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With Shavuot just a couple of hours away, I feel I need to make a post.

Sefirat Ha'Omer is about growth and spiritual development; it is about striving to become more than you were and reaching greater heights. And Shavuot, the culmination of those seven weeks of progress and awareness, is a good time to look back and see how far you have come.

Of course, a Jew should always be striving toward perfection (according to Torah values), and it should not matter so much whether it is Sefirat Ha'Omer, Aseret Yimei Tshuva, Rosh Hashana, or just any common day. But it is easier to work within a frame, when you have the feeling of, "During this time, I should be working on myself. I better do something."

I did not think about it much though until my school's Shabbaton this month. There were many speakers, and a few of them discussed Sefirat Ha'Omer. It is a pity that most of the speeches were on Shabbat, or I would have written them down. But on the whole, when I left the Shabbaton and returned home, I took with me a lot of inspiration and a higher sense of awareness.

Now that it is almost Shavuot, I am looking back on the past couple of weeks (since Shabbaton) and I do see a difference in the way I am living my life and my attitude toward it. I never really expected there to be any change this year, but it is amazing how things work out, and you find yourself improving unexpectedly.

I just want to wish all of you a Chag Sameach and a year full of growth and accomplishment.


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Don't you love that feeling of intense happiness, when your life is perfect, and those things that can bother you fade away into insignificance because you know they don't matter? When life is all you wish it to be and more? When you feel so alive as your wings spread out and fly, soaring through a sunny sky? When smiling and dancing just isn't enough and even writing cannot do justice to your happiness? When your laughter is so heartfelt and extreme that people would think you are drunk if they were around?

The only way to do justice to that happiness is to thank G-d -- for everything. :]

Copying Homework, Part II  

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Almost a month ago, I made a post in reply to an anonymous letter one of my classmates wrote for the opinion magazine we put together. In her letter, she claimed that copying homework is ethical. She made some very weak arguments, to which I responded in my original post.

We have already published this magazine, distributing it to all the juniors in our school, so now I want to quote a few more letters and write my opinions on them.

Two issues were discussed in this issue: copying homework and quality vs. quantity in teaching. In this post, I will address the former. Quotes are in italics.

Doing [homework] myself or copying from someone else will take the same amount of time, and if someone is willing to give me her homework, why shouldn't I accept it?

Why shouldn't you accept it if it's easily available? Oh, I don't know... maybe because it's wrong?! We have been taught so many times that the easiest way out is not always the best thing to do. It takes strength of character to do the right thing even when it is the more difficult option. The issue here is not how much time you spend, but how you spend it.

The girl claims that since it takes the same amount of time to copy the homework as it does to actually do it yourself, you might as well just copy it. I don't see the logic there, though. If it takes the same amount of time (which I think it most certainly does not) then why not exercise those brain cells?

Another girl wrote that although copying homework is wrong, there are many students who copy homework for the reason that, and I quote, "We feel doomed if we don't." High school drama and teenage angst -- all over the simple matter of homework!

I'm guessing that most of my readers are no longer high school students, so please answer this: What do you think when you hear teenagers claiming that they feel doomed if they don't copy their homework? Do you feel that they are overreacting? Don't you think that they should just do the homework themselves instead of spending half the evening texting? Maybe then they won't feel doomed if they don't copy their hard-working friend's homework?

High school is just practice for real life. After graduating, what will those students who copied their way through school do when they feel overwhelmed? If they could not handle the workload of high school, how will they ever be able to handle college, a job, or life itself? Not always will they have an obliging friend who is willing to give them the answers. Shouldn't they learn how to react properly now, when it is all on a smaller scale?

Degrees of Immaturity  

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One of the things that I could not help noticing repeatedly these past few weeks was teenage girls' habit of reacting to whatever they do not understand with one single word: "ew."

Besides for the obvious things (like being confronted by food they dislike or seeing a smashed mosquito with its body parts smeared all over the wall), "ew" becomes the standard response to anything that is unusual, difficult to understand, emotional, or simply beyond their comprehending.

