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ID-10028225The forthcoming tips come from a journal entry from last week. Its fun to flip through a soft leather pocket-sized volume,  reading bits in juicy blue fountain pen hand. I adore fountain pens, the quill gliding, feeling the shining liquid ink absorb into the paper. I relish writing in cursive, something Israelis find perplexing. Creating loop upon look feels a little like drawing, doesn’t it?  They don’t write that way here, the boxy Hebrew characters aren’t built for it. Though everyone is fluent in English, they cannot read our connective writing. Shame.

In any case, a few facts.

1) I’m writing this post on my kindle fire – a used new-to-me model given me by my mother incredibly thoughtful sister, which despite its first-generation-ness, has really improved the quality of my life. It’s a rudimentary tablet, and I have access to wifi like a smart phone,  something I don’t have as its very expensive here. Though clunky, its so nice to have a browser and books (of which I’ve read a few) and newspapers (I read the Herald Tribune daily) and apps, though usually its just a few card games I use to distract myself to blow off steam. There is no camera and no mic so Skype and photos aren’t relevant. However I just downloaded this mobile wordpress app, seems easy to use, and here I am, writing! Brilliant. Thank you Ashley!

2) The following are guidelines I created for myself, very straightforward, things I know will vastly improve my daily existence. The moment by moment breathing in and out getting out of bed and being functional and happy kind of existence. The physical that should improve the metaphysical.  Underneath the funky bookishness, I’m just an ordinary schmo. I’m very messy and unraveled at the edges. These are my goals. Maybe you guys would find some benefit too from reading this. Or at least you can check up on me. Or ask me out. Or publish my novel. Or do my dishes. Whatever floats your boat.

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night, preferably turning in before midnight.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day. 
  • Create a daily work checklist and stick to it.
  • Don’t dare to think about work after work, and really create a line, even if and when overtime is required.
  • Always be reading a book.
  • Read the newspaper every day. 
  • Attend or participate in (at least) one cultural activity per week, whether it be a night at the opera or digging out the colored pencils for a fun sketch fest at home.
  • See friends twice per week or more.
  • Write, blog, or otherwise work with words in some way every day.
  • Clean something every day and maintain a clean (ish) home – i.e. sweeping, dishes, cat box, laundry, gardening, general tidying.
  • Pay bills/rent/vaad bayit on time.
  • Cook and generally eat healthy meals (and eat with people preferably), not in front of the computer or TV.
  • Go to yoga once per week if not more.
  • Go on one date per week.

How hard is this?  Very hard!  Well, not really, but really.  It takes some self-conscious effort.  Nothing on the list is difficult.  Well, not too difficult – the cleaning is not easy for me.  But doing every single thing, or at least many of them — that is discipline.  I do some of these things, sometimes, and somehow I manage.  I imagine if I could accomplish these tasks, and maintained it, my life would be less stressed and far more fulfilling.  How often do I lose sleep over timing, running to keep up on deadlines, avoiding the disgusting kitchen sink, feeling guilty guilty guilty.  The stress is physically and mentally unhealthy.  So, while easier said than done, I must attempt this everyday Everest.

What do you think?  Do you have a regimen?  Any tips?

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Dear Readers,

I have not written in an eternity.  For a while, I knew it was the right decision.  Life was overwhelming, so much so, that keeping up a blog was becoming more of a guilty burden than an outlet for self-expression and the exchange of ideas.  However, the last few months revealed an interesting symptom: my facebook and twitter status updates became longer, more complex, resembling compositions, carefully, artfully, lovingly crafted. Word art in 140 characters or less. A clear sign I needed to actually do some real writing.  The potential subject matters have also become overwhelming – what to write about?  Where should I start?  So I’m going to jump.  Bear with me, dear reader.

