, she will be launching her Breastfeeding App with 102 original videos at www.sarachana.com

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Is Marriage What You Thought it Would Be? – The Event

The third official Balaboostas lecture is coming up. Don’t miss out on this important event…where you come with your spouse! You can RSVP by emailing me at balaboostas@gmail.com or comment on this blog post or message me here. Space is very limited, since it is for husbands and wives, so if you would like to recommend this to a friend, please do so as soon as possible. (We cannot have walk ins as special tables will be rented – so if you RSVP please do show up!) Looking forward to meeting you.

MarriagebySheaHecht

Thank you for reading.

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“The Road Less Traveled”- A Baal Teshuva and a Ger’s Love Story Part II: The Gain, The Loss & The Interrogation

By: Jillian/Yosefa Gross

Editors note: You can read part I of “The Road Less Traveled” here.

Much has happened since the last publication, my dear readers. We are now seven months into being completely shomer Shabbat, my family has MORE than accepted ALL of our decisions, many more friends have been made and connections have been matched. My husband has been attending services every Friday night and Saturday morning (even though he knows he doesn’t count as part of the minyan, he is in love and on fire for Hashem). Every six weeks, Friday night Shabbat dinner is held in our house, with sometimes more than eight people sitting around my table. And that is only the beginning.

In November, we found out that we were (unexpectedly) pregnant and I went from shock/disbelief and borderline not wanting to be (as we wanted his conversion to be complete first) to absolute excitement. I went to the doctor and had my blood drawn, which confirmed definite pregnancy, and two days after that, I had blood drawn again to confirm that the pregnancy was moving forward as it should. A week later, I started spotting. I called the doctor and was told not to worry about it, as it was common, and that everything would be fine. For a week, at least once a day, I would see blood when I urinated and feared the worst. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the doctor on a Wednesday morning where they performed an exam, round of blood work, and an ultrasound. The exam came back normal, the blood work came back as still definitely pregnant, and we held our breathe as we went in for the ultrasound (even though we knew that we were only about 4-6 weeks along and we knew that we probably wouldn’t hear anything) and didn’t even see a spot. We were told not to be discouraged, as this was “normal” and they reassured me of everything. They put me on “light duty” of no heavy lifting and sent me home.

A restful Shabbat came and went, and on Sunday afternoon I went to the airport to pick up a friend of mine that I had not seen in two years, and came home. That evening, while my husband, one of my girlfriends, my childhood friend from out of town, and I watched a movie, I started to cramp a little, in a way that I had never experienced. I voiced my concern, took two Tylenol (which didn’t help) and went to bed. I woke up on Monday at 4:30am in excruciating pain, and before I even got out of bed, I knew my worst fear was coming true. I immediately called the doctor on call and they told me to only get to the E.R. if I was filling a pad an hour and/or if I was in more pain than I could handle. Being the dedicated employee that I am and believing the doctor, I popped some more Tylenol, texted my boss to let her know I was miscarrying and that I would be a bit late to work. Before I even got to my job, my boss called me and told me to not dare go to work, to go immediately to the E.R., and that she knew what it was like, having experienced it too, and not to return until I was ready. I didn’t want my husband to miss work for something he could not help, especially since he wouldn’t be able to touch me anyway, so I called my mother-in-law, who said she would meet me at home to take me and I then called my childhood friend in from out of town and told her to get dressed. My joke to her was that on her first day in Nashville, TN, I was going to show her the famous Vanderbilt University Medical Center. To make a long story short (at least this part) I was in so much pain by the time I got there, that they had to give me morphine just to perform the exam and blood work, which confirmed that not only had my baby died, but that I was also so far along in miscarrying that no further medical procedure was necessary. I was sent home with a prescription for a heavy narcotic, merely three weeks after finding out that I was pregnant. We were devastated. I stayed home from work for a week, either in too much physical pain or too heavily inebriated to work. I returned to work one week to the day after losing my baby. I would later realize this was a HUGE mistake.

