Finding Common Ground

I never liked Monopoly as a kid. My impatient little self couldn’t be trifled with a never-ending game that teetered between jail time and free cash. (The only thing I liked was the thimble – thanks to Peter Pan perhaps?) But as I grew older, I learned to appreciate the Parker brother’s commercialization of a game that, quite ironically, was created to illustrate the negative aspects of monopolies, which concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. While it was created as a tool to defenestrate monopolizing landlords, figuratively speaking, of course, Monopoly the board game seems to have taken on another role entirely: by encouraging players to accrue assets, Monopoly seems to to teach people how to handle their finances or, more tantalizingly (to most?), how to get rich. Considering the international popularity of the game (according to Yehuda, there are 1911 official and unofficial Monopolies), I find it safe to assume that the appeal of this game, beyond its personalization, is the one common denominator that binds all people of all races of all religions and of all denominations together: Money. By the same token, Monopoly hones in on one more binding aspect of the human race: Jail. It’s less glorious, but it’s a fact. About 10 million people are imprisoned worldwide, not counting totalitarian regimes and the like. And the rest of use, I’m sure, prefer to avoid it.

And now we come to the point of today’s post. How do we find common ground in a world so diverse and with such a monstrous population? How do we foster change when we’re really so different? We eat different foods, we sleep at different hours, we think different thoughts, we speak different languages, we believe in different gods, we play different games, we use different currencies. You get the point. And that’s where the Parkers hit the nail on the head. Jail. It’s the one place neither you nor I want to find ourselves in, but it’s fact and some people will end up there and other others won’t. Which is why we all vie for the Get-Out-Of-Jail card. And Money. It’s the one thing that, no matter who we are or what our fight is, we can all agree on. Money satisfies wants and needs. It is a derivative of our survival instinct. In some places, money means life. In other places, money means more Starbucks – a survival of sorts. Anyhow, you want money, I need money. You need money, I want money. No argument there. If it was only as easy as passing Go.

Okay. So here’s the bottom line (all puns intended): the common denominator of all people around the globe is to:

  1. Accumulate Money
  2. Avoid Jail

Now, if we want to create change for the better, to make the world a better place, we need to appeal to these effectively primal impulses. For better or for worse, it seems to me that the only way to make waves is through monetary and legal coercion. Because that’s the only thing we can agree on. Don’t you agree?


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Doing It All & Getting It All Done

I want to do it all.

Really. Everything. I’ve got a list of things I want to accomplish from here to the moon. My house is littered with new projects that find their way to vacant tabletops. My computer is on overload from new business ideas. My shelves are packed with books on random skills and other topics of personal interest that I want to become more well-versed in. My mind is floating in a sea of creativity and ambition. I really and truly want to do it all.

By the same token, and perhaps more importantly, I want to get it all done. Everything I want to do, I also want to complete. To check off accomplishments on that ever-growing list.

But that list only continues to grow (unless the moon is just getting closer…), while the check marks become fewer and farther between. And then there’ s the matter of prioritizing. I want to do everything, but which one should I do first?!??!?

Indeed, today’s post encapsulates all of the challenges of doing it all and getting it all done at the same time. Let’s contextualize: It’s been nine days since my previous post (which, incidentally, was about starting the year off on the right foot). What’s taken so long is a melange of indecision and procrastination: I was fickle about which topic I would write about, so I kept stalling the writing process. I devised some pretty trite excuses for the delay, most notably of which is the fact that I had more important things to do, that I had to focus on my top priorities. Next thing you know, 2011 is well underway and I’m finally picking up the proverbial pen. But not without a host of consequences: those top priorities are in dire need of my utmost attention and I’m now casting them aside (temporarily) as I compose an entry that’s fundamentally about casting things aside (temporarily). Not only that, but those same top priorities, which I considered such top priorities over the last nine days, were themselves cast to the back-burner in favor of other tasks on the list.

Basically, here I am procrastinating procrastination. Interesting.

So how can I not only do it all, but also get it all done?

