The Ritual of Relaxation is Foreign to Me; or, Stolen Moments.

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I am a Jew. Please don’t stop reading, I swear this is not a post about religion because that is something I don’t typically write about on my blog.

One of the most important Jewish traditions is the ritual of observing the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which begins every Friday at sundown and ends Saturday at sundown. It is supposed to be a day of rest, reflection, and study, and for Orthodox Jews (read: not me) it also means no driving, using electricity, or doing work of any kind. One of my favorite components of Shabbat is challah, which is a braided loaf of egg bread. I really enjoy making it for my family, but I have trouble following the other Shabbat “rules,” although I think I’d be better off if I did.

(this happens to be my first attempt at a 6-braid challah)

Today I sprinkled the yeast into the warm water and it bubbled and fizzed, then clouded up. The buttery smell wafted up at me as I stirred with my wooden spoon. I leveled off the sugar with the flat edge of a knife, spillage and grit.

I cracked the egg–a crack in a dream. The quick slipping of the yellow yolk through its protective shell — its vulnerability revealed and taken.

I stir, scraping the small clumps of flour down from the sides of my favorite melamine mixing bowl.

It’s methodical. I’m on auto-pilot. I know the measurements by heart. But the essence of Shabbat is lost on me. I don’t know how to sit still or relax. There is always something to be done–laundry, cooking, cleaning, bathing and schlepping the kids, bathing and walking the dog, grocery shopping, ironing, etc. Having a pile of dirty dishes in the sink irks me. So do overflowing hampers. And empty refrigerators. Weeds in the yard. I can’t keep up.

The mixture in the bowl thickens and my arm tires from the effort of slowly incorporating the flour. I am heady with the scent of the dough. My hands move themselves by memory, my brain is off. The stirring, the mixing, the papery feeling of flour on my palms. The grit of sugar on the floor under my bare feet, twisting the bowl this way and that as I make my final sweep around the bowl—it’s like coming home.

I lay a towel over the top of the dough and let the challah rest and rise. See? Even the challah instinctively knows how to relax:

And I’ve suddenly realized—that times like these, wherein I’m doing something by rote, something habitual, ritual, and comforting—that this is where I find my stolen moments of relaxation. Because I don’t really know how to do it any other way.

How do you find time to relax? Where do you carve out your stolen moments?

For my challah recipe, please go HERE, where it was featured about a year ago.

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