PainfulMiscarriage

The secular New Year came and went uneventfully, until the night our Rabbi called my husband. The Rabbi called to tell my husband that the Beit Din that would be performing his conversion would be meeting in two weeks on a Sunday and that he needed to get there and that I was more than welcome to attend, as they would probably want to meet me as well. Fast forward to the week of the meeting when our Rabbi calls to confirm the time and other details for Sunday, he tells us there is a slight change of plans and that they will probably not want to meet me yet, as it is the first meeting. On Motzei Shabbat, we immediately packed the car after Havdallah and drove the four hour drive from Nashville, TN to Atlanta, GA, checked into a hotel and got to bed. We wake up the next morning and we went to the synagogue to meet with the Beit Din. As we are packing our room and getting into the car, I realize that I didn’t pack a book or magazine, so I tell my husband that I will drop him off at the synagogue and go to a Walgreens or somewhere else to get something to read. We go into the synagogue, he “checks in” and I am on my way out to the car when he calls my cell phone and asks me to turn around and come back inside, because the Rabbis want to meet me after all. I feel my heart pulsing in my ears as I make my way back into the office and I take a seat.

After some introductions and a few questions, the real interrogation for me started. There were three questions/comments that were made that will never leave me. The first one was “Do you have any children?” Even though the Rabbis had no idea what had happened during the prior month, I remember standing there and wanting the floor to literally open up and swallow me whole as I said “No, not yet.” The second blow? was when they asked me, “What made you think it was ok to marry a non-Jew?” My response came quickly and did not really give my voice justice, as I feel like I did not have the opportunity to explain myself. I said “I didn’t think about it that way.” But the rest of what I wanted to say was, “I was told as a child that I could marry anyone as long as they were not Muslim or Agnostic/Atheist and that when I looked into his eyes fourteen years ago, I saw his future, I saw this moment.” (Minus a couple of things.) They also told me that if I was waiting for his conversion to be complete, I was causing “Permanent Loss”. This is the part that made no sense to me as the commandment to have children is for Jewish men, not women, so it did not necessarily apply in this case and I wanted more of an explanation. As the interrogation wrapped up, I couldn’t get to the car fast enough. I barely made it there and got the door closed, before I lost all control. I not only cried, I wept, wept for my baby that failed to thrive, for the babies that I apparently lost the opportunity to have due to waiting, for my lack of self-motivation to stand up and speak for myself when I stood before those men less than 30 minutes before. I cried until I choked and coughed and couldn’t breathe, and then I called my mother. I told her “I thought I was over this” and she said “Baby, I could have told you that you weren’t. You went from pregnant, to not pregnant very quickly and were in either physical pain, or high on narcotics, immediately returning to work a week later, never really processing emotionally and psychologically what had happened. You basically said, ‘Ok I am not pregnant let’s move on.’ Everyone is different, it can take days, and weeks, months, etc. you need to process as you will. I love you.” I have an amazingly sweet and supportive husband, as with this being all about him, he was still there for me. I should have been the one asking him how he felt, what happened when I wasn’t in the room, the questions that were asked and the answers he gave, but instead he held me while I cried in his arms. We then went to the famous Kosher Kroger in Atlanta, GA and stocked up on so much yummy goodness, including some Passover goodies, Chinese food for lunch, and sushi for dinner. We picked up some things for our Rabbi and drove the four hours home.

Two weeks after we arrived home, my previous employer called to ask me if I would testify on her children’s behalf in court. See, my college degree is in criminal & child psychology and her children (who I was a Nanny for) were abused by her ex-husband and I was the only person whom the children trusted to tell every time it occurred, so of course, I said yes. The problem was that as soon I got off the phone with her and the children, I closed my eyes and visions of my past cases, pictures that nobody should ever see, came flashing across my mind. The cries I heard when the room got quiet were deafening and nobody in my life could understand what was going on. The flashbacks and cries went on almost nonstop for the next two months. One of my chavrusas (by now I had 3) recommended that I speak to another friend of ours in the community that just happened to be a retired licensed clinical social worker with years of experience in working with psychologists like me. I spoke to her, started to meet with her, and was diagnosed with PTSD, moderate anxiety, and mild depression. I chose therapy, no medications, and I continue to meet with her as you read this.

By the time this goes to print, it will be a few weeks since the next part of my story. On a Wednesday morning, I went to work as usual and thirty minutes later, I felt my heart pumping extremely fast and so hard that my chest hurt. My head started throbbing as the room started spinning. A coworker had to lead me to my chair and have me call my husband to take me to the Emergency Room. An hour later I was inside the emergency room of a hospital known all over Nashville, TN for specializing in cardiology. By 3:00pm, the doctor had ruled out all potential cardiovascular problems and my lungs were clear so they sent me home. The next day, (not happy with the answers) I went to my own doctor’s office and after reviewing everything with him from the day before, including my psychological diagnoses, I was told that what I had experienced the day before was an anxiety attack. They prescribed an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications, told me to continue my therapy, and try to put myself first. My boss told me to take off the next day and recuperate. A non-Jewish friend of mine came over and helped me get ready for Shabbat. Not only did she help out for Thursday night, but for Friday after work too, and I was eternally grateful. After all, she even stayed until Saturday morning. I made it to services and managed to stay for Kiddush by day, but was beyond exhausted for the women’s roundtable Tanya class that was meets every Saturday afternoon. With my husband’s support, I made it home to learn with him.