  1. For starters, I am an advocate of lists. Umm… check. This should not be just a laundry list, but rather a list of goals. If you want to learn to play the piano, set a target: Is it to become the next Bach or, perhaps more realistically, to learn to play the Minuet in G major?
  2. Schedules are key. Let’s start with two. One is a general schedule – a calendar, I suppose – for mapping out your priorities (i.e. due dates, etc.). The other is a specific schedule – daily, weekly, take your pick – that transforms those top priorities, as well as those not-so-top priorities into tangible action items. The latter is a list that should scream check marks!
  3. My mom always says: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Read: keep your stuff in order and put things away when your done. It keeps your mental space just as clutter-free as physical space. (Also, if “organize room” was on your list, well, now it’s not.)
  4. Finally, periodically review your lists, schedules, and progress. Everything is flexible, so rewrite your lists as you see fit and alter those schedules if priorities shift.

My take-home message is this: I can do it all AND I can get it all done. But it won’t happen overnight. Things take time, but as long as I map out my objectives, I will reach my goals.

And so will you. Give it a shot.

What about you? How do you do it all and get it all done?

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First Things Last or Last Things First

We’re in the 11th hour. Everyone’s hurrying to formulate those last minute New Year’s resolutions: “Lose 10 pounds”…”Learn to cook”…”Save money”…”Make money”…”Learn a new hobby”…”Keep this year’s New Year’s resolutions.”

Enough’s been said about trite and, quite frankly, pointless New Year’s resolutions. Personally, every day I seek to learn new things. I don’t consider that a resolution, and I don’t really intend to contrive any. Nonetheless, I do believe in starting off the New Year on the right foot. But rather than setting out with self-destructing promises, I prefer to end off the Gregorian year with accomplishments and achievements: Rather than trying to make amends for a miserable failure of a year – which is what the cliché resolution seems to imply, I prefer to perpetuate the positive aspects of 2010 and bring them along into 2011.

December 31, 2010
Maya’s list of firsts and other encouraging successes

  1. woke up at 6:45 → SUCCESS
  2. did not buy sweet coffee frap (Ice Kafe) → SUCCESS
  3. baited a brobdingnagian fly in my tea → FIRST
  4. navigated around the center of tel aviv without the help of a gps → FIRST
  5. spent less than 5 minutes in a grocery store → SUCCESS
  6. napped for 15 minutes (not 2 hours!) → FIRST (in recent past)
  7. cooked with sweet white wine → FIRST
  8. used baking soda to neutralize compost stench → FIRST
  9. cleaned floor with vinegar → FIRST
  10. scrubbed clean an oil-caked pan with baking soda → FIRST

Personal growth is contingent on recognizing our successes and failures, which are themselves contingent on doing firsts and aiming for continued successes. This exercise is something that should be done not just once a year, but everyday.

I would love to know: What’s on your list of December 31st FIRSTS?


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Schvitzing in a Winter Wonderland

It’s winter…

The view from inside.

…in Israel.

Winter in Israel means wind.
Winter in Israel means rain.
Winter in Israel means hail.
Winter in Israel means cold.
Winter in Israel means galoshes and mittens.
Winter in Israel means down coats and wool-lined boots.

But, above all else, winter in Israel means bundling up … before you go inside!

Winter in Israel is one of those unnatural wonders of the world. It’s the time of year when average temperature outside hovers around 9°, while average indoor temperature is inconveniently a significant 5° less. During the day, the sun often beats done mercilessly forcing us to peel off our morning winter apparel layer by layer. By evening, the chill sets in again. But, no matter the time of day, most buildings are freezing cold. So while winter in Israel is indeed wind and rain and hail and cold and galoshes and mittens and coats and wool-lined boots, there is so much more…

Winter in Israel means cold feet and colder fingers

… inside.

Winter in Israel means fewer showers

… because the house is freezing.

Winter in Israel means uneven heating

… so your left side freezes while your right side is drenched in sweat.

Winter in Israel means frigid walls and frozen floors

… that make jumping into the freezer sound tempting.

Winter in Israel mean t-shirts outside and down coats inside.

Enough said.

The situation is inconceivable! But it could be different.

