I try to make it a point to work things into my life – including insane schedules, impossible goals and conflicting priorities – in the most upbeat way I can. OK, so it doesn’t always work. What surprises me is how shocked people are when I tell them I just can’t handle everything.
I’ve discovered that people who know my story expect me to be Superwoman. If you’re not familiar with my tale, let me clue you in: Three years ago I went public, confessing that when I got married I was the Bride Who Knew Nothing – I didn’t know a spatula from a saucepan and that I didn’t really care. I wrote unabashedly about how I was raised on takeout and never expected to use anything more than the phone to get dinner on the table.
Then I committed to my full Jewish heritage and got married. As a newlywed, I needed a map to find the stove and detailed directions on using it. As a ba’alas teshuvah, I needed a crash course in kosher cooking. I found that nobody – absolutely nobody – could give me recipes that would meet my one main requirement: get me out of that kitchen fast!
I had two excellent reasons for that criterion. First, my professional life in television meant constant pressure, long hours and crazy deadlines. Second, I didn’t like cooking and the less I could do of it, the better. But Hubby was expecting home-cooked cuisine like Mommy used to make, so I flung myself headlong into learning all I could about cooking.
What emerged from that effort shocked even me. I wound up as the author of a bestselling cookbook, Quick & Kosher: Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing. Now I’m the Chief Foodie Officer at Kosher.com (an online kosher delivery service), I produce an online kosher cooking show and food magazine at blog.kosher.com, and my second book, Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes, was just released.
So I must have figured it all out, right? Wrong. As unprepared as I was as a bride, I was equally clueless about being a wife, mother and career woman in the space of a 24-hour day. Unless you join the circus, nobody teaches you how to juggle.
I mean, this is the stuff they never teach in kallah class. My life is a circus, but I’ve had to manage with on-the-job training. And I can’t get away from Jewish Mother’s Guilt, which just keeps gnawing away at me. You don’t have to be raised as a frum balabusta to have it. It’s passed down from mother to daughter like a great family recipe. JMG is simply the feeling – no, the certainty – that you’re not able to do it all. Moreover, you’re convinced that everybody else is getting it just right. Especially Jamie Geller. She’s done it all, gone beyond the average Jewish woman’s turf, so she must have everything in hand.
So let me put my cards on the table. I’m obsessed with easy cooking because I find so much else in life challenging. And it only gets more complicated.
Listen, two and a half months after I first met my husband, I was Mrs. Geller. Five years later, we have four kids, a mortgage, tuitions, babysitters – and I’m still running around the country on book tours. (I’m not complaining, just explaining.) “Quick & Kosher” is not just the name of my book; it’s a metaphor for my entire life. It’s hectic, and I have my days when the place is a mess, no dinner is cooked, and everyone is crying, including me. As Alice remarked in Wonderland, I have to run just as fast as I can to stay in the same place.
So while it is wonderful, challenging and rewarding, my life is no fairy tale and neither is yours. If your bio reads anything like mine, you’re on the same treadmill. A 21st century Jewish woman is likely to be working hard, in her home and out of it. And more often than not, it’s because she has to. I actually enjoy my work but don’t be fooled: it’s work. It means stress, time away from my family, and preoccupation with office problems. I have to remember to turn off my Blackberry when I put my children to bed. It means not whining after staying up until 2 a.m. working on a project and then being woken up by the baby at 4.
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Today’s Jewish woman has to watch her behavior in the workplace – her tznius, her decorum, lashon hara – while ensuring that she is heard and taken seriously. When she darts home, she carries the burden of having forgotten to make the pediatrician appointment – or worse, having made the appointment and forgotten it. She races to carpool, rehearsing excuses in her head for why she’s late this time. And like every mommy, she wants her children to mature spiritually, mentally and physically; she worries if they don’t have a best friend, whether or not this year’s morah fully understands her little one, and if the school bus is a fun place and not a scary one. It all swirls around in her head – constantly.
And then some magazine article tells her she should be taking better care of herself, going to the gym every day, or that she’s poisoning her children with food additives.
I’m not saying they’re wrong, but give me a break! Some days I’m glad if I can carve out the time to give the baby a bath. I really do want to do it all – and perfectly. We all want that. Whether you are the momtrepreneur of your own media empire or the CEO of your own home, you have to figure out a way to be successful, happy, and have rewarding relationships with your family, with friends and with Hashem.
I’m in the same boat, but I’m wearing a lifejacket I fashioned myself. It’s made of things I’ve learned in the past few years, and I want to share them with you. Actually, beyond the recipes and menus, that kind of help is the point of my new Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes cookbook.
So here are a few of my solutions, or, more accurately, life principles that should be engraved on your mind.
Delegate: We’re talking about delegating on a daily basis as well as for special occasions. Don’t be a martyr. Involve your family in age-appropriate household chores. Children grow up more independent if they contribute to the family, so let them dust, vacuum, set tables, even do their own laundry, once they’re old enough. (I know some people think that kids doing laundry is unthinkable, but you have to ask yourself if you really need to be the sole Queen of Bleach in your house. And don’t worry that they’ll ruin it. They’re smart enough to play those computer games, program a phone, and memorize mishnayos. Don’t tell me they can’t figure out a washing machine.)
Depending on your husband’s schedule and inclination – dare I say it? – let him make dinner once in a while, or do the shopping, run errands or bathe the children. Some husbands have been raised to do this from childhood; others need to be, shall we say, coaxed. The truth is that if you are feeling overwhelmed, a quiet discussion about how he might be able to alleviate at least some of the pressure usually will be taken seriously.