I often hear girls declare others' personal preferences, lifestyles, or choices to be "ew." It is said so casually that it seems the speaker put no thought into it before mindlessly insulting somebody else. Not everybody realizes that a short, two-letter word can be as much of an insult as throwing dozens of nasty comments at a person. Sometimes, this word is accompanied by an explanatory sentence, in which case you at least have a fair opportunity to respond.

"You're taking that class next year? Ew. You enjoy that subject? Ew. You walk around in sweatpants and with messy hair while working out in the gym? Ew. Ew, what's that perfume? Ew, that food is disgusting; how can you eat it?"

Sometimes girls use it to describe an aspect of themselves. ("Ew, look at my hair.") That, however, is a separate issue, which I covered in a previous post -- Bright Rays of Sunshine.

What I really wanted to write about though is the lack of understanding. When girls hear about a certain lifestyle in class that they cannot relate to, they simply say, "Ew." They don't bother understanding it, they don't care to see the advantages of it; all they know is that it is unusual to them, and it is therefore ew.

When we are reading literature in class and a character expresses his or her emotions very poignantly, I hear a couple of voices saying "awww," and then I also hear those inevitable tones of disgust exclaiming, "Ew!"

As we were reading Tale of Two Cities in class recently, we briefly discussed the sentence in which it was revealed that Dr. Manette kept some of his wife's hair throughout his stay in prison, because it reminded him of his love for her and her love for him even when they could not see each other. One of my classmates loudly exclaimed, "Ew! He kept her hair?" The issue at hand is not whether keeping someone's hair with you is normal, but how people react to it. There are multiple possible reactions to every statement or situation. One of those reactions is to remain silent and try to understand the person's motives and emotions, while another likely reaction is to brush it off with a simple "ew."

It takes a certain degree of maturity to be able to evaluate a situation and put in effort to actually understand it. Of course, I am not implying that it is necessary in life to be able to sympathize with a fictional character to whom you just cannot relate, but there comes a time in life when you have to let go of that little ugly word and try to understand the people in your own life. Chances are that what you read in books you will find in real life as well. You may as well learn now how to deal with certain situations, personalities, preferences people might have, or expressions of emotion. If reading a despairing character's musings on life disgusts you, what will you do when one of your friends (or your spouse) is going through a rough time and wants to confide in you? Will you be disgusted by it and by the person?

One of the things I love about literature is some authors' ability to create characters that are realistically flawed, that you can either feel for or be repulsed by. For some reason, those characters are usually my favorites, but most of the people I discuss it with are repelled by them. Oh well. To each his own, I suppose -- but I do wish people would give other people (or fictional characters) a fair chance.

It's funny, in an ironic sort of way, that many girls accuse guys of being insensitive when they themselves are not much better sometimes!

Disclaimer: This post was not meant to be an attack on teenage girls. I only mentioned them so often because they are the ones that initially inspired this post. I do not either mean to imply that my classmates are immature; this post is only talking about a minority of them. Unfortunately, however, that minority is often so outspoken and blatant, that it is more noticeable.

Why can't we all at least try to understand each other, to dig deeper and see what the other person is feeling or thinking, to see what is truly going on even if it is beyond what we ourselves have felt or experienced? Why are things we do not understand so often summed up as "ew"? Why must we unfavorably pass immediate judgment based on first impressions, which are often superficial?

Back Home  

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After returning from a four-day Shabbaton, I check my email to find 35 new messages. I check Blogger and realize that many people made new blog posts and/or commented on my blog. It is then that it fully sinks in: I am back home.

The fact that I was back in Brooklyn sunk in when I heard the incessant honking by impatient drivers who could not care less that there was no where the traffic could possibly move.

So where was I these past few days, when many of you were commenting on my blog or emailing me and I was unable to respond? I was at my school's Shabbaton weekend. Every other year, my school organizes a Shabbaton for the entire high school. We all go up together, teachers and students, to a camp in the mountains and stay there from Thursday through Sunday. It is a wonderful opportunity to get away from the rush of everyday life and to be able to forge friendships with teachers and students in a more relaxed atmosphere.

I had a very good time, and on the whole, the Shabbaton was inspirational, interesting, and enjoyable.