Apparently, word travels fast in a small Jewish community and the Rebbetzin called me on Monday morning to tell me that she missed me in class on Saturday and to see if I was okay. I explained to her all the details of the previous Wednesday and she told me what my mother told me, what my employer told me, and what my amazing husband told me – that I should really start taking time for myself. She reminded me that a woman is responsible for her Shalom Bayit and that without my own sanity and peace of mind, it would cease to be so calm. That I need to take time out for myself, and that is what I am doing right now.

Drawing by: Sarah W.

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Are You Using the Right Cleanser for Your Skin Type?

By Dena Schupper

Note: Article references are posted on the forum, in this thread.

First of all, there is no perfect skincare regimen for everyone. What’s right for me may not be right for you.

Start by figuring out what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for acne control? Help for dry, flaky skin? Sun protection? There are so many products out there that you may need to narrow the selection down before you even start looking.

What are the general products? Again, you probably won’t need every item in the following list (but it should help you get started): cleanser, exfoliator, toner, serum or hydrator, other anti-acne or anti-aging treatment, moisturizer or oil, and sunscreen (I’m not getting into each one for now—like I said, narrowing your focus is important at first!).

OK, let’s focus on the first item for this article: CLEANSER. Now, not everyone needs to cleanse his or her skin both AM and PM. There are some people who have such sensitive skin that over-cleansing is actually detrimental.1

Beauty

Why might cleansing very often cause a problem? Because everyone’s skin has a lipid barrier that coats the skin with a thin layer of ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol, and using a product that strips this protective lipid barrier off makes the skin more vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria (breakouts!). Removing the lipid barrier with a cleanser may also lead to dry, dehydrated skin since that protective cover is no longer there to trap moisture next to your skin.

What kind of cleanser would do such a thing? Typical soap, for example, is not a good cleanser because it is too alkaline for skin. Although the inside of your body is happiest at a neutral-to-alkaline pH of 7-9, your skin needs to maintain the lipid barrier (also known as the “acid mantle”) at a neutral-to-acidic pH level of just below 5.

Cleanser ingredients that are too alkaline, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), may trigger an allergic reaction that shows itself as dry, itchy skin. After cleansing, the lipid barrier typically normalizes to a neutral-to-acidic pH about an hour and a half later, but repeatedly washing with an alkaline cleanser can hurt your skin’s ability to repair itself. And, if you’re using a medicated cleanser that contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or another antibacterial, try not to use them every day since their alkaline pH of 9-10 can cause skin irritation with too-frequent use. In a lab setting, acne bacteria grows at a near-alkaline pH of 6 to 6.5, but grows less when the pH is reduced to under 6—so don’t trigger more acne by accidentally raising the skin’s pH with the wrong cleanser.

So, what are some examples of brands that produce cleansers with a skin-friendly pH? Cetaphil, Avene, Aquaderm, Dove, and Elovera all offer cleansers that supposedly won’t disrupt the skin’s pH. BUT don’t just run out and buy their products. You need to know more.

