Mindfully and Kindly Embracing 2020

I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks. I’ve been struggling to write this season’s newsletter for the Happiness Box Project Initiative. 2020 has been a merry-go-sorry year. From immense hardships to immense joys to immense emotions of all sorts.

I couldn’t quite capture all of the emotions that 2020 brought to us. I’ve been reading about post-traumatic growth, grief, kindness, and everything in between. Yet, in between learning about post-traumatic growth, grief, and kindness, I’m arguing with someone about how the USPS dropped the ball on delivering packages, their holidays are ruined, and they will be screaming for a refund.

In an unprecedented year, I argued, that we should understand that things happen that are out of our control. Even if we carefully plan, sometimes what we plan for doesn’t quite come to fruition. That is life and while anger is a natural feeling to things we cannot control, sometimes we just need to take a deep breath. Hanukkah and Christmas looked different this year and while we wanted perfect holidays, gifts don’t make the holidays. Togetherness makes the holidays, but I understand how trying to preserve the normalcy of the holidays have been of utmost importance to most people.

As I listen to the mindfulness program that someone has recorded for a museum’s “Being ___ at Christmas,” it’s important to take a deep breath as we inch closer to a new year. Listen to your heart, listen to the breath as it comes in and out. Rest and relax. Mindfully listen and remember to be kind to yourself.

I’m reading Opening to Grief and one of my favourite chapters was “Beginning with Kindness.” In the days, weeks, and months after loss, it’s important to treat ourselves kindly. Self-kindness is the best gifts not only to us, but others as well. Why? Think of a time you reached out to a loved one, whether it was a friend or family member. How did you reach out? You probably showed up and you were just there with your friend. You listened to their story of all that happened. You might have brought food, offered to go shopping for them, and mustered all the compassion you could.

How can we do it for ourselves? Start where you are and not in some idealized place. Start where you’re standing. Is your house a mess? Are you unemployed? Has your life stopped at a stand-still? With kindness, start here. Sit with yourself in kindness, look deeply, sit with pain and suffering. Mindfully start feeling how “normal” sorrow is and it’s a precious part of being human. Just like being in joy or any mood.

I bet if we all mindfully sat with ourselves, took a deep breath in, slowly released it, it probably would stop all the bickering we not only see online, but in real life as well. I think we would stop shaming people for having a good year during a difficult year, and I think we would all empathize with others who haven’t had a good year. No one should be shamed; we are all starting from where we are currently. We are all in the same storm, but we have different boats, umbrellas, rain knickers, and resources.

I’ve had a merry-go-sorry year. I loved the quarantine, and it has been nice to work on growth, to work on hobbies and my Happiness Box Project Initiative. I completed NaPoWriMo, for the first time in 3 years. I was able to attend weekly Gotham workshops over Zoom. I worked on stories and essays, they’re not complete, but they are there for me to slowly add to.

It was lovely joining in on Zoom chats that not only opened me to things I can’t really get to in normal times, but I was curious and joined in on things I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing if it wasn’t for a pandemic. I “met” a lot of wonderful people this year and learned so many different things. By learning different things and “meeting” new people, I know which path I want to start inching into once I can. Quarantine enriched my life and I felt ashamed to say that for a while.

A good friend of mine said to me, “The Pandemic was a reality for everyone. Good for some, and devastating for others. If you were able to find a way to make the best of it, there’s nothing wrong with that! You go girl!” I thought about it and I’ve always been the type of person who sees what is happening and accept it for what it is. Same with if I’m given news. I can’t change it, so what can I do to adapt? I miss my groups and I miss being with everyone in person, but Zoom is wonderful. Is it the same as being in person? No and I miss the physical affection. However, it’s better than nothing. I couldn’t imagine being alive during the Spanish Flu, yet, they survived. Same with the people who lived through plagues. We can survive too.

I also have my Happiness Box Project. When I started my Happiness Box five years ago on 1-1-21, it started as a small jar to help ease my depression. I wanted to give it a try for 2016; it was started to help me see the good in life. I’m a trauma survivor and I forgot how to see the good in life. I forgot how to be grateful. My Happiness Box saved me. I never dreamed that the jar would turn into a box, then it would help me through a worldwide pandemic and inspire others to start their own.