At the present moment, I am too tired to be able to form too many coherent sentences. After three sleepless nights, I can barely stand to contemplate the task I have ahead of me in unpacking my luggage and preparing for school tomorrow.

Perhaps after I get some caffeine in my system and manage to accumulate more energy, I will write more about the Shabbaton. For now, however, I will reply to some of my emails and the comments on my blog.

New Square  

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It has been a long, tiring, and sleepless weekend for me, but at the same time it was a pleasant and inspiring one. My community went up to New Square for a Shabbaton, which is something we haven't done in four years. We used to have regular Shabbatonim to New Square, and I remember staying there as a little kid more than once. My most vivid memories, however, are from the Shabbaton we had four years ago.

It's interesting to track how much your perception of something changes as you grow and mature. Although both the previous trip and the recent one were pleasant, this past one was very different from the one four years ago. When I was thirteen, I had a good time at the Shabbaton simply because I was there with my community, having fun with my best friend, roaming around with her unrestricted.... I had fun, but it did not provoke any thoughts or changes in me. (Of course, what can you expect from a thirteen-year-old?) This time, I also had fun with my friends, but there was another thing I got from it that was equally important. In a way, it put my life into perspective for a bit and made me think.

We arrived in New Square on Erev Shabbat. A few of my friends and I were staying together at someone's house. Our hosts were very hospitable and considerate, providing refreshments, food, and drinks for us after our long car ride. Everything was ready for us, and our hostess made sure that we were comfortably settling in.

After candle lighting, my friends and I went to the girls' school, where somebody spoke for a few minutes. After that, all the women went to visit the Rebbetzin in her house.

I remember when the Skverre Rebbe and Rebbetzin visited Flatbush a few months ago. The Rebbetzin came to my school, spoke to us, and gave each of us a Sefer Tehillim as a present. There were three of us at the Shabbaton from my high school, so we told the Rebbetzin where we were from.

As a writer, I know better than to use "nice" to describe a person because it can mean such a wide variety of things, but in this case, I really need to use that word. She was just really nice. She was so friendly and made us all feel at ease. So that was a good experience.

Afterward, my best friend and I went to someone's house for dinner (since we were not eating where we were staying, nor were we eating together with the two other girls we were sharing the room with). Once again, we encountered admirable hospitality. What we realized over Shabbat is that everyone there cared so much about their guests; the hachnasat orchim was unbelievable.

After dinner, we were almost too stuffed to move. (What can I say? The food was good and they were encouraging us to eat.) Somehow though, we managed to find our way to the shul for the Rebbe's tish. That was also a unique experience. When the men said amen, it reverberated throughout the entire building. The same goes for the singing. It was late though and I was already falling asleep from sheer exhaustion, so we returned to our place and went to sleep.

The next day passed pretty much the same way. We went to another affable couple for lunch, took a walk around New Square, and ended up at the girls' school again for Shalosh Seudot.

A few hours after havdala, we all went to the Rebbe for brachot. It wasn't my first time getting a bracha from the Skverre Rebbe, but I was pretty nervous. It's not every day that you have that opportunity -- you know what I mean?

By the time we got a bracha, it was around 3 in the morning and I was exhausted. However, I did not end up going to sleep until much later. I think I got about four hours of sleep in total this past night. I worked on getting some caffeine into my system on the way home, and then spent the rest of the day studying for a test, still half asleep.

All in all, I had a good time. It's nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn once in a while and see what a peaceful, relaxed time Shabbat can be. There were no cars on the road during Shabbat, so everyone could walk there and the kids could play all together without anyone having to worry. When I saw all the kids gathering and playing in the streets, it drew such a pleasant contrast to Brooklyn, where if your kid ventures anywhere near the street (especially alone), your heart starts beating at twice its normal rate. New Square is an ideal example of Kedushat Shabbat.

So, that was my Shabbat. It was long and tiring, but I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it and came away with a lot to think about. I also did a lot of thinking there. Somehow, a quiet and tranquil environment is conducive to that.


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As I was walking to school two days ago, balancing a heavy math book, notebook, and umbrella in my hands and feeling raindrops falling on me despite my precautions, I noticed something slowly crawling along the ground. It was a snail.