This is something that can drive even a person with a neutral disposition crazy: ANY cleanser, even one with an appropriate pH, might STILL not be right for you. And what works on your facial skin will probably be fine for your body, but not the other way around. Why? Let’s take a look at what’s in a typical cleanser: water, surfactants (to break up debris), moisturizers, binders (to stabilize the formula), lather enhancers (sudsy!), fillers, preservatives (to prevent the growth of bacteria), fragrance, and dyes or pigments. Any one of those things could potentially irritate your skin. Even water! And that’s not even including the natural ingredients intended to appeal to seekers of green products everywhere. Do not assume that an ingredient is safe because it is natural. For example, lemon or lime oil, parsnip, parsley, celery, and figs all contribute to photo-toxicity in the presence of UV light. That means that squeezing out some all-natural lemon juice on your skin can cause you to develop patches of irritated or darkened skin if sunlight hits your face. Lavender oil, which generally has a reputation for being mild, is cytotoxic to human skin cells in a lab environment at concentrations of 0.25%. Catch that? Toxic. Basically, never try to make your own cleanser at home with ingredients found in your kitchen unless you research them thoroughly first (and by research I don’t mean that you read about a famous actress using it in an interview, or heard that your sister-in-law’s cousin swears by it). A small amount at the bottom of your ingredient list probably won’t hurt, but using undiluted essential oils in your skin care may lead to increased sensitivity or worse. Other natural things can be both good and bad for your facial skin, depending on what your particular skin type can handle. For example, unrefined shea butter and coconut oil can make wonderful moisturizers because they create an occlusive barrier over the surface of the skin, or they can lead to terrible breakouts because in some people that extra barrier will clog their pores and lead to breakouts. The key is to do your research, then test it on a small area of skin before trying it out on the whole face.

So, let’s say you are at the beauty counter, or the supermarket, or you are shopping online and you see a cleanser that says “non-comedogenic!” or “dermatologist-recommended” or the sales associate praises:“how effective yet mild!” her product is. If a product is recommended by someone you trust or (even me), should you buy it? Not necessarily. Google the item, or turn it around in your hand, and check the ingredient list! But…what are you looking for? You now know that any number of potential cleansing ingredients could cause irritation. Do you keep a spreadsheet of everything you’ve tried and chart out potential triggers? You could, sure. You could totally memorize a long list of ingredients (all well as all their derivatives) that don’t agree with your skin. Or, if you are looking for a quick way to determine what’s potentially irritating or comedogenic while standing in the store, you could pick up your smart phone, type in www.cosdna.com, and choose the “analyze cosmetics” tab. Copy and paste the ingredient list and it will give you a breakdown of what each ingredient is used for (if it is a foaming agent, a preservative, a bonding agent, etc). More importantly, it will tell you how likely that ingredient is to cause an acne breakout or irritate skin. Amazing! Now you can actually verify those “non-comedogenic” claims. And one other thing about ingredient lists. Very often, the ingredients appear in order from the ingredient that makes up the bulk of the product to the ingredient that is so tiny, that you can hardly tell it is there. If there is one ingredient that ranks as mildly irritating in Cosdna but it appears as the very last ingredient in the list, there’s a chance that it won’t bother your skin too badly, since the amount should be small.

OK, so let’s pretend that you have just found a great cleanser that doesn’t contain harsh ingredients. Think about how you want to apply it. Do you douse your face with water, rub in the cleanser, and scrub it off? Not exactly. Avoid really hot water or steam, which causes broken capillaries, redness, and irritation. And avoid excessive rubbing (or using a facial brush too often) because irritation can lead to cracks in skin, which may allow more pathogenic bacteria in. Try to pat the skin dry (or let it air dry) and apply a hydrator or moisturizer while the skin is still slightly damp to help trap moisture near your skin.

What else can you do in the interest of improving your skin’s barrier function? Applying a lactic acid treatment (an alpha hydroxyl acid with a pH of 3.7-4.2) can reduce sensitivity to SLS (that too-alkaline component found in many cleansers) after 4 weeks. And an occlusive barrier cream can help keep dry skin from cracking. Please just remember that not everyone can use lactic acid or a rich moisturizer. If your lipid barrier is compromised, you may not be able to tolerate a chemical exfoliant like lactic acid. If your skin is oily, acne-prone, or dehydrated, you may want to try a cleanser that contains a humectant like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to add hydration (but not oil) to your skin. If your skin is oily or acne-prone, you may want to find a cleanser that contains beta hydroxy acid to help clear out pores, or pre-cleanse with astringent oil, like grape seed or possibly hazelnut, before following with a mild cleanser. Dry or sensitive skin types may benefit from reducing the number of times they cleanse and switching to a very moisturizing cleanser, or even cleansing oil like mineral or extra virgin olive on damp skin. Common sense says not to introduce more than one new product at a time and not to use a new product all over your face right away. Patch testing products will help you discover what works for your particular skin type and what doesn’t, whether your skin is dry, oily, acne-prone, sensitive, dehydrated, or your own combination of all of them.

Good luck! Hopefully, you now have the tools to find a cleanser that works for you.

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Mikvah Meets My Phobia!

Note: This article is in no way a general Halachic leniency, as it is about a specific individual with her own Psak. Please consult your personal Rav for any Halachic questions regarding your own Mikvah experience. 