Let’s first understand how the buildings got that way. We could start pre-Crusaders, but for that we have Wikipedia. For our purposes, we’ll start with 1948. The War of Independence. Israel is flooded with immigrants. New housing is needed. And fast. But Israel is a little short on traditional building materials such is wood. So, in Brutalist architectural style, they begin to raise veritable tenements, which, in effect, consist of angular concrete slabs with holes for windows and little character to boot.

Fast forward to the last few minutes of 2010. And we’re still using concrete slabs. Why? Are they really that suitable for the Israeli climate? Last I checked, winter is unbearable and summer is no better! Wikipedia tells us that concrete is a composite construction material composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate (generally a coarse aggregate made of gravels or crushed rocks such as limestone, or granite, plus a fine aggregate such as sand), water, and chemical admixtures. Chemicals. That’s nice. Even if they say that concrete has thermal mass properties that insulate buildings to maintain a steady indoor temperature during daily temperature fluctuations, I can tell you with great confidence and anecdotal certainty that concrete drains heat from buildings during the winter, turning a medium of self-protection into a bona fide igloo. And I don’t like chemicals.

In my opinion, concrete, a man-made material, does not make the cut.

So what are the alternatives?

Believe it or not, houses weren’t always made of concrete as we know it. Ancient cultures used other aggregates to construct edifices to protect them from the elements. Initially, STRAW BALE was used by builders in Paleolithic Africa, and then made a comeback in the 19th century. The problem with straw is that it is not particularly rain-resistant or suitable to humid climates. As such, the structure must be built on a raised platform, and a large overhanging roof is needed to protect against the rain. As a further precaution, the walls may be coated with clay, plaster, cement, or stucco, which also increases thermal mass.

Straw is nice. If you live in the driest place on earth. So let’s look at another possible building material: COB. Cob makes use of straw bale, but combines it with clay, earth, sand, and water. The ingredients are kneaded together by stomping on them and then constructed into two foot thick walls. Cob has a good thermal mass, but is not a good insulator. Nevertheless, it handles temperature fluctuations well, but requires increased insulation for consistently cold climates.

Cob, perhaps in addition to straw insulation, is an improvement. But let’s give it one more go: RAMMED EARTH HOUSES. Rammed earth walls range in thickness, but start at about 1 foot thick. Want an example? How about the Great Wall of China for starters! The method is similar to cob in that it’s a mixture of clay, sand, and gravel. But with rammed earth, composition is key. Rammed earth houses are more suitable to wet and humid climates, and are agreeable with colder weather if appropriate insulation is used. A company I came across in a Googling spree constructs rammed earth houses by sandwiching 4 inches of rigid insulation between two rammed earth walls. They claim that rammed earth on its own is not a good insulator, but, combined with the insulation, keeps dwellers warm and toasty during the dark winter months.

At the end of the day, if we build our homes out of plastic garbage bags, it’s bound to keep us nice and hot, though I can’t guarantee that it would be ideal for summer. Anywhere. But the point of exploring alternative housing materials is to bring us back to earth. Literally. Let’s reconnect with the planet and start building peaceful homes that work for us while working with the land.

One day, I will live in a home that provides comfortable temperature regulation while being kind to the earth.

And how about you? Would you live in a house of straw?

Leave your comments below.

Stay Warm!

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Of Hot Spots and Little Things

It’s the little things in life, or so they say. It’s probably because little things have huge impacts. Impacts on us, the people in our lives, people beyond our circles, the environment. Really, the universe itself.

So, in the spirit of huge impacts, I thought I’d share with you some of my little things:

  • A decadent piece of chocolate.
  • A warm embrace.
  • A subtle breeze.
  • A breath of fresh air.
  • A liberating sneeze.
  • A heartwarming chat.
  • A glance at the sky.
  • An encounter with a bug.
  • A sip of cool water.
  • A good back-scratch.
  • An unexpected recycling bin.
  • A contemplation on a single blade of grass swaying in the wind.
  • A good snuggle.
  • A hot spot on heated floors.

The list goes on and on. And I’m sure yours does to.

But this is a little post about little things.

So, tell me, what are some of your little things?

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