I remember when I was a little girl, I used to like going outside after it rained, because all the snails and worms would come out of their crawling places. I loved watching them as they explored our backyard, the snails waving their little antennae at me.

I can't recall seeing any snails the past couple of years though, which was why the sight of it this week so delighted me. Then again, perhaps I did see them in the past two years, but was in such a rush that I did not bother giving them much notice... kind of like this week.

When I saw that snail on Tuesday, I just thought to myself, "Hey look, a snail," and hurried right past it, not wanting to be late to school. And that was it. There was none of that childish bending down to take a closer look. I saw it for a brief moment, and the next minute I was on the next block.

The rainy weather continued on Wednesday, and once again I saw a snail on my way to school. And again, I rushed by it, not giving it any acknowledgement other than by thinking, "Awww look, a snail!"

Although it was not raining as I was walking to school today, the ground was still moist, and I once again saw the snail, still moving without making much progress. As it painstakingly glided along, I hastily walked past it, wishing I could stop, but not having enough time.

What's sad is that our lives are often like that -- it is such a rush that you don't have the time to stop and appreciate what life has to offer. You see something, but there is so much to do and so many places you have to be, that everything else becomes insignificant. You no longer stop to smell the roses, to look around you at the beautiful trees and flowers growing everywhere, to greet the snails.... You see it, but you just rush past it as if it does not exist. Surely there is still a small child in you that can be delighted by the butterfly flying above your head, by the flowers blooming outside, by the little creatures that populate the world. Why not stop to appreciate it all?

After walking past that snail three consecutive days on my way to school, I finally stopped today as I was walking back home. It was still there, having made little progress.

I smiled as I bent down to observe it more closely and greet it, and I continued smiling the rest of the way home.

My Pets  

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I have been wanting to introduce my pets to my blog readers for a while, so here it is, finally!

Click on the pictures to enlarge them! :]
My oldest pets are my two red-eared sliders, Tyapa and Chapa. Tyapa, the male, is nearly eight years old, and I think Chapa, the female, is around the same age (although I'm not sure, because she was given to me by a friend, and I don't know how old the turtle was at the time). Tyapa is the one on the left, and Chapa is on the right. For some reason, turtles fascinate me. My bookshelves are decorated with little toy turtles, and I have some pictures of sea turtles on my wall.

You already know who Coco is since I made a post about him on his fourth birthday and later complained about his behavior, but it never hurts to post more pictures -- especially since I think he is one of the most adorable creatures ever. Honestly, I can fill up five posts with pictures of him. I don't want to slow down the page though, so I will limit it. This chubby pug is very enthusiastic and playful -- sometimes a bit too playful in my parents' opinion. Some people mistake him for a small bulldog because of his size. It is ironic that pugs are considered a toy breed, right up there with chihuahuas, pomeranians, and Yorkshire terriers.

I also had a mouse earlier this year named Puffik. Puffik was a wild mouse that had somehow found a way into our home. (Needless to say, my parents did not appreciate its presence.) We caught it using humane traps (for those of you who have unwelcome mice in your house, please consider these traps, which are effective and cruelty-free). It was winter, and we did not want to let it freeze to death outside or starve because it had not stored anything for the winter as most mice do during the fall, so I kept it as a pet. What a cute creature! He would lick his paws and then wash his face and ears, then wash the rest of his body, ending with his long tail. I loved watching him do this routine, which he repeated a few times a day.

Coming up in August -- rats!

Dream Worlds  

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The most reasonable thing to do after having a miserable day at school is to rant about it to the first person who will listen, then indulge in the most fattening ice cream available, and finally attempt to forget about it by blogging on a completely different topic. So here I am.

Last month, upon Netflix's recommendation, I watched a DVD titled Lost in Austen. According to Wikipedia, it is "a four-part 2008 British television series for the ITV network, written by Guy Andrews as an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen." I love Jane Austen's works, so I am usually interested in any DVD that is connected either to her or to her books. This DVD was no exception. I would recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice.