If you are anything like me, and nearly 86% of American Adults, you likely have some sort of aqua-phobia. Like any phobia, there are different levels for a fear-of-water. Some people just cannot get water in their eyes and ears, whilst others have it so severe that they cannot even see a full bathtub without quaking.

But no one has a bigger problem with this phobia than the monthly Mikvah-go-er. And if ever there was something that ruined your day, this would probably top the charts.

HillsideMikva

Now I swim. In fact I love swimming…up until the water gets in my face. Funny in fact, is how I can swim a good 40 laps in a pool, but I cannot face the flow of water when I am in the shower. The slightest feeling that there is water on my eyes and near my nose makes me panic – cue nausea, sweaty palms, pounding heart and intense shakes.

But it never caused many problems until I started going to the Mikvah. At this point in my life, I have found several things that help keep me calm to be able to fulfill this Mitzvah, but it has not always been easy.

I used to just ‘sweat it out’ like many women. I am very open about my fear and you would be surprised by how many women I talk to, that actually confess to having this same problem.

Mikvah night used to mean a day of stress – including not being able to eat, nausea and shaking. But like any good Jewish wife, I had to do what had to be done. Until the time when I went to Mikvah and Hatzolah almost had to be called because I was hyperventilating….IN the water. That is right. 20 minutes to get 1 kosher dip (and there were 2 left to go). I had never cried so hard. I could barely choke out the Bracha. It took my husband hours to get me to calm down and I had nightmares for weeks.

That was when I got a hold of myself and said that is it. I put together a plan and spoke to my Rav and some kallah teachers and I cannot tell you in any words how different my Mikvah experience is now. But I hate keeping things to myself, so I want to share some tips with you now because although many of you might not have such severe fears, I am sure there are some of you who still shake and fast on the day of Mikvah, and not for religious purposes!

1:  CALL YOUR RAV or your kallah teacher. I was told that if for any reason a lady cannot dip 3 times (cold water, ear infection, phobia!) she only needs to do it twice. And I was told by another person that if I cannot even face 2, I only need to do it once. But again, of course you need a Psak for this.

Many times, I end up dipping 3 or 4 times but only 1 or 2 of those are kosher dips. Which brings me to…

2: Talk talk talk to your Mikvah lady. Tell her you have a phobia. Tell her what your Rav told you. Tell her that you will try to do 2 but you may only do 1 and that it may take a while to get those but she should please understand.

When I told this to the Mikvah lady the first time, she looked at me and said “so many people are scared, take your time for I am in no rush.”  She even took the time to show me how to stand to make it easier for me, how to put my hair and how to bend my knees efficiently.

3: Find a Mikvah that you are comfortable in. One of the reasons I had that major, life changing, panic attack was because I was in a new Mikvah and the lady had no time or patience. In fact, after 15 minutes she went to call another lady to ask her to ‘help’ me.

After that, I looked into Mikvah’s in the area and found one that had great reviews. I went there and have since, never gone elsewhere. The Mikvah Ladies are relaxed, calm and so helpful. In the water, they have a little hole in the wall that is filled with water so you can place your hand in there loosely and it supports you enough so that you do not feel like you are drowning.

4:  Take small sips of water whilst you are in the preparation room, as your mouth and throat can get dry and that can make you feel more nauseous and can make it harder to dip.

5: Invest in some bachs rescue remedy. It is an herbal remedy and, say what you want, it works! Whether it is just psychological or actually healing, it helps you to calm down. It relaxes you and stops the shakes.

And finally…

6:  Take your time! No one is rushing you. Not even your husband outside waiting in the car. Not the Mikvah lady, not the ladies in the waiting room and not G-d. You can be there for 10 minutes or 30 minutes. It is your Mitzvah, you have to feel comfortable and you have to do it in the one and only way that Hashem wants you to and that is for it to be Kosher.

So take a deep breath, you will be fine. And after this, it is over for a whole month!

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Eyebrows

By: Vera Tovshteyn

The physical function of eyebrows is to prevent dirt and moisture, such as sweat,
from getting into our eyes. The aesthetic function, however, is to bring focus to
our eyes and to frame the face. Our cheekbones provide the lower frame, while the
eyebrows provide the upper frame to our eyes, making them the focal point of the
face. The shape and position of the eyebrows can alter our facial expression and the
way others perceive us.