Maybe my Happiness Box Project helped me develop Post-Traumatic Growth. Maybe this upside down year that filled us all with all sorts of emotions can help develop our resilience and can make us grow in ways we never imagined. It isn’t easy and it’s a long, dark and painful process in the beginning, but with kindness and patience, we can get through this.

I don’t know what 2021 will have in store for us, but I am ready for it. Even if I am not ready for it, it’ll come and we will get through this. I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season and can take the next week to mindfully and kindly reflect on a year that will soon be “hindsight is 2020.”

Christmas 2020

This morning after we opened gifts and had breakfast, I sat and watched Being ___ at Christmas . I had a great time listening to the music, learning blessings in Ladino (it’s like Spanish, but it’s what the Sephardic Jews speak), and listening to mindful meditation.

Before dinner, Aunt Kathy and Kaitlyn stopped by. AUNT KATHY GAVE ME A HANUKKAH CARD! Well, it was a Christmas one, but she included, “Happy Hanukkah, my sweet niece!” I’m verklempt. She asked me about my journey and I said, “I tell people ‘I’m thinking about it’ because it’s a process and I want to take my time with it. Take off the pressure a bit.”

I tend to be a Grinch when I’m anxious and I’m anxious for naught. When I am open and honest with people, good things happen. It may be awkward at first, but they can acknowledge what I actually celebrate.

I’m crying tears of joy. I was actually getting choked up when she visited and I was telling her about people who sent me Hanukkah gifts. I’m getting choked up now because I’m very joyful about the kindness this year.

We had a lovely dinner of prime rib and a gluten-free ginger bread cake. So good! Then after, I took photos.

Dad loved his Linda Randstadt album. Dad loved his Matisyahu CD too. Miracles has been my favourite song this Hanukkah/Christmas season and can’t wait to listen with dad. I also loved the gifts my British friends sent me. I’m grateful for them all.

Christmas is a holiday for family. While I do not celebrate, I celebrate it as a time for family, togetherness, and love. I’m grateful this year and today was filled with a lot of love.

Thankful Thursday 24 December 2020

A Merry Christmas Eve to all those who celebrate! While it’s different this year, tonight has been a beautiful evening. I am thanking G-d for quarantine because I have been blessed. I know not everyone has had it easy this year and I’ve struggled too, but the struggles don’t weigh down the joyful moments. It truly was a merry-go-sorry year.

As you know, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I participate out of respect. Usually my aunt has something, but since we can’t gather this year, my parents agreed to a Jewish Christmas Eve. What’s a Jewish Christmas? Since Chinese restaurants are the only restaurants that are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas, a lot of Jewish people order Chinese food. My parents agreed to that and a game of Monopoly.

The Chinese restaurant down the street has delicious gluten-free options, so I ordered my diet chicken and my parents ordered their normal. We then played a game of Monopoly and I won. It pays to own yellow and orange properties (New York, Ventnor, Marvin Gardens, Atlantic Avenue) and have homes built on them. We all laughed and had a great time.

I’m grateful for these moments. Sometimes I have anxiety about my spiritual path because once COVID-19 ends, I’m going to start the process of becoming. While my parents have always accepted that I am not Catholic or Atheist (mom’s an Atheist) and that my spiritual path is mine, sometimes I get anxious about others accepting me. Some people called me the Grinch today, but I was having an anxiety attack. When things are finalized, I want people there to celebrate with me and take photos for scrapbooks. I shouldn’t look so far into the future and take it day by day. I’m thankful for the friends who understand and talk me out of the anxiety.

Last Sunday, Fletcher invited me to go ice skating. Fletcher is a young man from one of my Jewish groups and I’m grateful he thought of me. I couldn’t go last Sunday, but we are meeting up this Sunday for ice skating. I am getting us in with my insurance card. I’m really excited and it’ll be nice to hang out with someone from Next Gen/ Tribe 12.

I hope for the readers that celebrate, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. What are you thankful for today?

Kosher Escarole Soup


year for Thanksgiving and during the winter, Nan would make Escarole soup or Italian Wedding Soup. I looked forward to it every holiday.

Well, since I’ve gone Kosher and I have to eat gluten-free, I decided to make my own rendition of Escarole Soup.

