Today is Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It’s also a day I celebrate those who survived. Those courageous men and women, boys and girls, who found the strength to keep going, to hold on, who had luck on their side. In particular, I remember my grandparents. Had either of them succumbed to the nightmare that was their daily life for five years, I would not be here. If they hadn’t come to this country with the determination to make it, the willingness to work hard, I would not be here.
But I am here.
To show my appreciation I have been educating others about the Holocaust for the last six years. On April 13 I had an opinion piece in the New York Daily News about Sean Spicer’s insensitive comments, about my grandfather and about the book we wrote together. When What Papa Told Me, a memoir I wrote as a gift for Papa, came out in 2010, I never expected to sell one copy. To date I’ve sold over 30,000 copies around the world, have spoken to thousands around the country and had the book translated into Polish. Recently I received a request to have it translated into Japanese.
Let me write that again, Japanese.
When my grandfather was on his last legs at the end of the war, weighed 78 pounds and spent his days hiding among piles of rotting dead bodies in Bergen Belsen, did he imagine the story of his survival would become a book to be read by many? Not in a million years. But it has. Today I remember my grandparents, I remember what they went through and I give thanks to them for never giving up. It’s the least I can do.
Has the battery on your cell phone ever dipped below 15% and you didn’t have a charger and wouldn’t be home for hours? Did you get nervous? Chest feel tight? Breathing become rapid? Did you begin to conserve power by not checking Facebook every ten seconds?
I woke up last Friday morning and my phone was dead, blank screen, nothing. Spent a few minutes holding down every button, but nada. Should I run to Verizon? It was pouring outside and I didn’t have to be anywhere until late that afternoon, but had a lot of work to do. I decided to stay put. I emailed my mom saying if she needed me to call my neighbor. Then I got busy. And for the next six hours I was superwoman.
No one wants to lose power with these devices we’ve become addicted to, but it happens. To avoid this, we put a lot of energy into being prepared. We carry around battery packs, chargers, and take note of where the outlets are in Starbucks. Heaven forbid we fall off the e-grid.
But what about ourselves? How many of us take the same precautions to keep our bodies from dipping into low energy? Imagine if we put the same effort into keeping ourselves from losing steam as we did our phones. Sure it takes time to cut up celery and spread almond butter on whole wheat bread, but isn’t it advantageous to take a few minutes here and there, as opposed to doing nothing and then being faced with a real issue that stops us in our tracks? Just like our cell phones and tablets, our bodies give us signals when it falls into low energy—sleepy, hungry, thirsty. We need to listen to those warnings and not assume another cup of coffee will do the trick.
In all honestly, when my phone didn’t spring to life, I felt anxious, but the sensation lasted only seconds. Soon peacefulness came over me as the pressure to text and post and tweet fell away, and I happily settled into the realization that there was nothing I could do.
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It was dinnertime, about a dozen of us, all with growling stomachs, crowded in front of the Fairway deli counter with pink ticket numbers in hand, thumbing through emails and waiting to place our orders. After a long day, many wanted to get their food, go home and watch March Madness.
I know I did.
Four Fairway employees moved behind the counter in their choreographed dance, carving meats and scooping roasted vegies into containers. No doubt they were tired too. In the midst of placing orders, one person was slowing things down. One Fairway deli man called out the next number and said to his customer, “Hi, how was your day?”
Groans appeared from folks waiting their turn. I admit to being one.
“Uh, it was okay,” answered the male customer, taken aback. “How was yours?”
“It was great, thanks for asking.” Smiled the employee. Faces looked up from their cell phones as the banter continued.
“Only one piece of salmon?” joked the employee. “Certainly a big guy like you can eat more.”
“Oh, I’d also like three pieces of chicken.”
“Now we’re talking,” joked the employee.
Customers were now exchanging that “Only in New York” expression, while wearing genuine smiles. Even though we were not part of the conversation, it lightened the mood for each of us.
Turns out, that’s what small talk does. Makes us happier. But small talk has been swallowed up by cell phones, and instead of engaging with strangers while waiting for a bus or talking to our doormen, we’re texting or Snap Chatting. In losing our communications with people, we’re losing out on connections. And we need it now, more than ever.
Researchers from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that “even a little interaction with your regular barista at the coffee shop, can contribute to day-to-day well-being.” Imagine feeling cheerier from a simple, “How you doin’?” whether they’re a friend or not. And you never know, your new best friend or soul mate could be just inches past your cell phone and all you need to do is look up.
So as I waited my turn in Fairway, I was hoping to get the chatty employee. Sure enough.
“How was your day?” he asked me.
“It was fabulous,” I said, seeing heads turn to me. “I met the nicest guy at Fairway.”
