Secrets For A Happier Life April 8, 2015

Secrets For A Happier Life: Ideas, Inspiration & Practices

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Michael D Selzer DDS


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From tight to loose
April 8, 2015
 Dear Michael,   


Happy Passover and Happy Easter

Scratching the surface of this Holiday uncovers a theme of movement.  going form slavery to freedom, from narrowness to openness from darkness to light.  This going was not just thousands of year ago but continues on a daily basis.  There is a rhythm of being tight and loose , sad and happy and disliking and liking as we move through each day.


As this story weaves through this rhythm I invite you to continue reading below and hope you enjoy the exploration.

Michael Selzer DDS  

Quick Changes
Even as a kid I dreaded the drive into Brooklyn from Queens on the first night of Passover.  It seemed like we were always having just come or were going to another of those fantastic family gatherings.  Although I did not really appreciate the long term value of these meetings I now realize the foundation that they laid; the foundation for my unknown motivation to plan family reunions.
Twenty five years after I moved to Florida I came up with the idea of a family reunion with my sister Marcia. We had around 40 family members who had reunited in the Catskill mountains.  Many of us even those who lived near each other in New York City had not seen each other for years.  We were introduced to younger cousins whom we had never met.  The surprising thing to most of us was the feeling of closeness and comfort we shared.  It was palpable and I was at a loss for the reason except that it was “Family.”
Ten years later my daughter Judith and I planned another reunion this one in North Carolina.  We had about 20 family this time and the same emotion was present.  This time I was ready for it but I still had no basis for its presence other than thinking its “family.”  And I was fully satisfied with the feeling and its apparent explanation.
As I started to write this it suddenly struck me that it was the early Passover, Chanukah, Thanksgiving, Birthday parties where the “Family” would all gather and celebrate.  Those family gatherings laid a foundation of joy, friendship and probably hereditary vibration which lasted through the 25 year hiatus in getting together.

Small Moments Of Happiness
Well back to the drive to Brooklyn for the first night of Passover.  It seemed in my memory that we never left the car.  Year after year it just continued one long drive from Union Turnpike in Bellerose into the heart of somewhere in Brooklyn. At that time I thought of Brooklyn as the Old Country.  It was where we all had been born and moved from out to the new country in Queens.  In the new country we spoke English all the time.  Well I did and my sister did.  Our parents and grandmother would speak Yiddish when they wanted to say something they did not want us to understand.  And there were those wonderful idiomatic expressions that lost there meaning if they were spoken in English.  Like,  Hak mir nit keyn tshaynik,  translated by my lineage as don’t bang on the tea pot.  Even the English made no sense to me. But it always seemed to make sense to those who spoke both Yiddish and English. 

So for this particular Jewish Holiday we made the trek back to the Old Country.  It could just as well been in a covered wagon pulled by oxen for all the headway we made through the traffic.  It was worse than stop and go.  It was stop and wait and then stop again there never seemed to be a go.  And it would not have been so bad if we could have eaten as soon as we got to my dad’s brother Uncle Louie.  My dad called him Lou but I always knew him as Uncle Louie.  He was one of the brothers of six children and he was about in the middle.  Uncle Louie lived in a large three story house on avenue J and East 9th in Brooklyn, Old Country, USA.  I guess we went there because he had the most room.

Well he also had the most interest in the detail of the Jewish traditions.  So with this background and interest we had to wait to eat until the proper times of the Passover Seder.  Fortunately my family tradition which I have never seen anywhere else was to have boiled potatoes as the introductory leafy green food of the earth dipped into salt water very near the beginning of the Seder.  I have always loved plain boiled potatoes especially with a little salt or even better salt water.  Even now when we make whipped potatoes with butter and milk or cream and a little salt I usually keep a few plain boiled pieces just to enjoy the flavor of the potato.

 A puppy’s perspective


Uncle Louie’s house was very interesting.  There was a staircase that went upstairs right form the middle of the living room.  And there was a door to both entrances to the kitchen.  One was a swinging door.  And the strangest thing to me was that there were two large all cut glass bottles on a cut glass tray.  The bottles were always about three quarters filled with whiskey.  One Scotch and the other Rye.  Now I was familiar with Scotch and Rye because that is what you mixed with either soda or Ginger ale.  I was the appointed drink master for the monthly pinnochole and Mahjong games that my parents held on a rotating basis with three other couples from you guess it the Old Country, Brooklyn.

