Unlocking the Key to Happiness

I’ve been away in San Diego for 3 weeks now with the family. Before leaving…I had big plans. No matter what, I’d stick to my schedule. Okay…maybe I’ll rethink that one…

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m having a great time; going to the beach, eating out, taking the train to various places, drinking Starbucks; spending quality time with my kids… relaxing, breathing…

…well, not quite. I’m not relaxing and I’m not breathing. I had big plans…and those plans are not fitting into my San Diego schedule. What about my big plans!

“Let them go for right now and just enjoy the place you’re in.” That’s my new mantra. Am I crazy? Am I giving up? No way! Right now I want to be totally present with where I am, and for me, that’s in San Diego with my family. I am allowing myself (giving myself the permission) to let go of my “big plans”. It’s good to learn to be flexible. I realized that not only was I NOT sticking to my big plans, but I was also NOT being present with my family.

We all have had experiences like mine at different times through our lives. The trick is learning how to let go, bend with it and be flexible. When we let go of our expectations and learn how to be present with the moment, life takes on a whole new positive look. Learning to let go and be flexible is the key to happiness. As soon as I let go of my expectations, my “big plans”, and allowed myself some flexiblity, I relaxed, took a breath and started enjoying myself.

Ask yourself, “Am I a flexible person or do I always have to feel in control?” If it’s the latter, spend a day letting go and see what happens. You just might like the results.

The Truth Within

Tonight begins a fast day for me; Yom Kippur. For the Jewish people, it is the holiest day in the year. We fast on Yom Kippur to transcend ourselves to the level of angels. This is a day where we truly tap into our true selves, our souls. The fast is 26 hours; most of that time is spent in prayer, connecting ourselves to G-dliness and…well, ourselves. For 26 hours, we give up a part of our physical in order to hone into our true selves.

Tapping into the essence of who we are, is an important component of discovering what is important in our lives. Truth resonates and when we hear it, we know. Having a guide helps us to open our own pathway to the truth within. It’s not so hard to do, once we get rid of all the mental clutter.

How do you do it? Start with taking a deep breath, smile (even if you don’t feel like it), get out a paper and write a list…from there it’s easy. One step at a time is all it takes, and believe me, you WILL reach your goal.

In Remembrance

Today on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I am celebrating the Yahrtzeit (death anniversary) of my dear father Zallia Shalom ben Shlomo Michal HaKohen, better known as Charlie. He passed away unexpectedly in his sleep 30 years ago today… I remember it like it was yesterday. I was expecting my first child then and my parents were leaving that morning to come visit.

Why celebrate? I celebrate my father, his life, his legacy. His was a difficult life. His father passed away when he was twelve. They had to move from their home to an apartment in a tough section of town, where being Jewish, he was constantly tormented. At eighteen he moved to New York City, worked in the garment business for a bit then enlisted in the Army, fought in WWII as a Captain, was wounded,  came home, met and married my mother and began a new life. Over the years, his old life tried to encroach on the happiness he had made for himself. During the war, the doctors had given him morphine for his wounds. It worked, but by working, created a whole new monster. He became dependent on drugs and, in turn, alcohol, all the while, raising three daughters and running two successful businesses. In his forties he overcame the drug and alcohol abuse, went to AA meetings regularly and totally turned his life around for the good. At fifty-five he retired. For me, that was a happy time. He and I were always close and when he retired, he relaxed. We used to go on daily walks together. I cherish those memories. There was a quiet strength to my father. Wherever he went, his smile lit up a room. He was also a poet.

Three days after my father passed away, my first daughter was born; bittersweet. Here I had just lost my dear father and my precious baby was born. When I had told him I was expecting, he cried. He was so lost for words that all he could say was that he was as happy as a fuzzy peach.  He couldn’t wait for this grandchild, his first. It’s not for me to question why he had to leave before meeting her, but I can say that I truly felt his presence in the delivery room. He was there, as he still is, thirty years later. I know in my heart that he has been present for each of my children’s births, that though not here physically, he is here.

He lives on through my life and the lessons I learned from him, he lives on through my children, his grandchildren, and he will live on through the generations. I wish he were physically here with me now, I’d like to give him a hug and say only, “I love you Daddy.”

Two poems by my father Charles Sumner Zalkind (1917-1980):


I look upon a leaf and see
Not a leaf, not yet a tree
But something greater in its majesty
The secret of eternity.

