Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reinventing Rhonda: Time Travel

Reinventing Rhonda: Time Travel: "Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself" Dear Friends, The message was  dread-inspiring: "Please call me, I've go...

Time Travel

"Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself"

Dear Friends,

The message was  dread-inspiring: "Please call me, I've got news," said in that sad voice meant to soften a blow. Bad news was in store. Someone had to have died. 

Someone had: the mom of three high school friends. I was in the school choir, but not particularly close, with the twin boys my age. But their older brother was a different story. Mitchell was my first crush, my first date, my first kiss, my first boyfriend. We saw the first Star Wars film on the first showing of the first day of its local release. (And I have the "May the Force be With You" pin to prove it.) 

I've been Facebook connected with Mitch since about 2005, but not at all with the twins through the 37 years since we graduated. There is also a younger brother who was a little kid when we were teens. 

Mrs. Schwartz , Mom to her sons, and Maxine or Magi to friends and family (so I learned yesterday). Mrs. Schwartz and I spent little time together -- it wasn't what you might imagine, with her raising four boys as a divorced mother: I was not the daughter Maxine never had. 

While I doubt I made an impression on her, Mrs. Schwartz made a huge impression on me. This woman, "Mrs." to no man, was the first brash, independent and sexy over-sized woman I'd met. She had what she needed and lived as she liked (from my adolescent perspective, anyway). She raised four boys firmly and with no fuss. 

When Mrs. Schwartz wanted to sun her ample body, she wore an itsy bitsy bikini. This snapshot serves me as a coaching image: a tanned, sweaty, bikini-clad Mrs. Schwartz entering the house to get an icy drink. For nearly 40 years, it pops up to remind me -- a perpetually over-sized woman -- that I may dress as I wish and I may feel sexy without approval from the Thin Police.

So I drove to Baltimore for the funeral. To comfort the Schwartz boys, whom I knew when I was a girl exploring her femininity, and to imbibe memories of the first woman to show me that Sexy, like a bikini, should be worn however one chooses.  

Hugging each Schwartz brother for the first time in decades, felt like honey tastes. Watching the alchemy of laughter, tears and memory morph their faces into those worn by the boys they were made me happy. 

I met Mitchell's magnificent wife and nearly adult offspring. I caught up with his closest friend -- the one who called  to say I should be there -- and the third in their three musketeers-style friendship. I re-met my own brother's childhood friend, a fellow public and Hebrew School traveler. Weekly, these boys amused themselves with a hearty game of Kill the Guy with the Yarmulke at the bus stop and on the synagogue lawn. 

I traveled down through New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Time yesterday. Today, I will travel up to New York and the present, savoring the sweet sights, sounds, memories and tastes of Mrs. Schwartz's farewell. From my view, this fabulous woman went out as she lived -- loved and in style!

Thank you for reading. If you are enjoying Reinventing Rhonda, please share it with your friends. If not, please share it with those whom you wish to annoy.

Love, Rhonda

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fibro Smog: A Toxic Mix of Brain Fog and Bad News

"Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself"

Dear Friends, 

Reducing stress has become a source of stress in my life. I am certain that many of you have just said, "Yes!" or some such outburst of agreement. After all, doesn't research indicate an inverse correlation between overall health and stress levels? When stress rises health erodes. Health improves as we reduce stress.*
*Two notes for this past paragraph: a. Please don't ask for citations, facts are not what this post is about; and b. Please remember that correlations are not cause and effect -- which is the chicken and which is the egg, and what if both sides of the correlation are, I don't know, parallel donkeys?

Reducing my stress in a world going mad has become tricky. Picture the Ostrich with her head buried in the ground. Do you imagine her to be relaxed? I don't. I see her haunches quivering with fear. I see her breath held, awaiting the inevitable approach of unseen terrors, increasing in monstrosity every second. By hiding in plain sight, our mythical Ostrich has ceded control over her fate to others and made herself a near perfect target for adversaries.

I gained a long-held belief from my family's history that self-blinding (e.g. naivete about humankind's potential for evil) is the handmaiden of self-destruction. I look with pride on being third generation American across the board (very unusual for a Jewish woman of my age from central and eastern European origin). All eight of my great-grandparents left Europe at the turn of the 20th century. These ancestors looked the danger from increasing anti-Semitism in the eye. Decisively, they each risked and invested everything in survival, freedom, and a fair chance for their children, my parents, my brother and me (and cousins) and our next generations of offspring.   