As my former makeup instructor, Merideth, always said, “You wouldn’t put a Mona
Lisa in a poorly constructed frame, or one that is the wrong size for the painting.”
Having been fortunate to see the Mona Lisa this past summer, I thought that the
frame was just a bit distracting from the unexpectedly small masterpiece. But of
course, this is just an opinion. Examining further, I could not help but think that the
lack of visible brows attribute to the “mysteriousness” of her expression. Her point
was that no matter how well the makeup is applied, the eyebrows play a major role
in how your face looks, overall.

As far as perfect eyebrows go, one word that can describe them is “balanced”.
A woman whose eyebrows are too high appears to be surprised all the time.
Eyebrows that are too low give an illusion of sadness. If they are too arched, with
the inner brow that is very low, then a woman will have an angry expression. Too
thin – takes attention away from the eyes. Too heavy – distracting. And, finally, too
perfect – UNNATURAL!

The classic eyebrow shape is the one made famous by the Hollywood stars of the
1950’s, such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren. All of them
proudly wore quite a strong, arched brow. While Hepburn and Loren’s brows were
not overpowering, Taylor’s black-filled brows were a part of her signature look.

The classic brow is considered to complement most people, which is the reason it
is “classic”. Think of it as a well-fitting black dress; when in doubt – that is what
you wear. However, one size and shape, obviously does not fit all! There are some
variations of the classic brow, which will flatter a woman’s face, depending on the
structure of its features. Below, I offer several tips on adjusting the classic brow
shape for your face:

1. Normally, a classic brow begins above the tear duct, or the inner corner
of your eye. If you have close-set eyes, make them appear wider apart by
slightly widening the distance between the brows (slightly is the key word
here). Either leave it to a professional aesthetician or pluck them yourself.
If choosing the latter, I suggest making marks with a pencil first, to ensure
symmetry.

2. Conversely, to visually narrow the space between the eyes, reduce the
distance between the eyebrows by slightly filling them in with an eye shadow
or an eyebrow pencil. The most natural way to fill in brows is by using very
thin, light strokes, as if you are drawing hair. You may want to practice
drawing hair on paper first.

3. The highest point of the arch is approximately above the outer edge of the
iris, when you are looking straight ahead. This too may vary slightly, but
usually only in the outer direction. I do not advise making the arch closer to
the center of the eye, or you will risk a clown or joker-like appearance.

4. It may seem obvious, but, just in case… if your face is small, you can keep the
shape but reduce the thickness, while someone with a larger face can carry
a stronger brow. The size of your eyes should also serve as a guide for how
thick or thin your eyebrows should be.

5. A curvy arch will look more flattering on ladies whose features are more
angular.

6. If your eyebrows are naturally very sparse or light, use the fill-in technique
described above. Always use light, feathery strokes in the same direction
as the hair growth. When filling the inner (thicker) half of the brow, your
strokes should be more vertical. As you reach the outer half (thinner), the
hair begins to grow horizontally. Consequently, your strokes should become
shorter and flatter as well.

7. When filling in brows, you have several product options. My favorite is an
eye shadow with a small, flat angled brush that I moisten with water. Another
option is an eyeliner pencil. In order to achieve natural looking eyebrows,
use a color that is a shade lighter than the hair (I actually like to use two
shades to give them a three-dimensional quality). Use neutral colors, such
as shades of beige and taupe that do not have any red pigment, as our brows
almost never have a red pigment in them. Many makeup companies carry
pencils and powders specifically designed for this purpose, in wide array of
neutral shades.

8. Brow gel is a product that may be useful to those with thicker or difficult-
to-manage eyebrows. The wand, which is just like the mascara wand, is for
brushing through and directing the hair in the desired direction. The gel that
keeps the hair in place can be colorless or tinted.

Although we should aim to make our eyebrows as even as possible, we also have
to consider the shape of the eyes, and the overall shape of the face. Sometimes the
two sides of the face are not exactly symmetrical, and that is where another one of
Merideth’s brilliant quotes comes in: “They’re not twins; they’re sisters!”

eyebrows picsdownloaddownload (1)

Vera is a certified makeup artist based in New York. A graduate of a protégées Make Up Designory school (MUD). Vera has all of the necessary skills and tools to create an unique and fresh look for any occasion. Vera’s ability to realize the client’s vision, re-create a look from a photograph or film, or develop a unique look, camouflaging imperfections while enhancing the natural beauty is truly unsurpassed.

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