Non-kosher: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/…recipe-1915916

Kosher: https://jamiegeller.com/recipes/italian-wedding-soup/

I used a combination of these two. Nan was Italian and used the non kosher. I used the kosher for the meat balls (but GF breadcrumbs). Then I used escarole for the greens. Didn’t use the cheese or egg strand at all since that’s not kosher. Nan also didn’t put pasta in the soup, like Giada doesn’t. I think the pasta is an American thing.

I can’t wait to have this on Friday!

The Angelo Pizza

On Friday evening, after Hanukkah ended and after I finished ice skating, I decided to pay a visit to The Angelo Pizza on 2nd and Market. After I ordered, Angelo and I chatted for a bit while he made the pizzas. When he came to my order, he had a dedicated gluten-free spot for the pizza, and handled it differently. I was so happy (and thankful) to see this.

Gluten-free? It truly isn’t an issue at The Angelo Pizza. I heard him instruct his employees that when it came to the gluten-free pizzas, they had to wipe everything down and they had to continue making the gluten pizzas at a safe distance away. They didn’t step into the area.

To be honest, I am very grateful for Angelo and The Angelo Pizza. After the video went viral, he didn’t have to offer a gluten-free option. He did, and he did some research on Celiac disease and made a safe spot to accommodate the community. That’s an awesome business model there and it makes me feel verklempt. I thanked him and he agreed to a selfie.

Friday night was 17 degrees. I ate the pizza across the street in the chilly evening. It was beautiful to see the snow as well.

Yum! The deliciousness is in the dough and the sauce! L’chaim!

On the last day of Hanukkah, my Reddit Secret Santa gave to me…

…I’m grateful and such a beautiful way to end the holiday!

I can’t wait to watch my favourite movie and enjoy the delicious cookies. I open Happiness Box 2020 in two weeks and the paper will come in handy, as will the pens! 

The card was absolutely beautiful. I’m going to make a Hanukkah scrapbook and will add the card. 

Hanukkah ends tonight at 4:37 pm. It has been a beautiful eight days. As someone on Reddit’s Judaism board said to me, “May the light from 8 Days of Candles warm the hearts and lives of you and yours forever.”

Thankful Thursday 17 December 2020

Can you believe there’s only two more weeks left on 2020? I open Happiness Box in 15 more days! When I was participating in corporate’s self-care meeting on Monday, I mentioned I had 18 more days to go until I open Happiness Box 2020. I’ve been mentioning it on and off during this whole pandemic and the leader had me explain what it was, then said, “maybe in January, we can have you show off the contents!” I’m verklempt and they will e-mail me about setting a Monday up. I’m grateful.

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah. I’m truly grateful for the sense of community and my sense of spirituality for the past eight nights. Last night someone from Reddit’s Judaism sub invited me to his Menorah lighting over Zoom. He lived in California, so my Menorah was already lit when we met up at 8:30 pm (5:30 pm his time). We sang the blessings, Ma’or Tzur together and his family members joined in. We all sang together. After the Menorah was lit, he taught me certain things. For example, the middle candle is the guide candle and isn’t part of the blessings. I can light that before the blessings because it is what is used to ignite the other candles. We had more of a Q & A session and he answered all of my questions. I am verklempt and very grateful that he invited me.

On Monday, my Reddit card secret Santa sent me a gift for Hanukkah. It was a total surprise and I felt so verklempt. Yesterday her card arrived and I felt just as verklempt; I cried reading it. Such beautiful thoughts for Hanukkah! My gift Secret Santa also messaged me a greeting for Happy Hanukkah, and since the USPS is back logged, my Hanukkah gifts haven’t arrived yet. They’ve been so nice about it. The gifts are now in transit to my house and I know I’ll be just as verklempt. I love Reddit and while it gets a bad rap from time to time, I’ve met mostly kind, generous people. I’m thankful for these two from Reddit gifts.

I’ve been taking photos for my Happiness Box and I think I’m going to make a Hanukkah scrapbook album. I’d like to share a few.

I captured myself in prayer! I feel so at peace! Tonight I was trying to capture the snow on the roof, but alas, not quite. We had a major snow storm yesterday and forgot to capture the Menorah lighting the snow yesterday. Someone on Reddit did and I’m going to print it.