I learned to pay attention. Follow the news. Listen to my internal alarm. And because my parents were the offspring of these alert ancestors and highly liberal New Yorkers, I learned that bigotry, injustice or violence toward anyone should ring that alarm.  

Stress exacerbates Fibromyalgia symptoms. I strive not to watch the news, read past the newspaper's comics or agonize long over other people's (and peoples') pain. But this effort itself produces anxiety: I know something is happening out there, but what exactly? "Stay informed," whispers my entire bloodline, "It matters." So, eventually, I catch up.

The straw that broke my Fibro body's back earlier this week was this article in The Atlantic Monthly. Consider yourself warned -- follow the link at the risk of never sleeping well again. 

This terrifying analysis landed on a huge pile of straws my weakening back was already balancing*
*I'm speaking broadly below, folks, to show you my mindset.

  • Concerns about my own resources for living, now and into retirement;
  • A nation that finds shooting unarmed, Black men viscerally acceptable and acts as if child shooting deaths have little to do with gun laws; 
  • My beloved President pussyfooting around international issues important to me and disdained and hobbled in Congress regarding social issues important to me. 
  • The spread, influence and government sanction of obscene greed. 
  • Women's rights put up for discussion and erosion again, as if they are less than human rights.
  • Ancient forms of anti-Semitism awakening as people and governments grow desperate, frightened and enraged.

Two days ago, I read The Atlantic Monthly's article and could not sleep. I vibrated with near-panic level anxiety, collapsed for a few hours in the morning and awoke with Fibro Fog (reduced mental acuity) and a body that ached as if inflamed everywhere. Today, I am still striving to recuperate from the spike in symptoms, known in the Fibromyalgia community as a Flare. 

I dubbed this bout of unwellness "Fibro Smog" because I feel polluted and sickened by empathy's poor showing against indifference and hatred. 

Yes, I am restarting a mindfulness meditation practice; yes, I am reflecting and writing; yes, I am walking. Yes to following all the recommendations for stress reduction. Yet I am not yet reaching a healthy balance between self-care and engagement in the world. 

It is very stressful, failing to manage my stress. 

Please, world, a little cooperation? Pretend that everything is all about me. What I need from you is kindness, goodness, generosity, curiosity, patience, joy, laughter, and a laying down of aggressors' and defenders' swords at the same time. Is that really too much to ask for the sake of a good night's sleep? I don't think so. Thank you so much!

Love, Rhonda

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Reinventing Rhonda: Travel Adventures of an Energetic Fatigued Woman: ...

Reinventing Rhonda: Travel Adventures of an Energetic Fatigued Woman: ...: “Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself” Friends, Walls of snow notwithstanding, it is time for me to start my travel writing career....

Travel Adventures of an Energetic Fatigued Woman: Schenectady, NY

“Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself”


Walls of snow notwithstanding, it is time for me to start my travel writing career. I plan to practice on you by regularly devoting posts to this endeavor. 

I live in New York’s Capital Region, which stands at the crossroads (90 and 87) of the Shawangunk, Catskill, Adirondack, Berkshire, and Green Mountains and en route to New York City, Boston, MA, Burlington, VT, and Montreal, QB. 

I've got access here to local bands, musical superstars, home grown theater, traveling blockbusters, dance, horse racing, and every sort of ethnic restaurant except, sadly, Ethiopian. I can shop at a farmers' markets four days a week and indulge my slothfulness at idiosyncratic coffee shops and drinking holes. An international airport is ten minutes’ drive from my home, yet my backyard window offers a wild things peepshow daily.

While my travel experiences are geared to what's possible for this energetic fatigued woman, others can easily bike a canal trail, kayak down a river, bet on horses, drink in the Impressionists, ski the slopes, and sip cocktails lakeside from here. 

My affection for this area, rich in natural beauty, kind people, quirky places and cultural marvels, is new. Camping near Ithaca, studying in Binghamton, practicing a Pepé le Pew accent in Quebec and getting my Om on in Lenox, I always passed through Albany. At Albany's highway intersection, the car turned right, left or not at all. No, I understood, we’re not there yet. When I found reason to evoke an image of the city, I saw author William Kennedy’s bone-chillingly gray backdrop for weary souls who clawed at the bar to slow a slide into despair. 

Only one place seemed grimmer than Albany: her abandoned, industrial neighbor Schenectady. So I'll start right here, in Schenectady. 