Click here for some tips on making small talk.
I recently came across my old iPod circa 2006. I had downloaded thousands of songs onto it and listened in my car, on my bike, at the gym. But in a few short years, like with most electronic devices, it became obsolete, replaced by newer and better. So into the “electronics” tote it went, somehow surviving a number of my annual clean outs. “Maybe I’ll sell it or give it away,” I’d say, before dropping it back into the tote.
Until a few months ago when I finally said it’s time to sell it. But the best offer online was $5. Not worth shipping. For old times sake I charged it and plugged in my ear buds. Songs I used to play on rotation that perked up my mood, motivated me to organize a closet or ride 30 miles filled my head. It was like finding an old friend.
Today I listen to music online, keeping my iTunes with only a few songs as to not use up space on my laptop. But since our reunion, my trusty old iPod has been with me to the gym, my cell phone remaining in the locker. All I hear is music, no texts, emails or calls. I’m focused, letting the music do it’s thing. This old iPod is worth way more than $5.
As many know, I am an advocate of getting rid of excess, even sentimental stuff. But sometimes an old thing can bring new happiness. The key to finding that diamond in the rough is to clear out the extra stuff so we may find new meaning in the old.
Just like in the documentary Joe’s Violin, nominated for an Oscar. Joe, a Holocaust survivor, bought a violin in a Displaced Persons camp after the war. Playing it reminded him of his childhood. He played until his fingers got too feeble. When New York City held a drive to collect musical instruments for students Joe donated that violin. This special violin was given to someone special—a young female violinist in the Bronx—who was as moved by the violin’s story as Joe was when he heard her play it.
And that’s a story that never gets old.
You can watch the short film here
Does it count if you walk 12,000 steps, but it’s not recorded on your Fitbit? Does it count if you travel to Australia and high-five a kangaroo but don’t post a picture on Facebook? Most importantly, does it count if you make the winning shot and it isn’t captured on video?
It’s like the adage: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The philosophical belief is that “objects of sense exist only when there is somebody by to perceive them.” Hence the question: Do these moments in our lives count if they’re not posted for the world to appreciate? Bigger question: Did they before?
Our days are filled with moments—happy, heartbreaking, exciting, routine. Once upon a time (not too long ago) we experienced a moment and you know what we did? Nothing. Sure we cherished it or wrote about it in our journal, or perhaps told a friend, but not today. Today we share with everyone. I mean everyone. And what’s more, we feel pressured to do so.
So we post. And we post. And we post.
We post so much that the interwebs are chock full of these moments, and we all know what too much of anything turns into: clutter. In this case, e-clutter. By default this makes your special moment not so special, resulting in fewer “likes” which might make you feel bad, deeming this whole self-esteem building structure counter-productive.
What if instead of focusing our cameras on these moments, we focused ourselves on being in the moment. Might we actually enjoy it more? Being in the moment is being present, and present is just another word for gift.
Okay, I can hear you saying, “But if we capture the moment then we can relive it.” Yes, that’s true, but life is about collecting experiences so for sure there will be more. Lately it feels like in our haste to try and capture each “special moment,” we’re ultimately losing out on what makes them special in the first place. And who likes that?
Coming up: February 20-24 is the virtual Tiny House Summit and I am one of the keynote speakers. I will be talking about how to prepare yourself to live in a smaller space and also how to motivate you to live with less. The event is free.
It’s a new year.
A new chance for reaching your goals,
fulfilling your potential
and turning dreams into accomplishments.
Like starting a business,
even organizing your garage.
Large goals can be daunting,
but they’re not impossible.
The key is to break down your goal
Then complete each step.
Which is where many of us get stuck.
How to get unstuck?
Schedule these baby steps.
Give yourself mini deadlines.
Lose one pound by Valentine’s Day,
Get rid of all the old paint cans in the garage by St. Patrick’s Day.
Deadlines give you a push,
hold you accountable,
and put pep in your step.
That’s where a paper schedule book can help.
Paper schedule book?
Yes, an old fashioned, old school paper schedule book.
Ever since college I have used an At-A-Glance weekly schedule book.
Each blank page is a possible new adventure
waiting to be discovered.
Sure, you can use Google Calendar, but it can be helpful to see the big picture.
A visual reminder of
which tasks still need to be done,
which already finished.
For fun, use a Sharpie or an orange marker.
Make it stand out.
Each completed task, a stepping-stone to where you will be tomorrow.
And the day after that.
Am I nuts for using a paper book?
Maybe. But I’m not the only one.
Sales of printed schedule books last year, according to the New York Times was $342.7 million. That’s million!
There’s something motivating (and rewarding!) when you cross off a scheduled achievement in your book.