White Hanukkah! It looks like we’ll have a white Christmas too! I’m thankful for the snow. Snow is so beautiful, so pure, and so peaceful. There is a calm with snow. I’m grateful that two holidays have and will be white. Good tidings are in store!

I’m also thankful for friends and family. What are you thankful for?

Lighting the Candles with Center City Kehillah

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, friends of the Center City Kehillah gathered on Zoom to light our Menorahs together.

While we couldn’t be together at Rittenhouse Square Park, gathered around the big Menorah like we did last year, we were together on Zoom. As Miriam began the event, she pointed out, “at least we are warm in our homes. We’re together online, safe from rain and sleet, and we can still gather together, although distant and celebrate.” The Rabbi echoed the same sentiment and said, “it is the light of the candles that bring us together, and like 2000 years ago, the light that brings us together. It is a miracle. This is a time for miracles.”

As the Cantor led the blessings, we sang along and lit our candles, one by one. When our Menorahs, were lit, we sang Ma’or Tzur or Rock of Ages. Although we can’t be together and although we can’t gather in Philadelphia to celebrate, we were able to meet up on Zoom and have a beautiful ceremony.

I would also like to post a segment that CBS Sunday Morning ran on Sunday about Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Dinner | 13 December 2020

I made Bubbe’s brisket (https://www.kosher.com/recipe/bubbes-brisket-5023) and gluten-free latkes. I lit the Menorah and sadly by the time we sat down for dinner on the fourth night of Hanukkah, the candles had burned down.

I’m thankful that my parents accept me and that they have agreed to let me have holiday dinners this year. While it felt odd not celebrating with my groups, it is always nice to sit down and have a peaceful dinner with family. The true spirit of the holidays!

Some tunes I’ve enjoyed during Hanukkah. I hope your holidays are full of love and light as well.

New Hanukkah Traditions, COVID-19 Style

On Saturday, I ventured into Philadelphia to go ice skating. When Hanukkah started at sundown on Thursday, mom mentioned that the Betsy Ross House now has a Menorah and only a few Rabbis were there to light it, the event was being livestreamed.

I decided to go to the Betsy Ross House and look at the Menorah. The way her house was decorated, it was decorated for all religious traditions. Betsy Ross herself was there and we chatted for a bit. What a magical scene and it feels good to see all faiths represented at a historical house. A new day is dawning!

Even the River Rink had a Menorah lit. I enjoyed my time ice skating and towards the end, I decided to check Instagram. The Angelo Pizza posted they ran out of pizza for the day. Panicked, I checked my Find Me Gluten Free app and I ended up at Oh, Brother. I ordered a gluten-free vegan burger since I was having a brisket dinner the next day.

As I was waiting for my food, I waited outside and found a table. As I was reading emails, I heard Matisyahu’s Miracle playing. I saw lights flashing and it was a Hanukkah drive-by parade! Since we cannot gather for Hanukkah this year, many congregations and families got together, decorated their cars with Menorahs and wished everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

I was chatting with the people sitting near me, I was telling them about my journey and that I was having a Hanukkah meal on Sunday. They thought it was cool, and when another car drove by, they asked, “is anyone else celebrating Hanukkah?” They pointed to me and I said, “I am!” He asked if I had a Menorah, I said I did and he gave me chocolate gelt instead. The next car that drove by engaged me in conversation, and gave me a Menorah anyway.

It was such a joyous atmosphere. I had two Hanukkah gifts from strangers and I was on cloud 9. I wish I could have given them something, but maybe since I gave to the JRA and participated in Operation Santa through the USPS, their kindness was a sense of rewarding good deeds.

After a few minutes, I went inside to see if my food was done and I overheard the waitress say she also celebrates Hanukkah. I asked her and we both have the same story! Raised Catholic, but left. However, she was married to a Jewish man and even though they divorced, she felt comfortable and at home. I told her, “I’m taking my time with everything. I feel comfortable and at home too.” She gave me some advice and the mood was just festive.

While we cannot gather for the holidays this year, there is still joy to be found. It may look different, but Hanukkah is a miracle and it’s about lighting the way out of the darkness. These new traditions are just that.