Riojan Revelations

I took myself on vacation to Spain in September.  I won’t go into details except to say – visit Basque Country.  The best food, gorgeous landscape, and the kindest people you’d ever want to meet.  You wouldn’t think it – it’s not a sexy place – but there is a subtle grandeur, an old world Europe elegance, with a fascinating and often sad history, that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself.  Besides, Riojan wine country is literally next door (and culturally related), there are Europe’s loveliest beaches, and you can even go surfing if you dare to face those cold waters.

I always keep a journal when I travel extensively.  I buy a leather bound volume or two and invest in a good pen.  As I travel alone, it keeps me sane, gives me purpose, gives me distraction when needed.  It’s not easy just being with yourself and only with yourself without a routine – travel for me is a kind of meditation – extremely difficult at first, but when you get into the rhythm, the benefits are infinite.  By the end of the trip, I felt more like myself in years.  

My main revelation: who I am.  I never had a calling, never knew I had to be a surgeon or a ballerina.  And that practicality in college or slightly after never kicked in – I didn’t enlist in law school or business school or find an interesting sector to devote my life to some sort of desk.  I am not unique in this.  Whatever the decisions of the people in my generation, there is an clear sense of ennui.  Books and research and articles about “the quarterlife crisis” and the downfalls of having too many choices leading to major anxiety and crippling indecision, abounded.  In many ways, I have been a leaf.  That image of Forrest Gump’s leaf has remained ingrained in my memory.  Though I’ve had a stable job for a year and a half, in a sector I devoted 4 years to in some semblance or another, my mind, heart, “soul,” self, is not that professional person.  I love so much of what I do.  I threw all of my energy, sacrificing my health sometimes, to the company, to the mission, for the benefit of wine culture in Israel.  I’m very lucky to have this in my life.  But this is not my raison d’etre.  This is not my life.  It is not worth my health or the majority of hours in the week.  The time has come to go back to “me.”  It probably won’t make me money.  But I’m dying inside sometimes from the lack of time and attention to who it really is that I am.

(Goodness doesn’t this sound like the introduction to some sappy self-help novel! Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy-go-luck person…)

This will sound stupid, and I even felt it to be so stupid as I wrote in my journal on my last day in San Sebastian while drinking a too-sweet cafe con leche and nibbling on a tortilla pintxo (a Spanish omelet placed on top of a too-small slice of baguette, speared with a toothpick), that I wrote down that this was embarrassingly stupid to be writing.  It’s so far-fetched. It’s such a grandiose word, that I feel I’m being an arrogant sophist for thinking such a thought.  But the word felt right, and it wouldn’t go away.  Words are powerful.  Now I’ve always felt kind of OK calling myself a thinker, or a person who likes to think, who often (or at best occasionally these days) wrote.  What I am, what I have always been, is a philosopher.  When I wrote that down, I felt good.  I am in such awe at that word – pictures of brilliant pipe-smoking tweed-clad professors and long-dead robe-wrapped Greeks come to mind.  So you can understand how silly I feel calling myself such a word.  

On a daily basis, I have all-encompassing “thinking spells.” I am an incurable daydreamer.  When seen in children it seems sweet and creative and fanciful until or unless it interrupts schoolwork or other such responsible tasks.  In adults, it’s perceived as a wishy-washy hippie impractical waste of a thing to do.  I can’t help it.  Overpowering ideas flow, and I stop, and I let them wash into me.  For minutes, for hours, on and off over the course of days sometimes.  It gives me great pleasure to think.  To roll thoughts and facts and theories over and over in my mind, connecting the dots, creating fascinating conclusions.  For example, yesterday, I entertained an imaginary conversation with an old acquaintance from college about the earliest origins of marriage, land-ownership, violence and the current socioeconomic state.  My greatest pain – that I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things.  Perhaps it’s why so many of my mental wanderings take the form of dialogues, either with people I have known, or people I respect, whether they be perfect strangers or even long-dead.  I’ve been labeled strange, an oddity, and I don’t mind that. But not to be listened to.  Not fun.  And I fear that my wits have dulled without this practice. I feel that I sometimes reject the thought pattern building up, and distract myself with television, games, food, alcohol, cleaning, gardening, and most of all – work – not entirely unhealthy, but it borders on it.  It’s why it was particularly heartbreaking not to have been accepted into a doctoral program a couple years ago.  I knew my application was hurried and weakly presented, but I still had hoped it would be enough.  