As winter fades to warming Spring
The wonder of it fills my heart
How wonderful the opportunity
To watch the eternal cycle start.

From a seed a tree is born
And it gives me pause to know
The beauty filled with mystery
A good G-d doth bestow.

For this gift like every other
We accept without a thought
Unthinking, oft unseeing
The miracles He hath wrought.

MOTHER’S DAY – (this was written for my mother)

This is the eve of Mother’s Day
I search my soul and heart
For words to tell you what I feel
I cannot even start.

For only you and I can know
How I wandered year on year
And only you and I can know
How much cost every tear.

So for Mother’s Day I give to you
A gift for G-d to see
Finally, finally the skies have cleared
And I can give you me.

Our Humanity

In this age of computers and instant everything, how do we, as human beings, and parents in particular, slow down enough to take a real breath, to really look around us, to smell the flowers? How do we as responsible human beings stop ourselves, and our children, from looking at inappropriate things?

In our house, modern technology has arrived full force. As a mother of children, ranging from ages 30 to 10, I have had the unique perspective of knowing what it’s like raising children with and without computers. I will say in all honesty, that the pre-computer age was a lot easier. I had more control over what my children saw and who they interacted with.

In 1992, we got rid of our TV. We felt that turning on the television, opened ourselves up to outside influences we deemed inappropriate. Getting rid of the TV was the best thing we ever did. It allowed our children to be more creative with their time, and allowed them to interact with each other, and us, more.

Then came the computer! At first it was fun. We could play games, write papers and store them, surf the internet, albeit slowly. Technology has advanced to such a point that a person doesn’t have to leave home anymore. From shopping, to education, to advice, the internet has it all. Children don’t need friends anymore; parents don’t need to interact with their kids. We stay in contact with our friends through email, through facebook, through anything except the old fashioned way…in person. What have we become?!

I’m not abdicating that we throw out our computers. Computers can be used for good, as I humbly write this blog. I’m suggesting moderation and balance. I’m suggesting using the computer as a tool, as one would use a ruler, or a pencil or even a newspaper. Computers are here to serve us, to make our lives easier, not to become our babysitters and especially not to take over our humanity. Ask yourself when was the last time you went a week, or a day, without going on the internet.

When a child chooses to be on the computer, instead of running outside and playing on a beautiful sunny day, when a parent chooses to be on the computer, instead of spending quality time with their children, their partner or their friends, a warning bell needs to go off. We need to stop and breathe again, to relook at who we are and why we are here on this earth. We need to get out and smell the flowers, and we need to do it together with our family and our friends.

Take your kids out to the park, get together with your friends, sit outside with a cup of tea, breathe, look, smell…and do it today.

Going Beyond

It’s the middle of the night in Minnesota and I’m wide awake. I’ve alot on my mind; too many things to do and maybe I’m a bit nervous. Rosh Hashana is coming next week, the start of the Jewish New Year. I am leaving with my kids to California, and will be very busy packing, traveling, settling in, and then cooking for 100 plus students; another challenge, another hurdle…

My life has been full of challenges and hurdles these past few months. It’s been amazing to experience and also scary. Over the last year, I’ve quit a job, gone back to school, gotten a degree, started a business…and the list goes on. Last week I tested for my red belt in martial arts. I’m really proud of that. I’m another step closer to my black belt. I am not alone though. I have the support of my friends and family. It’s important that we utilize those around us for both support and butt kicking.

Why am I doing these things? I’m at a point in my life where I need to let go of the fear that’s holding me back from living my life to its fullest. As I mentioned in my last blog, Courage, I am not a very adventurous type. I realized though, that by doing the opposite of what I thought was my nature, I could gain more self confidence and feel more fulfilled. Is it an easy thing I do? Not at all. I still have some self-doubt, but the difference is that I am using my self-doubt as a catalyst to move myself forward into the place I want to be, by turning it around and by taking one step at a time. I use “tools” that move me in the direction I have chosen to go. I am learning to declutter my physical and mental surroundings, I am purposely speaking in a more positive way, thus changing my thought patterns, and most importantly, I am allowing myself to trust ME. I am moving towards a more authentic ME.

At some point in our lives, we have to allow ourselves to take chances, to go beyond our comfort zone. If we don’t, how can we ever grow emotionally and spiritually, and then in turn, discover who we really are? Every new experience starts with a first step. That’s all it takes.