State Street, Schenectady, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union)

With your indulgence, I will introduce you to her Electric City legacy along with her cafés, pubs, theaters, shops, outdoor spaces, and an oddly tasty thing called a Pickle Back Shot.

These places may be five minutes drive from my house, but they comprise the very stuff of travel the way I like it. I hope you enjoy taking the adventure with me.

Love, Rhonda

Monday, February 9, 2015

Reinventing Rhonda: How to Start a Travel Writing Career While Snowed ...

Reinventing Rhonda: How to Start a Travel Writing Career While Snowed ...: Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself Friends,  What am I to do when the day I picked to start writing travel articles looks like this? ...

How to Start a Travel Writing Career While Snowed in

Inspiring You to Reinvent Yourself


What am I to do when the day I picked to start writing travel articles looks like this?

Postman's prints; Writers take no such oath.

1.   Make tea immediately.
2.   Drink it slowly, allowing boy cat to crawl all over me, looking for his mother.
3.   Push boy cat off and get to work. 
4.   Write up overdue notes from a committee meeting.
5.   Email giggly, funny things with a friend. Pretend that it is not disruptive.
6.   Urgently reorganize the crafts shelf that has been messy since the day I arrived. I can take it no longer!
7.   Set the dishwasher going. Hand wash everything that didn't fit so it does not soak a minute longer.
8.   Broil a seasoned haddock fillet. Stare at broiler. 
9.   Microwave broccoli and corn. Move away from the microwave. Awaken sleeping computer.
10. Return to broiler; stare. Move rack closer to the flame.
11. Start up Reinventing Rhonda. Click Analysis. Crow over 272 reads thus far!
12. Take fish from broiler. Plate it. Bring it with me to the computer. Eat a bite. Meh.
13. Check Facebook, in case something happened and is being reported by, commented on, blogged about, caricaturized, debated over or mocked by someone I know, someone whom my friends know or Jon Stewart. Check the news feed each time it bings. 
14. Look outside. Take the picture above. Feel virtuous: this is work, after all. 
15. Tune in to veggies beeping in the microwave. Get up. Consider, but ultimately reject, butter. Feel virtuous. Eat veggies. Virtue courses, like a tsunami, through my veins: Sloth, catch me if you can! (Don't you wish a sloth would lay his three clawed paw on your hand? I do. I also love acting slothful; look how happy they are!)
 16.  Tidy up. Find gluten-free cookie dough from my insomnia-binge. Get spoon. Lose all virtue points? No! Because, a. it's gluten free and b. I'm eating it in teeny, tiny bites.
17. Open my mail. After all, the postman's journey was, again, not stayed. Complain: I need a better grade of mail, people.
18. Think, Oh, hey! I was going to start the travel writing career today. Eat more cookie dough.
19. Write a clever name for this blog post.
20. Diligently write a list of 20 instructions for.... 

You're busy. I know. I'll leave you now with a contented sigh and the probability that I will soon need to warm up my tea. 

It is 1:45 pm. Surely, there's plenty of time to write my first travel article today while snowed in? 

After a nap, of course. 
But surely before dinner. 

Have a warm and safe week, my friends. Please spread this brilliance broadly, and let me know your thoughts!

Love, Rhonda

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Door that's Closing

My mission: Inspiring you to reinvent your life.


In my years as a school leader, I've been asked thought-provoking questions about the work itself. This one came to mind this week, with news I may now share (read on). 

"Rhonda, what is the thing you teach most, that you never imagined you would teach at all?"

Great question! If only I could remember who gets the credit. (Asker, step forward if you are among us! It was about 2006 or 2007.)

My immediate answer: 

"How far behind you people need to be before you don't have to hold the door open for them."

I've been teaching door manners to children and teenagers for years. I even attempted (success undetermined) to teach them to a cantorial student whom I taught and mentored in his professional studies.

(Remember that with every answer, a nice smile and greeting should accompany the gesture for optimal impact. And with every door held for you a "Thank you," or even "Thank you so much," is in order.)