My conclusion in Spain: let it be.  It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Like meditating.  Like anything worth doing in life – it takes discipline in order to build a healthy habit.  My goal is to begin writing these thoughts down, as I have in the past.  Beyond that, I feel I need to at least try to publish something formally.  It won’t take the place of a regular discourse, but it will affirm I’m not crazy.  There’s a particular treatise on ecology, the environment, and economics that I’ve been meaning to get out of my system for over three years.  Perhaps sending these ideas into the world will negate my new self-identity – there is a danger that I will discover I’ve never had an even slightly original idea in my life.  But I need to take that chance. Exploring the writing of others, extensively, in order to better informed, is never bad. It’s always fruitful.  Thinking is always better than not thinking.  I need not be ashamed of that.  I need to embrace it, whether or not anyone understands me or cares.

I will leave you with a treat! Photos of some incredible home-libraries that have been popping up on my facebook stream all week.  I am desperate for something like this in my home.  A respite for the soul.  It’s ever so much easier to be productive and comfortable in one’s own skin when surrounded by a beautiful, functional environment. Squishy armchair required.  Fireplace optional.  Thank you for reading.

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Homemade pumpkin pie!

 Thanksgiving: my favorite holiday

In my invitation, this is how I described Thanksgiving to my Israeli friends:

For those not especially familiar, Thanksgiving is a secular American holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.  We take a moment out of our lives and give thanks for all we have – and eat massive amounts of American food (hope you like green bean casserole and pumpkin-marshmallow bake).  In theory, we mark the date of the “first Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims shared with the Indians in Massachusetts in 1621 after having survived the first difficult year in the New World.  For a good overview of the history of Thanksgiving see: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/thanksgiving.htm.  It’s like Passover, but for everyone and anyone.  I think it should be an international holiday.

They don’t quite get it, but it’s still important for me to do.  As for the meal, I never cease to be amazed at how disgusted everyday Israelis are of pumpkin pie.  I basically made a quintuple recipe – two double-stuff pies (one pictured above) and 2 dozen pie-cupcakes.  Three-quarters of one pie got eaten, along with a small handful of mini-pies.  Half of our twenty or so guests were American, so you can see how little and unadventurous the palates were.  The apple pie went over a bit better – the prettiest apple pie I’ve ever made, actually – and most people don’t seem to know it’s easy to make.  Well, almost all pies are easy, depending on the filling.  Just mix up whatever you want to cook and pour into the crust.  Apple pie, being made entirely of apple, is usually just made up of apple slices, a bit of sugar, and cinnamon.  Pumpkin pie, so easy to make in the US with canned pumpkin, is infinitely more difficult when you have to go out and buy your own pumpkin, core it, cut off the rind, boil large chunks, and then press and blend the cooked meat – all before mixing in the actual pie ingredients.  I will use the word homemade here quite frequently, because it truly was – nothing canned.

Surprisingly enough, my homemade sweet potato marshmallow casserole was a big hit, although they did not understand why it wasn’t in the dessert category.  I suppose nobody can say no to a dish covered in marshmallows.  The child in us all simply jumps out of our skins.  My family’s recipe calls for the sweet potato mash to be mixed with a large can of pineapple chunks (syrup removed first) and sprinkled heavily with cinnamon, before being topped by our preservative-packed confection.