Like crossing off a task from your To Do list.
It says, “I did it!”
and encourages you to achieve the next
and the next.
Until you’re one step closer to your goal.
Somehow, hitting a “Delete” button is not the same.
What will you accomplish in 2017?
Only time will tell.
With all the eagerness and enthusiasm we put into making New Year’s resolutions, we are well aware that sometimes they don’t stick. Whether a diet, quitting smoking or getting organized, we must keep in mind that resolutions are not a wish, but a promise to ourselves to begin and complete something. To keep that resolution you need a solution. Creating a time line of manageable steps can make a daunting goal less intimidating.
Which is why I created this EASY STEP BY STEP DAILY GUIDE for those wishing to get rid of clutter and in the process, find more time to do the things you love. Since January is Get Organized month, it’s a great time to begin. The chart removes the “Where do I start? I’m so overwhelmed!” block that many feel and makes it easier to reach your goal.
It’s like purchasing a bookcase from IKEA: you don’t open the box and find it assembled, you find a list of steps. The same with a resolution. To get the best results, take it step-by-step.
Happy New You!
It’s winter, which means cold, cold and, oh yeah, more cold. One great way to stay warm these next few months is by wearing hats, gloves and scarves. But what if your Winter Wear drawer/ basket/tote is spilling over with pilled scarves, single gloves or funny hats you bought on a whim while on vacation in Peru that you’ll never wear again? Then it’s time for a Winter Wear makeover.
Which is easy. And fun.
- Put on music you like to dance to. This revs up your energy.
- Spread all winter gear out on a table, by category. All hats together, all gloves and mittens (paired of course), scarves, neck warmers, headbands, long underwear, etc.
- Pick out the things you really love: hats that look good on you, are in good shape, mittens that have a partner, etc. Put them in a new pile we’ll call the Keep pile.
- Now, remove anything that looks old, dirty, has lost its warmth factor, is missing a partner, you no longer like, etc. Put this stuff in the Buh Bye pile.
- You should now be left with the “I don’t knows.” Try them on. Take a good look in the mirror. Like it? Then keep. Look funny? See ya. And if you’re still not sure, make it a point to wear those items this week. Then when you get home, you should know if you’re going to keep or toss them.
- Now, with your paired down remaining items, put them away by category. If you have the space, maybe puts hats in one drawer, scarves in another, and so on. And if you need a visual, check out the video above.
Hope this was helpful. Remember, winter means it’s almost spring!
Has it really been a year since we last spoke? Sometimes it feels longer and sometimes like only yesterday. Maybe it’s because a day doesn’t goes by I don’t think about you or even talk about you. Sales of “What Papa Told Me” continue to come in, as do requests for me to speak in schools about The Book. As hard as it is to talk about you now that you’re gone, it’s also heartening when the feedback is so positive. Especially after my recent talk at Edward R. Murrow HS in Brooklyn, which, ironically, isn’t so far from where you once lived. Instead of me telling you what the students said, I will let the excerpts from their letters speak for themselves.
In this holiday time, I just wanted to say thanks again for your last gift–this story. It truly is a gift that keeps on giving.
Well, I’m sure you’re busy with shuffleboard and poker tournaments, so please know I am thinking of you and sending a hug. Everyone here is well and sends their love. Hi to Nana. Is she still feeding you? I’m sure your appetite is back and bigger than ever. Until next time.
I love you.
I believe in magic. (I believe in the Tooth Fairy too, but that’s another story.) I believe in magic the same way I believe that people are inherently decent and that eating a little chocolate every day is good for you. I believe in this because I have hope. And what is hope, really, but the belief of something better.
Maybe I’m feeling hopeful today because I’m writing from where I first fell in love with magic: the Centerville Public Library. As a child, books took me to places where dogs grew to be the size of houses and where young girls wore mismatched socks and grew up to be witches. I was six and my world included my parents and my baby sister Jackie. It was a world in which newspapers were delivered to your front door, where markets weren’t super, and where Fridays were sunny not black.
Sitting here now in this same room, in the back of the newly renovated library, (with free wifi and free coffee!) surrounded by books, the sun shining through a large bay window overlooking Four Seas Ice Cream, I realize this is not only the place where I learned to read, but where I felt hopeful about the future.
Maybe that is why many of my childhood friends have returned to Cape Cod. Because life out there, on the other side of the bridge, filled with big cities and big lights and big shots, lacks that homespun feeling. But here, in this quaint little town, remain glimpses of that past world. And it seems that now, more than ever, hope is what we could use a little more of.
I may no longer be the little girl with pigtails and scraped knees curled on a beanbag chair reading about Dorrie the Little Witch, however this room still makes me feel hopeful. And that, to me, is real magic.