1. 8-10 long paces. The person should be more than three steps away when the door closes behind you.
2. 15-20 when the person seems frail, is pushing a baby carriage or carrying heavy packages. 
3. As long as needed when an old person is walking toward you alone. What's the rush when you can honor your elders?
4. Add 5 paces with a self-closing door. It's real work to re-open while it's closing.
5. If, as door holder, you are very young or weak, it is perfectly acceptable to allow the next person to take the door, fully open it for you and hold it for others.
6. A woman choosing to honor gender-traditional manners and arriving before an unknown man may hand off the door to him and walk through first. When arriving in the company of a man, she may choose this method or invite him to open the door for her.
7. A man choosing to honor gender-traditional manners, and any woman, may generously hold the door for all men and women arriving reasonably after him.
8. Frail elders and those pushing strollers must always be excused for not holding a door. An apologetic glance from them makes forgiveness easier.

Following door decorum treats everyone to good will, a smile and the opportunity to do or receive good amidst each day's (literal) comings and goings. 

My Announcement

This week, I begin closing the door of a 32 year long career in Jewish education and a 17 year stint in school leadership. I stepped down as head of Albany's Bet Shraga Hebrew Academy of the Capital District. I will consult with the school through June, particularly in re-envisioning its future. Thereafter, I hope to volunteer and keep working toward a future I can practically taste. Hebrew Academy's board graciously accepted my notice and enthusiastically affirmed leadership succession by the sitting Principal. 

I am done earning my living in schools. I have reached my physical limit. I loved the work so much, and I did it well; now I am ready to take a less structured and physically demanding professional  path. I need to write and hope to figure out how to make a living from my laptop.

A Haiku in Honor of Retiring as Head of School
Sleeping without angst,
Breath now seeking calm passage --
Snowy light and faith.

At Hebrew Academy, I set in place strong, stable management. I have striven to hold open the door for my successor, Principal Julie Pollack, and her leadership team. Despite my taking an earlier departure than expected, I know that Julie will stride into her new role confidently, supported by her colleagues and me to succeed at this sacred, never-finished work.

I'll end this post on two disparate notes:

1. The Talmud's Rabbi Tarfon is quoted to have said: "You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it" (Pirke Avot 2:21). I seem to live that line. I have begun so many bits of work yet rarely got to see them finished. I do love beginnings, though, so I cannot wait to see what work I am to do next!

Oh, Maker? Oh, readers? Thoughts for me?

2. A perfect cartoon arrived on my FB feed this week:

Thank you for reading. Share this widely, please, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Love, Rhonda

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Newbie at Being the New Me


Today I begin crafting a new life, a new normal that increases my joy, pays my bills and slaps my fibromyalgia upside its head. 

Welcome to my journey's journal. Here's my mission for this blog:

"Inspiring You to Reinvent Your Life"

My hope is that Reinventing Rhonda will amuse, elevate and inspire you. That it becomes a touchstone of sanity and a haven when you are fatigued. That it provokes reinventions of your own and stirs a conversation among us that grows our dreams, aspirations, joys and accomplishments.

Mocha Lisa's Caffe, Clifton Park, NY
Please share this widely, as I hope for much virtual company along the way. After all, I have many coffee shops to visit, naps to take, projects to plan (and sometimes do), wonders to take in and opinions to air. Inspiring you is my motivation for making this a mindful journey.  

A bit about me, to date.

The word "easy" is apparently not in my birth contract. As in, "And this girl child will have a smooth and easy ride through life." Or as in, "Life will come easily to this cute little peanut -- always exactly as planned." Not even as in, "She will have an easy time in love and money." 

I keep reviewing the lengthy document and the E word simply is not there.  

Conversely, the word "gift" is present in many numbered and lettered paragraphs of the Divine's legal document.  As in, "She will have the gift of loving and unified parents and of living in a free and prosperous time and place." Also as in, "This girl child will develop the gifts of intelligence, empathy and determination." And as in, "The gifts of love, education, and worthy challenges will mold this sleepy, happy baby into a passionate and compassionate adult."

Other ways I describe myself: 

Boredom equals death, so almost anything that's not boring is better than boring.

Among the most blessed people I know. 

Passionate. About interests, causes and my work. Also about love and sex. (Yay!)

Auntie Rhonda.

Sad, tired, achy and sometimes -- this moment inclusive -- itchy. I live with the chronic condition called Fibromyalgia. Sensations in my body are like a room of fun house mirrors -- distorting, shifting, disconcerting and ever so slightly nauseating. For years, my hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) went undiagnosed. It is well treated now, though damage done to my body and self-esteem demands repair.

And in Conclusion...

And in conclusion, let's begin. I promise honesty, empathy and positive intent. Also random references to my beloved alpacas and yurts. 

Join me. Let's see what we can make of this together.

With love, Rhonda