The turkey was divine!  Again, Israelis are stunned and impressed at the buying and cooking of a whole turkey.  Now, Israelis, you must understand, eat a lot of turkey.  More than most countries.  But the form it takes is almost exclusively in cold cuts and schwarma, if you can believe it.  Even huge cuts of meat for roasting are pretty rare.  I’ve never seen a roast in Israel.  The closest is goulash with big chunks of meat.  So you can imagine the oddity of a whole bird.  I brined mine for about 15 hours (it was about a 16-17 pound bird) in homemade brine I improvised around an Alton Brown recipe.  My brine-broth contained crystallized ginger among other exotic things.  If you’ve never brined a bird – DO – it makes a huge difference in the juiciness, tenderness, and intensity of flavor.  Of course butter helps enormously too, and herbs under the skin along with it.  The stuffing was as usual Martha Stewart’s chestnut stuffing, a recipe my sister and I have favored for years.  Lots of butter, sage, cups and cups of chopped chestnut, and high quality bread.  I’m still eating the leftovers quite happily.

In any case, in any case.  Thanksgiving was a hit at our home – my sister and I are very proud of 2011’s feast.


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Fabulous clothing and shoes, wine stains and crushed toes.  So the game goes.

Talking to wine writers at the Golan Heights Winery stand at Sommelier 2011

Israel and wine, newsworthy topics both, best when paired.

The Sommelier Exhibition 2011 has come and gone, and it was fast, busy, exciting, exhausting, and over as soon as it began.  We at the Golan Heights Winery featured the 2008 Vintage – including 3 new single vineyard wines that were released this week, timed with the event: the Merlot from the Kela vineyard; the Syrah from the Tel Phares vineyard; and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed El Rom vineyard.  We also introduced the Gamla Syrah 2009 (English),  the newest addition to the Gamla series, a long time in the works – brilliant magenta color, vibrant fruity aroma bordering on the confectionary (and I mean in the best possible way), and such a fun wine it is.   The jazzy new 2008 Yarden 2T, a blend of two Portuguese varietals Turiga Nacional and Tinta Cao, was also a huge hit – lighter bodied yet complex, something we Israelis are not used to… and should be a great pleasure to get to know.

In other fascinating wine news, I read this interesting piece on 8 Budget-Friendly Destination for Wine Lovers. Ever thought of going to Thailand for a tour of wine country?  Umm… never.  But for $50 a tour, $5 a bottle, and a hotel for $15, your plane ticket is your largest expenditure (which frankly, is not small potatoes, but we’ll ignore that).  Apparently it’s brilliant fun to see Thailand’s 3 wine-growing regions that are able to harvest twice annually because of the wet and hot climate.  All the others I’d heard of and have actually considered.  Hungary (Tokaj – now why in the world wouldn’t I?) and Cyprus (fascinated by Greek-Turkish wines – millenia-old traditions) especially.

OK – on the bizarre, awesome, I-never-would-have-thunk-it, front, a Japanese comic book (the genre is known as Manga), all about wine – “Drops of God.”  First published in 2004, it’s been translated into English, and it’s brilliant and fascinating.  Wine Manga.  Wow.  It was a smash hit in France, a sensation in South Korea, and it introduced wine culture to large parts of Asia.  Check out the article and the Wikipedia page.  I’m buying this.

Otherwise – I’ve been working and kayaking and that’s about it.  Mostly working.  And consuming junk food, cucumbers, and tuna fish sandwiches.  Ah life.  And wine, don’t forget the wine.  My teeth turned an absurd shade of nasty smeared blackish purple over the past two days at the exhibition (not because I drank, god forbid while I work, at least not much) but because I was designated taster for most of the time – testing for oxidized and corked wines.  Thank goodness for baking soda.

And to close, a beautiful Ernest Hemingway quotation I stumbled upon today:

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

 

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This is a real “Rose of Sharon,” as referenced in the bible in the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as we know it in Hebrew – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  The real rose is, as seen, I kind of lily.  This year I saw them for the first time, or at least was introduced to them, and acknowledged them as the real deal. They bloom in the autumn on the sea coast, springing forth from the sandy rocks.  So beautiful a fragrance, such delicate thin white petals, spread out along the cliffs they blow gently in the breeze, dancing.