Parties, Yomim Tovim and family events mean you’re the captain of a team, not the whole team by yourself. Involve as many people as possible, without having them step all over each other. You friends and relatives will welcome your invitation to bring a dessert, or shop for paper goods, or shlep the soda. In families that are really big, it is customary for each household to bring at least one of the dishes on the menu, a side or even a second main course. But that means you’ll have to coordinate who’s bringing what, so you don’t have to make a meal of six Caesar salads. But it’s worth it. It’s a lot easier to make up a list on paper, place an order at kosher.com, followed by e-mails or phone calls to the family cooks, than to undertake the whole banquet in your kitchen.
And at the end of the meal, don’t be too proud to let them help you clean up.
I must modify the above suggestion with one caveat. It’s something learned the hard way, so I’ll tell you one of our classic family stories.
When my husband was single, he liked to hang out at his brother and sister-in-law’s house, often staying for dinner, including Shabbos meals. On Thursday nights, he was gallant enough to call his sister-in-law to ask what to bring for Shabbos. It was “the usual” most of the time – a mile-high heimish challah (from Williamsburg, where he worked), a babka, and wine. But one blistery cold Thursday, she gave him a whole supermarket list. He dutifully ran to the store and bought everything.
Now, it happens that his voice and his brother’s are nearly identical, so when he called his sister-in-law on the phone on Friday, she mistook him for her husband. No sooner had he said, “Hi, how are you?” when she yelled, “How am I? Terrible! You brother totally messed up. I told him to buy tomato sauce and he brought me tomato paste; I told him olive oil and he brought canola oil; I told him sugar and he brought confectioners sugar. Shabbos is in two hours, the baby is sleeping so I can’t leave the house, and I have no time to cook anything. This is a disaster!”
After all the apologies, it’s taken ten years but now we can laugh. So the amendment to rule 1 is always make sure who is on the other end of the phone, before and after you delegate.
Fix Your Attitude: You are not going to hit every ball out of the park – even if you’ve written two cookbooks and sound like you know what you’re doing. The sooner you realize that everything will not be exactly perfect – and that it’s OK – the sooner your life will be simpler and more pleasurable.
I’m one of those “I can do it!” people. It’s a good thing, mainly, but it sometimes leads me into phenomenal blunders on a grand scale. Take Hubby’s Birthday Surprise. As a loving and thoughtful wife, I decided to make my husband a birthday cake. The trouble was that it didn’t occur to me until after he left for minyan the morning of his birthday. But I thought it through. It would take about 50 minutes for him to daven. Add a half hour for him to do his Sunday errands. No problem!
Just a few days before, he had been reminiscing about the terrific “snowman cake” his grandmother always baked for his birthday parties. Just talking about it put such a happy, boyish grin on his face that I resolved to recreate that cake. How hard could it be?
It’s a rainy morning, too close to 7 a.m. I load my sleepy toddlers into the minivan and we tootle over to the supermarket. We race through the aisles looking for the essential ingredients, at least the ones I can remember. After three clerks and a manager tell me they don’t stock specialty items like snowman cake molds, I strap the kids back into the car and dash home.
Back in the house, I decide to improvise the snowman using circular challah pans. I whip up the batter, pour it into the pans, and throw them in the oven. I change the kids out of their pajamas, feed them breakfast, and smell the cakes burning. The canned white icing I bought covers only half of this singed, drooping, 20-pound monster, so I make some chocolate cupcake frosting and slap it all over the rest. It already looks terrible – what can I lose? So I give the kids sprinkles, chocolate chips, Twizzlers, and potato chips and they throw the stuff all over the cake with wild abandon.
I manage to lug the Snowthing to the table just as Hubby walks in the door. The kids are giggling and jumping up and down. I’m covered with sweat and flour, but I try to smile as we lead him to our masterpiece. Singing Happy Birthday in our party hats, we watch Abba try to figure out what the monstrosity on the table is supposed to be. “It’s a snowman cake, Abba, just like Great-grandma used to make!” they shout.
Birthday Boy gives me a quizzical look then manfully takes a cake server in hand. Next, he tries a chef’s knife (another option would be a chainsaw) to hack through the hard, crusty shell of the cake. The batter inside oozes out, totally raw, onto the table. He doesn’t even take a lick of the icing. Instead, he runs for his camera. Staring after him, my eyes are a bit teary. And that’s when my daughter climbs on my lap and whispers, “I told you, Mommy, we should have bought a cake from the bakery.”
And she was right. If I didn’t think I had to do it all myself, and perfectly, the fiasco never would have happened. But the best result of this experience is that I learned to let go. Everything doesn’t have to be the very best it can be all the time. Accepting the second-best alternative can be a lifesaver.
Find Help and Use It: There are tons of how-to books and articles out there; lots of household management gurus and even more cookbooks. Don’t be shy. Seek out the ones that make sense to you and use them. I’d like to think that among all the options, mine will rate high on your list. So park yourself at my blog, make me your homepage (blog.kosher.com) – from there you can watch my cooking videos, participate in “Ask Jamie,” read my Confessions of a Jewish Bride and, yes, buy my books, if you want.
I don’t mean this as a shameless plug. I truly feel I can make your life easier; that’s why I write my books and why I made my blog as interactive as possible. At the very least, you will realize you are not alone – ever. We share our insights, our failures, and our successes with a camaraderie that will lift your day and brighten your smile.
Now who can’t use that?
Jamie Geller is chief marketing officer at Kosher.com and author of the newly released “Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes” as well as “Quick & Kosher: Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing.” For more than 1,000 recipes and to watch Jamie’s Quick & Kosher cooking show, visit her online at blog.kosher.com.