I was to measure for each drink one shot glass of either rye or scotch and add ice and soda.  Actually the ice and soda went in first.  And they all spoke that Yiddish when they wanted to tell some joke or something I wasn’t supposed to hear. There were the Beck’s Harold and Birdie, the Sussman’s Phil and Lil,  and of course my favorite the Laches George and I don’t remember.  Maybe she died or maybe she did not interact with me very much. Oh it was Lee Laches.

My dad used to tell stories about playing handball with Harold and George.  Not the sissy handball with a pink Pensie Pinkie but with a black ball and without gloves.  I remember my dad showing me how to cup the ball as you hit it to make it spin and curve when it came off the wall.  And the story of George when he would order a shot of whisky and a beer and then drink it together.  Not a sip of one then the other but he would take a big slurp of the beer to make room in the mug and then drop the shot glass with the whiskey right into the mug and enjoy his brew.

Anyway I learned both Pinnochole and  Mahjong  and how to be quiet enough to be either allowed or appreciated by the grown ups to stay up well past my bedtime.  Maybe that is where I learned to listen and not ask too many or any questions.  And I thought it was just me.  It ends up I would have been just like Moses and the Israelites wondering around the desert for 40 years and not wanting to bother anyone by asking directions.

Was it me or were the friends and relatives I remember as a kid mostly always nice and friendly?  I do remember a few older people from where I lived who I just stayed away from.  Leo Stein, Mendolson, Shiff and the guy at the corner.  If the ball accidentally went in his yard it was as good as lost.  No one would venture beyond the hedge.  And the funny thing is I don’t remember ever having seen this guy or heard anything from him directly.  It must have been made up or some old rumor that was passed down from the older kids on the block.

Now don’t get me started on the block and the kids there and the games we played or this story will never end.  But there is one story that relates to this theme of family.  We all had grandmothers.  And all the grandmothers were the best cookie makers in the world.  My grandmother would come and stay with us for a week at a time.  It was such a joy to go with my mom to the train station in Jamaica to pick up Grandma.  She loved me the best along with loving everyone else the best too.  And we made cookies.  Soft in the thick middle and crisp at the edges and filled with sugar and butter and cinnamon and probably salt and a few other things like flour and eggs and baking powder and baking soda.  Yea I remember the recipe.  You start with the flour and add the other ingredients and then you taste the raw dough and you sort of feel what it needs and then you add that and taste it again.  This goes on and on until its just right and then you bake it.  Somehow they always came out just perfect.

I do most of my cooking now by this same brailing method.  Whatever I cook taste really good to me and sometimes I can even get my dog to eat it.  Well  I sure that would be true if I had a dog. Look it makes perfect sense.  When you are cooking its very creative.  You start with a main ingredient and you add stuff; some of this and some of that and then you taste it and add what ever else it needs.  Once you can get it to taste almost good when its still raw it going to be ten times better when its actually cooked.  I guess my grandmother only used this tasting method with me or with cookies because my dad said she was bar none the very worst cook in the world including not only Brooklyn but the town of Vulkutch where his parents lived in Europe.  I would tell you the name of the country but the named changed so many times it got lost in the translation.

Boiled potatoes with no topping.  Sugar cookies with no icing. Living life with little frills.  It brings back memories of real foods and tastes.  Like cleaning vegetables and tasting all of them before they were cooked.  Corn, potatoes, carrots, celery, peas, radish, spinach, cabbage especially the inside part. And then when I was a dad myself I remember sitting with Hari Sukah my first yoga teacher.  His name Sukah means joy.  We were talking for some time and started to discuss foods and somehow got to the really wonderful taste of hot dogs.  How he knew about them being a vegetarian I don’t think I will ever figure out.  But he seemed to know a lot about everything all the time.  Anyway it ended up that we agreed that hot dogs were the best tasting food you could imagine.  They were so good  just the best , so good that you had to cover them with mustard and sourkraut.  Boy did we laugh.

Give me a boiled potato a pair a washed blue jeans and a faded soft tee shirt and I am in Heaven.  Yea I enjoy a gourmet restaurant where half the enjoyment is the show the waitstaff puts on along with some of the best most refined recipes and foods of the world.  But those Long Island potatoes plain boiled –  no after taste and no Tums needed.  There is something to be said about eating foods that are grown within fifty miles of where you were born.  Some affinity for the air, water and earth that made up the early cells of your body.
Its like a family gathering a return to a resonance an earlier basic vibration that underlies and is the foundation for the expansion and reaching to new heights of the growing into adulthood and beyond.


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