My name in Hebrew is Sharon – it’s what everyone calls me in Israel.  Irène is reserved for my English and French language identity.  It took me a long time to like my name. Irène Sharon – “peace” (from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, protector of Plenty, and revered by Athenians), and the forested plain region of Israel – often identified with this lily.  Now that I know that this unique flower blooms only in the fall, only here, and that I learned these things at a time when I was in such crisis, so tested, means all the more to me.  I love my name.  I want to work harder.  I want to be worthy of such a powerful, important, and beautiful name.

A test of survival – this last month was the most difficult one I have known in years.  It rivals studying for 5 AP exams while acting in a play while applying for college.  It rivals writing half a dozen final papers in two weeks.  It rivals the last week of sleepless nights finishing an honors thesis.  Yes, all academic references – but these were some of my roughest periods.  The task I was given did not require months and years of research in libraries.  It was kind of an opposite task – not cerebral – but practical.  A job job.  Logistics – coordinating the actions of 50+ people, scheduling 200+ wine tastings within a 2-week period, training 100+ people within a week, monitoring and assessing the success of these events, and troubleshooting at a moment’s notice – it was a kind of mad dance – the highest usage of email, telephone calls, text messages, and meetings – long drives, rushed taxi hops, running to train stations, and constantly being called, always fixing problems.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  10-16 hour days for a month, playing Sudoku with the largest spreadsheet I’ve known (as my bosses refer to it), moving people around like chess pieces, around the country, from day to day, hour to hour.  All this to sell wine, aggressively, on a large scale, during the holiday rush.  Now that I think about it, it really was like chess – strategic moves in a sales war.  It’s no wonder my bosses refer to this mad task as “hunkering down in the bunker.”

And I survived.  And I’m so happy.  And I love my job.  And I’m a sappy sappy sod, but I don’t care.  It feels good to work hard.  It feels good to have finished an arduous task.  How did I survive?  Sadly, or not so much, with a lot of single malt, chocolate, club soda (I love club soda), coffee and early morning news (BBC or France 24 at 6 am – not kidding) to feel connected to the world like a real grown up with a routine, and KAYAKING.  I kept at it.  Yes I did.  6:30 am once or twice per week, dragging myself to the beach for the greatest physically exhausting high – paddling kilometers during lessons with a professional, learning the techniques of the craft, to master control of the vessel.  Me versus the sea and wind.

And it was my kayak instructor, a typical gruff wiry leathery sort of sportsman, who pointed out the lilies, the delicate חבצלת חשרון, and bent one down from a high cliff for me to smell.  It a special sort of thing – that this flower blooms at the end of the Jewish new year.  Well, it actually crosses over – end of the year is also the beginning of the next.  It ushers out the old and brings in the new.  Kind of like my life.  A very new and different phase.  It’s much more like physical labor than mental labor.  Maybe it’s good for me.  For now.  It may make reading books and relaxing with friends more – more – fun?  Thinking for pleasure?

What is certain is that wine goes with food, and food will never leave my life.

Shana tova. שנה טובה ומתוקה.  A sweet and good new year to you all.

Second-to-last day of madness. Yes, that's a bottle of Gamla Sangiovese.

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Saint Paul's Cathedral during the London Blitz

I have gotten to the point where I cannot distinguish one day from another.  I didn’t realize it was Thursday – I only knew I had to be at work at 12 pm and that there was a lecture about Connie Willis‘s heroes at 9 pm at the Olamot Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival (sponsored by the Tolkien Society of Israel and the Israeli Science Fiction and Fantasy Guild).  I went.  It was the most normal thing I did this month, which is really saying something as a larger collection of fashion-clueless, absurdly costumed geeks I haven’t seen in a long time.  Tomorrow is the first day off in over a week.  The next day I work at 12 pm.  The next day I have a doctor’s appointment.  That’s how it goes.