Lost in Austen is about Amanda Price, a young woman living in 21st century Hammersmith. She is a big fan of Pride and Prejudice, and it is obvious that a lot of her life revolves around her favorite book. After a hard day, she curls up on her couch with the novel and escapes into this fictional world. After discovering a secret door that leads from her apartment to the Bennets' house, Amanda exchanges places with Elizabeth Bennet and tries to blend into society in this new world. What she soon realizes though, is that she is unwelcome. Society, for the most part, rejects her, and although she is in the world of her dreams, her life there becomes unbearable. Instead of being able to enjoy herself because she is finally a part of her favorite novel, Amanda is miserable since everything seems to be going wrong. Although there is a good ending (it wouldn't be Austen if it wasn't), it is not just a pleasant fantasy. For Amanda, it is a stressful series of events during which she is often confused, upset, frustrated, or angry.

The thing that struck me most about this DVD was this proof that fantasy differs from reality.

We often wish for something, thinking about how wonderful it would be, without realizing that what seems perfect in our heads might prove to be disastrous in reality. If it is not for you, it cannot make you happy no matter how much you wish for it. A dream can easily turn into a nightmare if it is a dream that was not meant for you, but which you nevertheless obstinately pursued.

You're Being Watched, Part II  

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Imagine my delight when, a few days after my original 'You're Being Watched' post, one of my teachers discussed this topic in class. Don't you love those times when someone mentions something you were thinking about without you asking?

So here are some of the things my teacher mentioned in class.

We are in the middle of learning the 6 mitzvot tmidiyot, and the class was about Bitachon Bi'Hashem. Once you have basic bitachon, there are certain things you can do in order to translate that faith into the way you live your life.

King David wrote in Tehillim, "Shiviti Hashem l'negdi tamid." I place Hashem before me at all times. What you are supposed to do is concentrate on the fact that Hashem is before you. By focusing on His presence, you change the way you act as a result.

Rambam (Maimonides) said in his Guide for the Perplexed that you cannot compare the way a person sits, moves, and conducts himself when alone at home with the way he does when he is in front of a king. You can read more on this topic from Guide for the Perplexed here.

It is only tempting for us to break the rules when we know we are not being watched. For example, if you are aware of a police car behind you, you will not consciously run a red light.

In the same way, knowing that Hashem is in front of you (once you already believe in Him) should stop you from sinning. The Rambam mentioned mundane things such as sitting and moving, which aren't halachot, in order to show that when you know you are being closely watched, you will be careful even about the smallest, most mundane things.

There is a story about the Chofetz Chaim traveling somewhere in a wagon. I think this might be what Babysitter was referring to in her comment on my original post. The wagon was passing by an apple orchard, and the driver stopped in front of it. The driver hopped off, told the Chofetz Chaim that he wants to get some apples for himself, and asked him to call out if he sees anyone coming, because the man did not want to get into trouble. As he was about to pick some apples, the Chofetz Chaim called out to him, "Someone is watching!" The man ran back to the wagon. After a few minutes passed by and he did not see anyone else near the orchard, the man decided to try again. Once again, the Chofetz Chaim let him know that someone was watching, before he could take an apple. The man, however, did not see anyone, so he confronted the Chofetz Chaim and asked him who was watching. The Chofetz Chaim explained to him that Hashem is always watching.

People are often more afraid of others than of G-d. They hide things from each other or do certain things only when they know that nobody from their community or school is watching them. They don't care that Hashem sees, even though that is more important than whether or not other people see. When it gets to that level that one cares more about public opinion than about G-d, that's sad.

So let's clarify a few of the points that were made in my original post.

  1. One of the questions was whether people actually care that Hashem is watching them. If people reminded themselves of Hashem's presence, would it work in preventing them from sinning? If they already believe in G-d, yes. This idea of placing Hashem before you at all times will work only if you believe in His existence in the first place.
  2. Once you believe in Hashem, if you remind yourself of His presence every so often, it will affect the way you live your life. Of course, nobody is perfect and we will still do many things we shouldn't be doing, but there will at least be some kind of change.
Since focusing on G-d's presence all the time and worrying about our actions is overwhelming, some people don't bother trying. Anything, however, can be done if you do it slowly, gradually, little by little.