Why have I become this clueless zombie?  Work and Passover.  We all complain about work.  Yet, I don’t hate what I do.  It’s just quite physically taxing, and my hours are long.  It can be demoralizing being a glorified waitress sometimes, but I’m getting over it.  I hope.  I’m quite proud of myself, I do have to admit.  It’s Passover, and pre-holiday wine sales are madness.  Wine sales the day before and of Passover are the highest of the year.  In fact I think most of the wine in the country is sold in those few days – but don’t quote me – I would need to find the stats.  In any case, I played my part admirably.  My sales for my winery were beyond fantastic, and for the most part, I had a great time.  Along with the wine bar work, I believe I worked I worked 45 hours in 4 days.  The haze I’m in is interesting.  The meaning of life, or rather, the search thereof, eludes me these days.  I don’t feel like reading at all.  I feel like I’m floating and not quite living.  Things like bills and taxes can wait, and I’m glad I’m not freaking…but this zombie phase has got to end.  Soon.  I want to look forward to reading a book, seeing friends with any sort of regularity, putting at least some attention into my studies (which I’ve basically abandoned for the last 3 weeks due to exhaustion), and perhaps…career, men, the future…and especially not feeling tired all the time.  Just realized it’s kind of ironic – my working like a dog, really slaving (worked a real 16+ hour day for the first time in forever) during THE holiday that celebrates freedom from bondage.  Yep.  Just my luck.

For the moment, I’m glad I did something other than sleep, watch reruns of Extreme Home Makeover (artificially-enduced emotional catharsis), and work.  It was weird paying 30 shekels for a 50 minute presentation on my favorite author that basically turned into a conversation with the audience of 20 that veered off at one point to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.  Yeah.  My kind of people.  I have to say, it was worth it to sit in a room with several others who had read, not even just heard of, Connie Willis, in Israel.  I adore Willis, and everyone who loves a good long read should pick up both Black Out and All Clear.  Especially if you’re a WWII buff.  It’s heartfelt storytelling crossed with extraordinary research – historical science fiction at its very, very best.

The bar at the corner of my street is playing dance/trans music so loud, I can feel the bass through the floor.  I live on the fourth floor.  And I’m at least 5 buildings down.  I don’t even play my own music this loud (relatively speaking – as it now sounds in my home).  Ugh.  Popcorn, green tea, and Extreme Home Makeover may be in the cards tonight.  Oh well.  I’ll have to find earphones first.  No rest for the weary.

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Due in part to my ever-tentative decision-making, in part to terrified inaction, and in part to my asking for help (a brave gesture, I might add – something I rarely do because it scares me to no end), I have reached a scary-exciting and potentially happy-happy place: I will be making the majority, if not all, of my income through wine and food!

I got a part-time job in an incredible wine bar: Alkalay, in the Basel Square area.  It’s small, casual, and yet it has hands-down the best selection of Bourgogne wines in all of Israel.  This review says it all.  I feel honored to be working here.  I’ve learned so much, and I also get to cook!  Minor yet lovely little things.  Gourmet cheese plates, smoked and salted fish, charcuterie, crudites, bruschettas, and steamed dim sum, mostly.  I really think I’ll be happy here, and I can only hope the management’s feeling is mutual.  With other wine-and-food-business ideas I’ve got brewing on a few different levels, as well as my continuing work with the incredible Golan Heights Winery, I may actually be able to work, and succeed, doing something I love.  It’s going to be physically taxing.  Hard, hard work.  But it’s not eons away.  It’s here.  And it’s hard to believe.

Here are some photos and links.  Reviews of spectacular wines are forthcoming.  Hurrah for wine!  Indeed life is too short to squander.  If only it was easier to convince ourselves.

Ten things that can impair wine-drinking pleasure: a very sensible article.  Take a look.

Wine in Two Words: Sweet or Savory? Interesting article from yesterday’s New York Times.

Alkalay Wine Bar and Store, as seen from above. Isn't it beautiful?

The Burgundy section. Not the best photo, but you get the gist. Some of the best domaines are represented. Some mind-blowing grand and premier crus.

 

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