In this situation though, what is little by little?

Make a resolution to remind yourself once a day (by setting an alarm on your phone or leaving a note for yourself), then in five years go up to twice a day, after another five years, increase it to three times, until there comes a point in your life when you are always aware that Hashem is before you and is watching everything you do. Make it a habit to think of this at least once a day for now. It's not overwhelming, it's gradual, it's possible, you can do it.

Bright Rays of Sunshine  

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You know those people who are so obsessed about something that they make you feel self-conscious about it too? Everyone has a person like that in his or her life, whether it is a relative, a friend, a community member, or a casual acquaintance.

This person cares so much about certain trivialities and little details, that although you originally couldn't care less about it, you eventually find yourself thinking about it too. It's not something you should be worrying about, and it's something so silly, but your mind focuses on it because this other person is constantly talking about it.

For example, an average-looking girl who constantly complains about her weight and mentions it at every opportunity. Even though she has an average weight, she constantly complains, "I'm sooo fat!" And I can't help thinking, "Shut up." It's not that I don't care about my friends. I do. If a friend is trying to lose weight and she loses a couple of pounds, I am happy for her and I tell her as much. I just hate it when people are obsessed about it or make exaggerated statements in order to gain sympathy or attention. When a relatively thin girl claims to be fat, she knows that at least half a dozen other girls will violently protest and assure her that she's so skinny. And she will coyly smile and reply, "No, but seriously, I really am fat."

Then there are also those who complain that they look old, even though nobody notices it. What some people don't understand is that the way they look does not matter to their friends! Their friends are their friends no matter what, and they don't notice these small details about appearance. They are loved no matter what, so why is their appearance such a big deal? It only causes other people to become self-conscious as well.

I'm not advocating slovenliness or a complete disregard for the way you present yourself. You can care about your appearance and try to make a positive impression without talking about it constantly or bothering the people around you.

And I really did not mean to sound so harsh. This was meant to be a short post making a simple observation. I don't know how it became this long....

Taking it Easy  

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That adorable pug whose face I posted on my blog a few days ago is in reality a very mischievous little creature.

Since he tends to chew up or otherwise destroy whatever he manages to find, he isn't allowed to roam the house on his own. He is the kind of dog that leaves dents on doors with his claws, scratches up and removes floor tiles, and chews up chair legs, leaving us with no other choice than to limit where he can go.

Yesterday, he managed to go somewhere he did not belong, so I went after him, trying to catch him. He was running around in circles and up and down the stairs, hyper as only he knows how to be. I caught up to him on the staircase to the second floor, and he paused for a minute. Lunging forward, I tried to grab either him or his collar. At the very last second, he jumped out of the way and I lost my balance, smashing my hand into the stairs. I sat down on the staircase in shock and extreme pain, feeling as though four of my fingers were broken.

Eventually, I bribed the little miscreant with some dog treats and got him to follow me.

My fingers were still hurting, but within fifteen minutes, I narrowed the pain down to one finger on my right hand. That finger continued to hurt for the rest of the evening and was unable to move, and when I woke up today and realized that it still hurt when I tried moving it, I decided to go to the doctor.

My father called to schedule an appointment, and since I did not want to miss a day of school, we requested an appointment for 1 p.m. today. School ends at 12:30 p.m. on Fridays for me, so it would work out perfectly. The secretary muttered something along the lines of, "Who sends their kid to school when there is an emergency?"

So we went to the doctor, got stuck in traffic on the way, dealt with crazy drivers as well as pedestrians crossing on a red light in the middle of the street, and waited for nearly two hours in the waiting room.

The good news is that the x-rays showed no fractures in the bone. The bad news is that the finger is sprained, swollen, and can hurt for up to six weeks. I can't hold a pen properly so I don't know how I will manage to take notes in class or write in the next few weeks, but at least I can still type.

The doctor's advice: "Take it easy. No cooking, no cleaning, just shopping."

So here I am, taking it easy.

But wouldn't it have been a great story if my dog really had been the cause of a broken finger?